First week teaching in Korea- a reflection

There are so many things to tell you about our new city, I thought it would make sense to start thematically.  This entry school, another for home, shopping, pets etc.

It is 7:45 Friday night as I write this, 5:45 a.m. in MN

Overall, we are very happy here. Teaching here is very similar to teaching at home, yet a little different.

On Monday our co-teachers were given a 2 hour orientation on what they need to do to help us.  We were then loaded into Ji Yeon’s, Mike’s co-teacher, car.   She drove my co-teacher, Mike, Remi, Ching, Clark, and me 1 hour to Mike’s school.  Mike then toured his school and gave presents to school administration.  Next, we went to my school and I did the same. We were introduced to the principal, vice principal, and administrators.  There was a lot of bowing involved.    Then we went home, dropped off the animals, inspected the apt, and made a shopping list.  From there we went to the immigration office and applied for our alien residency  cards.  Then off to the mega-mart, Home Plus, for our starter needs. 

While we were shopping Benji, my co-teacher, leaned over and said “Akasha, we need to hurry.  Teacher’s dinner is at 6 p.m.”  We ran home, left Mike and Ji Yeon with the unpacking and went to dinner.  Dinner was amazing.  We had Korean bbq’ed pork, blue crabs, and a million amazing things.  They ordered cheap beer for me!  I poured shots for my superiors, was fawned over, and fed amazing food, all while Mike had tofu soup and unpacked.  It was a little intimidating, but fabulous.

Tuesday morning Mike and I went to school.  We are specialists in our building and since Monday classes were cancelled so that we could be transferred, we had to make up for Monday.  We taught 6/6 classes.  We teach 22 classes (40 minutes each) a week.  While there is a schedule, it changes constantly.  This drives other foreign teachers  crazy, but reminds me of home.  🙂

I have the coolest, most  enormous and hi-tech classroom I’ve ever seen.  VMS people, please show this to Dave so he knows what an ESL classroom should look like jk) My class has 5 tables for 30 children.  I have a huge touch screen tv, a bluescreen stage for student presentions, and a mini-English lab with a model stations for play acting.

I walk 15 minutes to work every day.  Since non- Korean people are super rare here, everybody says hello to me.  Some over react when I respond in Korean.  I get to school at 8:30, take off my shoes and put on my slippers.  Then I go to the teacher’s office with my department and bow to everyone, then I walk to the administrator’s office and bow to the three admins.  Next we open our office and get ready.  I teach a different schedule every day.  I teach 5th and 6th grades.  I see each class twice a week.  My co-teacher and I teach 50/50 (this is rare.)  I also teach Kindergarteners the alphabet and greetings once a week.  They are super-duper cute.

At lunch time we all go to the caf, get lunch, and sit at the teachers table.  Lunch is super good and I can never finish it all.  We are served on metal trays with chop-sticks and bowls.  After eating we clean up, drink a cup of tea in  one shot, clean our faces in the mirror, and return to the office.  We then all go to the bathroom to brush teeth.  ( I like this tradition)

In addition to regular teaching I am coaching the English speech competition for half an hour after lunch and 20 minutes after school.  The competitors are the top five EFLs in the 5th grade.   I also give a 10 minute broadcast every Thursday where I make chit-chat and give a riddle each to the primary and intermediate students.  This is super fun and I love the students I broadcast with.

top row left to right: media board, cameraman, media board, bottom row: controls, me, co-host.

My schedule will be shifting all week as my  students are pre-paring for their athletic competitions.  They have been doing drills all week.  The competition is on a Saturday and I think I will go cheer.

I forgot to mention how much they love sports.  When I arrived at the dinner I was told that a recent CNN report said that “All Americans are fat, but you look physically fit.”  The principal plays ping-pong every day in the ping- pong room next to my room.  The important people in school play volley ball from 5-7 every school day.  Wednesday we had a city-wide elementary school volleyball tournament.  The championship is next month in preparation for teacher’s day.     A friend is being forced to do calisthenics with his principal for 40 minutes a day.

My facilities are very different from any school I’ve known before. My building houses admin, grades 1-6, English, and broadcasting.  There is a seperate kinder building, and a seperate cafeteria/ gym building.  The gym is on the second floor and doubles as the auditorium.  My school has an outdoor Koi pond and a model of the local eco-system that also shows the layers of the earth’s surface and the formation of volcanos.  a little too zen for k-6

Enough about me.  Mike’s school is very different, so I’ll let him tell about his school:

Hello. I’m teaching at Seohae Elementary school, just a few blocks from our apartment. My walk is only about five minutes from my building, barely enough time to break a sweat. Seohae isn’t as fancy-pants techno-geek as Akasha’s school, but we work just as hard to get the students learning English.

