Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Kids Are Dropping Like Flies

There have been some recent changes at Nammun Elementary school. As some of you may know, I work for an after school program through a company called Avalon. Korean academies are all various shades of sketchy, and as it turns out, mine is no different. Our Avalon branch owner, let's call him Mr. S, has been getting in loads of trouble lately. Al and I decided on a whim to go check the status of our pension a few months ago and whaddya know, old Mr. S hadn't paid it in three months. It took five unpaid months and a call from the pension office threatening him with the Labor Board to get him to pay it. Over these last few months at the main office where Al works, he hasn't replaced teachers that have finished their contracts, closed down the third floor, and asked the Korean staff to take a pay cut, among other things. Al and I were slightly sweating with worry over what was going on with our school because teachers being thrown out on their rear with no money because their school closed isn't that unusual around here. It turns out, wait for it, that Mr. S is getting sued by Avalon because he was operating under the Avalon name without actually paying for the franchise. To be honest, I'm not that surprised. I'm still unsure whether it was the main office where Al works or only Nammun that was illegal, either way he now has to change everything and will now not be a name-brand academy.

The good news is nothing will change with our job situation. They will continue to stay open and have even talked to another teacher who finishes in January about a replacement for him for a year contract after that, so we're cool in our heels. 

The bad news is the kids are quitting left and right. The thing you have to understand about Korea is that BRAND matters above everything else. Counterfeit is rampant here because they have to be seen with the logo. I constantly see Prada and Hermes shopping bags with groceries in them because they just want to be seen carrying it. If one kid at school buys a $150 special kind of backpack and then all the kids start buying those, the social implications of you as a parent not buying that bag for your child means you could be talked about in social situations or pegged as poor. Good old Mr. S has a Mercedes. The lowest class, cheapest Mercedes. That means that among the rich, Mercedes owning social circles of Busan, he's poor and has the crap Mercedes. So what did Mr. S do? He actually scraped the model code off the back of his car so no one knows that he has the low end car. And that's not even surprising to me anymore. They are constantly trying to one-up the other and it starts as children. The fierce educational competition they are put through for the duration of their schooling carries over into adulthood where they are still just trying to get ahead of the next person. One way they do this through branding. They need to show everyone that they are rich (even though they aren't) by putting on a front. That front is carrying a knockoff Louis, making sure you have what everyone else has despite the fact you can't afford it and yes, even sending your kid to a brand name academy. 

Because we will no longer be associated with a nationwide name, parents are pulling their kids out because they can't tell so-and-so that little Jimmy goes to Avalon. My two favorite girls, whom I've been teaching for two years now, have quit. I actually cried. They said they wanted to stay but their mothers are making them quit. I am 99.9% sure that the sudden drop in our kids this semester is attributed to the recent change and it beyond irks me. I loved those girls. A bunch of others at Nammun and at Al's office will never be seen again all because mommy can't brag to her friends anymore. 

The semester changed this week at Nammun. New books, new classes. Well, the classes get rearranged as the kids level up or down. Their school year starts in March and we get a slew of new kids then, and slowly throughout the year the classes get combined as they all move up or quit and eventually by winter I have a lot of free gaps in my day. I now teach no more than 4 hours on any given day. Mondays and Thursdays I only teach 3 hours and Fridays even less as I go in at 2:00 and leave at 5:45, with only 2 1/2 of that actually in a classroom. Just straight luck. I'm getting paid the same amount as Al who has to be at school 2-10 every day with significantly more class hours. That's just how it works here. 

I had some fun with my little kids the other day and snapped a bunch of pictures, enjoy!

My lesson before we got silly. There's no picture to draw for "brown"...

1 comment:

  1. So proud of you! love love love the pictures soooo fun!!!!!