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Archive for May, 2015

Camping Extravaganza

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 29, 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

All Pictures

Not only do I enjoy not planning trips, but I also enjoy not helping to put up the tents.

Roland did ALL the planning.

I love traveling and therefore I like planning trips. But guess what I love even more than planning trips… Not planning trips.

It’s tedious work that requires several hours of research just to set one day’s itinerary. It’s even worse here in Japan, were many tourist spots have no or very little information online. Many websites are just a picture of the attraction and a phone number to call for information. (Don’t even get me started on finding information in English!)

I can communicate somewhat with my limited Japanese, a dictionary, and a quick game of charades. But, that only works in person. On the phone, things don’t usually work out for me. I avoid calling non-English speakers at all costs.

He planned the whole trip and cleaned and gutted this fish too!

So when our friends from South Africa invited us to their Golden Week Camping Extravaganza that Roland planned, we happily joined. Roland planned the trip, made all the reservations, found the locations to all the spots and the best ways to get there. If he and his wife ever do an around-the-world-tour and they invited us, we would be fools not to go!

Pineapple and Ham kebabs

Potluck… or rather Grill Luck

Normally, when we camp with the South Africans, we organize our meals. This cuts down on wasted food, wasted time, trash, and dirty dishes. But, since Freda and Roland were driving all the way up from Kyushu, we weren’t sure if they would get there in time for the first dinner.

Mark and I stopped at a grocery store near the campsite and picked up whatever caught our eye. Among the vast array of items we got were a pineapple, shrimp, a fish, and a lime. The South Africans seemed to have done likewise. They brought a ham, a medley of vegetables, and some sweet potatoes.

Delicious camp grilling on smoky grills

Everything just seemed to oddly go well together. I took it as a good omen for things to come. The next day we would meet some other campers and the 6 of us would have a great time camping, traveling, and playing nerd games together.

All Pictures


 

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

 


Sunagawa Park
(砂川 キャンプ場)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°42’11.1″N 133°45’22.7″E

Address:

〒719-1105
岡山県総社市黒尾792

Phone:

  • 0866-92-1118

Websites:

Cost:

  • 1,000 JPY per tent for night camping
  • 500 JPY per tent for day camping
  • Parking is free

Hours:

  • Open year round except for Dec. 29 – Jan. 3
  • Night camping 14:00 ~ 10:00
  • Day camping 10:00 ~ 17:00

Notes:

  • There is a persimmon grove where you can buy fruit in the fall.
  • Take your trash home with you.
  • You need to make reservations before hand.
  • There is a water slide that you (if you’re super skinny) and your kids can use in the summer.
  • There are showers, but they seem to never be unlocked.
  • The toilets and non-flush and, depending where your camping spot it, a long walk from your tent.

Map:

 

Posted in Honshū, Japan, Okayama 県, Sōja 市 | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Job 5: The JET Programme

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 22, 2015

 

August 2010 – August 2013

The teachers’ office in Korea. On my desk, the most important thing for me to finish is my apple.

The JETs: July ~ November 2009

I actually started working on my JET Programme application about 6 months before they started accepting them. I knew it would be a long and hard process. While in Japan working for GEOS, I met some JETs. My second year in Korea I found that one of them worked for SMOE just like I did. She gave me several pointers on applying; the most important one was to start early.

While I waited for the 2009 applications to be put on the JET website, I got many of the documents I knew I needed. I asked many co-workers for references. I ordered several copies of my college transcripts. I started writing my why-do-you-want-to-work-for-the-JET-Programme essay.

Once the application was available, in November 2009, I put everything together. It was as thick as a booklet. Then I took 6 days to read everything over and over again. It had to be perfect. I mailed the application within a week of downloading it, along with all the other documents that were asked for.

Guam sunshine

I was in Korea when I applied. I had no intention of flying all the way back to Miami for the interview. (For the JET Programme one has to be interviewed in one’s own country.) The plan was for Mark and I to bum around Thailand for some time then do the interview in Guam, the closest US city with a Japanese consulate.

