After meeting with the director I told Lawanda exactly what happened. She told me to watch what I say from now on, especially around my co-teacher.
Everything seemed to have been changing for the better. The director would walk around more often and ask if I needed anything. She changed one of my classes so I could use a workbook. I felt that I might have misinterpreted everything.
One night after work I received an email from a friend at the other BM campus. She and I were told we would go together to do our visa run. She emailed me asking me where we should meet up so we could accompany one another. I realized then that the director had no intention of sending me on the visa run.
The director knew my friend was going to Japan and she decided she didn’t want me to go. After I realized she withheld information from me, I told my friend I wasn’t going. I told her to have a safe trip.
I needed answers so I went in the next day asking Miranda why my friend was sent on her visa run and I wasn’t. “You guys were never going to go together.” Miranda said that there was no one who could cover my class, so I couldn’t go.
As angry as I was I had to play it cool when I was teaching and dealing with my co-teacher. My schedule and workload were really starting to get to me. I would come home almost everynight at around 7 or 8 P.M. I felt I had no time for myself.
Whenever I went home earlier than 7 P.M., I would take work home and do it after dinner. It was wearing on my health. Not soon after I caught a bad cold.
As soon as I started feeling sick I knew it would only get worse because of the stress. The next day I lost my voice. I talked to Miranda. I asked her what I should do because my voice was gone. She told me “ Well, I guess you should try your best then.” I told Ms. S. what Miranda said to me and that she would have to help me. I could visually teach the students but I would need her to do the talking. She walked out of my classroom and a few minutes later she came back with the director. The director said that because my voice was gone, Miranda would cover my class.
Miranda was not very pleased. She acted sweet and tried to be optimistic but it fell flat with my students who couldn’t understand her. I mentioned to Miranda that my students are still learning the alphabet and she needed to speak slowly and clearly in order for them to understand. She ignored my advice and continued to talk to them as though they understood everything. My students weren’t having it. Towards the end of the last period she decided to leave. When I asked if she would help with my afternoon class, she told me to try my best.
Having no time to rest, I just kept getting sicker. I developed a cough that would not let me breathe properly. The other foreign teachers offered medicine and advice on how to try to get better. They also told me to go to a doctor around the school. When I went to see the doctor he told me I had bronchitis in one of my lungs. He advised the assistant director that I needed plenty of rest and to try not to talk as much. The assistant director told him that would not be possible.
While I was trying to still stay afloat, Lawanda told me that she received a message from her recruiters wanting to know how everything was going. She said she was being overworked and there were some other issues going on with the school. The recruiters mentioned that it might just be because it was the beginning of the year. Lawanda let them know that wasn’t the case. She had been staying until 9 P.M. working and lesson planning. At one point she stayed so late that the janitor closing the building was startled that someone was still working so late. Her recruiters told her to keep them updated.
Hectic as my life was, I worried about the lack of communication from my boyfriend. He was waiting 4 or 5 days to message me. He had gotten into a habit of barely communicating. That Friday night I snapped after he kept asking me why I was ignoring him. I asked him why he cared? He didn’t know why I was being cold towards him. I told him if he had messaged more often then he would have known how stressed, sick and upset I was. I made a mistake going to Korea, everything was blowing up in my face and his lack of attention and support were just too much. I was so angry and tired I didn’t know what to do anymore.
When my boyfriend was about to leave Korea to study and work in New Zealand, I knew that the best thing to do would be to break up. I didn’t want to though.
Ever since he moved to New Zealand he progressively communicated less. I talked to him about it many times. Every time I felt I reached my breaking point, he would apologize and make up for it. I could never stay angry but I hated myself every time he failed to keep his word.
Just like before, he apologized and told me he would try to get better. He said that he hadn’t messaged because he was traveling but he was going back to Korea the following week.
I already knew that nothing was going to change but I didn’t want to let go and admit failure. Since I still had feelings for him, I figured it was worth putting in the effort to save our relationship.
I tried not to think too much about my boyfriend because I really didn’t want to add another problem. I had more than enough to deal with.
I was still sick but my bosses were annoyed that I wasn’t able to speak to my students. Miranda and the director requested a meeting with me. I wondered if I was still able to convince them to send me on the visa run. I knew the director wouldn’t send me if she didn’t think I would stay the year. I had been trying to stay on her good side but me being sick wasn’t helping.
Lawanda mentioned that she was also going to talk to Miranda. We thought if more people complained about the working conditions, it might lead to changes. Lawanda said that one of the other new teachers, Leon, had made a comment that struck her as odd. Leon had finished his class (he worked until 7) and found Lawanda still there after hours. He made a remark showing his unhappiness with BM. Leon always seemed so positive about the job, even when he was stressing to keep up. We thought Leon was happy there.
