Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beginnings

April is just around the corner and that means that May will soon be here too. For me this time of year reminds me that I have been in Korea nearly 2 years. I spend my free time thinking about all that has transpired within this time.

Certainly what sticks out the most to me is that the way I feel about Korea today is nearly completely different from when I first got here. Of course that would make sense, right? But actually, I feel that as I go into creating my 3rd year here in Korea my attitude and outlook on the place is also very different than the first year.

When I first came to Korea I was 26 years old and now I am 28 (American age). My first job was at a hagwon (private school) and I understand now that it was this first experience at that place that shaped my mindset for the months to come.

The first 3 months of my life here in Korea were about survival and adaptation. It took forever to find certain essential things and also find my way to particular places. My Korean was pretty basic, yet I had a good grasp of being able to read it.

I remember my first 3 months busily trying to adapt to working at the hagwon. Coming in early to prepare work and finding myself hungry and tired during the last class before I came home. There were many times, I can recall, riding the subway home and trying not to cry in front of strangers.

The Korean workplace is a whole different experience than what I was familiar with. I feel because I crashed and burned so hard with my fellow Korean coworkers that it scarred me. During that time I couldn't understand why my Korean coworkers were so bitter around me. We had fights and arguments, all of which lead me to grow a habit within myself, that of distrust. I began to believe that I could never trust my Korean coworkers. That they would never be able to understand the foreigner perspective. It is this mindset that kept on getting in my way at my future jobs.

In the beginning, I was fragile and weak. The long hours and stressful work environment made me wonder if being an expat was always full of hardships.

But really at that time I was a new face amongst the expat crowd here. Everything seemed so new and different and every new place I went was thrilling.

I managed to quit the hagwon and move to a public school. That was a very dark and stressful time of my life. Things between me and my exboyfriend were crumbling and falling apart. I needed his support and good words but mostly what I got from was half-hearted. Yet, at the time I knew I needed to make money and get my career out here back on track.

My new school moved me into a terrible new home. First it was a room with no window that had cigarette smoke pumped into it from neighboring tenants. Then with enough nagging I got moved into a room across the hall with a window. It didn't change the fact that the place was a dump.

There I was alone and feeling treated wrongly by new school. I couldn't believe that people would put someone to live in such a shit-hole. Because of this I grew very resentful of my new coteacher and the staff at my new school. This combined with what I took from the hagwon, which was that I couldn't trust my Korean coworkers. Needless to say, this was a recipe for more disaster.

As I look back I only see all the potential that was wasted.  For example, my old public school had it's own classroom. It was also considerably small in class size and my schedule wasn't overloaded. However, I didn't really care about making new materials or decorating the classroom. I only put my energy into the after school classes because it was the most difficult aspect of the job. (No curriculum, 20 energetic students). I also spent extremely little time getting to know my coteacher. The first one seemed not to interested in me so it wasn't much of a problem. But the second coteacher was a very kind and generous woman. Yet, because of my bitterness towards the school and that I still had not gotten over my distrust for Korean coworkers, we got off on the wrong foot.

Looking back I wish I had gotten to know her well and really worked more with her. She had already 3 years English teaching experience and really cared about their education. Also she was into the modern sense of teaching and liked to use new ideas. In other words, I know now what I threw away because of my personal choices.

And so here we are at my 3rd job here in Korea. I made a promise with myself that at this new school I would try hard to teach the kids well, make stunning lesson plans and try to care about my coteachers. From December to January it seemed I only cared about the first half of my promise. And ended up on the dark side of my coteachers, yet again. But February signaled another chance to get it right, since we were given new coteachers.

If you have been reading since that time then you would know how I had a big fallout (last week) and then a huge turn around.

Now I understand how to balance both my desire to make good lessons and keep my coteachers happy. I believe it is because I have come to realize so many things over the course of living here, but also because I have grown to accept the Korean way of things.

In addition, because of this weekend's KOTESOL conference, I was able to see that it is really about working on a team.

Yesterday I felt more aware of the people around me and my role. In the classroom I could see how, although I was the leader and teaching most of the time, I needed to bounce it back between myself and the coteacher. Then, after work, we went out to dinner and during this time I talked a lot with everyone and opened myself up. I did all this knowing that it is what is best for the team, and ultimately for the children.

