Sometimes I forget….

Sometimes I forget that I’m foreign. That I don’t look like everyone else. Sometimes I even forget we all speak a different language.

Chris and I live in an English bubble in our home. Sure, all the packages are in Korean and the sockets are different, but you can forget those easily. That’s just your home. We can even forget after we step outside, to go to school or the store . It’s only after we hear Korean do we remember. “Oh, woah. Woah. Korean. Different country.”

On Monday I had an appointment with the IT lady on the first floor. She was going to teach me how to laminate stuff (I can’t believe I’ve made it almost 3 months as a teacher without laminating anything). I walk into the office and I know what she looks like. But then I get really worried. She doesn’t know what I look like. How will she recognize me?  Andrew said I would come meet her during 5th period, but I’m early. I should just come back later- oh wait a minute. I’m white. I’m the only white employee in this school. She knows what I look like.

Sure enough, she comes right over and teaches me how to laminate without any exchange of words.

Today I had to laminate more things. I knew how to do it but not where the laminating sheets were. My friendly IT helper wasn’t there so I walk over to some guy. Oh wait, I can’t speak any Korean. I kind of gurgle at him “uh, eh, it. The thing…”  and motion for him to come with me. I walk back to the laminating machine and try to emulate laminating. All I want is the glossy stuff and I can do it myself, I swear. He says a few things I answer “nay, nay.” Yes. Yes. Whatever it is, yes. I probably want it. He goes out into the hall where one of my 3rd grade co-worker staff friends is. She’s not a co-teacher, but I see her all the time in our office. The guy thinks maybe she can help – she works with the me all day, she’ll know what I want. No, she doesn’t, she doesn’t speak English with me. Then the vice principal comes along. It feels like one of those kids stories where the main character goes on a quest and collects about 30 different friends en route. So I had the original guy, the staff member from my office, the vice principal – then a co-teacher joined us. And then finally the IT lady showed up. So we were good to go, not everyone had to help me laminate any more.

Other people sometimes forget that I’m different, forigen or that I can’t speak Korean as well. Students forget all the time. Sometimes they just speak in Korean to me. That doesn’t get anyone anywhere. Other times, they ask me questions about things that happen after school. Almost always they ask about things I don’t even know about. If I didn’t even know it existed, I certainly cannot tell you the details about it. I feel bad because they get the bravery to ask me in English “what time is…” “Can I do…?” and I just send them right over to a Korean speaker. Sorry kids.

My co-workers in the office never forget about me. They always make sure I get office snacks -often aggressively, (actually as I type this I was given an orange juice). They also usually make sure I have a lunch buddy to eat with. But they have been known to forget that I’m a foreigner. The phone closest to me rings. And rings. And rings. A head pokes over the desk and glares at me for half a second. Aren’t you going to get tha- oh. No. You’re not.

Often in the morning, someone comes to pass out professional development, school info, booklets, information, etc. The lady goes on co-pilot mode and just reaches around the person working to put it on the desk. I almost always get one. Although sometimes they look at who I am, and just take it back. Sometimes with a small snort/giggle.

The worst about being foreign is that I’m often the only person in the office. The rest of the staff members have to go to meetings or discipline their home rooms. So I’m alone in the office. I have my back to the door. So sometimes people enter to visit or deliver hamburgers (yeah, that’s right. People deliver hamburgers. To us. In the middle of the day.)”Annyeonghasaeo!” they call being friendly. And I ruin everything when I turn around to make sure it isn’t the principal

fgdI must seriously look like this because some people almost gasp- they’re shocked to see me. Many Koreans dye their hair brown so I guess I could look Korean from behind. Also, I guess when you go into a Korean school in Korea you’re not expecting a foreign employee.

So whatever they wanted to tell me when I was Korean is gone. They will often just kindof point at the thing they brought. I got you this… I  brought the thing.

Wordlessly I nod back – I’m sure someone was expecting that and will find it. Because I can’t even tell anyone about it.

Usually my life:

“이지앵 선생님?”

