Hakuna matata

Oh, wow. This is a whole new world.

To my fright, my alarm woke me up as usual on Friday when it was barely daylight. I lay there with my standard morning hatred of the world before remembering that Thursday had been my last day at work. I switched off the alarm.

Oh, the joy!

No longer am I a slave to a 9-6 routine! After 3 and a half years of staggering around in the semi-darkness looking for a clean coffee cup and a matching pair of socks, I am able to lie in bed until I wake up naturally and then get up and do things at a leisurely pace! I think we can safely agree that morning starts are just not for me.

Mind you, nor is unemployment. I spent yesterday, in its entirety, asleep. Then I met a friend for dinner and drinks, and was back in bed by 11. I have no doubt that I could continue in this fashion until I simply run out of money or am being treated for bedsores, which is why I had the good sense and self preservation skills to get myself a part time job for my last couple of months in Korea.

Honestly, this job makes me question what on earth I have been doing for the past few years. I now work 5 hours, twice a week, from 2-7pm. Just to be clear: I am free as a bird 5 days a week, and on the 2 days I work, I start 5 hours later than I used to, yet finish only an hour later than before. Granted, the classes are back to back with none of the breaks I’ve been used to, but it’s so busy and fast-paced that my first day today just flew past. There’s no preparation – I just teach straight from the books. No cleaning. No homework or tests to mark. No stress. No paperwork. Nothing. Nothing!!!!! Go in at 2pm, teach for 5 hours, go home! Honestly, I am in teacher heaven after the exhaustion and overwork of the past few years.

My first day also reminded me how much I have changed, as a person, since I first came to Korea. I was once a very nervous, panicky, shy girl with no self-confidence and a tendency to worry myself sick about absolutely everything. I mean, literally sick, as anyone who ever saw me on driving test day(s), flight days, or job interview days could confirm.

I arrived at the hagwon today with genuinely no idea what I was meant to be doing. Hi, hi! said the principal, a non English speaker and apparently the only member of staff currently in the building. Where do I go? What do I do? I asked her in Korean, which was absolutely pointless as she then answered me in Korean and, well, I don’t  really understand Korean. We looked at each other for a moment and she gestured at me to sit. I sat. She then wandered around, going about her business as if I hadn’t appeared, except for a brief exchange when I paused from having Kakao chats on my phone just to check that she still remembered I was there. At this point – rather bizarrely – she greeted me all over again.



There was a time in my life when this would have thrown me into a confused spin, but instead I simply continued to Kakao-chat to my friends about the matter, in a sort of live-blogging manner, while I waited for something sensible to happen.

Nothing sensible happened.

I sat there for a while longer, now with children coming up to me and asking if I was their teacher, and all I could do was smile dopily and say “Uhhhhhhh, I dunno! Want some gum?”. Was I meant to be teaching them? Was I meant to be preparing a lesson? Was I meant to be there at all? Who knew? So I just sat and waited for something sensible to happen.

Nothing sensible happened

Instead, an English-speaker arrived in a whirlwind of chaos, threw a book at me, and shoved me into a classroom full of children.

No, seriously.

That is actually what happened.

Hello, Hayley? Hi! Here is book! This room. 30 minutes. Now start, please! :::door slams shut:::

Old Hayley would have freaked the hell out at this point. Today’s Hayley has seen it all and only gets flustered at really big problems (like the bar running out of vodka, or finding a cockroach in the bathroom). A dozen pairs of eyes stared up at me; a dozen voices whispered and giggled and speculated. You just have to remember that the worst thing that can happen is you abandon the lesson to play a game of hangman. That is as far wrong as it can go, seriously. Why worry? Why be scared? Why was I always so nervous and panicky before? What was I actually afraid would happen? I’d be mobbed and have my flesh torn off my bones by a gang of bloodthirsty 11-year-old Korean kids?

I made a big game of introducing ourselves while I surreptitiously inspected one of their books to ascertain where the last teacher had stopped, repeated all their names in a jovial voice as I skim-read a couple of pages to see the topic and get the general gist of the lesson, and then just started teaching. If they looked bored, I told a joke or did a silly dance or turned the book exercise into a game. 30 minutes (just 30!) flew past, and everyone survived. Easy! A 10-year-old could do this job, I swear.

Out of nothing more than mild curiosity, I moseyed back into the office to find out what I was meant to do next, and was this time given a slightly overwhelming stack of books and a list of confusing and garbled instructions about exactly which parts of each books I was to teach, and to which classes, and by when. After all this time of dealing with hagwon colleagues, I know exactly how to cope. Ask very specific questions, preferably paraphrased at least twice for clarity. Point and mime a lot. Write everything down and ask for confirmation. When time is limited, focus only on the most important details and wing it on the rest until a later date. And most importantly, if you remember only one thing from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Teaching in Korea (or something): DON’T PANIC.

Yes, my time in Korea has done something amazing for me. It has turned me from the world’s biggest worrier into someone who is not only laid-back, but perhaps even actually goes with the flow and is (finally!) able to calmly assess the situation and deal with it the best that I can. Without tears. With a smile. Usually trying not to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

Thanks, Korea! This can only serve me well in my future endeavours. :)

One thought on “Hakuna matata

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s