My co teacher casually tells me late on a Monday afternoon that I will be on an interview panel at 3 pm the following day, interviewing candidates for the position of English after-school teacher.
"Do I need to prepare anything?", I ask her.
To which she replies "No, we already have the questions written out for you." Rather foolishly I believe her and make no preparations whatsoever. I mean, this is Korea, what could possibly go wrong?
The next day at 3 pm, I'm asked to follow my co-teacher downstairs to the the vice principal's office. We wander in, sign some papers and sit awaiting our next instruction. Of course, this being Korea, we are ushered out of the room 2 minutes later, and I'm informed by my co-teacher that we've been summoned to the wrong interview. We're told that we must come back at 4 pm. No problem! I think to myself. Typical, terrible organisation but nothing that I don't expect. Teaching in Korea for 4 years, has prepared me for these kind of everyday mishaps.
At 3.45 pm, I decide to go downstairs to do some last minute photocopying before my interviewing skills are required. However, 2 minutes into the copying my co-teacher bangs on the window of the photocopying room, with a look on her face that suggests that my presence in the interview room is required with some urgency.
I saunter into the vice-principal's office and I'm immediately faced by two rather terrified looking candidates, who are hastily fumbling through their notes. I note that one of them is wearing headphones and appears to be listening to music. She see's me glancing over and sheepishly removes them.
My attention is then alerted to a terrible racket that is emanating from the second room of the vice-principal's office, where the boardroom table is located. I turn to face the source of this racket and I'm confronted by a most humorous scene. A lady, who I deduce is the current interviewee is sat at one end of the table with a ukulele in her hands, strumming away for all she's worth, whilst singing a god-awful song. It gets worse! Surrounding the table are the interview panel (around 10 in total), who are happily clapping along to this abomination of sound. The vice-principal is even slapping the table, as if there is a campfire singalong going on in there.
"What are they doing?", I ask my co teacher, who politely informs me that they are interviewing for the new music teacher. I'm about to inquire if this is the normal procedure, but my words are drowned out by the vice-principal, who has risen to his feet and is dancing, whilst shouting "Ole".
Eventually, it's the turn of the prospective English teachers. I'm shown to my seat and handed a whole bunch of papers with photos of Korean women on.
"I thought, that we are only interviewing two people?", I ask my co teacher.
"We are", she tells me.
"Well, which ones are they?", I ask her (I'm not saying that they all look the same, but there is not much to distinguish them from each other). By the time, I have identified my two candidates, the interview is about to begin. Obviously, all the paperwork that they've given me, with the vital information about the interviewees, is in Korean. Whilst the rest of the interview panel browse through the first ladies details, I'm left staring at a load of Korean characters that I don't understand. The only 2 English words on the page are Burger and King.
"Andy, can you start?", the head-teacher prompts me.
"Where are the questions?", I ask my co-teacher.
"Can you make them up?", she nervously replies.
"Erm, erm, I wasn't really expecting this", I tell the panel. My brain working overtime trying to think of an appropriate question - the words Burger King consuming my every thought.
Fortunately, my co-teacher jumps in and gets the ball rolling. "Can you introduce yourself?", she asks the interviewee.
And this is a fairly accurate representation of what follows.
"Herro, my name Sang Mi, Ingrishee name Jurie (Julie). My happy meet you. I hope you understand my Ingrishee, I rittle nervous but my do my best.
Great opening there, I think to myself. She's going to go far with confidence like that.
"I live in Canada for many time, where I work in Burger King, here I flip many burger. Then I work for Samsonite, they make suitcase. I also work in children's care (babysitting, as it later transpires). I love childrens and childrens love me. When I first work with children, I see children, they point and go "oink oink" and make like pig. They so cute. And we sing many song and I many happy. Children also many happy and this is why my dream is to work as Ingrishee teacher".
The speech was slightly longer than this but I was so busy trying to stifle my laughter, that I couldn't take it all in. The part where she oinked like a pig almost caused me to burst my bladder. It was obvious that she had practiced her oinking to perfection. Old McDonald would have been proud!
Anyway, we ask our questions, she stumbles through the answers and by the time she's done, we are all praying to God that interviewee 2 has got something more to offer. The rest of the interview panel are praying because they want to employ a good English teacher, and I'm praying because I don't know if I can take any more, without falling to the floor and rolling around on my back in fits of laughter.
Enter interviewee 2.
I'm kind of disappointed when interviewee 2's English is a hundred times better than the first contender (a part of me wanted more comedy). She does however have a treat in store for the interview panel. This comes in the form of a lesson plan which she's written, and which she wishes us all to participate in, whilst pretending that we're elementary school kids. The lesson plan goes as follows.
Interviewee 2 : Good morning everybody, my English name is Wendy.
Interview panel: Good morning Wendy
(Vice-principal shouts hello in Korean "an yeong asseyo", and looks proud of himself for knowing what she meant).
Wendy: How are you all today?
Interview panel: Fine, fine, fine, fine, fine, fine, fine, fine, amused (that's me), (Vice principal looks confused).
Wendy: How's the weather today?
Interview panel: cloudy, sunny, windy etc etc.
(Vice principal follows our stares out of the window and tries to see what we are looking at - a baffled expression upon his countenance).
Wendy: What day is it today?
Interview panel: Tuesday (me along with one other), hwa-yo-il (the rest).
(Vice principal looks out of the window again, still trying to work out what we're all looking at).
Wendy: Let's sing the days of the week song! Please put your hands in front of you, and as we sing the days put one hand on top of the other. When we get to Sunday, throw your hands in the air and wave them around.
She says this in Korean and I only know what she's said because I observe the others. The vice-principal follows our actions and looks happy with himself as he waves his hands in the air like he just don't care.
The interview ends and Wendy is asked to leave the room. However, she's not even out of the door when the interview panel start shouting across the room about which interviewee is the best, in a totally unprofessional manner.
"Well, I think that the second one was better", I tell my co-teacher", when I'm sure that the interviewees are not within earshot.
"Yes, yes, we all agree", she tells me. (The girl only left the room three seconds ago and the decision has already been made).
I'm given a score sheet, which is once again written in Korean. My co-teacher helps me to translate the different criteria, which all appear to be the same. As I fill in my score sheet the rest of the panel look over my shoulder to see what scores I give (with no regard for personal space). This prompts them to alter their own sheets accordingly, a practice that I've witnessed many times in Korea whilst judging the kids talent shows.
It's only when I've completed the sheets and handed them to my co-teacher that she realises that I've mixed the sheets up and given Julie, Wendy's score and Wendy, Julie's score. There follows an awkward few minutes of chaos as the majority of the panel retrieve their evaluation sheets from the finished pile and indiscreetly change their scores to the same as mine.
I exit the room reflecting upon the failings of the Korean education system, but I can't quite put my finger on it.