Sarah and I have finally gone through orientation here in Korea! The teacher workshop for the middle school and high school Native English Teachers in Gyeonggi province took place October 14-17. I didn't realize how many people were actually here teaching English; something like 240 teachers showed up to this orientation. It was like 55% Americans, 20% Canadians, 13% South Africans, and a smattering of New Zealanders, Aussies, and UKites. "Americans are particularly prevalent" said pretty perfect Polly in her pink pontiac. I don't know if she actually said that, but maybe she would've if given the opportunity. Anyway, we finally were able to attend orientation.
We didn't know quite what to expect from the whole thing, but we were dropped off by my coteacher at the bus station and climbed on the bus to go to the Hyundai Learning Center. I met a Canadian named Len on the bus. Did you know Canadians watch american football? Well, apparently they do. Len told me as much. Our driver dropped us off at some random building and drove away. Well, a bus full of foreign teachers busted up in the front doors of this random office building in the Hyundai Learning Complex. After much gesturing and yelling, we figured out we were in the wrong place! Some of us started walking up some stairs towards another building (Why not explore?) and caused a ripple effect amongst the other teachers. Half of them followed us, while the other half wisely stood their ground. After busting up into another office building, we walked back down to where the bus had dropped us off. Apparently, the bus driver had finally figured out his mistake and had come back to pick us up. The other teachers were yelling at us from the open bus doors. We got back on the bus and started off towards a new destination. The Hyundai Learning Complex is built on a big hill with very narrow streets. In addition, people who work at the learning complex park their cars on the streets. You can imagine how laughable it is to have a tour bus trying to maneuver these pathways. Anyway, now all of us are back on the bus, peacefully seated again in our seats. The bus driver suddenly decides he needs to go back down the hill to get where we're going. His eyes are visible beneath his sunglasses. He is trying to get directions on his cellphone. This is a man intent and able, a driver with apparent skill and confidence. He turns his head to find his route, grips the wheel, turns.......*crunch*. Some engineer's car bites the dust. Our driver sums up the situation in an instant. He has probably been here before. He puts the bus in reverse, starts climbing back up the hill, fumbles the clutch.....*crunch*. The engineer's car has now felt the fury of a busload of foreigners with a Korean driver twice. Our driver accepts the facts and takes us away from that cursed disaster zone. Finally, we are here: orientation begins.
We started orientation by watching some traditional Korean dancing. We then were organized into groups based on our location in the province. This was a good opportunity to meet other people from our area! Alas, Sarah and I already knew 8 out of 10 people in our group. We've been here 7 weeks and we've put forth the effort to get to know the foreigners in our area. It has helped us a lot with the culture shock and adaptation to Korea. We were given an hour and a half to go through icebreakers. It was pretty easy. We just made the new people talk about themselves for 45 minutes each. Haha, just kidding, but really, 90 minutes to break the ice? We're not penetrating glaciers here. Or maybe we are??? We then had dinner and were expected to spend two hours after dinner making posters presenting ideas to 1) Introduce world cultures into the classroom and 2) Create an English-friendly environment at our schools. Needless to say, our group dominated the activity.
That night, we went out to the bar downtown to have some drinks with other teachers. We met a bunch more people and rocked out. We weren't allowed to have alcohol on the premises for the duration of the orientation, so each night a large number of us went downtown to the local bar. We didn't necessarily drink a lot, but alcohol eases the obvious social awkwardness and tension around new people. ^.^ These outings proved to be one of the best parts of the orientation. We were able to meet people from all different walks of life, people from different countries, and people with a lot more experience than we. Talking to people who have been here for 5-10 years was amazingly valuable for learning about teaching and Korean culture. The whole week turned out to be a big encouragement for us. I really feel like Sarah and I are doing the right things, both in the classroom and outside. In addition, it really helped to realize that there is a vast support group here with experience and compassion to help us out when we need. In a lot of ways, the native English teachers are on their own here in Korea, but the amount of support we can give each other is tremendous.
