To whom it may concern, I’m shouting as loud as I can!

29 Apr

Nothing will change the horrible experience I’ve had these last two months at my school.  But hell, people ought to know!  So I collected my thoughts on everything that happened these last two months and I wrote a lengthy letter.  I forwarded this letter to the DMOE, the Koeran Times, The Korean Herald, Groove Magazine and the Daegu pockets.  Whether they publish my story or not, I tried!  I also sent my story to a bunch of local papers back home!  The purpose is not to scare people away, but to notify then that shit can happen this side and that the green grass on the other side may have some manure for you to trample on!  So here goes, this is my letter:

To whom it may concern,

I have been in Korea as a Native English Teacher (NET) for about two months now.  I applied through EPIK (English Program in Korea) and arrived for our orientation on the 18th of February 2010.  The orientation was a great introduction to Korea and eased the transition.  However it was once we left the orientation and travelled to our destination provinces that things went horribly wrong.  The reason for me in writing this letter is to tell my story.  I have done my research well before embarking on my adventure to Korea.  Of all the horror stories I came across not one stemmed from the public school system.  Therefore I chose to apply through EPIK and not at a Hagwon.  So here is what happened, and is still happening, to me!

About a hundred or so new NET’s arrived in Daegu on Friday the 26th of February.  We were all taken to the DMOE (Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education) where our co-teachers were waiting for us.  This was the first introduction and at the orientation we were told that first impressions are crucial in Korea and it can make or break a relationship.  So all hundred of us wore our nicest suits and were on our best behaviour.  Navigating through the general chaos at the DMOE I located my co-teacher.  They all held posters with our names on, which reminded me of the arrivals terminal of an airport.  After a very brief introduction my co-teacher whisked me off to my apartment.  I was placed in the South West of Daegu, combined with peak traffic it took about an hour to get there.  Due to my extensive research I knew what to expect of our apartments.  It was going to be small and most likely studio type.  After carrying my bags up four flights of stairs we got to my apartment.  When my co-teacher opened the door to my apartment the first thing that went through my mind was “What!  Am I supposed to live here for the next year?”.  It was filthy, smaller than anticipated and the whole building smelled like old rotten food!  Also there was no furniture.  I asked where my bed was and she said the school will get it for me in a few days.  In our contracts it clearly states that our apartments must be supplied with the following:

  • Bed
  • Closet
  • Range
  • TV set
  • Refrigerator
  • Washing machine
  • Desk and table
  • Air conditioner

Our contracts also clearly states that temporary housing will be made available to the employee until suitable permanent housing can be made available.  The conditions in my apartment weren’t suitable.  Furthermore the apartment was filthy.  The floor was covered in black dust and they expected me to sleep on the floor.  Without supplying me with bedding, or any cleaning materials, I was abandoned.  After a horrible first night in Daegu I contacted my co-teacher and informed her that I needed a bed.  I also demanded that I get it by the end of the day.  I actually did get my bed later that day.  As the week progressed I continually asked my co-teacher about the rest of my furniture.  I was living out of my suitcase and it grew on my nerves.  “When can I expect my furniture?”  They always gave me the same reply “In a couple of days”.  I waited and waited until one day they told me that my closet has arrived and I can take it back to my place after school.  Great! So after school the administrator handed me a box of about twice the size of a shoebox.  “Here is your closet” They gave me a railing.  Big enough for about 10 hangers.  I was furious.  I immediately informed them what the contract stated and this does not qualify as a closet!  I asked them on a daily basis when I can expect to get my furniture.  Finally after two weeks they delivered my closet and table and chairs.

In the following two weeks I informed my school about several problems I have experienced with my apartment.  The toilet seat was broken.  The gauze in the windows was torn and the air conditioner didn’t have a plug.  The boiler (heating system) did not work well as it was a constant struggle to get hot water.  I had to take a few cold showers because the water just didn’t heat up.  And I used the thing correctly.  The heating system also made very loud crackling sounds.  If the heating was switched on it will make that loud crackling sound and the whole thing will shake once every hour.  It woke me up constantly!  My school failed to take action, as they said all those things ‘are normal’.