Compare my desk in Thailand to the one above from Korea.

February 2010

Once you’ve passed stage one of the application process, you get about a week or two of notice before your interview. You are given a time and date to be at the Japanese embassy you chose in your application. Luckily for me, my interview coincided with some Thai or public school holiday. I brought Mark with me and we only had to ask for one day off and no one asked for a reason. My boss and supervisor must have assumed that we were heading to the beach or something.

Most people who apply to the JET Programme get rejected. I didn’t want to burn any bridges unless I had to. If I didn’t get into the JET Programme Mark and I were going to stay in Thailand for at least a year. If I did get in, we would have left right before the new job started. But, you already know how this Thai job ended.

I have no idea what my future holds; I’m just enjoying life.

April 2010

Mark and I were on vacation on Koh Tao when I got an email from the Japanese embassy in Guam. They were sorry to inform me that I had not been given a position with the JET Programme. I was to be reassured, that this was not the end however. I had been placed on the list of alternates. I would be called if someone dropped out for some reason.

I took that as a rejection. It was like being first runner-up at a beauty pageant. Sure if Miss America cannot fulfill her duties, you get the job. But, what are the chances of that?

One should never go camping without wi-fi

July 2010

After quitting our jobs in Thailand, Mark and I went to the states. We visited family and friends. We joined my brother, Malcolm, on a month-long camping-around-the-country trip. We just happened to be at a campground that had wi-fi when I checked my email one day.

I found out just in time that I had been upgraded from an alternate to a JET. Since I was no longer in Thailand I would be processed by the Miami consul instead of the one in Guam. I was in the C group, which was the last group to leave for Japan that summer.

I had to get back to Miami for some paperwork and pre-departure prep by the end of July.

The 2009 Miami JETs

I was to later find out that I was the only person in group C from Miami. So, instead of awkwardly throwing a party and holding meetings just for me, I was invited to join group B. They would leave the day after the dinner at the consul’s home. I would stay in the US until it was time for group C to go.

on the JET bus at Narita Airport

August 2009

In Tokyo I met up with other group C people from other cities and countries. We spent 2 nights in Tokyo for orientation. Groups A and B have a week-long orientation, but groups C gets to Japan after the school year begins. Our orientation is the abridged version, which is nice.

This is the last time many of us will wear a suit.

The Japanese government put us up in a swanky hotel across the street from the Tokyo Metropolitan Building. I listened to speeches, lectures, and heard lots of advice on life in Japan. We were told about what we needed for our cars (JETs must have optional as well as mandatory car insurance) and our healthcare plan was explained to us (JETs get additional health insurance).

We were in meetings from dawn until dusk and we never left the hotel. Well, once we did go out for a late dinner. I didn’t really want to eat, I just wanted to get out of he building.

Practicing new vocabulary

By the end of August I was in Japan and working in 2 high schools. A few weeks after that, Mark joined me. He later got a job teaching at a private pre-school.

I worked for the JET Programme for 3 years and I loved it. If I had any kind of problem there was someone there to help me; from my supervisors at my schools, to my JET representative or the head of the Oita Prefecture board of Education.

Everyone on the JET Programme works well together!

I could also count on AJET to keep me entertained on many weekends. They planned lots of sports days, camping trips, or dinners at restaurants around town.

My job a the JET Programme is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

one of the math teachers at the school festival

My advice on working in the JET Programme:

  • Don’t buy any of the books they sell at orientation. Most likely some teacher before you bought an earlier version of that book and it is already sitting at your desk. If not, you probably won’t need it.
  • Look online for lesson plans. There are tons of websites out there that are absolutely free. Don’t pay for anything.
  • Ask if there are any teachers’ apartments in your town and if you can get an apartment there. The apartments might be older, but the rent is ridiculously cheap. I lived in one for 3 years and paid about $120 a month in rent.
  • Socialize as much as possible. Make friends with other JETs, your Japanese co-workers, your neighbors, anyone. Sign up for cooking classes, piano lessons, knitting circles, anything. When homesickness hits, you will need a support group to run to.
  • Before you buy anything pricey, browse at the recycle centers. That is where you can find used goods for a fraction of the cost.
  • Daiso has good stuff.
  • Look for local produce shops where fruits and vegetables are cheaper than in grocery stores. These places tend to not be open everyday.
  • If you are going to buy a car, buy a used kei car from a mechanic shop near your home.
    • Small mechanic shops have the best deal on used cars.
    • If and when your car breaks down, you want to be within walking distance of help.
  • Keep a suit jacket and/ or make-up in your car. No one will every tell you when it’s photo day until it’s too late.
  • Always have an extra generic topic lesson and several vocabulary games ready to go at a moments notice.

