September 25, 2008

Lunch today

I just wanted to share this with you...

I just had lunch at school (the school just takes some money out of our paycheck every month). I usually eat with some combination of Ms. Park, Ms. Han, and Teacher Quak as well as other teachers who don't speak English as well and it is always interesting.

Anyway, I love the people I work with. I love Koreans. I have not met a single Korean I have a hard time getting along with. They're pretty easy-going people, especially since it is the height of bad manners to show bad feelings (for example when you spill water on a principal: see Sunday entry. He just smiled and waved it off when it happened). And they're very in tune with other people's emotions. I find it kind of amazing actually. They can always tell when I am feeling frustrated or angry or disappointed. When I worked at the English department at the UW, I would say something like, "If I seem out of it, I'm just having a bad day. Don't worry or take it personally or anything." And my coworkers would be like, "Oh, I didn't even notice." Whereas seriously the second I'm not feeling jubilant the Koreans are asking me if I'm okay. It's unbelievable.

Another example: On the way to the cafeteria I met up with Ms. Han and she asked me how my day was going today. I had just really enjoyed chatting with the class that's been giving me the most problems, so I responded with enthusiasm that my day was going well. Ms. Han was like, "Your teaching is getting better." I was like, "How could you know that?! Is that what people are saying?" She was like, "Your face. Your face is brighter." Amazing. In the last couple of days, I had really started to become comfortable with the fact that this is how my classes are going to go and I am doing everything I can. This is just how it is- and I am a better teacher for accepting that, I think. And Ms. Han picked up on it. All the Koreans pick up on stuff like this. I understand now why Asian traditions talk about different kinds of energies and why many of them repress emotions. Here, emotions aren't as intangible or as vague of concepts as they are in the West.

So at lunch it was me and Teacher Quak and Ms. Han and Mr. Park, a very nice man who sits across from me in the teacher's office. I finally asked Teacher Quak why Koreans generally don't drink anything when they eat and he had no problem answering that some do and that's normal and that there's no real reason why they don't. Then he asked if I had any other questions and all three of them were eager to answer. And they joke with me and stuff. I can't begin to express my gratitude for the effort they have taken to include me. They're just so nice and pleasant.

I miss the United States, but I will miss it here when I leave.

September 22, 2008

Korean Cafes and Downtown Yeoju

I had my first experience with Korean cafes on the way home from the Temple Stay. I parenthetically mentioned this in the Temple Stay entry, but what happened was one of the co-teachers doing the Yeoju English Stars camp with us offered to drive us home after we all ate and drank after the camp. It had been a really long day and we were exhausted, but this teacher (his English name is Dan) really wanted his brother to meet us so he asked if we would talk to him for "just an hour". We agreed to because we knew Dan was aware of how tired we were - we figured it was really important to him. Plus, refusing an invitation in Korea is pretty rude.

So we went, and we were really glad we did. The cafe was a really nice one: it was a two-story building that was really cozy inside with comfy chairs and wooden booths. We had picked up his brother on the way (his brother is also an English teacher), so the 4 of us took a booth and a waitress came over and brought us menus, water, and an an ash tray with a wet napkin spread inside it. We decided on beer (except for Dan, who was driving - he had a coffee) and sat and talked for an hour or so. John and I were pleased because we felt like we had gotten pretty good as speaking so Koreans could understand us and also at handling the awkwardness of these first conversations. It's pretty awkward when the topic of our relationship comes up - people are always wanting to know exactly what we are to each other and if we live together and stuff. (It's actually kind of tough to get across that we live in the same building but in different apartments, and that we did not ask for this. Someone felt like being exceptionally kind when we were assigned our schools.) Anyway, we learned a lot from the two of them and it was really entertaining to see two adult Korean brothers interact. They teased each other just like in the United States. Haha, it's amazing how everything here is the same as home, only different.

So then the next day, we figured we'd check out downtown Yeoju (we live in a village called Ohak that recently became part of Yeoju). We talked to Shannon online and met up with her at the bus terminal. The three of us grabbed some lunch at a chain called "Paris Baguette" which is the strange sort of bakery. Then we walked around downtown to see the sights. There are a bunch of clothing stores (like Fila and Arnold Palmer...actually, most of the clothing stores here have English names, regardless of whether or not they're Western companies) a supermarket, tons of little stationary stores where you can buy cute school supplies, bars, restaurants, cafes, PC bangs (bang = room; they're places where you pay by the hour to use a computer, generally for online gaming), and a pedestrian mall.

An example of a PC bang. They're everywhere, and they all have funny names like "Sudden Death". Haha!

Here's the pedestrian mall. John tried to take a video of this ridiculous little dog wandering around with a little grandma doggy sweater on it. It's the most common kind of dog around Korea....they look kind of like a cross between a pug and a spaniel and a weiner dog. Unbelievably ugly. John loved this one cause it was so old and senile and hilarious-looking in its sweater. Anyway, he didn't press record hard enough so the video was never taken.

So then we got tired of walking around, so I suggested finding a Korean cafe. This one wasn't nearly as classy, but it certainly worked for our purposes.

