It’s hard to believe that time has gone by so quickly. I fell off the ‘blogging’ wagon but thought, in case anyone does search for DGEV and ends up here, that I should post an update/wrap up/what have you. This will probably be long and this will really just be more about what it was like to work at DGEV and not so much life in Korea as a whole. Maybe I’ll write more about that eventually but really, a lot of other people have written detailed blogs about expat life in Korea so it’s likely that I won’t. I hope you have a cup of tea in hand…
So, in a nutshell, I succesfully completed two 12-month contracts at Yeungjin College Daegu Gyeongbuk English Village. For 9 months of that, I brought my teenage daughters to live with me (online high school and I had to pave the way for them socially but it was FABULOUS!). It was an unforgettable experience and one that I am grateful for. I was lucky- I didn’t have the horrible experiences that some people working in South Korean hagwons have. However, it was not perfect. There were challenges as well as rewards and I will try and put as much as I can here to help someone trying to make an informed decision if they are considering applying there.
I have been back in the states for a couple of months now and have had time to re-adjust and reflect. I have no obligation to DGEV as they are no longer my employer. Of course, I don’t want to be taken to task for slander and I try hard not to be unfair or rude regardless, but I will relay my thoughts and feelings as earnestly as possible. My experience was great but not the stuff that Disney dreams are made of and I did tire fairly quickly of whiny people which will probably be reflected down below here and there hahaha.
First of all, DGEV is not for everyone and not everyone is wanted at DGEV. Ouch. Sounds harsh. But it’s a unique environment that just isn’t a good fit for every personality and attitude. Seriously- personality and attitude are extremely important because of the situation! You may have years of experience and impressive teaching credentials or look like a Barbie doll (which, sadly, some of Korea thinks is the first, best qualification for an English teacher…), but a few months into your contract it will be obvious to many that you are not a good fit. On the other hand, you may have zero experience teaching, have majored in wine studies, and go on to become one of the most valuable teachers that DGEV has ever employed. Personality and attitude…
One of the biggest lessons I learned in Korea was that wherever two or more expats are gathered…complaining will happen. It’s just the way it is. You just have to let it roll off and not get involved in the drama. And trust me- there WILL be drama! These types of jobs seem to attract people that thrive on crisis and if there isn’t one to be found, they will create one. Keep a handle on why YOU are traveling and living overseas and don’t get bogged down by other people. Think about what you really enjoy doing and then force yourself to make time to do those things. Hiking? Soccer/Football? Ice hockey? Keep at least one of your hobbies alive! It’s a sanity saver and some of the best advice anyone ever gave me (Thank you, JM!). And keep an eye open for the positive people because they are out there. DGEV always had at least several people on staff that were cornerstones and held the place together. Why? Because they were positive, their smiles were infectious, they had strong work ethics, and they weren’t selfless but also not selfish!
And more importantly- maintain your work ethic or get busy and build one. Don’t let yourself get sucked into thinking you are getting paid to be on vacation in a foreign country because then when you have to work a normal 40-hour work week you will feel put upon and disgruntled. Sound silly? Trust me…I’ve seen the mentality. It makes life difficult for the people that end up picking up the slack when someone calls in repeatedly because they feel the unfairness of working too many hours and only getting a 1 hour midday break instead of the usual 2.
Money! DGEV always paid on the 25th. The bottom line- that really was my #1 reason for choosing DGEV to begin with. No matter what else someone may not like, they WILL get paid. That being said, there were a couple of occasions when overtime pay was inadvertently missed and the pay had to be added to the next paycheck after the mistake was found. I had no problems getting my pension (DGEV paid their half and I received back all of what both of us paid into my pension). I received my severance and flight as promised. No problems there. Money isn’t everything…but it is very important in this situation.
Housing! The dormitory housing on campus is 100% free. There are rules about having overnight guests or inviting people on campus (there are children on campus- it’s a no brainer but if it makes you uncomfortable to ask permission for guests…look elsewhere) and everyone gets their own private dorm room and bathroom with a mini-fridge and basic furniture – bed, desk, armoire. Utilities are included (air con during the hottest summer months, ondol during winter months and ceiling heat/fan during winter). I bought a box fan for that time before the main A/C was switched on since the dorm rooms can get hot and stuffy. Much simpler/faster solution than whining about the temperature to everyone within earshot and since I didn’t have to pay the electric bill I didn’t mind forking over 40 bucks for a fan. Again, no brainer. I wanted to be comfortable. I actually carried it to my classrooms, as well, since nothing buys you the love of children faster than a blast of cool fan air in a hot, humid classroom! *^^*
I found that I loved ondol heating when I lived in the dorms but once I moved to a school-sponsored apartment, it was too expensive for my tastes. I miss it.
Dormitory privacy- the dormitories were… welp, they were dorm life. This is one of those challenges I mentioned. Sometimes the people walking down the hallway at 2am were noisy. Sometimes people complained because there was too much noise in the communal lounge and at other times people complained because teachers didn’t hang out and visit with each other enough. Everybody knew everyone else’s business.