I wanted to see if we could trust Leon or not. Since Leon and I shared a classroom, I would see him sometimes in the afternoon. I tried to talk to him to see how he was doing.
Leon mentioned he was stressed and couldn’t catch up on his work. I told him that Lawanda thought he was not okay at the hagwon. He told me we should talk later since my co-teacher was in the room. Later that day we exchanged kakao Id’s so we could communicate with no problems.
As the end of my classes approached I decided it was time to go see Miranda and the director. I went up to their offices and noticed the director was speaking with a parent, so I met with Miranda. I told Miranda I wanted to stay at BM. I would gladly take any and all advice from her so I could improve as a teacher and stress less. I told Miranda that I needed help and I did not want to be a failure at the school.
It was a lie and I was fed up with everything, I wanted to leave BM. I still wanted to complete half of the year so I wouldn’t cause any problems for them or myself. I thought if I blamed myself and asked for help to become the kind of teacher they wanted, they might believe me and allow me to go on the visa run. I knew it was a bit of a long shot but Miranda seemed won over. She promised my visa run would be scheduled as soon as the director heard about my change of heart.
Miranda was optimistically telling me what she liked about my teaching style and what she could do help me. I listened and nodded to all of her suggestions because I had no voice and I wanted to seem accepting. Suddenly the director walks into the room with her trademark smile. She sits down and listens to Miranda. I felt like everything was going well, until the director spoke.
The director turned to me and said she knew I couldn’t speak so she felt bad for me. Although it was still the beginning of the new school year she realized that I might be a bad “investment”. She wasn’t sure I was really dedicated to the hagwon. “ If you are getting stressed now, how will you react during Halloween and Christmas when we have huge school events?” I knew that any and everything I said now would be used against me.
Even though I was trying to assure them that I was getting used to the hagwon style of teaching, it wasn’t true. She had been observing my classes and noticed that my co-teacher was speaking too much to my students. I wasn’t teaching them enough and I should speak more English to them. She knew that they don’t speak or understand English but it was my duty, not my co-teacher’s, to explain everything to them. It didn’t seem to her that I was a good teacher. She also said that because I was stressing too much, it affected the other teachers. To top it off, she said she overheard me saying I wanted to leave the school because I couldn’t get my visa.
I had to calm myself down. I tried to assure her that I thought that before I got used to my schedule. I couldn’t take over my class properly because I couldn’t speak, so I did need Ms. S. to talk on my behalf. I told her I was certain of my decision to stay at BM.
The director didn’t seem convinced, which then made Miranda turn on me. The director gave me a week to think over my decision. She said if I was willing to stay I should tell her next week. I would not be able to quit and would have to do my job with no complaints. If I wasn’t willing to stay, she said she would help me leave on good terms but never mentioned my visa work. I told her not to worry, I would give it some thought. We all smiled and walked away.
I walked out of her office seething in rage. I was not going to take humiliation and exploitation. I kept thinking about how she made me feel ungrateful when she knew full well I was putting more than 40 hours of work a week. It was their fault I was so sick, working illegally, staying at unpaid meetings for over an hour and working at least a few hours for free a week.
My friends and I knew that they were making me work illegally and now I was sure that the director was trying to hold my visa hostage. Her “bad investment” comment had no place because I went to Korea on the PROMISE of receiving my working visa no matter what. I was lied to about the responsibilities, hours, and treatment. There was no way I was staying.
I walked down stairs and told Lawanda that we needed to talk. When I was sure we were far enough from the school I told her everything that happened. I also mentioned what the director said about overhearing me talking to another teacher about my intentions to leave. I knew it couldn’t have been Lawanda because she had a plan to leave herself. I didn’t trust any of the other teachers. It finally hit me that one time after work there was a Korean co-teacher walking behind us closely. We didn’t realize she was there until she shouted “hi” and then left immediately. It was quite likely she told the director everything she heard.
This school was making me paranoid.
A day or two later, Lawanda met with Miranda to talk about her situation. Lawanda told Miranda she didn’t feel competent and wasn’t sure how she was going to be able to finish the year because of the stress. The amount of work and the long hours were taking its toll on her. Miranda asked a veteran teacher to help Lawanda. Miranda asked A, a teacher who had been teaching at BM for two years, to help Lawanda with her work load and give her advice.