Rabbit and Turtle are great students.

The next post should be about the job I currently have, but since I still work there, I will not write about it. I will post Job 6 entry as soon as I leave this job.


 

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank toaskwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Posted in Japan | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Job 4: BFITS

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 15, 2015

December 2009 – May 2010

We’re poor, but we can still afford our own pool.

Working for the government through a company

I already have an entry on the basics of how I got my job in Thailand. So, let me give you a brief re-cap here. Mark and I got to Thailand and sent out lots of emails answering job ads. Neither of us got any replies, though.

There was one particular job that I found in the classifies of a Bangkok newspaper. I really wanted the job and it seemed like they needed someone right away. But still, no one replied to my email.

The ad in the newspaper gave the company’s address and it was a couple blocks from our hostel. So, Mark and I put on our business attire, took our resumes, reference letters, copies of our diplomas, and other documents and knocked on BFITS‘ door.

This is how we got to work some days.

We sat in the office of a guy ready to interview us. “Mr. Boss” seemed very happy to see us. A math teacher had just quit a few days earlier and an English teacher was on the verge of quitting. He had been trying to call the Human Resources department to get them to put an ad in the paper for a new math teacher, but they had yet to reply to any of the messages he left them.

Clearly, they had put the ad for a math teacher in the paper, because that was the ad I saw. But, HR either didn’t know how to answer emails or they just didn’t care. They never answered a single email while I worked there. If I needed anything, I had to call the person I needed help from on their private cell phone. (If you are lucky enough to get the private cell phone number of someone who works in HR at BFITS, don’t loose it, or abuse it!)

There’s very little desk space left on my desk.

Long story short, I got the job and started that Friday. Mark’s job, at the same company but a different school, started 2 weeks later. We got a nice apartment and settled into our new lives in Bangkok.

The job itself was okay. It was just a lot of work, for not that much pay. I was working 10 times as hard as I did when I worked at a high school in Korea. If I were making more money while working harder, it would not have been so bad. But jobs in Thailand generally don’t pay that much.

(I lived quite well while I was in Thailand, because in baht I made decent money. I made half of what I did in Korea when comparing both the baht and the won to the US dollar. In Korea I made enough money to live well and send money home to pay off student loans. In Thailand I just made enough money to live well.)

I taught 7th through 9th grade math; two 9th grade classes, three 8th grade classes, and three 7th grade classes. I taught each class 4 times a week. After each lesson I gave homework, after which I graded and handed back the next day. Every two weeks or so, there was a test, after which I graded and handed back during the next time class.

I went from teaching 1 lesson 20~24 times a week to teaching 12 lessons 2~3 times a week. But it was just middle school math; no biggie. The hard part was the endless grading. Just look at my desk in the photo above. There are 4 towers of homework and tests to grade!

Ain’t no party like a BFITS party!

But I was still willing to do this tiring job for a lot less pay for at least a year, just to live in Thailand for a while. I liked the company. (Just look at the band they hired for their year end party!)

The problems started after my first test. Parents complained when their kids’ failed.

It was not a lot of kids that failed; just the students that did no homework. What no one bothered to tell me, was that the last teacher, the one who had quit, used to grade on a curve. These students were used to doing nothing and passing their test anyway.

First off, I’ve never heard of grading on a curve in middle school. That sort of thing should only start in college when the coursework actually gets hard. If you start grading on a curve for pre-algebra, you’re just setting these kids up to fail in life.

