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Posts Tagged ‘teacher’

Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans

Posted by E on September 5, 2015

students demo student protesters

“Technically, you’re already in default,” said the man with the heavy Francophone accent. “You defaulted as of last month. There’s nothing else we can do. Your debt was sent to collections two weeks ago. You’ve already had a grace period extension.”

“But if you wait just one more month….” I started, straining to hear him over the crackle of the crappy long-distance connection. “I’m getting my first salary at the end of this month.”

“Is there no one who could lend you the first payment?” he asked sympathetically. “A family member? We can’t put off your repayments any longer.”

“No, but I’ll have the funds soon. I’ll get them transferred into my Canadian bank account and send you the cheque as soon as I get paid.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again. “You understand that I have no choice. It’s policy.”

He tried to be as nice as possible about it, but I was out of options. My credit was ruined. It was the year 2000, the birth a new millennium, and as a twenty-five year old I was supposed to be having the time of my life. Instead, I was screwed.

Student-Loan-DebtThis month I read a powerful NY Times op-ed by Lee Siegel, titled Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans. He spoke of a deeply-personal subject that parallels my own experiences – a situation I’ve never written or spoken about publicly. In light of the heavy criticism heaved upon Siegel for encouraging others to default, I feel it’s tremendously important to add my own story. Thousands of young grads’ lives are affected both by heavy student debts and by the decision to choose default and/or bankruptcy over being enslaved for decades – this is an option that shouldn’t be shrouded in shame.

Siegel wrote this about the difficult period following his graduation:

I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.

I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans. As difficult as it has been, I’ve never looked back. The millions of young people today, who collectively owe over $1 trillion in loans, may want to consider my example.”

grad ingreenI graduated in 1999 from the University of Ottawa, freshly-minted with a double major in Criminology and Psychology. For a former high-school drop-out with a turbulent past, I’d done exceptionally well in university: on the Dean’s Honour Roll for my first three years, receiving small merit scholarships and earning a Magna Cum Laude distinction. I’d also discovered my passion – writing. After dreaming of being a writer since childhood, in my last year of university I encountered a Creative Writing professor who encouraged me to pursue that vocation. Professor Seymour Mayne (who would become my long-time mentor, supporter and friend) believed in my potential and told me I had real talent, and that I shouldn’t be afraid of dedicating myself to it.

My Honours degree was an personal achievement, considering that I’d dropped out in grade nine and never attended high school; in its place, I took an equivalency exam and was awarded a GED (high school equivalency) diploma at age eighteen. My childhood had been rough and violent – an immigrant to Canada from age 11, I grew up with abusive parents. My father died after I turned 13 and my mother’s abuse continued, leading me to run away. After a couple of years in CAS group homes and foster care, I returned to my mother’s home. At age sixteen I was recruited by the Heritage Front, a dangerous racist gang that soon became the most powerful neo-Nazi, white supremacist group Canada has ever had.

By age eighteen, I knew I wanted out. After a series of events I described in my memoir Race Traitor, I spied on the group leaders and testified against three of them, sending them to prison. I would later find out that a co-founder, Grant Bristow, was a CSIS agent who had instigated several criminal acts about which I’d provided affidavits. At CSIS’s request (and to protect their agent, as discussed in a 1994 episode of CBC’s The Fifth Estate), my application to be admitted into the Witness Protection Program was denied.

defection 1994-2Hategan article Metro Toronto

I was nineteen, in danger after several death threats, and had nobody to protect me except for a small number of dedicated activists who risked their well-being to ensure I remained alive. I was on the run for over a year all along the East Coast and eventually settled in Ottawa and rented an extra room from a grad student. My roommate, Julie, encouraged me to apply to university. “How could I pay for it? How would I live?” I asked her.

“The way everybody does,” Julie answered. “Apply for OSAP, Canada Student Loans. Anything you can get. I’ll help you fill out the paperwork.”

fencing teamAnd so I did. With my GED and letters of reference in hand (for which I will be eternally grateful), I applied and was accepted by both Carleton and the University of Ottawa. I chose the latter. I moved closer to the campus, renting a sunny room in a century-old, red-bricked house on Macdonald Street. My years of study were beautiful and were a new childhood for me – I threw myself into my studies. I somehow managed to get on the varsity fencing team, and won first place at the Varsity Athletic Games. I volunteered in the community. I wrote papers for other students for extra cash and tutored foreign students in English. In summers I worked two jobs, both at magazine and tobacco shops – one on Sparks Street that paid me $7 under the table, the other being the famous Mags & Fags, Ottawa’s oldest newspaper and periodicals shop.