Today was just another teaching day and I realize now that I ended up putting myself too much into my planning. But I have started to check with the coteacher about her opinion of the day's teaching and see how she feels. We are going to play a big game with the 6th graders tomorrow and I showed my excitement.

In the beginning, I was fragile and weak.  Now, I am stronger and confident. Yet a part of me still feels like there is a hidden monster inside myself that could slip out without notice. I suppose the only thing I need to do is have a first-aid kit ready to go.

;)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

7th Annual KOTESOL Conference

On Saturday I headed over to the Soongsil University in Seoul to attend the KOTESOL Seoul Chapter Conference.  KOTESOL is:

Korea Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages is a professional organization for teachers of English. Our main goals are to assist members in their self-development, and improve ELT in Korea. KOTESOL allows teachers to connect with others in the ELT community and find teaching resources in Korea and abroad through KOTESOL publications, conferences and symposia, and chapter meetings and workshops.
I have heard about their major conference that happened last year and so wanted to get in on the deal. The thing started at 9am but I knew I wasn't going to make it till the after-lunch lectures.

There were several choices to make amongst the lectures, one including a fun Cooking Survival class by Joe McPherson of ZenKimchi and others on the teaching level. I chose to go to "Team Teaching in the Korean Public School English Program" by Leonie Overbeek. I thought this would be a good one for me since team teaching is what I struggle with most.

Team Teaching Insights:
 The lecture was pretty insightful and every now and then she stopped talking to let us answer, in a group, a few questions on a handout. I am going to highlight for you those questions and the answers that she showed us.

  1. Do you know or think you know what team teaching really means - define it in one sentence: Supporting each other in the classroom. Each teacher fulfills a role. Two teachers teaching in an unselfish way. 
  2. Are there problems in team teaching in Korea? Culture, public presence, different teaching styles
  3. Which type of team pattern models presented do you think should be the model of team teaching? Tennis Doubles because you need flexibility and rapport. There should be no leader but to pass the ball to each other.
  4.  Why do you team teach: For the students, KT can show that kids can learn English. 
  5. How do you team teach: Start w/ planning. Review plan with the coteacher. Remain aware of your partner. Communicate, Nag to get information. Handing off (Step back, say something to tell them it's your turn during teaching). Active support.
 Really what I got out of this lecture is to realize that I am part of a team, and of course if I am going to just fight for myself then things will not work. I also realized that I am not the only one figuring out all this crap. A lot of people in the room seemed to have ah-ha moments just like me.

She talked about how if you are rude, selfish and obnoxious in your interaction that the only results you are going to get is that people will treat you like the enemy. I liked that she pointed out you don't really need to kiss everyone's ass but rather be sensitive to their position and share yourself in a warm manner. I think sometimes some of us feel that we can't express our opinions with our coteachers but that really isn't true. The thing is you have to change your game plan. Instead of coming at it with a sharp edge, rather lean into and get them on your side. Example: "Today's class was pretty good." "But maybe we spent too much time on this..." "Next time let's try...." "What do you think about this?"

To sum up coteaching means you are both in the classroom and should play your role together and not separately.

Needless to say, this meeting gave me a real confidence boost and some ground rules to run by while at work. Also it gave me a lot of ideas on how to communicate with my coteachers and things to improve upon together in the classroom.

Another workshop I went to after this one was "Classroom Rotation Games" by Gerlad de la Salle. It was alright but a little rushed and I think short on input. He let us play the games and showed us how it was done. But I think after the first round he could have stopped and figured something else out to do. Anyways it presented some good ideas for speaking exercises in the classroom.

I was getting really hungry, and headed to the snack and mingle area on the 2nd floor. There I saw some familiar faces and organizations.
10 Magazine was there and were having a raffle prize. I didn't win...didn't make it in time to put my name in.
Afterward I met up with my friend Stephanie and her pal Stephen to go to Itaewon. I forgot to mention that JH dropped me off at the conference and went over to a PC Bang to wait for me. I got his butt out of there and me and my friends all headed over to Itaewon for dinner.

