Sunday, 5 April 2009

My 4 Day Odyssey

(For those who wondered, this was our hotel room, as described in my last post. Motel Won.)
A set of highlights from my first 4 days at Kilju Elementary:

Day 1. Tuesday. I Feel Like a Rockstar.

I was picked up at 8:25am (school starts at 9, but we have to be there by 8:40) by my 6th grade co-teacher, Mr. Kim (I think his first name is something like Dah-boon, but I haven't quite got all of my pronunciations down yet). I made my rounds to the staff, starting with the school Principal. After serving us coffee and discussing intensely with Mr. Kim about what I later found out to be whether my coffee was the way I liked it and if my hotel was comfortable enough, the principal began to indroduce me to some of the other staff. Other than my name and that I was the new English teacher, the biggest highlight of my introduction was that I was a great drinker.
On the 3rd floor, I was shown my office. Rather, the office of the "additional teachers" that aren't the elementary homeroom teachers (English/Gym).

This is the entry. To the right and left of the bookshelf takes you to our desks.
There are three desks on each side, across from each other. Mine is the one here in the center. Outside the window is the front of the school. Behind me is a refridgerator and a sink with a hot water boiler and cabinets for coffee, tea, and mugs. Coffee here, by the way, is most commonly in single cup packets of half instant coffee and half sugar/cream. Katie and my Mom would not survive here.
Here I met my two other co-teachers. Mrs. Shim teaches 5th grade (and sits to my right) and Mrs. Im teaches 4th (and sits to my left). Mr. Kim sits on the other side, across from Mrs. Im. Yes, my co-teachers are Mr. Kim, Mrs. Shim, and Mrs. Im. Amazing. While Kim is my age, the other two are perhaps in their mid to late 30's. Their English is also very different. Mr. Kim is fluent (I found out that he is good with sarcasm. Awesome.), Mrs. Shim is more limited but can still have a conversation, just slower, and Mrs. Im can have pieces of conversations, but I need to slow it down a little more even still. I welcome the challenge- it will keep me thinking. I do think I hit the co-teacher jackpot though. Everyone is exceptionally nice and cheerful, and our personalities are perfectly in sync.

And then lunch. 1500 students.

I am not kidding when I say I felt like a rockstar. Imagine two rows of students winding down into the 1st floor cafeteria and up either side of two flights of stairs, all waving and shouting "Hello!" "Hi!" and then smiling really wide if I respond. I can't imagine a time in my life when I will again be this popular. I was told that many of them have never seen a foreigner before. However, some Korean parents who have the means will send their children to America/Canada/England to learn English for a year, so there were a few kids who came up to me and were eager to practice having a conversation (and man, are they good! ...but that means the gap between kids' levels in the classroom will be extreme). Lunch is fun.

Oh, and if anyone was wondering, I have to use squat toilets in the floor. I did spy a Western style one, but the door is half broken and fallen in to the stall. Sabotage!

Day 2. Wednesday. My Unicorn Bite.

The day finally came. I needed to get a medical exam so that I can apply for my Alien Registration Card (ARC). That meant an HIV test, which meant needles, which meant bloodwork. Gulp. Scott tells me that needles are really just unicorn bites that make you magically healthier. I remain suspicious.
(Photo from --->
So this was the most amazing medical exam of my life.
First of all, the whole thing cost 50,000 won --uninsured -- which is only like $45 or less (I don't get medical insurance until the end of the month and I have an ARC card, but I got 300,000 won from my school upon arrival to cover these sorts of things anyway). It was extremely efficient, and like a surprise behind every door. Mr. Kim had to take me around this hospital to separate rooms, each for a separate purpose: hearing test, eye test, height/weight/blood pressure recording, dental exam, urine test, blood test, and a chest X-Ray (to check for TB). I never knew what was going to be behind the next door...which did no favors for my nerves in anticipation for blood work, however.
...Some of this process got a little awkward with Mr. Kim translating.
The Urine test was the worst, because it was like a science experiment. I had a small paper cup, what Scott (who went through the same process later that day) very aptly named "the turkey baster," and a test tube handed to me. Mr. Kim had to then translate that I was to pee in the cup, pour half of it into the test tube, then suck the rest up into the "turkey baster" and then balance all three in a walk down the hallway to drop it off.
Ahh... well they did tell me at orientation to get some outside bonding with my co-teacher.

When it finally came time for blood work, I thought I was going to pass out. But I'm constantly being reminded that I'm an ambassador for my country, so I had to sit still and be quiet. The process made it easier. In America, we are taken back to a separate room and trapped...and sometimes have to sit there for ages contemplating our fate before the nurse finally comes in. At this hospital, the room to go to is on main hallway- you walk in and there is a desk. Imagine it as a registration desk just inside the open doorway, and the person sitting behind the desk has an open window so they can call in people in the hallway waiting. You sit down at this desk and present your arm. After it's done, you get up and the next person is called in. It's all very publicly visible, which turns out is good for me.
Oh, before the medical exam I was called upon to give a short speech to the entire student body and faculty who were assembled military-style outside of the school. It was some sort of award ceremony for students, and near the end I had to introduce myself and tell everyone how happy I was to be there. A little intimidating, but it was cool.

Day 3. Thursday. Fending for Myself and Foreign Invasion.

