The trade-off.

This weekend I caught a serious case of tonsillitis. I was more ill than I can remember having been for a decade. I did something I have never done for my entire time here in Korea, or, for that matter, that I can remember having done while I was in the States. I took two days in a row off of work. I had to. I had no voice, but more than that, I couldn't stand up. By the time I went back to work on Wednesday, I had by no means recovered. But I thought I could just barely make it to the classrooms, set the students up with a game and watch them for 45 minutes. I drugged myself to the gills, went in and taught my five classes. When I finished, I went back to my desk and put my head down. And then I heard a little mousey voice: "Can you grade these exams?"

And that was it. 200 exams dropped on my desk, with no explanation. Not writing exams, which the Korean teachers legitimately have a lot of difficulty grading, but exams which involved a dozen or so sentences the students had to memorize and copy word for word from the book.

Are you fucking kidding me? Now? These exams are not for my class. They have nothing to do with me. They are 100% fully your responsibility, and ordinarily I might not mind, but you're going to drop this on me right now?

I spent the next fifteen minutes sending not very nice text messages to everyone I could think of about what a lowdown, dirty piece of scum my co-teacher was, and how I've had it with this job, and the entire world full of people who have no idea what it means to be kind and considerate toward others, but who seemingly only exist to suck whatever they can out of anyone who is stupid enough to ever try to help anyone.

I was drugged up, please remember.

Now I feel like kind of a shit. I was putting on my scarf and coat to walk out the office door when I saw New HT sitting at her desk, looking like she was about to spring a leak again. I really don't understand the constant weeping, but I'm not totally heartless, so I did ask her if she was okay. She just looked up at me with huge eyes as the sniffling started and said, "I think this job is too difficult for me. I don't think I can do it anymore. So I'm thinking a lot about that."

I mean. The job is too difficult for her. I've been saying that for months, and I gave it a good, long while before I passed judgement, too. And in the beginning, if you'll remember, I was her biggest cheerleader. I've said time and again that I don't think she's a bad person, and I don't think she has bad intentions. She's just in over her head, and I think her parents did something really terrible to her to make her think that life being fair = life being easy, which is already a fallacy, which is then added to the fallacy of life being fair = reality. Like I said before, there are people who do mean things or take advantage of other people because they can, knowing full well what they're doing, and then there are people who just genuinely don't understand that there's a lot of shit to be shoveled in this life, and sometimes you've just got to suck it up and shovel your patch.

I do think whether consciously or subconsciously she's spent the year comparing her patch to mine, and possibly silently resenting me because my patch is smaller. This is all just conjecture, but I do believe that. But -- and this is a very common problem with co-teachers, I think -- what she doesn't realize is that the fact that her patch is bigger means she has more to do, yes, but she also has more to gain.

This is it. My patch is as big as it will ever be. At year five, I've maxed out my pay bracket. My vacation time has shrunk by a week this year, and may continue to shrink (and is much smaller than everyone else's to begin with). Other than that, nothing else will change for me, even if I stay at this job until I die.

So yeah. She has more work to do than me. She also gets to go home to her family every night, and spend her own cultural holidays in her homeland celebrating with her extended family. She gets to marry and raise her children in her native land, in her native language. She gets to walk down the street without being a bit of a spectacle. She gets the option of higher pay, higher positions and a very comfortable retirement. Of moving up in her job. She doesn't have to go home on a Friday afternoon and schedule a weekend full of skype dates and phone call appointments and emails just to attempt to keep up with the people she loves.

I recently had a friend, who has been here for a very long time, and who has been an incredibly loyal employee to her hagwon for a number of those years, go through months of demands like unpaid training seminars, single-handedly organizing a Halloween party for the entire school (with no extra pay), extra lesson planning hours, extra teaching hours, etc. piled on to of her without so much as a flinch, only to turn around and completely lose it when her hagwon threatened to move their promised day off next month, Christmas Eve, to election day.


The same reason why I broke down and had it out last year on Christmas with Busan for not taking it seriously.

Because Koreans don't understand what that day means for us. They don't know that it's the time of year when, those of us who were raised in Christian families especially, feel the farthest away from home. And it's not just the holiday -- it's the time when you are reminded that you are missing births and deaths. You are missing weddings, you are missing seeing kids grow up and helping parents grow old. You are missing knowing your siblings' spouses and children. They're all gathered together under one roof doing the things you've done since your childhood, and you're here. Alone. With the friends and the loved ones and the families you've made here, but also alone. In a country that has its own version of your holiday, but which has no idea what that holiday really means to you.

For this friend, working on Christmas Eve meant possibly finishing work at 9 at night, and going back to an empty apartment to wake up on Christmas morning alone. Instead of coming here, where I could rush home from work in the afternoon, and we could spend the evening cooking a makeshift Christmas dinner, baking our own traditional foods and eating and celebrating together. A small party, but a meaningful one.

And I was disappointed, too. Because while I love to spend Christmas with Busan, he doesn't really understand. He doesn't know how it should be, and he also doesn't understand everything that I'm feeling at that time. But she does. On Christmas, she's the most important person for me to see.

And those are the things I want to tell my co-teachers sometimes, when they see me casually sitting at my desk between classes, working leisurely away on extra materials that they don't have the time to make, or catching up on a bit of Korean studying here and there, if I have nothing else to be doing, or when they see me walk out the door at 4:30 on the dot and feel envious.

We all have our own patches.

But standing there with my coat half on today and watching New HT cry, I realized she has hers too, and for whatever reason, it's just too big for her right now. And I do sympathize with that. And to top it all off, in the middle of it all, she broke off and said, "The essays you graded.... I'm thankful...."

I reminded her that she really only has one more month to go. The third graders will all be placed in their high schools, their exams will be finished. All of her responsibilities in regards to me are finished for the year. And that will be it. She will have survived it. There's no reason to give up now.

As I walked out of the building, I thought maybe I should have stayed. Insisted that she put on her coat, leave her work on her desk for Monday, and go have a coffee with me and talk. The other teachers probably won't understand. A number of the other English teachers have been making comments to me recently about how she can't seem to handle things, and how they don't get it, because she doesn't have any more work than anybody else. But I get it. Sometimes you just get overwhelmed with the circumstances. Our circumstances aren't the same, but I get it.

And I'll try to be more understanding from now on. We've only got three more months working together in such tight quarters, and they should be relatively easy ones. I'll try to understand when she doesn't organize camps until the last minute, when she drops exams on my desk without warning, when she forgets to tell me about hwaeshik, or early leave. It hasn't been an easy year. It hasn't been easy working with her. But at least now I can see that she may have been doing her best.


Roboseyo said...

this might be my favorite blog-post that I've read this month. You hit the christmas nail on the head, and your level of compassion is admirable -- especially for when you're sick. When I'm sick, I'm a horrible, miserable human being.

Sidney said...

pretty much what Roboseyo said. Also, I relate to what happened with Busan. I ended up freaking out on Keunseok for not making reservations at a restaurant after I had asked him to (and he had willingly agreed). He tries much harder on American holidays this time around.

Rude Boy Abroad said...

Ever since I started reading I've always admired your ability to take responsibility and do the right thing, and I've tried to emulate it in my own life. And the way you present the details of your daily life does such a vivid job of making your writing come alive! Every post you read makes me feel involved, and I can effortlessly picture the action even when all the information you've provided is the persons involved and the general location. Always impressive.

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