Tag Archives: school

Keep Your Gift

I just finished one of the more strange and frustrating conversations that I’ve ever had with a coworker. Although not a typical conversation, it perfectly exemplifies my frustrations with working in Korea.

Mr. Choi and I recently came in second place in a nation in a teaching competition with over a thousand schools. We worked together to create an innovative lesson plan. Mr. Choi has received many special honors, but I’ve mostly excluded because I’m not a Korean or a career teacher. To make sure I don’t feel too left out, the National Office of Education wanted to do something special for me.

This was my conversation with Mr. Choi today:

Choi: Taft, I have good news! The representative from the NOE was impressed with your teaching. She was sad that you could not attend the meetings or celebration, so her office gave approval to give you a special gift.
Me: Wow, that’s really nice. What is it?
Choi: She said you can choose anything you want. The budget allows up to 400,000 won (about $375). She suggested a coffee maker.
Me: That’s generous, but I don’t drink coffee. Maybe something different? Since I’m moving soon, maybe we could request something nice for the teachers’ office that all of the teachers want.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No, I’m sorry that’s not acceptable. It must be something just for you.
Me: I am moving soon, and I’m short on room, so maybe not a thing. I’ve been dying to go skiing. How about an extra day of vacation and a ski pass? That’s much less than 400,000 won.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No that’s not acceptable either. They cannot give you an extra day off because of your contract.
Me: How about just a ski trip, then. Even if they include transportation, admissions, and rental it would only be 250,000 won.
Choi: Ok, let me ask…. No, they can’t do a ski trip. They said it’s not a good gift. They suggested a coffee maker again, but she said you can pick whatever you want.
Me: No, apparently I cannot pick whatever I want. How about a gift certificate to a restaurant? I would definitely use that.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No, they said that a gift certificate is not acceptable because it’s not really a gift. It must be a physical item. Maybe you want some electronics.
Me: I’m so over this. Pick something you want for your family and request it. Tell them it’s what I want.
Choi: No, that’s against the rules. They would not allow it.
Me: I have an idea. I want to buy a new suit before I leave. The one I want costs about 330,000 won. That is a physical thing. It is within the price range. And it’s something I actually want.
Choi: Ok, I’ll check… No, they said that’s not a typical gift. You should pick a normal gift.
Me: That’s it. I’m done. This is completely insane. Tell them I would pay them 400,000 won to never talk about this again.
Choi: But you must pick something.
Me: I already did. Their move.

I love the lifestyle in Korea, but I won’t miss working here. Everybody talks about “the rules” constantly, but I’m starting to suspect that there are no codified rules. The “rules” are whatever the person in charge happens to decide at the moment.

Until next time.


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It’s Cold

In Korea, fall is wonderful. But it only lasts for about thirty minutes. For the past two weeks, it’s been depressingly cold. Since I don’t have a true winter coat, I spend all day trying to get warm. It’s not easy.

My office is connected to my classroom. There is no door separating the two. If I leave the office for more than a few minutes, I return to find that at least a few of the windows are wide open. For this reason, the classroom rarely warms up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The same thing happens in most classrooms and every hallway in the school. During the early afternoon, it is actually warmer outside than inside the school. This makes me wonder if the school’s energy savings project is a bit of a joke.

The school was kind enough to supply me with a small space heater. Since Koreans have a paralyzing fear of fans, the heater is incapable of circulating air. So the area immediately surrounding the element is irresponsibly hot, and the rest of the office is chilly.

Broken heater in a Korean classroom. Cold winter Korea.

I forgot to mention…it’s broken.

Yesterday, while reading through some blogs about China, I came across an interesting and well written one called Ed in China. Apparently, Chinese schools are also completely void of basic logic:

The chilly situation is mitigated somewhat by electric space heaters – we’ve got them in all the offices and classrooms in our school.  They aren’t particularly effective in the coldest weather – kids and the rest of us have to keep dressed for outdoors indoors to be even close to comfortable.  Anyway, it’s quite commonplace to see these things blasting away, doing their best to reduce the chill, the effort defeated by keeping all the doors and windows open.   So local kids and local staff will be sitting around freezing – heaters firing away – windows and doors open, complaining about the cold, while dressed for winter – indoors.

