Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tips for a happy and stress-free life

Teaching at a uni in Korea is one of the most stress-free jobs I could ever possibly imagine having. With the exception of working at a not-so-busy library, which I did in grad-school. Anyway, it's stress-free, if you let it be that way. And it can also be very stressful, if you make it that way. I've seen both types among my colleagues.

Here are my tips for a happy stress-free life at a uni in Korea:

1. Of course the students will cheat and copy homework, etc, etc. It's part of their culture. Heck, even the top scientists think nothing of fixing results and haven't basically all the past presidents been under investigation for bribery? So don't let it get to you. Try to prevent it, of course in your class (I do oral tests, and have them do written tests, in my office in groups of 4 or 5 where I can keep an eye on them) but don't think that you're going to change the culture of corruption that is rampant here. Don't let it stress you out.

2. Of course the students aren't going to study as much as you did when you were in uni. They just finished 6 years of hagwon hell/high school/middle school. They need a break before selling their soul to Samsung or Kia, so just give them a break. Plus, everyone passes in the end and gets a degree that isn't worth the paper it's written on, so failing a ton of students doesn't really do that much anyway. So make your class on the easy side, and give lots of extra chances and stuff. Low expectations for your students goes a long way towards a happy life in Korea.

3. Of course the administration will slip in last minute stuff that you need to do and meetings you need to attend and such. This is normal. It's Korea, land of the last minute. If you can go, go, or can do it, do it. If not, make up some excuse (or perhaps even the truth) and don't sweat the small stuff.

4. Of course there will lots of notices in your school email account in Korea and whatever. But unless you're the only foreigner at your uni, you probably shouldn't worry about it. My theory is that if there's anything really important going down, either the English dept. or the International Coordinator will let me know and I can take action. Besides that, I don't worry about the unknown.

Some extra weird week shows up in your attendance, like you're supposed to have a make-up class or something? Whatever! Mark all the students present and move on with life. Class is cancelled for some strange lecture, and no one told you about it. Whatever. Count your lucky stars for a bit of a break, mark the students present and don't stress.

5. And relations. With your students: well, you shouldn't have any, apart from in class with them and 20 of their best friends in a group. This should be obvious (to me at least) to anyone who hopes to get their contract renewed. I will occasionally take students out for dinner, etc, but almost always in groups. If they want me to proof-read something for them, I will most often do it by email. NEVER have students over to your house.

Coworkers: be helpful, friendly, fun. Be considerate of those teaching next door to you if the walls are thin. Go to all the social events your schedule allows. Don't be all crazy and freaky if you have an issue with someone and go to administration. It just makes you look bad and you will have a new enemy. It makes life a lot easier and stress-free if you're well-liked.

Administration. I have a policy that's worked for me. Avoid all negative contact. Period. In 2 years, I've never complained or been negative about anything. But I will initiate positive contact, such as volunteering for extra work (with pay of course!) or going to faculty dinners and such. It works for me: I've gotten my contract renewed 2 times so far.

6. Stay on top of the paperwork. I set aside each Thurs. afternoon, when I had a 4 hour break for prep/paperwork. It usually took me almost that whole time every week, but I'm thankful now that's it the end of the semester and I can do grades in about an hour. And obviously, you should have back-up copies of your grades, at all times. I write them down on my attendance sheet, and go home, and put them into my excel spreadsheet. Then, I email it to myself for a third copy. This will save you much stress possibly if your computer crashes or you lose your attendance/grade folder.

So yeah, stress-free life.

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