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rainbow benchI have been teaching English in Korea with the EPIK program now for 10 months and just last week I renewed my contract to stay for one more year. As is required for all E-2 visa holders, I was asked to go to the hospital to have a general medical checkup.

I understood that I should go this morning and since by the time I would finish my medical exam, my three classes I would have otherwise been teaching would be over, I should just go home and rest.  Effectively using one of my 8 contractually issued sick days.

In the end it was a miscommunication and I should have gone to work first and then to the hospital. I genuinely understood that I was not to come to work. This snowballed and instead of work understanding the situation I received a text message saying that if I didn’t return to work I wouldn’t receive payment for the day. The message also said that the principal and vice principal were angry and wanted to meet with me and my two other coworkers.

I contemplated telling them to keep their money and let me enjoy the rest of my already stressful day; I REALLY hate going to the doctor and especially having blood drawn; not because it hurts but it is creepy to me. Why I hate the doctor is another story, maybe for the bottom of this post.

In the end I went back to work and tried endlessly to convey that I had missed work due to miscommunication not because I wanted to go hang out in the park and drink wine with friends. I was presented with a paper stating that I had missed school without permission and was asked to sign it; I declined since I was in fact given permission, just at a different time than I had initially understood.

An hour later, the Vice Principal and my two colleagues and I met. She talked at me in Korean. I, to her in English. nothing was understood on my side, I am not sure about her side. It was all a show of power and dominance. My coworker did translate some things in both directions. She basically said that teaching is the most important thing… while simultaneously saying your health is the most important thing, which we will see reoccur later.

I am not sure why it took me repeating the same thing so many time and refusing to sign the paper for them to finally understand that I hadn’t willfully neglected my duty. In the end, a clause was added to the paper saying that I had missed work unknowingly, believing that permission had been granted.

While I had the vice principal and my immediate manager and another colleague all gathered I wanted to clarify something else. I sort of already knew the answer but I was hoping to draw out the idiocy and illogicality of the process of requesting to use a sick day; that’s what teachers do, right? make you question the world around you, what you think is true and right.

As I said, my contract, as an EPIK teacher I am granted 10 Sick days, that I should ask permission to use. Also after three consecutive Sick days I should get a doctors note. Fine, got it. So if I wake up sick one morning at 7am with an extreme stomach issue or a burning fever etc., I should call my direct manager, who will translate my request to use a sick day to my Vice Principal.

Here is where it gets crazy. I asked what time should I call to report my request to need a sick day.  The answer is that the Vice Principal doesn’t get to school until 8:20am. My metro ride to work isn’t long  but even if I called to requested off and was denied I would still could not make it to school on time not without running, but remember this is all with diarrhea, vomiting, fever, flu or some other awful illness. Denied from using contractually issued sick days?! Yes. My ability to call in sick is regulated by the vice principal. I can’t judge for myself whether I am sick or not.

Also, a side note. According to what I was told at my orientation and what I have read on some blogs is that in Korea, if you call in sick someone from your place of employment will show up at your house to check on you. I haven’t had this happen because I have only ever tried to use a sick day once, which was denied.

If they are going to deny my request and force me to come in to school sick, why even bother to give me sick days in the contract? This come-to-school-sick-attitude, in a profession that is possibly one of the germy-est known professions seems really bizarre.
It should be expected that teachers will get sick and that they should also take a rest when they are sick to prevent spreading those germs to all of their students and other coworkers.

About my fear of the hospital, doctors and the likes. When I was between 6 and 8  we went to the local fire-station one Halloween for their annual haunted house. I was with various family members but I remember most vividly my grandmother being present.

We entered and immediately things got crazy, but not too crazy for a kid. When we turned the corner though, the fear and panic inducing scene was too real and too much for any kid that age.

The walls were tiled white and decorated like an operating room. Doctors in white scrubs covered in blood veiled with their typical green hygienic masks jumped out at you, one with an machete and another with a power saw. A sawed in half corps lay propped in in the corner in a pool of blood, the legs and lower torso  a few feet away still twitching. After passing this gory scene I was engulfed in the darkest darkness ever. Wanting to escape what I had just seen, the door was nowhere to be found and I freaked out.

I know that was fake, I know that there is no logical reason to fear doctors but I can’t help the unconscious automatic association that was seared into my brain.