First week teaching in Korea- a reflection

There are so many things to tell you about our new city, I thought it would make sense to start thematically.  This entry school, another for home, shopping, pets etc.

It is 7:45 Friday night as I write this, 5:45 a.m. in MN

Overall, we are very happy here. Teaching here is very similar to teaching at home, yet a little different.

On Monday our co-teachers were given a 2 hour orientation on what they need to do to help us.  We were then loaded into Ji Yeon’s, Mike’s co-teacher, car.   She drove my co-teacher, Mike, Remi, Ching, Clark, and me 1 hour to Mike’s school.  Mike then toured his school and gave presents to school administration.  Next, we went to my school and I did the same. We were introduced to the principal, vice principal, and administrators.  There was a lot of bowing involved.    Then we went home, dropped off the animals, inspected the apt, and made a shopping list.  From there we went to the immigration office and applied for our alien residency  cards.  Then off to the mega-mart, Home Plus, for our starter needs. 

While we were shopping Benji, my co-teacher, leaned over and said “Akasha, we need to hurry.  Teacher’s dinner is at 6 p.m.”  We ran home, left Mike and Ji Yeon with the unpacking and went to dinner.  Dinner was amazing.  We had Korean bbq’ed pork, blue crabs, and a million amazing things.  They ordered cheap beer for me!  I poured shots for my superiors, was fawned over, and fed amazing food, all while Mike had tofu soup and unpacked.  It was a little intimidating, but fabulous.

Tuesday morning Mike and I went to school.  We are specialists in our building and since Monday classes were cancelled so that we could be transferred, we had to make up for Monday.  We taught 6/6 classes.  We teach 22 classes (40 minutes each) a week.  While there is a schedule, it changes constantly.  This drives other foreign teachers  crazy, but reminds me of home.  🙂

I have the coolest, most  enormous and hi-tech classroom I’ve ever seen.  VMS people, please show this to Dave so he knows what an ESL classroom should look like jk) My class has 5 tables for 30 children.  I have a huge touch screen tv, a bluescreen stage for student presentions, and a mini-English lab with a model stations for play acting.

I walk 15 minutes to work every day.  Since non- Korean people are super rare here, everybody says hello to me.  Some over react when I respond in Korean.  I get to school at 8:30, take off my shoes and put on my slippers.  Then I go to the teacher’s office with my department and bow to everyone, then I walk to the administrator’s office and bow to the three admins.  Next we open our office and get ready.  I teach a different schedule every day.  I teach 5th and 6th grades.  I see each class twice a week.  My co-teacher and I teach 50/50 (this is rare.)  I also teach Kindergarteners the alphabet and greetings once a week.  They are super-duper cute.

At lunch time we all go to the caf, get lunch, and sit at the teachers table.  Lunch is super good and I can never finish it all.  We are served on metal trays with chop-sticks and bowls.  After eating we clean up, drink a cup of tea in  one shot, clean our faces in the mirror, and return to the office.  We then all go to the bathroom to brush teeth.  ( I like this tradition)

In addition to regular teaching I am coaching the English speech competition for half an hour after lunch and 20 minutes after school.  The competitors are the top five EFLs in the 5th grade.   I also give a 10 minute broadcast every Thursday where I make chit-chat and give a riddle each to the primary and intermediate students.  This is super fun and I love the students I broadcast with.

top row left to right: media board, cameraman, media board, bottom row: controls, me, co-host.

My schedule will be shifting all week as my  students are pre-paring for their athletic competitions.  They have been doing drills all week.  The competition is on a Saturday and I think I will go cheer.

I forgot to mention how much they love sports.  When I arrived at the dinner I was told that a recent CNN report said that “All Americans are fat, but you look physically fit.”  The principal plays ping-pong every day in the ping- pong room next to my room.  The important people in school play volley ball from 5-7 every school day.  Wednesday we had a city-wide elementary school volleyball tournament.  The championship is next month in preparation for teacher’s day.     A friend is being forced to do calisthenics with his principal for 40 minutes a day.

