Sunday, 18 October 2009

EPIK Conference in Gyeongju

I feel like I went into hibernation this week after making it through last week. Anyway, I'm awake now. This is part 1 of my 2 part four day weekend in Gyeongju (I'll work on the sightseeing half of it tomorrow). Thursday and Friday were spent at an in-service training conference for EPIK.

Thursday morning, Scott and I woke up at 7:25, just 5 minutes before we were meant to leave town. We also hadn't packed. Luckily, when we gathered with our co-teachers and Katie and her co-teacher fifteen minutes later, they were not deterred from first getting breakfast. Korean breakfast isn't anything like a western breakfast, so we had a traditional fare of soup, rice, and kimchi.

We arrived almost an hour late at the hotel after a 3 hour drive, but luckily that starting hour was designated for signing in, and being nearly last meant our name badges were easy to find. I heard a lot of people talking to friends about their awkward small talk or silences with their co-teachers on the drive down. For me it was a five word conversation: "Sara, take a nap" and my response,"OK." Taebun understands me, especially at 7:30am.

Because Scott, Katie and I have already been teaching for a long time, we weren't quite sure what to expect out of this conference. It was mostly for the new EPIK teachers who arrived in September and those of us that had the late orientation back at the end of March. There had already been one just before Scott and I arrived.

The first day ran from 11 to 7:30. Two lectures, a demonstration on co-teaching, and a"Discussion About Co-Teaching Styles and Interpersonal Relationships," which oddly was the only of the four where they split up the Native and Korean teachers into separate rooms. It ended with a fabulous eclectic buffet dinner to satisfy Western and Korean diets. Mostly I devoured raw salmon, which is surprisingly hard to find here.

The second day ran from 7:30 to 2, with two interactive lectures and an open forum. The primary target seemed to be for a newer teaching audience, but it was a nice refresher for me. One of the speakers had been in Korea for eight years, so I couldn't pretend to have her insight, so there was a lot yet to soak in. Particularly using warm up and short transition periods of time to incorporate improv and movement, even within large classes like mine. I also felt very useful at the conference during discussions, because I came with a lot of ideas from experience so far, and was able to pass those along to newer teachers; like making group forming into a game, and planning for classes with mixed degrees of English literacy. Likewise, the newer teachers had some fresh opinions that I could benefit from, which was helpful after doing my own routine for so long.

The target of the training seemed to be directed at better co-teaching, but I was a little surprised because the tables were set up in most of the conference rooms in threes, leaving every other co-teaching pair split up. Scott, and Katie are incredibly lucky in our co-teaching assignments, so this didn't really deter us from doing discussions and activities. However, for those who struggled with their Korean co-teachers, it appeared to me like they could, sadly, segregate themselves quite easily.

My favorite part of the conference was Thursday night, when Scott, Katie and I stayed in to teach our co-teachers how to play Texas Hold'em. We had to improvise, so while the Koreans debated over which flavor of squid jerky and mixed nuts the would buy, the three of us grabbed some beer, some highlighters and a couple packs of toothpicks to turn into poker chips. Back in the hotel room, while Scott went over the basics, Katie and I labored over marking hundreds of toothpicks. This was the result (set 1 of 6):

Of course, into the second hour we had to continue coloring the extra blank ones as the minimum bet raised and chips were traded in. In the end, we had a pretty awesome travel poker chip set.

It was a pretty epic game. They picked it up really fast, and Scott's co teacher Hyeon-beom almost put me out early with his raises before the flop and mythically good hands. But there was a lot of great luck. Somehow the whole thing was bizarrely magical, with rivers like this:

Whenever toothpicks changed hands, we turned it into a battle of the schools. Scott's Dongbu Elementary was stealing my Kilju money, or Katie's Bokju (sorry Katie if I butchered that spelling) Elementary money would change hands between them. Of course, I was responsible for slaughtering Taebun in a face off between us that made him the first to go out.

Although it wasn't officially a part of the conference, the conference gave us the rare opportunity to hang out with our co-teachers. The Korean teachers especially are so busy with extra school projects in addition to managing the ease of our lives here, that it seems so seldom that we get to sit down and have fun outside of the classroom. While most of the foreigners all went out together to the locals bars after the lectures and dinner was over, tempted as we were to join them, it seemed to be more exciting to see our co-teachers corrupted by the forbidden world of gambling. Well, with toothpicks anyway.


  1. Poker was, strangely, the most rewarding part of the conference. For a conference focused on co-teaching, we had to do surprisingly little WITH our co-teachers, so it was good that we got that time hang out with them. I guess we all got luckier than some of the people who ditched their KTs for the Gyeongju bars.

  2. raw salmon?
    That's what I love most about you, Sara. You listen and don't take different ideas as a form of criticism. You Listen, Learn, and Apply. That's a form of wisdom this world is sadly lacking in.

    What they should do at this conference is what all people do when forming new groups or introducing new students to a classroom. "ICE BREAKERS"!! The embarassing creative outlet for us to all find common ground. So you can look back and say, "Sara=sar-ah-cophagus" then "Scot=Scottish" "Katie=Catterpiller"

    I don't know. Made that icebreaker up.

    I'm a genius. Shh.

    The point is, you can all look back and think, "Sara-coughagus? What were you thinking?" *Fall down laugh*

    Icebreakers. Cheesey, but who doesn't like cheese? Outside vegans and lactose intolerant peeps. Even then I think they secretly long for a wedge of cheddar.

  3. Great addition to your blog Sara. Particularly interesting are the comments by Scott g. When you get back I'll challenge you and Scott to a game of pool. Larry