My name is Jamie McGeorge, and I just got back to the United States after teaching ESL in Chuncheon, South Korea, for 4 months with my twin sister, Julie. We have our own blog site (on blogger, actually), but you seem to be a bit more organized, so I wanted to share my story with you to help blacklist the a-hole that is my former employer, Seon Baek. Here's the story:
LET ME PREFACE THIS--THIS IS A LONG ONE.
We have been back in the United States (Missouri, specifically) for about a week and a half. We have gotten used to telling our story, though often somewhat truncated. This is the whole, real deal...Here goes.
Before we even left for Korea, we were having problems. Myung Ja is the woman who is responsible for recruiting for our particular hokwan in Korea. We became friends with her, meeting her every week for breakfast at Ernie's, even taking her home with us for Thanksgiving. Like most everyone knows, we pushed our departure date for Korea back a few times. That should have indicated shadiness from the get-go, but because we wanted to go teach in Korea so badly, we let it slide. So August 2005 came and we changed our departure date to November 2005. November came and we changed our departure time to "the end of January or the beginning of February...". It ended up being February 2, 2006 to be exact. We were told that we wouldn't start teaching at the school until the end of April, because we would be conducting these "winter camp" trips back and forth between China and Korea for the first two months. We were told that Rory would have a job guaranteed with the school, so we didn't need to try to hunt for jobs we wouldn't find online--we just needed to get married, so it would be no problem. So, without telling anyone except my sister and the people who actually signed the paperwork, we got married (turns out it's very easy to do); no fanfare, no celebration (other than the excitement associated with having a really big secret), no gifts or pretty white dress. But it was okay, because Korea was both our honeymoon and the beginning of these great jobs that paid well and would help us get our financial lives in order (we could save for a house, for a family, for a vacation, all that).
Well, we got on the airplane and took a long-ass flight to Korea. Instead of driving us directly to our "furnished apartment" as specified in our contract, we were taken to what is known in Korea as a "love motel". These are everywhere, and they're not a problem, as long as you are going to them for the right reason. After traveling for damn near 24 hours, the three of us didn't want to share a bed or a bathroom that was see through. We shared this for at least 5 days. After that, Rory and I moved to an apartment, and Jamie moved to a different, shadier love motel for the next 11 days. At the school we realized that no one even knew that Rory was coming until we were already on the plane. There was no job for him--I found out finally (after 11 days of being in Korea) that Rory couldn't even legally work in Korea because he has no degree. That was a huge red flag--one of those tidbits of information that would have determined whether we came to Korea at all. In retrospect, yes, I should have done more of my own research, but like I said, Myung Ja was our friend. And we trusted her when she said "Don't worry about it." Big mistake. Anyway. Trips to China didn't exist, either. Never went. Myung Ja's excuse was "I thought you knew we weren't doing that anymore..." How would we know? No one told us anything, really. Also, we were promised free Korean lessons, which was one of those things that really excited us when we got there. Turns out "free Korean lessons" means asking Megan how to say "downtown" in a cab or how to tell the kids how to sit down. Another big lie of Myung Ja's was that pets weren't a part of Korean culture. She had told me for six months that it would be okay to bring Huey, my dog, as long as I was willing to go through all of the paperwork associated with taking an animal to a foreign country. Then, one month before we left, Myung Ja changed her tune. "Dogs aren't a part of Korean culture", she said. "Who will cook for Huey?" "You won't see dogs there at all...". Well, in our hotel that we stayed in, we were neighbors to a giant freaking vet clinic. For dogs. And I'm sure for other mythical animals that don't exist in Korea. We wrote to Myung Ja to ask her about all of these lies, and she responded with typical "I don't know" or "I didn't say that" or "I'm sorry if that's what you thought I meant", then she stopped responding altogether. That was in February. I haven't spoken with her since. Through all of this (and by "this", I mean most of our four month tenure in Korea and with the school), we continually praised Megan (the Korean girl who basically runs the office) for her efforts to appease us and for having to clean up Myung Ja's mess, and we apologized for her having to listen to our complaints over and over because we couldn't get any face time with Seon. Megan was our good friend, and initially she worked her butt off for us. Side note.