By the time I graduated, I was thankful for my loans and intended to repay them as soon as I was able to get a job. I had a grace period of six months from my graduation date before the loan repayments would kick in. Plenty of time to find something, right?

ottawa

On my Macdonald St porch

After a couple of months of searching, I landed an interview for a job that seemed made for me – as a staff member of a locked-up youth facility. It was a good job. By good, I mean earning double digits – $15 an hour instead of the minimum wage $7 I got paid at the magazine stores. With my years spent as a CAS kid and my dual criminology and psych degree, I was a shoo-in. I had cinched the interview and the smiling man across the desk was already discussing me coming in for shifts every other weekend, but for one last question:

“Do you have a driver’s license?”

Of course I didn’t. Not just because of the obvious reason – there was no way in hell I could afford a car, even a beat-up used one – but also due to my fear of being found by the men who had threatened to kill me.

Less than five years earlier, when I was just seventeen years old, I had been taught by the Heritage Front’s self-appointed “Intelligence chief”, Grant Bristow, that getting the info off drivers’ licenses was as easy as paying $5. “Access of information,” he’d told me. “You just need the driver’s name and you can get it through the Access to Information Act.”

Section 21(1)(c), to be precise. That’s how skinheads and neo-Nazis learned to track down their political opponents to their home addresses – via public voters’ registries and drivers’ licenses. With my name being so unique, I couldn’t take the risk of applying for a license unless I had a name change. And since CSIS had directed the RCMP (the Witness Protection Program falls under their jurisdiction) to dismiss my information in order to protect Bristow from criminal charges (both my ex-lawyer Paul Copeland and notorious Toronto attorney Clayton Ruby were working on getting Bristow’s crimes investigated) – I couldn’t get a name change.

Why? Because I owed student loans. To prevent fraud, Canadian law stipulates that you aren’t allowed to change your name if you have any unpaid debts or any pending court proceedings. That makes sense, except for the fact that at age nineteen, I had gone from an existence in hiding straight to university – which was only made possible by getting student loans. Now that I owed over $40,000, there was no way I could change my name. A driver’s permit (that revealed my home address) was out of the question.

Even if I might decide to risk being found, I was terrified to bring harm onto others – I worried about my elderly, frail landlady, about my roommates and the woman I was involved with at the time, who was Hispanic (and at risk for a racial attack if they found me). Knowing how the Heritage Front had been taught to operate by Grant Bristow, everyone around me was at risk. I owed it to all of them to reduce any potential traces of my address anywhere.

The interviewer looked apologetic. Even though the advertised position involved looking after incarcerated youth within the facility, their policy still required all staff to have licenses in case there was an emergency, or the kids were to attend an appointment outside the facility. I shook his hand and thanked him for considering me, and I managed to keep myself from bursting into tears until I was around the corner from the building.

All of a sudden I understood how screwed I really was. A criminology or social work degree was absolutely useless without a drivers’ permit. The CO’s from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre told me the same thing: just get your permit and reapply. They already knew me after I’d volunteered inside the prison as an arts coordinator for the Elizabeth Fry Society, and I’d also interviewed them for my Penal Justice term paper. But how could I tell them the truth – how deeply ashamed I was about my past. Even though I had been a minor, legally a child, for most of my involvement with the hate group – and I made amends by putting its leaders in prison – how could I tell potential employers why I was afraid to have my address on my ID, or register anything under my name? Wouldn’t such a past immediately kill my chances at employment?

memeI thought about Grant Bristow. I thought of how the CSIS agent, co-founder and co- leader of the Heritage Front was sitting pretty in a three-car garage house bought by taxpayers’ money (and getting a living stipend to the tune of $3000 per month) despite never testifying in any court proceedings. All because CSIS made sure to get him into the Witness Protection Program and ensured that I would be rejected from the same program.

