Sunday, September 18, 2011

50 hours plus tourism

So, the adventure of working in Korea has been underway for 3 weeks now. I have met all my classes, and all of my teachers. The students remind me a lot of Ponca City High, except that they speak Korean. I teach for 21 official hours, and plan for the other 19, with an extra after school class everyday. One of the most intimidating things is when a flood of students all tell you their name and then ask you to remember them. 700 students. I'm doing good to remember the 30 students in my after school class.

My biggest mistake is my inability to snap out of teacher mode. If one of my co-teachers talks to me immediately after a class, I sometimes respond as if I'm still teaching: speaking slowly and way too simply. It's embarrassing. However, all of my co-teachers are amazing, and they are all looking out for me.

The students are all really excited to have me around. But the typical conversation is:
"Hello! How are you?"
"I'm fine, thank you. And you?" ... Giggle, laugh, embarrassment.

It's really cute.

The most awkward conversation is when they try to get me to call a taxi. I have to explain that I don't use the taxis, and also avoid advertising my phone number.

My students are the lower scoring kids. This is hard for me, because they have been told by the system that they aren't smart enough. However, every one of them is really talented, and some of them are phenomenal at English. I wish the was a way I could really affirm the goodness that is in them.

Enough of the sap.

My trip to and from school is awesomely ridiculous. It is either an hour bus ride, or a half hour train/bus ride. The problem results in getting home. My first trip back on the train back home was interesting. The train went down one stop, and then a lot of Koreann speaking came over the intercom. Most of the people left the train, yet I remained. Then they shut off the lights, and I was in the dark, both literally and figuratively. Apparently most of the trains terminate at that station. So, I was kicked off and stranded with two more stops to go. It took two more trains until one came that took me all the way home. The next day I took a bus, and it took me an hour to get home, but I got to read the entire way.
Once I tried a different bus route and got lost. When I got off to backtrack, I discovered an entire underground shopping city in Cheonan. It felt very 80's cyber-punk. Oh the wonders.

And with all this craziness, I'm still finding time for tourism. Katie and I have been swimming in the Yellow Sea at Deachon beach, which was delightful. We also took a trip to Seoul in order to see Gyeongbokgung (palace), which was gorgeous. Apparently the only buildings that can have the colors and design are the temples and the palaces. It seems that they hold both the royalty and the deity in similar standings. There will be pictures to come.

The best part of my travels have been to the American sectors (Songton) near the military base. It looked like every 80's china town movie you can imagine, but with American products. In a country with no guns and little crime, this was where I felt the most threatened... In little America. And afterwards, walking to the train, it felt like a Zombie flick town: fog, darkness, random lights. But, the Mexican food. Oh, the Mexican food.

In the days to come we are going to a traditional mask dance festival in Andong. Check it out: http://www.maskdance.com/english/main.asp

More to tell later and pictures to come.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Takin' Care of Business

I started my teaching job last week. I teach 22 classes of 36-40 students at an all girls high school. For those of you with exceptional math skills you see that I teach anywhere from 792-880 high school girls per week. I'm no scientist but I did a little research and according to my calculations that comes out to about 1 million decibels of ear-splitting squeals, yells and laughter. Now don't get me wrong, my students are great; I think they just don't know their own strength. So share with my journey through the first few days:

Day 1-The First Day
I had my very first class in a room without temperature control, so it was about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The room had a podium set in front of a small platform for teaching. I decided that an introduction to me would be a great way to start every class for the first week. So I step onto the platform and begin giving my little introduction. I walk to the right side of the platform, then to left, then back to the right, then off the platform into a small computer desk. My right foot failed to land securely on the platform and I fell into a computer desk resulting in a huge bruise on both my right knee and my ego. The girls loved my little comedy act and so I just continued lecturing. After class I am walking with my co-teacher, Jang, down the stairs and she gave me some advice on how not to fall. Later in the week we went out to dinner together, and once again she made sure I took care not to fall when walking on some uneven ground. Later later in the week we were walking outside and she warned me to watch my footing so I won't fall. It's official, I'm the girl who falls.

Day 2- The nothing day
Not much to say about this one, they were having tests but they want all teachers to be at their desks during testing. So I taught no classes but got some lesson planning done and met the other foreign teacher, Aalia, who is from South Africa. Make a friend at work, check.

Day 4- The Teacher's Meeting
Monday morning, Shin (my amazing co-teacher) lets me know that they want me to come to the teacher's meeting so they can introduce me. Keep in mind, this is not an English teacher's meeting, it is a whole school meeting so it is all in Korean. At the very beginning of the meeting, the principal stands up and says a few sentences in Korean with a few "Katarina" and "Katai" scattered in, so I knew he was talking about me. Shin motions for me to stand up. After a minute the president stops talking and looks at me, I take this as a signal to start talking. So I bow and say "Good Morning", all 50+ people in the room burst into laughter and Shin smiles and tells me we are all done and brings me back to my class...I guess I'm really funny in Korea.

Day 5- Team Building Time
All this week I am separating my girls into 6 teams to make the classes more manageable. Every team makes a poster for me with their team name, logo and member's names. My last class of the day is always rambunctious so I know what to expect...most of the time. I get through my explanation, hand out the posters and let them have the last 25 mins to work on them. After 20 mins I notice that one of the groups has not written anything on their poster and the clear leader of the group was just holding it. I walked over to make sure they understood the instructions and it was obvious to me that the leader speaks pretty good English. I asked them to pick the best artist in the group and have her do the poster, the leader says "I am the best artist! I will do it!" She then proceeded to pick up the paper and markers and glare at me indignantly. I told them to pick any English word and she nodded and glared at me. I begged them to write something and she would pretend to write and then stop. Finally, I said "just draw a picture and I will choose a name for you based on that." Again she pretended to write and then stopped. At about 2 minutes till the end of class I told them to just list their names and then I went to check on the other groups. When class was over the leader handed me the paper upside down, so I knew it wasn't good. I turned it over as her and her friends burst into laughter. Across the top they had written "CRIPPLE" in all caps and in the middle of the poster was a picture of a girl with no arms. You win this round Team Cripple....