So next we decided to go to the source of the problem: Seon Baek, proprietor of Seon's Cooking and Acting Kids Co, Ltd. We met with Seon during the first two weeks we were at the school, which is pretty impressive, because he doesn't come around that often. We had our list of grievances in front of us (which I still have, by the way--I typed it up and dated it), and we addressed all of them with him. He refused to take responsibility for Myung Ja's promises, instead saying "well, Myung Ja promised that to you" like she was independent of his school or something. I reminded him that because he was not in the United States and Myung Ja was, she was his liason and he should accept responsibility for her promises. He also promised us that we would never have a problem being paid on time--we only brought this up because Abby, the other girl who works at the school, was having problems getting paid on time. I asked him to put something specifically about payment/pay dates in writing. He refused. But all in all (at that point), I felt like it was a good meeting--he promised to do everything to help us and to combat any reservations we had about the program thus far. Then he had a meeting with Abby, and he left. Abby told us afterwards that he was complaining about all of our grievances; he even told us "oh, you give me big headache", which I called him out on--who traveled for 24 hours only to share a bed with her sister and her man? And Jamie was still in a freaking sex hotel at this point. But the biggest thing that made me angry was that he didn't understand why I was so upset about Rory's work situation. I'd told him over and over it was a big dealbreaker, but he still didn't get it. So I made Megan dial up Seon, and I told him that I wanted him to come back to the school because I had heard from Abby that he was saying things behind my back--THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I EVER EVEN MET MY BOSS! red flag. I know. He comes back to school, and I basically tell him immediately (and this seems so junior high now, but that's how he was acting) "listen dude, I didn't give up everything to travel over here just to have you, a grown man, talk about me behind my back one classroom over. If you have something you would like to address, you tell it to me, to my face, and then we don't have any problems. I was offered several other jobs in Korea, and I am more than qualified for this one, so if you want me to teach here, then you have to honor the promises that Myung Ja made, and you have to be straightforward." He got the point. He started saying "No, no, I respect Rory...I think you are making too much out of this." He even said something along the lines of "this is only our first meeting", which in retrospect is really funny, because I only spoke with him two times after that.
The next four months are kind of a blur--a blur in a sense that every week there was something new to frustrate us (and I have documented attempts at correspondence with Seon and Megan). But for the most part, through it all, we only vaguely entertained the notion of being released from our contracts. We didn't come to Korea to quit anything, and we didn't have the $600 to reimburse the school for our initial plane tickets to get over there (after a 6 month period, you don't have to pay back the school, but legally, you have to give two months written notice if you plan on quitting the school or firing an employee. We would have been able to put in our two months notice on June 6th...). February was the biggest pain in the butt, though. I think that we were still new enough to Korea to remember very vividly all of the things that had been promised to us. And we were still very motivated and enthusiastic and wanted these children at the school to be getting the best education possible. So at some point, our gears shifted, we stopped thinking only about the problems we were having with the school, and we started thinking how awful this was for the children. They didn't have basic supplies, like pencils. It was awful. Hokwans are businesses, not schools, so ours had no problem cramming another chair (for a money-making little body to sit in) into the room before providing enough pencils to the pre-existing students. We were a cooking and acting school, we were supposed to be teaching conversational English, but it was just a mess. If we were cooking, even though Megan printed up a sheet for us with all of the ingredients and instructions (like baked spaghetti), she wouldn't go get the ingredients (even though there is a supermarket right behind our school) unless we wrote them down and gave them back to her a day before. Seems like we should be able to just skip a step, huh? And how was I supposed to teach conversational English to a three year old? My very first student was Trina--she was three, and still couldn't go to the bathroom on her own. She spent all of class crying, hopping and occasionally saying "apple" or "mouse". She could hardly speak Korean, and here I was throwing all of these English words at her, because that's what I was expected to do. We also experienced how fun it was to teach children with behavioral problems. I had to physically pick up "Bob" at least three times to remove him from my classroom. He swung at me every time. Once he was out of the classroom, too, he wasn't punished or put in time out--that would require some sort of surveillance on Megan's part. Instead they just let him play before everyone else. Thanks for the help, guys! Jamie's entire 3:00 class was full of kids who liked to eat boogers and hit each other (they had been handplucked from Abby's classes--because she didn't want them--and placed in Jamie's, because she was the new teacher). Every time we asked Megan or Cindy (the other Korean girl who worked at the school) to help us discipline the kids or explain something in Korean, they would come in and say "this is too hard." Well, I'm sorry if the abcs are too hard for the kids, but guess what--we have to start somewhere. Later we would get a lot of flak because we had the nerve to make the kids write their abcs. The kids could not be held accountable for anything, and neither could Megan or Cindy--they acted annoyed when we asked for their assistance, because they were always looking at online magazines or shopping, huddled around the one computer in the school. This is from an evaluation (sent to both Seon and Megan) that I wrote on February 27th (we had only been teaching for 21 days):