So now that I couldn’t get a license (for risk of being tracked down) jobs in my field were out of the question. Furthermore, all government jobs I applied to (Canada’s capital being, after all, a hive of bureaucracy) required a working fluency in French, which I lacked. Soon I found myself in the same boat as so many other young grads – dependent on $7, minimum-wage jobs. I worked ten hours a day and cried myself to sleep worrying about whether I could make it as a writer. How would I find the time to write? Would I end up a shop girl for the rest of my life, selling souvenirs, newspapers and cigarettes to tourists on Sparks and Elgin streets?

What had seemed a perfectly good job as a student was no longer such a rosy prospect. I felt depressed and frustrated with my every failure to secure a well-paying job. Depression set in and I stopped going to work at the magazine store. The six months came impossibly fast – I practically blinked and my payments were due. Something in the vicinity of $500 a month. I made minimum payments on my credit cards and begged the student loans people to please give me an extension.

To my surprise, a lady from the bank took pity on me. Three more months, she said. She’d obviously heard enough similar tales to understand the difficult position I found myself in. But that was it, my last lifeline – no more extensions after that.

major-s-hill-parkI pounded the pavement again. It was a scorching summer and my depression had grown worse. To keep myself together, I often walked to the top peak of Major Hill’s Park, crouched down on the grass and wrote poetry. I loved seeing the jutting glass arches of the National Gallery of Canada building, the way it looked like a crystal palace hovering over the sea of multihued tulips that spread from the grassy hillocks toward the artsy Byward Market.

Sometimes I clambered down to the rocks along the shoreline and sat on my favourite boulder, watching the tumultuous waves of the Rideau River crash against the rough beach pebbles and rootless tree branches.

alexandra bridgeUpward and to my right, the steel beams of the Alexandra Bridge glinted, catching the sparks of late afternoon sunlight. I liked that bridge. My landlady’s daughter Jennifer told me that one of her best friends had committed suicide in winter by throwing herself off it and smashing into the ice floats below, and I had made a mental note at the back of my head that if all else failed, that was as good a plan as any.

If I couldn’t make it as a writer and couldn’t get a decent job, what the fuck was the point?

Major_Hill_ParkAnd then two miracles happened, and they came back-to-back in such a way that it was impossible not to take it as a sign of greater things to come. The first (and best) news was that The Fiddlehead, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary journals, was going to publish one of my poems! I’d had poetry appear in University of Ottawa publications before, but this was the first time an independent publication liked my writing enough to put it into print. When they mailed me the issue in which my poem appeared, with a cheque for $40 tucked inside, I was ecstatic and fueled with hope – maybe I could make a living as a writer after all.

The following week, a friend forwarded me an email from Adam, a recruiter for Korean hogwons (privately-owned tutorial schools) who was looking for English-speaking young people to teach ESL. No experience needed – you just had to have a BA (in any field) and speak fluent, native-proficiency English. And they paid more than the part-time job I’d just quit.

Soon I was on the phone with the guy. “Is this a scam?” I asked him.

“No, of course not.”

“Do I have to pay for my flight?”

“Nope.”

“So what’s the catch? Are they a strip club? A prostitution ring?”

He laughed. “There’s no catch – they’re desperate and will fast-track everything. They’ll Fedex you the flight ticket, set you up in your own accommodations close to the school, and you only have to work twenty hours a week. They’ll pay you 1600 won a month and they don’t care if you’ve never been around kids before. You’ll likely teach a combination of kids, teenagers and adults.”

Getting paid the equivalent of $1600 a month for only 20 hours a week – with the potential of making double that income if I tutored privately after hours – sounded insanely great for someone in my desperate position. And best thing was, no driver’s license was needed!

azaleas koreaLess than a week later my flight ticket arrived from Singapore Airlines. The next day I took the bus to Montreal so that I could get my work visa from the Korean Consulate, since I was leaving the following week. They had seen many young people like me, the smiling lady at the consulate told me. Recent grads without job prospects at home, fleeing by the thousands to high-paying teaching jobs in Japan and South Korea. But Korea paid better, covered accommodations, and the cost of living in Seoul was a lot less than Tokyo.

