Coming home, and going back
My university work is finished. Excluding something really dramatic, like nuclear war or the administration office losing their record of my fee payments, I’ll graduate in December with a Masters of Education (TESOL). Small – very small – applause, please.
I’ve done well, too. Since I’ve been back I’ve had nothing but high distinctions for everything I’ve had graded, and I think my final essays will also get very good grades. I’ve had the luxury of time to work on them, and I’ve been able to get engaged with researching and writing them. My professors seem to think I write well. Perhaps even smaller applause for that one; I once wanted to be a writer, you know.
In other ways, being back in Australia has been a sort of enveloping, unchallenging nothingness. I seem to have avoided the brutal culture shock I experienced the first time I came home. I suppose I was more ready for it this time. I was ready for the things that can be so rough: the way that people haven’t changed and seem to have stood still for all that time; the way they’re still concerned with all the things from the old scene which seem so distant when you’ve lived overseas for a while. They way they seem only perfunctorily curious about your time in Korea, and uncomprehending even when they do ask, as if everything you tell them gets filtered through some hazy conception of “Asia” that they know from two week holidays to Thailand and episodes of Iron Chef.
People who’ve gone home will understand what I’m talking about. It’s just how it is and it’s not their fault. So you keep your own thoughts, and maybe vent your frustration, if it gets too much, by writing coded facebook status updates that only your friends from Korea can understand. “아이고. 여러분 어디야? I want to go sit outside Family Mart.” Or whatever else it takes for you to get through it.
Being home is easy. It’s also bland. You’re Dorothy returned from Oz, and your world has changed from Technicolor back to sepia. But it’s not anything real or significant; just irritations, because you’ve changed, and nobody can really understand it unless they’ve done it themselves.
But there is good here, too. A couple of days ago I went out onto the balcony in the afternoon and there were two wild rainbow lorikeets – a beautiful species of Australian parrot – sitting there. I gave them some bread. The next day I went out at the same time, and immediately when I came out they flew down again and stood there squawking until I went inside and got more bread for them. They ate it from my hand, then hopped onto my arm to get a better angle of attack on it. Now they come to greet me every afternoon. Today one climbed up on my shoulder, for no obvious reason other than sociability, and sat there, chirping in my ear and lending me a piratical flair.
My standard toning of photos into shades of lime green and burnt orange don’t really do these birds justice, so here is a colour photo of them.
I’ve started applying for university jobs in Korea. The timing isn’t perfect – I’m left in the awkward position of saying “I will graduate in December”, when it would obviously be better to have the degree before applying. Or at least have my final grades. And though I expect my final grades will be very good, I can’t bring myself to write “I expect my grades to be excellent” on a resume. But the jobs I want are advertising now for the Spring semester, so I don’t have much choice about it. Well, the timing was always going to be difficult; my plan to come home, finish my degree, and be back in Korea in six months with a university position was always pretty ambitious.
Still, that’s just a temporary problem. A much more serious problem is this new regulation, or advisory, or recommended policy – I really don’t know what to call it – that seems to have appeared in the last year concerning who can be given university positions as an English instructor in Korea. This is very difficult to understand, and I can’t find anything official on it; I’m left to make inferences from the usual English language scraps of blog and forum posts, and the wording of job advertisements. But what it seems to be is this:
There is some sort of strong recommendation that Korean universities only hire people with Masters degrees (which isn’t a problem) and two years of “university teaching experience” – which is a big problem, and an obvious Catch-22 – how can you acquire two years of university teaching experience if you can’t get a job in a university without already having it?
The answer, according to some, is China. Or Saudi Arabia. Or anywhere else other than Korea. But that’s not where I want to be. It’s not the language I’ve been learning, nor the culture I’ve been trying to understand, nor where in any way I see myself spending two years.
Some university job ads mention formulas, where a year of public school teaching is equivalent to 0.7 of a university year, or the like. The formulas they give have no consistency; with some I seem qualified; with others, not. But there is another complication – for some reason, it seems that teaching experience gained while studying doesn’t count towards your teaching experience, as absurd as that sounds. When I first read this, I thought they only meant to exclude student teaching, which sounds reasonable. But apparently not, according to some reports and some job ads. Apparently if you are teaching full time, and studying part-time – as I was for a year – your teaching experience is invalidated for that time.
None of this makes any rational sense, and if anyone knows of anything official outlining this policy, or whatever it is – in English or Korean – please let me know, so I can at least update my teaching English in Korea page to reflect the correct information. But it has already affected Taft over at A Southerner Abroad, who had a university job offer rescinded because of this policy, and this blogger, too.
It’s frustrating. I accept that university jobs have become competitive, and it’s very possible that there are people more qualified for them than me. Still, when I put together my resume and read through it, I thought: this is pretty good. My experience, my references and qualifications, and even some not inconsiderable things I did in my literary youth, all seemed to indicate a progression: that this was something I would be able to do well and had been building towards.
I accept the possibility that I might not be good enough. But to be summarily invalidated by an arbitrary check-list…
So I will ask you all – if, by chance, there is anyone reading this who is in a hiring position at a Korean university, or who knows someone in such a position, please send me an email. You can find the address on my About page. I would be a good choice. Honest, I would.
Perhaps I am worrying unnecessarily. I do that. I haven’t even been rejected yet. And the idea of teaching in Korean schools isn’t horrifying to me, either; I do like the kids quite a lot. My only proviso would be that it be a position that is somehow interesting and challenging. After my last teaching job, with all its challenges and responsibilities, it’s hard for me to imagine myself going back to being the standard G/EPIK assistant foreign teacher, in charge of frivolous English games and authentic native chit-chat, while the Korean teachers do the heavy lifting. Not that there is anything wrong with being that; I just feel that I’ve moved on from it.
In darker moments I wonder if I’ve cornered myself; if I’ve only managed to make myself too qualified for the standard native English teacher in Korea job, and not qualified enough for university positions. I really hope I haven’t. We’ll see.