One thing I don’t talk too much about here is work. The reasons why are because it’s work, and work is work, and there are plenty of people out there who are more suited to talking about my line of work than I am, and more importantly, I don’t want to talk about work.
I talk with co-workers about work all day in work. It’s work talk. The same work talk that everyone else talks about in work, which usually involves complaining/marvelling over something irrelevant to the rest of the immediate world. It’s not very exciting and the less I have of it the better. Sometimes I talk with Herself about work, and she politely grunts and changes the subject, which I’m grateful for. I do enough talking about work and you don’t deserve, need, or really want to hear me go on about work.
Herself has never been fond of coming out to dinner with me when I go for dinner with people here because the conversation inevitably turns to a discussion about work. Many of us are in the same line of work.
I think a lot of my feelings on the subject of talking about work were helped along by a good friend of mine who, as a humble hagwon teacher, told me drunkenly over dinner one day that he was sick of the kindergarten teachers in his school coming in and complaining to him about how little Billy or Daisy got sick or pissed on themselves, or whatever problem it was this time.
My friend, who no longer lives in Korea, had this response: “fuck you, I’ve got my own fucking students to fucking worry about, now fuck off, or do you want to listen to the bullshit I have to put up with, too?”. I always felt it would have been interesting to see him say this to the person’s face, but then three bottles of soju does make one that little bit more outspoken in the evening. My friend is a decent person so he smiled and nodded, and waited for them to finish making noise.
Work for me is essentially what many other English speaking westerners do here in Korea, and that is teaching English. Since I first arrived in Korea it is what I’ve done, happily or not. I’ve graced the floors of poorly managed ego-centric hagwon owner owned hagwons, six-year old packed frantic kindergartens, semi-state and government body offices, major domestic and international corporations, elementary, middle, and high-schools, and also most recently, a university, and all with differing degrees of regularity and intensity. I’ve done all of this as it is how I make a living in Korea, along with many more people from Ireland and other countries commonly labelled as ‘western’. It is my job.
For me work talk is an uninteresting subject to be involved in. I worked in a sports shop in Dublin for two years and recall not enjoying many of the conversations during post-busy-Saturday-pints about how some old woman couldn’t get the size seven Reebok walking shoes she wanted because of some extraneous reason. The same could be said for the market research job I had, HMV, and of course, teaching.
It’s a little bit like the weather. Sure it makes for nice passing conversation, but do you really want to talk about rain and sunshine all the time? Of course once I start passing the time with people by discussing work or the weather, I create a precedent and hammer a few more nails into this coffin I’m busily making for myself.
So there you go. The truth is out. I am nothing more special than an English teacher. Despite my other specs, such as having a masters, working in a university (in the top 10 in Korea I’d like to add), living in an apartment, and speaking English very well, as well as writing this wonderful blog, and all the other relative comforts that my F visa provides, I still have the same job I had seven years ago. And if I stay here for another ten years and continue at it the same way, it is likely that I will still have the same job.
Of course you can say that this is the case for plenty of people all over the world, and it is. I still like to think that there should be more to life than struggling away in the same gutter for over seven years with very little sense of progression. People will tell you that’s what teaching is all about. I’ve been told that it’s in those who you teach where you can find your sense of progression, and maybe this is true.
The thing that bothers me now is that I have had plenty of progress in my chosen career, but it has now stopped. I have reached the top of the pile I have chosen to climb up, and while it is possible that I could tumble down again, I can’t see that happening unless I really mess things up. Not writing about work in any detail is one way of making sure this doesn’t happen.
Of course I’m bitching about what is essentially a really good situation. In fact if I went into details about the perks of my working conditions, you would be disgusted that I am now complaining about my line of work. In fact I find them incredible. They are actually unrealistic. And also, to be honest, a little embarrassing when I see how hard some people work and don’t earn as much as I do.
I could say I enjoy teaching because there are aspects which I enjoy. I could complain about teaching because there is a lot to complain about. I could write about my students because they amaze me on a daily basis, but they have a right to their own privacy. I could write about how my students can’t do particular things that I am imagining students in other countries can’t do either, but that’s just a waste of time as I have to work with the tools I am provided with. If I can’t manage then it’s up to me to change it, not hope that it changes magically itself somehow.
I learn a lot from my students. In fact, my students are probably the best thing about my job as I learn so much from them I am humbled on a daily basis. Whether they learn anything from me is there problem not mine. It is because of them that I take my job seriously and work hard to make sure that I maintain my reputation.
I seem to keep getting rehired and hearing good feedback, so I must be doing something right. Please don’t ask me what, I just do whatever it is I think is right and it works out, I suppose. This would imply, to me at least, that I am good at my job.
You may have gotten the impression from this that I’m bitter about my job and that I dislike the work that I do. This isn’t the case. I am just honestly saying that at 6.45 on a Monday morning I don’t jump out of the bed and sing with joy at the prospect of a 9am (or even 1pm) class. It’s work. I’m human. Work is and always will be shite, but I do it. Anyway, without work we’d never be able to enjoy holidays.
I could say a lot about teaching English here in Korea, but I won’t. It’s my job that allows me to afford a relatively convenient life for myself and Herself. It’s a means to an end I suppose. I don’t really think it is much to do with who I am or what I am. Maybe that’s what bothers me so much about being an English teacher in Korea.