Waiting for the End to Come

Every year, around this time, Kris and I become far less concerned about our current school year. With our contracts always ending at the end of February, we are always more worried about what is to come in March. While we initially thought that we might stay at our current job, a changing climate in education in Korea and the job itself has resulted in us once again looking for a new job to start in March. Kris has already successfully landed a position that she believes is far better suited to her, but I am still wading through the mire of job hunting to try and find that one job that is ideally-suited to me.

When we first started our current job, we were happy with the short hours and, for me, the short commute. However, as time has gone by, little problems have grown into larger issues. This is particularly true for Kris, who has more consistently had problems from the upper management of our company, and whose job situation was less ideal to begin with. She had to do a lot more commuting and deal with greater levels of bureaucracy than I did. Towards the end of last year, she decided that she would not be re-signing the contract, and began looking for a new job. In a stroke of luck, one of our close friends is leaving Korea, and her position would be vacant. Kris interviewed for the job and was accepted. Her new job may have longer hours, but it is 10 minutes from our house and will allow her more freedom to experiment with her teaching techniques.

For myself, I was content to continue in my current position. Unfortunately, the Korean government decided to discontinue English classes for first- and second-grade students at public elementary schools, effective from March. These students currently form more than half of my student base. As a result in the massive drop in potential students, the company has decided to not re-hire any teachers with my type of visa, and fill the gaps with part-time employees to save money. This decision makes economic sense for them, but it left me in the unfortunate position of looking for a job after the ordinary job season is mostly over. I am now scraping the bottom of the barrel for a position that is better than the average academy job, similar to the positions that Kris and I held in Dongtan in our first year of teaching. I am currently still being picky, and I hope to find something before I have to settle for a mediocre job.

We may be more settled in Seoul than we have ever been in Korea, but the cycle of going from job to job every year has not changed. Maybe this next job is one we stay at for more than a year. Maybe this next job will be our last year in Korea. Only the next twelve months will reveal what Korea has in store for us. I look forward to the new adventures, and, for now, look for a decent job to sustain us while we go on those adventures.


Two Weeks of Tension

The past few weeks in Korea have been less blissful paradise and more hard work and effort. Between working hard to improve my fitness for Ultimate, to getting mild food poisoning, to running thin on money for the month, it has been a couple of weeks that Kris and I are be glad to have put behind us.

The major contributor to stress from the past while has been money. While we have never been in danger of not having enough, we have needed to be scrupulous to ensure that we can pay all of our bills. We have had to sacrifice some of the nicer luxuries like exploring Seoul’s food culture, travelling on the KTX to Ultimate, and visiting our friends. These are by no means monumental things to lose, but the sheer number of bills from March 2017 made sure that we had little choice but to give them up for a while until we receive our first paycheck.

Luckily (or perhaps unluckily for me), one activity that I did not have to eliminate is visiting the gym. We are fortunate enough to have a gym in our building that is available free of charge. This past week, I took it upon myself to work on my fitness in order to excel on the Ultimate field. This decision was wholeheartedly supported by Kris, and she made sure that I committed to going every day. This did mean giving up time that I would otherwise be spending playing games and gathering my thoughts before school. However, my short stint of working out has allowed me to feel more competent on the Ultimate field, and I will continue to work out going ahead. I might even reach my lowest recorded weight if I keep persevering. But for now, I shall keep it up and keep striving to meet my goals.

Sadly, these efforts have been impeded by the final significant event to happen these past few weeks – my acquisition of food poisoning on Wednesday. I spent a morning making friends with my apartment’s toilet and groaning on the bed. Whilst it was not the most severe food poisoning I can imagine, it was certainly enough to make my teaching day the most difficult and uncomfortable one that I’ve had in Korea. Why didn’t I just take the day off? Because I only get 3 sick days in the entire year, and I’d rather save them for a time if, like Kristen, something serious and unexpected happens that makes it impossible for me to work, not simply difficult.

So, between worrying about finances, making my body incredibly sore, and eating a dodgy burger, the last few days in Korea have been challenging. Nevertheless, we’ve pushed on and made it through. There are several good things on the horizon to look forward to, including a visit from a relative, a long weekend, lots of Ultimate, and finally getting paid, so the next few weeks look more promising than the last few!