Unlike Akasha, I’m not working side-by side with any teacher to deliver lessons. I haven’t actually taught any lesson yet – my assignment his week was to deliver a 15 minute talk on my life in Minnesota, then answer questions from the kids. I taught the kids the proper pronunciation of our State’s name (long OOO, please!) and also told them all about my dog Remi. Many of the students live in our neighborhood, and we’ve been stopped several times by my students, who tell me they heard about Remi in school, and are happy to see him in person. (Well, that’s what I imaging them saying – their English isn’t that good yet.)

Typical questions from 4th, 5th, and 6th grade Korean students are (in order of popularity): How old are you?, Do you like Korean food? Do you have son? (sic) Do you speak Korean? and What’s your favorite color? Contrary to what I’ve been told to expect, no one has yet asked my my blood type (it’s a common indicator of personality types.)

I’m going to be teaching 4th, 5th and 6th grades, for a total of about 19 hours week; a workshop for teacher in the school and a ‘special class’ on Monday evenings will fill out my teaching time. I teach 4th grade with my co-teacher, Ji-yeon, in the English lab, which is also my office. I teach 6th grade with the other English teacher, Mrs. Ok, in the homerooms of each class. For fifth grade, I head out to the teacher’s various home rooms all by myself, and teach all by myself like a real teacher.

Unlike Akasha, I’m not expected to bow to the principal every morning, though if I see them, or pretty much any other adult in the halls, I am quick to bow. Bowing, I’ve discovered, is habit forming in this country.

The kids are well-behaved, and very curious. I’m often stopped in the halls with calls of “How are You?” and other basic English expressions, and several classes have asked me if I’m related to English soccer star Wayne Rooney.

So my days, after giving my introductions, have been filled with lesson planning and trying to fit into a school where I don’t know the language. Everyone has been very helpful so far, and we’re gradually settling in.

Well that’s about it for now – thanks for sticking with us to the end of this long, rambling post. We’re thinking about all of you, miss you, and hope you’ll comment, email, Facebook, or Skype us often to keep us in the loop on the happenings of Minnesota, USA, and the rest of the world outside the Korean peninsula.

Me again (Akasha) we wake up listening to the evening braodcast of 91.1 MPR and chill out at night while listening to the morning commute music on 89.3 the current.  It is funny, except for the Trump politics stuff.

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11 Responses to First week teaching in Korea- a reflection

  1. Heather says:

    Wow, I’m so jealous of your high-tech classroom Akasha!
    Glad to hear things are going well. I LOVE all the pictures.
    H

  2. Please note the volleyball referee is standing on a folding chair that has been zip-striped to a student desk. One day we will have a lovely blog post on things in South Korea that just wouldn’t fly back home. Many of them a super cool, but invite law suits.

  3. Jenni says:

    Akasha-your kiddos look so fun! Love them all giving the peace sign. Touch screen TV? Kinda like a smart board?
    Mike-Love that you’re working on teaching your students the long OOOO in Minnesota, and that they enjoy seeing REMI!

    Miss you all! Keep me posted on when an ideal summer time would be to visit:) Thinking end of June or end of July!

    Jenni

  4. Wow. Sounds the US could learn a lot about how important foreign language teaching is (funding wise) from Korea.

    Thank you for the updates!

  5. Valerie from Missouri says:

    Hello,
    My boyfriend and I just got a job offer to teach in Jeollanamdo and your blog showed up on a google search for the area. I am so glad I found it. Reading about your experiences is putting my mind at ease. It’s one of the most informative sites I’ve read so far. We don’t know what city we’ll be placed in but maybe we will see you guys when we get there. Thanks so much! Keep on writing!

  6. Valerie from Missouri says:

    We are in the process of buying our plane tickets now and I hope you can give us your opinion. I have a lot of respect for people that can make it through 24 hours of traveling with pets! So, our recruiter recommended taking a bus from Incheon to Gwangju. She said a bus would take four hours but we could leave directly from Incheon where as an air connection would require a bus into Seoul-Gimpo. The bus is only $20. Is it worth it?

    • Sorry, I didn’t see this before. Oh my. Are you going with pets? If so, no. If you are just going with your boy friend, yes. The express busses here are awesome. You’ll probably arrive faster than the plane anyways considering the transfer to Gimpo, the layover, and getting past security. The express bus seats are “captains chairs” and very nice.

      • We got our assignments a few days ago. We will be in Hwasun. I also set up our own wordpress blog. Check it out if you can!

        http://suspiciousforeigners.wordpress.com/

      • Congratulations! We have a great group down here. We just went to Wando last weekend for a beach party with about 200 waygooks from the province. We’re going to a Kia Tigers game this weekend. I recommend going to a game when you get here, they are awesome. Email us if you have any questions, also, there are awesome facebook groups out there including Mokpo and the Gwangju-Jeolla One Stop Second Hand Flea Market.

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