On the way to Itaewon we were behind a Chicken roasting truck, which also went to Itaewon and parked right in front of Gecko's, all of which was really amusing. Why? The chickens were actively being roasted in the truck while it was being driven to Itaewon.

Yep...that's Taco Bell..and it is indeed coming to Korea. They better have Double Decker tacos or else it won't be worth it for me.
We went inside Gecko's, as some folks wanted a drink before dinner. Since I have spent so little time inside bars my adult life sometimes when I do end up in one I feel like a school girl being let into somewhere restricted. I sit down and look around and think, "Oh, this is what adults do." 

Well JH ordered lemonade and Stephan and I had ourselves hot tea. ;)
After drinks we headed over to a nearby Mexican place for talk and good grub. (The other ladies had Margaritas)
Altogether a really wonderful fun Saturday that helped me make new friends and gain new tools for teaching in Korea.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bus Traveling

One of the great things about living in this country, especially if you live near or in Seoul is the transportation system. It exists and is clean, efficient and widespread.

I believe the first form of transportation a foreigner gets to know when they first come here is the subway system, especially if they live in Seoul or another major city. You learn the line numbers and stops which get you to familiar places. Figuring out how to transfer becomes second nature and before you know it you can get off at your stop without even listening for the English announcements.

But let's say you don't live near a major subway station or you know that there are busses in your area but don't really understand where they go. What do you do? Does Korea have bus maps like they do for the subway?

The answer is yes, but I would say they come more in a digital form instead of a little carry-along map in your pocket.

Since I live kind of on the outskirts of the subway system I know that there are busses that will get me into Seoul faster than if I took the train. I am going to share with you one website that I have found tremendously helpful when figuring where a bus goes.

What you will need for this to work out is a basic knowledge of Korean. By basic I mean being able to read and being able to recognize what you are reading.

Naver Bus Map Service Site:
Since this is a Korean website and I know that most of you might not have a hang on Korean yet I will navigate you through how to use it.

How to use it:
  1. Enter bus #: Walk around your neighborhood and jot down the bus numbers at your nearby bus stations. Come back home and enter them into the search area of this site. What will happen is that in the left area of the screen you will get choices.  There are different # busses for every area. Here is where your knowledge of Korean is going to kick in. Scroll through your choices and find one with a heading that is within your local area. For me that is "60 경기 경기 광주 일반" or Bus 60 Gyeongi Gwangju. Or just click on the choices till you can see that yes it goes in your area.

 
2. Using the Map: Once you click on a choice the path of the bus will come up in the map area along with a list of the stops it makes. You can read through till you find one in your area or zoom into the map and see physically where the bus stop is near your home. 

From here you can follow the trail the bus makes seeing where it goes. I use this alot to see how close it gets to a subway station in Seoul that I am heading towards. If you take the bus alot you will know that sometimes the stop is further away than you thought it was from where you need to go.
 
*Make sure you zoom in far enough that the "green little" bus stops show up. Hover your mouse over these and they will tell you what bus stop it is. If you click on it a list will come up showing you all the buses that come to that stop. This is especially handy if you want to transfer buses or find a savvier way to get where you are going.

That is basically how to use this website. If your Korean typing skills are really great than you could just type in the search area your area and get a list of buses that way.
Other Bus sites:
Of course this website is not the only place you can go to figure out your way on the bus. So here for you is a list of other sites (and in English!)
 Those are the ones that I can think of. If you know of other sites that you use frequently let me know! Also if you own an iPod touch or iPhone there are a lot of apps on there for the subway and buses here in Korea. Just do a search and see what you find.