Add to that the wide variety of ages, lifestyles, nationalities and life experiences in the mix of dorm-dwellers then it makes sense that there is always going to be some sort of upset somewhere about something. The happiest people just let it roll off. They took care of their own problems with their neighbors. If the lounge was too noisy they walked down on their own two feet and asked people to be quiet. But they also were tolerant of others. And they went away on the weekends. If you live in the dorms you can probably afford a motel or jjimjilbang or a hostel somewhere on the weekend to get away from the people you are tired of being around. If you are not comfortable with dorm life…look elsewhere. One big plus of dorm life to think about before writing it off completely…it’s a fantastic way to save money and/or pay off student loans or credit card debt. It’s possible to have nearly zero living expenses if you stick with the dormitory option, use only free shuttles, and eat all meals in the campus cafeteria. Maybe not ideal or the most fun ever…but totally possible.
There are a limited number of apartments near Yeungjin College that are available to DGEV faculty on a seniority basis. They are rent-free but teachers pay their own utilities and internet, if they want it. There is aircon and ondol available year-round but once I moved to an apartment I wound up using a space heater I bought at Costco. Much cheaper! (Costco is about a 20-25 minute walk away but there are city buses to/from. I both loved and hated having it that close.).
Also, the apartments come with the challenge of a long (but free) shuttle bus commute to and from work each day. The morning commute only runs about 30 minutes but the evening commute is anywhere from 60-90 minutes. But the freedom on the weekends is worth it for some people. Since I had my daughters living with me then I definitely needed the apartment so the commute wasn’t really a deciding factor for me. It just didn’t matter. The utilities sometimes are a source of frustration for foreigners since the bills are in Hangul and difficult to decipher. We never did quite figure out if the charges are running 1 month or 2 months behind but sometimes neighbors with similar usages would receive very different bills (which may go back to the 2 months behind, thing!). The natural gas bill is separate from the all-in-one electricity/water/building fees bill.
The FREE food in the cafeteria…aaah this was a bone of contention for some people. Let me just say this- if you are a picky eater, if you are a whiner, if you find yourself complaining at restaurants and sending food back to the kitchen because you don’t like the way it’s cooked, or griping because there aren’t enough vegetarian/gluten-free/dairy-free/low-salt/low-sugar options around you then DO NOT GO TO KOREA UNLESS YOU ARE PREPARED TO BUY/PREPARE YOUR OWN FOOD! Yes, capitals mean shouting. Seriously, people. Grow the Fudgesicle up. If you have special food needs that’s fine as long as you are adult enough to feed yourself without making other people miserable. I experienced first hand what it’s like to live with very different types of people with special food needs. Some were amazing- they quietly went about their lives without dragging the rest of us into their nutritional woes. They always had back-up food items in their dorms (or lunch bags) for when the free cafeteria food didn’t suffice. I loved those people. No, seriously, there were days when I was hot, tired, hungry and so incredibly grateful that they didn’t put their problems on other people. I actually loved them.
Isolation- DGEV is at least 30 minutes from town by shuttle bus and maybe 15-20 by taxi. If you need instant gratification when it comes to food or drink or entertainment then do yourself a favor and don’t work at a place that’s on top of a hill surrounded by farm land. However, if you love being outdoors, if you like waking up to chirpy birds outside your window, if you don’t mind the occasional wriggly thing (centipedes!),
if you are not horribly allergic to pine trees (at DGEV…it’s not the dreaded poison ‘yellow dust’ that is coating everything outside that particular time of year- it’s copious amounts of pollen from the pine trees. Just flick those yellow looking buds at the ends of the branches. You’ll see what I mean. Clouds of it. And DGEV is completely surrounded on all sides by pine. Beautiful. Fresh smelling. But a LOT of pollen.)- if you can handle those things, then go. People sometimes forget that taxis are cheap in Korea compared to a lot of other places. A taxi from Chilgok to DGEV usually costs on average about 20,000 won. From Waegwan to DGEV maybe 15,000 won. If you want to stay out late, it’s worth it! If you can arrange to share the taxi with others, it’s even better!
DGEV is a full-time job. It may be possible to find a place that offers a full-time salary for only 4-6 hours of work a day… But DGEV isn’t one of them. Usually, there is a 2 hour break in the middle of the day but sometimes, if it’s busy, there may *only* be a 1 hour break. Sigh. As a teacher, my first year there were days when I was exhausted from being on my feet much of the day so I understood when people complained because of back/knee pains and being tired… but for those that have worked harder jobs, both physically and mentally, it was a head-shaker when people would threaten to quit because their working conditions were unbearable or they weren’t appreciated enough (not enough gold stars on their charts, I suppose).
If you are going to be working overseas just be honest with yourself and decide…am I willing to put in the hours required for a full-time job? If you aren’t, and no judgement here, but please just be honest with yourself and don’t try to force a school to bend to your….fluid work ethic. Find a school whose demands will fit your lifestyle or the lifestyle you prefer as you will NOT change a Korean administration.
