Calling in Sick in Korea

I’ve been sick more times this month than any other, so I’ve been a bit of a slacker about posting lately. Not to mention, I’m having extreme media technical difficulties too. It’s been a rough month for me all around and my health has taken a hit.
I woke up from one of my afterschool naps a few days ago with a sore throat that has gotten progressively worse. I’ve been self medicating with my over-the-counter Mucinex and Tylenol. By now, I’ve probably overdosed on vitamin C and drank enough water to fill a small pool. I still woke up this morning feeling like shit, and I still went to work because calling in sick in Korea is a pain in the ass.

Let’s backtrack to earlier this month when I returned from Jeju after battling the worst case of food poisoning I had ever had in awhile. I came back home from my short vacation feeling like a bottomless pit and I still didn’t feel well enough to go to work that morning. So I texted my co-teacher and told her that I would not be making it into work that day.

This is how the conversation went:


Prior to this, I had called in sick once before. But I had never missed consecutive days off work, only single occurrences so I was slightly taken back when she texted me back with the screenshot of my work contract highlighting the terms of sick leave


Then she informs me that I will need a medical report for my absence, but she never told me where to go in case of illnesses after I had asked her repeatedly about it. Keep in mind that I live out in rural South Korea, where most people don’t speak English and I would have to wander about aimlessly looking for a healthcare facility that MIGHT take me. Not only that, but on this particular day…I wasn’t well enough to even move from my bed, let alone go search for a doctor who wouldn’t understand me.


So I simply told her the problem, and she offered no solutions, other than telling me that we need to stick to the policy. I was beyond agitated, but simply thanked her in the kindest way possible for doing nothing to help me. If you can’t already tell, I’m not too fond of my main Korean co-teacher but that’s another story. After my dead end conversation with her, I decided to reach out to my district coordinator about the situation and he informed me that I shouldn’t worry about it.


Here’s Article 15, the section that actually talks about “Sick Leave” in my EPIK work contract:

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 1.31.52 PM

I have not reached my 3 days of sick leave yet, so I’m still a bit confused about why my one individual day of leave was a problem.

However, we were warned months ago at the EPIK Orientation to avoid taking sick days off work unless absolutely necessary for two reasons:

  1. There is no one to fill-in for your classes should you miss a day at work. You are the only native English teacher at your school and missing a day of work makes it difficult for your co-teachers to facilitate classes without you.
  2. It is likely that your Korean co-teacher may be so concerned about you that they will show up unannounced to your doorstep either offering to take care of you or to personally take you to the hospital to get checked.

This is what they told us at orientation and I do take #1 seriously, because I hate to put my workload onto my co-teachers. But #2…. in my case is far from true. My recent occurrence with trying to call out has shown me that my co-teacher could really give less a shit about my well being and is more bothered by the administrative duties that come with reporting my absences. Since this happened, I’ve kept my distance and avoid bothering her unless I absolutely have to.
In Korea, it’s customary to visit the hospital for even a minor headache. Most people visit the hospital whenever they are feeling any kind of ill, and it doesn’t matter how minor it may be. I’m so used to riding it out until I feel like I’m about to die, before I even drag myself into the doctor’s office. Blame that on the American healthcare system, but it’s how I’ve always done it. I’d rather try to sleep off my symptoms than stress about finding the right doctor to cure me. Not to mention, being abroad and not speaking the language has only made the thought of going to see a doctor more daunting than ever before.

I’d rather come in feeling like crud than having to deal with the bullshit that comes with missing a day of work. It’s just not worth it. If there’s one thing I miss about working in America, it’s that I didn’t have to go into depth about explaining why I need a day off. But I’m not in Kansas anymore.

I hope you’re in better health than I am at the moment! As always, thanks for reading =)


2 thoughts on “Calling in Sick in Korea

  1. Omg you just described me. I’m the only teacher at my school period, no co teachers or anything, just me and the director and that’s it. My contract allows 8 vacation/sick days and says nothing about a doctor’s note. I came to work sick multiple times and only took 2 sick days during my whole contract. The one time I had a bad cold I came to work anyways, told the director I was sick, he could see I was sick, he verbally acknowledged I was sick, he could see me running back and forth grabbing snotrags (the school is about the size of a small clinic) and my students were asking me why I wasn’t at home resting. The next day I was feeling even worse, it progressed to a chest cough, and he insisted that unless I brought him a doctor’s note proving I was sick, I wasn’t excused. I pointed out the policy on sick leave in the contract, and he was just like, “Yeah well I’m just telling you the Korean way.” And I was in the same situation. I was too sick to traipse around town looking for the right doctor to help me. My Korean friend even called him and yelled at him. She was so mad. But he still insisted I needed a note. So I suggested he revise the contract for the next teacher that comes in 2 months because oh btw, I don’t plan on staying here another year.


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