Bus Riding Tips!
Riding the bus out here can be a bit of a rush the first time, so knowing these tips might help you before you step on.
  • Pay at the front. In cash (exact change) or use a "T-Card". That's those prepaid cards that you also use for the Subway. Just "beep" on the thing and move.
  • "Beep" your card again on the way out. Be quick, too as the people behind won't be shy to push and shove.
  • Know when your bus stop is coming and get ready to depart. Most busses have announcements of the upcoming stop and the one after it. If you know Korean well enough this comes in great. If not just keep your eyes peeled for the area you want to go to. When you see it coming click the "red" button and stand by the exit.
  • At the bus stop: Look for your bus coming. If you are the only one there don't be surprised if your bus passes you by and doesn't stop. It's not because they hate foreigners it's because you forgot to use the protocol. That is to wave the bus down. When you see your bus coming just gently wave your hand back and forth letting them know you need it. They will stop and let you on. (I made this mistake a lot). 
  • Reading the Bus Destination: Before you get on the bus double check its the one you want. Also know whether or not the bus you want to get on is the kind that will have 2 destinations. Meaning some buses with the same number will go right and head in one direction, while the other will head left and head in the other direction. (This is how I get lost a lot). One way to check is look for a small sign on the front window with the destination labeled. Again you need to learn Korean. 
  • When the exit door opens get out as soon as possible. The bus driver is not going to wait while you take your sweet time putting on a glove or hat. I've had to shout stop a few times to get off. Also I have experienced the bus starting to take off as I had one foot on the bus and one on the ground. 
  • Crowded Bus: Squeeze in and pack yourself in tightly. Move to the back when things start to get crowded.
  • Elderly: Give up your seat to an elderly or handicapped looking person. They might give you the "no" but you were polite at least...right?
  • Hold on! If you are standing then plant your feet and hold on tightly. Bus drivers are very aggressive here and don't mind slamming on the breaks or taking a turn swiftly. Being prepared will help you from falling on some poor sap sitting in front you.
  • Some bus drivers are super friendly and will say hello in English. ;)
Well there you have it folks. Bus riding in another country is exciting and really helps you feel intertwined with the everyday people.

I hope this information comes as handy for you in the future. :) Happy Bus Riding!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Peachier

I hope I haven't been drowning you, my dear readers, in the nuances that happen at the workplace. To be honest ever since I went gun-ho with lesson planning my mind at work has been preoccupied. My home life consists of making dinner, cleaning around the house, grocery shopping and with whatever free time I have...painting. So that is why when it comes to blog writing things have been a bit ghostly lately.

Work is proving to be peachier since Monday. I have been genuinely trying not to overreact when presented with a work related issue and also contribute positively to the group. I apologized to the other coteacher today to let her know that I wanted to make sure our work together in the classroom was comfortable. As for my foreign coworker I haven't been talking to her much but it seems she is oblivious that she hurt my feelings. This is so, because she still talks to me like normal. Really I don't hold a grudge against her just wish Monday would have been different.

Also I came to a realization, which is probably good for any work place. That is to put in the socializing effort and leave the tasks and work on pause. For example, at lunchtime when I finished eating I use to get up early before the others and head back to the office. Now I stick around, even if I am not interested in the conversation or people are mostly speaking Korean. In another situation, the coteachers like to gather around and eat some cake and chit-chat. Before I would join but seem not really interested. This was because my mind was so focused on the tasks I set forth for myself to finish that I didn't want to waste my time. The lesson learned was that contributing time to the group and people around me is just as important as the tasks of lesson planning.

Although I write this I feel some fear that tomorrow could end up a completely different day and I flop on myself. However, I thought I would update on this story since it can show other people out there that even if you get yourself into a pickle you can get out of it.

With that said, can you believe it is almost my 2 year anniversary in Korea and almost my 1 year anniversary with JH? Time flies so fast, ya know? And a part of me really doesn't want to be spending it all on my computer (another reason blogs have been so few). Yet, I will continue to blog and share the memories and lessons I go through here in South Korea. Thanks!

Public School Buzz

Just learned that for the next year (2011) the English program will again change at Public Elementary Schools here in Korea.

The gist of it is that 5th & 6th graders will learn English 3x a week and get new books. That means schools will need more Korean and Foreign coteachers.

As of right now I don't know if I will be at this school next year but the thought of that change gives me shivers. For one this school  has no English classroom and doesn't plan on building one. Two, the English Teacher's office could not fit another body in here.

My coteacher suggested that they will talk to the Principal about this and that it would be better to spread us out for each class level so not to mix us up and somehow make the necessary space. Whatever the plan will be this school really needs to consider the situation and get on top of it. But my contract finishes in December so I could always move on to somewhere more suited for the changes (or just a completely different teaching gig altogether).

