Apr 23, 2009

Chapter Seven: Seoul Kitchen

This blog entry is sponsored by The Doors.

Well, the clock says its time to close now
I guess I'd better go now
I'd really like to stay here all night
The cars crawl past all stuffed with eyes
Street lights share their hollow glow

My blog posts, never frequent, have slowed down a bit. I think it's because my life here has gotten somewhat settled down. 5 days of teaching; 2 days of exploration or visiting Hongdae. Some of the initial "wow" factor has worn off and I am getting used to the routine. But it's not boring by any means. I am really enjoying living in Seoul; it is a dynamic city with just about anything possible to do at any hour.

But I recently got of out Seoul and it was a welcome change. Korea is a beautiful city with rolling green hills and verdant forests. I went with a company called Adventure Korea and overall enjoyed it. Normally I am not one for tour groups, but in a country where I don't speak the language it changes things a little bit. Though there were over 40 people on the bus, most of them were pretty cool. I think every one of us was an English teacher and we enjoyed exchanging war stories with one another.

One of my more questionable decisions was accepting a bet for 3,000 won (less than 3 USD) to eat a bunch of garlic. If that seems a trifling sum, don't worry, I never got any money at all. It was all recorded here for posterity. Note that I tried to play it off like it was no big deal, but I might not have been that convincing. (The garlic taste lasted for ever too. The strawberries I picked the next day tasted strongly of it).

The best part of the trip was the late-night encounter with the Korean busissmen. I don't have the words to describe what this was like, but it involved Beatles songs, Waltzing Matilda, soju, plum wine, sand soccer, and a whole lot of broken Konglish. Amazing. This picture in no ways sums it up but it's the best that I've got.

I don't know if I'll do another tour with them. The entire tour cost almost 100,000 won (roughly 100 USD) which was probably 2-3 times what it would have cost to do it by oneself. But it is a good way to meet people, and it's nice not to have to navigate by yourself blindly. But enough talking and on with some pictures.

The village at Gayasan.

I really like this, but it was 17,000 won.

A view of Haeinsa temple.

I still haven't gotten tired of the funny translations here.

A cool boat at the Daegaya Kingdom festival. We even got to see a pirates vs. soldiers acquatic battle.

One of many cool and refreshing fountains.

A couple of other things to mention.

My English language skills are really detoriating. Last weekend, talking amongst my friends, I spoke like the sheep in animal farm : "Two good, three bad." It's alarming that I haven't been here that long and my brain has ceased to function this much already.

Another thing about Seoul that I find odd is the smell of the subway. I've never lived in New York or London, cities famous for their subways, but they are usually considered somewhat vile, unclean, and rank . Seoul itself is a putrid smelling city, but the subways are clean! And due to the food carts that cook waffles and other cinnamon treats, they are the best smelling part of the city too. Weird. Or, as one of my friends says when things in Korea are strange, "Shuflne."

Apr 12, 2009

Interlude: Birthday

I now present the video that was banned on facebook. (Due to some sort of licensing issues--which I don't really understand. It's not like I'm making money from using this song.) But I digress.

Warning: This montage contains some not so flattering pictures of all of us. Drinking from 9 pm to 6 am is not, as you might otherwise have believed, an entirely good idea. I, for one, get a hangover just trying to remember that night.

For the record, I had an amazing birthday. It was a day filled with so much fun and good will. But for whatever reason, the vast majority of these pictures are from the 2 hour marathon noraebong session late that night.

For those who weren't able to be there, or for those who were there but have fuzzy memories, I present the birthday montage.

Apr 5, 2009

Chapter 6: Mr. Seoul

This week's title is brought to you by Buffalo Springfield, of "For What It's Worth" and "Bluebird" fame.

This video should provide a little insight into what it's like to teach at our school. It was slightly worse because they saw my camera, but you cannot keep these kids in their chairs. They are wild. In a given week, you will be punched, kicked, bitten, pinched, drooled on, spat on, sneezed on, have your "junk" grabbed, and a korean specialty of two hands put together and shoved up your butt.

And the kids are the good part of the job!

It's really hard to have perspective on what's normal, not having seen any other schools, but from talking to other teachers this is pretty much how it goes. Despite their abundance of energy, most of the kids do make an effort to learn, and they really do soak up English at an amazing rate. And once you get used to being a combination punching bag/jungle gym for them, it's not so bad.

Far more challenging is dealing with what the director wants, and the system of the hagwon. Most frustrating is the expectation to always know what to do, even if it's come up before. In most jobs, intuition and common sense can serve as a good substitute for training, but those won't get you very far in Korea. You have to leave those at the door and just do as told.

My classload looks like this: On MWF, I teach 9 classes. On TTH I teach 8. I have a total of 22 books I use, and a total of 40 minutes a day to plan for these classes. Unfortunately, we cannot even use this time soley for planning as we have weekly and monthly reports that take up a lot of time. I don't mind reports, but these are us just typing the same thing in the book over and over again. If it were streamlined, we could just click a button and be done. But ... it's Korea.

So there isn't much time for planning. A lot of planning is necessary since the way the lessons break down the official curriculum can last less than three minutes. See below:

My actual curriculum for a 40 minute class. It doesn't last long. We play a lot of Hangman. And now Tic Tac Toe as well.

Another thing I wish I had known is that when your contract is for 12o hours a month (30 hours a week, sweet!) that means actual teaching hours. We have to be at school for 45 hours a week, minimum, and we have to mandatorily spend our lunches and breaks with the kids, but only at half pay since we're not "teaching." I think that's the Korean way, and it's not the end of the world, but it is drastically different than my expectations and maybe even how the recruiter presented it to me.

An even more significant challenge is teaching the different age groups. One group of kids, I can spend 40 minutes trying to teach them the phonics of the letter B and how to write it in upper and lower case. And it might take 2 or 3 classes before they start to mutter along with me.

My oldest group of kids, on the other hand, I get to explain things like reflexive pronouns and subject verb agreement. The thing is, they don't know terms like "verb" or "article" so how I am supposed to do that is currently beyond me.

As always, any comments, suggestions, or queries are welcome.