No one wants to get a phone call from their supervisor on the weekend.

I first heard about the complaints when my supervisor called me one weekend. Mr. Supervisor told me that I just cannot fail any of my students. I liked Mr. Supervisor. I feel like under different circumstances we would have been very good friends. But during this phone call he seriously contradicted himself and left me confused.

I was told not to just hand out grades. I had to give good tests and lots of homework and give the students the scored they earned. My tests could not be too easy but, I was to never ever, never ever ever, fail a student.

I was told that on Monday Mr. Boss was going to come to my school to deal with me. He was going to fix the problem I made. I had angered rich parents and that was a big no-no.

On Monday Mr. Boss looked through my lessons which were in a Power Point file. And he saw all the homework I gave the kids. There was nothing on the test that was not covered in the lessons and practiced in the homework.

In fact there were a few questions on the test that were straight out of the homework. There were a couple problems that we worked out together as a class, and I thought I would just throw 2 of them on the test as a confidence booster. Mr. Boss seemed to really like that.

Seeing that I did my job well and exactly like how he thought I should, Mr. Boss then met with the parents. He defended me and my teaching methods to them, telling them to get used to it or find some other English program for their kids to join.

I needed to relax in my pool after such a stressful day at work.

He stuck around after the meeting to tell me to not change a thing. Then he proceeded to go through my co-workers lessons, tests, and exams. Most of them were applauded for doing good jobs, but a few were given warnings that their tests were too easy or they should give more homework.

A few days later I got another call from Mr. Supervisor. He told me about the heaps of praise I got from Mr. Boss and that I should continue to do what I was doing before. But he warned that this should never happen again. Then for some “unrelated reason” he asked for my teacher pass-code. He needed to check something concerning my students’ scores.

He never came out and said it, but I had a feeling that he was just going to straight up give some kids a passing grade since I would not. We played this game many times. But I was never certain exactly what Mr. Supervisor had done.

How could they have even eked out a D?

It wasn’t until the school year ended and we had a meeting down at the BFITS headquarters, that I found out that all my students had passed. I sat there wondering how could that be possible. I had a few students that never turned in any homework, never passed a single test, and flunked the exam. How could they have passed?

Even with all this, I still liked my job. I worked hard, got paid little, and had parents complaining that I didn’t just pass their kids, but I still liked my job.

In the end, I left for a number of reasons. I had a non-grade-related disagreement with Mr. Supervisor. I needed to do what was best for me and he needed to do what was best for his job. Since what was best for him wasn’t anything near to being what was best for me, I quit.

The view from our kitchen

Besides, Bangkok was in political turmoil at the time. Just about everyday some building was going up in smoke. I never felt unsafe, as long as I stayed away from the protests, but I wanted to get out of Thailand just the same.

I would still recommend BFITS to anyone thinking about moving to Thailand if he or she didn’t have a job in mind already. But I would also give this advice. “Don’t work in Thailand if you need to send money home for any reason.”


Thailand
(ราชอาณาจักรไทย)
(Ratcha Anachak Thai)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, bus, or train.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to Thailand. But, you will need a visa to stay longer than 1 month or if you been to Thailand for at least 3 months already in the past 12 months.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 30-day visa at the port of entry.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Thai embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Do not say anything negative about the king or anyone in the Royal family. And definitely do not write anything bad about the king or royal family. This offence could land you in jail. You don’t want to go to Thai jail.
  • Don’t use the city ferries in Bangkok during the peak hours. They fill those things past capacity and sometimes they sink. Use them during non-peak hours when they are not crowded.
  • Never eat female horseshoe crabs in Thailand. The roe of the horseshoe crab has tetrodotoxin (TTX) which is toxic to humans. It makes people very sick and some people have even died as a result.

Posted in Bangkok, Thailand | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Job 3: SMOE

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 8, 2015

September 2008 – August 2009

A dancing lesson given during the SMOE orientation

A Government Job

I really enjoyed living in Korea. I wanted to go back there, but I had to find a new company to work for. I did not trust English Channel anymore. I considered myself lucky for getting out when I did and with all the money owed to me.