In that white dish in the first picture are these weird Korean Fritos. Decently tasty.

So theeenn....we made a trip to E-Mart for some school supplies (see post "Dad, this is me, on the runway for real" for a description of E-Mart). E-Mart is just down the road from the bus terminal in downtown Yeoju, so on the way back to the terminal where John and I catch taxis back to Ohak (about a 5,000 KRW or 5 USD ride) we stopped for some pizza! It is, after all, a "Delicious Concept For Family"....hahaaha the Konglish you see around is just ridiculous.
Here you can get bulgogi pizzas (see the "Dad, this is me, on the runway for real" post for an explanation), which are delicious.

Also in downtown Yeoju is a fast-food restaurant you can find anywhere in Korea: Lotteria. Lotteria is like a Korean McDonald's, only they don't really know how to do burgers here. John and I ordered a "Paprika Bacon Beef" burger and got a burger with all the things you see listed on the wrapper below except a burger instead of a chicken patty, plus bacon and a giant slice of a yellow bell pepper. The "fresh sauce" is really strange. It's dark and gooey.) But we thought the wrapper was really funny.


September 19, 2008

Check this out!

I just discovered that the images I post are click-able! Click on them to make them huge and view the details better. This really helps view the group photos and the painting details better. Check it out.

September 18, 2008


Just thought I'd share....

Yesterday, John was having a lesson on dancing where he gave everyone dancing vocabulary (like wiggle, point, spin) and had them come up with their own dance moves and then perform them in front of the class, and this one group of girls just refused to perform their dance move. So he made them get up to the front of the classroom and perform moves that he made up - which were, of course, infinitely more ridiculous than what they could have come up with! Needless to say, the whole class was laughing. Haha, I thought that was a pretty good punishment.

I liked one I came up with yesterday, too. These kids would not shut up for the life of me, so I moved their desks around. That didn't really work, so eventually I took one kid who was openly flouting my no-talking rule (right in front of me, where I had moved him), and moved his desk to just outside the door in the hallway, facing away from the classroom. Hahaha, the whole class was giggling. He looked so ridiculous, but I didn't even skip a beat. It worked! They got quiet pretty fast when they realized I wasn't kidding around (even though I was laughing on the inside!). Oh, I'll be chuckling about that for a while.

September 12, 2008

Temple Stay at Silleuk-sa!

Anyone with a remote interest in Buddhism may want to opt out of reading this post. It has the potential of making you wildly jealous.

Yeoju is home to a famous Buddhist temple called Silleuk-sa (pronounced shi-look-sah). It is the only Buddhist temple located on a river in Korea (most Buddhist temples are located up in mountains), which makes it both extremely accessible and extremely beautiful.

So in Yeoju there's this group called MSM, whose purpose I do not fully understand because I was told it was created to help the native-speakers (as we are called) adjust to life in Korea by introducing them to some Koreans and native-speakers who have been here for a little while already. Basically we go out to dinner and then drink together (Koreans actually drink more alcohol than Americans do, if you can believe it). But, everyone in MSM (mostly Korean co-teachers and incumbent native-speakers) is also involved in this program affiliated with the Gyeonggi-do Provincial Office of Education that does English camps with low-income kids in the area. In fact, this is how I met them. John kept talking about this Temple Stay his co-teacher had lined him up to participate in and I was all bummed because I was the only one in the area not signed up to do it. Plus, it's the one thing I really wanted to do in Korea. (My idea of a temple stay was that you spend the weekend with monks learning about what they do and maybe making kimchi). So John's co-teacher got me in on it, picked me up early from school last Tuesday, and took us to Silleuk-sa......where we arrived on the scene for a training session. Actually, I had no idea until I arrived that it was a training session.

So, unknowingly, I had signed myself up for an all-day Temple Stay for low-income kids on Saturday. Haha, which was fine. We were there on Tuesday for a crash course in meditating and participating in a Baru Gongyang, or Bowl Offering, which we were going to teach little kids how to do on Saturday. We were also going to tell them how to do yoga, but we didn't train for that.

And then I meditated with a Buddhist monk, in a Buddhist temple, in Korea. It was truly sublime. He sat there with us and explained everything, first - how to sit, why we sit that way, why we hold our hands this way, why we hold our tongue in our mouths a certain way, and what we are trying to do when we meditate. He explained that while we meditated we were to imagine letting in all of the energy in the universe. He said that humans are good at utilizing water energy and food energy, but not air energy. So he told us to focus on our breathing. With our mouths closed and our tongue on the roof of our mouth, we were to breathe in deeply and hold the air in our bodies and then exhale only 2/3 of what we breathed in. We were to breathe in, hold, and exhale for the same number of seconds each.

Then he hit his bamboo clapper three times, which signaled "begin", and we meditated. It was only for a few minutes - just enough to get an idea of what we'd be doing on Saturday - but it felt really good. It felt like I had just woken up in the morning. It's not like it was the first time I'd ever meditated, either. It's just that before I had no idea what I was doing. Having guidance from a monk and meditating in the tranquil setting of the temple made all the difference. Monks generally meditate for 2 hours at a time, but on Saturday we were going to be meditating with the kids for only 20 minutes. (Still a long time to ask little kids to sit still and be quiet, if you ask me).

