Seems like an unpopular opinion to admit to, and a horrendously privileged angle to take in the middle of a global pandemic where millions are unemployed, sick or DEAD but that’s truly how I feel. I am simply not having a good time.
That is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed any part of my time here. I’ve enjoyed laughing over dumb shit with some of my students. I’ve enjoyed (briefly) getting to know American men for the first time in my life. I’ve enjoyed weekend trips to the south where the sun shines and eating in restaurants and living in a city silhouetted by mountains once again. I have DEEPLY enjoyed escaping the UK's most depressing winter yet - I would certainly never take that for granted. I’ve enjoyed the privacy of my apartment where I sing and dance and eat. I’ve enjoyed laughing away the pain of 2020 and my job with new friends. And yet…and yet. None of that is enough for me to honestly say that I am enjoying my time here.
I started my Korean journey in a bad way. I thought moving abroad after a breakup would help take my mind off being rejected and abandoned by someone who told me lots of nice things that turned out to be lies. Ha! I was wrong. First of all, my two-week quarantine gave me far too much time to come to new realizations about how much I had misread the relationship and its ending. Then the stunted and belated ending of communication between myself and my once best friend – the sting of which continues to slowly ebb away. All that time spent alone in my apartment, up late every single night due to my work finish time of 10pm, has permitted me to do nothing but grieve over and over again what I’ve lost. And it never stops! I thought I’d made a full recovery about two months ago and I can’t even say what caused me to relapse back into misery so hard but I suspect it was my aggressively un-fun job and the cold and loneliness of winter, combined with increased covid-related restrictions. There are simply no distractions and the whole environment I am in nourishes my melancholia.
Wow, this is all sounding melodramatic but unfortunately this is actually what is playing out in my head every single day. My mind is genuinely turning to the desire for alcohol and drugs and I’m not that kind of person at all. Just sick of being sad. The first few weeks at my job were beset with easily avoidable problems that I cannot even bear to delve into right now. Let’s just say that I started my job on the last day of August and didn’t receive my first payment until October. Nor did I have a phone number, a bank account or an ARC (Alien Registration Card) that was my ticket to LEGAL living in Korea. It was shit and the other new colleagues and I received zero apologies from the school for their incompetence.
I quickly realized that the curriculum was boring AF and largely unenjoyable for the teachers. Lessons are three hours long with a 5-minute break once every hour. Those five minutes are barely enough to pee. I teach two classes a day and have a 10-minute break in between, during which I wolf down as much food as I possibly can then go back to work still hungry. The students HATE this place. Many of them openly say it and I’m not allowed to agree with them (out loud). No matter how much my students like me, they race to leave as soon as class is over. This has become 10x more apparent during Zoom classes, which we’ve been conducting for over a month now. I hate it, they hate it. This is not a fun way to teach. I’m barely teaching. I feel like my job is specifically to torture overworked, stressed Korean children. I don’t like that. I’ve never known teaching to be so devoid of enjoyment. I was recently shouted at my boss and subsequently given a warning for a mistake I made that I was never told I was not allowed to do. I take responsibility for it but also… I did not deserve to be shouted at during the last hour of work on Christmas Eve. I did not deserve to be walked out on mid-sentence as I tried and explain myself. I simply do not deserve this.
I found out last month that myself and my other new colleagues were not covered by health insurance, a legal requirement from the company, in the worst way possible. And by the worst way possible I mean after a health test – the kind that people get embarrassed about and never talk about in public. I ended up having to pay the full uninsured, illegal immigrant price then had to go through a whooooole thing with my manager which ended up with my issue eventually being sorted but not until after I had to show her my test results in order for her to help me with getting a refund. Unenjoyable. Again, no apologies were made for the fact that I and other colleagues were unknowingly not covered by insurance during a pandemic. Nor for the fact that contributions towards our insurance were coming out of our paychecks every month but we were not even entitled to it! The company has proved several times over that they do not care about the employees and that we are merely a tool for acquiring money.
I personally would’ve thought that after five weeks of teaching via Zoom, getting Christmas and New Year’s off only by “making up” the teaching hours on a Saturday (with the SAME CLASS – that’s 6 consecutive hours spent teaching the same kids) we would’ve been offered a break, or someone would’ve enquired about our mental/physical health or something. Half of my colleagues are wearing blue light glasses and I genuinely thought I was going blind until I figured out how to adjust the blue light on my laptop. But no. Apparently we're going to go ahead with the money-grabbing "winter intensives" aka extra classes designed to whittle teachers' mental and physical health into the ground with workdays consisting of NINE hours of teaching basically without breaks, three days a week….while covid cases are still high…and the country is potentially on the brink of a total lockdown. The manager would rather we die than do what’s best for everyone’s health and wellbeing.
This is not the first time I’ve experienced poor mental health due to work but this is the longest it has ever lasted. I never knew earning money could feel so terrible. I never realized how callous a manager could be about prioritizing money over health. I didn’t realise how fucked up Korea’s working culture is (this country has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and I see why). I didn’t fully comprehend how miserable childhood could be until I met my students. I am simply not having a good time. I don’t think teaching six hours a day, twenty-seven hours a week is healthy – for context I used to teach 4 ½ hours maximum per day in my Chinese job and most days I only taught for three hours. I don’t feel healthy. I can see stress and sadness on my face. Life is really fucking short and I don’t have the desire to just “firm it” like I'm sure many of you reading could more easily do.
The only joy that is getting me through this time is a) of earning money which honestly isn't enough to justify all this suffering and b) the thought of leaving my contract and quitting early. Would I rather be unemployed for three months this summer than work myself to exhaustion here? You betcha! There is NO SHAME IN QUITTING!!!!!!!!! None at all. Capitalism is a scam, people. Living to work is damaging in ways I can hardly put into words. Living for the weekend is a wretched way to spend your precious time on earth. I know we are living in horrible times (which is why I have not yet handed in my notice - I really would make use of those extra paychecks) but fortunately I am privileged enough to live with a mother who does not charge me rent and I don't have dependents or pressing debts to pay off. If you CAN make your life easier and prioritise health over money, then please do. If I die before my time, I at least want to be living stress-free.