Students will come in to make copies. The copying machine is almost always broken. They look around with that ‘I need an adult face’ which fades to disappointment when they see the only adult at their disposal is me. The copying machine is in Korean – they have a better chance of helping me fix the copying machine.

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Debate and New Room and Speaking Tests and Open Classes…..

Oh man. I was warned that the month of May would be busy but whoever said that really wasn’t F$%@ing around.

Debate

Chris and I both have debate to do. There is a national competition sometime in the future, so for now, we are both doing preliminary work. His school had somewhere around 70 students who wanted to compete, I believe my school had around 80. (There is a huge competition between our middle schools since they’re a block away from each other. So I’m pretty proud to say we had more students who wanted to participate haha). Both school are (unsurprisingly) doing it differently. Chris’s school is doing a true debate – 2 teams who want to participate compete and respond to one another. For some reason, my school was running the preliminary round as some kind of speech competition. That students would just say why they believe their position is right. Unfortunately most of my students just memorized answers so I feel we may have picked a very inefficient way of doing this. It was only the students who memorized the best answers who will be moving on.

What this meant was staying after school. Chris stayed until around 6pm on Thursday, the next day I had to stay until 8pm. Then last week I had another round and stayed until 8:30.

The questions are interesting, at least.

  1. Korea wants to switch to electronic tablets to replace textbooks. This is a good idea  because it could reduce the amount of books students would have to carry around. It could even save the schools money since they buy text books every year for each individual student (they write in them). However students could easily pass through security measures and just do what they want all day during class. Not to mention the already-high screen addiction going on here.
  2. Korea uses a “Green Mileage System” a point system to try to increase discipline without hitting students. Students hate this system (because some of them are still hit anyway). So almost every team spoke against it saying the system is unfair because some teachers don’t notice when students do something good, some teachers may give points based on mood and that some students can win points back even if they have been very bad.
  3. Should cyber bullying that occurs outside of school be punished by the school? Another interesting question because this is an issue America is having right now too.

There were 2 other questions but not very many other groups covered them.

New Room

Since the very first day I stepped into my school I’ve had a room of my own. The problem was everything was broken. It has a smart board that was all kinds of broken. When it was fixed, the sound went to hell. So it’s been out of  use since I started teaching 2 months ago.

A week ago, I was working with 1st grade students. We were doing a fun speaking and drawing game to let them have a little fun time after all their midterms. Well, the vice principal showed up and was not too happy about how “loud” we were. She lectured my co-teacher for a while and then left. But that wasn’t the end of it, she complained to everyone about my conversation class being too loud (not sure how to get 40 people to practice a foreign language without being a little loud). So she pressured the re-opening of the “Englishville” (my classroom is a village, apparently) so that I could stop “interrupting” the other classes.

So the transition into the room has been a little abrupt with one co-teacher. And nonexistent with the others. Still, suddenly moving to your “own room” that’s still filled with the last guy’s crap and trying to use all the new technology has been a little taxing. Not to mention the board is still a little broken and 2/4 speakers are broken.

Update: now the speakers are broken again but I’m supposed to use it still. Why are we using this room?

Speaking Tests

Chris and my school run near-clockwork to each other. This has been extremely handy for us because he will say “oh I have debate stuff” and then the next day I’ll find out I have debate stuff too. I’ll find out about something, then a few days later he will too. Being together gives us a chance to prepare for whatever. Because whatever one of us does, the other person is probably going to do it too.

Except for speaking tests. Which is disconcerting for him.

I have to conduct speaking tests for about 850 students. Basically an English speed-date with all of them. It’s about 1 minute 30 at the longest So for the whole next week, or more, I will be conducting these tests instead of my regular lessons. It’s nice not to have to lesson plan but it’s stressful to grade these kids. I’m often too harsh or too open, never a happy-medium.

Open Class

Chris had his open class a few weeks ago. It was insanely stressful (hence I knew I had one coming up, thanks Chris!). Your co-teacher stresses hard about it, they demanded it to be a certain way that actually kind-of falsifies how you would ordinarily teach. The worst of all is that they need it written a certain way. In Chris’s case, they weren’t nice about it. EPIK and our TEFL course (and just about everyone) uses a very similar lesson plan style. EPIK and DMOE have both told us to use the one we’re currently using. So Chris submits his like this.

