Thursday, November 29, 2012

The After-Effect

I knew this would happen... Mom comes and I live on cloud 9 for a week. And now, she is gone, and I'm back to living in reality. And reality is only a few hundred square feet of living space, a 20 minute walk to work in freezing temperatures, and hundreds of screaming Korean children. *Sigh...*

I need to fill you guys in on what's been happening at work recently. It's a mess but it will make my current state of depression more understandable...

Well, about a month and a half ago, some other foreign teachers at my school started talking about how we are supposed to be paid for our vacation, but we haven't been. We all looked at our contracts, and it sure enough does say that we have 2 weeks "paid vacation" in the year, but none of the teachers who have been here for almost their whole year have been paid this money.

A couple of the teachers decided to bring it up and basically ask for our money. After a few weeks of back and forth with our supervisor, Jackie, they requested a meeting with the school director. It was after work one day. We had dinner the next night and basically, the story goes: the teachers (2 who shall remain nameless for their protection) reasonably showed him the contract where it explicitly states the terms of paid vacation, and requested that we be paid for it.

The director proceeds to throw a tantrum in Korean (translated by Jackie) and tell them that they are ridiculous, that's not how it works, this is Korean culture and they don't get paid vacations, and we should be grateful he pays us on time and for our apartments and that we get pension and severance after our year, etc etc. Basically: "Be grateful I fulfill the basic requirements of employment." Finally, after about 2 hours of talking in circles, the foreign teachers suggest we ask the Labour Board. He agrees and the meeting is done.

A few days go by, all of the foreign teachers informally discuss our options and decide that, while we would certainly have a case in America, in Korea we think that the governing body would side with the director because of Korean-camaraderie. We basically decide to give it up.

A week or two goes by, and one of the teachers is taken aside and said that she is no longer going to be paid for being Head Teacher. She got demoted. The director blamed it on the "economy" but it was very obviously revenge for confronting him about the contract. She is obviously and understandably shocked by such childish behavior from a businessman, but tactfully continues performing her job to a level that I myself would have a hard time performing under such blatant disrespect.

Well, a few days ago, the same girl who got demoted got an email from an incoming teacher. The new teacher was requesting some info on what she should bring, etc. The usual stuff. But the girl mentioned she would arrive in early January. Red flag: no one's contract ends at the beginning of January. The teacher wrote back and inquired as to which area she would be working in and what the exact start date was (wording this in a way as to seem helpful rather than nosey).

We find out that the new teacher's contract starts January 7 and she will be working in the afternoon. BIG red flag! The teacher asks Jackie about it - are we expanding? am I getting fired? what is going on?

Jackie then inquires with the director after work on Tuesday. Apparently, the director yelled at her and told her "This is none of your business! Don't ask questions about things that do not concern you!" Jackie comes back to the teacher nearly in tears, and has no real answers for her.

We can conclude that the director has a master-plan not being shared with any of the Korean teachers, and presumably is getting ready to fire her. We have Speaking Contest this Saturday and also Open Class in December (both events where the director NEEDS to impress parents to continue to get business). We assume he is waiting to fire her until we are done with those two things.

If you have followed this convoluted story, I'm sure you can imagine the outrage and injustice of the situation. Beyond the ridiculousness of it all, it puts all the foreign teachers on high alert. We are all being watched during classes now, and we are all paranoid and there is palpable tension in the office.

Well, yesterday after learning all of this, I start to thinking. And if you know me, when I start to think, I really really think. Like: overthink. So, what's going through my mind, all at the same time, in about the space of 10 seconds:

This is absolutely ridiculous; I hate this greedy pompous selfish director; I miss America; I don't want my mom to leave me; I hate this kid; I don't have any motivation to do my job well; Am I going to be fired next?; How unstable is this director that he would go to such extremes and risk a lawsuit (which will surely follow if he goes through with the dismissal) just to exact his revenge?; What am I going to unknowingly do that will get me fired?; I am so lonely!; I want to go home; I could just leave if I wanted; I can't just break my contract; Yes, I can; No, I can't; CRY!