The Baru Gongyang training took hours. We sat waiting in one of the temple buildings for a really long time - apparently some things came up that needed attending to immediately. When we finally got going, we were hungry, and we were learning the Buddhist monk eating ritual without the food (that's what a bowl offering is). You can't imagine how frustrating this was, especially when the monk would talk in Korean for minutes and minutes at a time and we got zero translation as a reward for our patience. But the meditation had put us in a particularly amiable state and most of us weren't too upset by it. Anyway, so we learned the ritual, step-by-step. When monks eat, they are given four bowls that fit inside each other complete with a lid, a placemat-napkin, a white napkin for cleaning, a pouch with wooden chopsticks and spoon, and a sash for tying it all together. I will not go through the entire ritual with you, but the important details are as follows:

- the ritual is very meaningful to the monks, who believe that all of reality consists of different forms of energy, and so the taking in of energy (water, food, and air) is of utmost importance.
- nearly every movement in the ritual has a rule for it (the way to untie the sash, the way to fold the sash, where to place the sash and white napkin, how to eat, which utensils/foods may be placed in which bowls...the list goes on, but really once you do it the only difficult part is re-tying the sash.)
- the ritual is to be completed in absolute silence (no talking, no making noises while placing the four bowls on the placemat-napkin or while using the eating utensils, etc.)
- you must not take more food than you can eat, because you must eat absolutely everything in your bowls, including the water and raw radish slice used to clean them afterwards.

After we learned the Baru Gongyang, we all went out to eat. It was fun! Mr. Kim is the man in charge, I think, and he's just this crazy middle-aged man who's unbelievably sweet, and has the energy and demeanor of an 8-year-old. Anyway, our go-to girl's name is BoYoung. She's a beautiful young English teacher who speaks better English than any Korean I've met so far. She's really cool, too. Both of them plus a few of our co-teachers were at the dinner with us. We went to another Korean restaurant where I had a chance to show off my chopsticks skillz. I'm starting to get really good at the whole eat-at-a-Korean-restaurant thing. I've probably had the experience around 5 times now. People like to go out to eat together, just like in the States. They just talk less while they're doing it. The first time I ate out with Ms. Park at that cafeteria on the way to my apartment, I asked her what sort of things are acceptable dinner conversation in Korea. That's when she told me that Koreans don't actually talk much while they're eating together.

So Saturday rolled around and the camp went just fine. True, the roles we had volunteered for were all switched around and we didn't know what we were doing until we were doing it (Pretty much as it was happening, I was handed a little pamphlet on the temple and then told to teach each group of children about a designated building, then quiz them and give them gifts), but we had a ton of fun. The kids were really cute and enthusiastic for the most part. We also bonded a ton with the other English teachers, in addition to partaking in the Temple Stay activities ourselves. It was my most productive Saturday in a while. Oh, and we got paid 100,000 won (about $100) for it!

Sejong Gate (see post "Sunday" to discover who Sejong is), the entrance to Silleuksa. The temple compound is a solid seven-minute walk from here.
Sejong Gate detail....this is what's underneath the gate! So beautiful. According to a plaque on the side of the gate, the painting is done in the traditional Korean style called geumdancheong.

There's a really sweet goldfish pond on the walk from the gate to the compound. I took a ton of pictures of them. They're huge! And bright.

Jackie, this is for you and me: a dragon detail on a smaller gate just outside the temple.

Annie, this is for us. That, my friend, is the badass-est turtle ever. Too bad I can't bring it home to you!

Josadong, the building chosen for me to teach little kids about. Inside portraits of the temple's three most important monks (Jigong, Muhak, and Naong) are enshrined. The juniper tree encircled by a fence in front of Josadong is over 500 years old. Apparently Muhak planted it in memory of Naong. Also, there is a 1000 year-old gingko in the area, and a 2000 year-old juniper on a Korean island in the East Sea. I will be making pilgrimages to these trees, rest assured.

Views of the temple proper (however poor they may be). The first picture is one of the temple's "treasures". This object was John's to present. It's a skillfully made pagoda called Dacheung Seoktap. It was constructed in 1472. The building on the left in the second picture and the one pictured in the third are the same building. The building on the right of the second picture was where I did 108 bows in a row on Saturday, which left me sore for days afterward. When you do the 108 bows (which I didn't learn about because I took the opportunity to visit the restroom), you give a full bow with your hands together in front of you, then get on your knees (with your hands still together), sit on your feet, and put your head and hands on the ground in front of you. Then you sit back up, put your hands together, and get back up (hands still together). 108 of those is exhausting, and takes just short of an hour to accomplish. It was a really good way to spend an hour, though. Not only is it an excellent workout for your thighs (which literally barely functioned for me afterward), but it is also really peaceful.

