#1 Asked Question

Part of my introduction is a slide on Rock-Paper-Scissors, and the winner gets to ask me any question they would like (or what the class tells them to ask…) and the most frequently asked question is without a doubt, “How old are you?”

If you don’t know Korean culture much, this will seem very personal, intruding and strange to you, but it’s very normal to ask someone’s age when you first meet them.  “Why?” you may ask, well it’s because they have a vertical formality culture in how you treat others, and how you speak to them.  It’s similar to the Japanese culture in this aspect, but from what I’ve seen it’s a little more prominent.  I could be wrong though.  Perhaps the reason I say this is because the age question isn’t as frequent, and the language used outside of professional settings tend to be more lax than what I’ve seen in Korea thus far (granted it hasn’t been that long yet…)

If you’re not familiar with this cultural aspect, this can range in differences from how you address someone, the conjugations used, formal language, body language, and ultimately, respect.  But I think my students are simply curious – they are after all only middle school students!

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A Middle School of 15 Students

Yeah, my smallest school contains only 15 students.  Even better, the first year (7th grade) has only 2 students.  But I’m absolutely loving the small classes!  Brings me back to the days when I was teaching at a conversational English school in Kyoto with class sizes going up to only 8.  It’s so much easier to do everything you need to be doing as any sort of teacher!

Best part of all is my co-teacher!  She’s amazing!  She knows when the students don’t understand and only then does she translate into Korean – smooth class.  Although the class sizes are small, we were able to actually “co-teach”.  For example, I included this part of showing them how to play rock-paper-scissors as we play it slightly different, you know as a cultural learning experience or something for them, and we essentially split the class into two and played and stuff like that.  I have yet to teach with all of my co-teachers at all 4 schools that I’ve been assigned to, but it’s going to be difficult to top that.

The school is in the countryside and a pain-in-the ass to get to for most of the teachers as they don’t live in that village.  Most of the teachers carpool and I’m going to be hitching a ride with a teacher from now on I suppose.  It would definitely be environmentally friendly in terms of emissions and on the pocket.  Got to figure a way to continually show my appreciation, gratitude and somehow repay her – there’s always snacks, meals, and gifts.  We’ll see!

Newcomers Party

Since last week my peers from the EPIK program have been talking about their staff parties with their schools but I didn’t hear even a peep as to if we were even going to have one.  I soon came to the conclusion and assumed that since my (main) school is Catholic and they may not condone a social drinking event.  I gradually got over the expectation of a party after coming to that conclusion, and then today I was requested by my, what I like to call, “Supervising Co-Teacher,” to go to my main school after finishing my last class at another middle school to teach a class.

However as it turns out, my co-teacher for that “spontaneous” class was not prepared, or in other words, they weren’t finished recruiting students for an after-school supplemental class yet, and I wasn’t required to teach today.  After discussing some schedule details with my Supervising Co-Teacher, he nonchalantly mentioned that we had the staff party in 5 minutes!  SURPRISE!

So I hop into the car with my Supervising Co-Teacher and get a lift to the restaurant.  A quarter way through the meal, he remembers another significant detail that I will have to give another introduction and probably have to sing a song; let me tell you – this is not karaoke style, it’s with no music at all.  And for those of you whom already know me, you know that I’m tone-deaf so it’s an impossible task for me.  So it gets to my turn later and I’m about to sing Barbie Girl by Aqua when I realized that I didn’t remember all the lyrics for the chorus; of course I would remember it a bit afterwards though…. Sang it at the karaoke after party though.

About karaoking with Koreans though – they all stand and sorta cheer you on and enjoy it so it’s quite nice; as I’m used to everyone chilling in their seats (and of course cheering, if they were paying attention lol).  I think they realized that you don’t need to know the language being sung to know that someone is tone-deaf LOL… And my heart skipped a beat when they started inviting people to continue!  But luckily we just went to a cafe and chatted for a couple of hours – that’s what I’m talking about.

But boy I gotta tell ya, I’m grateful for the party as I was able to make some friends, and it’s difficult at work when everyone is so busy; especially at the beginning of the semester since everyone is still organizing schedules, materials, lesson plans and such.  Looking forward to plans to play tennis and try some other Korean foods with them next month! 🙂

I Love You 사랑해

So it’s around 4pm and I’m sitting at my desk making lesson plans when unexpected visitors come to me – 3 high school girls.  Have I met them before?  No.  They’ve sorta met me before though, at the opening ceremony earlier this week.  They introduce themselves and shocked when I could almost say their names properly, and even more shocked when I was again, almost, able to correctly write their names in Korean.  One of the chicks admitted of having some interest in me which is probably her and her posse came by.  She said something in Korean along the lines of, “We’re going to come back and stay here for a while.”  And I agreed because it didn’t bother me at all and it was the first time I actually had a conversation, although really short, something more than the standard greeting in the hallway since I haven’t taught a class there yet.

