Monthly Archives: August 2013

Mission Aborted: Why I Fled Korea’s Private ESL Industry

Optimized-IMG_0707Not the reason why I quit: my kids, while sometimes challenging and naughty, were generally friendly and well-behaved. The aspects that tipped the scales towards my departure were related to the behavior of my employer, using tactics that are shockingly common throughout the private ESL industry.

If you follow my social media accounts, then you may be aware of what has happened in the past week. If not, I’ll keep it brief: I left my teaching job in Korea after a series of legal abuses regarding to things owed to me by my hagwon, in accordance with Korean law.

These specific things included medical insurance and contributions to my pension. One of them provides national healthcare coverage, instead of me having to pursue expensive private health insurance on my own, and the other adds up to about $1,000 or more by the end of the contract.

This was money I was planning to pay my Canadian taxes with, as well as put towards other bills (Hi Mastercard!) next Spring.

Another insidious fact I learned as I dug deeper, is that since I was not receiving pay stubs when I got paid. Given that I was paid 2.1 million won a month, my automatic tax deduction should have been in the area of 30,000 – 40,000 won.

INSTEAD, I was being charged 3.3% tax per month, leading to an outgo of almost twice that figure. Additionally, I have no way of knowing for sure, but since I was not receiving pay stubs, it was plausible he could have been skimming money off my cheque as “taxes” and pocketing the money.

On top of all this, my boss was saddling me with an ever increasing workload, with expectations to teach a “perfect” lesson (e.g. please all the kids all the time). At first, my classes were too boring. Then, I played too many games. Then, they were too boring again. I simply couldn’t win.

With all the legal hassles, insane work loads and expectations, and the general stress of teaching kids you couldn’t effectively discipline (because if you upset them, bye bye precious tuition $$$), it was exacting a heavy toll on my physical and emotional health.

 

I had a nasty cold that I had to work through (sick days? What’s a sick day? They don’t exist in Korea in hagwons generally speaking.)

My lips were constantly breaking out in nasty canker sores from all the stress I was experiencing.

I experienced a general fatigue that grew worse as time pressed on, only partially remedied by the weekend.

In my last two weeks, I started to slip into a depression … catching myself falling into this dangerous pattern, I knew I had to get out before anything worse could happen to me.

After a plea to my recruiter either led to my boss not caring, or my recruiter not passing along my grievances (I had already complained about my other issues in person to my boss twice before, only to have him dodge the question or provide a convenient excuse/non-answer), and a 15 minute meeting at the end of my last workday that led to him calling me a liar (which wasn’t true — it was related to course materials and such, as he was unaware of what was going on in his classes — if he spent more time out of his office instead of counting tuition money on his spreadsheets he’d know that!)

After all that frustration, and a day off to plan my escape, I had finally had enough – I was going to pull a runner.

30 hours later, I was on a plane to Bangkok via Shanghai, bidding farewell to Korea’s private ESL industry. I do feel bad for the teachers I left behind, but I felt like I was backed into a corner with few options available to me. This whole episode will pass, hopefully with valuable lessons learned by all sides involved.

Have you ever ran/resigned from an ESL job in South Korea due to shady dealings? Feel free to spill yer guts below!

In Motion: Vancouver’s True Nature (In 15 Seconds)

Optimized-IMG_0204

In the weeks leading up to my departure to Korea this past Spring, I was as busy as a beaver, gathering together a collection of documents a mile long to qualify for my visa. All the while, my projected start date loomed on the horizon, adding urgency to the proceedings.

As such, I didn’t want to risk anything going wrong by sending my passport through the mail; placing my trust in Canada Post didn’t seem like the best idea with time running short.

Instead, I made the journey to Vancouver, passport in hand, to have my work visa processed in person. In the week it took to get a slip of paper in my passport saying that I could work legally in another country, I did a fair bit of exploring and hiking that allowed to uncover Vancouver’s true nature.

Below, for your enjoyment, is a Vine-esque summary of the beautiful nature that awaits you in the Greater Vancouver area…

Koh Chang’s Got More Than Beaches. Like This Amazing Thai Waterfall.

Optimized-hpim0967Just one of several stunning waterfalls accessible in the interior of Koh Chang, Thailand.

With my latest (unplanned) trip to Thailand well underway, one of the first places I’m going to make a point of visiting is Koh Chang, the second largest island in the country. However, it largely remains off the tourist grid because it isn’t in the south of the country, where the tourism heavyweights of Phuket, Samui, and Phangan reside.