New Home, New Challenges

So, Kris and I successfully moved to Wonju. I sit now in our new house, mooching off of our lovely neighbours’ Internet, trying my best not to procrastinate writing this. The moving process was more onerous than we expected, but we got here in the end! Our time in Dongtan is officially over. But, with being in a new place comes new obstacles to overcome. I have to find a job. We  have to make the largely empty space that is our house into a home. We have to try and still save money. We even have to run the local Ultimate team. However, we knew that these challenges would come with the territory. Tackling them will be more than worth it, because we are now in a place where we have a friend base, and Kris and I both think that we will be even happier here than we were in Dongtan.

Moving here was a special kind of mission. Sure, we didn’t exactly have to rent a truck to haul all of our stuff over, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t require logistial planning. We chose instead to pack all of our things into every available bag in our house and bring them with us on the bus to Wonju. As it turned out, we have accumulated so many things in the past year (or we are simply so bad at packing) that this required two separate trips in order for us to physically be able to move all of our things.

What made the move even harder was the need to move Catsby, our one remaining foster cat. We were incredibly worried that he would be like his foster brother Kichu and yell his little furry head off throughout the trip. Luckily, he was superbly behaved, only loosing a mew when the bus ride was particularly bumpy. So, after attempts at shifting luggage, we got our stuff all moved into our new place.

The most pressing issue on my mind currently is my need for a part-time job. I have elected to forgo full-time employment in order to have more time to write and create Dota 2 content such as YouTube videos, streams, and articles. In order to stay in Korea, I still need to maintain a visa. The easiest way to do this is to procure a visa through employment. Sadly, the pool of part-time jobs in Wonju that are willing to sponsor an E-2 visa is not a very deep pool. It resembles an incipient puddle left in a pothole after a short rain. I do have a couple of promising leads though, and I hope to have successfully chased one of these down in the next week or so.

While we may have brought a fair number of belongings with us, our apartment is still rather barren. The only furniture that has been provided to us by Kristen’s employers is a single bed, complete with base. Compared to our last apartment, where we received a table, some chairs, a couch, and a bed, this is slightly underwhelming. What amplifies the sense of emptiness is the sheer size of our apartment. It is easily double the size of our place in Dongtan. There are three bedrooms, a living area, a bathroom, and a small laundry area. We do have plans to outfit each room to fulfill a specific purpose, but for now, they are mostly empty.

Something that will make the transformation from house to home harder is our desire to save money. This was a simple task in Dongtan. We were both earning full-time employment money. Our cost of living was low. We only rarely ate out or left our home to see friends. All of these factors have been altered by our move to Wonju. We will have more expenses because of the bigger house. I’m not likely to earn as much as I was. We have a bigger friend base, so we will undoubtedly go out more often than we did in Dongtan. This all adds up.

Despite all of this, Kris and I are both happy in Wonju. I will get to pursue my dreams. Kris gets a nicer job. We have a bigger house. We are closer to our friends. These are things that we wanted last year, and we’ve managed to get them. Sure, there are things we need to take care of to make sure that we can make a living, and not simply exist. But it will definitely be worth the effort. I think we’re going to love it here.

How Did a Year Go By So Fast?

Today marks the anniversary of my and Kris’ arrival in South Korea. When we first touched down in South Korea, were led into an unmarked black van, and sped on our way to Dongtan for the very first time, we still had little idea what we were in for. There are many things that I thought would be different. There are many things that are as I had expected them. As I begin to wrap up my first year-long contract, I have caught myself reflecting on the children I teach, who I was then compared to who I am now, and what I plan to do from now.

The first place of obvious change has been in the kindergarten children I teach. I began the year with three bright-eyed, ill-disciplined young rapscallions. Throughout the course of the year, the class has grown to five. Sadly this was not done by mitosis or any other interesting manner. I simply picked up two more children along the way. Whilst they may be more well-versed in English, it is more debatable whether they are actually prepared for their elementary classes. They may be able to speak the language that is used throughout a large portion of the world, but that will not help them in their entirely Korean instruction. Let’s just hope that they can sit still long enough that their Korean teachers do not seek to make an example of them. I have grown fond of them, and I wish them the best in life.