“That’s not how you lesson plan. No one does it like this.”

“EPIK had us do this kind. So I thought it was the-”

“No, EPIK doesn’t do it like this.”

His co-teacher can be a bit of a you know what sometimes. But it turned into a 3 day ordeal that crashed his computer 5+ times. They had to use the Korean version of the lesson plan that isn’t on microsoft office or any thing, but a Korean specific word processing program. It will not open on a computer unless it installed (duh). No matter how many times Chris suggested this, they didn’t care or listen. Finally they came up with the ideas on their own that – oh, he doesn’t have the program to open the file. So they installed it. And it crashed and crashed and crashed. It was a nightmare for him.

Needless to say, I was almost shaking in my boots when I heard “Oh I forgot to tell you, you have an open class.”

“when” I asked breathlessly. “Today?”

“No. May 30th” *huge sigh of relief*

“Which class?” My coteacher spent about 3 minutes finding the class. The whole time I’m imagining all the possible horrible classes it could be. Oh no, what if it’s 3-5? They hate me.

Oh god! What if it’s 3-7!!!

 Oh SHIT. What if it’s 2-7!!! –2-7 has “Didn’t try. Didn’t listen. Acted like *$&@ers” written on my little private chart.

Please don’t let it be 2-7.

I prayed for a girls class. And not a 2nd grade one. Because 2nd graders are so apathetic and can be so weird.

“2-8” she finally said.

Boys. 2nd grade.

The Rolling Stones “You can’t always get what you want” played in my head. But at least it wasn’t 2-7.

So now I get to do what Chris did. No.  I refuse.

I sat down with one of his old copies of the Korean-format from hell. And I completely remade it from scratch on Microsoft Word. And because I’m sure we are not the only people to suffer with this, we’re going to share this format for anyone else who has an open class. I’ll post it in a few days on our drive and link it here.

If you’re so stressed, then how are you finding the time to post about it on your blog, huh?

I got lucky. When I wrote this, it was Teacher’s Day (more about that later). And there was an Anti Smoking Campaign and an Earthquake Drill.

Which cancelled 3 classes for me. Such a gift. Best Teachers Day ever.

 

 

 

Three Month Dump

We’ve been blogging intermittently and sometimes forget to mention cool stuff we’ve done. Sometimes we take a picture and it never makes it up here because it doesn’t fit into anything. So here are some things we did over the past few months that never made it up.

Hiking

Twice now we’ve walked at mountains with the intent to just hike right up. Twice now it’s worked. Once we kinda started walking through someone’s farm and a Korean woman lead us to the proper trail head. The other time we just got lucky.

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Just us and the Yellow Dust 
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Not such a spectacular view

 

 

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Abandoned fire watch tower??
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Trying the exercise equipment on the top of the mountain

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Biking to the Dam

We hopped on our bikes one day and next thing we knew we were 7 miles away at the Daecheon Dam.

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The neighboring “town” of Sintanjin – I swear it is just 70 story buildings that make up this town.
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The lake
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View from the dam
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America offers metal gazebos and destruction-proof picnic tables. These are what Koreas public picnic spots look like.

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Golf

No, we didn’t go golfing. You know us better than that. We saw it from afar and had to come investigate.

It’s like a batting cage, driving range  combined with bowling technology. The whole thing is wrapped up in a net and the backside of it looks like a castle. You see a castle wrapped in a net from afar and you’re definitely going to come looking for answers.

 

 

 

 

 

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You actually drive balls over the parking lot. They have nets suspended over cars but at an angle. The balls roll down into some gutter which is where bowling technology comes in. I’m pretty sure the balls are returned to the building.
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To make the most of space it’s about 6 stories of driving. Amazing use of space.

Look at this drink:

 

 

 

 

 

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Look good? Its some kind of tea with ridiculously heavy cream on top of it. You basically just buy it and pretend to drink it for the next twenty minutes but really you spend the whole time trying to stir the cream into it. It’s a conversation drink, really.