Actually we were going to have an English classroom built in the old auditorium. But they just recently changed that for the afterschool English program. This is some program run by an outside source and I have nothing to do with it.


Something tells me the public school system is trying to compete more strongly with hagwons. We'll see!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

24 Hours

The last 24 hours of my life have been quite a ride. As you well know by now I struggle with the one thing Korean coteachers despise, and that is talking back and expressing a bold opinion. Last Friday I had one of these moments. It happened about an hour before work hours were finished and so I didn't really leave with a "sorry". What occurred was that I argued over being asked to write in 12 more topics for the extra class I am to teach. I made the point that since it doesn't really matter (we are going to do whatever and the topics are just for show) that they should write in anything and not ask me. I made a big deal about it and somehow embarrassed the youngest coteacher. (She is "beautiful" and has a princess complex.) I agree, though, that my big mouth should of been kept shut or that I should of just gone along with it. However, as you know I am still struggling with these areas.

Anyways they (my 3 coteachers) worked on Saturday and must of come up with some plan to deal with this. However, on Monday I didn't really know that it was such a big deal and when the youngest coteacher announced we were going to have a meeting later in the day I was surprised to find what it was about. She just said it was going to be about "school policy."

It turned out it was about me.

The youngest coteacher's English is poor and somehow (maybe with some help) she wrote down in her notebook a speech to give to everyone at the meeting. I was shocked at what I heard and how it was delivered. Her message was to me and how I embarrassed her and hurt her feelings. What she read clearly stated my name and what I did that she disliked. Keep in mind I have another foreign coworker, who was sitting at the meeting too.

I understand that they wanted to address my attitude and disobedience but honestly I would have never imagined that they would have solve this issue by confronting me at a meeting in front of everyone.

On top of being sick (headache & sore throat) I became so embarrassed and ashamed of myself that I couldn't come up with sincere answers to their questions.

 After a while into the meeting one of the other coteachers spilled the beans on all the things I did that upset her. I asked her, "Why didn't you tell me then that it upset you?" And she was insulted that I asked her that.

I tried to keep my cool and also represent my side of the story, that I have a tendency to voice my opinion passionately but know Korean people find this rude. That I am trying my hardest to understand the Korean system and work well with everyone.

I felt like I was on trial. But in this case I didn't even know I was going to be prosecuted. I told them that confronting me like this made me feel frightened and that they should of considered coming to me personally, instead of so publicly. Yet, they turned it around and said they couldn't believe that I was surprised.

Needless to say Monday was a mess.  I have to say that my other foreign coworker, although she tried at first, ended up throwing me under the bus in the end. Agreeing with my coteachers on things and not really showing any compassion for my being assaulted like the way I was.

The meeting finally ended when I couldn't take it anymore and burst out into loud tears. I went home Monday feeling betrayed by another foreigner and mentally annihilated by my coteachers.

As I walked home it was snowing heavily and there was not a person around me to hear me sob. After awhile I looked around and heard that sweet silence that accompanies snowfall. I couldn't help but think about my life. I wanted to pack my things and fly back to America. But I couldn't, because I need health insurance. "What would I do back home?" "How would I survive?" I thought. Then I considered my future. "What if they fire me?" "What if they don't renew my contract for another year and refuse to give me a good recommendation letter?"

My mind was spiraling down hill. It seriously felt like I couldn't go back to America and couldn't take another step back at work. I wanted to disappear.

I told JH what had happened and my feelings. Then later he showed up here at my home. He told me to no longer cry and gave me good advice on how to continue on. He said that no matter what happens he will be there for me.

With his expression of love and caring I was able to calm down and see what needed to be done.

On my way to work this morning I was scared and broken-hearted. What they did was really unfair and just messy in trying to get me to shape up. But I knew that they didn't see it that way and I would likely never get an apology from them or alternatively something in the ballpark of thinking they were wrong.

Yet as I walked the long path back to school I couldn't help but think of the children and that is why I was still carrying on this job. I like teaching them and seeing them laugh and have fun because I created a good lesson plan and executed it well. But I realized that the Korean public school system favors good relationships over the amount of work you do for the kids. Meaning I could probably be a lousy teacher but great at making everyone feel good and never argue, while at the same time never once be reprimanded for my poor teaching skills. It's a bitter medicine to swallow. But not impossible and I am not acting up all the time.

