Me and the Nicks and Carols of the World
(A Personal Essay)
I dreamt of becoming a lawyer but I know my parents wouldn’t be able to support me financially had I decided to take up Bachelor of Laws upon completion of my AB English in 1988. So, I decided to pursue what came second among my career choices back then – teaching. Much that I decided to give up my dream of becoming a lawyer and begin establishing a career in the academe instead, I figured I had to pursue a Master’s (then PhD) to bolster my academic portfolio. Eventually, I earned both degrees.
I needed to start working for my goals and dreams. It was time to stand on my own two feet. It was time to chart my own destiny. So, I decided to knock on the doors of the academia. I applied to 3 schools right after my graduation.
When my friends in the boarding house where I was staying learned that I applied to several schools, one of them told me frankly this:
“Who would hire you? You’re too short and skinny to be considered for a teaching position.”
His name is Nick and I would never forget him.
I stand just a shade over 5 feet and weighed probably around 45 kilos at that time.
Some (or is it most?) people (like Nick) tend to underestimate those who are shorter than they are. They think that their being taller makes them better and smarter than shorter people. These Goliaths have forgotten about the Davids of the world.
Well, I got used to being underestimated because of my height. People I know would sometimes even make fun of my being vertically-challenged. But there’s nothing other people would say (and do) that could shatter my self-confidence and destroy my dignity as a person.
I very well know my value as a person. I did what I had to do to make sure that I would become valuable and that my worth would go way beyond my small frame. Wherever I go, I make it incumbent upon me, a personal goal, to make people see and feel that “I am a dime thrown in with a whole bunch of nickels.”
One thing for sure, if you “throw me to the wolves, I’ll return leading the pack.”
In any organization and in society in general, there are two kinds of people – the dispensable ones and the linchpins. I know where I belong.
So, despite the discouragement, I heard that day, I pursued my applications vigorously. I had no good clothes at that time. I just borrowed a friend’s polo which I wore when I attended those three interviews and three teaching demonstrations I had in those schools where I sought employment.
Of course, I was hired… and here’s what happened.
A week into SY 1988, I joined a conversation among my friends in the boarding house. Present then was Nick, the one who gave me the discouraging remarks. I told them the dilemma I was facing. Making sure that Nick would hear what I was about to say I said, “I was hired by the high school department of the University of Batangas (formerly Western Philippine Colleges). The problem is this morning I was informed that St. Theresa’s Academy is waiting for me and they’re offering a higher salary.”
“What shall I do friends?”
Of course, I knew what to do then. I just took that opportunity to prove to Nick a point. I wanted him to know that there were two well-educated school principals who measured my value as person using a yardstick different from his and saw that I am qualified to be a teacher – that I am valuable despite my small frame.
Nick was not the only one who tried to shake the foundations of my confidence.
In the summer of 1990, I worked part-time selling encyclopedias (Lexicon Encyclopedia). During one sales training session, I introduced myself and said that I am a teacher. The lady seated beside me (her name is Carol) commented:
“Really? You’re a teacher?”
What could have prompted her to ask me that was probably same as Nick’s – my being short and skinny. I didn’t gain much weight after 2 years and she probably found it too hard to believe that given my small frame and simple clothes a school would hire me as a teacher.
I wanted to tell her that actually, I had to turn down an offer from another school. But would it matter had I told her that? No! So, I chose to keep quiet for I did not like to have an argument with a lady.
I am just so amused that people are taking it against me that my genes did not allow me to grow past 156 cm.
But I just took what she said in stride. At least I was right of my impression of her as being a prima donna.
My paddling through waves of discouragement and doubts did not end with Carol.
When my friends learned that I was applying as ESL teacher in South Korea, Japan, and China, they chorused:
“It’s a long shot.”
They had a point in saying so. All of the advertisements I checked during those times indicated that universities in the said countries hire only native English speakers.
A Nick-Carol type of individual told me this:
“You’d passed through the proverbial eye of the needle before you could even get an interview for an ESL teaching position. Your accent is neither American nor British.”
Is that so? I can’t believe that only those with American or British accents (or any native English accents) have the right to be an English teacher. I can’t believe that universities have not embraced yet the emergence of world Englishes. They need to realize that language education is more than mimicking somebody else’s accent. For me, depriving non-native English speakers of a chance to teach English on account of accent, even when they have all the necessary qualifications, is a form of discrimination.
Nevertheless, I was more than willing to squeeze through a hole smaller than the eye of a needle in the pursuit of my dreams.
Then that small (or shall I say microscopic) opening presented itself when one day while checking job openings at a website (www.workabroad.ph) I came across one at a university in South Korea (Gyeoungju University). It said “Urgently needed are English teachers.” It did not say that only native speakers may apply. In short, the university does not believe that only those from native-speaking countries have the right to teach English.
I immediately sent my application. A week later I got a response advising me to prepare for an interview right there in the Philippines. It was held at the Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros, Manila.
The rest was history. I got hired and in March 02, 2013 flew here to South Korea to work as an ESL teacher. In 2014, I transferred to Hanseo University, another university who thinks that geographical roots should not be a factor when hiring English teachers. I am still connected with the said university and currently, I am teaching English and advising PhD students writing their dissertations. There were times in the past that I was asked to teach foreign MBA and PhD students.
2021 marks my 9th year here in South Korea.
I should be thankful to the Nicks and Carols I encountered in life and in my journey as a teacher. They strengthened my philosophy of not allowing other people to define who I am. They made me more resolute in establishing my own standards in measuring happiness and success. Because of them, I became deaf to the prejudices and biases of condescending people and racists.
I believe that in the pursuit of my goals and dreams, the opinion of other people doesn’t count. Yes, I listen to them but I have my filters. I only take wise counsels. At the end of the day, after praying hard, I still do things my way.
Like a mountain goat, I am sure-footed.
My confidence emanates from my faith – in myself and in the Lord my God.