So, thankfully my mom is still here as this all hits me at the exact same moment, and I literally break down. I have been lonely here, to be sure, but having had my mom here has thrown into sharp relief exactly how miserable I can get here all alone in this tiny apartment day after day. I begin to just bawl... I can't contain it. My misery and depression all sink in on me at once. It's wave after wave of hopelessness.

I think of going home. Breaking my contract and just doing a midnight run. Since mom came, it's crossed my mind a few times, but this exact moment (at about 10:40pm last night) I almost just bought a ticket. I had true and painful conflict in my heart; I want to go home so bad. I want familiarity, I want hospitality, I want to be normal and not a freak walking down the road, I want to be close to people who really love me, I want mexican food, I want a normal life. But, there is a piece of me that says I can't go. This is mostly the part of me that remembers how I was raised: never give up if you can possibly keep going; don't quit just because it gets hard; follow through on your commitments. Dang it, parents!!! Why did you raise me so well!?!?

After about 20 minutes of this horrible gut-wrenching indecision and desperation, Mom puts a pill in my hand and some water, and I take it. I literally tell myself to calm down, and in about 20 more minutes I am relatively calm. Apparently my mom gave me some Xanax, just to calm me down. It seems this was an anxiety attack. I should have known since I have had them before, but it has been a while.

I start to admit that I am well and truly depressed here. I try to stay upbeat when I blog or when I talk to my friends back home because, who wants to admit that making such a life changing decision as to move across the world might have been a bad move? Certainly not this girl!

I do know that there is a reason I am here, and that I can do it, but it's really really hard to get over the mental road block of: I could leave here, I could leave all this behind, if I really wanted to. Just introducing the option of going home has made me even more depressed. It should cheer me up! But, no, I can't let myself leave *sigh*.

Mom promised that if I feel that I want to leave and I can't do it anymore, that they will help me get home. That was reassuring, but also extremely tempting to accept on the spot. I'm not really sure why I didn't... I guess it just felt wrong to do. And the possibility is still there, but at this moment I am going to stay.

I'm sure everyone goes through times where they are just sick of it and want to leave. I'm sure there are hard times. But, with this horrible situation at work, my time has been even more stressful and depressing.

I decided to put my national healthcare to good use and go see a doctor about the depression. I can't live like this: feeling like no matter what I do, there is no hope of happiness. I mean, just writing it I feel like a loser! But, that's how it gets sometimes... I am completely alone here. My one real friend lives about an hour away and has her own life, too. Having mom here has just made me realize it even more...

Well, so, then, today mom well and truly left. It was horrible to say goodbye. Worse than saying goodbye at the airport in Houston. And at this point, I don't have anything to look forward to (such as a visitor). I went to work and when I got home, all I could think about was how empty the apartment was. And how I have to go back to my "normal" routine now. I have to cook every meal and clean after myself and make my bed everyday and pick up my own mess. It was bliss to have someone look after me for a few days. I am tearing up even now just thinking about how good my mom was to me.

All in all, her visit was amazing. We were very busy, and probably should have had a little more down time, but we had some really funny moments (Yeti-outfit) and bonding conversations (mostly on the subway). My mom is my best friend, and her leaving feels like a big chunk of my heart got pulled out. I just hope that it got packed away in her suitcase :)

Besides the decision to seek out some Cymbalta, I made another decision that I hope will positively affect my experience here. I am not going to share what that decision is just yet, because I think it needs a blog of its own.

For now, I am going to take some Advil PM and watch Elf and eat my Baskin Robbins pint. If you're a sister or brother in Christ, I could use some prayers. I think it will get better... I hope! In the mean time, I need to find a big wall calendar to mark off each day until I get to go home. Only 278 days to go...