"I think that each day I come to work, I feel more and more frustrated. Whether it is logistical stupid stuff
I've had to deal with from day one, or the fact that the kids don't respect us, or the fact that we don't
have the supplies to make us anything more than a glorified day care, I am very unhappy here and
visualize my next yearlong contract as a year of practicing patience and biting my tongue. When I was
offered this job, I was told that I would be teaching 6-11 year old children and that I would be working
25 hours a week. It sounded like a pretty sweet deal. It hasn't been pretty sweet. I could be babysitting
English speakers in the United States, and my husband could be legally working. I didn't move across an
ocean, leaving my friends and family, only to feel like I'm a babysitter who doesn't get any respect. I'm
sorry I sound so bitter, but these kids need someone (obviously a Korean) to tell that about respect and
why they are coming to this school. But then again, how much are us as teachers respected by the
school if we don't even have textbooks or enough pencils for everyone? There are such grand
expectations from the parents (that their kids will learn english), I have certain expectations (enough
pencils for all of my prospective students, some sort of idea of what I'm going to be teaching a bunch of
preschoolers for 4 hours everyday), the kids have expectations (come here to do nothing and speak in
Korean the whole time). I moved here feeling so excited and more motivated than i ever have before,
and now I just feel depressed and frustrated that this is the situation I am stuck in. It is only Monday
and already I long for the weekend because then I don't have to think about how disorganized this
My advice: If you want to have the best hagwon in Chuncheon or in Korea or whatever, why don't you
sit us down, listen to how we can help and make us feel like it's worth our time and effort to be here.
This is so disheartening."
This is one of several attempts made to arrange some sort of meeting with Seon. Eventually (after I had been explaining to Megan and writing to Seon how difficult it was to live off of one paycheck), Seon showed up at our apartment one night, completely out of the blue. He sat in our chair and Rory and I went right into our good cop/bad cop routine. I asked about Rory's job (not a favor, simply making good on Myung-Ja's promises) and all of the b.s. we had been fed. He sat there, shaking. You could tell that he was nervous, and I felt really good seeing this powerful, rich little man reduced to nerves, twitching in my chair in my tiny little apartment. Seon guaranteed Rory a job tutoring at Citibank for $800 a month. I asked him if he would put it in writing because his word wasn't good enough for me. He said no, but that he would shake on his hokwan. Long story short (this subject anyway), Rory wasn't making $800 a month. But we needn't worry about Rory.
March was an okay month as far as lesson plans and motivation went. We had a new schedule, and Seon had told me that in order to compensate for Rory not having a job, I could work overtime. So I stayed at school an extra hour and fifteen minutes almost everyday, and I worked through our two hour-long breaks, coming up with really cool art and science projects and detailed lesson plans. I spent at least 10 hours making a complete set of abc flashcards for all 10 of my youngest students. I was given the impression that overtime was okay because a) Seon told me so and b) I had been paid 21 hours of overtime during the first month's work, when I didn't even have my own classes, and I was just observing Jamie and Abby's classes. We clocked in and out everyday with our fingerprints and Megan had given me a printout of my hours that first month, so I figured everything was cool. Well, payday came around and guess what--I had more than 35 hours of overtime logged; I got paid for 1. You could say that this made me angry. I told Megan that I wanted a printout of my hours. I never got it. I told her I didn't work for free, so I stopped doing evaluations, buddy buddy phone talk, clocking in altogether or making lesson plans for my classes. I told her that Seon had decided what kind of teacher he wanted me to be--mediocre, so I wasn't putting any effort into anything, at least until I got a print out of my hours. I never got them. At this point too, Rory was supposed to come observe two hours of classes a day (he had been doing it for a week) as well as the citibank tutoring. We decided he should just stop doing it altogether. So Monday rolled around and Megan asked where Rory was (he was also supposed to create a lesson plan for all the students to use for the entire week). I told her that we had decided that since he wasn't contractually obligated to anything school-related, that he should just not come anymore. We "want[ed] one less person to be thrown into this mess that is Seon Baek", I told her. Also, I reminded her that Seon hadn't done me any favors with my overtime, why would Rory return any favor now? She understood, but mostly she was angry because she was inconvenienced.
