Just Eric – Part 2
I liked to come into the teachers’ office at my school about 2 hours before classes started for the night. This wasn’t so I could get ready for teaching, but since I was trying to save money and was living so poorly in tiny apartment without air conditioning (I was definitely not prepared for just how humid Korea was going to be) I came to the office and relaxed at my desk. Most of the other teachers showed up about 5 minute before classes started, so I pretty much had the room to myself and could just lay back and take a nap in the cool room. One day, about 3 months after I’d started, the secretary from the front desk who mostly dealt with students and parents came into this room and startled me awake. She told me there was a phone call for me out front. This was surprising because I didn’t know anyone here, and so I creeped out to the front desk like I was being pranked and cautiously picked up the phone. The voice on the other line was a woman who introduced herself as the Supervisor of the Add-ucation Development Department at the Seoul head office for our school. We weren’t really a school I guess, more like an education fast food franchise, just one of thousands spread out across Korea. She told me that they had been hearing a lot of buzz (well she didn’t use that word, I think she said ‘noise’) about me and my classes from the principal of the school and the secretaries. Apparently, according to the mystery metrics they used to determine student satisfaction, I was getting the highest scores in the whole country. This was crazy to me, I mean, I knew I was doing well, but c’mon, I was as big of a loser as they could have found.
This woman had called to offer me a new job. She wanted me to come and work at the head office in her ridiculously named department and help develop new materials for the classes. At that point we were using these thin little textbooks for each of the subjects we taught that would last for about one month worth of classes and then we would get a new one. I’d only seen 3 sets of these books and they really were garbage so it probably didn’t take a lot of effort to make them, and according to the other teachers a lot of the questions and instructions got recycled every few months anyways. From the credits inside the book there was at least one foreigner, Steven, who was working at the head office on this material but it was not likely that he’d ever actually used this dopey material in a class before. The reason I was possibly getting such a good response for my classes might have had something to do with the fact that I just ignored this material. I think most of the other teachers hated it like I did but they pushed through with it nonetheless because they couldn’t be bothered thinking about it too much. I was strangely motivated and, although I wasn’t expecting this phone call, coincidently had already been working on some new strategies of my own in class (well, ‘working’ might have been a bit of an exaggeration, more like improvising).
I did follow along with the basic curriculum and activities that were prescribed in the textbooks but what I would do that was special was sometimes remove the English and teach everything in complete gibberish. I based this on a warm-up we used to do in my university drama improv classes where the instructor would give us scenarios and we would have to act them out with gibberish words instead of normal dialogue. This was supposed to help us learn to project and emote with the language more affectively for the stage, and I thought it worked well for these classes because the information we were teaching was already total nonsense for these little kids. Teaching to them using this strategy was a way to make the material actually palatable, and incredibly my theory seemed to be working. The big problem then was going to be keeping it a secret from this head office Supervisor on the phone who wanted me to work with her on creating new materials but certainly wasn’t going to like that I was disregarding every word they wrote in favor of gibberish. There was no way I was turning that job down though, and I really didn’t care what they wanted me to do anyways if it was going to earn me some extra money.
On my first day at the head office I finally met that guy Steven who had his name all over textbooks we used at my school. He was a member of the Add-ucation Development Department (or ADD for short) and, just as I’d imagined, he didn’t care at all about the quality of his work. After talking to him for only 10 minutes, he’d already (loudly) explained how this job was a joke and they would just pay us for writing anything in English because no one here had any idea what was truly any good. I didn’t believe this for a second, being a life long loser myself, I could tell when I was talking to a someone who thought there were way cooler than they really were. After he told me about his life in Seoul for the past few years, I started to understand why. He didn’t have to start out like me as a lowly teacher for little kids, he got the job in the ADD right from the start. A friend of his from university, a Korean-American, moved to Seoul around the time of the controversial All-English changeover that completely forced out the Korean language from the country and replaced it with English. This policy turned out to be a great way for English speaking Koreans to cash in and she was working in the newly formed ADD at the time helping with the overall English transition. She’d called up Steven a couple of months after she got here and offered him a job too, along with a sizable relocation stipend since they were looking for any white American native speaker with a pulse that was willing to prepare the paperwork and promotional material in a language that was mainly only familiar to people here from movies, TV shows and college entrance exams. Steven agreed to come along, not because he thought it was a good job, but because he suspected that she’d made him this offer because she liked him romantically and this was her way of telling him.
And when he got here it was a pretty rude awakening as his ‘friend’ was already gone. She left the country a few days before he arrived to go back home and marry her real boyfriend. Turned out that she was getting one thousand US dollars for each person she recruited and Steven was just another number to her. You would think he’d be embarrassed to tell me this story, especially since we’d only just met, but what came next is the reason why he didn’t care. Once settled in to his new job in the ADD, he apparently started getting laid 2 or 3 times a day with different women every time. This man had no humility about it and beamed as he told me the details about the kinds of women he was getting and how he was doing it. According to him was pretty effortless, all he needed to do was say a few nice things in phony English and young girl or old, single or attached, he could have his way with them and he said they thanked him for it afterwords too. Feeling uncomfortable talking about this in front of the staff of this department (which was all women) during my first few hours on the job, I asked him if maybe we should do some work or something. He told me not to be ridiculous and waved at the Supervisor. This was the woman who had personally recruited me over the phone and promised that we would be working together closely, but she just waved back with a gleefully happy look on her face. In fact, I scanned around the office, and there was a sense of satisfaction on the faces of all the women who worked here, kind of like they were finally justified in thinking this white guy was cool because of the way he was getting along with me so quickly.
Then at lunch time two middle-age guys in suits came over and Steven introduced them to me as the CEO and COO of the company. The COO who seemed to do most of the talking said that he wanted to take us out to lunch for my first day. Steven accepted instantly, and I asked if the Supervisor was going to join us. They just laughed. I was confused by this quick dismissal, as she seemed to have been someone important in the company in our prior communications. So I looked over at her as if to ask if it was okay for me to go with these guys and she gave me another pleasant wave as if to say back that it wasn’t a big deal and we’d talk later. At lunch, Steven went on and on about the miscommunications he’d had using English here over the years, and it all seemed very arrogant for a guy who only ended up in this country because of a misunderstanding. His social attitude was definitely working in his favor though, as he was loud and animated, seeming to get the attention of the whole restaurant, and in a good way despite his somewhat offensive take on the Korean psyche. He would say some nonsense and everyone laughed, including me. I could see what it took to fit in and so I hammed it up a bit too. But if it was up to me a guy like Steven wouldn’t be working here at all, and even though I had no right to be so overconfident at the time, I knew that his days were numbered once I started to do some real work in that office.