Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Why did I turn down one heck of a job offer from a prestigious university in Seoul?

I was too good for them. 

Well, maybe that is being just a wee bit smug on my part, but when I interviewed for the position last December, the interviewers really ticked me off. This is sort of how the interview went. 

What does Eureka mean? 

No doubt asked because I had gone to Eureka College. 

Do you speak GreeK?

Okay, maybe the interviewers were just trying to make me relax.

Please discuss the Great Vowel Shift. 

Wait a minute, am I applying for a language instructor position or am I taking an oral exam for a PhD in English?

Can you give an example of the Great Vowel Shift? 

Obviously this interviewer was seeing how far he could push me before I broke. Even though I gave him what I thought was pretty good answer about how language is always evolving, he wanted a specific, textbook answer.

What would you do if your best friend or colleague was using and pushing drugs? Would you turn him or her into the police? 

What’s this got to do with teaching? The only reason I was probably asked this question was because of the English teachers who got caught with drugs here. On the other hand, it just seemed more like a knee-jerk reaction to what the media had been reporting.

Again, I gave what I thought was a decent answer talking about the integrity of the school and breaking the law.

I was lucky. After the interview I was having lunch in a small café near the school and I overhead another interviewee tell one of his friends, what he would if one of his female students wanted to go to bed with him.

Obviously, the media here might have swayed these interviewers that many English teachers are drug smoking, pill popping sex fiends.

Please tell us about your family. 

I guess they wanted to know why I am not married at 49. I told them about my wife passing away in 2001 but I kind of got the impression that it was another one of those “stable character” questions.

What would you do if your students wanted to go drinking? 

Oh, this interviewer was really clever to slip this one in. This could be a trick question though. After all, there is so much emphasis on the “drinking culture” here and bonding with colleagues and drinking one’s self into a stupor. I played it safe and talked about how it would be okay to have some alcoholic beverages if we were having dinner.

Why did you quit Yonsei? Why didn’t you look for a better job before? Why are you teaching in the country? 

I sort of anticipated these questions and had a pretty good answer for them. However, the interviewer didn’t seem satisfied with my answers and never even looked at me when he asked them.

Please give an example of the present perfect. 

Wow, my first real teaching/methodology question. I gave a sterling textbook example for them and even volunteered more about the use of the present perfect progressive—not to show off mind you, but to let them know that I know the difference.

At this point one of the interviewers (there were three) got up and walked out of the room. Didn’t even bother to excuse himself or thank me.

And that’s pretty much how my interview went and how much I still remember now.

What frustrated me the most was how they never even bothered to ask me about my writing experience as well as my teaching experience. It was more about my character and if I would be a good teacher. Gee, even after having taught in Korea for more than 16 years, I still had to be grilled like this. And I suppose that is what pissed me off the most and how no matter how long works here and contributes to Korean society, we are just English Teachers and not valued too highly. 

Maybe I took it all a little too personal. Maybe I should have just swallowed my pride, accepted the job and carried on with my life in Korea. 

But I couldn’t.    

1 Comment

  1. Interesting interview questions. I have a graduate degree, but those questions about present perfect would’ve left me stumped. Is that bad? Depends. I knew a college English professor I deeply respected and enjoyed and one day I asked him a question like the present perfect one and he honestly could not remember and honestly admitted that he couldn’t.

    Despite his rusty knowledge base, I still think he’s an excellent instructor. Asking questions like that is indicative of an administration that thinks what you know is more important than how well you can teach it. Not only would I not teach for people like that, but I would never attend a school like that as a student. Afterward the interview, though, I still might read up on present perfect. 🙂

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