It has come to my attention that while many of my blogs have been about Korea and traveling in Asia, I have yet to really write anything about the different aspects of teaching or the overseas hiring process. So this will be the first in a series of entries discussing various parts of being an ESL educator in a foreign country. I hope you enjoy them.
Overseas schools, whether they be public or private, that have an interest in teaching English as a second language have to get around one major hurdle to become successful: the hiring of native English speakers from other countries. The vast majority of these teachers from from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The question becomes, how can the schools entice people to move halfway around the world for a one year minimum for jobs?
The answers won’t surprise you but lead directly into my topic for this first article. My school offered me the equivalent of $2,000 USD a month – a figure that fluctuates with the decline in value of American currency – and some additional ‘perks’ to the job. The first perk is free housing. Each and every teacher is given a one bedroom apartment in a building affectionately referred to as, ‘Happy Town‘ because that’s basically what the sign on the door reads. The value of this apartment is between $300-$500 a month (we’re responsible for paying our own internet, gas, and electricity – totaling between $30-$70 a month depending on how frugal you are).
The next thing the school comped me was the round trip airfare to and from Korea. I didn’t have to save money to pay for my flight here (like some countries do) and I won’t have to use what I save during the year to pay for my return flight home. It’s just one other thing the school does for us. Thirdly, there is an end of the year bonus that amounts to one month pay and we also get our apartment security deposit back, roughly totaling an additional $2,600 – the icing on the proverbial cake.
Finally, the school provides its teachers with paid vacation days, health insurance, and occasional bonuses during the year. But what do they get for all this investment? They get teachers who agree to remain for the duration of their one year contract. If a teacher quits midway through their contract, they forego all of these bonuses and in many cases are required to reimburse the school for their airfare to get here. Un-affectionately, the remaining teachers refer to these callow people, who selfishly decide to leave us all in a lurch, as RUNNERS.
Stories are passed around between teachers, between campuses, and between schools of the few, the arrogant, the runners. I have no idea what the statistics are but based on what I’ve heard, I’d say runners occur once out of every fifty teachers. 1/50 run. Reasons someone would ‘run’ are widespread from getting a job back home that pays more, getting homesick, perhaps a placement with a less than desirable school, or even something as simple as getting in over your head (a lot of people don’t understand just how difficult living alone in a foreign land can be – particularly one in which you don’t speak the native language).
This week, my school had the pleasure (sarcasm) of experiencing our own runner first hand. It is my first runner and I hope it’ll be my last. Although this particular teacher won’t be missed (she had the personality of a pangolin), her departure has pretty much for all intents and purposes, screwed over the eleven of us who are still here.
A pangolin is anteater, armadillo looking creature voted the most boring and antisocial animal by a National Geographic poll.
Every teacher has a set schedule each semester. When we take a vacation day, classes continue. Therefore teachers who stay have to pick up the slack and teach those classes. Already most of the teachers have full schedules, meaning there just aren’t enough hours in the day to cover the classes. So when a teacher ‘runs’, until the administration – who runs around like chickens with their heads cut off as well – is able to hire a replacement (if you don’t remember how long the Visa process took, I invite you to visit my previous entry: Resident Alien), the rest of us are stuck covering for someone who, 99 times out of 100, doesn’t deserve it to begin with.
And so it is that for the next 2-3 weeks, my friends and I will be covering the classes for the girl who left. None of us are really sure why she left, although we have theories. But it was rather obvious when she neglected to join us for any social events after numerous invitations. The final indication was when the directors asked for her passport to set up her medical exam and she kept stalling bringing it in. For three days she made up excuses that she couldn’t find her passport and over this past weekend, conveniently scheduled a trip to Seoul. Arriving at work Monday afternoon, we discovered she had indeed bailed, turned tail, and ‘ran’ away over the weekend (we subsequently raided what was left in her apartment).
That’s the story of our recent runner. With any luck the next teacher we get will be cool and social. So my final thoughts to anyone reading this who considers teaching ESL overseas is to realize how much your decisions affect other people. Never run. If you’re unhappy, talk to people around you. Talk to people at home. This life isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun. But I think the positives far outweigh the negatives. Live with your decision and make the best of it. No matter what, it’ll be an adventure!
Until Next Time…