photos: Manchon hallway (my room is at the end, on the left) and my room. (If you go to likeschool.co.kr, you'll see a promo video with my friend Curtis [in the tie] and Heeduk. I don't know why any sane human who doesn't speak Korean would want to watch more than a minute of it.)
It took me a few days to get a fix on the Kim family and the way they run LIKE. My first impression was that the school (I’m referring to the one in Manchon, “my” school, but it goes for the one in Samduk, too) is a total dump. It’s a little narrow corridor with tiny rooms off it, and the whole thing is just kind of grungy; the floors need sweeping, the fluorescents aren't very bright, there’s writing on the desks.
On the other hand, Heeduk and his family can be extremely kind and generous. On my first day, Heeduk offered to pay for me to get a massage or a sauna; he buys dinner if we’re working a long day into evening; best of all, he invited me to the family home this Sunday morning for Korean Thanksgiving. I think that’s just remarkable. On Thanksgiving, families gather, exchange gifts, eat, and honor their ancestors. I expect he’ll ask other teachers, but he asked me first, as I’m the newcomer.
On the other other hand, they expect a lot. We only get one day off a week, and my schedule can vary from this Tuesday’s, two or three classes from 3:45 to 6:00 or so, to yesterday’s, seven classes from 5:15 to 10:30 (with one free period), to today’s, a double class from 6:45 to 8:15 and another from—no, I’m not kidding—10:30 to midnight for a special grammar session, with the expectation that the kids will stay till 12:45 a.m. to do their homework. (They’re due at their regular schools at 8:30 a.m.) And I teach anything from Chicken Little, with very simple vocabulary, to little elementary school monkeys, to SAT prep for high school seniors. When we’re there and have free time, we have a ton of horribly tedious proofreading to do.
Here’s the edification my cogitation produced: the Kims are very goal-oriented, and the goal is to make money by delivering a quality English education. The parents will send their kids to LIKE whether the floors are swept or not, so they’re not swept. They have a limited number of teachers, so everyone teaches just about everything. (I am hoping to specialize more in the upper grades, and he’s chosen me to do the grammar workshop and possibly to make an instructional video on how to write a decent essay.) Faculty morale is vital to performance, so they’re nice to the teachers. They gave us each a gift pack for Thanksgiving: a box with four cans of the Korean equivalent of Spam, which is, I guess, rather a delicacy, and eight cans of tuna in jelly. I'm not sure what kind of jelly; grape, maybe, or petroleum. I gave mine to George.
I like Heeduk; he’s been good to me. (We have a three-day weekend coming up, but he asked me if I’d like to teach four hours each on Saturday and Monday, for extra pay, and I said yes—I don’t need 72 hours away.) I think the family illustrates two traits that I’ve read Koreans customarily exhibit: a strong entrepreneurial drive and an abiding hospitality.