Back in Ireland, Back in Line


It is November now, and after almost five months back in Ireland I am beginning to see what drives people to be so committed and set such high expectations. A new sense of value has permeated everyone, not just in their commercial sense, but in every sense. It’s is no longer what will you do, more what can you not do and how is it going to affect me? As a person who is returning to Ireland it seems that I have left out this consideration, and have become wrapped up in wide eyed notions of what’d I’d like to do if it’s possible, please. Somewhere along the line this will have to change.

Since September my triumphant return to little old Ireland has been suffering a series of, how do I put it without sounding too alarmist, hiccups. In fairness, myself and Herself knew it would be far from perfect, and we knew we’d have to struggle through this period, and it is well that I had the foresight to recognise this in advance of our arrival. Still, it has been increasingly disappointing.

Besides everything else all I really want now is a full time job. When I came back from Korea I was fortunate enough to land right in the middle of the high season for ESL teaching in Dublin. This is a period in the summer when literally thousands of language students converge on the capital and start to study English. They range from the age of 12 and up, and by up I mean into people’s sixties and beyond. Unfortunately the majority of these people have to go back to work or school come the end of August, and so the work dries up.

It’s not all doom and gloom as there are occasional jobs here and there, but because the teaching work in ESL in Ireland is strictly based on demand it does mean that at this time of year there are a lot more teachers seeking hours than there are classes available. It’s a feature of the business I wasn’t so aware of when I returned to Ireland, but it’s not something I can complain about as I should have expected it. Long story short: this is the rut I’m stuck in.

Rut softened by nice walks along the canal

I’ve been very fortunate since getting back to Ireland to have my fair share of support and advice from friends and former colleagues, but at the same time it still does not seem to be enough. I can’t begrudge anyone as it is me who is the person that must meet the standard, not come here expecting some standard to be available for me.

I was pretty confident though that my work in Korea over the past four and a half years would carry some weight in Ireland. And by this I mean some weight outside of the classroom. While I suppose that you could argue that the economy has seen a change for the better and there are more jobs available, there is still a huge amount of competition out there. This is especially the case when you see that there is one particular job every week fitting the particularly criteria I’m setting myself. It’s times like this I wish I worked in IT.

As I bury my head in my computer screen worrying over the state of my application, I know that there is someone with more relevant experience than me. Sure I can type out my skills and explain how I utilised them for blah blah blah but in the back of my mind I know that there is someone who did exactly the same thing or exactly what the job is looking for. Tell me to have confidence all you want, but this is certainly something every job seeker struggles with.

For one thing I want to stay in education. However another part of me says to forget about it and go and do something else, something that pays better, and something that won’t have you crucifying yourself waiting for one new posting a week. I could easily do this. Just take a step down from what I expect of myself, which is probably too high in the first place, and then in a few years take the step up to a better paying position.

The rewards of education.

This would be the cheap way out. I’ve worked in education for over eight years, admittedly most of this is in Korea which is on the other side of the planet. But it’s my job, and it is where my skills and knowledge lie. I know how students and teachers think and work, and I know that I can apply this to a role here beyond satisfactorily. As well as that I have all these other personality traits which seem to come as part of every job position advertised.

If anything, I have hoped that I could start from where I left off in Korea. I mean this in terms of salary at least. When you do a currency exchange you’ll find it’s not that huge a salary in terms of Ireland, and Korea it has to be said, but it is somewhere to start from. I believe I’m worth this much at least, and I hope that I can return to this level. As I said, I hope.

Last February I was accepted into a Doctor of Education course in the University of Glasgow. When I found out this news I was ecstatic. I had worked hard to be accepted into what I believed was beyond my retention. The thing is, I deferred the course until next year because I knew I was moving back here and I knew that it would be hard to settle into work here and to study at the same time. I wanted to settle in with work comfortably, or at least be comfortable with the work situation here before I dived into doctoral study. I believe this was the right decision.

This is another significant reason why I want to stay in education. I’m making a commitment which I believe could be significant to my future, so I need to stay involved. I can’t work in a call centre and try and get an EdD. What’s the point? It’s a complete waste of my time, regardless of whether or not I hope to return to education in the future.

One way of looking at the classroom.

All this being said, I’m looking to get beyond the classroom. I think that this may be where my problems lie, in that I have circumstantial evidence of an appropriate level of skill for an actual educational leadership or management position. There just isn’t enough stability, or indeed pay, to support a growing family as an English language teacher in Ireland. Couple to this that I’m not qualified to teach in secondary or primary schools in Ireland, that’s considering that I even want to do this.

