Working all the live long vacation


I think I’ve become institutionalised. Most days I struggle to remember what life is like outside my school buildings. Do the birds still sing? Does the rice still grow in the paddies? Do the bus drivers still play chicken on the bridge near my home? Does the the sun still hide behind a haze of pollution? I wonder if I’ll ever be able to see these wonders again with these old eyes of mine. My trip to China is starting to feel like some vague dream I once had.

Today is the first day of the last week of summer vacation at my school. It is also the eleventh day of summer camp for me, all of which has been spent behind the barbed wire walls of my school. While my co-teachers have been visiting Jeju Island and Canada, I’ve been trying to keep a bunch of teenage girls busy with school work during their summer break. As you can imagine, it has been super-easy.

Actually, it hasn’t been that bad. The only tough part has been keeping up my energy levels and holding the kids’ attention for four hours at a time. This has been incredibly tiring, and I’m almost looking forward to the start of the new school semester next week so that I don’t have to teach for four hours straight anymore.

The reason that I’ve been teaching for four hours a day for most of the summer vacation is a simple one. It’s the result of a razor sharp interpretation of my contract. According to this handy piece of toilet paper…ummm I mean this legal document… during the vacation I “may be asked to participate in special classes or English camps, up to 20 hours per week” (2008 GEPIK contract, Article 12, para 2). The key phrase here is “up to”. What my school interpreted it to mean is the following: “During school vacations , Employee will be ordered to independently plan and organise special classes or English camps, at least 20 hours per week. Mwahahahahaha!” These are subtle differences, I know, but important ones.

This is a razor sharp interpretation because clearly a razor has been used to excise any superflous language from the version read by my principal and co-teachers. This superflous language included words like “may”, “overtime pay”, “leave”, “liberty”, “freedom” and “the pursuit of happiness”. At times like this I wonder if perhaps I live in a parallel universe, one where my contract magically changes between the time I read it and the few seconds it takes to reach my co-teachers’ hands. I’m damn sure of it. Either that or I need to give my co-teachers a thorough and detailed lesson on the differences between “may” and “must”. Modal verbs are a lot more important than people think!

For now I’ll daydream about what life must to be like beyond these dreary walls. Oh how I long for just one more taste of kimchi…


6 responses to “Working all the live long vacation

  1. I’m looking into jobs myself. Do you get another vacation time? Or do you just not get one at all. Is that even legal?

  2. Hi Hiphopanonymous

    Well, according to my contract I get 19 working days vacation during my contract. That’s 14 days standard, with 5 days extra since I work in a rural area. I can only take these vacation days during the official school vacations (ie summer and winter). So I took seven of these days during summer, and I’ll take the rest in January/February.

    The school is closed for about five weeks in summer, and it depends on your principal whether you get all this time off, or if you’ll have to seat warm at the school, or (as in my case) you’ll be teaching the whole damn time. I got unlucky and worked the part of the school vacation that I wasn’t actually using for my own allocated vacation time. The guy teaching at the school across the road got the entire vacation off and now has a good tan.

    This is all perfectly legal, just not nice since the other teachers at the school get the entire vacation off. Some have to work, but they get paid extra for this, and it’s not for the whole vacation.

    However, with some good planning I should be able to get most of January off, because of public holidays and the like.

    The public schools have the longest vacation times, and GEPIK has just extended the vacation allowance for new teachers. It will now be 20 days standard, with an extra 5 days for working in a rural area. Five weeks vacation isn’t bad, when most people working at hagwons get 10 days at most. So I guess I don’t have much to complain about.


  3. What are the camps like? are they really outdoors? So you didn’t get paid extra? while the other guy got a paid vacation instead?

  4. Hi Patricia

    The camps aren’t anything like the American summer camps you’ve seen on TV. I worked on one of those a few years ago, and the Korean camps are about as far away from that as you can get.

    Camps differ from school to school, but basically at my school it involved teaching English to the students in a classroom environment for about 4 hours a day. I livened it up about with a few outdoor activities, but I was “encouraged” to rather stick to classroom work. However, some schools definitely do more fun activities, with large numbers of students and several teachers running the activities.

    Nope, I didn’t get paid extra. The camps are seen as part of my regular work week. However, some schools are generous and do pay their native English teachers extra for the camps. But according to the contract I have (with GEPIK) the school is not obliged to pay me anything. And yes, the other guy got a paid vacation instead. But that’s the luck of the draw. I can’t really complain because this is the contract I signed, and I still get 19 days vacation a year, which isn’t too bad.

    I guess the other guy just has good karma.

  5. when is that new hollies rule coming into effect – or is that only applicable to new contracts?!
    and yes long hour classes can happen – i bumped into a hagwon teacher and she talked about these three four hour classes for elemtary school kids – that must be a killer!!!
    creative thinking is in other words a key concept when it comes to teaching in korea – and youtube helps – a LOT – heavens i don’t know if i would have been able to do this job in the times before youtube!!! see ‘english baby!’ – there is a nice ‘real life’ conversation about alternative medicine and the girl says something like “and yes, the rhino horn powder did wonders!” ….

  6. These new holiday rules are only for new contracts, as far as I can tell. So sad….

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