At the end of March (and some of these events are a little out of order), Sang Kim (our good friend/former employer from UMC's Asian Affairs Center) was going to be in Seoul, meeting with all of the Mizzou alum who were in Korea. We asked for a day off of classes more than a week in advance, and it became such a huge ordeal. If we were sick or had an emergency, we had to give an hour notice before class started, but here we were, giving more than a week’s notice and we were given such a hard time about it. The first week we worked at the school, we had to teach classes on a Saturday to make up for a former teacher’s missed class, so we knew that that was an option, but no. We didn’t get the day off of work. So we traveled to Seoul immediately after classes on a Wednesday, hung out with Sang and other Mizzou alum (in mine and Rory’s first trip to Seoul, by the way) until 5:00 in the morning, got on the first train back to Chuncheon and taught all day. Abby, who had also been with us, conveniently “missed” her train back to Chuncheon, so she got to stay in Seoul for a few more hours. I was livid, and Megan knew it, but she just laughed about it, like “Oh, that silly, drunken Abby! Whatever will she do next?” So we realized that we should have just conveniently missed our train back. I doubt we would have gotten laughs.
Around this time, Jamie and I were making a lot of photocopies to use in our classes. Megan noticed (they had started renting a $20,000 copy machine), and she seemed concerned that we were using too much paper (keep in mind that this is the same chick who would color copy entire books for the kids to take home to their parents. I'm sure Maurice Sendak would love that a bunch of Koreans are just photocopying Where the Wild Things Are whenever they feel like it...), so she said we should get workbooks. Revelation!!!! We had been saying this from the beginning. Every other (good) hokwan in Korea has a workbook so all of the students at the same levels are doing the same things. So the school made their own really terrible workbooks (three per kid, even) that had the recipes for these mythical food items we never had the ingredients or the means to make. One day we went in to school and the microwave had been replaced by a tiny convection oven, and the oven had been replaced by a dishwasher. The kids kept asking "when are we going to make pizzas again?" and I would say "as soon as you can figure out how to cook one in the dishwasher...". We got to choose our own workbooks for each of our classes, and when they finally got here, it was like Christmas. It was how we should have felt during that first week we were teaching, but instead it took us 2.5 months to get the damn books! Somewhere during this time, Megan asked Rory and I to perform a song at her wedding. We practiced, and we were excited, but it never happened, because we were sort of subtlely disinvited. I was still hounding Megan about my overtime, so I wrote to Seon about it, assuming I wouldn't get a response, because that's his style. I wrote (on April 7th): "Hello, Seon. Julie McGeorge here. We (me, Jamie and Rory) would like to meet with you next week to talk. Please let me know which day and what time." His response to my email (my email that was obviously very rude, right?) was this (on February 8th): "Hey, Julie. I think I am your boss. So don't treat me like I am your employee, okay? I am in Shanghai right now and I don't know when I go back to Korea. If you have any problem with anything, you better talk to your boss, Abby or Megan. You got that? Don't ever send me email like that." The only thing was, the reason we had been writing to Seon was because talking to Abby and Megan didn't help. Megan couldn't put money into our accounts. She could just sit there and say "I am sorry...I don't know..."
