Snapshot: The Korean Workplace

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And now I’m in the office at my Korean middle school. Good afternoon. I have some observations I would like to share with you. Pictured above is a man named Ham. He teaches technology and he told me that when I pick a wife I should select her based on the back of her head only, because that is mostly what you’ll be seeing in the bedroom as she gets older.

I’m very tired; staying vertical is proving difficult. I feel like a parade float losing helium. I’ve had enough coffee to wake the dead. But the students are definitely more tired. The clichés you hear of Korean parents ruthlessly pillaging every last second of their children’s free time in the name of academic competition are absolutely true. The students were young once, and alive. But tragedy and puberty come hand in hand here. Idealism totally disappears. A seventh-grade Korean student is a depressing sight. You feel sorry for them like they’re refugees. Still, they won’t answer basic questions in class, like they all make a blood pact right before I walk in that they will not say a word. This gets frustrating. Their silence sucks all the energy out of you. It makes me wish they all wore shock collars.

Lunch of kimchi and pork cutlet just concluded and Maroon 5 is playing in the hallways. Whenever I bow to a co-worker I imagine we are head-butting each other in slow motion. They would probably like to do it in fast-motion. Most of them don’t like me. I think they hate me because my job is so easy. It’s true, it is. I am paid to be white and speak English. English is my native tongue. I might as well have a job breathing or walking in a straight line.

At least Ham seems to like me. He actually just woke up from his nap and saw me inserting his photo into this post. There is really nothing in the world more awkward than that situation. But he just laughed. This is probably not the first time this has happened to him. I like working here.

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23 thoughts on “Snapshot: The Korean Workplace

  1. “staying vertical is proving difficult” — perfection? Is that you? 😉

    Honestly though, reading this quirky rant/story/??? of yours left me a little happier than before I read it.

    Also, Ham is, firstly, an awesome name and, secondly, a pleasant man. I loved how he simply laughed when he saw you uploading photos of him into this blog post.

  2. The rough life of middle school/high school students in China sounds very similar–sadly, and I would bet worse since they’re ingesting lots of toxins in many of the crowded polluted cities. I advocate that they immigrate to Canada or forcibly settle Siberia, but no one listens to me. Enjoyed reading your posts! Have a good day….

  3. I just want to say that I really admire your writing style. You’re definitely in a unique place there and you describe it with a smooth simplicity that makes it feel very real and understandable.

  4. Love the post. Sort of touched on the comment I left earlier in your post.

    On a more relevant note, my wife – American – taught English down south at an all boys High School for her Fulbright program for a year. She had it rough. But I can commiserate with you. We are taught not to interact during s class, obey whatever the teacher says and memorize textbooks. Ah the Korean educational system. But what does it matter. I married a white woman. Apparently, that’s an equal footing on being successful. 😉

    Anyway, don’t let the zombie kids down! My wife tried giving candies as a part of her reward system to get these kids to be more active in class. That worked, sadly. Maybe you can try that. Buy a basket of skittles. Keep up the good posts. 👍

    1. Good to hear an insider’s perspective–I suspected they were all brainwashed to some level of silence before I started teaching them. I actually have resorted to the sugar bribing system and I bring in some scotch candies to get them motivated. You married a white woman! I wish I had a similar way out. But everyone sort of expects that from me. It sucks being white.

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