Now, I’ve established that Koh Chang has beaches in a previous post, but did you also know that it contains its fair share of waterfalls? Containing mountains in its interior that rise to approximately 600 metres at its highest point, and a robust rainy season that is nearing its apex, and you have a recipe for some spectacular chutes of water.

The picture above was taken about a month into the dry season. Imagine what this Thai waterfall must be like now?

A Look Around My Former Home in Korea, Baebang

Optimized-IMG_0384The streets of Baebang outside my apartment on the first morning at 8am

After shaking off the jetlag that accompanies a trip to the other side of the world, it was time to take a look around the community that would be my home for the next year. Baebang, unknown outside of Korea (and likely the Asan-Cheonan area) is considered to be a town by Korean standards, with a population of approximately 30,000.

While many places this size are a dime a dozen in this country, Baebang has a vibrant feel to it, due to the rapid economic growth it is experiencing due to the presence and continuing expansion of the Korean electronics company, Samsung.

Let’s go for a little stroll and see what’s here, shall we?

IMG_0386The view from the top of my five storey building, overlooking the Eastern portion of Baebang town.

Optimized-IMG_0395This is what the mailboxes look like over here … mail theft, what’s that? 😛

Optimized-IMG_0418An exercise machine in my neighbourhood … back pain? Rub up against it grizzly bear style and knead those cramps away!

Optimized-IMG_0421Many colourful flowers blossom in the long, hot summers that grace the Korean Peninsula. On a major street near the downtown area, we see a display of floral beauty that brighten the sometimes gritty urban landscape that you see throughout Korea.

Optimized-IMG_0426In Korea, with 50 million people hemmed into an area the size of Ohio or the island of Newfoundland, and with 70% of that land being comprised of mountains, land available to grow food is at a premium. Therefore, every square inch of land that can be used for growing food, usually is, even in the midst of urban areas. Here, a vacant lot is used to grow onions if I’m not mistaken…

IMG_0424At the back of the town site, an amazing site repeated almost everywhere throughout Korea … beautifully shaped mountains towering over their respective towns and cities. Korea is a wonderland for the hiking enthusiast … it’s just a shame I didn’t get a chance to scale one of these beauties (due to the heat, and my sudden … erm … exit from the country)

As I alluded to in the title of this post, I am no longer in Korea, as of August 16. I pulled a midnight run from my private English institute for reasons that shall be disclosed soon (by the end of this month).

Right now, I am typing this from a comfy hostel bed in Bangkok, Thailand. My focus over the next week will be to de-stress from everything that happened in the past two weeks or so. To that end, I’m headed to Koh Chang, hoping for a little sun in the midst of the rainy season (we shall see).

Until next time, I’ll leave you with this: Do you, or have you ever lived in Korea, away from Busan or Seoul? What was your town/city like? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Photo: Full Moon Over Lonely Beach on Koh Chang

Optimized-hpim0917The full moon shines through the clouds on a festive night in Koh Chang…

Throughout the world, Thailand is well-known for the rowdy celebration known as the Full Moon Party. Some love it, reveling in its trademark neon body paint, techno music, and bottomless buckets. Others hate it with a passion.

And still others are intrigued by the concept of partying and having a good time with only the moonlight to guide your dance steps, but they are turned off by what they see and hear at Koh Phangan’s flagship version of the event. The massive crowds of 30,000 people, excessive drug use, theft.

Well thankfully, that Southern Thai island doesn’t have a monopoly on moonlight and beaches. It turns out that Koh Chang has both as well. Minus the massive crowds. When I was the version of the party that Lonely Beach on Koh Chang threw, there were maybe a couple hundred people at the most out on the sands. It just felt right.

So if the crowds down south intimidate you, look east. Koh Chang may just be the place for you to find your groove under the faint light of the moon!

Photo: Bangkok Skyline, Sukhumvit Road Area

The view of the Bangkok Skyline from near Sukhumvit RoadThe largess of the Sukhumvit Road area of Bangkok, as seen from the highway headed towards the Eastern Provinces of Thailand

Known as the Big Mango, Bangkok is essentially the NYC of Southeast Asia. It is a massive city filled with people from every corner of the world. Some are here for business. For others, pleasure.

The former have no doubt made their mark on the Bangkok skyline, gracing it with innumerable skyscrapers. From food to entertainment to the palpable buzz generated by everyday life in this megalopolis of 14 million people, it’s clear to me personally what I feel when I roll into town from the Southern or Eastern islands after dark: I’m home, baby!