Try if you can to imagine the place at twilight, the temple building with the candles glowing red from the inside and forested mountains and the Han river as a backdrop, and without my friend Billy's head getting in the way of your view all the time. Throw in the fact that you just meditated with a Buddhist monk in a Korean temple and you have one of the most sublime experiences of your lifetime. I wish I could have captured it on camera for all of you, but I didn't take pictures on Tuesday. These are all from Saturday. I doubt it's possible, anyway.

The building of the bows.

Cool doors.

The gang! On the far left is Billy, a creative writing major, who is kind of hilarious. He has all these ridiculous ideas. Next is Mr. Kim, behind him my friend Alex, who's really cool (she and I and our friend Shannon went on a hike on Monday the 15th for Chuseok), then John, me, this guy Art who takes amazing photographs and has been here for a couple of years - super nice and helpful, in front of Art is Mark, then BoYoung holding the shirt up, then this really nice co-teacher who wears designer clothing all the time (she's wearing Guess jeans for the Temple Stay), next to her is a co-teacher named Dan (he kidnapped us later by feigning an offer to drive us home from dinner after and then asking us to meet his brother (another English teacher) for an hour at a Korean cafe). In front of Dan is Alex's co-teacher, and next to her the director of the Yeoju English Stars program who was hanging around near me while I was teaching about Josadong and took a liking to me. Despite the language barrier, he was able to communicate to me that he would be running a marathon the next day. An unbelievably sweet man. [Notice the cell phone in his hand, mid-group photo. Cell phones are exalted here, I think. And behind him is some woman. I actually have no idea who she is.

The unofficial official photo. In front are the two monks we worked with. The monk on the left is the headmaster of the temple. You know how in animated movies the turtle character is always old and wise? This monk looks exactly like that - an old, wise, inwardly happy man whose face resembles a turtle. The monk on the right has a great face, too. He taught us to meditate.

That's all for now!! I'm sorry I didn't get pictures of the kids.....but I will see them again. We do something like this every other weekend.


Now that I have a day off, I can get this blog current and answer a bunch of questions.

Okay, first of all, about my job: It was really bumming me out for a while. In fact that's half the reason I had John write the last post. I really didn't want to use my blog as a place to complain and I knew that if I did, it would worry some of you and also probably allow me to continue feeling sorry for myself, which I didn't want. Here's the deal: I teach 20 classes a week, which is more than anyone else at my school. Other teachers usually teach 13-16 classes a week, but they have paperwork to do for the state that keeps them incredibly busy. I think it's about normal for the native-speaking English teachers in Gyeonggi-do though.

Here's how the school system in Korea works. Elementary, middle, and high school each consist of 3 grades and the numbers restart at each level. So there are grades 1-3 in all 3 schools. It looks like this:
High School

The middle and high school grades are about equivalent to grades 7-12 in the U.S. Within each grade, the students are split up according to academic performance. The smartest of each grade are in Room 1 of their grade, the mediocre students in Room 2, and the poorest students in Room 3. So far it has been my experience that smaller schools may only split their students into 2 groups per grade.

So I teach M1-1 (the smartest 7th graders) twice a week, M2-1 and M2-2 (the smartest and the average students of the 8th grade) twice a week, M3-1 (the smartest 9th graders) twice a week, and the entire 11th grade, H2-1, H2-2, and H2-3, four times a week. There are 40 students in each class except for the one 7th grade class, which has 18 students.

My H2-3 class was absolute hell for a while there. The very first class I had with them, they wouldn't actually let me talk. The spoke in Korean to each other across the classroom while their normal teacher just rubbed the shoulders of the students in the back who were sleeping as a way of gently waking them up. It was so frustrating. I tried to talk a little bit about myself and then ask them questions, and then allow them to ask me questions, but I couldn't even get through the bit about myself. So I moved on to asking them questions, but that was nearly impossible, and then they wouldn't even ask me questions. I had only taught middleschoolers at this point (this was my first day) and they had been largely too shy to ask me many questions, but I had hoped the highschoolers would be a little more outgoing, not out right obnoxious. One of them actually told me I looked like Jesus (my hair was down, and being brown and wavy, they made the connection). Then they also told me I look like Angelina Jolie and Jessica Alba. Basically, I don't really trust Korean comparisons of Aryan people to other Aryans. Hahaha.

The next time I saw any of the 11th graders, I had an activity for them so that we might get to know each other (since I had failed so miserably on the first go around). This is how I learned that boys perform much better when given a task to complete. But my H2-3 class was still giving me trouble, and while all of the other classes had sort of gotten on board with me, this class fought everything, however minor. It continued like this for the next week and a half, with me trying something completely different each time I saw them. I mean they wouldn't even write down the answer if I gave it to them.

I finally reached my breaking point. I was doing the second half of a lesson on American pop stars, which was simply games having to do with some of the stars' songs, when my computer froze up. (The computer was providing the music.) The lesson wasn't going well, so I took the opportunity to ask Teacher Quak (their usual teacher) what he thought I should do about the problem. We talked for the next ten minutes while the class just chatted with each other, initially assuming we were trying to figure out the technical difficulties but more and more realizing that we were talking about them. Finally, I decided I would just do my best to make them feel foolish. Now, there is a TON of personality in this class so I knew it would be difficult, but I think it semi-worked. I just made them stand up and do what I did (John does this for fun with his girls but I knew my boys would hate it). And they did. I made them raise their arm, hop on one leg, turn in a circle, stuff like that.

