Monday, April 25, 2005


Is it possible to find a decent job, if you conscientiously set out to do that? The whole process of doing this training course has been a slow unravelling of what appears to be a patently neurotic company.

The attraction at first lay in the fact that this Company was offering a higher wage, and coupled to fairly minimal working hours, and also a professional looking operation.
Now each of those incentives are just poked full of holes.

Today we were told that we are not actually going to be treated as employees but as 'consultants'. This is good, we're told, because it is a flexible approach towards hiring us in flexible time periods. Read in another way: we'll call you when we need you, so you take all the risk, and we get exactly what we want.
That's one shotgun hole through the higher wage thing. Here are a few more:

1. Visa trip to Japan at our own expense
2. No return ticket
3. Pay for your own accomodation
4. No bonus at the end of the contract period
5. No paid holiday.

If you add all that up it's QUITE A LOT OF MONEY. I'm guessing it's W4-5million - roughly R20 000. Now it's unlikley that you're going to make up that deficit in a 9-12 month period. Even if you could, would you want to? There's the rub.

Next advantage was minimal working hours. This seemed like a positive until we heard we'd be asked, almost certainly, to work on weekends, and have to commute to various, different locations. More than that, there is an obsessive compulsive set of regulations enforcing everything from dress code, to what we say, to punctuality. Basically you can be fired for being late for a class on two occasions. That may not seem very unreasonable, until you go through a veritable gamut of codes, rationales for these codes, tests and tests that must be studied, endless training to standadise people into CDI operated elementary school automatons. The amount of training we've done to prepare to teach elementary students is one of the most absurd, most obvious clues as to the pathological guru at the helm of this ridiculous Totalitarian System. Think I'm exaggerating?

If you think that is uninformed, or bitter - on a teeny tiny lunch break I had time to speak to an instructor who has been at CDI for a short time already, and he said, "It's very Eye In The Sky." "You mean like Communism?" "They'll call you on the phone after a class and say, 'Don't sit down in class'. It's not like Communism, it's Totalitarian." That's what this dude said. I guess he took the job because it was his first in Korea. And he's teaching in a specific field that he studied.

The training we've been doing would make sense if we had to be 100% error free because we were going on a production line, and mistakes could result in problems on circuit breakers or microchips. I mean, we are told what to do in painful, minute to minute detail. The con here is that we were recruited on the basis of us being intelligent. Tell me who is intelligent - the company who takes something moderately complex and can't simplify it and make it useful in the hands of its staff, can't generate utility, basically pushes down what to do, without understanding how to do it? Or the person required to do the job, but being instructed each minute, each sentence, what to do and say, of an Elementary School Book? Who is more intelligent? From where I am standing, both are looking like a pair of dunces.

It reminds me, for a second here, of the US sending its troops to war, but then ignoring calls from the troops themselves, ignoring their real dilemmas for armor. It's really a top down approach, with no concept of the practical nature of what your idea involves, and that causes problems. In the end, those problems are gonna come back at you and bite you on the bum.

I don't know where the raw deal ends. I don't know if it ends with the teacher, or with the student, who is being led into a language by a CDI controlled automaton, devoid of a human voice, a human heart or a personality of any kind. The bonus is you get a standardised teaching mechanism, the boogey prize is you get bored, brain dead kids. It's possible that some human beings can teach in a desert of life like this, and that some students, grilled to perfection, can enjoy the brutal bare bones of the language. But let's at least be honest then: I think CDI's mantra is Passion for Education, Compassion for Students. It should be Program Me, Program Kids.

I've just had a call from CDI asking whether I'm going to come in tomorrow for the evaluations. It's the penultimate day of training. I see it like this. You know when you were a kid and your mom said you should eat all the food on your plate, and you should finish eating everything and let nothing go to waste? I feel like I'm full, and I'm ready to say, 'You know, I've had enough and this is starting to taste really bad.' I've already spent a lot of my time and sacrificed my health - I mean that, sacrificed my health - running to and froe, really trusting that this would be a good change. The reasoning is that hagwon life is filled with corruption, and chancers. This is no different, it's just more evolved, and dressed up better. The offices and website just create a grand impression for what I consider to still be a pretty shady operation. How can you invest in people if you trust them only as far as you can control them. I haven't seen a system like this in a while. It' gets the eybrows in the air, let me tell you.
I think this illustrates a Korean attitude of standardisation, even in terms of people, where what you might produce is effective, but it has very little value, and is not very reliable. Kind've like the first Hyundai's that came out. Yes, it's a car, but it doesn't really work in the real world like most other cars do.

So the prep time is insane.

Then, is it professional? Exremely. They've got a very sophisticated computer system, do roll call on computer, and if the kid is absent a sms gets instantly relayed to parents' phones. High tech eh?
But then there's an eye in the sky, in each classroom, in itself not that bad, except that your boss is watching this all the time, and if you put a foot wrong, you come back for more blow by blow stomach churning but I'm not learning training.

The original building where I went for my training was quite spiffy. Some nice leather couches. This in in quite an affluent area of Seoul. The training schools in Cheongdam (where the Institute was born) are no different from any other school, the buildings are nondescript. As for the people, the staff that work there...well, some people are happy with mash and potatoes, some want crayfish and are happy to pay the price for it.

Me, I'd like to be balanced about what I am doing. It's a bitter blow to have so carefully evaluated a whole host of offers, and invested myself in this one, only to find it is really no different, no better. All that time spent on the subway, all the notes....urgh! What a waste of effort.
But I see there are jobs going in the Korea Herald for a Marketing Officer for the South African Embassy and vacansies to work at the British Council in Korea. And the minute I stepped into the apartment here, the phone rang and it was Michael offering me a position around the corner - all in all a very reasonable deal. Not perfect, but not pretending to be either.

There is a way to thrive in the world...the world we make. There must be, without becoming neurotic. But you know, when I was a little boy, I always did eat all the food on my plate.

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