For our orientation, we spent a lot of time listening to lectures. We saw a couple demo teaching examples, which would've been quite a bit more useful a few weeks ago. Sarah and I attended an optional Korean culture class, which allowed us to answer some of our lingering questions. Korea really has quite a unique culture, and we're still struggling to figure it out. In addition to the lectures, they brought in a group to perform Nan-Ta for us. They brought in these 4 different percussion instruments. It's special, because it's a mixture of brass and leather, which they say you wouldn't expect to go together. The first instrument is a brass bowl-like thing a little bit larger than your hand. You hit it with a little mallet and it sounds a lot like a mini china cymbal (for you drummers) to me. The next one is a big gong thing that looks like a frying pan hung on some bamboo. You whack that with a mallet and it makes a deeper, resonating sound. The third instrument is a kind of round bongo with leather on both ends of it. You use a stick with that to make a deep *bong* sound. The final instrument looks like an hourglass with leather on both ends of it. You lay it sideways and use sticks to hit either/both end(s) of it. The first instrument is always the leader. It's doing the most complex beat, sort of like the melody, and all the other instruments follow it. The gong thing always plays at the start of a measure. The bongo thing splits up the measure into quarter or half notes. The hourglass thing does a more complex beat, keeping the rhythm. Watching this in action was absolutely unbelievable. There is supposed to be a kind of connection between the audience and the performers; they become one through the music. At any point in the performance, it is totally acceptable to start clapping and cheering. They taught us 3 cheers in Korean, but I have sadly forgotten them. I know now how my students feel when I ask them to review the vocabulary we covered in the previous week. After they performed for us, the players went through the theory of each instrument and had us sample each rhythm by clapping. They then allowed some of us to actually go on stage and try the instruments out! Unfortunately, Sarah and I missed out on this opportunity. There was limited space and time, and I was too slow compared to the ravenous dogs disguised as English teachers...
All in all, orientation proved more useful than I expected. We got a lot of ideas, met a ton of new people, and enjoyed a needed break from teaching. Some lectures were really good, some were pretty bad. We got a lot of different views and ideologies on teaching. I realized that Sarah and I are in okay situations, even if they can be difficult. We have to plan our own lessons, but that's actually a good thing. Some teachers we talked to have become expensive tape players at their schools. The freedom that Sarah and I have been given seems to be a little unusual for inexperienced teachers like us. We've been handed the reins and have to stay on the horse. Haha. Sarah is in a really interesting situation, because she sees each of her classes more often than I see mine. She's in charge of a lot bigger portion of each student's English education. We've been given a huge responsibility here.
That's one of the points that really struck me during the orientation. One of our lecturers was comparing language education here to language education in our countries. Would the USA accept a Korean teacher with no teaching qualifications to teach Korean in the US? What about if this teacher didn't speak any English at all? Ridiculous? Many of the native teachers here break their contracts and leave partway through the year. What would the outrage be in the US if we went through all that trouble and many teachers flew home without upholding their end of the bargain? It's at least a little interesting to think about. Our standards are much higher for our foreign language teachers. Obviously, this isn't a fair comparison, but what I like about these questions is that they exemplify the immense desire of the Korean people to learn English. They're desperate for English here, and the Korean government has been spending loads of money to bring in more and more native teachers and continue to adapt the curriculum to the needs of the students. It's amazing to think that only 50 years ago, the required foreign language in Korean schools was Japanese. Now, they have recently (2004) established an "English village" here in Korea for students to visit. We were presented with the history of English education in Korea. It's fascinating. Korean people are very conscious of their culture. As you well know, language often shapes and defines and culture. It gives it context. Korean people have had to work very hard to maintain their language and culture under the constant pressure from China and Japan. Thus, many Koreans are worried that English will displace Korean and the Korean people will lose a piece of their identity. I hadn't really realized that there was such strong resistance to English here. I'll be really interested to see what happens in 10 years when they compare the money they're spending on English to their results.