Even though I did a pretty thorough job of explaining why I had to flee the Sanbon Feinschule last post, that didn’t mean I had to leave the nation of South Korea. My Hagwon was a pathetic excuse for a school, but if I wanted to I could have found better working conditions elsewhere in the country.
I decided to come back to America not only because of my school. But also because I just “wasn’t feeling” South Korea. So I’m going to go over a couple of reasons why I just couldn’t stay in the Far East anymore.
(I’m going to lay all my cards on the table.)
Visit Korea and you will notice one thing right away: It is all Koreans all the time, with some Chinese mixed in. Seriously. My first weekend there, I went to Seoul Station, the equivalent of Grand Central Station in NYC and I could count the Westerners on one hand. I even walked around the surrounding areas for 3-4 hours and saw nothing but Koreans.
The next weekend I went on a date to Gangnam (the equivalent of Times Square and also the subject of the song “Gangnam Style”) and had to wait to meet my date. In the busy metro tunnels it was, again, all Koreans all the time. So much so that I couldn’t resist taking a 1 minute video. Check it:
Now, on the surface what I’m saying sounds highly RACIST and PREJUDICED and BIGOTED. After all, how much of a [jerk] am I to go and complain that there’s too much of a certain race in a certain area? How is that any less disgusting than me complaining about too many Jews in Brooklyn or too many African Americans in Harlem?
Two reasons: first, Koreans speak KOREAN in Korea, which I can’t speak, so all the hundred or so people you saw bustling through that exit I cannot communicate with. The level of English in Korea varies. Either they’ll pretend they don’t speak English, or they will speak English but it’s quite broken. The Jew in Brooklyn and the African American in Harlem I can actually COMMUNICATE with, but the Korean I most likely can’t, which makes living in Korea a frustrating experience.
(“Can’t I just stick to normal words like ‘On Fleek’ or ‘Chutzpah’?”)
It’s a stone city.
And I don’t mean that as a compliment. Like the rest of Asia, Korea is overpopulated, and since they’re recovering from the Korean war in the fifties, they need to house millions of Koreans, and FAST. I’ve taken a couple of pictures to show that all Seoul is is just a series of GIGANTIC apartment complexes. Look:
(Taken on my bus ride out of there.)
(Snapped while walking down a main street.)
(Sanbon. A bus ride down from where I lived, and nothing but shops on top of each other.)
(A train ride provides a scenic view, no?)
(Just around the corner from Seoul Station. Was I crazy for leaving this behind?)
Now, these pics were taken from different parts of not only Seoul but outer regions like Gunpo and Suwon That’s to show that honestly, the entire city looks EXACTLY the same: gray, drab, and boring. There’s no sense of aesthetic or artistry in the design of the city. Just building after building after building with businesses and people all crammed in there.
Yes, I know people who are reading this and want to punch me in the face are yelling about how they still think it’s a beautiful city and I just don’t “get it” because I’m racist / stupid / a pinhead etc., but to those people I present photos I’ve taken from cities that are ACTUALLY lovely. Behold:
(Paris from the Eiffel Tower. J’Adore!)
(Just outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Qué interesante! Qué artística!)
(Downtown San Francisco. Wish I was there now. Gorgeous City!)
Get it? I swear, when I first started walking around that morose PENCIL SKETCH of a city, I was wondering to myself, “Are there any famous Korean artists / painters? Do they even let kids touch crayons or stuff like that? For crying out loud I haven’t even seen any GRAFFITI anywhere!”
I took another video of my 3 minute commute from the door of my apartment to the school to show my family, and when they saw it they were like “Oh cool! The area seems pretty commercial and happening!” But then when they looked at it a second time or shared it with a friend they were like “Um…do you live in the ghetto or something?”
NO I DID NOT LIVE IN THE GHETTO. KOREA IS JUST AN UGLY CITY DEALING WITH AN OVERPOPULATION PROBLEM.
