Fire Drill? No, North Korea Drill.

Hamchang N Korea Drill

The English teachers at one of my schools took me out to a nice lunch, and when we got back there was an alarm ringing outside; you could barely hear it inside but could tell that it was piercing outside.  One of the teachers said that we have to head out, in Korean of course, and I sort of get the gist and start following.

It was a fire drill, of course, so I asked, but NOPE!  It was a North Korea drill!  This goes to show how serious South Korea is about defending itself against its evil-half.

Still amazed by the news, I followed the teachers out to the tennis courts where all the students had already gathered amongst other teachers.  The Principal started to lecture all of the kids, in Korean obviously, and I clearly did not understand anything.  The funny thing though is that it was like a military lecture.  Always asking to see if the students heard/understood, and the kids would shout, “Yes,” back at the Principal each time.  I know that men have to serve at least 21 months in the military here in Korea, but starting in Middle School is a bit early don’t you think?

By the time I got back to my desk and checked Facebook, many other native EPIK teachers had already posted about the new revelation.  I mean, think about it – we have drills for fires, and natural disasters, but not for imminent attacks from hostile foreign countries; but then again, we are from the United States of America.


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 #1

At EPIK’s orientation, there was one lecturer who referred to Korea’s unorganized scheduling and information flow simply as, “Korean Surprises.”  All lecturers were sure to mention how dynamic and shocking how schools vary in their management style.  They all made it clear that something completely different from what they’ve and what other former EPIK teachers experienced could occur.  But, setting that aside, here’s mine:

I hitch a ride with a school admin as he was gracious enough to offer yesterday after helping me move and settle into my new apartment at 8:10.  I arrive and was sent straight to the Principal’s office only to wait for a staff meeting.  Naturally I was introduced to all the humble Korean teachers and told to give a self-introduction!  I said with my best Korean, “안녕하세요. 마나서 반갑숩니다. 잘 부탁드립니다.”  They kindly applauded and of course, impressed by my limited Korean.  But that’s not the best part!  Three new teachers were introduced to all 300+ all-girl middle school students and staff and made to introduce ourselves at the opening ceremony for the new school year!  Was I informed that this would happen by the school?  By EPIK?  By anyone?  No!  But it was alright!  “Hello. [cheers and applause] I’m Paul Ly from NYC. [cheers and applause] Nice to meet you all.[cheers and applause] I look forward to teaching and having fun with you all.” [cheers and applause] 🙂 I have a good feeling about teaching at this school!

Although I am not looking forward to explaining what kind of asian I am, and how someone with an asian face could still be called an American… Especially to 11 year old girls with limited working knowledge of English… I mean we Americans can’t even define what an, “American,” really is.

I wonder what other surprises are in store… so not curious.

The Korean Age System

You may have heard that South Korea considers the 9-months in the mother’s womb as 1 year when a baby is born, if not well now you know, but it is slightly more complicated than that.

But before we get into further details, let’s just review how we calculate our age:

  1. We start counting from 0 when we are born
  2. We age one complete year on the day of our birthday of that respective year, and this continues forever

Now, the Korean:

  1. You are 1-year-old when you are born
  2. You gain an age at the beginning of each respective year on January 1st after eating a traditional soup called ddeokgug with your family, while your birthday counts for nothing but for presents as a child (some young adults still celebrate but it is not as significant to the Koreans as it is for most other western cultures)

So it seems pretty easy and cut-clean right?  Not exactly!  When you are trying to calculate your Korean age, it is a bit difficult getting used to thinking their system.

  • For example, if you are 19 years old today in the USA, how old are you in Korea on February 22?
  • How about if you are 30 in Korean age today – how old are you in England on March 3?
  • Now let’s say you are 24 years old in Australia and your birthday is on May 2nd, but today is July 1st, how old are you in the Korean age?

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