My brother and me in Mongolia

Mongolia

I was on a long trip and did not have much time to job search until I got stuck in Mongolia. The day my brother, mother, and I were to fly out of Ulanbataar, there was a sand storm. Our flight kept getting delayed.

There was also a problem with my Russian visa. The expiration date for my visa to Russia was soon approaching, and I was still in Mongolia. I took to the internet at a cafe to see what I could do about it. There was nothing to be done.

The problem sorted itself out in the end. But, it gave me time on the internet to do some job hunting. I kept an e-version of all the documents I needed, so when I found a job ad for SMOE, I applied right away. I hoped that I would get the job, but at the time I had other things to worry about.

SMOE, or the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, puts native English speakers in English classes in the public schools in Seoul. SMOE is not a company, but an office in the Korean government.

I felt that working for the government would be better than working for a company. I would not have to worry about not being paid on time or the company going bankrupt. I could just concentrate on doing a good job.

Sight seeing in Finland

Finland

We spent a few days in Russia then moved on to Finland. When we were checking in to our hostel there my mom’s cell phone rang. Since she had an international sim card in her phone, I gave SMOE her phone number to contact me.

I was told that my resume sparked their interest. They asked me a few questions which I seemed to answer to their satisfaction. They said that someone would call me later for an interview. I was to stay near the phone until then.

Train stations: the next best things to airports

France

A few countries after that, we were at a train station in Paris waiting for the Euro-star to London. We had a 30-minute wait ahead of us when a lady from SMOE called. The timing could not have been more perfect.

I ran to a quiet area and the interview started. It felt like a very informal chat. I think the interviewer was just checking to make sure I was not a creep or crazy person. At the end of the phone called, the lady told me that, although she could not tell me officially yet, I pretty much had the job.

I think that getting a job with SMOE back then was easier than it is today. There were several people I met at SMOE that I was surprised could get any job, much less one working with children. One guy missed a whole morning of meetings at orientation because he drank too much the night before and was passed out in a stairwell. For the week of orientation everyone was supposed to abstain from alcohol.

a field trip during SMOE orientation

USA

It took several months for me to get back to Korea. In the United States, it took 2 months for me to get my paperwork done. The Korean government had just changed the laws concerned with foreign workers and even the people at the Korean embassy weren’t too sure what to do.

I had to get 2 types of background checks. I had to visit doctors to get x-rays and blood tests. After which, I had to get an apostille from the Korean consulate in Georgia. I had no idea what an apostille was, and I’m still not completely sure.

One of the many benefits of working for the government is that they paid to fly me to Korea. Both GEOS and English Channel made me pay for my flight then reimbursed the cost after I had worked for 6 months or so. SMOE, and later the JET Programme, paid for my ticket up front.

Of course both SMOE and the JET Programme waited until the day before I flew to email me the ticket. (I had the flight itinerary a few weeks in advance, just not an actual ticket.)

Orientation Lectures

Korea

When I got back to Seoul, I spent my first 3 weeks living with a co-worker. My apartment was not yet ready, so one of the English teachers volunteered to have me stay at her place. I hung out with her and her family. I felt completely welcomed and had a great time.

I taught classes my first week at work. The second week I had orientation. At first I was expecting it to be like the useless meetings GEOS made me go to, but it was much, much better than that.

Late night snacks

First, they sent us off to stay are the Hyundai Learning Center which is a really nice place. It looked pretty new when I was there; new dorm rooms, new gym, new laundromats. The center also had free wi-fi, a gym, and basketball and tennis courts outside, and plenty of congregating areas as well as a convenience store in the basement.

There were only a few rules: 1. Don’t leave the campus and 2. no alcohol. Many people had a problem with the rules. They felt as though they were being treated like babies. But for only one week, for your job? Come on!

Some of the presentations and lectures were boring. If you had ever taught English before there was very little new information here; a good refresher course though. But for me, the orientation was not really about learning a bunch of methods for teaching; I already knew that. It was about meeting new people who would help me survive the year in Korea.

