Monday, December 19, 2022

all good things

There'd been rumblings and warnings, but it appears we're finally here: my R&D team is being broken up, and we're being sent to separate departments within the company. This is supposed to happen this week, i.e., right before Christmas. My boss is apparently done with the company, too: he said he was on a particular type of contract, but now that that contract has ended, there are no further projects for him, so no renewal.* I've told my boss that I've been pampered by the fact that he's served as a shield, a buffer between us expat employees and the Korean administration. Frankly, I don't want to go back to work under a Korean hagweon boss, so I have given the company my 30-day notice. My current boss, a Korean-fluent American, wonders whether my declaration of resignation might spur the powers that be to reconsider their current move, but personally, I doubt it. When you work at a Korean company, you are a replaceable, fungible cog, unvalued for your individual talents.

I've set my departure date: January 20, 2023. A nice, even number, the 20th. And now, all of a sudden, I have to consider my options, all the things I'd been idly mulling regarding my future. I'm actually thankful that my company is pulling this maneuver now. Samuel Johnson famously said that knowing you are to be hanged concentrates the mind wonderfully. My situation is nowhere near so dire: I have the comfortable option of collecting four years of severance pay (one month of pay per year of work) and, if I decide to leave Korea, I can also collect the lump sum of my pension. Alas, with the exchange rate what it is, my current total of 30-plus-million won (pension only) translates to a little above $20,000, US. With my severance and the amount in my bank currently, I could theoretically buy a third of a house somewhere in the States. In terms of other options, I also can jump right back into college teaching, which comes with its own perks, like four months of vacation a year.

But there's the month ahead to consider. Since I've given a thirty-day notice, I'm part of the company for a little while longer, and I'm still going to be moved to a different department (unless my boss is right and my stated intention to resign changes things), so I'll have to endure a few weeks under a new boss (who, from what I understand, will be a boss I've worked under before... he wasn't bad). During that time, I'll be working on my Plan B. The problem now is that, after years of working at my current company, I've amassed a ton of material goods, and all that shit has to be moved. There are pojang-isa services that will box your stuff up into proprietary crates and move everything for you, but those services are expensive. An online search shows a price range from W650,000 to W1,200,000, i.e., almost up to a thousand dollars. Another option is not to move at all: I can say in my current residence, but I'd have to hash out the now-personal rental agreement with the apartment-building admins. I imagine there'll be a sky-high deposit, then a rent that could be around $600 to maybe $1000 a month. I'm going to have to check. Staying in my current place would save me the hassle of having to travel to the Gangnam District Office to register yet another address change.

Moving back to America is tempting. My brothers are there, although they're now scattered to the four winds. My oldest buddy lives in Virginia, but I've been thinking a lot about moving to Wyoming, where a man doesn't have to worry about mask bullshit and critical race theory. But I've never wanted to move back to the States without a huge wad of cash under my arm, and I'm far from being able to buy a house (and a car) outright. I'd also want to be doing the sort of work that kept me at home, where I could raise dogs and have a cat—things I pine for here in Korea. For the moment, though, it's simply easier to remain in Korea. But I need to start seriously working toward some kind of breakthrough—some scenario in which I end up being my own boss. That's more plausible in America than in Korea. Which leads to the bootstrapping problem of how to become one's own boss while in Korea in order to continue being one's own boss after moving back to the States. I'll let my subconscious mind digest that riddle over the next few days. Right now, the in-front-of-my-nose problem is the upcoming move, later this week, into a new office.

Anyway, there's a lot to think about, and we only just today got the news of this big shift. For me, though, the clock is running: I've declared my intention to leave on January 20 of next year, so I have to make some practical decisions.


*The company has been trying to get rid of my boss for years. In recent months, as things have been coming to a head, my boss tried over and over to contact the higher ups, including the CEO (a personal acquaintance of his), in order to get a better read of the situation, but no one was responding. My boss had been shut out. The whole thing was very passive-aggressive on the company's part. My boss's own theory is that he's long refused to kowtow to his superiors, and he never hides his opinion at meetings. He also never shrinks from an argument, and these are traits that, taken as a whole, make him very unpleasant to work with from a Korean perspective. Koreans want hierarchical harmony, with authority and information always flowing gravitationally downward from the higher echelons to the lower ones. When someone rocks the boat (and being insufficiently submissive is a form of rocking the boat), why, that's double-plus ungood. So there's long been a desire to get rid of my boss in the interest of peace and quiet—a notion that, for some people, is more important than truth or justice.


John Mac said...

Wow! You're 2023 is going to be a year of big changes. Good luck as you find your new path. It's great that you appear to have options and a positive attitude going forward.

Is mandatory retirement at 60 still a thing in Korea?

Charles said...

Well, I wasn't expecting this, but I suppose it was in the cards, at least from what you were saying. Do you know what your boss has planned as his next move?

Kevin Kim said...


My boss is over 60, and I think he may have been counting on staying with the company a few more years.


No idea what's in store for the boss. He's talked idly about starting his own company, but that's never sounded like a serious thing to me.

Charles said...

If I were over 60 and that happened to me, I'd pack it in and retire. Or open up that tea shop I've always thought about. Probably just retire and do literary translation, though.

Aaron said...

I’m always curious to see how other folks who’ve spent long periods in Korea make the transition back to the US. It’s different for everyone, of course, and everyone’s transition always seems to be different than they thought it would be. It certainly was for me.

Money is always helpful (and I would’ve benefited from having more of it when I moved to the States in 2012 after 10 years in Korea) but the bigger challenge was just getting a sense of traction and feeling like life had momentum in the new surroundings. Ultimately, though, the move forced me into some major life/professional changes that I never would have made if I’d stayed with my fairly comfortable – but ultimately aimless – life in Korea. All of which is to say: this current upheaval sounds like it sucks, but it could also be a kick in the pants toward better things. I’m eager to see where it takes you.