Mr. Kim left me to attend a conference in Seoul today and tomorrow, so I was forced to speak free of additional translation with my 4th and 5th grade co-teachers. I'm actually glad it worked out that way. Mrs. Shim and Im are both amazing women, and we are very patient with each other. Neither of them are frustrated with me if I say something difficult, though it is teaching me to rethink my sentences and slow down. If I say a word that they don't know, Mrs. Shim has a notebook of words that she's trying to learn, and will commit herself to figuring out how to say it and use it in sentences. So far, I've taught her "participate," "highlight," "often," and "flavor" and a few ways of phrasing things like "I opened the window to let in fresh air" and "he put his school books in his bag." It's a very interesting experience. She's also helping me with Korean. "Eye" in American is the same sound as the Korean word for "child" (ah-ee).

I also got a chance to observe a couple of Mrs. Shim's 5th grade classes. I walked in and the students' eyes got big and they started chattering loudly. I'm really hoping the novelty of me as a foreigner doesn't wear off, because the reactions I get are so cute. Mrs. Shim was very nervous because she thinks her English isn't good enough. Mrs. Im feels the same way. I think they are great, but they keep saying "oh, just classroom English." I'm trying to work on their confidence levels. She does do a lot of Korean translation in the class, but likes to make students repeat and practice conversation, sing songs, and play games. She doesn't spend more than 5-10 minutes on each new thing, so nobody falls asleep. I can tell she enjoys teaching.

<---(photo from Internet)
I also distributed a few small gifts to my co-teachers, vice principal, and principal. I gave them all Varnum pens (Thanks Dad and Mom's Lawyers Auxiliary for not using them!), then chocolate to my co teachers and Soju to the vice principal and principal. You can imagine how well that went over with the principal. He is amazing. As a response, he took off his Andong mask bolo tie (Andong is famous for its masks, they have a festival every year) that he literally wears every day and put it around my neck. Mrs. Shim was with me, and explained to me that he says as long as I give him Soju, I can have whatever I want. Hilarious. He kind of reminds me of my grandpa George, for a visual, if grandpa were Korean.

After school, Scott and I met up with other foreigners. I was contacted by a guy named Andrew who works next door at Kilju Elementary. He has been here for 7 months and is now regarded as the leader of the Andong foreigners. There are 13 of us in the city, and we are now getting together every Thursday evening to take a Korean class (which is taught by a six of the others' co-teachers who very graciously volunteered). I'll list everyone, just so it's not confusing when I refer to them in the future:

Me and Scott!
Erin and Paul (A younger married couple who have been around Korea for 3 years)
Peter (has been here 5 1/2 months)
Katie (has been here a month)
Jin (who we met at orientation)
Alice (has been here a month)
Danielle (has been here a month)
Bonnie and Tom (an older married couple who I believe have been here a month)
Also "The Dominican" who I'm not sure the name of. He's been here a number of years and teaches at a private school, so I'm not sure how often we'll be seeing him.

Day 4. Friday. I Think My Soup Stared Back.

It has occurred to me since I've been here, that it's vitally important that I eat things I otherwise would not. Although I suppose nobody knows that lesson better than Scott who had to eat fried whole Minnows yesterday (his blog is by the way). It's viewed as slightly disrespectful to not finish your meal. However, you can request "Ma-nee chuseyo" meaning "give me a lot", or "Chukay chuseyo" for "give me a little" when you're walking through the line. My principal will sometimes come by, however, with strange spicy things that he wants me to mix in with my rice (even though I managed to avoid taking these things in the line). He's very concerned that I'm eating enough, which is very hospitable. I guess it's better to embrace the food. some of it is actually really good.

I did find a way around the issue of not finishing everything today, though, and still preserving respect. Some things I just am not prepared to eat just yet, but I don't want to be rude. Like the tentacles in my small dish of beef and vegetables, or what looked like eyes with artery looking things behind them floating in my soup. I can ask for only a little ("Chukay chuseyo") soup, which is in a separate bowl, then eat half of its contents...and then mix the remnants of the unfinished side dishes (Korean food is mostly a myriad of side dishes) in with my soup broth. It looks like a half eaten bowl of soup. There's so much going on anyway, it's a total save! I did this today, and was actually complimented on how much I finished. Then on my way out, I just have to dump the one bowl's contents. The last thing I want is for them to believe I don't like anything.

Thanks for keeping up with me through all of this, I know it was a long post!
Let me know if you have any questions about anything I've said or not yet explained- I love comments.


  1. dude. I can't stop bloody laughing my ass off. The medical exam had me in tears.

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  3. Wonderful post!!! The coffee situation sounds like a prayer request :) Justin would have loved the soup don't you think??

    I loved everything, and appreciate the picture of your new life... how fun. If you have the kind of job where you say, "I get paid for this?" then you have the right kind of job :-)

    Now, speaking of coffee....
    <3 Mom

    PS: You're a star (inside joke)
    PSS: I reposted this because my smiley face was all wrong!

  4. Sabotage! Drat Sara, plans foiled again <3

    I guess I can't wish that I'd been there to see you balance all three urine samples in your hands. I do wish I could have seen your expression when all that was explained to you! XD AWESOME...*giggles all the more* Turkey baster

    Your principal sounds simply wonderful.

    PHEW! I made it through! I love your posts and your writing style. Had my chuckling through the entire thing <3