Before I went to the university in Seoul to teach, I was in Seosan in Chungnam Province for six months. It was supposed to be longer, but after you hear about how difficult it was, you will understand.
I was sent there by EPIK, English Program in Korea, a Korean government organization responsible for recruiting English teachers and placing them in schools around the country. I was soon to find out that they really didn’t know what was going on in these schools, and the schools didn’t feel the need to live up to the contract with EPIK.
I arrived on the bus with my two kids at the Seosan bus station from Seoul. The Korean English teacher picked us up at the bus station. He took us to our apartment, gave me the key, told me I needed to catch the bus to school and told me when and where the catch the bus, and then he left.
We had been promised a three bedroom completely furnished apartment by EPIK. However, he took my children and I to a two room apartment with no furniture, no refrigerator, and a stove that didn’t work. When we opened the door and went in, the place was filthy. I had no car, had very little money, and had no idea where we were. I didn’t even know where the closest store was. Our kitchen was basically a hallway, and the one bathroom had a shower nozzle on the sink, so you got the whole bathroom wet when you showered.
We had been in S. Korea already for a year, in Paju City. I had been recruited away from my school by EPIK promising I could have everything I had at that school plus a higher salary if I went with EPIK. However, the apartment the other school supplied me looked like a mansion compared to this apartment. In Paju City, we had a three bedroom apartment with two bathrooms. It was completely furnished. The kitchen was big enough to have a table in the kitchen floor between the cabinets and the huge refrigerator with side by side doors and a special drink place on the outside of the door. I had a laundry room and a huge balcony with a place to hang clothes. There was a world of difference between this in Seosan apartment and my apartment in Paju City, but we were stuck for the moment because of my lack of money and the fact that I had signed a contract trusting they would hold up their end.
My kids and I went outside and walked down the street looking for stores. We fund a small store where we bought a broom, a mop, laundry detergent, pillows and some food that didn’t need refrigerated. We each had an American Indian blanket in our suitcases, so I thought we could initially sleep in the floor and use them. I didn’t even have a phone to call and tell someone what was going on.
We went back to the apartment and began cleaning it up. The floor was concrete with linoleum on it. We cleaned it, had some not very satisfying dinner, and slept on the pillows and in the Indian blankets.
The next day, I made sure my kids had everything they needed and caught the bus to school. I let that Korean English teacher know that the apartment just didn’t live up to the contract I had signed. His response was, “Those people in Seoul don’t know what it is like here. Maybe they can give you a three bedroom apartment there, but not here.” I called EPIK. I told them that the guy wasn’t even going to try to live up to the contract. They got on his case and made him buy a bed for each of us, a TV, a very small refrigerator, a table not any bigger than an end table for the kitchen with tiny chairs, a washing machine, an air conditioner, and a phone. He also installed internet, The stove still didn’t work right, but he kept insisting it did. My daughter and I had to share one room, and my son had the other room. He kept saying that Koreans didn’t need beds and furniture, and he didn’t understand why we needed furniture. He thought we should sleep in the floor. It took time, but EPIK kept after him, and we got all those things.
I was homeschooling my kids, and we had to have the internet because their school was coming from American on the internet. My son was in high school, and my daughter was in middle school. I got up early every day to catch the bus to school, and didn’t arrive home until 7:00 at night. The bus was the only way to school and back. I was completely worn out all the time.
After that, the students were a nightmare. It was a middle school in the middle of the country, Palbong Middle School. I didn’t initially know, but I eventually found out from other teachers I met in Seosan that all the student the other schools in Seosan couldn’t handle because they had such bad discipline problems all got sent to Palbong. By law, the Korean English teacher was never to send me in the classroom alone. It was his job to keep the students under control as I taught. However, he was afraid to go into the classroom and refused to go with me. Korean middle school students aren’t small. I am five foot seven inches tall, and most of them towered over me.
Initially, I tried teaching, but the minute one of them acted out and I tried to correct them, the rest of the class would get and begin jumping up and down and screaming. I caught some of them smoking, and they weren’t supposed to smoke. I caught them cutting themselves with razors blades in the classroom. I took the razor blades away and put them on my desk, and when my back was turned, they stole them back. I had to start putting the razor blades in my pockets, but when I took them out, sometimes, I cut my fingers. I caught them trying to set fire to papers in class and had to take their lighter away. I caught them jumping out windows in the middle of class. They were a mess, and I was just trying to teach, but not getting anywhere because they were so unruly.
I tried giving them candy as a reward if they were good, but they mobbed me and stole all the candy. Some of the girls said to me that the last teacher just let the class do whatever they wanted and just taught the students who were interested. However, I wasn’t paid to just let them run havoc. I was taught to teach them, and I was determined to teach them.
I asked advice from the other teachers. They told me the only way to get them under control and teach them was to get a stick and spank them. I didn’t want to spank. This was before it was against the law to spank in Korean schools. However, I needed to do something. I decided I would get a stick and walk around with it like the other teachers did, but I would bluff the students, not really spank them, but make them think I would. However, they figured it out and called my bluff. I had no choice by to go ahead and spank them. That Korean English teacher was a man, and he was afraid of these big guys who were ruling the classroom, but I stood up to them.
If they refused to do what I said, I told them I would spank them, and they ignored me, so I spanked. I always told them what I expected first,. I always told them I would spank them if they didn’t cooperate, but they didn’t cooperate, so I began spanking. I would tell them to do it, and they refused, so I would give them a swat. If they still refused, I gave thema swat. My stubbornness outlasted theirs. I got them under control, quiet, and sitting in their seats. After that, I played English games with them, and they began to realize that it was fun to learn English. We did role plays in English in the classroom, and then I worked with them to put on a play in English. Their parents were thrilled!! They kids were so proud of themselves, and they were speaking English. I got an award from the governor of the state, but the Korean English teacher got it in the mail from the school and didn’t even tell me initially I had it. He hid it.
My nerves were shot. The university in Seoul offered me a job, and I put my notice in at Palbong. I just couldn’t take it. I wanted to teach older students that didn’t need to be put in line. Before I left, the Korean English teacher had an attack of conscience, and he decided he needed to give me the award the governor had sent me.
As for the town of Seosan itself, I had also been teaching adults at the Seosan Education Center. I made a lot of friends there who I hung out with. We went out to eat. I went to yoga with some of them on a weekly basis. I played volleyball with some of them on a weekly basis. I fund an English speaking church and some of them followed me to church. I made lots of friends in Seosan, and I hated to leave them, but we went to Seoul where I could teach more civilized students and living in a bigger apartment. However, when I got to Seoul, I had displayed my award from the governor in my office, and my boss wouldn’t let me lock my office, and someone stole my award. Koreans just didn’t want foreign teachers to be given credit for anything.
However, I was much happier teaching at a university in Seoul. I taught at that university until I had to retire because of my age. In Seosan, we had finally found a big grocery store, but Seoul is full of big grocery stores. The only American food restaurants in Seosan were a pizza place and Baskin Robbins, but Seoul is full of lots of good American, Mexican, Indian, South African, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean restaurants, and they were all affordable. There was movie theater in Seosan we went to sometimes, but there were several movie theaters we could take our pick from in Seoul. In Seosan, there was only a bus or a taxi, but in Seoul, they have that wonderful subway system There were many advantages to living in Seoul. My kids loved the subways in Seoul because they had freedom to go anywhere they wanted.