A university job
I got a university job. Barring some sort of calamity – a possibility I am trying not to think about too much – I will be working at a small, private university in Jeollanam-do from the beginning of March. Listen carefully and you can probably hear my excited yell from way over here in Australia.
It is an entry-level university job: it is in the least developed part of Korea, in a very small, rural city. The vacation is only 8 weeks (only! It is still twice as much as I would have with a public school…). And the pay is not especially good – it’s actually a little less than I would get with another year at a public school. But I’m completely fine with all that; it was all I reasonably hoped for. It’s a real university position – that thing I’ve seen described on other websites as “the holy grail of Korean teaching jobs”. It’s not a unigwon job, my title will be “Assistant Professor”, and – prepare yourselves for jealousy, oh public school and hagwon teachers – my teaching hours per week?
The advertisement said fourteen, but when the contract came, it said twelve. Apparently there was a change. I can only assume that teachers were dropping from the stress of it all. There’s no set office hours, either, so I may have finally defeated deskwarming. Which is not to say that I intend to abuse the privilege; I expect I’ll still be spending plenty of time at work, particularly as I’m not at all used to teaching two hour classes to university age students. So I’ll be making very detailed lesson plans for a while. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that Korean social pressures make leaving work difficult, even if there is no work to do.
I’m happy, yes, but my main emotion is relief. Because I wasn’t at all confident that I would get an offer of a university position, and looking back I don’t think those feelings were unjustified. I have no reason to believe that if I hadn’t got this job, I would have found another. And I didn’t have any sort of remotely convincing Plan B.
But it seems that it is still possible to get a university position, even from outside the country, with only elementary school teaching experience, and a Masters degree that is not even fresh off the press – I still won’t get my diploma for another couple of weeks. I would love to give you a bunch of tips on how to get a university job, and maybe one day I’ll be able to write that post, but for now, I don’t really know. I had some experience, I have (or will have very shortly) the right graduate degree, I have an undergraduate degree in English composition (and people said it would never be good for anything…), I applied for every university job that seemed remotely possible, and I got lucky.
But I will tell you some things about how the process went. Altogether I found thirteen positions I felt able to apply for. If I had actually had my Masters degree in hand, I would have been far more proactive and sought out university language centers to apply to, but as it was it seemed premature to do that. I only applied to universities where I could at least make an argument as to meeting the qualifications, so none that specifically said “two years university experience required”. For the record, as best I can make out, the catch-22 requirement of two years university experience only applies to national/public universities; private universities vary in their requirements. So not such a catch-22 after all, although it is a barrier to entry for many positions.
Most of those applications vanished into the ether – not even a “thank you but we had many qualified applicants, we’ll certainly keep your resume on file” form response. Korean face-saving, probably.
From those applications, I was offered two interviews. The first interview I felt OK about immediately afterwards, but as I reflected on it, I didn’t think I had done very well. I felt I was too brief with my answers, with too many vague assertions and not enough detail. I’m not very comfortable talking about myself. I’d also had in mind those interviews I helped with when we were looking for a replacement teacher when I left my last school. One of those interviewees rambled his way out of a job. But I think I was too concise, and I really botched one question which should have been easy. I was asked to describe how I would teach phonics to kindergarten students, which for a university position is a really soft question – essentially, it is “tell me about an aspect of teaching that should be intimately familiar to you, given that you’ve only ever taught elementary students”. And all I could manage was some weak crap about visual associations between A and apple. Which is pitiful. I’m sure that someone who has never taught in their life, but who has watched an occasional episode of Sesame Street, would have given an identical answer. The terrible thing is that I did a semester of lessons specifically teaching phonics to kindergarten students, involving an innovative program of learning vocabulary and creating individual alphabet books where the letters were intricate drawings made up of the letter-specific vocabulary they had just learned. Perhaps I should have mentioned something about that…
Anyway, I’m still to hear anything back about that interview, which was weeks ago. I presume I never will hear anything.
After the second interview I had the opposite response – immediately afterwards, my impression was that I hadn’t done well and wouldn’t get the job, but when I thought about my answers, they seemed OK. In particular, I thought I answered pretty well on “How to construct a lesson based on a textbook” (lots of experience doing that) and “What do you know about Jeollanam-do?” in which I managed to give a concise history lesson of the iniquitous development of south-east and south-west Korea under Park Chung-Hee’s regime. If only all interview questions were about Korean general knowledge I’d probably be working at Seoul National by now, but I go to pieces when asked to talk in abstract terms about my own positive qualities.
Anyway, I got the job, in spite of what I felt was an edgy, rattled demeanour in the interview. So you can add that, too, to the list of things that don’t hopelessly preclude getting a Korean university position.
Why did I get the job? I can only guess. My qualifications were right, but I suspect a large factor was that I had really good references, in Korean, from Korean teachers. Collect those letters of reference, people, and stay in good with your teachers. Also, the fact that it is a relatively low paid job, in a rural area a long way from Seoul, almost certainly reduced the competition quite a bit; that I could honestly say that I’m quite happy to be in a rural area, and would choose almost anywhere in Korea in preference to Seoul to live in and teach, probably helped.
In the comments on my last post, J asked if I had put this blog on my CV. The answer is that, after some thought, I did. It was the anonymity of this blog that made me hesitate, but I decided that if it came to it, I could always prove that I am who I claim to be. So I put it down.
And it made absolutely no difference. I can say this with relative certainty, as I checked my referral stats closely to see if anybody from any university I had applied to ever came to check it out. And none ever did.
However, while checking those stats, I did notice something. Shortly after I had my second interview, someone from that university came to check out my website. But not this website – my ancient, not-updated-in-five-years, personal blog. They had googled my name and come across it. I had almost forgotten it existed. It was quite a good blog in a lot of ways – not a lot different from this one, though without a focus on a single topic. I did it for about five years and back in the day it had quite a few readers, not all of whom were relatives.
So I glanced at the front page, just to see what someone casually coming to it might see, and saw the following:
- a reference to being domain hijacked by “Checnyan cyber-pornographers”
- a reference to a teenage escapade which would not be looked on favourably in Korea
- an extremely long piece of writing about the three weeks I spent working in a call center just before coming to Korea for the first time – a job from which I was fired. It also contained a fair amount of bad language, and a description of my supervisor as a sociopath and anal pinhead.
With context none of these things are particularly awful, and I wouldn’t have them on the internet under my own name if I was ashamed of them, or didn’t think they were pretty good pieces of writing. But at a casual glance, they are probably not the sort of things you would want to highlight to a potential employer.
This put me in an interesting position – as it came after my interview, I realized that they must still be considering me, and I couldn’t have messed up too badly. On the other hand, I thought it was possible I had blown my chance by not cleaning up my digital detritus.
Anyway, I got the job. Perhaps they were only looking for internet reports of wanted terrorists, or Facebook photos of me drunkenly vomiting on a model of Dokdo. Or perhaps I just think too much about how people perceive me. And all that stuff is gone, now. Of course, now I’ve told you about it here. And you wonder why I keep this blog anonymous…