Monday, 30 March 2009

Arrival in Andong

I have been placed in Andong. I will be teaching at an Elementary school- 4th,5th, and 6th grade English.

I'm going to make this as brief as possible. I have a million things to process and prepare before tomorrow. I warn you, that I'm a little drunk on Soju (Korea's signature drink. Rice Whiskey).

When I got off the bus that took us from orientation in Seoul to our drop off in Gumi to meet our co-teachers (the Korean English teacher we'll be working with), I didn't realize that the hour and a half drive to Andong would result in a meeting with both my and Scott's school elite. That being our school Vice Principles and Principles. We were not expecting that.

I'm in my jeans, and thank goodness I threw on a cardigan.

First of all, my co teacher is a young guy- a former English major, thank goodness...Scott's co teacher doesn't speak much English. I'll put it this way, my co teacher was explaining that his biggest problem in understanding is "what up dawg" in slang and "thou" in old English, and Scott's co teacher said "fork" when he meant "pork". Whatever the case, we are swimming in an overall sense what-is-going-on. Anyway, when we arrived in our town of Andong, we were whisked into a school room where all of our school peers (Co teachers, Vice/Principles) started talking very fast and very sternly, to which my co-teacher (Mr. Kim) finally explained they were debating about where we were going for dinner. Thery are very concerned about feeding us. After deciding upon pork (that's where Scott's co-teacher...oh, also named Mr. Kim, started the fork/pork mix up) we met up at a restaurant where we ordered beef.

I'll try to explain this meal to the best of my ability. Tons of little bowls of various things, including (and I'm listing them by what was in each little bowl): Garlic, two types of Kimchi (fermented Cabbage, a staple of every meal), Tiny boiled robin-sized eggs of some local bird, green beans in seasame oil, some vile bean and spice thing that was supposed to be slathered on our meat that I did injest with a smile, thin-chopped salad in some sweet and spicy sauce, lettuce, some brown looking stringy things, pumpkin in soft cubes in a sweet glazed (which I shoved in my mouth after every shot of Soju...which, ok, was not as bad as I thought, but still strong), and a bowl of raw beef to be placed on a grill rack over a circle of hot coals on our table and cooked to our liking. It was very, very good. And not squid.

Other than the food, I have two main points to make about dinner:

Sitting cross legged on the floor for an hour really cramps your legs, and my school principle really really loves Soju. He's an older gent that doesn't speak English, but he can shout "Soju Number 1!" and say "Oh I love you" after pouring him another shot.

Furthermore, I found out pouring him Soju meant less for me. I think I escaped with 6 shots of the stuff. By the way, at orientation I was told that it is our best interests to drink the Soju on our first meeting. We can't speak the language to communicate, so the best attempt to connect we have is to drink up. And wow do they drink. Soju is less less than $1 a bottle (a beer bottle size of liquor). At least I have 10 hours before my school day begins...good news about that though, I contractually don't need to do any teaching for 2 weeks. Lots of observation.

After dinner we were driven to our motel. We're at a hotel for a couple of days because they haven't yet decided upon our housing. We're ok with it, because it's really cool and was announced to be "VIP" by one of the Koreans. There are wood floors, modern lights and wallpaper, big jacuzzi bathtub, a high speed brand new desktop computer, large mounted flat screen HD TV with full cable, and big fluffy beds shaped like a raised box with neon red lights shining on the wall lights and floor underneath. Swanky pad. I'll put up pictures soon, but I'm on the hotel's computer.

So maybe that wasn't really all that brief. I'm sure I'll look this over tomorrow and think I was babbling, so expect some clearer details later if something was really confusing. As for now, I need to put together some sort of icebreaker game for the students tomorrow. I'm still not sure what to expect, except that most of them have never seen a foreigner before.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

First Impressions Upon Landing in Korea

We landed in Incheon on Thursday, March 26, after a 22 hour chase of the sun from Chicago, just as it began to set. After making it through customs, retrieving our collective 250 pounds of luggage, and changing our money, Scott and I emerged from the arrivals gate to see-- Dunkin Donuts.

So far, we're still very much American. After two full days of orientation, from 7:30 to 8 at night, where we're surrounded by another hundred English speakers, all we've been ready to do is collapse at the end of the day. We roam back and forth between the dormitory and a building for our classes across the courtyard at the Korean National Open University. There are American plugs in our bedroom. The lectures are great, though, and EPIK (English Program in Korea) has treated us very well. When we arrived, we were given a bag (EPIK loot!) of useful items including: an adaptor, various books about living and working as an EFL teacher, a pen, a calender, two customized EPIK towels, and a sandwich which was promptly devoured on arrival.

I'm still not sure if I should be terrified about making this decision. I don't feel terrified. I vowed never to teach two years ago when I removed myself from the Education program at Western. What was I thinking? Now, after about 9 hours of lecture, I think I can break down a simplified list of expectations about teaching at my school:

1) I will have a co-teacher that may or may not speak very good English
2) My students may be at significantly varying levels of English understanding (Some may have spent time abroad or at private lessons, while others may never have learned)
3) I will have no curriculum (unless I teach elementary-and then the textbooks are only pictures)
4) Therefore, I teach whatever I want
5) I will not be issuing tests or grades


In the face of these things, I am extremely glad that we went through all of the lectures. I am now equipped with ideas for lessons and activities. Scott and I have agreed that we're actually pretty excited about having no idea what we'll be doing. It all seems very laid back. We are there to be conversational, to motivate them to be excited about learning English (even if we teach them nothing) beyond our class, and to reinforce fluency over accuracy.

There's only one problem left: I don't know what grade level I'll be teaching.

We've been told that Korea is dynamic, ever changing. That is why we don't know in advance what we'll be doing, because it's possible that the schools also don't know yet and the decision won't be made until Monday before we get on the buses to leave. This is also why, we've been told, we may show up one day to an empty class and learn that it was moved. Or that rules have been changed (although they aren't big on policy like in America, they prefer personality or conversation to work things out).

It seems I'll never completely figure out this country, which makes it exactly my style.