Monday, February 8, 2010

Things I Can't Get Mad About

How do you deal with work related stress? I for one have had days where I deal with it in a very nonconstructive way and I end up making myself look bad.

Since my new coteacher is a no nonsense kind of lady, who for example gets upset when I do anything not in line with the Korean way. For example: She wonders why I ask her "Why should I sign this?" when she puts a document in front of me and just says, "This is for the school, sign this." It is my impression that the Korean way is to just sign it and don't ask why. Since the document is in Korean and she gives no verbal explanation I usually always ask what it is it for. Turns out this ticks her off.

Needless to say things get frustrating at work when little nuances like that build up. This time around I want to find ways to release my stress and understand my anger to prevent it from blowing up.

I decided that I would make a list of the things I can't get mad about here at work. The reason for the title is because if I do get mad about them then I usually end up with a hot temper and the inability to see clearly. I figured if I were to write a list I could study these things and figure out ways to overcome them peacefully.

In addition, I also added a list of things to appreciate, so to have a certain kind of positive perspective on it all.

I just finished writing the lists and will post them below. Some of the things will be obvious pet peeves while others are occurrences I need to work on.

Here we go:
Things I Can’t Get Mad About:
1.       Being an English Puppet: Not having control of the class and just saying the expressions. Doing whatever they tell me to do no matter my opinion or experience. 

2.       Being told my prepared materials are not low level enough. 

3.       Being treated like I am a little girl. 

4.       People constantly asking me if I can eat Korean food even though they know I have lived here nearly 2 years. People bugging me about my food selection choices at lunch time. 

5.       Not having my opinion fully understood or listened to.

6.       Working hard but having all my faults be scrutinized and not balanced out towards all the good I do.

7.       Ms. Y not communicating at all to me about the classes we teach. Her getting upset when I make a mistake in class because she didn’t tell me about their level or experience. Ms. Y ignoring my presence.

8.       Not being told ahead of time of event changes or occurrences. Not being told about anything going on in school and the English department.  

9.       Being told to teach in “Fun and Active” way by the Principal but realizing it’s incredibly difficult with such coteachers who are not “fun and active” themselves. 

10.   Caring too much about the job.

11.   Communication being difficult. I want to express my ideas but know that they will get shot down. I want to express my opinions about certain matters but know that they will not be heard. 

12.   Having to deal with everything on our own since there is a lack in consulting between the Korean co teacher and native teacher. 

13.   Knowing the children are bored in class but feeling powerless to change that. 

14.   Knowing that there are better and more effective ways of teaching English to Korean children but having my ideas rejected and not even tried out.

Things to appreciate:
1.       I haven’t been fired for being a sensitive over reactive person.

2.       I get paid to be an English puppet.

3.       Within the limits I can find ways to have fun with the children.

4.       Having fun with the children. 

5.       Having hope.

6.       My house is free.

7.       I have health insurance.

8.       Whenever I happen to be able to teach most of the class or help more. 

9.       Random days off or being randomly let home early.

10.   Knowing the students learn something new in English and because I helped them. 

11. Anytime my co teachers and I communicate well. 

I really wish I had more positive ones up there. I wanted to say something about success in my relationships with my colleagues but didn't know how to word it.

Looking back on the list I realize not all of them make me get so hot and bothered. I suppose the real issues lie in my personal feelings about everything and whether or not I am adult enough to handle it. 

What do you do to handle work related stress? Thanks!


  1. Be careful about using one's name. 'Young' is a generic enough name...but they may not appreciate it being used :)

    Too many people feel the same way - and I dare say Koreans feel it more than we might because there isn't necessarily a way to escape the pressure cooker.

    Being assertive requires standing up for yourself (and yes, that will get on the locals nerves because they're not used to a 'junior' being subordinate or the like).

    Not taking things so personally has helped a lot. I stopped making eye contact with most people because their opinion didn't generally matter to me. That old guy on the subway with some disapproving look towards the white face? Completely ignored. I'm not looking for their friendship (esp. the guy on the subway), and I don't really need them to 'like' me.

    I don't wait for someone to 'allow' me to do something. I don't need to allow those negative influences to affect me. They're still around, of course, but I choose my influences.

    Things I can't get mad about:
    #4: Ignore the question, or ask them if they can eat Western food.

    #8: Typical Korean management style. Assume something isn't going to be told to you on an official level, then choose to make something up on the spot or hear about it through the grapevine. In the past, I've gone about my typical routine; when they've come to me with a request, it's simply not my problem that they didn't plan ahead.

    #10: Nothing wrong about caring about the students :) That's exactly what a caring, compassionate teacher is supposed to do.

    #11: Typical Korean management style. I'm sorry that the Confucian mindset so undervalues young female voices - but that's the way things have been for far too long...