After careful thought I understood what I had done wrong but also realized that the young coteacher took it too personally. This is likely due to that I broke many Korean relationship taboos (saving face, don't talk back...etc) in front of everyone.

Despite all these feelings inside me I went through my day today pretty well. Of course there was no mention of what happened. However, when I had the chance I apologized to the coteacher I teach the most with and let her know how sincere I was. I will call her Mrs. K, and she has been good to me. I also have been good back to her by praising our coteaching and her ideas.

But still the other two coteachers remain in that grey area, where you never really know what they think of you. And you have to somehow redeem yourself and never make mistakes again. So today I talked politely and positively trying to show that I do care about my demeanor.

All in all, I want to obey the Korean way of things and also enjoy a fun and relaxed atmosphere with everyone. I guess the first step is letting go of how they handled that situation and getting a grip on my big loud mouth.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

It Was White Day Last Week

You know what? I may never be able to blend in and disappear at the workplace but at least I have an understanding and caring boyfriend and well...my life!

Last week was Korea's White Day, which is a knock off of Valentine's Day. The ritual is that the man buys the lady chocolates or a gift...makes a plan.

My boyfriend is turning out to treat these holidays as kid stuff and that at his age he shouldn't do it anymore. In the morning we went to Homeplus to do my weekly shopping. As we passed by the chocolate and gift section, I told him to pick something out while I went over to the fruit section.

Later on I convinced him to take me to a cafe street near Jukjeon station. And so we spent the afternoon at a cafe and had dinner later on. Really to me I just wanted to be out of the house and enjoying our time together.

It was a rainy late-winter and hopeful-spring kind of weather. We checked in at a cute cafe and talked about our futures together. (Not going to share the details)
We ordered "Buttered Toast" off the menu and this is what we got 20 minutes later. Kind of a before dinner killer if you ask me.
Then it was time to move on and find some dinner. I wanted to go to this posh Italian place across from the cafe but it already filled up. So we moved onto another Italian place.
Compared to my first White Day in Korea this one was more memorable and superb. Three Cheers for Romance!

Your Problems Solved

Kimchi Icecream made a post that highlights all the major issues one faces at the work environment here in Korea.


When I went through the list I couldn't help but see how much I have failed. Since I have tendencies to make most of these mistakes I fear I will never get it right. What I learned, however, is to grow a golden rule within myself. That is to keep my coteachers happy and don't pass judgment on them.

14. Failing to be patient with the bureaucratic school culture paperwork and how Koreans get tasks done that are directly related to your work and living situations.
11.  Getting visibly and openly upset/angry/negative about something in the teacher’s office (or anywhere in the school where faculty and/or students can hear and see you).
10.  Open confrontation and being assertive.
9.  Asking “Why?” when a higher rank teacher, office admin manager, vice-principal, or principal (pretty much anyone who is Korean and older) tells you to do something.
4.  Getting upset about ‘last second notice’ aka ‘last minute notices’ about schedule changes.

Sigh~

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Monkey Wrench

Just when I thought it was safe to settle down into my new schedule a monkey wrench was thrown in. Meaning I was enjoying my batch of classes teaching 4th and 6th graders.

But as time pressed on the Teacher's class I was suppose to teach never happened. It turns out now that I will teach an afterschool class for the kids. One set will be 3rd & 4th graders while the other 5th & 6th graders. I was told they are low level English students. It would meet once a week on Wednesdays, each for 40 minutes. That's 2 extra classes.

And then it turns out they are throwing the same thing at my coworker, who already has a heavy schedule. Except they are giving her the advanced kids, the ones who studied abroad. I talked to her about this tonight and we both realized that we should try to switch, since she has more experience with low level students and me with high levels.