That’s one side of me. There is another perspective, and one which I am equally torn against. I want to write. I want to write so that I get paid. If I could write enough so that the pay could afford me and my family a living then that would be equally fantastic. I have known for years that the best way to go out and find writing work is to go out and ask. It’s that simple (although the format that ask in is a little bit more complicated). What is less complicated though is my reason for not trying. That reason is I’m absolutely terrified.

Regular readers and friends will assert that this is nonsense and that I have nothing to fear but fear itself. I wish it was ever so easy. I don’t think of myself as competitive, nor do I think of myself as someone or something marketable. I just think of myself as who I am, an early thirties former Korea-based ESL teacher from Ireland. When I say it to myself like that I suppose I can expect little else but the just dessert I’m lauding.

I will argue to myself and myself only that it is perfectly natural to be afraid of fear and rejection. It is, trust me, but at what point does this attitude become ridiculous to the point that you start letting yourself down? And what about when I start letting other people down?

Tomorrow is another day.

I sit now and look back over the eight years I spent in Korea, and of all the things I claimed to have achieved. I look to how I can translate my experience into something worthwhile which communicates the character I wish to put myself across as. I look at the same time and can’t help but feel the effects of karma rubbing off me after fleeing Ireland in 2010 when the dole queues were at their longest. I think of what a great job I had but of how completely untranslatable it all feels now because of distance, because of situation, and because of the fact that I am no longer a one-of-a-kind, the way I used to think of myself.

About Irish Alcoholics and Education Thingies


The story of the Irish woman who was refused a position in the Korea because of the alcoholism nature of her kind is one we are all familiar with (if you’re not here’s the original scoop!). It’s a sad story, it really is, and the fact that it is still being discussed is probably all the more sadder.

For starters, the woman who was refused the job was dead right to report and to notify the press about it. It’s this kind of stuff that people put up with in foreign countries all the time that needs to be highlighted. I think the fact that it went viral enough to be taken note of in the Korea means that some level of embarrassment should have a positive effect. Remember, no ones wrist will be slapped over this as there are no laws against this behaviour in the Korea.

It’s kind of a typical Korea story. Normal person applies for normal job but gets refused because someone heard that all these people from the same country do something abhorrent which may effect the well being of the poor children’s education. Or whatever.

First thing we are quick to point out is that this is someone in the Korea saying that the Irish are all alcoholics, which isn’t news to any Irish person who has lived abroad for longer than a weekend. In this instance there’s the serious case of the pot calling the kettle a pot. I would wager that whoever earned this opinion won it from keeping good company from some other bottom feeder who was familiar with Irish ‘culture’, and by ‘culture’ I mean drinking all day on St Patricks Day – be that in the Korea or wherever.

Ireland and it’s ‘ness is not a well known subject in the Korea. I suppose some people are aware that Ireland is where the film Once came from, and they’ve heard of Robbie Keane, some of our golfers, and that it’s beside England. Things like Guinness are regularly confused as from other parts, Germany in this case, and notions such as our infectious charm, love of potatoes, tollerance of precipitation, and enjoyment of a drink or two are in fact alien to many a Korean in the street (and there are many Koreans). My point is that said numpty didn’t lick their opinion off a stone, they heard a rumour and sure that’s good enough for them. A stereotype was preached, and not for the first time an Irish person didn’t get a job because we’re all mad drunks. Maybe because it’s 2014 we are upset, but I’ve heard this to be a common enough reaction in parts of Australia.

I’ll give you a comparable anecdote.

Back in 2007 I was interviewing for a hagwon (read small privately owned school which taught mostly kids and likely to where our victim applied). I spoke with two manager type teachers, and was grilled kind of awkwardly about my nationality. Somewhere along the line this person had encountered Irish people, and there was a big problem – Irish people played a lot of sport. Yes, this is pretty serious I know. I mean athletic healthy people are problem in any business right? What’s worse is I’m not athletic although I eat like a weight lifter. So you can gather that at this point I was pretty incensed.

Her argument was that Irish people played a lot of sport and got injured and couldn’t teach because of said injuries. I tried to wrangle how serious she was about this accusation, but decided to let it settle. The rest of my interview seemed to progress well, and I managed a second stab at it. Maybe that’s why it’s always good to have two people interviewing you at the same time.

Later in the week I met with the principal and we interviewed again, and the woman who was so endeared by the athleticism of the Irish (myself included) was present. She attempted the spiel about Irish people playing sports, and may have even thrown in a bit about us having a drink or two, but as she said it in Korean my internal bullshitometer kicked in and I cut across her and said ‘excuse me no – your’re interviewing me, and I’m professional blah blah blah.