My facilities are very different from any school I’ve known before. My building houses admin, grades 1-6, English, and broadcasting.  There is a seperate kinder building, and a seperate cafeteria/ gym building.  The gym is on the second floor and doubles as the auditorium.  My school has an outdoor Koi pond and a model of the local eco-system that also shows the layers of the earth’s surface and the formation of volcanos.  a little too zen for k-6

Enough about me.  Mike’s school is very different, so I’ll let him tell about his school:

Hello. I’m teaching at Seohae Elementary school, just a few blocks from our apartment. My walk is only about five minutes from my building, barely enough time to break a sweat. Seohae isn’t as fancy-pants techno-geek as Akasha’s school, but we work just as hard to get the students learning English.

Unlike Akasha, I’m not working side-by side with any teacher to deliver lessons. I haven’t actually taught any lesson yet – my assignment his week was to deliver a 15 minute talk on my life in Minnesota, then answer questions from the kids. I taught the kids the proper pronunciation of our State’s name (long OOO, please!) and also told them all about my dog Remi. Many of the students live in our neighborhood, and we’ve been stopped several times by my students, who tell me they heard about Remi in school, and are happy to see him in person. (Well, that’s what I imaging them saying – their English isn’t that good yet.)

Typical questions from 4th, 5th, and 6th grade Korean students are (in order of popularity): How old are you?, Do you like Korean food? Do you have son? (sic) Do you speak Korean? and What’s your favorite color? Contrary to what I’ve been told to expect, no one has yet asked my my blood type (it’s a common indicator of personality types.)

I’m going to be teaching 4th, 5th and 6th grades, for a total of about 19 hours week; a workshop for teacher in the school and a ‘special class’ on Monday evenings will fill out my teaching time. I teach 4th grade with my co-teacher, Ji-yeon, in the English lab, which is also my office. I teach 6th grade with the other English teacher, Mrs. Ok, in the homerooms of each class. For fifth grade, I head out to the teacher’s various home rooms all by myself, and teach all by myself like a real teacher.

Unlike Akasha, I’m not expected to bow to the principal every morning, though if I see them, or pretty much any other adult in the halls, I am quick to bow. Bowing, I’ve discovered, is habit forming in this country.

The kids are well-behaved, and very curious. I’m often stopped in the halls with calls of “How are You?” and other basic English expressions, and several classes have asked me if I’m related to English soccer star Wayne Rooney.

So my days, after giving my introductions, have been filled with lesson planning and trying to fit into a school where I don’t know the language. Everyone has been very helpful so far, and we’re gradually settling in.

Well that’s about it for now – thanks for sticking with us to the end of this long, rambling post. We’re thinking about all of you, miss you, and hope you’ll comment, email, Facebook, or Skype us often to keep us in the loop on the happenings of Minnesota, USA, and the rest of the world outside the Korean peninsula.

Me again (Akasha) we wake up listening to the evening braodcast of 91.1 MPR and chill out at night while listening to the morning commute music on 89.3 the current.  It is funny, except for the Trump politics stuff.

A few days in review

We have had a crazy first few days here. Here’s a brief review of the blur that was our arrival:

Day 1:
Travel day 1: We flew from Minneapolis to Chicago to Incheon to Gwangju.  The airport staff were very kind and patient in helping us with the animals.  The Korean Air staff at Chicago O’Hare was so very helpful, and quite enamored with Remi, Ching and Clark, who are nothing if not charming.  The animals traveled well.  We gave the cats Valium on the Chicago flight.  It didn’t work as well as we had hoped so we didn’t give them a second dose.  Clark resisted it so much that it frothed in his mouth, he was angry and terrified.  Ching on the other hand loved the Valium, she was rubbing against everything and chirping non-stop.  The Korean Air bathrooms are HUGE, they even have baby changing tables in them, and we used them as a cat exercise area every so often.  Otherwise, they stayed under the seats in front of us, or we snuck them onto our laps for some cuddling.

Clark in is usual mood.

