The lack of private toilet time isn’t the only problem I have with working in a Korean kindergarten. Every few weeks I seem to get some new illness. Either due to the lack of hygiene from the kids (Hey, I’ll just sneeze in your face, ok?!) Or more annoyingly the kids who do understand hygiene and decide to use it against you (Hahaha! I’m going to cough right in your face…so funny!)
Inevitably you get sick, but you can’t do much about it. The annoying thing about hagwons is they open before the hospitals and shut after them. The working hours are so long that there’s no time to go to see a doctor. Unless you want to be the stupid white idiot who goes to the emergency room after work with a sore throat.
Worse than this, there’s an immense amount of social pressure to not take a day off. The unspoken rule seems to be that unless you’re dying, you should be in work.
The pressure is somewhat understandable. In order to make more money the schools have just the right level of staffing. Enough teachers to cover all lessons but not absences.
Back home in England and in Canada, I’ve never had a job where it would be the end of the world if I was sick. I’d just call up, say I’m sick and my boss would probably just say “All right, see you tomorrow.”
In Korea, I can just picture the reaction to a sick day. One of anger, disappointment and disgust. So when I’m sick I peel myself away from my bed each morning and groan my way into work like a zombie. Coughing all over the kids and teachers.
Unfortunately I’m not the only one being pressurised into going to school when I’m ill. The kids are too. Either because their parents are too busy working to look after them or don’t want them to miss a day of their education. (Which is lacklustre because I’m sick.)
The main consequence of all this is that when one kid is sick, the other kids get sick too and then soon enough it’s the teachers. Everybody is sick at all times. But since nobody stays at home this isn’t really a problem. We all come to school and soldier on. It works like a not very well oiled machine for everyone.
Eventually the machine breaks. Your body can’t take being sick and exhausted all the time, you have to say enough is enough. Not by taking a sick day, but by hading to the hospital on a weekend.
Hospitals in Korea are amazing production lines. You and dozens of others get quickly shuttled between departments and receptionists until you find yourself sitting across from a doctor who can help you.
The downside to this production line is each section has to process you quickly. Including the doctor. If the doctor spends more than a few minutes with you, the production line gets backed up creating a traffic jam within the rest of the departments. This has a ripple effect causing major problems all over the hospital.
To get you out quickly the doctor simply asks you a few questions, makes an immediate diagnosis and sends you on your way to the next stop. The final stop is always the pharmacy, which is thankfully just as efficient as everything else.
Back in England a trip to the pharmacy takes 20 minutes. You head in to the empty shop, hand over your prescription and you’re told to sit. The pharmacist disappears into the back of the shop where you see shelves stacked with pills. You sit there for what seems like hours wondering how it can take so long to get 10 tablets. (Are they literally in the back with the chemicals making them?) After a long wait they come back with your pills and basically tell you to piss off.
In Korea they just have a magical machine that does all the work for them. Your pills are sealed into little paper packets. Each packet to be taken with each meal. It takes 2 minutes and costs about the same as a bus ticket for the prescription.
This isn’t to say that Korea has an amazing medical system. It’s cheap but then you get what you pay for. The doctor doesn’t take long enough to make a decent diagnosis which I’m sure leads to misdiagnosis a lot of the time.
The solution to all problems is a bucket full of pills to get your body back to being healthy.
Or almost healthy, because in the life of a hagwon teacher you’re always going to end up sacrificing your health for another day of work.
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Photo by Emily Orpin