Sunday, October 23, 2011


I got a job working part-time as a software engineer for Busan International Foreign School (BIFS), developing and implementing a Student Information System (or 'SIS') using PHP and MySQL. The position is open-ended but because I’m working on a specific project it feels more like one of the IT-contracts I used to do.

The hours work well for me because my wife is doing a TESOL course at the moment and I’m babysitting when I’m not working. That said, I had notions that a part-time position would leave me with much more chances to study, but after my first day of babysitting duties, I managed no more than ten minutes, and it set the pattern for what would follow. Perhaps I’m never going to be able to study Korean effectively or do anything else I want to until my son gets older, or someone pays me enough not to madly chase around Korea after work as I have been doing of late.

Busan International Foreign School is situated in Gijang, which Wikipedia describes as "the most rural of Busan’s districts" consisting of "mostly of vacant and agricultural land", which just about sums it up. Getting to the school before I moved from one side of Busan to the other - another of the many things which have occupied my time this month - involved travelling thirty-three subway stops and then using a taxi, because Gijang is sufficiently off the grid that it lies some distance to the north of Jangsan - the last station on Line 2. After I moved, I managed to cut my journey time down from one hour twenty minutes, to fifty-five minutes, which I'm obviously very happy about in a sarcastic kind of way, but we bought the apartment before I got the job, so I wasn't to know how inconvenient it would really be. In principle my new apartment is closer than the travel time would seem to suggest, but having to change subway lines twice to get to Jangsan really slows the journey down.

It’s somewhat ironic that I’ve found myself working for one of the two foreign schools here - because the question of whether to send my son to Busan International Foreign School or its rival, Busan Foreign School, has been vaguely at the back of our minds since before my wife even gave birth. Now that I work for BIFS I’ve finally undertaken more research into both schools and the choice has become much clearer - there isn’t one because I probably can't afford either of them.

The campus is newly built and larger than I expected, and the vast majority of the teachers and students are non-Koreans. That might sound obvious, but in fact some foreign schools which teach foreign curricula in Korea end up doing so primarily for the benefit of more internationally-minded Koreans. Another interesting and probably highly unusual aspect to BIFS is that it doesn’t teach a US curriculum which the US is not a particularly good advert for, but instead the International Baccalaureate, which seems determined to produce the kind of well-rounded individuals which Korea is desperately lacking due to the latter system's tendency to overspecialise and focus solely on measured examination outcomes while discouraging critical thought.

While there are American teachers at the school, most of the senior staff are British, and a surprising number of teachers are non-American native English speakers, so after what I wrote about the number of jobs in Korea which advertised for 'North American passport holders only', it feels like part school, part search-and-rescue mission for non-American English-speaking expats.

And so a new Korean experience has begun for me. Three days a week, I travel the subway like the office worker I now am. I have my first salaried position in this country, and much against expectations, it isn’t teaching English.