Afterwards I packed all my things in one feverish 24-hour period and carried them to the basement, thankful that my landlady Pat had allowed me to store my things while I was gone. On a dark and rainy Monday morning, my best friend Dina drove me to the airport. She herself didn’t have any other jobs beside her brother’s magazine shop on Sparks street. Soon she would depart for France, where she’d been offered a contract position for six months. Since she loved Paris she’d probably have done it for free, especially once she managed to talk an elderly aunt who lived in a crappy outer arrondisement to let her crash on her sofa.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never return to live in Ottawa. By the time I found myself back in Canada, a year and a half later, most of my friends had left the capital. Nearly all of them because they couldn’t find work there and had heavy student loan burdens that needed to be covered. Half a dozen ended up in South Korea. The rest scattered throughout Ontario, and several went back to school. The general thought was, What do you do when you can’t get a job? Simple: enroll in graduate school and take out another student loan – that delays the payback period.

We were the screwed Gen X generation – kids born in the 70s and early 80s, nestled precipitously between the relatively-young, unionized Baby Boomers who’d taken all the best jobs and refused to be pushed out before age seventy, and a newer age cohort who would take all the entry-level jobs of the new millennium.

Seoul Korea editNaively, I still thought that I could pay back my student loans. I was still one month shy of defaulting, and I was going to scrimp and save every penny to send it back to ScotiaBank. But within the first couple of weeks at my new job in Inchon, Korea, I realized that I’d made a mistake – my contract wasn’t being honoured. The school director was giving me additional hours for which I wouldn’t get paid, and I was lowest on the totem pole among the other foreign teachers, who all saddled me with their most difficult classes.

I felt lost and upset at the deception. I still had my return flight ticket, but I didn’t want to quit and return to Canada. I was just starting to like Korea. My problem was, according to Korean law, my work visa was attached to that particular hogwon (school). If I had any hope of working in Korea, I would have to find a new school who could reimburse my director for the flight, documentation costs and the finder’s fee paid out to the recruiter.

elisa with studentsLuckily, I was in a country where my ability to speak perfect English was in high demand. I met with Adam, the guy who’d recruited me, and over the course of one Saturday we walked around downtown Seoul until we found a school looking to hire. My new school director negotiated a price on my head with my ex-director, and a fee was decided upon. I also promised my old director that I would work for free (and forfeit my first month’s income) as long as he signed the official documentation releasing me from my work contract with his particular hogwon.

By the time I started my new job in Seoul, another month had passed. Once I was settled into my new apartment in the Kangdong-Cheonho district and had an official address, my landlady Pat forwarded me a large padded envelope containing all my letters from ScotiaBank and the student loans people. It was then that I realized I’d ran out of time.

I scrambled to make my credit card payments via snail mail – these were the days before online banking was introduced, which would have made my life a whole lot easier. Then I made an appointment to speak with a ScotiaBank rep about my student loans. Given the 12-hour time difference, I stayed up until the middle of the night to speak with him, only to be told it was too late.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “Your loan has gone into default. There’s nothing else we can do for you.”

with students in Koreawith studentsmy classdrama festival

me in ChinaI worked hard that year and saved up thousands of dollars. I taught private classes nearly every night after my hogwon shifts ended and paid off every cent of my two existing credit cards. Then I scrimped some more. I even put aside a little to take a week-long vacation to Beijing and scale the Great Wall of China during my school break.

When my teaching contract ended, I had to make a choice – to pay off a portion of my student loan, or to live? It wasn’t a hard choice to make. Now that I was jobless once again, I could give ScotiaBank the ten thousand dollars I had put aside and then incur more interest until I was back up to $40,000+ once again. I could try to join the rat race back in Canada and work myself into oblivion at a job I hated, just so I could salvage my shitty credit score. Or I could hide out abroad, away from the collectors and knee-breakers, and write.

I was a traveller before I could afford it. I dreamed of exotic places and faraway destinations, and all that stood between me and living that dream was an insurmountable student loan I knew I could never pay off. I didn’t have any supportive family and had the misfortune to be poor and unconnected in a place where money and connections buys you everything.