This should take us up to right around d-day. Abby left school for the summer to go back to Missouri before coming back and starting a new contract (she starts again in August), and there was a two-week period where the school needed help before Abby's summer replacement got here. So Megan begged Rory to do her a favor and to work for those two weeks while we waited for the new teacher. We had reservations, but $400 cash for two weeks of minimal work sounded pretty good. And we wanted to just help Megan out because she was our friend. We went to Abby's going-away party and it was fun. The next day we got up and went to Sokcho, a small fishing village on the East Sea. We had asked Megan if we were going to be paid (payday was that Saturday), and she assured us we would be, though maybe at 4 or 5 p.m. instead of at midnight. So that was kind of a bummer, but we knew we'd be okay if we could just last until that point. Rory and I had three dollars in our account. Well, 4 o'clock came, 5 o'clock came, no money. We didn't get paid until Monday. We were angry. We kept trying to contact Megan and Seon, and at first Megan was like "no money in your account! I can't believe it!" Then she stopped answering her phone altogether. We were very lucky that Jamie was there, because she had more money saved up--otherwise we would have been stuck in Sokcho. On Monday we told Megan we would take a cab and that we weren't coming to school until there was money in our account (this was the second month in a row where we didn't get paid on time). So we showed up to school late, and I told her that she had a lot of nerve asking us/Rory for a big favor, only to leave us hanging when we needed help in Sokcho. She just sort of sat there and listened. At this point I told her that I felt like we should have our bags packed at all times because Seon's the type of guy who would just fire us out of the blue. "I don't know why you would think that..." she told me over and over. The next day when we were using the computer at school, we saw the little MSN messenger come up. It was Abby's friend Marina, who we had all met at her going-away party. She was writing to Megan about some Russian friend of hers who would love to teach at our school. Jamie wrote back "Hi Marina. It's Jamie." No response. So we asked Megan about the Russian, and she made up something about how she was going to have him work here for those two weeks Abby was gone, but now she didn't need him because Rory was working. And we fell for it. She was a very good liar. The next week we noticed more Cindy and Megan alone time, where we would walk into an empty classroom where they were whispering, and then they would just stop talking altogether. Randomly, though, on the Monday the week we were fired, Megan and Cindy drove us around Chuncheon, pointing out all of the really cool places "we'll all go visit together...". It was really fun. On Thursday it was Rory's birthday. At school we noticed that Marina was writing back on MSN messenger again, but this time it was in Korean. So we copied, pasted and used an online translator to find out what it said. We had been asking to meet the new teacher, but Megan wasn't letting us communicate with her. When we stepped off the plane to get here, there was a big party and we went out to dinner as part of a welcome. None of that for the new teacher, we thought. That was shady, too. Turns out that Marina's message said something along the lines of "I can't wait to celebrate with the new teacher tonight." So she was going to celebrate with people who didn't even work at her school. Fishy. Megan told us she was at the hospital all day on Thursday because the doctor said she was paranoid and needed to take a month off of work. Jamie and I didn't believe it, though, because in Korea, if you are just in a horrible car accident or something, you are expected to work. They just don't care. Also, we found it insulting that Megan had to have a doctor tell her she was too stressed out--we'd been there for four months and didn't need some doctor to tell us we were stressed. I hypothesized that night that Megan was so stressed out because she was going to have to fire us, but I said it in sort of a joking fashion. So, needless to say, Megan and Cindy didn't come out for Rory's birthday (which we didn't get a chance to blog about, but it was incredible. Absolutely incredible. We had so much fun, and in retrospect, it was a really great way to spend our last "real" night in Chuncheon).
On Friday we came in and asked Megan if she was getting the ingredients for our strawberry shortcake with homemade whipped cream. She had even typed it up on the website the day before, to let all of the parents know what we were making. She said she would go get the ingredients. Well, during class, while Megan was gone (she'd been gone for at least an hour), Cindy came in and said "Megan cannot get the ingredients." At this point, a little light went off in my head, like "she's meeting the teachers that will be taking our places...". So Jamie and I joined our classes to play pictionary, and we decided we were going to have cooking day anyway. We asked the kids what they wanted for cooking day, and they all said "candy, chocolate, ice cream, soda..." all that kind of stuff. So on our lunch break and with our own money, Jamie and I went to the grocery store behind the school and got all of the things the kids asked for. When we walked back into the school, Megan was back. She gave us a death glare as all of our students crowded around us telling us how much they loved us. So the last class we ever had with our favorite students was a junk food buffet. Megan asked "are you guys having some kind of party?" and we just said, "it's a cooking school, they're supposed to be making things to eat. They shouldn't have to suffer because you couldn't get the ingredients. We just sort of overcompensated with all of the junk food..." Megan left again after the kindergarten class. Sometime during that break before our next classes started, Cindy came in and asked me for my alien identification card. I--being the gullible one--handed it over. Luckily for me, Jamie snatched it out of Cindy's hands and asked "Why?" Cindy did her usual "I don't know..." Jamie asked her "Are we being fired?" Again "I don't know." So Jamie called Megan. Megan (who had spoken really good English up to this point) said "I think that next week you will go to immigration and... oh, I don't know how to say in English." So Jamie asked Megan flat-out "Are we being fired?" Megan said "Why would you ask that? I don't know how to say in English." Jamie also asked her how the new teacher was going to teach next week since she hadn't trained at all. Megan said "I gave her a pamphlet." Cindy said Megan would be at the school at four. Around this time, Rory was supposed to leave, so I tried to call Megan from my cell phone, but it had been turned off. So had Jamie's. I called Megan from school and asked about Rory's payment (it was supposed to be in cash), and she said "we will talk about Rory's money stuffs when i come back to school." We told Cindy that we weren't teaching our last classes until Megan came. Megan never showed up, but she did call back and tell us to meet her at our apartments.