    You ARE adult enough to handle your own life. You proved that by coming halfway across the world on a promise, a free plane ticket, and a piece of paper you hoped your employer would honor. Whether the school is 'adult' enough to reciprocate I won't try to answer. Don't accept any fault that isn't your own :)

  2. First time viewer, stumbled upon this blog a little while ago, and love the content. I will continue following.

    I must say, I didn't have much of those stresses while teaching in Korea... once upon a time. But I really liked what the person above said, excellent advice. I wish you luck with this list, tell how well it works out. If you find it helpful, writing it down I mean, I will suggest this to a few of my friends in who are about to depart for Korea.

  3. Chris I went in and edited the name. Thanks for the support. Actually this post relates to a debackle at work which caused me to get a "Written Warning". I feel so embarrassed and disappointed with myself. But it is all due to bad communication and not stopping myself from getting mad.

  4. Nice to meet you Jonathan. Yea I just need to keep my reputation good if I want to continue teaching in Korea. But that doesn't mean all the issues will go away. So instead of thinking of my pride and trying to stand up to my superior and hope they change I have got to finally adapt. To do this I want to understand what upsets me so that I won't blow up next time.

    We will see if making the list might just be the start. I realized I need to also have a clear goal in mind. So that when problems arise I can think back to my goal. Lately I think my goal was to defend myself and keep my pride as a westerner. Obviously that is wrong. My goal now is to create a good reputation. I had this goal at the beginning of this job but some how lost track. DOH!

  5. ooouuuu.....List or journaling is good.
    What worked for me is at those heated moments before responding reactively.....excuse myself & leave the room or area & go outside take some deep breaths & say the Serenity Prayer:
    God grant me the Serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change.
    The Courage to change the things I can...
    and the Wisdom to know the difference.

    I suggest when you're given documents to sign that are in Korean...take it to the office of the school or whomever handles administrative matters and ask for a translated version.
    Is there a Personnel Office for the School District? Who arranged the interview/hiring?
    Perhaps the English teachers should form a union or organization w/Korean legal counsel, ombudsman or someone to represent the teachers in disputes, etc...
    That would really rock their socks!
    Forgive yourself & move in the right direction & apologize for your "side of the street"!
    On a personal note please think of suggestions I have made in the past re: psychological/behavioral issues, etc...

    AND here's a big HUG!!!
    Luv U.

  6. Thanks Mom~ There is a teacher's union just still in the sprouting stage. We do have Area coordinators that should help us. During this I emailed her and asked for help. She just gave me the usual speech. I told it would have been better if she came here and was like a mediator. Too late now.

    Trying hard to change ...trying

  7. ahhhh Joy you're mom is so insightful. She sounds so wonderful.

    I too have a hard time in Korea. Luckily in my situation I'm in complete control of my classroom with NO co-teacher. But that doesn't stop the principal from walking down the hall and wondering why my kids are playing a game (and being all active and fun). It's called learning, silly! And yes learning CAN be fun! And that's why you pay me lots of money and fly me from the other side of the world. But I digress.

    What I have found, the hard way, is to choose your wording accordingly. For example, if you want to get them on your side, you have to always PRETEND you have their interest at heart. Since you've been here long enough you know enough about Korean culture and workplace politics. In Korea if someone asks you to do something (especially if they are old) you just do it. But you knew that right! So, for example, when they present you with something to sign and tell you to sign it, they are not used to ppl questioning them (even though you deserve to know what you are signing). WITH ME SO FAR? It may have been insulting because a) you're not following her orders and b) you were putting her on the spot, so if she didn't know what the form was for then you created some embarrassment for her and she 'lost her face'. So pretend to be on her side. "Yes sure I would be happy to help you out, just please remind me what this form is about?"

    As far as all those annoying comments about lunch etc....face it you're different. And even though sometimes it would be nice just to blend in and not get picked on, know that you are changing how they see the world. THAT DIFFERENCE IS OKAY. Because in Korea difference is NOT okay. So the more they get exposed to these things the better it will be in the future.

    (just to make the principal laugh, I always place my lunch tray the WRONG know your soup and rice are supposed to be in the front and the side dishes further away from you). I flip my tray around so that it's the opposite. And to her it's the wrong way. And she points it out every time. But to me it's the right way, because in MY culture rice and soup are NOT the staple of every meal....MEAT usually is. So I have a good laugh with her and say 'Canada style....hehe' and then I don't fret over her pointing out my differences......I just laugh WITH her (or at her, however you want to view it). And then at the end of every meal I walk over the the lunch ajumas and thank them personally for the meal (chul moga sumneda)---sorry no Korean on this computer. And then everyone loves me!

    Okay I could go on. Btw, I would love to meet you in person (and your bf too) and talk with you about some of these things that I face too. So if you are interested in a double date then please let me know.


  8. I Echo, Jennifer, you're mom rocks.

    I think the last year has been good for me work wise.

    I think you have inspired me to take stock about what's good and bad at work and figure out how to make changes for the better.

    maybe its possible for you to teach half the class and your co teacher handle the other half?

  9. Thank Jen. Always good to hear how other folks truck through all this. I really need to put aside my ego.

    The question is how do I get past my frustration with knowing the kids aren't learning English to the fullest? For example the other coteacher, in class, doesn't even check if they are speaking it right during practice sessions.