We were able to walk Remi between each flight.  He did well, though when we landed we could hear him barking from his cargo class seating, under the plane. He only really barked during take off and landing.  Before the flight I told him to try to yawn to keep his ears from popping, but he never listens.

The food, seating, and customer service on Korean Air was WONDERFUL.  We had two delicious meals with glass wine glasses and metal silverware.  The flight attendants wore beautiful outfits with pretty fastenors in their hair and neck kerchiefs.  They clean the bathrooms between each use.  The bathrooms, in addition to being big for a plane, were stocked with everything: aftershave, drinkable water, lotion, nice tissues… Each seat came with a soft fluffy pillow, big warm blanket, tooth brush, tooth paste, and slippers. With all the amenities, there wasn’t much room for us, but we made do.

We traveled for a day and a half and were exhausted when we arrived.  We traveled west, the entire trip was daylight.  Straaaange.

Day 2:  We woke up, ate breakfast, and took the animals to the boarders.  Our hotel is very western, with full baths and patios on every room. The breakfast is a a buffet that has western food including bacon, eggs, toast, fruit, and yogurt and Korean foods like soup, rice, and kimchi.

Marker on the mountain path.

We are in training in the city of Gwangju for 10 days and we are happy that the animals are at the boarders. But the first night, we had to keep them in our room, which was stressful for everyone involved. As one of our Canadian handlers said, the hotel “wasn’t too keen on” having the animals stay in our room. In the end, we promised them we’d keep the pets in their cages, which we mostly did, though after two days in transit they were nervous and shedding all over. Clark sprayed his kennel, and the next day, sprayed Remi’s. Needless to say, there isn’t a litter box in our hotel room.

Our hosts provided us with the name of a boarder, and helped us greatly with booking a taxt across town, and then translating our pet needs to her.   It is run by a kind couple.  They sell very small dogs, groom, and board dogs.  They provided Ching and Clark a kitty castle with a monkey shaped pillow and litter box.  Remi stays in his kennel.  They walk him in the morning, we walk him after class.  He seems to like the couple a lot.  Every time we show up he is happy, not shaking or nervous.  The place is very very clean.  Today when we came in from the rain she gave us a towel to clean Remi off with and turned on a space heater to warm/ dry him before he returned to his kennel.

Downtown Gwangju

Later on day 2, we returned to the hotel for lunch, an opening ceremony, and a brief intro to Korea.  We all met up and went on a walking tour of the city center.  Then we went to WA Bar, in downtown Gwangju, for foreign beer.  Mike had 2 Guinness, I had 2 Weiss Braus, and we won’t be doing that again.  The Guinnesses were 18 dollars, the Weiss were $26.  Lots of cash for not a lot of beer. We learned on day 3 that Korean beer is $1-2 a glass, and tastes like PBR.  PBR is fine with me.

Day 3
We had a class on Korean customs and expectations, lunch, and another class on the basics of the Korean language.  They were okay, basically just repeats of what we had already read.  After class we piled into taxis to go to the baseball stadium to see the Gwangju Kia Tigers destroy the Hanwan Eagles 8-1.

Cheap beer and Kim Bap at the ballpark! Just like Home!

Baseball here is much more affordable than the Twins.  Tickets were $8 for general admission, and beer cost $2. We got a tray fo Kim Bap (rice rolls) for 2 $2, and a bag of Oreo knockoffs for $1.  There are vendors in front frying chicken to order as well as grilling squid.  We made friends with a Korean guy who helped translate the player names and the crowd  cheers. The game was well played, and the crowd cheered for each player, there are cheerleaders, and an event in the middle of the 6th inning.  The “event” was a race of guys in car suits, similar to the fan competitions at Gopher Hockey games.  Super cute.

Day 4
Today we went to the hospital to have a health evaluation, including blood and urine tests so that we can qualify for our Alien Resident Cards.  The hospital was quick, well organized, and painless.  No complaints.  After lunch we had a class on lesson planning.  eh, it was okay.  Mike and I took a nap between class and dinner, then we brought our clothes down to a laundry woman for washing.  Finally we went to the kennel to walk the dog and pet the kittens.  Everyone seems happy, clean, and well fed.  There is a river by the kennel so Remi has had some fun walks with new things to smell.

