Friday, January 05, 2007

in praise of my Korean colleagues

I wrote earlier that I ended my Thursday dead tired after conducting a three-hour class in Greco-Roman mythology. My Korean colleagues, however, have been given monster schedules this semester, and three-hour TOEFL and TOEIC classes are de rigueur for them. However tired I might be, multiply that fatigue by two or three and you'll have a sense of how tired my coworkers are-- and two of the three women in my office have kids.

Some people think teaching is a piece of cake, that you just walk into class and rattle off some bullshit, then go home and fart around in your free time. While my job does offer me plenty of free time (especially compared to my previous existence as a hagwon prole), I also spend quite a few hours in the office, working on lesson plans and designing activities for students. My Korean colleagues often do the same; given their teaching load, they have little choice.

If there's one thing I truly wish for my colleagues, it's that they be paid what they are worth. It's well and good for outsiders to say that Korean employees perpetuate the problem by failing to complain to the right people about work conditions, but bosses and the larger university system are primarily to blame. It's one of the great injustices of the education system here that a foreigner can be hired almost sight unseen for an important job, while a Korean national with the same or greater teaching load will be (1) treated with disrespect by most bosses, (2) paid less than her foreign colleagues, and worst of all, (3) be given little to no employee benefits.

My own salary is modest, but it's more than what these ladies earn. They are not on contract, and they are paid by the hour, which means their pay can vary from term to term. Imagine being a mother and not being guaranteed a steady income at an otherwise decent job. At least two of my colleagues have to do outside work just to keep up. Ideally, these ladies should receive a salary that is 30-40% greater than mine, plus benefits.

If you think this blog post sounds as though I'm gearing up to say something to my bosses, well... you're right. I'm not going to say anything yet because this requires some thought, and I certainly don't want my words and actions to impact my colleagues negatively in any way. They don't seem unhappy about what they do; they merely seem tired. They also have not asked me to speak on their behalf, which means I have no right to act cavalierly. I've told them, though, that if they ever feel like complaining, they'll have my open, unquestioning support.

I should also make clear at this point that caution is needed because my bosses are, whatever their human failings, basically decent and well-intended people, which is why I decided to renew my contract with Smoo, and why I will likely renew yet again in April. I may grumble, perhaps a bit too often, about certain goofy command decisions made by the higher-ups, but I'm aware that, during my time here, I've also made my share of mistakes and can't exactly claim a moral high ground. If anything, I think it would be nice to open a discussion with the bosses about slipping Korean nationals into a fairer salary structure. That's all-- a discussion. Just enough to open the door to further possibilities. I'm not planning a crusade. At the same time, I don't think it's right to let this injustice-- and it's one I have to witness every day-- pass.

Damn... for all my dislike of unions, I think I'm starting to sound like a union rep.

In any case, I started writing this post to express respect and admiration for my Korean colleagues (who may or may not read this; they know about my blog but don't seem keen on following it-- ha!); they do a hell of a lot of work for not nearly enough compensation. Hats off to them.


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