On Sunday the 28th of March disaster struck once again.  As on every Sunday I was doing my laundry.  When suddenly one of the water pipes burst.  The actual tap exploded flooding my apartment.  As the tap blew off it was impossible for me to stop the water.  I immediately phoned my co-teacher.  She informed me that she will contact the real estate agent.  In a few minutes she phoned me back just to tell me that neither she nor the administration officer had the real estate agents phone number on them.  The asked me to quickly run up the street and call him to my apartment.  So I did, but because it was around 8 pm on a Sunday the real estate agent’s office was closed.  I phoned my co-teacher again and told her it was closed and she told me that there is nothing she can do.  All the while water is running uncontrollably from the tap in my apartment.  Eventually after about 2 hours of going back and forth my school sent a repair man to fix the problem.  So after I dried the whole place up I moved my closet away from the wall.  I discovered that the whole wall behind the closet was covered in mold.  I freaked out.  I immediately got my camera and took pictures of it.  So on Monday morning I showed it to my co-teacher and she was shocked.  I told her about all the dangers and health risks involved.  I asked her to tell the administration to either get rid of the mold or find me a new place to live.  Until my school resolved the issue I was going to live with my girlfriend.  On Monday afternoon before I left school my co-teacher informed me that the school has decided to find me a new apartment.  I was relieved.  So as the week went by I was under the impression my school is finding me a new place.  So on the Thursday I asked my co-teacher on the status of the situation.  As always she made a phone call to the administration office.  Without discussing it with me, my school has decided not to get me a new apartment because there is a penalty fee 300 000 Won involved to cancel my current contract.  So they are going to fix the problem.  I was fine with that I just wanted them to do it as quick as possible.  The weekend came and went and my school still did not fix the mold.  So on Monday I asked once again what the status was.  I was informed that they couldn’t get hold of the owner of my apartment on Thursday, as it is his responsibility to fix the problem.  On the Friday they did not even try contacting the owner and on Monday they couldn’t get hold of him again.  I was furious.  I wanted to see the principal.  But my co-teacher did not want me to see him.  She said that it was unnecessary.  My voice grew louder and louder until I met with the principal.  I explained to him all the troubles and problems with my apartment and asked him if I could please move to another apartment.  Its not just the mold but also the array of other problems I have experienced.  The principal assured me that he ill find a solution.  A few days past and I heard nothing.  Then all of a sudden the principal wanted to see me.  Together with my co teacher and the administration chief, the principal and I had a meeting.  He informed me that the school can move me into a new apartment if I paid the cancellation fee of 600 000 won.  A week ago it was 300 000 won.  I refused and said that I cannot afford it.  The school informed me that they cannot afford it as well because they are a very poor school.    They then said the only option is to fix the mold.  If they were just planning on fixing the mold why then did they not do it a week ago already?  I asked them how they were going to fix the mold.  They said that they will fit new wall paper in the apartment.  That is not a solution I said,  as the mold will just grow back!  They needed to get into the wall.  They considered this and informed me it will take a minimum of 7 days for the problem to be fixed and that I should find somewhere else to live.  They actually said that.  I told them that is their responsibility to find me somewhere to live and that they should put me up in either a hotel or a motel for that time.  The principal burst out laughing when my co-teacher translated this.  They refused and said I should live with my girlfriend.  I told them that I have been living with her for the past week and a half but our apartments are just too small for two people.  It is placing unnecessary strain on our relationship.  The principal then told me that there is no solution to this problem.  What does that mean?!  I refused to take it and told them they had a responsibility towards me and at this point they are letting me down.  So eventually they informed me that the school will pay the 600 000 won and find me a new place.  So after work they showed me a new apartment and I was satisfied.  It’s not any bigger its just a better apartment.  I said I was happy with it.  So they told me that I will be able to move in about a week.  Still doesn’t solve the issue of where I was supposed to live for that week but I was grateful that my school was willing to move me into a new apartment.

On Tuesday the 13th of April I got to move into my new apartment.  It did not take long as the only things that were to be moved was my bed, closet table and chairs and my suitcases.  When I got to the new apartment I noticed that there is no washing machine, refrigerator or TV set.  I asked my co-teacher about it and she said the school will supply me with those things in a couple of days.  No problem.  But until I receive those appliances I will remain at my girlfriends place.  By the end of the week I still hadn’t received the appliances and asked my co-teacher.  The administration office informed her that they haven’t ordered it yet.  I was furious.  So I finally made contact with the DMOE to help me.  This has been going on for too long!  The DMOE contacted my school and spoke to my co-teacher.  All the DMOE could resolve was to inform me that the school will order my appliances.   So on the following Monday I enquired about my appliances and they said that they have ordered it from Seoul.  Why do they need to order t from Seoul?!  There is an LG Best shop on every corner in Daegu.  So on Tuesday they showed me pictures from the catalogue of the appliances they ordered.  They told me that I should be getting it in a few days.  By the Thursday I still haven’t received my appliances and I got frustrated.  All the while I was still living with my girlfriend because I need a fridge for food and a washing machine to wash my clothes!  I contacted the DMOE again and they contacted my school.  The DMOE came back to me with this:  My school had to apply to the department of education for funds to cover my cancellation fee, and the purchasing of my appliances.  And once they were allocated the funds could they only order the appliances.  The DMOE also informed me that my school had ordered the furniture on the Tuesday and not the Monday as stated.  They informed me that my appliances will be delivered to me on Monday the 26th of April.  So not only has my school been reimbursed for the cancellation fee of the rental contract but they also received money from the education department to buy my appliances.  So on Monday the 26th of April I was eager to receive my appliances.  The LG delivery truck, which came all the way from Seoul, came to my school.  I saw them uploading a washing machine onto the truck that came out of the wrestling department.  When we get to my apartment I noticed that the washing machine is old and filthy.  I asked my co teacher about this and she said that the school hadn’t realised that it had this washing machine but when the discovered it they cancelled the one they ordered.  If they had this old ruddy washing machine standing around why on earth did they then not send it to me once I moved into my new place?  And still no Television.  When I asked about that they said once again in a couple of days.