Things are going well in general.   The hotel is very nice, it is in a national park, in the mountains, in the city.  Mike and I often wake up and walk around the mountain before breakfast.

View from the Mountain

The trees and flowers are blooming everywhere and the weather is beautiful.  The Southerners and South Africans think that it is cold, but the Northerners and Canadians are all very happy.  There are 50 of us. We are from the UK, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, and Australia.  Our fellow teachers are very diverse, there are some fresh out of college, 5 teachers in our age group, and many in between.  The teachers are white, Black, and Asian (I had heard that they only hire whites, mainly Aryans, but this is not true.)  Our fellow teachers are very friendly, and many of them are in their third or fouth year of teaching, so people like it here a lot, and we think we will as well.

Well, that’s probably enough for now – more to come soon.

Placements and Packing and Pets! News News News!

In the past week, we’ve been very, very busy. We took the train out to Chicago to pick up our work visas and relax before the final push to Korea; since our return we’ve been busy packing. And by packing, we mean we’ve been going through everything in the house and deciding whether to take it to Korea, put it in storage, donate it to ARC, put it on Craigslist, talk a friend into holding onto it for two or three years, leave it on the curb, or put it in the trash. We also had a great time at the party, thanks to all who made it.  It was a blur, but we were so happy to get in one last hurrah and hug everyone.  We were feeling so emotional it was challenging at times to keep it together.  It is a gift to have so many wonderful friends and family.

Currently, the cars are 1/2 sold, the bedroom is 2/3rds packed, the basement is 3/4 empty, the offices are 4/5ths done, the kitchen is 5/6ths gutted, and the living room is 100% filled with things we still need to deal with. (and then there is the garage)

Korea News:
We’ve received our tickets: We leave at 7:35 on April 14, and after 3 flights and 7 hours of layovers, we end up in Gwangju on April 15 , at 9:35 pm. That’s 30 hours of travel time plus 15 hours of time zone changes for a whopping 45 hours of adjustment. We’ve been working with Korean Air on the details of getting 1 dog and two cats over safely – it’s not going to be easy (or cheap), but it will definitely be worth it. (Akasha here- if we sent them with a pet travel service it would be $5,000 for one or for all, so it is far cheaper than that!)

We just learned what schools we will be teaching at, where they are, and where are apartment is. Akasha will be at Dong Elementary and Mike will be at Seohae elemenatry. Both of us will be teaching grades 3-6. Mike had been hoping for older students, but accepts elementary age kids in the spirit of adventure that began this voyage. Both schools are quite close to the apartment: Dong is a 15 minute walk and Seohae is a 5 minute walk, so we don’t need a car, and barely need a scooter. (Mike wants a scooter anyway.) Both teachers say their schools are nice and their co-teachers very helpful, though in Korean schools things can change very quickly. The teacher Akasha is replacing has been through several co-teachers, and his responsibilities have changed several times since he’s been there. Later I’ll write about the differences in principal rights and powers.  It is truly interesting.

We are replacing anther couple who live in our apartment and teach at our schools. The couple who is leaving was kind enough to send us a video that the couple before them made. You can see where the kitties, the dog, Mike, and I will be living. It’s a good thing we love each other very, very much, but we have seen even smaller Korean apartments. It looks to be about the size of Akasha’s old place. We are excited to see the western style bathroom.They informed us that we don’t have a dryer and that line drying takes a long time in the winter and the summer. There’s no oven but there is a toaster oven. We will look at finding an air mattress for visitors.   It has a great view. All of the apartments we have seen are in the same complex, we can even pinpoint them on the map, and most have a view of another building. From this unit you see other buildings, hills, and coast. I love the patio.

Our address will be:

Yeonsan-dong                  (suburb)
Yeonsan Jugong          (Apartment complex)
Apa 402-903               (building  and apartment number)
530-752                             (area code)
Mokpo-si                           (city)
Jeollanamdo                      (state)
South Korea