  1. chelsea, i just wanted to tell you that i absolutely love reading your posts. you have no idea how inspiring and uplifting they have been for me this semester. keep your head up chelsea, cruel and injust people will always exist, no matter where in the world you are. you've always come off to me as a strong and courageous lady, and i know you can keep that up in seoul.
    just remember that you have numbers of people in houston cheering for you, and you are definitely impacting many lives without even realizing it.
    wishing you the best :)

    -lesley morton

    1. Lesley - Wow! What a sweet and kind surprise to hear from you! Thank you so much for the support. Your words mean a lot. It's so great to know that I have a cheering section back home. It gets hard here, but it's great to know that people back home support me. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

  2. I remember when you first told me you wanted to teach English abroad on our hunt for items for our chocolate basket in zeta! I remember thinking how amazing the experience could be and would be for you. Feeling slightly jealous that you already knew you had a plan on what to do after school. With that being said, I think that what you are doing is amazing and you have come a long way! With the arrival of your mom it's completely understandable that you would be a little (or a lot!) homesick. It's only natural but there will always be moments where you think you just can't go on because it's so stressful and so different there but out of all the people I know, YOU can surely do it! It's not always easy making new friends and bonding the way you are used to with the people in your life that you have known for years. That's really the beauty of being somewhere you have never been before, the experience of being on your own and proving to yourself, that you can do it. At the end of the day I think you've made the right decision in staying and taking the easy way out of a difficult situation is just not you! I know that at the end of your journey across the world you will be glad you stayed and didn't give up. Your director is an awful man but unfortunately it is something that for the moment must be endured, but remember that you are growing as a person because of it! I'll be cheering you on a long with everyone else in Houston! If you ever need anyone to talk to, I'm only a message away (:

    "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."
    Helen Keller

    Wendy Fuentes

    1. Aw, Wendy, I remember that adventure too! What a fun memory, and I remember doing some serious jamming on the way back to the house too. :D Thank you so much for the encouragement. Some days I'm not quite sure I know how I actually do this... you're right: it is SO different! I hope that this is the right decision to stay. And yes, I can't help but grow and develop in the face of this adversity. Thank you so much again for the encouragement. I can't tell you how much it means to hear from people back home, especially when it's such a surprise like this!

      That is a beautiful quote... I want to put that on my wall! THANK YOU!! ZLAM

  3. Chelsea, I pray for you to feel better and be able to enjoy your time there. You are doing an amazing job. I can't imagine how sad you must feel missing everyone but this will end and you'll be back home glad for the experience. Hang in there girl. The calendar countdown might not be a bad idea either. :)
    Cindy Anderson

    1. Cindy,
      Thank you so much for the prayers. I agree I need to just remember that "this too shall pass" as my mom always reminds me. I really appreciate the support and encouragement. Yes, buying a calendar soon!!! X-ing off the days is reassuring that time IS passing. Haha!

  4. You are STRONG; your brothers and sisters in Christ are upholding you in prayer and Jesus is right there with you thru' the entire experience. No doubt you are learning awesome 'stuff' about a culture that has "always done it that way" - the director (bless his soul) is a proud egoist and when confronted in any way, he is embarrassed more than you can imagine. So, please give this to God who is just waiting to help you thru'. You wanted (because God planted) this experience; go for it! There are "emails" to God from more places than you know. You are educating SO MANY OF US as to how the rest of the world, mainly Korea! lives. . . Remember Paul while in prison was "content in whatsoever situation" - he was, because of his Faith. So, KEEP the faith and trust Him to care for you . . . A lot of love going your way! p.s. Pray for Jackie

    1. Thank you so much for the encouragement. I think I know who this is, but I'm not sure! So, in any case, I appreciate the support!! It's great to hear that people understand, sympathize, and pray for me. :) I will TRY to pray for Jackie and the director... that will be an effort, but I know I should.

    2. Is sounds like your Nana to me...

    3. Her nana??? You guys are incredible - I bet "your nana" is wishing she could write as well as that!

  5. ... that chunk of heart came with me, my sweet child.

  6. AHEM! I had the Xanax for the FLIGHT, I am not usually a walking drugstore! So there.

  7. haha, Love that your mom just addressed/explained the Xanax she just happened to have!!! Chelsea you are truly amazing & strong lady & this is an amazing experience and just remember the best things in life are not EASY. keeping you in my prayers!



  8. Chelsea, I am keeping you and your family in my prayers on your journey. Donna


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