Saturday, August 23, 2008

Week from Hell

*What you are about to read is an account of how things have gone rotten at my job. Understand that it is not entirely the school's fault nor is it entirely mine. These are the events that took place which highlight why I am in my current situation. Albeit very dramatic I am still here and still teaching. Thank you *

You know life is giving you all the wrong turns when everything bad that could happen starts to pile on top of each other.

So where do I begin?

This last week was the end of the intensive schedule. I have been so overworked that my mind and body were beginning to resent everything in front of me. I was stressed out and tired and was worrying about the littlest of things. And so within all this my emotions ran high and several events took place.

Here is the back story:

Two of my coworkers who I sit next to have been friendly to me. But after a few mistakes on my part things turned sour. One day I threw a teaching material onto their desk and they saw it and took it personally. Also on occasion I would respond to them coldly.

In general let me just say that I wanted to be their friends and work it out with them, but didn't know how. I wanted to understand their thinking and get to know them better.

But I was too tired and stressed to talk to them. I am not good with conflict and need to seriously work on this. But during the intensive week was not the time.

My friend from the front desk returned from her trip to Canada. I like to talk with her at lunch time and so I talked with her about my feelings towards these two coworkers. Yea, I got out some thoughts to someone and got some feedback! I didn't do it in a catty way, just more of a venting way.

Wednesday night:
My supervisors and I had a meeting about my performance. They pretty much told me everything that I had been making mistakes on.
  • Not being friendly to the coworkers (cold attitude)
  • Forgetting to hand out the materials to students (extra papers for study, parent complaint)
  • Not making the class fun enough for the little ones (parent complaint)
There may have been more but that sums it up. I know it is wrong to get angry and emotional when you are sitting in a room with your bosses. But that is exactly what happened to me.

Again let me tell you that the timing of the meeting was really awful. It was 20 minutes before my last class of the day, the 10th class. I had been at the school since 9am and it was 6:30pm.

I was tired, run down, emotionally unstable, worried and not at all confident in myself.

So I reacted with anger and spite! I told them everything that I was upset with about the school and about my coworkers.

To my surprise they listened and gave me a response that was genuinely professional and also caring.

But they did tell me that if I receive more complaints that are too serious then I can be given written notice. Meaning Fired, leaving me two months to find another job or leave the country.

I left Wednesday night more tired than ever before, mentally shattered and feeling very down trodden. Yet I had to go back the next day and teach yet another 10 classes, this time with more of the young rowdy children.

Thursday afternoon:
The day was moving along and I felt like a numb puppet going about the daily exercises of teaching. I figured just get through the week and think about all that has happened on Saturday when you can relax.

Yet as anyone who is familiar with gossip knows when it finally gets to the people who were being exposed it comes out very badly.

The two coworkers I talked about with my friend found out that I was talking about them behind their back.

While I was sitting in the teacher's room waiting to teach my next class I was confronted by both them and it was ugly. They were really angry (I don't blame them actually) and said things to me that were nasty.

Being in my state of numbness and pain from Wednesday night's experience with my supervisors I was not at all capable of dealing with this confrontation.

A professional normal person (I suppose) would have said "Ok, lets please take this to another room?"

A crazed Joy who was emotional unstable, insecure and stressed out did this instead: She ran off crying.

I tried to exit out the stairwell only to be stopped by my friend at the front desk. After talking with her and my teacher supervisor I was convinced not to leave.

I told my teacher supervisor that I wanted to quit, that I was now very uncomfortable here and feel I have screwed things up beyond repair. To my surprise she actually understood me and accepted that that is how I feel.

For the rest of the day I didn't go into the teacher's room and went home.

Friday afternoon (meeting with coworkers):
It was arranged that I would meet in a room with my supervisors and with the coworkers who were angry at me.

Let me just say I was scared. It went like all death matches go...some dueling and then a quick blow to the head and your out. we had some spats and then finally came to a resolution. This being that I need to change myself and my attitude. To be more professional at a job like this and not let me emotions carry me through the day. In other words don't be so cold and don't think that others know how you feel all the time.

I actually agree with them that I did screw up in those ways and need to change myself. Although there is a side of me that understands that I am innocent to some degree.

They also made the point that running away back to America or to another job here in Korea would be that I am not willing to change but rather just run away from problems. They said I need to change myself at this school and with everyone in it.

So here lies the final conundrum.

  1. Do I stay or do I go?
  2. Do I stay and change myself at this school?
  3. Do I change companies while changing myself at a new school? Get a fresh start and do everything right with a new set of coworkers.
The answer is I don't know. In fact I don't really even know how to feel about being told that I need to change myself.

The realization is that so far I am not satisfied with my job, the hours and the work environment are all to unpleasant. Remember I work in a small school with only 8 coworkers, 3 of which are foreign teachers (not including myself).