I didn't really know what was going on. I couldn't believe that it was happening. I was angry that I hadn't gotten to say goodbye to my students. I went into my classroom and grabbed all of my photocopies I had made from a website I paid to be a member of. I frantically wrote a note to the mother of my favorite student, Caleb. It said something along the lines of "I don't know what is happening right now, but if I'm not here on Monday, please know how much I enjoyed teaching both of your sons. You should know that this is not a good hokwan, and the man who runs it is a very dishonest, bad man. Please email me..." and I included my email address. I folded it up and wrote "Caleb's mom" on it, and I taped it in the back of his workbook. I assumed that I would never hear from her, because it would be intercepted by the new teacher or Caleb would pull it out in class and say "what's this?"... Anyway, we went to Jamie's apartment first. It was locked. We went to our apartment next. Locked. So we didn't have a phone, we were locked out of our apartments, and Megan was nowhere to be found. We went to our favorite restaurant across the street to use the phone and think. These were our good friends. We would drink with them often and go to the norae bong to sing with them. They thought we were just upset because we had been locked out of our apartments. So they called a locksmith. When we got into our apartments, the tv was gone, the coffee pot was gone, the phone was gone, and the internet connection had been disabled. While we had been out buying junk food for our students, Megan had been in our apartments, taking away any and all forms of communication with the outside world. So we went back across the street, and once our friends figured out what was going on, they said "don't cry, you can have a job at our restaurant." They gave us a free bottle of soju to calm us down, and I used the phone to call Megan. I said "We're here at our apartment--thanks for locking us out and turning off our phones." She said "okay." So we waited. Finally, Megan and Cindy walked around the corner with two goons (in case we decided to be violent, I guess. Yes, it had crossed my mind, but I would never ever have done anything. I'm not that stupid) and two pieces of paper that looked like Publisher's Clearing House notices--in big red letters (a sign of "unfriendliness" in Korea) JAMIE YOU ARE FIRED and JULIE YOU ARE FIRED, with a bunch of made up reasons and lies underneath. Lies like: we had to turn in our alien cards or we would be charged $100 per person each day we still had them. Guess which three Americans still have their cards? Yup. They told us this because once we turned over our cards, we would forfeit any rights we still had. The first reason listed for the firing was something along the lines of "failed to communicate with boss" which was obviously pulled out of thin air. I have at least ten emails where I ask for meetings, and I have the last correspondence I ever had with him (in email form) telling me to never write him an email again. It also said that we failed to bond with our students. Highly insulting. I loved my students, and I didn't even get to say goodbye to them. I'm still very bitter about that. We asked Megan if she thought all of the reasons we were fired were true. "Do you really think that we didn't bond with our students, Megan?" and she said "You better ask your friend Abby about that. She wrote it." Another blow. Abby, another freaking Mizzou alum and (we thought) our friend, had helped to fire us. So Jamie just stood there laughing, Rory sat down on the ground shaking his head, and I used the f word as many times as possible, up in Megan's face and into her phone when she had the nerve to take a phone call while she was firing us. During this time, all of our neighbors and friends (all of the restaurant workers on "meat street", as we liked to call it) came out and sort of just stood there watching it all unfold, arms across their chests, like "don't mess with our American friends..." Ultimately Megan and the posse left, and the last thing she said as she left was "F___ing Americans." It was a perfect ending in a sense that she completely summed up the Korean way of thinking (well, at least the three Koreans at school and the one Korean at immigration who governed our stay at the school and in Chuncheon). When I said early on that I didn't understand why Seon couldn't just meet us face to face and be honest with us, Megan said "oh, it's a cultural difference." Or when I asked who should be held accountable for all of Myung Ja's lies, I was told "Get used to it in Korea," and "culturally, it's just different." When I asked why it was okay for a kid with behavioral problems to swing at the teacher and have it be no big deal, I was told "it's a cultural difference." When we asked Megan why it was okay for her husband to hit her in the face, we were told "it's a cultural difference." When I was told at physical therapy (in a really