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!

#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!

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! 🙂