I did take notes when I heard something interesting or new. But, mostly I collected friends. I Facebook friended people I liked, lived near me, or shared several interests with me. There were almost 200 new teachers at the orientation, so there were plenty of people to choose from.

(There were 200 people at my orientation, which was orientation B of the second hiring period of the year. SMOE hired a lot of native English speakers.)

Did I mention that SMOE orientation came with Korean food at every meal?

Many people did not like the food they served at orientation. They were new to the country and were not yet used to Korean food. I liked most of what was served to me about 80% of the time. Other than fish soup and spam, I’ll eat pretty much any type of Korean food.

No body wanted to eat Mr. Spamears.

The night they first served octopus was quite entertaining. Many westerners don’t eat octopus; squid sure, but not octopus. There is just something disturbing about purple meat. It took me a while before I could eat it without having to talk myself into it first.

Spam night was not a big hit either.

Doing my weekly radio show at my high school

I enjoyed working at a high school in Seoul. I felt more immersed in Korean culture since I had more Korean coworkers. I mostly taught kids, but I had 2 classes where I taught the English teachers and 2 were I taught the non-English teachers. I trusted many of my co-workers and went to them when I needed advice or help. And they did the same with me.

My students presenting their skit

I loved teaching these girls. (I taught at an all girl high school.) They were funny, witty, and creative. You know how most high school girls are. There were a couple of bad eggs, but most of them were mostly charming, most of the time.

Making new friends at SMOE Orientation

But I think the biggest difference with working with SMOE over a company, is that SMOE is a lot bigger than any of the companies in Seoul. They hired more foreign teachers than the hagwons. The many people I met at orientation, made a huge difference for me throughout the year.

I thought that I was okay with having just a few friends, namely my 6 or so co-workers and the 3 friends I made at the English Channel training. But I made more friends after one week at SMOE’s orientation then I did during the past year.

Not only that, but I made friends with their friends and their friends’ friends. With SMOE my social net kept getting broader and broader. I had my core close friends, but many other people I would meet up with once in a while.

I like to make my friends hike!

With a bigger net work of both foreign and Korean friends, I was a lot happier and more active than I was my first year in Korea.


South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.

Posted in Seoul, South Korea | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Job 2: English Channel

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 1, 2015

April 2007 – April 2008

One of my co-workers at EC and me

Why not Korea?

The next overseas Job I got was at English Channel in South Korea. This is another company that has since gone out of business.

I enjoyed teaching English in Japan and wanted to try it in a new country. After a year in the ESL teaching industry, I knew what I liked and didn’t like. I liked teaching adults. I hated teaching little kids.

There is a huge difference in the behavior of children who have started school and those who have not. School aged kids have a higher maturity level and, since they’ve been to school, they have already learned how to control themselves in a classroom setting.

Some people love teaching babies and toddlers because they are so cute. But, if I have to wear a suit to work, I would prefer not to be thrown up or peed on. Besides, I hate singing and dancing. (I’ll do it if I have to, but I will never like it.)

I really got into hiking my first year in Korea.

So when I found the website for English Channel that said they only teach adults, I knew that I would like working for them. I just made sure that the pay, health insurance, and other benefits of the job met my criteria.

Jobs in Korea have different benefits than jobs in Japan. They both provide you with national health care and basic training. They both find you an apartment. But in Japan, you have to pay the rent. In Korea your boss pays the rent.

In both Japan and Korea you have to pay into the national pension. In Korea you get all of your pension back when you leave the country, if you are from the right country. In Japan, you only get the first 3 year’s work worth of pension that you put in.

Me on some mountain

So after taking a few months off to travel and visit friends and family back home, I emailed English Channel and scheduled an interview over the phone. I asked for the interviewer to call me after 18:00 my time on a Wednesday.

I woke up at 5:00 on a Tuesday when my cell phone rang. It was Mr. Webster at English Channel. I sat up in bed trying to sound awake. He asked if he had called me at the correct time. “No,” I said. Then I pretended that being called at 5 in the morning was no problem. “I was already up… um, organizing stuff.”