For now I don't have to be hasty and make a switch just yet. I have time to look out there and see what is available.

The intensive period has finished and so I just want to bounce back to a regular schedule while at the same time explore my options.

Please note that I don't feel this reflects that working in Korea is a bad idea. It is just one that is challenging to me for so many reasons. I am not going to run away but rather seek to understand my weaknesses and strengths. Thank you


  1. Hang in there email response!
    BIG HUGS!!

  2. thank you for your support ~ for now I just need to take time to myself and allow things to soak in

  3. sounds like a week we had last summer
    my daughter (3 years old) was hospitalized for a week and my wife was fired for not caring about our school because one of us had to stay at the hospital with our daughter 24 hours a day ... we switched to public school.

  4. Hey Joy. I've had weeks like that, too. I had entire months like that in my first and second year. They stink badly, and it's weird how it never rains but it pours with work stress.

    Do you have non-work friends nearby who are ready to hear you out without risk of anything getting back to anyone? Do you have a sauna nearby where you can soak that bad stuff out? Hang in there. . . things get better.

    (P.S.: If it's Korean coworkers who are feeling you're cold, small gifts, like traditional Korean rice cakes or ferrero rocher chocolates and friendly notes go a long way.)

    Intensive really sucks butt, and even though you didn't ask, I hope you wait for a few weeks after things return to the normal schedule before you make Big Important Decisions. . . but regardless, hang in there. Hang in there hang in there hang in there.

  5. Thanks Roboseyo! I am glad to have your support and response.

    I am going to wait and let things get back into normal gear before making a final decision.

    The coworkers I had a spat with are Korean. I am not sure right now whether I will go as far as give them sweets to sweeten them up, because they said some nasty things. So I need time to cool down.

    I do plan on being professional and treating the teacher's room like a workplace and not worry about ppl's thoughts all the time.

    Sure I don't know what their saying in Korean but I am probably not missing much.

    Thanks again! its good to know that I am not the only one out there who has had hard time teaching in Korea.

  6. Hey hun. That situation sounds like the pits. Especially being told you need to work on yourself while at the same time dealing with being confronted nastily. Good that you aren't making hasty decisions. As far as what you asked me on my blog I'd rather send you an email if that's ok?

    Definitely hang in there. Intensives make everyone feel kind of crazy. I definitely have been slightly anti-social but thankfully I work with mostly Americans so there is an understanding of sorts.

    If there are parts of yourself you don't like then definitely change, but don't change so much just for a work environment that may not appreciate it.

    You'll get through of course. Good luck hun and enjoy being intensive free for now.

  7. re: gifts: fair enough.

    re: stories: we should sit down for beer and amazing BBQ chicken at a place I know in Jongno and swap stories sometime. Invite your friends. . . see who wins the washing machine. I'll bring my violin.

    sarcasm aside. . . yeah. you're not alone.

  8. Hi. My two cents is that you came to Korea to work and be with someone you care about. But that doesn't mean you have to revolve yourself to being poster girl for foreign teachers or world's greatest girlfriend. You are only human. You're trying the best you can.

    Yeah sure apologize and make a point, but changing yourself? No. I wouldn't take that, and my dignity wouldn't take that - especially after the mean things they said to you. Why can't they change thir thinking?

    And don't go anywhere. I'll listen if you want me to.

  9. Joy - sorry to hear you're having such a rough time.

    I don't know if you need my advice but I thought I'd offer it in case you find it useful.

    First a tangent:
    Unfortunately high stress situations and lack of communication can abound in public school as well - I know you asked me about public school and I didn't have a chance to really get back to you and give you a good answer. I've been meaning to do that. If you want we could get together over coffee or something sometime instead. That way you could ask me tons and tons of questions. :)

    The subject at hand:
    I've never worked in a hogwan but I know intensives are super stressful. Don't forget that you're still new to Korea and probably still suffering from culture shock, even if you don't realize it. Not that having been here a long time makes much difference in some cases... Give yourself some time and be patient with yourself.

    I think waiting to make a decision will be a good idea as well.

    re: gifts
    a good idea. bring some pastries or candy or something along those lines. apologize and let them know that you're still new in Korea and that it's hard to live in such a different culture and ask them for their help. you can even tell them you don't have any nun chi (stress the CH - which means social sense) because you're not Korean but you're trying to learn. it sounds strange but that's worked for me in the past. if they're nice people they'll understand your situation and your desire to keep harmony in the workplace.

    if they're not nice people, well - at least you'll know and have done your best.

    good luck joy :)

  10. Thanks Lunalil

    Sigh~ I think I am hanging on to a lot of pride.

    Right now I am just having a hard time getting out "good afternoon, how are you?" to those coworkers.

    The way I see it the choice of a pubic school wouldn't mean the end to stress just a whole new set of cards.

    thanks for the support~


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