juvenile way, by someone who wasn't even a doctor and who I'd never even spoken to before) that I needed to be at the diet clinic a few floors up instead of at physical therapy, and as I was standing in this little office crying, I was reassured over and over again "this is a cultural difference." That was my last trip to physical therapy, I might add. When I told Megan that one of my youngest kids' entire back was a giant bruise, and after I'd seen the way his uncle spanked him, I was told "oh, it's a cultural difference." ENOUGH! There is a huge discrimination between cultural differences and the inability to hold anyone accountable for their actions. I will believe that certain things are culturally different, but used as an excuse over and over gets really old--"I said no ketchup on my hot squid burger!" "Too bad--it's different culturally in Korea!" The whole time Megan was firing us, she said "oh, Seon said this and Abby wrote that" and she never once accepted any sort of responsibility for the way it was being handled. Rory even asked her "why do you have to do it like this? What did we do to justify being fired like this?" Megan's answer: "I don't know. I don't care." Of course we know that the culture is different in Korea--why else would we want to go?--these cultural differences are the things that we lauded in all of our other affirmative blogs, and these legitimate cultural differences are the very things that kept us sane in Korea outside of school drama. I digress...
So we started packing. We had to be out of our apartments ASAP, and we had until June 1st to get out of the country (if we had decided to quit, we could have given our notice, the legal way, on June 6th). We were getting ready to take a break and go eat at the restaurant across the street. I went to open the door, and standing there was our favorite waitress, her daughter and her daughter's friend who had just gotten back from studying English in Canada. They wanted to see if we were okay. So we walked across the street with them and ate dinner (they bought it for us, too). Our Korean sister (the waitress said she wanted to be our Korean mommy when we first met her) sat there while we ate, crying, while her friend (who spoke great English, by the way) made phone calls to the embassy and to whoever she thought could help. Later that night, Megan came to the apartment to get the cell phone back from us. Later still, she came over and Rory answered the door. Megan: "Are you okay?" Rory: "No, Megan, we're not okay." Megan: "Is Julie okay?" Rory: "Yes, she's just a little tired." Megan: "Is she drunk?" Rory: "No." So then I got up and came to the door. Megan awkwardly stood in our doorway for a really long time, saying "I really like you guys" and "I'm sorry--it was Seon, not me" and "I will help you find a job in Chuncheon..."
That weekend we spent building up a case for ourselves and looking for other jobs in Chuncheon and in Korea. I called every contact I ever had in Korea, and all of these people who didn't even know us wanted to help. It was a great feeling! The only thing we needed was a letter of release, which would allow us to work elsewhere in Korea without having to leave the country. I knew this as we were being fired. I asked Megan if our really rudimentary firing paper was the same as a letter of release--"is this what I show them at immigration and it's the official document?" She said yes. Another lie. Everyone I talked to said that there was no reason we shouldn't get the letter of release--there was no valid reason to not give it to us. Megan spent the weekend writing us nasty emails like "don't you try to contact Cindy and Abby. NEVER!" I printed off every email (all the way back to when we were in the United States) that indicated breaches of contract. They were all over the place, from the moment we stepped off of the plane, when we were supposed to be taken to our furnished apartments and instead were taken to a love motel. By Korean law, your employer has to give you 30 days written notice if he wishes to terminate you. In our contract it says two months written notice (the same goes for us if we decided to quit), and the only way an employer can get around this is if he proves that the teachers were a threat to the students. We hadn't done anything like that, so we were actually feeling pretty good about going to immigration. We were good teachers, our students loved us, and we had a killer defense team. We had tons of evidence, we had four Korean-speaking friends with us (including the secretary to the assistant to the minister of education in our province), and we were very determined to prove ourselves. We walked into immigration and waited for Megan. When she walked in, she looked like a wild animal. I'd never seen anything like it. So we ended up sitting around this secluded table, with Seon's friend from immigration, Megan and the seven of us. So it was seven versus one, but it didn't even matter. This guy at immigration (I'm not kidding