Saturday, May 29, 2010

Greetings from South Korea!!!

Sorry it's been so long! I am finally what I think is settled in South Korea and absolutely LOVE IT so far. I haven't seen much of the city because I've been working crazy 12-hour days for the Koreans, but it's been a fun kind of work in getting to know everyone and everything and comparing it to how it is back home and trying not to judge too harshly. It's hard to believe I've been in Korea for a week already. Every now and then I'll have a moment where I go, "Holy cripes I'm in Korea!" and laugh really hard. Becuase it's so surreal still.

The city itself is really big, but you knew that. I fear this is going to be one of those "the buildings are big, the food is good" posts that the comedians make fun of when they talk about travelers because there is so much to say and I just don't quite know how to put it into words. I also fear that this is going to be a teaching-heavy post because that is honestly all I've done besides eat since I've been here. With the exception of this morning.

This morning I braved the subway system (which is actually really easy to figure out) to get to the other side of the city where the doctor's office was for my health checkup for my E2 visa validation. I went with the other new teacher (Jake-who was picked up at the airport at the same time as me and has been on this adventure with me from the beginning) and it took about three hours to wait, piss in a cup, draw blood, and take and x-ray of my chest. All while speaking broken English to me. It was pretty wierd.

The city itself is beautiful, and on my walk to school I walk through a nice park with the view of the mountains.

My teaching schedule is busy, and goes like this:

9:55-11:55 All day Kindergarten VENUS class--which I teach English speaking, reading, writing, math, science, art, and PE for three hours a day. I see these kids everyday, and they are so freakin' adorable. Time moves quickly because you spend no more than twenty minutes on any given activity. Not too challenging, just lots of giving stars and behavior modification like in Kindergarten in the States. These are the advanced kindergarteners in every way. They are older--6 in the U.S. but 7 in Korea because of some difference in how they celebrate birthdays which I havn't figured out yet. They come from wealthier families (they pay more for this class and all day care and school) and have English speaking parents at home that can help them with homework.

It is common for these kids to have an hour of homework a night, things like copying pages from English storybooks such as "I am a Caterpillar" and such. This really threw me for a loop. It's also common for the director to come in at anytime she sees fit and give the kids a good firm smack on the ass if they aren't listening to their English teacher. This really threw me too the first day. There are cameras in every classroom and the director sits and watches the monitor in her office and if she doesn't like what she sees she comes in and fixes it.

(Though she told me on my first day teaching that she has a lot of respect for me as a person with an education degree in America with teaching experience. She hasn't actually been in my classes that much at all and always tells me that she likes what she sees, so I guess I'm doing OK.)

Noon-1 I eat lunch. Lots of rice and veggies and soups. They eat A LOT of beef and pork here which I haven't yet braved--or don't think I care to. I told myself going in that was going to be an open minded person and try all sorts of cultural foods whether they had meat in them or not, and I'm sure I've had chunks of meat disguised as noodle in soups since I've been here so I'm not going to sweat it too much. Also, I think I'm going to learn to love spicy food. Everything is so spicy here. But interesting.

1:05-1:55 I meet with the the VENUS kindergarten kids for the last hour and finish out their day

Then the hogwon (after school) classes start.

I start these classes at 2 with another group of Kindergarten kids (but younger and not as developed in their English as the all day kids). I see these kids for an hour everyday and the routine is the same. We sing a song from their book (which they love and is so freakin' cute to watch) I do phonics flashcards with them and work on the storybook of the day and another workbook page if there is time. It's amazing how fast 55 minutes goes.

It's 3 pm and the older elementary students arrive and the kindergarteners leave for the day.

3-4 I have a group of 6 girls that would be in the second or third grade in America. They were a rowdy group of girls when I did my observation the first day. My director basically assigned them to me and said "see if you can calm them down a bit." LOL. No pressure there or anything. My first day teaching them ended and word has it those girls turned to the director and asked her if I had experience teaching and were really surprised that they couldn't get away with the shit they got away with in the other English teacher's class. Score one for Team Jennifer. They are one of my favorite classes so far because we can have actual conversations and they do enjoy learning. We're working on saying things like "I go to English class after school" and "On Saturday, I don't go to school" because we are on the schedule unit.

Discipline is really easy here, IMO. Give lots of stars and positive praise (the Koreans do the corporal stuff--it's actaully really disrespectful for an English teacher to raise her voice to a Korean student--but we can threaten them with the Bad List and a phone call home by the director and they straighten up right away.)

4-5 MWF I have a group of four kids that would be in the fourth grade in the US. I haven't started teaching them yet, because their current teacher has one more week here, but I've been observing this class and it's very similar to what I would do as a reading teacher here. They read a story from their textbook, (this week they are reading a very popular story in the US--Officer Buckle and Gloria, I thought that was funny) and answer questions. The director wants more competition in class. So while I am used to completing a worksheet collaboratively as a class with a group of students, she wants them to raise their hand and see if they can answer before anyone else. "They love the competition" she says. Different philosophy, it's not bad, just different is what I will keep reminding myself.

5-6 I have a prep hour and get my stuff ready for Kindergarten the next day.

6-7 MWF I have a sixth grade class of eight and they have a reading book and a listening book. They want me to mostly discuss vocabulary words and practice speaking with them, which is hard to do because the pre-adolescent phobia of public speaking has set in by this age. They are very self-conscious of how they sound speaking English, but can understand spoken English and read it very well.

And that's the end of my day. I am exhausted but feel accomplished for surviving the week.

Food here is good too. Meat is in everything, I'm starting to realize, but there are some things that you can get without it. First night I was here I went out with some of the Candadian teachers at the school and we went to a place where raw beef chunks were seared and grilled in the center of a circular table, which was bizarre. That's a really common thing to do in restaurants here.

Noodles with shrimp or fish is common, and I've been living off of kim-bop lately, which is a really cheap sushi roll with fresh veggies, tuna, rice, wrapped in seaweed. Yummy. I also had a bowl of noodles with squid in it for lunch one day, and the noodles were served in a cold broth. Strange, different, but really good.

There are lots of cafes with american and European sandwiches here too, and many grocery stores with western food. Haven't ventured to the grocery store yet, but that's Sunday's adventure.

I'm sure there are many more things I have to say. But that's it for now. Any questions? I really like Korea so far. More later!

P.S. Is there anything else you really want to know? I have lots of stories about the interactions between the Korean teachers and the English teachers, but I'll save that for another day. This is getting long! Can't wait to hear from you!

Do I sound like a stupid American yet? Comments and thoughts about the tone of this post and how you want to see these posts formmated are appreciated as well. There is so much to say about what's new, interesting, exciting, it's hard to take it all in let alone put it into writing. Let me know what you want to hear about!
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