No, they weren’t punished.

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I actually got a worse one than this – but I did get a chuckle out of this one. I don’t really care that much, it’s not like the paper was actually going to American students.

Breast Cancer Awareness

We have cable. Not sure why. But we turned it on one morning to see the Sunday morning news

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To try to be sensitive to all audiences they put a full plastic breasts on a man and then took turns feeling for lumps.

Forgot your reading glasses?

This is something Germany did too that really REALLY needs to be introduced in America. Here they have reading glasses chained to the table (just like they chain the pens). In Germany they had giant magnifying glasses attached to the drug store shopping carts.

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Children’s Day Bike Ride

What we actually just learned was that we were being respectful without even knowing it (love when that happens). This long weekend was a “No Travel” weekend for some. EPIK says “Many schools, communities and government offices in a show of solidarity for those who have been affected by the Sewol tragedy may be participating in a ‘no travel’ plan for the holiday weekend.” So it works out that we stayed in all weekend.

 So what did we do over the long weekend if we didn’t travel? We stayed in and relaxed. The midterms were stressful for our schools and co-teachers and thus stressful for us by association. We’ve been running around either helping co-teachers with the test questions or coming up with last minute games for classes that were ahead.

We were feeling pretty tired so we’ve been enjoying sleeping in and just being lounge lizards. It’s wondeful. We’re watching Game of Thrones, playing video games and just taking leisurely walks around Gwanpyeong (where we live, lets not call it Daejeon anymore. We live in Gwanpyeong).

Our 6 year anniversary was on the 4th. “Star Wars Day” – May the Fourth be with you. It’s kinda a pun. We were going to go to the next town over and hang out, but it was 3 hours away so we stayed in. We had a nice lunch and went on a walk. That was it. So lazy. So nice.

We finally did something on Monday, it was “Children’s Day”. We’re still unclear on how it’s celebrated – mostly buying gifts for your kids. It actually has an air of Christmas about it – lots of gifts, and lots of time spent on your kids. It’s really neat.

We were finally sick of just hanging out inside so we decided to take a bike ride into Daejeon and go see the Expo Bridge. This bridge is arguably the only thing to see in Daejeon. There are no real landmarks or monuments or anything really defining about Daejeon except for its bridge. We’ve seen it from afar from our bus rides, but hadn’t had the time to see it up close. So we bought a nice blanket and a cooler and set out with a picnic.

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It was really really nice. We had a nice quiet picnic. But then we rode around in the Expo Park area – along with everyone else in Daejeon, I’m afraid to say. What we didn’t know about Children’s day is that since it is a springtime/summertime holiday, that common gifts for kids are wheels. Bikes, roller blades, skateboards, etc. Everyone takes their bikes out, everyone has kites, everyone has picnics. It is a very busy outdoor holiday. So a landmark like the bridge attracted pretty much every family in Daejeon.

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Pictured: more people than you can count and at least 6 kites
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A girl with an Elsa costume flies a kite while Dad tries out her new scooter

It was fun to see but harrowing to ride or even walk a bike through the masses. I have never seen so many bike/roller blade/skateboarding accidents ever. But Korean children will eat dirt hard and then get right back up. So we witnessed quite a bit of learning-to-roller-blade destruction but didn’t see any tears. Good, it’s Children’s Day, afterall. No tears on children’s day (there were actually lots of tears from nap-needing kindys and kids who didn’t get a balloon but we’ll skip over that).

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Look at this kid’s crash-pants, though. It’s like what motorcyclists wear.
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Mom waits on a blanket. What I love most about this is they brought a little plastic kitchen on their picnic. In case the bikes became boring for the kids.

 

We had fun watching all the kids playing and flying kites (kite flying is an art here, it’s amazing to watch their skills). We wanted to ride around some more but there was so much traffic and people it wasn’t even safe any longer so we headed back home.

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Long Weekend of No Travel

We had a 4 day weekend plus 1 other day off. So we had a day off on Thursday, then we had to go back to school on Friday (!?) then we had a 4 day weekend.

Why?