Eventually I told them to raise both arms above their heads, and didn't let them put them down for a few minutes. All it did was tire out their arms, but eventually, the kid who called me Jesus and who is sort of the ring leader (not a bad kid, he just likes attention) said sorry. And I was like, "Good! Who else is sorry?" And most of them said sorry and I let them sit down. Then I announced that if they ever attempted to chat in Korean throughout an entire class instead of follow my directions, I would have them do the arm thing for the whole period. But I was cut off by some kids in the back who started talking to each other.

I was too shocked to care and class was about over anyway, so I just had Teacher Quak translate the point I was trying to make and left the class. (The students are in the same classroom all day. It's the teachers who change every period.) But the next time I saw them, they were quieter, and they finally participated in the activity. The Jesus kid even pointed out that they were quieter in the beginning of class, almost as if they had made a collective decision to be. So I thanked them and did a warm-up of hangman (the world was FAMILY) and then asked them to draw me their families and told them they could get candy if they volunteered to tell me about what they were drawing. It was the best class ever. I had a lot of fun with the group in the back that gives me the most trouble. They wanted the candy, so they raised their hands in a hurry, but I really made them work for it. They had to tell me all about each of their family members in complete sentences. Anyway, they ended up making up this elaborate story about how two of their fathers are in rival gangs, and their siblings each have a different position in the gang....hahaha we laughed a lot, especially when one of them started threatening to call his father if I didn't give him the candy. Now he says"Father call?" to me when he sees me in the hallways. They're actually very intelligent, just disinterested in school. That should ring a bell with plenty of teachers in the States!

So after class, I asked Teacher Quak if he said anything to them. He said no, he was just as surprised as I was that they cooperated. He thought that they probably realized they were being rude and decided they didn't want to be. He said at lunch that they seemed to have "opened the window to me". This was the last class before Chuseok (the reason why I had today and yesterday and next Monday and Tuesday off), so I'm hoping that this wasn't just a one-time thing.

In all, this is what makes my job difficult:
- I am teaching all boys.
- I am a young American boys have a hard time taking me seriously.
- The large class size makes both activities and maintaining control difficult tasks.
- Except for the H2-3 class, I am alone in the classroom.

I wouldn't have really started to feel bad for myself if I weren't aware that most of the other native speakers in Yeoju had it easier. They are not on their own in the classroom, they are not teaching all boys (as a woman, no less), and they have smaller class sizes. But now that I have made some progress, I am doing much better! It'll still be difficult, but at least I don't feel bad for myself anymore. I think that happened somewhere between the class where I punished them and the class where they were quiet. Now I just have to figure out how to get my 9th graders to participate.....

[The End]

September 7, 2008

Some pictures

This is the view from my apartment when I look down...

....This is the view from my apartment when I look to the right at sunset.....

.....and this is the view of my kitchen table in the morning! Take that, Dad!

The first school week

I'm going to have John write this one. Our experiences were very similar in some aspects and way different others - but he'll explain.

Hello all! We finished our first week successfully; we are both still very much alive! This first week has been fascinating for both of us. We arrived on Monday and had to introduce ourselves to our classes. This first week for me was supposed to mostly focus on having a little fun with the kids and getting to know them before we hit the ground running next week with English classes. Each day when we I arrive at school, I must say hello to my principal, the principal of both the middle school and the high school. The hierarchy of your work place is extremely important here in Korea and it can get confusing very quickly! Each day before I leave, I must say goodbye to both my principal and the vice principal of the middle school. Sarah has to say goodbye to only her vice principal and doesn't have to say hello to anyone when she arrives at school. As I said, the hierarchy system and the practices that go along with it seem to vary between places and can be quite confusing. When we gave our gifts, it was important to give the gifts in descending order of hierarchy. We first had to present the gift to the principal, then the vice principals, and finally to our coteachers.

We have both had fairly good experiences with some of the other teachers at our schools. Ms. Han, the Japanese teacher at Sarah's school, commented that Sarah is quite skilled with chopsticks! Sarah was really happy to hear that, because she was having a tough time with them when we first got here. She's a champ, probably better than I now. Ms. Han is really nice and invited Sarah over to her home for dinner sometime! Everyone here has gone out of their way to make us feel as comfortable as possible in our transition. I got to meet a number of the other male teachers at my school, because they play soccer every Wednesday after school. They don't play on grass here though. They play on a kind of gravel/dirt at the schools. Anyway, they were excited to hear that I play soccer, and they all wanted to see me play goalie on Wednesday. Well, in the warmup time before we started playing, I was playing goalie for a few shots. When I made a diving save, everyone started cheering and clapping! I guess it's not that common to dive on the dirt ground, because it's pretty harsh stuff. My leg got skinned a bit, and I was bleeding a little after the dive. I'm pretty used to it. Goalies are tough ;). When I walked over after we warmed up, they all saw me bleeding and freaked out. I tried to shake it off and have them ignore it, but they insisted on fetching the medkit from the school and applying iodine and antibacterial cream on my leg. They spent the rest of the night and the next morning talking about it. I had a great time playing soccer with them, and we all went out for dinner afterwards. It's like their "once a week guys' night out", and they all just have a good time and drink a bit of soju. Soju is the most common form of Korean alcohol. It's 44 proof, inexpensive, and tastes like vodka to me. It's very important for Koreans to be able to drink a lot. Living in Wisconsin was good prep work for me and Sarah. Haha.

