I don’t usually drink on Monday mornings, but when I do I tend to have Irish Coffee. On February 3rd, 2008 I was pretty well tanked. The Patriots are my second favorite NFL team (go Bears!) and my favorite AFC team as well as the favorite of many of my friends and even my brother. I was convinced Tom Brady would lead them to victory that morning (Korea time) in Super Bowl XLII but somehow he didn’t. If the helmet catch was the strangest thing I experienced that day a phone call I received was second.
I was working in a unigwon and it was winter break. If my memory serves we were to start classes shortly after the break. I’d chosen to spend my winter working in an intensive course. I don’t usually make it a habit to answer the phone from strange numbers but this was not a usual day so I answered when I saw the number starting with 02.
The phone call was bizarre. They’d somehow heard my name and heard I was a good teacher. They wanted to hire me starting in March. I hadn’t interviewed or sent an application or anything. This was a different type of cold call. On the surface the job sounded better than the one I had. There seemed to be potential for higher pay and less hours and admin encroachment. I was intrigued. Does stuff like this really happen?
I tried to collect some details from my interlocutor who seemed like a friendly enough chap. I also stepped out from the bar and into the cold fresh-ish Itaewon air. They didn’t want to give the details over the phone. Strange. They were insisting on an interview that day. Even stranger. I was buzzing and feeling limited pain but I was also smart enough to know that a nap, shower, shave, and whiskey-free coffee were not going to make me presentable in just a few hours. I thanked them for their interest and said I would not be available for an interview that day. I also told them that if I was the type of person they wanted to hire I couldn’t just leave my current place of employment with no notice. I am not sure if they followed this honor based line of argument. I considered the whole thing an interesting experience and got on with my life.
My work circumstances changed dramatically in a year. I became Assistant Director of the program at the unigwon in the fall term and (in retrospect, not coincidentally) also resigned at the end of that term. I was suddenly looking for work. I applied to a few colleges and universities in Korea, somewhat last minute and somewhat halfheartedly. I didn’t get any great offers that fit what I was looking for and I ended up working as a teacher trainer in another city for the winter, and then stayed on for the spring and even worked there in the summer. I loved it, it felt like something of a calling. There were some aspects I didn’t enjoy like not living in Seoul so that early summer I was back on the job hunt.
One of the places I contacted was the aforementioned cold callers, who as it turns out are frequently hiring. In my cover letter I reminded them of their previous interest. I got an interview and I thought it went well. One thing that stuck out for me was how they were telling me somewhat less than desirable aspects of the job in what appeared to be an attempt to determine my suitability and tolerance for bullshit. I think there is a correlation between these.
I believe I showed good potential for dealing with nonsense. I was offered the job. They said they’d need me to start in September but also wanted me to film some educational material before then, starting in August before the contract officially started. I was fine with it but said there were certain dates I had previous commitments on and was unavailable.
The recording of educational material was hilarious. The script was atrocious in two main ways. The English was some sort of weird 80’s slang and these were the highlighted points, the target language if you will. I think I said some of those phrases for the first time in my life whilst recording. The other aspect was the cultural one. Gosh. It was just terrible I was the creepy and know-it-all American who was teaching the unworldly Korean visitor to the US how to behave properly in the big dangerous NYC.
There was so much wrong with this script and educational material it might warrant its own blog post some day, especially as related to issues of identity and languag and culture (and probably imperialism). One positive from this experience (which made the whole thing more bizarre) was my co-star, a lovely Korean American graduate student who knew how silly it all was. We were continually cracking up at the language, cultural tips, and sexual innuendos in the script. We also had some laughs at moments when we were forced to over enunciate and add odd (to us) intonation. Terrible as it was, I was almost prepared to endure this for a year in order to move back to Seoul. I said almost.
I eventually both lost my cool and cooled down on this place when they were calling me every day to schedule recordings for dates that I had already said were impossible. I emailed and clearly outlined the days I was not available and still got phone calls at inopportune times. The warning signs suddenly seemed more apparent. Then they were calling and asking about me completing documents I hadn’t received yet. This was the last straw and I informed them I’d not be working there in the fall. I said I realized it just wasn’t going to work out and wasn’t for me. I gave them the “You wouldn’t want to hire me if I am not motivated to work there anyway” speech. I also gave them plenty of notice and had never signed any documents. I told them I’d be happy to finish the video because filming was already over 50% complete. They paid me for the acting work and that was the end of it.
I realize after writing this it might not seem so bad, and maybe it would have been fine. I think the main problem was how I felt the position would be one where I’d continually be battling unsuccessfully for respect. I didn’t feel respected while creating the videos partially because my opinions did not seem to be heard or received. I didn’t enjoy Gut feelings telling me “this is a not a good place for me to learn and grow and be satisfied” appeared and I knew it wasn’t going to work out.
I am extremely glad I didn’t take the job. If anyone has access to that video please don’t share it.
This is (for all you know) a completely fictional story (except, unfortunately, for the part about the Patriots’ Super Bowl Loss). I do hope you enjoyed it. I said it was part 7, which means maybe I need to get cracking on parts 1-6. As is often the case on this blog it is “Choose your own moral, if any.”