Thursday = Labor Day (but only for contract teachers – us)

Monday = Children’s Day

Tuesday = Buddha’s Birthday

Weeks ago the hotels across the country were booked solid. Everyone had at least a 4 day weekend and everyone was going to travel. Smart contract teachers took Friday off and had a 6 day “weekend”. We couldn’t do this so we resolved to have a 4 day weekend. 

There was nothing open. We wanted to go to Gangwon or Busan or Jeju. Nothing. All the hotels were booked, all the flights to Jeju full. Nothing was available. So we scoured the country for any open hotels. We found one in Taean – inside some kind of beach side national park. It looked beautiful enough so we booked the hotel. But we really just settled on the area since it was open while nothing else was.

Fast forward to the night before we would’ve left, and we didn’t want to go anymore. We couldn’t book bus tickets online and it had never occurred to us to look at just how long the trip was. This country is the size of Kentucky. It’s wee. And Taean is really only 60 miles away from us. We never assumed getting there would be a problem. But for some reason, for us (in the middle of Korea) to get to the coast of Korea, it would’ve taken 5+ hours. Busses only. And that’s bullshit. We would’ve arrived at midnight or later and leaving the next day wasn’t really an option.

So what did we do? We cancelled the trip, lost a deposit on the hotel and just stayed home. Which is not like us. In Germany we would’ve jumped at a 4 day weekend. We would’ve fought to make it a 6 day weekend. In fact, we had actually planned to go to Japan for a 6 day weekend until it all fell apart. The big difference is that Germany actually had decent trains and busses. Korea does not. This country is actually very similar to America in that way – they value private vehicles. They are a tiny tiny country but everyone demands to have a car and to drive it short distances like across the street (just like Americans). We refuse to get a car. People drive like idiots. We know we would not be aggressive enough to keep up or ever get where we wanted to. Plus, since we’ve gotten here, we know of many people who have been in in car accidents (two of my co-teachers’ friends actually died in car accidents). It’s not happening. 

So we’re bummed and this is not looking good for travel. We would love to explore the country until you realize that getting across it is going to take 8 or even 12 hours of bussing. Ridiculous transfers, being stranded somewhere waiting for hours for the next bus. It’s crap.

The first problem is we live as north as you can get without being outside of Daejeon. I don’t even consider where we live to be part of Daejeon as it takes about 45 minutes to get into the city. In the US you would be in a completely different city if you had to travel 45 minutes. The big problem is the traffic, I think you could probably get into Daejeon in 20 minutes with your own car. But busses stopping at every stop and then getting through all the traffic takes longer.

It’s a long 45 minutes, usually standing room only on an erratic ride. The starts and stops are so abrupt we’ve actually been on busses when people have fallen. We’ve almost fallen and been in a small bus crash before. It’s not fun. 45 minutes of this is not usually worth it. Daejeon doesn’t offer much.

But what Daejeon does have, are the only bus or train stations in the area. This means, when you want to go somewhere that is only an hour away, it is really 2 hours away for us when you calculate how long it takes us to just get to the bus or train station in the first place. 

Some of you may be thinking that if we really wanted to travel, that time and suffering would be no hinderance. No. Some of these bus trips would take a full day. So a 4 day weekend just became a 2 day one, sandwiched between high stress bus rides. Travel on the weekend has now been completely eliminated. If we wanted to leave on Friday night it wouldn’t be possible. Last time we tried to get into Daejeon after work, it took almost 3 hours. 

So we’ll travel when we’re really in the mood. But what we’ve learned this weekend is that Korea is nothing like Germany. I’m not sure why we were expecting it to be. Just assumed small countries had decent public transportation. 

What we’ve also learned is that things that are close don’t even have bus lines for some reason. We were going to go to the next town over and it was still 2 hours of convoluted transfers. 

What we need is a car and I really don’t think that’s going to happen. 

Sorry if any of this sounds negative. But so far, this has been the most disappointing thing about Korea. If we had more patience, stamina or tolerance we could probably enjoy these mega bus trips to somewhere cool, someday we probably will. But for now we were happy to stay at home over the long weekend.