So much of my past had been ripped from me as a child, during Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship. I wanted to revisit Romania and find out how my father died, to track down old relatives, trace my roots through Hungary and Poland, and understand the bloody history of an Eastern Europe whose DNA flowed in my veins.

students-loans2And I wanted to write. In order to get that time to travel to write, I had to default on my student loans. In some ways, I was fortunate that nobody else had co-signed my loans. It wasn’t like I was making a high enough income to worry about garnishment or income tax withholding. In fact, I didn’t even plan on returning to Canada for several more years – I wanted to work in Korea or live in South America next. My credit score was the only casualty, and I was willing to sacrifice it in order to be a writer.

I knew that eventually I would have to find a partner with good credit, who could support me during the times when my bad credit might haunt me. Someone who could understand that I’d never be able to co-sign on property, or car loans, or anything that demanded a review of my credit score. Who’d understand my need to forge ahead as a writer despite the financial catastrophe that a career in the arts usually entails. Fortunately, I was eventually able to find such a person, and as the years passed my student loans became a distant nightmare I seldom thought about.

As Siegel writes, “Am I a deadbeat? In the eyes of the law I am. Indifferent to the claim that repaying student loans is the road to character? Yes.”

Who the hell has the right to lecture bankrupt students on morality? The colleges whose greed-driven, soaring tuitions are making higher education an increasingly-unaffordable commodity? The banks who defraud, bribe, and are experts in insider trading and nepotism? We may have outgrown debtor prisons, but we still live in a world where if you’re poor and cannot pay your mortgage, you’re kicked onto the streets. Considered barely different from a common criminal. Whereas if you’re a bank and you break all sorts of laws, you’re given a bailout plan worth millions.

We live in a country where an intelligence agent who helps create a neo-Nazi white supremacist group, who plans and directs criminal acts with impunity and never accounts for a single arrest and prosecution gets a payoff worth close to a million dollars from Canada’s Security and Intelligence Service, but a teenage girl who testifies against white supremacist leaders (who go to prison) gets denied Witness Protection and has to go on the run for her life.

student_loan_debt__too big to fail   Seniors-with-student-loan-debt

“If the banks have become too big to fail, then the people have become too small to succeed,” argues Siegel, defending what he says would be “a collective act of civil disobedience” if everyone would simply default.

And I agree.

Am I unethical? To some, most definitely. But if I am unethical, then so are the banks who sent my student loans into default without giving me another chance. So are the government agents who instigated the harassment, terror attacks and assaults of innocent Canadian citizens and simultaneously denied me the opportunity to start a new life. So are governments who invest far more in prisons and the military than in their own citizens’ educations.

Canada changed its official policy on bankruptcy and student loans on July 7, 2008 – reducing the time limit you had to wait before declaring bankruptcy from 10 years to 7 years.

On July 8, I made the first appointment with a bankruptcy attorney in downtown Toronto. By the following Monday I was in their office, signing the required papers. In the eight years since I’d graduated, my student loan and interest had ballooned to $50,000.

Nine months after, I was free. Free to breathe. Free to legally change my name.

Free to live again.

you_are_not_a_loan

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Have you done a midnight run from Korea and lived to tell the tale?

Posted by E on July 1, 2008

…If so, I need your comments. I’ve had overwhelming queries following my last year’s entry on the topic. A LOT of foreign teachers in Korea are in this boat. However, I haven’t done the run myself (as close as I ever came to it, I did abstain and I am glad I did, but it was rough), and therefore, as much as I know about it and sympathise with your situation, I still need to give others in this position the right advice.
So please, if you have done it and are back home safe and sound, do add your experience – I welcome and truly appreciate it. If you’ve been lurking on the net bitching about how you escaped Korea, this is an invitation to finally write about it. How did your midnight run go? Anything to watch out for? Any unexpected situations? Any issues at customs re. the multiple-visa issue, or leaving with another 6 months left on your visa?
If you click the link below, it’ll take you to the original blog that stirred the whole thing up. The comments and links to it have been growing ever since. Please don’t forget to add your imput!

How to do a Midnight Run without getting caught

from one dweggi waygook to another 🙂 lol….