    I don't mind getting paid to do less, who wouldn't? But by now I know what needs to get done. Sigh~

    I guess the way to tackle it is not out of anger and blame but to suggest changes and adjustments with a smooth tongue.

    Right now we are at the end of the semester so I am waiting to see what coteachers we will get next. Chance we will get the same ones...who knows..haha..> <

  10. Hi Joy~

    I understand your plight... I often think my life in Korea would be so much easier if I could let everything wash over me!

    I'm not sure whether you have already tried this, but perhaps you could get your co-teacher to teach a class with you mainly watching (as opposed to actually teaching) to see exactly what it is that she wants.

    Also- are you able to use flashcards? I have never ending supplies in my classroom. You could start by simply naming objects and then get the better students to make sentences with them etc.
    Then you are pushing the higher level students, but keeping it simple for others.

    Otherwise I think it is a case of rejoicing in the ridiculous!
    People will always be shocked that you eat Korean food.
    Even the most Westernized of Koreans will feel obligued to inform about Korea's four distinct seasons and there is always someone waiting to tell you about kimchi/dokdo/hanbok.

    It's taken a while, but now I love the daily magical mystery tour that is each section of my lunch tray. I like ramming random facts about Britain, Europe and the West in general down people's throats and I try to accept that while my not-so-humble opinion will never be appreciated in the way it would back home this is not a personal slight on me.

    Hope this helps^^

  11. Thanx for the compliments y'all....
    It would be interesting to see what's on those lunch corn dogs or p.nut butter & jelly, huh?!!
    You know, I've had the same teaching frustrations right here in U.S. schools! For years all principals care about are standardized test scores & their school's rating! I've been ordered not to "teach", just drill for tests! One principal actually changed all the grades I entered into the computer for my students.....I was REALLY glad when that evil woman let me go (fired), altho she did it right before the holidays.....had really looked fwd to payed holidays....She was really evil, didn't give a gd about the students.....AND I never called anyone evil til I ran into her!

    Of course these challenges exist in another country w/such a different culture/society than the one you come from Joy! Life always presents the lessons we need to learn. The more you learn about the Korean culture the more you'll be able to see it "their" way & understand how to navigate your way thru.
    Humility.....goes a long way!
    oh yeah....& patience too.
    Never my strong suit....but I'm learning!

  12. This is easy. The best way to deal with anger and stress at school is to sit back and know that Koreans are a lousy bunch of folks. Look at their country, their culture, their food, even the bloody streets and you won't be able to help but feel sorry for them.

  13. Lousy Korea - something tells me that is not the way to go. Even though I am mad about those issues I still value Korean culture and people.

  14. Lousy Korea ~ I just checked your blog and it is really funny. It seems the solution u see is to just throw one's arms up and give up. I think I have to do that but also make a good reputation.

  15. Makes me wonder... if I just threw my hands up and surrendered, would I still have been kicked out of the country??? eh probably...

    You are right Foreigner Joy, it is important to make and keep a good reputation, but it is also important to recognize the cultural differences and find alternatives solutions to your problem. Don't just throw in the towel.

    Where am I??? put it best, choosing the correct wording can often diffuse a situation.

    I'm not sure about your age group of students but regards to suggests for things during lessons, something I found worked really well: game of hot potato with tenses and splitting into teams and putting together short paragraphs.

  16. thanks ... I am all for new games...hey does this mean you were kicked out of Korea? I am interested to hear about those stories from people who had gone through that or chose to do a Midnight run~ I think once people run away or get kicked out that their stories aren't heard.

  17. Hahaha, ya I was def. kicked out! It is an interesting story, though I don't think I'll have space to put it all here. On my blog I'll be recounting the events of my travels intermixed with an attempt to live a not so exhilarating life. The story of my being kicked out is partly there, but not in detail, I will probably go more in depth with that sometime soon. Not wanting to push my blog on you, but if you are interested it's

    I think your right though, up until I got kicked out, I didn't hear much of anyone else being kicked out or running. Those stories were always kept hush hush.

  18. "You stand in front of a class of slant-eyed retards trying to get them to learn the alphabet for the 10000000th time."-lousy korea

    "THis is hilarious I never laughed so hard!"-foreigner joy

    really? i'm sure your boyfriend would find that "hilarious!" hahaha! koreans may suck, their country may be the most lousiest in the world, but stop for a moment and be happy with what you got. stop over-thinking everything. and just enjoy life. stop thinking you have to please your readers and perhaps subconsciously get back at the koreans. you're not doing yourself any favor. trust me, you will enjoy whatever time you have left in korea if you do. don't surround yourself with so much negativity, i.e., k-blogs. stay away for a week. see what happens.

  19. Steve I didn't mean for that comment to patronize his way of thinking. It was meant as sarcasm. I definitely do not agree with his writing!!!

  20. About Louse Korea's Blog: I say it is funny because the tone is funny. But the racist remarks are still intolerable.


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