An Irish friend of mine was talking about his shambolic new English-teaching job at an academy in Suwon, just out of Seoul. After two months working there it occured to him that he didn’t actually know who his boss was, after one of the newer staff members asked him if he was the principal of the school. He assured her that he was not, and gestured toward another, older woman who he had assumed was the principal. “Oh, I was told she was the owner,” said the new girl, one of several who had recently entered the constantly revolving door of teaching staff. A quick check around the office revealed that somehow, not a single person there knew who, if anyone, was running the place. They concluded it probably didn’t matter as long as they continued to be paid each month.
He said the job itself was fairly ridiculous (as many of these jobs are said to be), involving various attempts to teach English to middle-school children (around 12 or 13 years old) who simply don’t want to be there, and have reached the age where they are not afraid to show it. The other day he was trying yet again to gain his students’ attention in order to continue the lesson, which itself is often no simple feat. He started clapping his hands, thinking this may do the trick. “The sarcastic little shits”, he later explained laughing, also began clapping their hands in mimickry. Thinking on his feet, the teacher spontaneously bowed a few times, saying “thank you, thank you!”, which amused the students who began laughing and continued to clap more enthusiastically.
At the end of the day he was approached by one of the Korean staff members who, looking equally impressed and slightly confused, told my friend that he had earlier walked past his classroom and noticed through the window that my friend was bowing to his students who were vigourously applauding.
“What, you don’t receive applause from your students after providing their lessons? Hmmm.” said the straight-faced, quick thinking Irishman, who stepped into the elevator without another word and went home.