From the outer world, to the inner one. I have grown so much as a person in this year, I find it quite remarkable. I left home a 24-year-old who had never lived in anywhere other than their parent’s house for longer than a month. Now, I have lived on the other side of the world. I have helped support a household that is larger than myself. I have held a full-time job for a year. I’ve even managed to find time to write nearly one hundred pieces into this blog. I am quite proud of who I am today. I look forward to see who I will become in another year of life experience in Korea.

This coming year is shaping up to be another adventure, filled with Ultimate, Kristen, travelling, and self-exploration. I will be beginning the school year seeking part-time employment. This will allow me to focus on my writing and Dota 2 casting and content creation. A few months of more dedicated effort into these areas will hopefully bring new opportunities in these facets of my life that I hope to grow. Finally, I aim to spend more time keeping in touch with friends. Kris and I have only had time to Skype with a handful of people outside our families. Every time we managed to find time to do so, we always regretted not doing so more. This is not a mistake that we shall make again.

Kristen and I have become a little better at adulting in our year in Korea, and there has been much change in our life as a result. Whether we see this growth in our students, ourselves, or our opportunities, we are both eager to see what the next year brings. The next step along our road is the graduation of our kindergarten class tomorrow. We are both very nervous for the proceedings, but not nearly as nervous as we are for what lies beyond. Here’s hoping that our nerves are unfounded, and our best hopes and dreams are exceeded. To another year of success, adulting, and this blog!

All in Time

I have a good ear for timing in music. This arose largely because I hardly ever practiced the tuba, my main instrument, outside of official rehearsals. This meant I had to be able to precisely time when I came in. If I messed up my timing, the entire song would be ruined by a single loud FWARP. I used to adopt a similar approach in life, waiting for the precisely correct moment to complete a particular task. This usually meant doing things at the last minute.

I procrastinate. It used to be one of the defining characteristics of who I was. At university, I would leave assignments until the point at which no normal human should be able to churn out whatever word count was necessary. Teaching and managing my activities outside of teaching has helped me reign in the desire to just do it tomorrow. Now, most of the time, I’m just doing it.

Insert obligatory meme here

I am teaching for 9 hours of my day. Last week, we had open class to prepare for and deliver, two major tests to administer, and submission deadlines for material for next month’s classes. When I get home, I often make dinner. Most days, I write a freelance writing piece and/or a piece for GosuGamers. This past week was particularly intense in terms of this. I submitted one large piece of freelance writing (2000 words is large, okay), stayed up until at least 3am on Friday and Saturday to cover the past Dota Major for Gosu and spend 3 hours casting my first competitive Dota series in a long while.

After I managed to get all of these things done, not missing a single deadline, I spent the majority of Sunday…procrastinating. I had one last deadline for Sunday, and I spent it watching Downton Abbey, playing Dota, and Skyping an old friend. You know what they say about old habits. I still didn’t miss the deadline, though.

While some of these projects yield more immediate rewards, like being paid money to write as a freelancer, others are more long-term investments. Writing for GosuGamers builds up my network within the Dota community. I hope to one day use some of these connections to fast-track my casting career. Either that, or be offered a paid job for the site. To be honest, I could think of little better than sitting and writing about the game that I love and actually getting paid for it.

All of these endeavours make me realize that I have become far less lackadaisical about what I want to do with life. I want to write. I want to have the game that is my passion, Dota, involved. I don’t want to be wrangling small children for 9 hours a day. It’s not bad work, don’t get me wrong. I just know it’s not really for me. Maybe next year I will work with older children, and I will find that far more stimulating.

For now, I will continue to fill my after-work hours with a fine balance between work, Dota-related endeavours, and procrastination. And I could think of nothing better. I hope that you all find your time signature. I can’t say I’ve found mine yet. All I’ve done is started to listen to my own song a little closer.


Pension: Storm in a Teacup

One of the foreign teachers at our school is leaving Korea. Her reasons are her own, and she feels it is time for her to leave. Something that she had to do before she leaves was claim back her pension from the Korean pension fund. On Tuesday, she went to their offices expecting to find a not-insignificant amount of money waiting to be claimed. She was told that the school had not paid a cent towards her pension the entire year. Thus began the storm of frustration, confusion, and anxiety that plagued the teacher’s room until today.