Check the video and judge for yourself. And even though this Gunpo (an hour south of Korea by train) believe when I tell you that all of Seoul looks this drab.
I don’t speak the language and didn’t plan on learning it.
Last summer I took Korean lessons at the Korean Culture Center down the street from Madison Square Garden. At first I was keen to add Korean to my knowledge of English and Spanish, but after a couple of classes it became apparent what a huge undertaking it would be.
The course was only 10 weeks, and covered Hangeul, the Korean Alphabet. Even so, I only went to eight of the classes because I lost interest, realizing that it would take YEARS of study to learn this language. And sure enough, just in time for this post, someone on my Facebook posted a link ranking how hard certain languages are to learn for native English speakers:
(Check out the full chart and article here.)
I should have known going to Korea for a year was a mistake when I skipped the last 2 classes, but I think I was so eager to head out that I wasn’t thinking straight. Anyway, I went to Korea with no Korean and, surprise, surprise, it turned out to be disastrous.
All the food is labeled in Korean and so are the streets.
So is the public transportation. There was a bus stop right outside my apartment, but if I’m not taking the bus in New York, there’s no way I’m figuring it out in Korea.
Even the appliances in my home were in Korean. Take a look at my washing machine:
(Do I even need a caption here?)
This resulted in needing a guide to do ANYTHING. I hung out a few times with another American who, for anonymity purposes we’ll call Strawberry (just go with it) and it was her who ordered food for me when we ate out or drew me maps to go places.
Strawberry was my odd friend who would come out and say random stuff like:
“I wouldn’t tell anyone you paid a thousand dollars to a recruiter to get a job at a Hagwon, because they’ll think you’re stupid.”
(After knowing me for 3 days) “You seem all right, so let me tell you about [this extremely illegal thing I’m doing].”
(“Heh, heh. I’ve totally got rights in Korea, Joe. Heh, heh. *Bursts into tears*)
Needless to say, not knowing the language was a hindrance, and got old FAST. This leads me to my last point, which is…
They treat you like the immigrant you are.
I know, I know. I must be some spoiled American to think that I’m going to get to Korea and they’re going to roll out the red carpet for me, right?
(The only thing they “rolled out” for me was a tiny green towel to dry myself with after a 14 hour flight.)
Well, I wasn’t expecting that, per se, but I was expecting a little bit of compassion, considering that I flew halfway around the world to a country that’s about as alien to me as could be.
Now, not counting the individual experience of walking through Seoul and everyone staring at you (because spotting a Westerner is like spotting Sasquatch) or Koreans giving you weird looks when you try to talk to them about anything, there were a few specific things that happened at my Hagwon, the Feinschule in Sanbon, that made me feel alienated.
The first is that the Koreans would isolate the Americans from them. In the main area the foreign teachers would be at their desks, and the Koreans would speak in Korean at another table in the nearby. So that bothered me. But it was also the feeling that I simply wasn’t welcome there. That I was an alien they just smiled at but never made any effort to try and get to know.
(“But I just want to be friends. Can’t they see we’re not so different?”)
The staff at the school honestly wanted me there for appearance purposes, but didn’t want to actually help me out in any way. For example, one of the things I had to do when I got to Korea was head down to immigration and get an Alien Resident Card.
Kara the Vice principal drove me early one morning to the doctor (located a twenty minute walk away) to get blood work and x-rays, and a physical done (for $110) all of which was necessary for the paperwork. But after that Kara was DONE helping me.
(“Joseph-teacher can go. I am many many busy.”)
The next step was to go down to the immigration office in Suwon and process everything. Strawberry told me that it takes over an hour to get there, and I would be waiting at least an hour to be processed. They close at 6 pm so what I had to do was leave the school at 3 pm, take a train, transfer to a different one and then walk to immigration.
But instead of just driving me there, Julie (disgusting human being) printed me out a subway map:
(Click to enlarge)
And a map of where the train gets off along with circling the immigration office.
