Help Wanted. Or, 17 Credits of Terd...

I was young. I was rad. It was the fall of 1986 and I was not thrilled about being a student in my 5th semester at university. I wasn’t really progressing toward a degree that I was interested in and my love life was as much miss as it was hit. I had some good friends and was making decent enough grades, but I was restless. I needed to get away. Plus I was broke. PELL grants covered tuition and books, but not much else. I was also getting $250 per month from my Dad and that was it. Broke I tell you.

That fall I saw an advertisement in the school paper to teach English conversation in South Korea. Interested parties were to contact a Mr. Shin at the KHI Institute in Pusan. There was a phone number. On a lark I called it.

Mr. Shin’s English was decent enough and we talked for quite a while. His institute was only one block from the main entrance to PNU (Pusan National University) so all the students were college-age. Most were cramming for their English Language job interviews and they really needed conversation practice with native speakers. If they failed the English portion of the job interview, they wouldn’t be able to get a proper job upon graduation. Fair enough.

Shin made the whole deal sound pretty sweet—it didn’t take much to sell it to a bored, restless, broke college kid.

The details were all spelled out in an 18 month contract: I would apply for a teaching Visa, he would provide an apartment, pay my utilities, and pay for a round-trip plane ticket at the end of the 18 months. The pay was to be a whopping 13,000 원 per hour—laughable by today’s standards, it was a huge sum to me at the time. And if I got any additional jobs outside the Institute, the pay would be even higher (although Shin and I would split the pay 60/40 for any outside jobs he got me).

This is not a 학원 horror story like so many you’ve heard already. But all of this happened well before there was a Dave’s ESL Café, or even the Internet, e-mail, blogs, cell phones, or any of the other things teachers in Korea use to communicate or raise awareness to unfair employers. It’s hard to even conceive of ex-pat life in Korea today without any of those things.

In the end Shin and I decided to give it a go…

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