Every month, a portion of our income is deducted, allocated to the Korean national pension scheme. According to the rules and regulations of this scheme, the hagwon is supposed to place this amount in a pension account for each teacher, and match the value each month. The fact that our employer had not moved a single cent into our colleague’s account the entire year understandably caused some mild panic. All who could check their balances did so, and found the situation to be the same. The teachers who had spent prior years at the school had been paid up until the beginning of this year only, and the new teachers had not been paid at all. The panic levels increased significantly when this was discovered.

Since earlier events have caused us to question the security of our school’s continued existence, all of the teachers are wary for signs of potential financial collapse – oracles staring into flames to hope to discern whether to tuck tail and run before the metaphorical axe falls and cuts our bodies off at the wallet. Pension not being paid for the entire year is such a sign.

Kris and I were mildly less concerned because, as South Africans, we cannot get any money from this pension scheme, despite paying into it every month. The only reason we pay it is because we are obliged to, and because the payment cannot be separated from our healthcare. Even still, we are tempted to drop it and simply put aside the money that would otherwise go into the pension into a ‘Oh bugger, we have become ill or disfigured’ fund.

Nevertheless, there was a flurry of job seeking, looking up potential avenues to claim our money back, and headless chicken syndrome. Thankfully, this did not last long. The pension officer that our colleague dealt with contacted our employer and apparently threatened to press charges for the lack of payment. The next morning, all of the pensions were paid up in full.

So, all in all, it was little more than another day in the life of a foreign teacher. In one way or another, you are probably getting screwed. Your employer will not communicate properly with you. You are always looking for jobs, just in case. But hey, the money’s good, and life could be much harder.

Everybody Loves Water Pistols

Today was our third field trip at our first school in Korea, and it was by far best we have had up until this point. While our expectations and initial impressions may have been rather low, the day quickly turned to on one of the most positive experiences we have had with the children. What turned the day into such a good one? Nothing more than a parking lot, two blow-up slides, an inflatable pool, a host of water pistols, and a rediscovered chlidishness inside us teachers.

For the whole month, we have been aware that the field trip would be to a water park. Our initial thoughts of travelling to a massive theme park with three-storey slides was quashed by our co-workers who had been at the school for more than a year. They told us that in previous years, there had been little more than a couple of slides in a small parking lot. When we arrived at the ‘water park’ this morning, they were proved correct. I looked upon the two slides, splash pool, and pavement with dread. I felt that the children would quickly be bored, and the day would turn into a constant hunt for explorers seeking entertainment outside of the small oasis of fun. How wrong I would be.

The children ate their snacks, which ranged from healthy fruit to exotic sweet things, and changed into their swimming clothes. The slides were ready, and so were the children. I was not ready for how much fun would be had in the short time we would spend in a Korean soccer academy’s parking lot.

The children soon became one with all of the watery objects, sliding and swimming and sliding again. Almost as quickly, the first streams of water flew from a water gun. Thus began the aquatic warfare that would not cease until the ‘adult’ teachers were told it was time to return to the reality of the school. The majority of children had brought water guns with them, of varying size, functionality, and effectiveness. The teachers happily scavenged any guns that were left unattended, and I managed to sample almost every means by which children and other teachers could be covered in water.

My personal favourite was a foam water cannon in the shape of a pink unicorn. Apart from the ridiculousness of the image that was created by my wielding this weapon, it was also remarkably good at its job. Its operation was simple: put the end of the tube into the water, pull on the handle to suck water in, point it at your target, push the water out again, and watch as your quarry is covered in water. The only limitations were the strength of one’s arm and the limited water capacity. In a young girl’s hand, it made a soft stream that reached a few metres. In my hands, it was a siege weapon capable of reaching across the entire parking lot, from the floor to the top of the taller slide. I had more fun than I probably should have through drenching children. And I wasn’t the only one.

The pools were prowled by students and teachers equally determined to spread watery havoc to the best of their ability. Children played. Teachers forgot that they were meant to be working, and played as well. Work was a foreign concept in the small playground where we enjoyed a bubble of simple childish joy.

While I one day might look back at my experiences in Korea and see all of the bureaucracy and duties and mundanity of day-to-day teaching, tonight, I remember what it feels like to be a child for a while. I cast off my glasses, my negative attitudes, and my disciplinary teaching facade, and sprayed children in the face with a pink unicorn. Today was a good day.