Of Dirty Toilets and Unmotivated Students: What to do?

Another wonderful reader has blessed us with some great comments and a question.  Very Very Real.

He wrote:

    I got my first job in Korea about a month ago teaching at an Industrial HS. To my amazement, I am teaching 17-19yo boys who have taken English classes for the last 20 years and still aren’t able to speak much English.

Add to that the school refuses to turn on the aircon in July and the toilets are filthy because they only clean them once a week.

I know you have posted articles about how you toughed it out your first year in Korea.  Any suggestions as to how I might improve my situation and working conditions?

I really don’t want to rock the boat and I do want to make this a success story, but conditions are soooooo     horrible.  Any wise advice?

My answer follows:

I have tried to think of something wise to help you . . . but I guess I am just not very wise!

The best guidance I can give you is to ask yourself if you have a goal at hand.  Why are you teaching overseas? To save money, to see the world, to learn more about other cultures, to become a better educated person, to pay off bills?  Focus on that larger goal to get past these little things that can get under your collar and really irritate you.

Have I lived in places I didn’t like?  Of course!  I spent five years in a country where I found the culture somewhat repulsive.  But I had some financial goals and toughed it out.

But, do you have to LIKE every place you are or where you teach?  Not really.  And why would you let some stinky bathrooms get in the way of YOUR goals – what YOU want to get out of the experience?

My five years in *country deleted* (previously mentioned country I didn’t enjoy) provided an incredible education about worlds that are different than mine, cultures that are almost incomprehensible to Westerners and also showed me how little my previous education had taught me about the real world out here.

When I lived in Taiwan, people would talk about the pollution – back in ’95-6 it was super polluted.  But people who saw only that really missed out on some incredible Chinese culture and just how beautiful the island really was.  People in Thailand sometimes complained about the beaches having litter on them.  Well, turn your head 180 degrees and look at that beautiful sea!

I have spent six years of my life in Korea – most of them just GREAT.  Stinking bathrooms, yeah, but Korea got me off to a life overseas that has just been incredible.  There were certainly times there when I could have bailed out!

There were times in my overseas career when I was so frustrated that I could just spit.  My wife’s job situation at times was even crazier than mine.  But I would say to myself, “I am not going to let these people decide whether I meet my goals or not.”

So – I could babble on a bit, but the point is – take a look at your goals and decide if you are going to let these things get in the way of what YOU want.  If you do, you will likely spend most of your life blaming other people and other things for not allowing you to live the life you want, when in fact, it is you who decides these things.

As an aside . . . and  just for a chuckle, I remember freezing my *ss off at the hogwan I first worked at in Korea and asking the owner to please get me a heater for the classroom – as I was speaking it was so cold that fog was coming out of my mouth.  Her response?  “It’s not cold”!  I could tell you a hundred little stories like that one, but I just want you to know how funny they seem to me these days and how infuriating they were to me at the time.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Keep your eye on the BIG picture – on your goals and go get ’em – don’t let the little stuff get in your way.

PS:  I think I also missed something here.  The poor guy had only been there a month.  Realize that culture shock and cultural adjustment can take some time to sort out.  Sometimes months.  During that time even little things can become very irritating. Be aware of it and pay attention to it, so you know what it is and how it is affecting you and your decisions.

Teaching Internships in China


Author: Ted

Semi-retired EFL teacher/teacher-trainer working and living abroad since 1989 in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.