If you try to step these folks through a logical progression that not only is the practice a colossal waste of energy, but also isn’t making anyone warmer, they just don’t follow it.  The reply is that they need “fresh air’ to keep them healthy.  This, amazingly, is in cities with air pollution that is often off the charts.  Explaining that most of the electric heaters use air filters is a hopeless exercise.   China is big, growing, powerful and all the rest, but the inability to think logically in this place is one of several “Achilles’s Heels” that are huge speed bumps – even with the progress being made.

On the bright side, at least I know what I’m getting myself into this time around. I think Korea may be good practice for China.

Until next time.


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Now I Write Plays

Nobody told me that “playwright” was part of my job description. I knew today would be busy because I have several extra classes on my schedule, but I had no idea what was in store for me.

About five minutes before first period started, one of my coteachers (the head of my department) approached me:

CT: Mr. Taft, I need your help. Can you help me write a play?
Me: I’ll be glad to help. Show me what you’ve got and I can edit.
CT: No….please write a play for the students to do at the talent show.
Me: You want me to write the whole thing?
CT: Yes. And you are a native speaker, so you should organize it, too.
Me: Ummmm…,.when do you expect this to be done? Also, can you give me any more information on what you want here?
CT: Well you don’t have much time, let’s read the script together at lunch today. I want to do The Shoemaker and the Elves.
Me: That’s not possible. I don’t even have a break before lunch.
CT: Ok, you can do the play this period. That’s almost an hour. Hurry up, this is important.

This is what he wants:

Sometimes I despise Korean work culture. Crazy, last-minute requests like this are the norm here. Every native English teacher has had a similar experience at least once or twice.

The talent show for which he wants me to write and organize this play will be held in two weeks. The show is an annual event at our school, so he has no excuse for coming to me this late.

But I can’t get too mad at my coteacher. This is just the way things work in Korea. It is completely acceptable to wait until the last second and throw your work on whichever poor bastard happens to be under you in the food chain.

I guess it’s time to get to work!

Until next time.


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Missing my Buddy

So I got ditched. Remember my walking buddy, Gi-Tae? I’m afraid he went and got a girlfriend. He’s been missing all week. I was worried at first, because he is always waiting for me in the morning.

Yesterday, I saw him waiting outside of an apartment building near the school. He  said hello and waved, but didn’t join me. Then this morning, I figured out what was going on.

Walking Buddy and Girlfriend

When I saw him later, I asked if he has a new girlfriend. He got really embarrassed and walked away. There’s my answer. I guess it’s time for me to scare up a new walking buddy…

Until next time.


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I’m Gonna Be Sick

I fall somewhere between normal, well-adjusted adult and a raging germaphobe. I don’t wash my hands a hundred times a day and I don’t avoid all human contact, but I tend to view the world a bit differently than some of my friends and colleagues. For an example of what I mean, check out this post from last year about the giant teddy bears in many Korean businesses.

For over a year now, teddy bears topped my list of nasty things that people like to touch. Recently, the bears were knocked out of the top spot.

Cute Elementary Students

Sure they look cute and say funny things…but don’t be fooled! They are walking, talking biohazards. They all pick their noses like they’re training for the booger-hunting Olympics. If their fingers aren’t in their noses, they’re in their mouths. If not in their mouths, then their friends’ mouths.

I have heard about terrorist plots to poison entire cities by contaminating the water supply. If the terrorists were smart, they would infect just one kid and send him or her to school. Within an hour everybody in the building will be contaminated!

The reason these guys are worse than the teddy bears is the fact that I can avoid teddy bears. Teddy bears don’t chase me down the hallway. They don’t grab my hands or feel the hair on my arms as I walk by. Teddy bears don’t sneak up behind me at lunch and rub a booger-stained hand through my clean beard.

I know that there’s no avoiding the germs here. I wash my hands regularly and carry a bottle of sanitizer in my pocket, but that only goes so far. So I’m trying very hard to look on the bright side. I think it’s safe to assume that my immune system is getting back into shape really fast. There’s no telling how many horrible diseases I’ve managed to fight off in the past six weeks.

Those of you who are thinking of sending me a care package this year, remember to include hand-sanitizer. If you have the extra cash to spare, throw in a Level-3 bio-hazard suit!

Until next time.


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