DGEV is an English camp. It is not a school where lessons build on each other week to week. You may only see your group of 17 students for 45-minutes one time during the week. It is not a public school. It is a for-profit institution. In that regard, DGEV can be challenging because it is a business that must turn a profit or the doors will close. There were times when I connected with students and wished I could be a part of their education for an entire school year and watch them grow! However, there were weeks when 5 days was more than enough and I looked forward to the opportunity to welcome new students the following Monday. If you are looking to challenge yourself in the manner of a public school teacher then do not work at DGEV. Like I said, DGEV is a camp. It is meant to be fun and, ideally, the students learn a little English come Friday. However, there were weeks where the biggest thing was that the students lost their fear of English and foreigners. Sometimes that was a HUGE accomplishment and still important.
If you want to see test results that prove you are the most productive English teacher ever, though, perhaps you should look elsewhere. I know teachers that would just gripe endlessly that they weren’t ‘real’ teachers at DGEV. That the whole thing was a joke. Well, the experience is what you make of it. If someone wasn’t a ‘real’ teacher then they weren’t really trying to teach, were they? A real teacher can make learning happen anywhere.
If you have ever been a camp counselor at outdoor school, or worked at a girl/boy scouts camp, or run a community-center summer soccer program…those types of things are closer to the DGEV teaching experience than a certified K-12 teacher career. DGEV teachers can volunteer to produce workbooks for the students in special programs and some teachers do take pride in what they do. They take to heart the advice that the experience is in their hands and they make it work for them.
As teachers, we created our own classes in addition to the situationals (the ‘realia’ rooms) and sometimes would teach the same class 4, 7, 10 times in one week along with our other classes. It can be repetitive. If you are someone that doesn’t like the thought of that…look elsewhere. On a positive note, it limits the number of classes you have to prepare for so if you have other interests (perhaps you are learning Korean? Studying for your master’s degree online?) then it frees up a little time.
One trap that people fall into is volunteering for too many programs which can take up ALL of your free time. Make sure you keep some time for yourself on at least 2 weekends a month. Everyone loves the people that volunteer but then when they take on too much and break…it’s extremely unpleasant. It’s not worth it. ='( Someone who volunteers for too much can be just as unpleasant to work with as someone who does nothing (right there- proof that DGEV is not paying me to write this as a publicity stunt for them hahaha DON’T VOLUNTEER TOO MUCH!).
Sometimes people need accolades for all that they do and become frustrated when everyone else is too busy working to pat them on the back for their good deeds. If this sounds like you… look elsewhere. At the same time, DGEV tries to reward people that go above and beyond and have great work ethics. Unfortunately, some people are just a little…needier than others. There’s no judgement there, but if you are one of those people that need all eyes to focus on you and your accomplishments…look elsewhere. If you are quietly pleased with the occasional treat left on your desk because someone knows you volunteered to spend half the night editing a workbook that needed to go to the publisher…then by all means, look into DGEV. *^^* The academic director/lead coordinator/program coordinator will appreciate you more than you know.
One thing that I liked was the number of opportunities to choose from for experience. If you are looking to build your resume then there are a lot of ways to do that. I left with curriculum design experience, teaching experience with Kindergarten through Adult students, and a whole host of new people/human resources skills. The experience is what you make of it.
This part may be challenging for some people- it is entirely possible to be a good teacher, put in your hours, and not do a minute of extra work so you have all the free time possible. Your weekends will be worry free and you can have all the sleep or fun that you can manage… But to be perfectly honest- that does not go over well in Korea or anywhere in the states (that I know of. I could be wrong…). You will not be rewarded with extra money or favors for just doing what your contract states and no more. If you want a job where people respect you for doing the bare minimum…look elsewhere. Sorry. It’s just the truth. It’s the same at every job I ever had here in the states. Nobody has ever applauded me for doing what I was required to do and nothing more. But if you don’t need the applause and just want to do the bit you are hired to do then it’s quite possible and you WILL have a lot of free weekends to travel and have fun. *^^*
I will admit to LOVING those easy weeks when I averaged maybe 10 classes TOTAL and had maybe 10-15 hours of desk and planning time and yet still drew full pay. hahaha So I understand that it’s fun but perhaps better to think of it as winning the lottery instead of an entitlement. *^^*
One good thing about starting off your living/working overseas experience at a place like an English village is that you have security and a large expat community to engage with which could help you decide where you want to go next. Even people that reallllly enjoyed working at DGEV found the ideal total contract length was 18 months to 2 years before moving on.
Being back in the U.S. I do miss all the things I could easily do on the weekends and during vacations for fun. Food excursions (I miss the jjambbong that made my face feel like it was on fire!). Cultural excursions. Busan is less than an hour away from Daegu on the KTX. Jeju! So many teachers would use their vacations to go to Japan, The Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and countless other places.
So the biggest question of all. Would I go back and work at DGEV again?
Well, it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t paradise. It could be hard, thankless work at times but I always got paid fully and on time and I enjoyed the students, the culture (even the less than lovely bits) and the food. I loved the experiences. The sense of adventure even when I was in the middle of stressful and mundane aspects of real life and real work.
But yes. I would and we will.