It has been two months now and I am still not settled.  The Korean public school system has failed me and I want other people to know this.  My school does not regard me as an equal human being.  I am still struggling to get some basics from my school and I guess this issue will never be fully resolved.  ***** middle school is ill-equipped to handle  a  Native English Teacher and should not be allowed to receive one.  My constant struggle with my school is starting to affect me personally!  This is not why I came to Korea.  I came here to travel Asia and have fun!  My school experience has been anything but fun.  The public school system is not bullet proof and it is important to know that.  Things can go wrong and if you are aware of it might make things easier when they do.  I have contacted the DMOE but they seem uninterested to help me.  All they ever do is make a phone call to either my co teacher or my administration and tell me what I already know.  I have been struggling non stop and my school does not obey the contract.  They do not keep their end of the deal.  What the solution for all this will be I don’t know but I am trying every resource out there to get my story across.  People ought to know!


6 Responses to “To whom it may concern, I’m shouting as loud as I can!”

  1. Neels de Wit April 29, 2010 at 15:31 #

    Hi Boet, I fully agree on the actions you are taking. Being a guest in another country, does not mean that they can exploid your situation. All the other English teachers are satisfied with their accomadation and that the authorties are keeping to their end of the contract. I smell a fish in so far that your school is using the money given by the Department, for their benefit and not yours. This is corrupt. But ja, you have to settle this in your mind, so they no longer stuff around with your total experience in Korea. You have always live life to the fullest, keep on doing that and don not allow them to spoil that. I am proud of how your are trying to do just that. Keep on going.

  2. kaalvoetinireen April 29, 2010 at 21:25 #

    Something I’ve learned over the years is that your contract means NOTHING! The only time it is used is when the foreigner does something wrong, but when the school does not hold up their end of the contract, nothing happens, even if you go to the labor board. That’s just how it is and you’ll have to accept it. Believe me, you’re waisting your time and energy trying to fight them. They are just going to turn against you in the process and screw you even more. I know it’s not right, but that’s the way it is.

  3. Chris Backe (AKA Chris in South Korea) April 30, 2010 at 01:10 #

    For the sake of the draconian Korean libel laws it’s a good thing you didn’t name the school.

    I have to disagree with kaalvoetinireen – there is ALWAYS something that can be done. Your contract may not be treated as the legal agreement it truly is, but there are always options. To the principal that laughed, I’d simply indicate that I’ll be living with them until my housing gets situated. Then follow them home. Creep them out a bit. Is that desperate? Maybe a little – but too many locals are so used to holding their underling’s lives / jobs / paychecks in their hands. Maybe show up in the same clothes without showering a few days in a row would drive home the point that your hot water doesn’t work. You are no different until you prove otherwise.

    In your current case, it might simply be better to resign and start over – sure, you could also simply sit in the classroom and refuse to teach, but that wouldn’t exactly make you a friend to anyone. Continuing to bug / pester the people in charge of getting things done might work… They sort of expect you to take what they offer, regardless of its quality – and being a stranger in a strange land means you’re more likely to accept that.

    Best of luck 🙂

  4. Stephannie April 30, 2010 at 01:22 #

    I agree… if you keep fighting, you will be labeled “troublesome” and it will turn against you in the end. They can fabricate reasons to fire you and you’ll lose out on your severance pay and decreases the amount you’ll be entitled to from your pension cashout.

    The public school system is no better than the hogwans, they’ve just had less time employing foreign teachers therefore dont have as many testimonies to expose them.

    I wish you luck – my best advise to you is to get an MP3 player and begin to record (not blantently) all your conversations with your co-teacher & principals. if any poop does hit the fan, the recorded files will be your only source of ‘proof’ from he said she said. Korean testimony out ranks foreign testimony … after six years here I’ve learned, every job will screw you somehow, the trick is to find a position who’s discrimination & cheating you can tolerate the best…welcome to Korea darling

  5. Hawk April 30, 2010 at 13:50 #

    Good on you for demanding what you’re entitled to! I know a lot of foreigners who simply keep quiet when their schools (mostly hagwons) screw them or back down with the schools say there is no solution. I didn’t have nearly as much trouble as you but I certainly got messed around by my school for ages (also about apartments, actually). I stuck to my contract conditions to the letter and kept demanding what they had said they’d give me and I have to say that it has had some effect – they now know better than to try and wriggle out of what they are contractually required to provide. I may just have gotten lucky, though there is always the risk of getting fired. Also, always still room for them to find another way to mess me around.

    Hope they start treating you better! I’m very ready to head home in a couple of months to good old South African employers and actual, functioning labour laws.

  6. GRRRL TRAVELER May 1, 2010 at 20:30 #

    Hang in there- we are with you!

    You know, been thinking this might make good documentary material. Just thinking… All I have is my crap consumer vid cam but I’m sure it can quite easily do the job.

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