He started the interview. He asked questions and I answered them, quite well I must add. I was fast asleep 15 minutes before and sitting in bed in my pajamas, but I was killing this interview. At the end of the phone call I was told that I would be hired.

I just had to do some paperwork, which I did. Then I sent my passport to the Korean consulate in Georgia to get a visa. Within 2 weeks I was in Seoul.

I wore this everyday.

They did training and orientation for 3 days near one of their branches in Gangnam. There were 6 of us and we would all be sent to different schools around Seoul. I kept in regular contact with 3 of them until they left Korea. (I traveled with one of them to Thailand.)

There were many things about English Channel that I loved. The first being the coat. Most people hated wearing the lab coat but I loved it.

English Channel never called itself a school; it was a “language clinic”. It was very gimmicky, but I guess we were supposed to be doctors, nurses, or scientists… I don’t know.

But wearing the coat meant I never had to iron my shirt. Hell, I could wear the same shirt all week and no one would know. In the winter I wore long woolen shirts under my lab coat and in the summer I wore a tank top. That’s right; I wore a spaghetti strap tank top to work on hot days. No one would know; you only saw a small triangle of my shirt anyway.

I just made sure that my pants were ironed or that my skirt was long enough. Then, I wore the same un-ironed shirts every week.

Another mountain

Life was great at English Channel. I liked my co-workers and would hang out or take trips with them often. The managers we had were all at least tolerable; even the one who didn’t seem to like foreigners much. And, the job was easy.

There were no lessons to plan. The books they used came in lesson-form already. There was no paperwork for me to do. I would even get a bonus during the months I taught more than some set amount of classes.

There were also no meetings to attend. The only mandatory gatherings we had were branch sponsored dinners we had to go to every 3 months and the big Christmas company-wide dinner. We had to dress up for the Christmas dinner at a swanky restaurant in a posh hotel and sit through many boring speeches, but then we all got to eat as much free 5 star food we wanted. It was by far, the best free meal I ever had!

The only downside to the job was working on 2 Saturdays a month. But I could live with that.

another random mountain

Things were going so well, I started thinking about signing up for another year at English Channel. I had an around-the-world trip planned, but I was hoping to return to Korea and English Channel when that was done. But, during my last few months we got a new manager. He thought we could make more money by changing a few things.

The company stood out from the rest of the English schools in Korea because it was the only one that offered one-on-one classes. Students could have lessons go as quickly or slowly as they needed. They could also feel safe to make mistakes, because it was just them and the teacher in the class.

The new manager thought, that we could double our profits if we put 2 or 3 students in a class instead of just one. We tried it, and within a month many students left. I could see the results quickly. Chatty students clammed up when they were no longer the only student.

It was a disaster.

Like students leaving English Channel

At the end of April 2008, my contract was up and I left for my trip. Within the first month of leaving English Channel, I was supposed to get my end of the contract bonus. But when I checked my bank account, there was no deposit from English Channel.

I sent an email to the new personnel guy at the head office. I told him that I had yet to receive the year-end bonus. I got an email back from him a few days later where he basically told me that life was tough and that I should not be such a whiner.

I had never really dealt with this new guy before, but I had heard my co-workers complain about what a jerk he was. Rather than get into it with him again, I emailed the personnel guy that Mr. Jerk had replaced. Mr. Webster was the man who interviewed me and he was the guy I turned to.

I sent him a copy of the email Mr. Jerk sent me and asked him what he thought I should do about it. He told me not to worry and that he would take care of it. Within a week I had my money.

Somewhere in Korea

Later I heard from the co-workers I left behind that Mr. Webster got frustrated with the horrible changes the company was making and he quit his job. After that English channel stopped paying its employees on time. Then they stopped paying the Korean staff all together.

One of the native English teachers found out that English Channel stopped paying into the employee’s pensions and health insurance. Everyone I knew at English Channel left. The last I heard they shut down many of their branches. I think there are none left.


South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.

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