There are a handful of you out there who know what a rather restless and depressing last few weeks it's been around these parts. For those who don't, here's the scoop: Korean academy owners (and business owners in general) are greedy, money hungry mongrels who try and get as much work as possible out of their employees for the littlest in return to those employees (teachers). Before we even came over here, our recruiter told us, verbatim, "contracts don't mean much to Korean people". Once we arrived, and over the last two years, we have heard countless stories of friends and friends of friends who have been screwed over in some way by their school owner i.e. not getting paid on time, not getting paid at all, too many hours, weekend working, no holidays, schools closing with no warning, firing at the 11th month of the yearly contracts to avoid paying the large lump sum at the end...the list goes on and on.
Al and I have had zero problems with our school for over two years now. If you might remember, we actually arrived here in December 2011. We've always known that our owner isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, but we have never once not gotten paid, not gotten our holidays, never had problems with time off, nothing. We've never had a warning or complaint from either of our schools. I've never been a second late in two years, nor has Al. All in all, it's been a pretty quiet two years when it comes to major things that could disrupt our lives. (me relentlessly complaining about the cooling/heating at my school doesn't count, that's just super annoying.)
Well, well, well, here it was, a few weeks ago, Al and I were happily counting down our days left here and our days left until vacation, when WHAM BAM, we were hit with the news that our owner has decided that we're the worst teachers at the schools and wants us out and gone at 11 months. Oh yeah, could this have something to do with the fact that the month we finish our contracts he owes us nearly TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!? With our last two paychecks, two bonuses (severance), and two flights (a grand each they give us for flights), it tops out at nearly 10 Gs. That's not even counting two years of pension we've had accruing. Needless to say, when teachers leave Korea, they count on a very large sum of money coming to them...hence the reasoning behind the "11th month firing". It's a pretty common thing to happen, so maybe we're idiots in thinking that just because we've had a smooth two years that it wouldn't happen to us.
A little back story on MY school: It's an elementary school. The Korean school year runs March 1-March 1 (year round schooling...yay...), so that's how my semesters fall, but my contract ends askew from my school's semesters. Every March, my school would give the company I work for the run around saying that they didn't want to renew the contract with them and yadda yadda...but they always did renew. This year was no different. About a month ago, I started hearing the usual chirping around the office about them not wanting to renew. Well, if they didn't renew, my last day would be February 28, but my contract doesn't end until March 31...would I work at the main office with Al? Get a temporary job? If they did renew, will I still be able to work that last month? Lots of questions, no answers.
Nobody from the main office tells the Koreans at my school anything, and then they don't tell me anything. For weeks I questioned the situation but to no avail. Finally, a few weeks ago, I went to the main office and got my answer: That they wanted us OUT and weren't going to pay us ANYTHING! As I was "talking" to the owner (through a translator) and waiting for Al to get out of class, he was saying things like...I left class to go make copies once? So apparently..."Samanda! Teacher! Bad!" And using the excuse about my semesters not falling right and that they want a new teacher in there to start with the new school year on March 1 and loads of other nonsense. So it's gonna be like that is it? Our owner would grunt out a bunch of Korean and then translator would say, "He's just making excuses, but he said..." and then list a bunch of asinine things that Al and I supposedly did (I guess Al drank too much water or something?) which was his reasoning for ending us early. Mmmhmmmmm. How stupid do you think we are, pal? So when Al got out of class, he flipped his lid, as I knew he would, and I was on the verge of a full on panic attack. I mean, we have an entire month in Europe already booked, most nonrefundable, and here we are on the cusp of possibly getting no money to pay for it, so we may have to cancel. Great.
I also learned (from the translator guy, who is our age and Korean-American) that my Korean teachers have come to the main office on multiple occasions and verbally bashed me to a pulp. I am honestly not sure I want to know the details or exactly what they said, but he mentioned something about them telling the owner I'm "late all the time" and a myriad of other things that can't possibly be true because, well, I've never stepped a toe out of line.
We immediately employed my Korean bff Sophie to go with us to the labor board...with little result. They looked over our contracts and she told them the situation but apparently there was nothing in our contracts protecting us if something like this happened. I read it thoroughly and it seemed pretty solid, but the labor board said otherwise. Soph said that the best thing to do now was to just try and negotiate as much as possible out of him. That was two weeks ago.
We then had a meeting with him, he was trying to do this and pay this much and we wanted this much and back and forth and back and forth. He then said he needed to think things over and pushed us to the following Thursday when we would get our yes or no and get it settled. Thursday came, he went to Seoul. Moved to Friday. Not back from Seoul. Moved to Monday. (I didn't sleep well). Monday came, Al said it was best if he handled it alone because our owner always gets really titchy when I'm around (he is always telling me how beautiful I am, creepola, perhaps I make him uncomfortably horny).
I was on pins and needles and Al walks in the house at about 10:30 with mostly good news. Here's the sitch: We will be getting roughly 90% of our money. My last day of work is NEXT FRIDAY. Al's is March 14th. We will get both our flights and a pro-rated severance, which will cut off only like a hundred bucks for Al and a few hundred for me. Obviously we'll get our last two paychecks, plus Al will get 14 days worth of pay in March.
The Europe trip is saved! Although, we might cut a bit off the end and just not go for as long as we planned. A shame, but something that might have to be done. Also, we have to be out of our apartment three weeks before our flight out of Korea. So we're looking into getting a flight to Thailand or somewhere down there for a few weeks because 1. We'd have to sleep on a friend's couch for three weeks because we're homeless 2. We'd be bored out of our minds 3. We'd be spending money left and right keeping ourselves entertained 4. It's wayyyyyy cheaper to live down there day to day than it is here 5. Our sanity would be tested. We wouldn't be able to stay in the same place with one another; apartments here are the size of your bathroom at home and I don't want to sleep on a couch and impose on people for three weeks. To give you an idea of how cheap Southeast Asia is, it will actually probably be cheaper to buy a flight down to the beaches of Thailand for a few weeks rather than stay around here. Still not sure yet, we're gonna figure it out in the next few days.
Things at my school are tense. Seriously, seriously tense. I know that they bad mouthed and lied about me to the owner, but they don't know that I know. I am very, very cold to them and frankly, I don't care. They're the ones who are late all the time anyway (really, always). Because there's no one there to unlock the door when I arrive, I've had to crawl through the office window more than a few times or sit outside in the frigid hallway until someone finally arrives. It's getting hard to keep my mouth shut, but now is the time to mind my Ps and Qs; I have a lot of money on the line.
The kids have a short week and a half "vacation" from now until the new school year on March 1 which means my hours are back to the morning ones. It's not so bad I guess, just still really cold. I haven't had time at all to mentally prepare myself to leave this job I've had for so long. I mean, this is my work and my home. Since I had the idea that I would be finishing March 31 for so long, the news that I had a very short time left has kinda taken me be surprise. I love those kids (most of them) and I can't believe I'm done next Friday. I'm really gonna need to try and find some subbing work or something until Al is done. Blah.
So...that was pretty long winded! But, now you know!