On Thursday, I lamented, "I just wish I could order some pizza!" We were both hungry for something a little different, so Sarah called Ms. Park and asked her to please help us order some pizza. Ms. Park promptly came over to Sarah's house, ordered the pizza for us, and stayed to chat for a few minutes before it came. We were so grateful! Ms. Park is so nice, and she's really funny! She wanted to know what Sarah meant when she said, "What's up, dude?" After trying for a couple minutes to describe the utility of 'dude', we decided the best way would be to show her the Bud Light commercials where the dude just says "dude" for every situation. Anyway, when our pizza came, Ms. Park left, and we paid the delivery dude. You don't usually tip in Korea, and this holds true for delivery drivers. Also, a bottle of cola is included with the pizza. Sarah and I had to laugh, because printed on the label of the Pepsi was a bunch of Korean with pictures of pizza, cheeseburgers, and other western foods. Maybe a suitable translation would be: If you like this unhealthy drink, try it with these fattening foods! Sarah was annoyed, because our pizza didn't have any red sauce on it. The Koreans don't seem to be crazy about red sauce on their pizza, and they love having seafood on it. We walked past a Dominoes today that was selling their new Crab Pizza!

Sarah and I had vastly different experiences with our students during our first week. For the most part, Sarah's students are unruly. The classes are large, often numbering 40 students. Also, she has found out that her course is entirely separate from the students' other English classes,and Sarah is responsible for assigning grades at the end of the semester. She's going to be on her own in the classroom, without the aid of other teachers. It makes for a tough situation. The 7th graders are best for her, because they're adorable and pretty well mannered, but unfortunately, she only sees them twice a week. She has to teach the entire 11th grade class 4 times each week, and they are full of "teenitude". They are split into 3 levels of English ability with level 1 being the best. Her 11-3 class, her most unruly class, yelled at her to just let them watch Prison Break Season 3 for the duration of their classes. Apparently the foreign teacher from last year just let the students watch Prison Break and then led a discussion of the previous episode during the next class period. However, Sarah is holding strong. She really wants these kids to succeed, and although other teachers at her school have actually encouraged her to simply use Prison Break as a kind of sedative, Sarah has invested herself fully in this class. I'm really proud of her. She's doing great, even if it's immensely difficult! Anyway, since she teaches the same classes so many times a week, she's very involved in her lesson plans, and she often works on lesson plans into the night when she's at home.

My situation is quite a bit different. I will always be presenting my material with a coteacher, even if a couple of my coteachers don't speak English very well at all. I am still responsible for writing all the lesson plans, but I don't see each class more than twice a week, so many of my lessons will be reusable with a few changes based on the English abilities of the class. Mostly, the girls seem to be a lot easier to control than the boys at Sarah's school. They will get chatty and fall into giggling fits from time to time, but these distractions are at least tolerable. We'll see what happens when I start actually focusing on teaching in these next couple weeks. Luckily, my coteacher understands that our goal here is really to help get our students interested in English. My focus is to try to get the girls at Changmyeong to have fun with the English language through games and engaging activities. It's going to be difficult, because there is quite a difference in the abilities of all the classes, but with a little luck and hard work, I think we're going to do well here.

September 5, 2008


Phew! The first week came and went so fast that I didn't even have to time to write about it. Let's see, where did I leave off......

Okay so before I get to teaching I want to tell you about the mini-adventure John and I had on Sunday. So the guy who created Hangul (the Korean alphabet) was a man named King Sejong, and he was buried here in Yeoju. He is one of Korea's most beloved leaders so John and I figured we'd take the chance to see some of the Korean countryside and go see this tomb. But, The tomb is 2 km away from downtown Yeoju, and downtown Yeoju is a car ride away (which is a major problem if you don't have a car). We tried to catch a taxi there, but we don't speak Korean and the cabbies don't speak English. We tried to show the taxi driver the romanization of the name for his tomb, but he couldn't even read English. We kept on walking towards downtown having resolved that we were going to attempt to pronounce the name of his tomb out loud. (It has been noted that Koreans have an especially difficult time understanding mispronunciations of their language.) So we're walking and walking but we can't get a taxi to stop for us.

And then a deus ex machina arrives! It appeared in the form of Ms. Choi (one of the English teachers at Cheungmeung), who swept us up into her car when she saw us on the side of the road. It turns out she was on her way to a wedding reception! She invited us to come along for a free lunch. There we are in our civvies, in a car with a lady we just met, to go to a Korean wedding reception for lunch. At this point we're kind of stumped. How did we get ourselves into this?