After my meeting with the director I sent messages to different recruiting agencies and replied to many job posts. I had to think of a way out of BM. Out of nowhere, my friend Sam messaged me asking how I was doing. Sam mentioned she talked with her director about the stressful situation at work. The director took the staff out for an apology dinner but nothing changed. I told Sam everything that happened to me. Sam suggested a Facebook group that posted jobs in Seoul. I asked her to forward me the web address. Instead Sam sent me a screen shot of a job offer from a recruiter.
Seeing that there were some good public school jobs, I decided to email the recruiter and hoped that he could contact me with good news.
Over the next few days Miranda kept sending me emails pointing out things that she felt were going wrong in my class but made no suggestions on how to fix them. She kept pulling me aside to tell me to change the most random things. She sent Alice to check on my lesson plans and criticize me. I knew they wanted to bully me out of the school. I was frustrated. I wasn’t sure how much more I could take.
Something that eased my mind was finding out two more foreign teachers at the school could be counted on as allies. Michael was an elementary teacher who, like Leon, was having a hard time catching up. We managed to talk after Leon told me Michael was having a harder time at the school than him. Surprisingly, the other teacher who proved to be on our side was A! Although I was suspicious of A because she had been working at BM for 2 years, she turned out to be a very chill and helpful teacher. Lawanda had been spending time learning tips and tricks from A, so she found out from A that BM had increased the workload on everybody starting this year.
I received a message from my boyfriend the next morning telling me he was on his way back to Korea. By the time I received his second message, my classes were over and I was staying overtime to finish lesson plans and creating materials for the following week. He told me he had just arrived at Incheon. I told him half jokingly “That’s funny that you’re arriving now because I might be on my way out.“ Immediately he asked me what was wrong. I told him I felt bullied, the director and Miranda were blaming the teachers’ complaints (at this point it had been 4 teachers who talked to them) on me and wanted to get rid of me. I told him I wasn’t happy here and they were holding my visa papers hostage. The only reason I had decided not to pull a “midnight run” was because I didn’t want to cause any harm to my students and I didn’t want to leave Korea before seeing him.
That Saturday the recruiter contacted me. He was confused about my situation because it had been a month since I arrived in Korea but was already looking for a new job. I told him that the school had lied to me and I was not suited to teach at a hagwon. He asked me if I had been in Korea almost a month, why didn’t I have a phone number. I said I didn’t have my ARC or my working visa. I was told I would go to Japan to get it before starting work but they never sent me. Immediately he interrupted me. “You came here on a tourist visa. So you are now working on a tourist visa right?” he asked me. “You know that’s illegal right? You can get in a lot of trouble.” He made me nervous. I could feel my voice cracking while telling him that I knew it wasn’t right because I had come to Korea before legally before. I told him they promised to let me go on a visa run but that now they were holding it against me. I told the recruiter everything. I asked for his advice. He said he would talk to his boss and see what he could do because I was stuck in a very difficult situation. He tried to calm me down and tell me everything would be all right.
Later that day I told one of my best friends in Korea everything that was happening. Her advice was to record everything on my phone for the next meeting incase they wanted to threaten me. So long as I had them admitting they put me in the position I was in, I had a fighting chance.
The next day I was nervous, excited and scared to see my boyfriend after 10 months. He knew I was nervous so he slowly tried to approach me and get me to open up. My boyfriend was the closest person I had to family in Korea, so having him near me made me feel more secure.
We decided to sit and talk for a little while to catch up. He told me he had something for me. He gave me a beautiful necklace with a pendant in the shape of a kiwi bird. He also gave me a giant chocolate bar made in New Zealand. He handed them to me and told me he got them as a present for me. I had wanted to buy him something nice as well but I had to spend wisely since I hadn’t gotten paid yet.
We walked around my neighborhood and talked about what was going to happen if I decided to quit. I told him I wanted to stay in Seoul but I wasn’t sure how. I didn’t want another hagwon job. I looked at him and told him that I should have listened to him when he told me not to apply to a hagwon. He warned me about working for hagwons. He reassured me everything would work out. Even if I quit, everything would work out. I was terrified to act but I didn’t want to be unhappy and abused at that school. He told me that if I wasn’t happy then I should do something about it and not be scared.
For the first time in a long time, I was so happy. It meant so much to me that he was supporting my decision and standing behind me. I took him to the train station and on our way there I asked if he was free to hang out the following weekend. “ I should meet with my friends and I will celebrate my grandmother’s birthday next weekend. But don’t worry. We can meet every weekend after that.” I tried not to show my disappointment at his answer. I figured that he would be very busy the first few weeks. At least I had seen him. When we reached the station, we kissed goodbye. I turned around and tried to psyche myself up for Monday. I knew what I had to do, I decided to quit and never look back!