Posted in korea, teacher | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

How to do a Midnight Run without Getting Caught

Posted by E on August 6, 2007

packed-bags

I want to preface this entry by saying that I’m genuinely sorry that your situation has brought you to my blog.

First of all, I will assume that you gave this job a fair shot and you have done a fair amount of soul-searching before you came to this conclusion and googled “midnight run”.
But here we are. You clearly want to get the hell out of Korea and your hogwon – your apartment is lousy and all your fellow expat teachers are unsociable drunks; you don’t have hot water and the old ajuma next door shits in a bucket; your class is made up of screaming imbeciles and you would rather throw yourself off the Lotte World bridge than endure another game of Bingo. Your director is a penny-pinching, whip-weiling sadistic fuhrer-type who wants to work you until you drop dead, while your teacher-partner only knows how to apply ten coats of make up a day and say “Hello, how are you?”.

elisa with students

Me at my second school in Seoul – I loved this job but hated the first one. Proof that you CAN make it in Korea if you stick it out!

Little children run after you on the road and scream non-stop “Teacher, how are you?” and “Meegook dweggi” (pig-foreigner). You’ve burned your esophagus on soju during your first welcome dinner night and frankly, you think soju is seriously overrated. The smell of kimchi in the morning makes you vomit uncontrollably in the alleyway by the whore-parlors while walking on your way to your air-condition-less school.
You hate the stares, the double shifts and the huge gobs of spit littering the sidewalk.
You want to get the fuck out of here. But how the hell to do it??

Ok, let me first say that before you take this radical step, you should try to get yourself a “release letter” from your hogwon. Yes, some people CAN get out of their hogwon hell and do it legally. It happened to me.

I ran into difficulties in my first month in Ichon. The supposedly-20 hours only job was turning into 30, and I was supposed to accompany kids on school trips for which I would not ever get paid. Never mind that I wasn’t supposed to teach infants but middle-schoolers and adults. However, I did eventually manage to get myself out of the contract. But it wasn’t pretty.

I got angry. I cried. I came across like a total freak who had no maternal instincts whatsoever. I hated children, I told them in a straight face, and never realized that until now.
They asked me if I would stay even if I were to teach older kids. But by then I knew I didn’t want to stay in this shady academy, and I had found a reputable school in Seoul who really wanted me (plus they gave me my own apartment and more money, so I was determined not to let my first month in Korea be ruined by one shitty hogwan).

I told them I couldn’t stand kids at all. But I really, really loved Korea and I would do anything to stay. I just couldn’t help that I had no maternal bone in me.
We got into a shouting match. I shouted back. I basically told them that I wouldn’t stay there, no matter what, and since I had my air ticket back already, I could leave anytime. But if they gave me my Release papers I would work the month for free, and the other school would give them a finder’s fee.

Finally, they agreed. So it turns out that for my first month I worked for free, but I spent the next twelve months working for a fantastic director at a different Seoul ESL academy. And I am really, really glad I stayed. Not because I grew to love Korea that much more (like all places and experiences outside your comfort zone, it has its ups and downs), but because it was an experience that pushed me to the limits. Looking back now, more than a decade after I left, there is much more that I miss about my life in Seoul than I ever thought possible (and no, not just the kimchi bokumbop!)

my classAnd so, in the end, I am really, REALLY glad I stuck it out. Korea is the kind of place that tests your character – and you discover what kind of person you are made of.

Being honest CAN work – as long as you are not intimidated by the reality of a confrontation. But OK, say you KNOW that your director isn’t a rational human being, and bribing him with working a month for free (to reimburse him for the airfare) won’t work.
What are your options?

a) stay, grin and bear it for an unterminable year
b) get on the first bus/train/donkey cart to the biggest city and just walk around; it won’t be long until you see an ESL academy where you can walk in the door and ask if they will hire you on the spot. Half the time they will, or will refer you to a school who will. Alternatively, try to find recruiters who can introduce you to schools for a small fee, and remember, there are always schools who will take an illegal teacher – but be prepared to be paid a little less. But they will take care of you and your lodgings.
c) Just hang out in Seoul or Pusan and live off private lessons – only if you have enough cash to rent a room for a month, until you make arrangements
d) Do the infamous Midnight Run! After all, that’s why you’re here!