Anyway, it was fine. People were dressed across the spectrum of formal and informal, and all we had to do was eat lunch and meet John's principal. We didn't have to pay for anything because Ms. Choi payed for us (She gave 10,000 won, or $10, because Koreans generally give money when they come to a wedding to help the couple pay the cost of the ceremony/party. But it was really cool because many of the women were dressed in hanbok, which is traditional Korean dress. It looks like this:

(I didn't take this picture....I found it on the web.)

So we ate lunch in this sort of cafeteria-esque room in this complex built especially for weddings. Towards the end of lunch a horrible thing happened. I got up to get some water in the little paper cups next to the jug fountain dealy, and I dropped my cup. I spilled all over myself and all over a bunch of men hanging around the jug fountain. I was too horrified to look anyone in the face, but I'm like 70% percent sure I spilled water on John's principal. AWESOME. I got an apology out and sat back down as fast I could and tried not to cry for the rest of the time we were there. It was horrible! I guess it's not the end of the world, though.

So after lunch Ms. Choi was kind enough to drive us to E-Mart, where we had planned to go after King Sejong's tomb. We fumbled around there for a couple of hours trying to find all that we need, but it's tough when everything's in two different places and labeled in Korean! So we found some stuff and some food, stumbled through the check-out, and grabbed a taxi at the nearby bus terminal (John brought along some junk mail he found in his mailbox so we could show the driver where we needed to go - he's so smart!)

And that was how our Sunday went!

One last thing about the comments....

I have been responding to some of your comments, so make sure to check back!

I made it easier!

Okay, now you should all be able to leave comments without even registering. Hopefully not too many random people leave me mean comments. Just select the "Name/URL" option. Thanks again for keeping in touch!

September 4, 2008

Instructions for leaving comments

Many of you have asked about leaving comments! I am so excited! I live for your comments! All you have to do is scroll to the bottom of whatever post you'd like to comment on (or you can comment at the bottom of any post if you have a general comment to make). There at the bottom it will tell you how many comments have been left by other people. Just click on that. So if it says, "0 comments," click on "0 comments" The page it takes you to will have a big box that says, "leave your comment here" or something like that. Okay? And thanks in advance for anything you'd like to say. It's so great to hear from you guys. I will be posting more shortly about my first week at school. Lots of love to you all.

September 3, 2008

The first full day - Saturday

Here I am with Ms. Park. She's unbelievably sweet. In the morning she took me to Daeshin Middle and High School where I met the two vice-principals (one for each school), other teachers, and even some students. Students come to school on Saturdays for club activities. Everyone went way out of their way to make me feel comfortable and welcome. I actually really like the people I work with, when I can talk to them. We pretty much just went in so I could see the place and the people (and so they could see me) and to take care of a few administrative issues (like getting me on payroll.

Meeting the other teachers was hilarious. When you first meet Koreans, they almost always ask you these questions: are you married/do you have a boyfriend; age; height; are you Christian (meaning Protestant). This information they like to get mostly in order not to offend and because they are just curious. It took a while for the boyfriend question to come up, but when it did it was pretty funny. As soon as I said yes, I have boyfriend, he works at Cheungmeung School, Ms. Park informed me that all the single male teachers were disappointed. Which made both of us giggle. And then they started asking me about him! They wanted to know if he played any sports. I said, "Soccer," and they all cried out! Apparently the Daeshin and Cheungmeung male teachers play each other in soccer a couple times a year. More laughing. Then they wanted to know how tall he was. I told them, but it didn't mean anything to them because they use the metric system. Soon after this I am at my desk and Ms. Park is informing me that Cheungmeung is only 3 km away and that John is actually living in the same building as me!! All the sudden, I am being summoned because someone is on the phone for me. Lo and behold, it's John. He was going through the same motions as I was at the moment, and his co-teacher called my school as soon as she heard about me. Keep in mind, John and I last spoke to each other as we were being whisked away by our co-teachers at 5 PM the night before. We had no idea where the other was living or when we'd be able to even talk to each other, so this is unbelievably exciting for us. We assumed it'd be days before we were able to get in contact with each other.

So then it's time to leave Daeshin and not only do we not go straight home, but we go to Cheungmeung to see John, and then to a traditional Korean restaurant. Cheunmeung was really funny, too. I met John's vice-principal and co-teacher and some other English teachers at the school. Now, Cheungmeung is an all girls school (Daeshin is all boys), so when John walked out of one of school buildings there were droves of girls following him, watching from windows, and then surrounding our little group of teachers. They talked really really fast in Korean in really high pitched voices. I'm telling you, they were positively drooling. Even when they talked to me! When they found out I lived near New York they just about had a fit. And all the girls and all the teachers told us both how beautiful we are. That is a common thing....people here think I'm pretty because I have small face, which is the Korean ideal. In fact, that's how they compliment me. One of the middleschoolers met me, bowed, and said in Korean, "You have a very small face." Ms. Park burst out laughing and explained it to me. After that, John hopped in the car and all three of us went back to Hyun Jin for a quick break and a change of clothes, and then to the traditional Korean restaurant.

