Thursday, April 24, 2008


Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death

For the first couple years of my professional career, I started my day at 7 a.m.

At the time, starting my day meant that my alarm clock would go off at 7, and after I’d hit the snooze button an average of two-three times, I’d comb my hair into the least embarrassing pattern possible before driving to the office by 8.

Once I reached the office, before any work began I could typically ease into the day by checking emails, then last night’s sports scores, then the New York Times web site, then the National Review (because ideological balance is so important), then email again, then the Rotten Tomatoes web site for aggregate movie reviews, and from there I could link to the sites of the individual film critics’ for more detail on their perspective.

Then, later in the morning, if I felt the need to “get away,” I always had the option of slipping into the men’s room with a copy of one of the newspapers we always had lying around the office.

While I was holding that job, I could more or less accurately pick which films would make the critics’ 10 best list, and I was well-versed on the civic issues facing nearly every city in West Tennessee, including those I did not, literally-speaking, live in.

What I did not know, however, was how much of my eight-hour work day was spent doing actual work.

After enduring this schedule for two years, I moved to Korea in August 2005. Here, working as an English teacher, I would also, in a sense, start my day 7 a.m.

However, teachers at our school tend to define “starting the day” differently, because 7 a.m. is when we generally have to teach our first class. Our classes are arranged in order to meet the needs of Koreans who work, are college students or are currently burning themselves out in the Korean high school system.

This means that, especially in smaller cities where I worked right after I arrived, one may teach their first class at 7 a.m., the next at 10 a.m., and then several more between the hours of 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.

This meant that I would actually start my day at 6 a.m., when the alarm clock would go off. My first act would always be to hit the snooze alarm button, because, whether I’d slept two hours or 12, at 6 a.m. I was always pretty sure that the next eight minutes were a critical rest-getting juncture.

If I did get up eight minutes later, I’d begin eating my bowlful of cereal. Having only a bowl’s worth of cereal doesn’t seem like much, but my energy levels being what they typically are 6 and 7, I might start eating at about 6:12 and, upon finishing, realize that it would already be 6:43, and that my institute a 15-minute walk from my apartment.

So, I would rapidly have to find a clean dress shirt, or least one with the most easily concealed stains of spaghetti sauce, and hurry to work.

Starting one’s day with a class to teach rarely affords one the opportunity to “ease into” the day, because it’s hard to skim Rotten Tomatoes while simultaneously correcting a student’s pronunciation. Also, my employers frowned upon me “getting away” from class to the men’s room with The Korea Herald.

However, while my knowledge of film criticism and the civic issues facing small cities in Tennessee diminished, I was able to meet many people and become an integral part of a their education. Over time, I actually became accustomed to teaching seven classes over the course of 14 hours, and spending the time outside the classroom preparing my lessons. It gets easier once you understand the sacrifices that have to be made in the areas of sleeping, personal fitness, leisure, balanced meals, etc.

Because I had grown accustomed to this kind of life, I wasn’t expecting my employers to give me a job editing their textbooks at our central office in Seoul. It would start later, finish earlier, and offered an apartment closer to my workplace, thus making my search for dress shirt with minimal sauce stain-age less frantic.

However, I wouldn’t get the same interaction with students. Young people wouldn’t call me “teacher” every morning, wouldn’t bring me food occasionally, and no one would consider me vital to the progress of their continuing education. Could I really give all that up just for a more convenient schedule?

Yes, actually, I could. Until the day come when I can have both a meaningful role in the lives of students and an easy schedule, an easy schedule will do.

Now, one might ask: how does office life in Korea compare to similar work in America? Well, since I still work here, it’s probably not in my best interest to answer with complete candor.

However, I will say that Seoul is facing a wide variety of pressing issues these days, and Taxi to the Dark Side is looking like an early Oscar contender.

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