Friday, July 30, 2010

How much does all this cost, anyway?

Although Korea is happy to pay your rent for a year, and defray your travel expenses, and provide you with health insurance and pension, and pay you a salary, etc., there are plenty of costs you have to cover before getting that far.  Here's a breakdown of my expenses before even getting on the plane:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Korean bureaucracy invades my nightmares.

Applying for this job has been a protracted and uncertain process.  I sent my application to a recruiting agency, KorVia, in early April; I interviewed with EPIK, which now handles applications for SMOE, on April 12.  I got EPIK's seal of approval on April 22.

Then I had to send my documents to Korea for scrutiny with magnifying glasses, gas spectrometers, etc.  Here I ran afoul of bureaucratic inefficiency and/or incompetence and suffered a substantial delay.  I busted my hump to get my documents in order and they arrived in Korea on May 17.  Next came total radio silence until July 1, when I received a form e-mail from EPIK declaring me a successful applicant without any further elaboration or detail.  The next update came in the form of a contract and Notice of Appointment on July 23.

So it took an entire quarter of the year to arrive at tentative certainty re what I'm doing next year.  Emphasis on "tentative"--EPIK hasn't finalized the date for orientation, though it's tentatively scheduled to begin on August 17,  2.5 weeks from now, and no one has been assigned a school or even grade level yet.  That's right, nobody knows who's teaching elementary and who's teaching high school.  Some people also don't know where in Korea they'll be teaching.  Others have been told they have been accepted and will start a job on the other side of the world in 2.5 weeks but have not yet received contracts, much less visas.

What I'm trying to communicate here is that Korean bureaucracy moves at a glacial pace, is opaque, and announces its decisions and the attendant burdens on you suddenly, in brief flurries of activity.  Last night I had an amusing nightmare featuring these themes.  None of you are in it, and reading about the dreams of others is boring, so it's all after the jump:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

They Can Kill You, But the Legalities of Eating You Are Quite a Bit Dicier

I have received a contract from SMOE, signed it, and sent it on to a Korean consulate for visa purposes.  There's nothing too crazy in the contract, though it's clearly designed to protect SMOE against the foreign teacher and provide the former as much latitude as possible in squeezing productivity out of the latter.  It's a bilingual document (English translation provided by SMOE) but in any dispute the Korean text--incomprehensible to most foreign teachers--prevails.  I expected all of this.  In fact, I read last year's SMOE contract before applying. 

A more novel document is the 9-part SMOE 2010 addendum I was required to sign months before receiving the contract proper.  Its conclusion is worth quoting (emphasis mine, caps sic):
  • I fully and forever RELEASE, WAIVE AND DISCHARGE, and COVENANT NOT TO SUE the S.M.O.E.... from and for any and all demands, claims, actions, suits, damages, losses, liabilities, costs and expenses, from any cause whatsoever (including, but not limited to, travel delays, property damage and loss, bodily injuries, sickness, disease and death), directly or indirectly arising in connection with my participation in employment with the S.M.O.E., whether or not foreseeable or contributed to by the negligent acts or omissions of S.M.O.E...
Korean contracts for foreign teachers have evolved over time to prevent the recurrence of common disputes, becoming more specific about duties, pay, and benefits, as one would expect, but one has to wonder what exigencies have compelled SMOE to worry about being sued for negligently manslaughtering its teachers...

Monday, July 19, 2010

About the title.

"Loser back home" is a label affixed to an expatriate who was a loser in his home country and attempts to craft a new, more glamorous and interesting identity for himself in his new country of residence where no one knows him and the locals are unable to read the cultural signs which mark him as a loser. This often entails knavery, clumsy seductions of local women, public intoxication, and generally shameful behavior that tarnishes the reputations of all the LBH's fellow countrymen, causing them to be viewed forever after with suspicion and distaste.

I assure you, dear reader, I am not one of these precisely. I am a refined gentleman of no distinction whatever and I am a loser in my native land. Allow me to explain.