In the end I got the job, and low and behold, the woman who interviewed me wasn’t a feature a month later. I stuck around for another year and a half and still get a big hug from the principal if/when I walk in the door – and this is coming from a guy who was so locked on the teacher induction day I tackled a co-worker into a table where all the senior teaching staff were seated. But maybe I was lucky to have a decent boss who liked a good laugh (although she’s gone a bit OCD on the whole CCTV in the classrooms of late I’ve heard). If I had not got the job maybe I would have emailed the Irish Mirror or whoever was certain to publish the story.

I’m glad this story went viral though, and I hope there’s some numpty at a recruiters desk is now nursing their wounds, be they merely inflicted on their self esteem. This whole thing though shouldn’t really tarnish the Irish’s reputation as English teachers or people in the Korea. Every so often you hear stupid stories like this coming from the penninsula and you just have to shake your head and wonder when will they learn. Learning doesn’t really mean that they should be more open to other cultures and respectful, just that they stop and think before they make projections about other nationalities, and perhaps remember that it’s another person you are speaking to (with access to the internet).

The other problem we have here is that, much like Korean knowledge of Ireland, Irish knowledge of Korea is at about a similar level. Despite the large number of Koreans in Dublin at the moment of which most are studying English, many people don’t know anything about their country, other than….well you can tell me yourself. Are we perpetuating reverse racism by being appalled by the actions of one probably poorly made decision and seeing it as a judgement presribed by the entire Korean society? It’s hard to see any benefit in this whole charade to be honest. Yes, we’re raising awareness about a kind of serious incident, which the victim herself said she kind of laughed at, then took the right steps. Listening to the radio and reading the news reports was enough for me to see that a change of perception of Koreans by Irish people is a concern.

It is important in these situations to be wary that we do not allow ourselves to descend to a similar level. Regardless of what you think, racism and discrimination is active in every society. In some cases it is more obvious than others. Ireland and Korea both have their problems, namely that we are both very prone to lazy stereotyping. I can’t speak for other countries, but I’d be surprised if I was far wide of the mark.

I’ve heard of plenty of Irish people getting screwed over for it just being the Korea and the English language schools there have in many respects little to no moral standards. Most Irish people have the problem of trying to convince potential employers that they can teach in an American accent, and I would now urge any Irish teacher never to lower themselves. If they can’t accept diversity then you certainly don’t want to be part of that staffroom. There have been worse incidents, but I can’t think of any directed at Irish people specifically because they’re Irish.

It’s sad that these stories do come out, not just because someone has to endure this sort of stupidity, but also because despite all the developments and hard work many people have done to make Korea more internationally welcoming and diverse, idiocy still prevails. I would advocate for some kind of legislation that sees every person, regardless of nationality, age, and of course gender, as equal and with the right to be free from being discriminated against. But it’s the Korea, and there are just too many factors that need to be changed before anything as reasonable as that will happen. One of these factors is the need to enforce the plethora of laws which are currently ignored on a regular basis.

To conclude I hope that girl went out and got herself a better job, and one where her employers respect and trust her to be a professional, not one where they just play up to stereotyping and hearsay. Korea is a great place to live, make friends, gain job experience, and from my perspective fall in love and start a family. I only wish, dream, hope, that one day it will just tidy its act up and catch up with whatever standard it seems to expect it projects.

Letter from Korea, June 2014.


Jumunjin, Korea
June  23, 2014

Dear Ireland,

If you’re not already aware I’ll be leaving in about a week. I know I’m going on about it a fair bit, but it is what I’ve been building up to for quite a while and it feels appropriate to me to talk about it a lot. Right now, in terms of being in Korea, it doesn’t feel like there is much else I should be talking about. One thing though that I’d like to make clear though is my intentions.

Never at any point have I turned around and said I have to get out of Korea for some abhorrent reason, like the usual tripe you hear about the inadequacies of Korea, Koreans, or indeed the inadequacies of those who cannot accept that this is a very different country to the one which they were raised in. I could go on here, but I won’t.

Over the past four and a half years Korea has presented me unlimited opportunities to not only excel professionally, but also personally. What matters to me most now is that I did my best to respond to each opportunity. Master Yoda’s message has always been in the back of my mind ringing strong, ‘do, or do no, there is no try’.

As an adult I think it’s important to know what you want to do in life. Even if this is the wrong decision, knowing your direction makes developing a lot easier. In Korea I have been granted many opportunities, including business, education, journalism, and I have tried to see them through to realise their potential, or has more often been the case, their suitability to me. I’ve worked on the plans, built my image, and connected with important decision makers in all of those fields. In the long run however, I did not have the heart for whatever it was that I was doing. For me this was an incentive to seek different paths.

It may be that success was not immediate and I just needed to try harder. Passion, however, was lacking and the incentives in the long run were even hard to assess. I could not even tell the length of the run I was expecting to undertake. It is important to know the disntance of any race, or indeed the height of the hill you are attempting to climb.

