Fly to Seoul - teaching English in Korea
Chapter 1 - The Interview
“Give me three reasons why you would like to come to Korea?” the interviewer asked me over Skype.
I smiled as I collected my thoughts. Sure, I thought, I’ll give you three reasons.
Number 1 – my best friend abruptly asked me to marry him because he’s almost 30 and started to panic and thought I would be seduced by his substantial inheritance. I do not love him in that way, my mother suggested I should just give it ago, as ‘divorce is on the rise anyway and I’d be landed for life,’ so going to Korea means I can avoid dealing with that.
Number 2 –the French man I was seeing dumped me because he said I was too nice and he didn’t want to hurt me, whatever that means. He is currently sleeping his way through the Australian outback, so if I move to Korea, I can post a ton of pictures about how well travelled I am otherwise I’m stuck in London with nothing but Brexit to talk about.
Number 3 – Since I’d been down in the dumps and found myself in a bit of a rut, I’ve binge watched a ton of Korean dramas on Netflix and thought to myself why not give Korea a go. South Korea off course, don’t worry I won’t mention the north.
Those were my three very real reasons for wanting to leave my home in England, but nobody tells the truth during a job interview – my CV says I’d worked at the BBC for one year, in actual fact I’d had a two week internship which could have led to a job if I hadn’t pitched the story about Queen’s song Fat Bottomed Girls, being offensive to actual fat bottomed girls. I personally don’t believe it is, I love Queen as much as the next person, but its 2019, you can’t say things like that anymore and get away with it. My editor thought it was, ‘bullocks,’ and that I wasn’t a good fit for the type of stories he was looking for.
Instead I looked into the camera on my laptop and straightened up in my seat.
“I’ve worked as a journalist for more than five years now, I took a year off to get a teaching degree because I’m passionate about working with children. I realise it’s a sudden change in career, but I tutored all through high school and university and I thought South Korea offered a wonderful opportunity to pursue my dream of teaching children English.”
I exhaled slowly, equally cringing and marvelling at my eloquent embellishment of the truth. Technically I wasn’t lying. I really did want to teach kids English.
On another note the interviewer was a little bit distracting. His name was Aaron Kim. I’d never met an Aaron Kim before who had a perfectly lined jaw, pleasant smile and deep voice with an American accent. I’d obviously googled the wrong person prior to the interview. Aaron Kim wasn’t a grey-haired man in his 60s as his Linkdin profile suggested but an attractive man in his late 20s, early 30s- how is it that I could find the real Leonardo DiCaprio on Facebook, but I couldn’t find out anything about the man who was interviewing me.
“What are your strengths?” Aaron asked me.
I did 50 push ups once, I can roll my tongue around and around and no matter how much Ben and Jerry’s cookies and cream I eat I never get sick. Obviously, I didn’t say that to him. Neither did I say, I is kind, I is smart, and I is important. I told him exactly what he wanted to hear.
“I’m very patient and I have a positive can-do attitude.” I said smiling broadly into the camera. I was pleased it wasn’t a lie. I was always happy, even when I was sad and I genuinely loved working with kids.
Next question. “What are your weaknesses?” he asked me.
I panicked for a second. I couldn’t remember what google had told me. Are you supposed to say you don’t have any weaknesses, or were you supposed to list a weakness which wasn’t really a weakness, but it demonstrated that you were a flawed human like everyone else but at the same time you were perfect for the job?
I took a deep breath. I’m practically perfect in every way I thought. I swear someone else had said that before me.
I giggled nervously. “I’m very small,” I blurted out. “Like really tiny and some of the students I’ve taught on my prac thought I was a student instead of at teacher but I’m really not a pushover. I’m gentle but firm. I don’t raise my voice but its all in the look.” I knew I was rambling but hopefully my ramblings made sense. I couldn’t help my petite stature, neither could I help my round caramel baby face, sprinkled with freckles. I once had the school nurse kick me out of the English staff room because he thought I was a student who had snuck in to find the exam papers for the term 2 exam.
Aaron Kim didn’t seem to have been turned off by my answer. He remained neutral, although out of the corner of my eye I saw the corners of his mouth turn upwards into what I could only assume was a smile. Please help him think I’m endearing rather than the village idiot I silently thought to myself. Why do you care what he thinks of you, a small voice in the back of my head asked me. I was too focused on the next question to give that fleeting idea any thought.
“Okay,” Aaron said. “The next couple of questions we just want to get to know the kind of person you are.”
“Oh dear,” I said. “I’m a bit nervous now,”
Aaron laughed. I liked the sound of his laugh. It felt warm and fuzzy, the kind of feeling you get after watching the scene where Colin Firth and the Portuguese lady learn each other’s language’s in Love Actually.