So without further ado, here are Elisa’s 10 Steps to a Succesful Midnight Run:

1. Cut your losses. Be certain of your decision, since embarking on it means there is no going back. You will not be able to reenter Korea for at least a year, at least until your E2 visa expires.

2. Do not tell ANYONE. Other than your grandma or best buddy who will be meeting you at the airport back home, TRUST NO ONE. Even people who confide in roomates have been burned! That nice Australian chap who you go drinking with after class and shares in all your moaning and bitching about your school, accomodations, brats, etc. may indeed turn around and stab you in the back for extra kudos and a better schedule.
And by the way, if you DO decide to tell your folks back home that you are coming back early, I strongly encourage you to email them, or call them when you are SURE that your roomate(s) are out or not within earshot. I’m serious.

3. Ship some of your belongings home before you take off. Some of you who live alone may think – “Why bother? I don’t have a roomate so nobody will see my packed suitcases waiting by the door until my flight next week!

You’re dead wrong.
Hogwon directors and their minions have been known to make unexpected visits to teachers’ apartments whenever it strikes their fancy. Seeing all your stuff packed up will definitely ensure that you don’t get that nice month-end paycheck you’ve been waiting for before you fly this coop. So don’t be stupid.
Hide your suitcase if you can, and if you can’t, pack at the last minute or ship some of your stuff home early. Hey, it’s just a lot of souvenirs and cheap knock-offs for the folks, right?

Elisa with SouthKorea class4. Realize that someday, you may actually regret not having stuck it out, and that Korea wasn’t actually that bad. Then go to the bank and withdraw all the money you have – you may need to make several visits. Do NOT tell the bank that you are cancelling your account! Remember that your school initially set up your account, so they could be notified of the closure! Just tell them that you need the money and then pretend you don’t understand the question. It’s not their business to question what you’re doing with it! If possible, make sure you leave about a hundred bucks in there so the account doesn’t close entirely. You can always try taking it from an ATM back home – it worked for me.

5. Give yourself plenty of time before you are expected back at work. In other words, don’t do it on a weekday! The more time you have, the less likely anybody will notice you’re missing until it’s too late and you are sipping on a cocktail on your flight back home. This is especially important if you live in a small town and have to wait at a bus or train station before connecting to Seoul. You never know if someone there might know you or your school director!
Be prepared to have a story ready! Your grandma died, you’re visiting home for a week (this would only work if you’re running on a major holiday like Chusok), or just taking a weekend trip to Seoul/Bangkok/wherever.

6. Make up a family emergency if you have to – but be prepared to act convincingly or you will forfeit that paycheck or worse! Make sure you know exactly when you need to leave – you can get your ticket online and pick it up at the airport. I don’t recommend having it mailed to you. Too risky that someone might see it.

7. I am assuming you weren’t a total moron and you let your director keep your passport “for safe-keeping”, in which case you’re shit out of luck unless you can convince them of a great emergency, or just that you want to visit Beijing on a 4-day trip (It’s a nice city, I recommend it).

8. If you need to buy yourself some time, play sick. Really sick. Make sure you get the day off, and that nobody sees you (including the other teachers and doorman downstairs) leaving. This is really, really risky and you might get caught, especially if that doorman decides to call your hogwon wondering what you are doing with all those suitcases. That’s why it’s important to have shipped most of your stuff back home and just carry a backpack and/or duffel bag – you’d look like you’re just going out of town for the weekend.

9.  As you’re leaving through customs, tell them you are going back home to visit. Under no circumstances you are to tell anyone that you are doing a run. If they really want your ID card back, give it to them. Breathe, don’t choke on your adrenaline, and just get through those doors!

10. TRUST NO ONE. Yes, I’ve said that before, but it’s important enough to reiterate it again!

Ok kids, please write back and tell me how it all went! And remember, although you’ll feel like Jason Bourne in a spy movie, it’s not really all that bad! If you keep your plans to yourself and keep a cool head on your shoulders, nothing will go wrong. Good luck, bon voyage, and see you when you get home!

Best part of living in Korea - getting to travel through Asia for cheap!

Best part of living in Korea – getting to travel cheaply throughout Asia! 

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