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Living and working abroad as an English teacher in a foreign country may seem glamorous and easy. That’s what I thought. In reality, acclimating to a foreign lifestyle and workplace system isn’t always as simple or smooth as you expect it to be. Learning to marry the concept of long-term along one or many personal conflicts (i.e. food issues, un-welcoming co-teachers, bad housing situations, language barriers, cultural differences and/or culture shock) becomes an immediate challenge for English teachers upon entry. But what about the difficulties and frustrations for the English teacher within a foreign workplace?
The trick with catchphrases
Dynamic Korea is a “catchphrase” we learned at our orientation and the key to surviving it is yogic flexibility and a kind of roll-with-the-punches type of patience. As far as countries and catchphrases go, you have to read between the lines to get an idea of the marketable highs and the lows of that country. Incredible India‘s “incredible” for instance– on a bad day– could mean “overwhelming”; while Amazing Thailand‘s “amazing” was…well, still pretty fabulous because I didn’t experience much difficulty with it in general. Dynamic Korea‘s “dynamic” , however, possessed both, an ominous and dubious meaning for the ex-New Yorker in me. Saddling “dynamic” could mean attempting to harness powerful change, unpredictability and inconsistency and who wants ambiguity in a foreign country or in a teaching job?
“Flexible and open-minded” was the mantra we were given at orientation, when we didn’t have answers to the most basic questions just days before entering the Korean classroom. Basic questions, such as what school we were going to teach at, what grades, how many students and our schedule. The answer was actually simple, just not obvious to a Western approach– the basic things that Westerners find important and want to secure in advance, were still being dynamically juggled up until its deadline.
I’m in my third month of my teaching contract and interestingly, the school structure, schedule, etc… was never explained or given to me despite my query. Thus, I must figure this out on my own. I’ve not even received a classroom timetable yet (so I’m often late starting class, when the bell occasionally forgets to ring…which rides me between lightly annoyed and humored). Many EPIK English teachers are experiencing similar broad scopes of Korea’s work dynamics; thus, an irritation with Korea’s shape-shifting inconsistencies is obviously felt. English teachers try their best to juggle and adapt to the dynamic workplace, amidst language barriers and cultural differences, but this unfortunately puts an strain upon having to adapt to their new lifestyle in a foreign country.
Fellow EPIKer and EFL teacher, Tina Hyland was kind enough to let me repost her thoughts here. I’d say I’ve experienced 3-4 of her examples, and could add to her list as well. We all have interesting stories to tell about the dynamic workplace we’re experiencing in Korea. So with no further ado, I say- Fighting! and hand this post over to Tina.
What is “Dynamic Korea”
It’s what expats say when we throw up our arms because we’ve been a little screwed, or something very unexpected happens (which is somehow the norm here). Here are some of my examples.
1) Being given vacation days, then having them abruptly taken, after you’ve made travel plans. Sometimes you even lose the vacation time *after* you went on a vacation you were given, meaning that future vacations will be shortened. That whole sentence probably doesn’t make much sense to you–and to me neither. Ah, Dynamic Korea
2) Having your entire schedule shuffled, and finding out about it in the last five minutes, just before you are supposed to suddenly do something important. Ah, Dynamic Korea.
3) Being given a gift or a privilege one day, and the next day having it taken away after they’ve had “further discussions.” Ah, Dynamic Korea.
4) Being asked to do something huge at the very last-minute, like, “Oh, we know we said we wanted a Teacher’s Class next week, but the teachers talked and we would like it today.” And by today, they usually mean in 15 minutes. Ah, Dynamic Korea.
5) Having to suddenly produce a great quantity of documents because no one told you they were necessary until the day they were due. Ah, Dynamic Korea
6) Being told uncomfortable or hurtful things by your co-workers about your size/shape/skin. Like “I can tell when you were young, you were beautiful.” Or, “You should eat chicken feet so your skin is not so old.”
Or this conversation, “We will all have one hamburger today. But you maybe need two hamburger?”
“Oh, no thanks. One hamburger is fine.”
“Oh! One hamburger is enough for you? HAHAHAHAHA!”
Ah, Dynamic Korea…