Alcohol and Irony

As most of my friends know, I’m not a particularly lucky person when it comes to the small things. Although I’ve been overwhelmingly lucky when it comes to the big (important) things in life, timing has never been my strong suit. Well, a bit of good luck finally struck this weekend.

My new vice principal has been making my life a difficult since he started last month. He rearranged my schedule just as I was getting comfortable. According to one of my colleagues, he has a lot to prove to the other teachers. The first thing on his list was to increase everyone’s workload even if it’s not necessary. A common Korean tactic for new bosses – flex his administrative muscles and let us all know who’s in charge.

I tried to fight the changes to my schedule but ultimately learned that he was technically within the bounds of my contract – even if the changes seemed sudden and unfair. So I settled in for what I thought would be another year of crappy scheduling.

Fast forward to last weekend when I attended a party for the vice principal. He completed a course that all new VPs have to attend, after which a group of teachers to throw a party celebrating his “graduation.” Before the party, he only communicated with me through other teachers. I was surprised to find, when we finally spoke at the party, that his English is almost as good as some of my fellow English teachers. So we sat for over an hour drinking and talking.

VP Celebration in Ulsan

Unlike the principal, this guy drinks at work events. When he invited me to drink with him, my first instinct was to make an excuse to avoid him. But I listened to my colleagues and joined him for a quick on. To my surprise, he was nice and didn’t seem at all like the hard-ass manager that his new image would suggest. We talked for at least an hour before I had to leave. He told me that I wasn’t what he expected – I am “much kinder than [I] look.” I learned that he has a fascination with American police dramas, so he was excited to hear that I was a detective in the US before coming to Korea.

The next morning, I got an email from my coteacher informing me that the vice principal has chosen to compromise with me. Instead of shifting several work hours to Saturday each week, he agreed to give me every other Saturday off. I’m sure glad I didn’t snub him on the drink!

It’s easy to forget the power of good work relationships in Korea. Although a manager’s opinion of you is important in the west, it’s that much more important here. A few beers and a little friendly chat made the difference in enjoying my weekends and spending them working.

Until next time.


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4 thoughts on “Alcohol and Irony

  1. araneus1 says:

    ah yes, vice principals…………… I could tell a story or two but, I won’t.

    • wtl0715 says:

      I’d love to hear your stories. Maybe you could do a blog post about it? I like reading your writing!

      • araneus1 says:

        I’ll add it to my list.
        But just quickly………… as life tends to be…… I learned one of the best ‘tricks’ about classroom discipline from a vice principal who really didn’t like me ( I cannot say that I blamed him, as I hid my lack of experience behind a wall of bravado….. the kind of ‘I know what I’m doing’ bravado that annoys the hell out of people who know that you have a lot to learn). I had all the children that all the other teachers discarded (this is a time honoured tradition in primary schools…… at the end of the year you make a list of all the kids that drive you nuts and the vice principal puts them into the class that the new teacher will get!(Needless to say that I NEVER contributed to one of these lists). I was the new teacher…… straight out of teacher’s college. The irony was, they were a great bunch of kids. Misfits often are and I loved them but I had zero experience and what they needed was calm leadership. What they got was a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of frustration.
        This vice principal taught me that all punishment must be tempered with hope….. hope that the punishment will end some time soon!
        What it boiled down to was that small tasks that required a degree of perfection worked much better than huge tasks that overwhelmed the child……. simple but very effective.
        When I think back to that first year I think that it is amazing that no one strangled me!

      • wtl0715 says:

        That’s great advice! I’m just beginning my second year, and I am beginning to understand what you’re talking about. Though I still have A LOT to learn, I am beginning to feel like I understand how to handle classes. You’re absolutely right about not overwhelming the kids – I recently found what I think is the sweet spot between too much information and not enough of a challenge.

        Anyway, thanks for all the comments. I always like to hear from people who have been in my shoes and know the ropes!

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