Long behold, a period later they came back and I was in the middle of rushing to finish another lesson plan and they sensed it so they didn’t stay long; they possibly had cleaning shift as well, who knows.  But sure enough before they left, one said, “I like you.” And another said, “I love you.” And they chuckled, and in the spirit of it all I said, “사랑해” (Saranghae) which stands for the latter.  Probably not the best environment to have said it in the teacher’s room and all, but everyone understands that I’m a foreigner, lol.  Thoughts?  When we learn a new language, we all learn the unnecessary vulgar language first anyways, and although this may not be “vulgar” in a sense, it may be considered inappropriate.  I’ll stick to the 외국 waygook (foreigner) card for now though and watch myself from hereon out?

Korean Surprise #3

Went to 1 of my 4 middle schools today and it took over 1.5 hours by 2 express buses.  I got there an hour before when I should’ve arrived and my co-teacher decides to have me teach the next period in ten minutes!  I was informed by my main school that I won’t be teaching this week, and use it to prepare and settle down; but boy was I surprised!

Ended up teaching what we consider to be grades 8, 9, and 7; education in Korea is 6, 3, 3, and 4 – elementary, middle, high and university.  8th graders had awesome energy, too much if I must say, so it may be difficult to control but at least I’m looking forward to teaching them, ironically.  9th graders though, so checked out!  My co-teacher said that she’ll be the main teacher for them so I’m all for that!  And my 7th graders are a little lower than expected in terms of their English comprehension.  I spoke slower, enunciated carefully and clearly, and used lower vocabulary but only a couple out of 9 were able to comprehend me.  My co-teacher then decided to take over the class and teach, which I didn’t quite mind, but the kids didn’t quite understand her too – it was her style, but I can’t blame her as no one really knows the level their kids will be starting out.

On a side note, I’m curious as to whether or not my school will be having a staff party or not as I’ve heard from other peers, native English teachers in EPIK, that they all have or had one and that I should be having one too.  Some were yesterday, some were today, and probably some are tomorrow…but I don’t know if they’ll extend me an invitation as I was at a different school today and I’m taking care of some other business tomorrow so I probably won’t step into the school tomorrow.  That means I’m putting on jeans! 🙂

Bowing

いらっしゃいませ〜

I need to stop bowing to my students… In Korea they are technically “lower” in status and you only bow to those above you of a higher status.  I just have the habit from when I was in Japan as a student because you can’t go wrong with showing some respect.  But now it’s just a bit weird.

As you may or may not know, in Japan there are levels of bowing to show respect to certain people of a certain status.  There’s a good satire on it here.  In Korea, it’s similar I think but not quite too sure.  What I do know is that it is common for students to give a full 90 degree bow to teachers in the hallways.

So you can only imagine them bowing 90 and me bowing like a 10?  Either way, I think it’s weird for them to see a teacher of higher status bowing to them at all.  It’s just automatic!  It’s like when we thank people over the phone, we even bow then!  And I know others can definitely attest to doing the same thing, or even seen a Japanese person do it before!

Anyone want to take bets to see if I can get rid of the habit?  It’s not looking good…

Korean Surprise #2

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This has absolutely nothing to my new teaching job at all, but boy it was a surprise!

So it was a little past midnight and I’m calling it a night.  I’m in bed trying to fall asleep and within a few minutes, I hear this loud ass banging sound and vibration as if it was on my door; it’s probably my imagination or something, I thought.  It continued several times.  Now I’m thinking something’s up.  I rise out of bed and slowly head towards my door.  With every step I started to realize that it actually may be my door.  I’m opening the door and I see this drunk ass young Korean guy angry as f*** banging on the door next to mine; I mean literally an inch or so from my door.  So what do I do?  I swiftly close and lock my door and head on to bed.  As far as I was concerned, it was not my problem.

In bed, things settled down within a few minutes.  But then I heard screaming and yelling outside for a couple of minutes before I dozed off into wonderland.  Woke up this morning still remembering this incident and that’s enough clause for me to believe that it wasn’t a dream.  I got ready and head out to the bus stop with my other neighbor, as it turns out to be another native English teacher from South Africa, and we were talking about the ruckus from last night when we realized the following:

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Yeah that’s blood, if you were wondering.

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Notice the prints at the top and lower ends of the door; actually there’s a slight dent at the top print.

My buddy says that it was crazy for him because it was the first time in 4 years that something like this occurred, and it turns out to happen my second night. lol