School’s free housing can cost more than you might think

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School’s free housing can cost more than you might think

A problem that many people have to face once in their lives is a difficult roommate. You might have to deal with it in college. I had to deal with it when I came to Korea to teach English.
I had no problems with roommates in college, other than one guy who liked to leave the door open while he giggled and cuddled with his girlfriend. But it was nothing compared to what I experienced in Korea.
English academies entice their victims abroad by offering perks like decent salaries, free airline tickets and free housing. It all sounds good, but when you’re forced to live with someone who completely lacks social skills it quickly becomes clear that housing isn’t so “free.”
I first met my roommate after a 13-hour flight from Washington State. The fatigue combined with the shock of entering a foreign land left me yearning for both rest and an assurance that I had made the right decision in leaving everything I knew to gamble on a year-long stay in Korea. Unfortunately, my roommate made me think that I had rolled the dice and lost.
He introduced himself cheerfully while I held out hope that he was a normal fellow. But that hope evaporated when he started talking about his passionate love affair with a Korean secretary who worked at our school. He said that she once held her hand near his knee while telling him he was “nice” ― a sure sign of everlasting love, he said. When I asked him since when touching someone’s knee meant this, he told me I didn’t know enough about the subtle nuances of Korean courtship.
When I went to work, it turned out that the Korean secretary knew little English and considered everyone “nice.” Moreover, the other teachers all knew about his self-delusions and suggested that I look at his personal Web site.
It was a bizarre world where my roommate and his Internet pals portrayed themselves as moral crusaders, social leviathans and physical dynamos. He was none of those things. We lived together for six months and outside of going to work, he hardly strayed from his computer. He occasionally left his room to forage for food, which is usually when he told me about his latest conquests. By the time he moved out I was disgusted by him, and at the same time felt sorry for him. I’ve never met someone so out of touch with reality.
I’ve had a good time in Korea, but living with my first roommate was a low point. His replacement arrives today and I’m a little anxious. If he gets off the plane saying he’s sure the stewardess who banged his elbow with the beverage cart had the hots for him, I’m moving in with the family of one of my students.


by Justin Short

The writer, an American, teaches at a private institute in Bundang, Gyeonggi province.
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