I’m having a bit of trouble typing right now because my biceps are killing me. I just walked about 3km in -15C weather, carrying a computer casing (an entire tower) in my arms. It wasn’t heavy for the first few blocks, but afterwards, it was getting really goddamn heavy.
So how did the night begin?
After work, I went to place of a co-worker. He’s leaving Korea at the end of this month. We weren’t really close or anything, but I was dropping by to pick up the 50cc scooter I’d be buying from him. Well, that and other things. Usually when teachers finish their contract, they have a lot of stuff to get rid of. In the end, I only ended up taking the computer. The battery of the scooter was dead, so I couldn’t ride it home. Probably due to the cold. It’s as cold as I remember winters back home in Montreal… with the wind, it’s much worse than -15 I think.
But after dropping by his place, we got talking. He’s had a lot of time to think about his experience here in Korea, and in general, about life.
He’s perhaps the first person that I connect with out here in Korea. We’ve got a lot of common, despite our differences.
One of those things is the wondering of how people grow up. When someone comes to Korea to teach, what is this? I mean, one of the reasons is because it’s easy. It’s only recently that Korea’s requesting criminal record checks into foreigners looking for work visas… but prior to that, one of the major attractions of workin in Korea was that one could get an ESL teaching job relatively easily. It didn’t matter what your background was. It didn’t really matter if you were good with people or not, or if you had any training in the field– you basically had to speak standard, ‘neutral accented’ English, and you could get a fairly deent paying job pretty easily.
This usually means that ESL jobs attract a lot of people who don’t have ESL as a career choice. This usually means that people who become teachers are at a crossroads in their life– they’re looking for answers perhaps, or they’re trying to do start from scratch with the isolation afforded by a foreign country.
But what is the typical ESL teacher like? They’re very different from a homebrew, education-degreed English teacher in most cases.
It doesn’t really say much to generalize, so we started talking about ourselves instead.
We both started working at a relatively early age– he started when he was 17, while I think I started when I was 18. I think that this has a lot to do with the difference between us and most other teachers. Teaching isn’t easy– there are days when it’s a downright terrible job. This largely depends on the kind of personality you have and the kind of energy you put into it, since it’s reflected back at you by your kids in interesting ways. But the main idea is that, frankly, some people aren’t made for teching. Some people don’t have the patience for it. Or, by the lure of the money, they’re just interested in doing it for mercenary reasons– they put up with it because it’s an easy job to land, and the pay is good.
But is this a good approach?
I don’t think so. I think that that’s where going through a lot of work in my life and learning about all sorts of different management styles and industries is what makes me know what I want to do next. It helps me to have ‘a plan’.
And I think, for that reason, that it’s good that I started working so early in my youth. Sure, you could argue bad things about it– but since I can’t change the past, my reasoning is that I made the most of it by suffering.
Sure, that sounds like a strange idea– but hear me out. My theory is that experience is only useful for knowing how much suffering you can put up with and figuring out how much you ‘deserve’ in the next stage.
Part of knowing what you want to do in the future has to do with knowing your limits– which ones you don’t want to cross, and which ones you want to push. You can’t do that if you don’t have experience in the jungle– I think that people who have worked shit jobs from the very start and inched their way up are the ones who have the brightest futures, because they know what a shit job is and why they don’t want it.
On the other hand, some people have it too easy– they work later in life and as a result, they don’t know what that suffering is. And so, being a bit older, they’re not so determined and perhaps lack the ambition to find something better, because they’re still at an energetic stage in their life where the ‘shit job’ is still okay. Had they started sooner, they’d be at a point where it’s about building a career. Or, where it’s an implementation of a plan, rather than the stage where someone is thinking about getting a drawing board.
And so I find that I’m bored when I go in the teacher’s room sometimes. They talk about classes– do I really need to hear about it? I am in school for over 11 hours each day– do I REALLY need to hear stories about how so and so is a rotten kid, or this and that is bad about the educational system here? I really don’t. I need a bit to keep it in perspective, but my point is, this is not all there is to teaching, and this is not all there is to Korea. This is not all there is to the foreigner experience. This is not all there is to life.
There is more to life than a job about which we only complain.
So anyway, I was having dinner with this coworker and we talked about all sorts of things from videogames to work. Parallel in themes, when I was working in a library, he was working in IT. When I was coordinating at a hospital, he was managing at a hotel. We have stories that in background are different but in theme are very very similar. It was nice to meet someone, for a change, who didn’t see Korea as just a ‘plug in’ 1-year contract of life, and was actually using the time and experience as peice in a larger puzzle.
I haven’t met anyone else like this in Korea yet. It’s a refreshing change to meet someone who has found his Way and is striving for it.