Many foreign teachers living in Korea receive an apartment as part of the deal. Mine was a small studio apartment on the first floor. You walked through the door into a tiny kitchen with a sliding door, then up a step into the main room. Out front there was another sliding glass door into the long windowed corridor that held the washing machine. Along the same side as the kitchen was the shower room, a Korean-style wet room.
After letting the dogs have a little leg stretch around the neighbourhood I brought them in and let them loose. A mistake I soon regretted as Luna immediately squatted down and looking right into my face, peed the smallest pee you’ve ever seen. I lifted her straight up, put her into the kitchen and closed the door while I cleaned up. When I opened the door five minutes later she wandered into the room and sat down. She clearly felt we had now determined who was boss.
Each day I would get up early and take the dogs for a walk around the block. Most of the children I taught lived in the factory town. They soon got to learn that Teacher had dogs. Molly was always up for playing with the kids. Luna just sat and looked on.
Once I had walked the dogs I closed them up in the kitchen and went off to work. There were 1500 children in the school and around 40 teachers. It was a mixed middle school so most of my classes had boys and girls.
I had learned how to teach English by taking a three month CELTA course when I was living in Glasgow. Three times a week I got on the train after work and every other Saturday, and travelled to Edinburgh. I had been surprised by how many tenses there were, we had only learned three in school, and it turned out one of them didn’t actually exist!
Towards the end of the course we had to plan and teach our own classes, observed by the rest of the class. Our students were patient young people from across Europe, in Scotland to earn money to send home, our classes were cheaper than the fully trained teachers so they became our guinea pigs.
At the time I was working in HR Outsourcing. A fancy way of saying ‘a repetitive job’. HR in and of itself can be interesting, in a small team you might get to do anything from recruitment to payroll to firing. In HR Outsourcing the company you work for is brought in to do the HR of a massive company, in our case a major engineering company. The job is broken down and each team gets a piece to do. My job was to get the new guys on the system, data entry, a couple of phone calls. It wasn’t exciting.
For me the worst part was listening to my co-workers. Nobody seemed to be happy with their lot in life, and nobody seemed interested in doing anything about it. It was the most money I had ever been paid, but it didn’t take long until I was itching for something with more life.
I had planned to use my CELTA teaching in exciting places around the world, South America beckoned. Japan maybe, certainly Europe. While travelling to and from the classes I sat with another student. One day we were talking about what we would do after, and she said she was moving to South Korea. ‘South Korea?’ I said. ‘Why?’
It was a country I had never thought about before. Apart from the fact that it was attached to North Korea and they ate dogs, I knew nothing else about it. Of all places, why there?
She told me that South Korea paid the best money, that you got a free apartment, and there was almost no tax so you saved everything you made. It sounded like a good deal. After some further research I decided it was as good a place as any to start.
Returning home after a day of teaching I can’t tell you how much better I felt walking into that alien apartment knowing I was going to see those two dogs.