“Don’t be,” he said. “You’ll be fine.”
How naïve he was I thought. He honestly had no idea who he was dealing with. I’m the eldest of four from a crazy family. I had a white side with dad being from Manchester, his family had things like ‘supper,’ and ‘afternoon tea,’ there are pictures of my grandfather wearing a tweed jacket at the beach…who wears tweed to the beach? That’s how posh they are.
On my mother’s side, the Indian side, we are constantly being fed food and then told, ‘you’re getting a bit chubby,’ it’s just the way it is. When my mum isn’t in the kitchen cooking, she’s casually looking for boys for me, ‘how about this one?’ or ‘your aunty said he comes from a nice family, he’s an engineer in Chicago, and he looks better than that boy who worked for NASA, why don’t you think about it?’
I sometimes think my mother is the very embodiment of Pride and Prejudice’s Mrs Bennett’s. Her life motto when it comes to her two girls was, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man with good fortune was in want of a wife. My younger sister beat me to it, she’s been happily married for about four months now, so my mother’s full attention is on me. As I approach 30, her efforts have doubled. It doesn’t help that I constantly get whatsapp messages from my aunty saying, ‘don’t worry, I’m praying for your settlement.’
I turned my thoughts back to the interview.
“Tell us something about yourself,” he said.
When I’m nervous or talking to an attractive man I tend to word vomit. The skype interview was both.
“I once waited six hours at the airport with my best friend to meet the Backstreet Boys,” I said hurriedly. “I managed to get a picture with Brian, and it was absolutely amazing.” I could hear the words tumble out of my mouth, one after the other. I had no control over what I was saying, but I had started now, there was no turning back. “Waiting for the Backstreet Boys, in a way, highlights my patience and dedication.”
There was silence at the other end. Aaron Kim seemed to be smirking and I could feel my cheeks flush.
“Right,” Aaron said, and I noted a tone of amusement in his voice. “You like the Backstreet Boys, do you?”
I nodded. “Westlife and Blue too,” I said. “I’m a 90s kid.”
Thank God I stopped myself from telling him that I also had a large poster of Brendan Fraser from George of the Jungle and I used to practise my kissing on him. The poster has been folded and put away in my little box of treasures, but it still has the faint smell of Cherry Lip Smacker on it.
“What do you do when you’re not working?” Aaron asked.
Going to the pub with my friends, but I didn’t want him thinking I was an alcoholic. I’m a fervent Man United supporter but I didn’t want him to think I was a football hooligan. Love a good movie, although watching 50 Shades of Grey and enjoying it will be a secret, I take with me to the grave.
“I write,” I said suddenly. As a journalist I wrote because it was my job, but my ultimate dream, ever since I was a little girl, was to one day see my book in a bookshop. It had written stories before, but no one had read them. I was amazed that I had shared such a personal part about myself with a stranger.
“You write?” Aaron prompted.
“Yes,” I said. “I like the way you can string words together and create anything you want. I think it’s the closest thing we have to real magic.”
I gulped, suddenly feeling shy at having allowed myself to be open and slightly vulnerable. I had been hurt before from sharing and I had vowed I was never going to do it again.
We went through a few more questions before I could feel the Skype interview was coming to an end.
“Do you have any questions for me?” Aaron asked.
No questions worth asking had sprung to mind but I had already rehearsed this prior to the interview. I asked him some standard questions - how did the school expect their teachers to dress? How much homework was given to the students? How many students to a class?
I didn’t ask him the questions that did come to mind. The questions that worried me. Would the staff and students like me? What if I completely failed and moving to a whole new country was going to be a disaster? In the event of being unable to walk due to drunkenness or injury caused by clumsiness will my chances of a piggy back ride by an attractive man exponentially increase if I move to Korea? Will my parents turn my bedroom into a theatre room as they had threatened to do?
I guess none of these questions mattered anyway if I had blown the interview and the fact that I had started talking about 90s boy bands made me think that I had.
However, much to my surprise, less than an hour after our Skye conversation I received an email from Aaron Kim.
Congratulations Agnes Appleby, on being invited to the most elite learning company in Asia. Should you wish to accept our offer of employment The Korean Academy for English would be pleased to welcome you onboard.
It was only after I replied to the email accepting the job that I realised my sister had changed my email signature to Mrs Leonardo DiCaprio accompanied with a quote that read, ‘I want you to draw me like one of your French girls.’
I wondered if dying of embarrassment was a thing the doctors could write on my death certificate, but I guess I’ll never know, since I lived and embarked on a journey of a lifetime to South Korea; however, before I left, I had to tell my family and friends. I also had to borrow money from mum and dad since being a freelance journalist was simply a fancy way of saying, unemployed.