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.