Korean Hospitality

It’s already been two weeks since I started working as a full-time english teacher.  Since starting, other teaching and/or admin staff have been so kind as to ask and even actually giving me a ride around.

An admin staff member helped me move into my apartment, and assisted with the initial shopping needs per my contract.  He also graciously gave me a ride the following Monday to go to work.  He’s been so helpful with everything although his english is lacking, he gave it his best shot and even at times we were communicating via a translator such as Google or Naver; Naver is better for Korean-English or vice-versa translations than Google in my opinion.

I’ve probably mentioned this before but I teach at 4 separate middle schools.  Two are quite out-of-the-way further into the countryside, and on Tuesdays I hitch a ride from a fellow colleague at that school.  She’s always worrying about me although I’m the one concerned because I’m freeloading off of her essentially.  The first time we met to go to school she was maybe 15 minutes late due to traffic or whatnot and she felt so guilty and was worried about what I may have thought but I was completely fine with it.  This week she was only 2 minutes late and that bothered her a lot too!  I can’t stress enough how ok it was, but she’s a worrywart.

At my furthest countryside school, 1.5 hours or more by express bus (including a transfer), I was waiting for the bus to go home at the bus terminal after my first day there when someone popped into the terminal and asked if I was the english teacher from the middle school I was just at and offered me a ride.  Mind you, I might’ve met her at the office but I honestly couldn’t tell – but she knew me well.  And to this day, not that it’s been that long, I don’t remember her face…

This past Monday morning I was waiting at the bus stop when a car pulled up and rolled down its windows – it was the admin I mentioned at first.  He gave me a lift since he saw me – so nice of him!  I thanked him of course and as we walked towards the office, I realized that it was Monday morning again and that I was due at another school so I walked to that school from there; he probably felt bad, but it was ok!  The school is only maybe a 15 minute walk from that one, and he saved me a dollar on the bus fare.

Just a few examples of some korean hospitality in the past couple of weeks!  Looking forward to my paycheck next week so I can return the favors back in full!

On a side note, sounds like cats are having the time of their lives outside my apartment building; I guess this can really happen anywhere in the world!  NYC, Japan, and now Korea – I can’t recall if I heard any during my stay in Singapore…

Getting a Cell Phone in Korea

There are a shitload of sources out there and I wanted to briefly summarize what you’ll need to know.

Quick Tips:

  1. Shit happens all the time – Korea is a fast-paced economy and has the same kind of lifestyle so changes happen very frequently so the specifics may vary when you’re reading this
  2. You need your ARC (Alien Registration Card), or at least the print-out receipt from the office when you applied, and a bank account
  3. There are about 3 major providers – KT (Olleh), SKT (TWorld), and LG
  4. The whole process takes at least 20 minutes
  5. You’ll need to pay 25,000 KRW (may vary) since you’re a foreigner and they need some assurance

Cell Phones

You’ve got a lot to choose from if you’re thinking of purchasing a new phone.  Used phones depends on the store’s inventory.  You can purchase used phones from some stores and/or online in Korea, but I took a look and they’re not quite up-to-date; I was looking for a used iPhone 6 but there were none out – however I’m sure you can find some in America’s used market.  One thing you should know is that just like in Japan, the camera’s shutter is designed to display the shutter sound and there’s no option to turn it off, not even in silent mode is it off, but you can download an application to get rid of the annoying sound once and for all so I’ve heard.

Phone Plans

From the stores that I’ve checked-out, the posters displaying their options of phone plans are just a piece of what is available.  I spent maybe an hour or more at one store looking at plans and more than half-way through he realized that there were more options that better suit my interests; see I was interested in a low-minute and high-data plan for cheap.  In the end I settled for 100 minutes and 6GB of data per month.  It’s running me about $80/month, including the phone’s price.  Now, this is on a two-year contract.  I heard and saw something briefly on one-year contracts, but they’re rare and limited to my belief.  I think they’re only available for certain phones.  You may be able to get a one-year contract if you already have an unlocked phone.  Also, I was hoping to only get an unlimited 3G plan but they told me that it was unavailable – I don’t know if it’s because it’s paired up with an iPhone 6 or if they got rid of their 3G plans when LTE started to become prominent.  I read a couple of articles on it but they were a bit confusing to be honest; yeah, they were in English too – maybe it’s me… Best bet is to find someone who can speak English to review all your options, if you’re trying to be smart that is.  One other thing I should mention is that since it is a two-year contract, if you cancel after only one year you will have to pay the rest of your phone off.  And based on your phone plan, the price of the phone varies; the more expensive your plan, the more expensive your phone is.  This is because they give you some sort of discount based on how much your plan is and every month you’re paying off your phone for a total of 24 months – so if you cancel after 12, you have half left.

Bank Account

I confirmed that they will automatically withdraw the monthly bill from your bank account on the 21st starting from the following month.  Remember the “foreigner assurance” fee I mentioned before?  That’s all you have to pay for a brand new phone and contract, for the moment that is.  As for opening a bank account, you’ll also need the ARC or the number at least, and your passport.  I went with a co-teacher and they did all the talking while the teller kept marking signature locations on a bunch of documents all in Korean.  I must’ve signed at least 15 times in 20 minutes – awfully a lot in my opinion.  The pattern I see is that they like confirmation for each significant section of a contract, and not just the full contract where you sign at the bottom.

Providers

KT seems to be #1 in Korea and you’ll see the Olleh wifi spots everywhere.  I asked around to see which was the best in my area and they told me SKT so I just went with them.

Have fun navigating Korea’s wonders!

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.

Leprechauns

Thursday mornings I’m scheduled to teach English at a countryside middle school and trek all the way there, but today they had exams or something so I wasn’t required to go in; instead I went to my main school and desk-warmed.  Being the great NYer I am, I efficiently used this free time to prepare a lesson for next week!  I saw a post on FB from a facilitator from EPIK’s orientation on St. Patrick’s Day, and thought I could work with that.

So I’m doing research on the holiday, the origins, related and associated things, and figured maybe I’ll include a section on leprechauns and have the students draw a comic strip.  Naturally they have to learn what leprechauns are, what characteristics they have, and implement that into their comic strips, but it was shocking to see what little visual aids that was readily and immediately available over the internet!  I remembered watching many cartoons, animations and/or movies on the little lads, and yet came up short.  Ideally I wanted a short clip displaying all their famous features, but there was always something missing!

It’s not finished yet, but it’s almost there I suppose.  It’s difficult coming up with a very educational and fun lesson plan that helps the students’ English language abilities in the long run!  Ever since I left NY to study Japanese in Japan, and now coming to Korea to teach English, I become more and more appreciative or my former teachers, and acknowledge those who can speak and/or teach foreign languages – especially as a foreign language in a foreign country!

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!

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! 🙂