I’m not without my commitment to other areas in my life. I believe it is important to be prepared for everything that life presents to you, but it is equally important to know as many clichés as possible when you choose to back down from a challenge, and I will let you devise them here. You can draw comparisons if the clichés aren’t strong enough for you to understand my point, all I will say for now on this is that some things were not meant to be.

Korea has changed my mentality on so many fronts, not just how I approach challenges but also how I prepare myself. To take every opportunity we are presented is not possible, and to rely on the patience brought about by previous failures is something that probably doesn’t sound too encouraging when you set out. Again, I look to another master for guidance, this time an Irish one:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”*

 
(*I am sorry, I’ve seen several versions of this, but never once have I seen it accredited its exact location in the canon. Regardless the message rings true. And of course, this is Samuel Beckett)

This July I shall be reacting to another failure of mine. The change from Ireland to Korea was always with an open mind and an aspiration to change again in the future. The future has now arrived and while life has been good in Korea, the ladder upward has been flimsy and without a top in sight. Maybe ladders of life do not need tops, but they should at least have milestones, and by milestones I suppose I mean realisable goals.

Since I began teaching in Korea I have always progressed a step at a time. I can realistically chart my progress contract by contract, while always looking to the next stage, but now there appear to be no more rungs. There are options of course, and the position I had teaching academic English language skills in a leading Korean university had many options, many at the grace and mercy of the almost five months of holidays a year, and the limited class contact hours. Perhaps some have always wondered why I managed to maintain such an active online lifestyle, well now you know.

There is plenty to be done with this time of course, and I know many who use this position or one like it as a base for them to find more work teaching office workers or in homes and the likes. I’ve done all this, and I believe I was a good teacher with a decent reputation. Yet the lack of security and the reliance, invariably, on apathetic and often clueless recruiters on temp contracts charged with the responsibility of placing teachers is an experience I can do without in my work life. Added to this, at the best of times work is only available from 7am to 9am, or from 6pm until 7pm or sometimes 8pm. Students, are tired, bored, and overworked. The dynamic in the classroom is as you might expect, tiring, boring, and far too much work for the teacher.

I think that I’m coming across as scathing here, but I’d like to reassure you that for many these options are fine, and I can see why. What helps is a strong commitment, and also close access to the positions which offer these times. Yeongtong, where I lived for the majority of that time, was limited to the occasional vacancy in one of the several colossal Samsung plants that are close, and a scattering of other jobs. Quality positions were few and far between.

So this is the work life I am leaving. I will say little of the future I am traveling towards. Maybe I’ll save that for a later letter. What I can say is I’m leaving it for uncertainty and a smaller pay cheque. I worry a lot that my shrinking of income and free time will make me regret my decision to leave Korea. As a family we are committed, and I don’t doubt the summer will be fantastic, but as the winter settles in I worry. I think more and more now over the coming days how much I’m going to miss Korea. At this point I will also say I’m a little scared.

I know that we will be back to Korea to visit, but I hope that it does not turn out that we return with our tails between our legs again in a few years time. My attitude will have to change of course if I want to come back with my head held high. I hope that I am prepared for this challenge.

How to Make People Laugh in Korea


It’s kind of popular these days on the peninsula to be a comedian. While this is noticeable if you turn on the television, you do need to leave your home and find a venue in which comedians are doing their bestestest to force giggles and titters, with the occasional guffaw. Comedy is the in thing in terms of entertainment. Of course, like all performance types, it helps if you are actually good at it.

While I’m not the kind to point the finger with snide remarks on ability and taste, I do think that standards should be put in place, not necessarily by the venue but certainly by the spectator. Some will probably think I’m a snob. Why shouldn’t someone be able to get up on stage, challenge their inner-demons, and become the talent they have always harboured deep inside? Yes. Why shouldn’t they? Or, in fact the statement should really be how could they not?

The stage in Korea is an amazing space for discovering your talents. I would encourage anyone who believes they might be good at something on stage to get up on the stage and do it. Find out out for yourself, don’t wait to find out what could have been. If it doesn’t work the first time, it will work at some stage. I would always encourage anyone to go on the stage to release any anxiety about what is the point of anything, because once the crowd responds, answers are definitely a lot clearer. Continue reading

You know you’ve been teaching English in Korea too long when…


1.  You think 10pm is a reasonable hour for a ten year old to come home from school.

2.  You automatically answer ‘Why?’ in an annoying high pitched squeaky voice when someone asks your name.

3.  You regularly complain about the lack of quality ajumma service in McDonalds.

4.  You no longer casually text or notice something interesting in another cosmetic shop/realtor/mobile phone store when you spot another non-Korean in the crowd, you just blatantly ignore the person.

5.  You find yourself staring at non-Koreans who obviously aren’t English teachers.

Continue reading