(Click to enlarge)
I looked at the photos above and I was like, “Uh…can’t you just drive me there?”
“You can go.”
One more time.
“Well I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it, because it’s going to take over an hour to get there and I’ve never taken these trains before, and if I get there late they’ll close, and—“
“You can go.”
So I went, and it was just as difficult as you’d expect, considering the instructions they’d given me. I got the first train no problem but then when it was time to transfer, I wanted to blow my brains out.
I tried to follow signs to transfer to the other train and kept getting lost. There was one sign (that I HAD to take a picture of, lest people thinking I’m making this up) that pointed to the transfer station but actually POINTED TO A DEAD END.
(That arrow inside the yellow bar points to a wall! And there was no English speakers to ask!)
Frustrated and pressed for time, I asked the cashier at a store how I transferred to the Bundang line and because they only spoke Korean she had to lead me to an elevator and pantomime directions. I finally found the right train and went to immigration and was able to process my paperwork, but the whole time I was thinking, “They couldn’t have just dropped me off here?”
When I say I got the Hell out of there, I mean I got the HELL out of there.
I booked a flight the Thursday night where Julie (POS) harassed me to the point where I raised my hands defensively and said “I feel uncomfortable.” I packed over the weekend (as opposed to spending it making lessons plans, which Julie wanted me to do) and Sunday morning I took the bus to Sanbon and then an “Airport Limousine” to the Incheon Airport.
I flew from Korea to Hawaii first, waited five hours, and then flew from Hawaii to LAX. Now at this point you’re probably wondering, “But Joe! Why didn’t you do them the courtesy of letting them know you’re leaving?”
Instead of EXPLAINING again that I’m dealing with horrible people who will probably screw me over even further, let me just post the photo of the email from Brad, the in-country coordinator from CIEE (Scam company. Do not use them).
(Click to enlarge)
Yup. Had I done the right thing and let them known my intentions they would have held me HOSTAGE in communist Korea until they saw fit to let me go. Furthermore, I was talking to another American and learned that if the school decided to fire me, I’d be in a bad position, because they OWN THE APARTMENT I WAS LIVING IN. So hypothetically if I said something to piss them off they could have simply tossed all my stuff out in the hallway and locked me out, leaving me nowhere to go.
So screw it. I left without telling them, and I’m SO GLAD I did. The only penalty was financial, although I heard that when stuff like this happens they might not allow entry into the country for a couple of years.
Well, Korea is a crap hole and I don’t plan on visiting it or Asia any time soon. But before I left, I was sure to HIDE A NOTE underneath a towel on the towel rack warning the next teacher. The school found it, so there’s no harm in just posting it here:
(The brain surgeons who found this had no idea what 3x meant; they thought I was asking for money for the things I bought.)
But in spite of everything I’ve complained about in this post and the two previous, I really wanted everything to work out. I spent a lot of time and money in the hopes of having an incredible experience but it blew up in my face. I admit that I made a mistake, and look back at what happened as a very expensive vacation.
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading my photo-heaviest post, and if you like what you’ve read please be sure to SUBSCRIBE BY EMAIL so you don’t miss a post. If you have a friend who can benefit from the information please SHARE the post. And of course if you agree / disagree with me, or want to call racist for not liking a country that isn’t America, be sure to LEAVE A COMMENT below (I want to hear your thoughts as well!).
See you next time,
J. F. Seegitz
P.S. I don’t have any tattoos, but I’m so grateful to be back in America that I’m thinking of getting one to show off my patriotism. What do you think of this:
I’ve returned to America, and surprise, surprise, CIEE Teach Abroad not only won’t help me claim the wages I earned while working at the Hagwon from Hell, but they also won’t refund the $1,000 I paid them for services they never delivered (orientation, pre-departure webinars / training, etc.).
Long story short: Do not give a DIME to the pirates working at CIEE. These reptiles will most certainly pull the old “I already got your money, dude” routine on you. BEWARE!