when I say he's Seon's friend--they're buddies) had his mind made up, and he just looked at us with this smile on his face. We asked about the two months notice that is required legally. We noted how telling it was that Seon, our boss, didn't even have to be there to fire us. Megan freaked out and started shouting things in Korean like "They taught class drunk!" "They taught all of the children cuss words and how to say mean things to their parents!" "All of the parents complained about their tattoos!" (Side note: I had kept my tattoos covered. I only stopped worrying about it when Megan told both me and Rory "don't worry about covering them up. They've seen them before. Abby has a tattoo."). So basically Megan just started freaking out, shouting out all of these bogus lies, saying she wasn't giving us a letter of release because she didn't think we should ever teach in Korea again. It was horrible. The man at immigration tried to take our cards again, and we refused. This same man was the reason we didn't have to make a visa run to Japan when we first got to Korea--so he did favors for Seon and us at the beginning, but it came back to bite us in our asses at the end. After immigration we felt very defeated. Even though Megan had said all of these horrible lies, even our Korean friends probably thought some of them were true, simply because we lost the immigration battle. It is a horrible feeling to be standing there with your friends, wondering if they think any of what Megan said was true, knowing that they probably do believe some of it. Megan kept writing us emails, things like "don't worry, the kids don't even miss you" and really horrible petty things. We still didn't know what to do. We thought, we'll just fly to Japan, fly back, have tourist visas for 90 days and use that time to find a job--we had three contacts offering us jobs immediately already. But then Megan wrote Jamie and email that said "I know you worked at another hokwan and I know you had private tutors." She had read everything on Jamie's computer. They couldn't refire us, but Seon and Megan could threaten our friends, who were trying to open their own legitimate hokwan (yes, there are good hokwans in Korea), even though they had no proof and it was just a big nasty allegation. But it proved to us that even though we were fired and didn't have anything to do with Seon's school anymore, he wasn't going to stop digging until we were out of the country. So we each paid $750 for plane tickets and hopped a plane to Chicago (the fact that the school didn't make us reimburse them for our initial plane ticket to Korea is also an admittance of guilt--they just wanted us out of Korea to not be a thorn in our boss' side anymore). Rory's birthday on Thursday the 18th, fired on Friday, Immigration on Monday and plane ride home on Wednesday. What a blur.
We were in the airport in Tokyo when I checked my email at an internet kiosk. The very first email I saw had a Korean subject line, so I assumed it was from Megan, but I opened it and it said "This is Caleb's mom. I got your note. Caleb misses Julie teacher...what happened?" So I wrote her back and told her that the important thing was that she knows how much I enjoyed teaching her children and to give him a big hug. So at least I got to say goodbye. Sort of.
If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. We've told the story a lot, but I think that this is probably the most comprehensive version. If you are still wondering why we would ever consider going back to Korea, just read all of the other blogs and mass emails before this one, and look at the pictures. Though we went through a really horrible and scary experience, it was incredible because there were so many complete strangers who tried to help us. I think that Megan and Cindy and Seon and Abby Jo Grillo (from Warrenton, Missouri) just assumed that we were having a bad time in Korea because we were frustrated with the school, and that wasn't the case. I still cannot understand why Megan would fire us the way that she did. She wrote us an email that said: "this is what you wanted, isn't it? to not work for the school anymore?" I reminded her that there is no justification for the way we were treated. I firmly believe that no one should ever have to go through an experience similar to that last weekend in Chuncheon. Did I want to work somewhere else? Yes. Did I want to be fired in the most horrible way possible? No. I loved my life in Korea. It was a great vacation and a great honeymoon, but I think that I will work for a public school next time.
So yes, it is weird to be back. Don't get me wrong. It is great to see everyone, it's just still weird to see white people in genearal. And I'm freaking out because I don't have a job. I know that me crying and wondering why the hell this happened to us doesn't pay me an hourly wage. It's just such a shock (still) to be back after we waited so long to go. That's all.
Thanks very much, Jamie!
Inspector McHammered of the Lard