At the Korean restaurant, we walked in and up to a large platform (there were a couple) on which there sat a few low tables with cushions on the floor around them. We took off our shoes and stepped up onto it and then plopped down on the floor. (Koreans don't walk into restaurants, temples, or their homes with their shoes on.) Ms. Park said something to the waitress in Korean, and then a few minutes later our table was COVERED in little white dishes, each with something different in it, plus four different kinds of soup and one larger main dish (it was bulgogi). I tried again to use the chopsticks but was still pretty shaky. To be honest, I was kind of a mess. I dropped a piece of kimchi (which is covered in a spicy red sauce, in case you're wondering) and splattered it all over my white shirt. Pretty classic. Oh, the thing about eating Korean food. It's really spicy. You will most likely sweat while you're eating it. And it's rude to blow your nose. Nor do you take beverages with your meal, you just drink a small cup of water afterwards. Crazy, right? And no napkins, either, so try not to eat with your whole face if you find yourself in Korea. It was great fun, though! Ms. Park treated. I cannot say enough about Korean hospitality.

September 1, 2008

Dad, this is me, on the runway for real.

Here we are the airport! I thought these flags were cool so I asked my friend Brooks to take a picture of us walking past them. And there's John and the huge Boeing 747 that delivered us. Let me tell you about Korean Air. It is fantastic! The flight attendants are these beautiful Koreans who are all smiles and dressed exactly the same way, including the hair, waiting on you hand and foot practically. It was kind of nuts. And the plane was comfortable, despite the length of the flight. Fourteen hours is a long time to be sitting down. Anyway, we were fed twice, and the first time we had a Korean meal! It's called bibimbap, which is vegetables mixed with rice, sesame oil, and a spicy red pepper paste. Delicious.

I thought our flight path was kind of interesting. We flew north-northwest from Chicago, across Wisconsin and over just the tip of Minnesota into Canada. We then flew northwest across Canada, along the northern shore of Alaska and the very edge of the Arctic Circle - get this- across the Arctic Ocean into Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula (the Russian half of the one-time land bridge between the continents). We weren't in Russia long, though. We flew south once we were over Kamchatka into the Pacific Ocean, down over Japan and then across the Korean Peninsula where we landed in Incheon International Airport. (Incheon is right next to Seoul). Just so you know, northeastern Russian looks brick red from the sky, with lots of topography. And rivers. But no vegetation.

So we landed! The airport was like the future. I'm serious. Absolutely sterile, automated everything, soothing female voices from the PA system. Oh, and SmarteCartes are free there. We exchanged our USD for KRW (Korean Won) and were out of there. Customs barely looked at us.
Our co-teachers were waiting for us outside the airport. Some of us were shoved into a picture, and then whisked away to the car. I'm telling you, everything in Korea is rush rush rush! Hurry up and wait! My co-teacher;s name is Park Jung You . I call her Ms. Park. (In Korea, the family name comes first, then the generation name and the first name but I'm not sure of the order) So Ms. Park and Mr. Huang, a science teacher at Daeshin, took my bags and rushed me to their car, and then we rushed out of the parking lot, and then we rushed to Yeoju.....during rush hour. So mostly we sat in traffic. I think it takes about 2 hours to get to Yeoju from Seoul/Incheon. At one point we stopped at a rest stop (they're huge in Korea!!) where I actually requested some coffee because I was nodding off in the car in my first few hours in Korea. Then we stopped again closer to Yeoju at a cafeteria for food. There I had my first taste of bulgogi, which is beef dressed in this sweet-tasting good. It's a favorite dish of mine, actually. I tried using the chopsticks but I think Mr. Huang was in a hurry because he told me, in broken English, to just use the fork. Haha. He's actually a really funny guy - you should have seen how upset he got when he saw the traffic.
Anyway, then I was taken to the E-Mart, which is sort of like a SuperTarget, for some breakfast foods (on them!) before they took me to my apartment (it's in a high-rise called HyunJin, or Evervill in English) High rises are very desirable in Asia. They tried really hard to get my internet working for me, but we inevitably failed, and we were all exhausted, so they left me with the keys and instructions to meet Ms. Park, who lives in the same building, early the next morning.

Arlington Heights, IL

Me at the hotel! I had just taken an early morning swim the day we left for Korea. The day before, I had flown into Chicago from New York and met up with John at O'Hare. We took the shuttle from the airport to our hotel where we met all the other people from the UW going to Korea to teach. Most of them were really cool - after the teaching ESL workshop they had for us we went to the hotel bar for some drinks and chatting. John and I stayed up late talking with a few of the other kids.


This is my brand new blog! I have never done this before so bear with me if I'm horrible at it. Man I feel like I've been saying that a lot since I landed here.

Anyway, this is to keep all of you in the States (or wherever you may be) informed on what I'm going through on my grand adventure to the Orient.

I'll start from the very beginning....