I may have been in Korea nearly two years but it seems I am still unable to get over the whole "last minute" crap. So today I ranted at work about how they can't expect me to come up with topics for this new class for a whole year when I haven't even met the kids. Actually, yesterday I was pleasant about it and worked out topics for half a year. We agreed that the topics were just for show since the Principal asked for it and can be changed later. So today when they asked me for the rest of the year I told them to just make it up themselves since it didn't matter anyways. It took awhile for them to even understand what I was saying, and when they did it turned out they didn't like that idea. That is what led to my rant. It wasn't a big explosion but enough to cause one of the coteachers to bark back at me that she too has to deal with Korean culture even though she is Korean.

I composed myself, shut up and typed in topics for the rest of the year.

The reason I get so upset about little changes and last minute emergencies like this is because of fear and insecurity. The thing is that I want to stay at this job another year. But I know that there is really no way to guarantee my contract being renewed. At the same time I want to express my opinion but it just makes me look defiant and weak. All of which means people will end up not liking me for my personality and looking past the hard work and teaching I do. In other words...its a crap shoot.

Trust me I want to go along with it all and say, "Yea sure I'll teach these extra classes." And walk in on the first day and have a ball with the kids. But my nature is to plan things and know what exactly I will be teaching. At public school they just throw extra classes at you with no books or any idea of what to do.

Just because the contract says we can be made to teach any class doesn't mean that we are willing to nor have the time to plan for it.

But what can you do? I have learned that bitching and moaning get you a ticket out the door, so I am going to have grow some more and be an adult in this situation.

I signed the contract, I came to this country and I am still here. This is what I signed up for and I better accept it all finally.

Heck, I was missing getting to know the kids like I did in my after school class last year.

Hope this post didn't involve too much complaining. Just wanted to express my frustrations and tribulations lately.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

After School Dinner Party

This week is proving to be very social. On Monday, one of my new coteachers offered to cook dinner for us. I had a good time and the food was really delicious. Also it was nice being welcomed into a Korean's house.

Yesterday after work (Wednesday) all the teachers attended a dinner party. We were taken out into the boonies to eat at a barbeque duck restaurant. Let me just tell you it was very good. Although since on my walk to work I see the ducks in the river I felt a little guilty.

Ah ~ well.
It was snowing that afternoon. The restaurant's walls were clear vinyl but sealed up tight around the foundation. At the back was a large heater and the floor was heated as well.
This is the duck meat waiting to be barbecued.
These are the side dishes.
It's a fun experience these social gatherings for the school, you know. Because more and more people show up and more and more food gets put on your table. 
We got to cooking our duck meat and the Principal greeted everyone and said some welcoming words.
 
That is me next to the coteacher who served us dinner Monday. The picture below (on the right) is my other foreign coworker and on the left is another coteacher (I don't teach with her) who is more like the English coordinator. Both are fun to work with.
Time pressed on and eventually it turned dark outside, soju got passed around (I didn't have any), people gave their bows and it was time to go home.
Compared to the after school dinners I experienced at my other public school this was a lot more friendly and yummy. We mostly ate sashimi at my old school, where this one seems open to different tastes. Also my new Principal is a really warm and nice guy, all of which makes things seem to fit together nicely.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Joke or Real: Guy Marries Anime Pillow


Something tells me his parents might not be too happy about this.

Working Hard

March is proving to be a month where I am putting the pedal to the metal at work. I am teaching 4th and 6th grade this year and my coteachers have given me the liberty to make the lesson plans to my liking.

I am the kind of person that if you give me a project or assignment and let's say the due date is far off I will get started on it now. In other words I am not a procrastinator. However, I wish I were because knowing I need to plan 16 lessons and the camps (when they come) makes me want to get it done now.

Theoretically we are suppose to accomplish 2 chapters in one month. The lessons are broken up into 4 periods.

I am already into planning Lesson 4, which shouldn't be covered till late April. This time around I am planning in a way that gets the kids active and using the language in a fun and comfortable environment. One great tool is indieschool, which is a Korean teachers website where Korean coteachers post handouts and PPT's that they have done for their lessons. If you don't know about this ask your coteacher and I am sure they will give you access. I am also incorporating spelling and sentence forming games. I hope to put up the games and activities I use on here in the future.

There have been some road bumps lately, though. Our school has been infected by a really powerful computer virus / meltdown. Reminder: We don't have our own English classroom. That means that I visit 7 different computers throughout the week, each with their own quarks. Some might be able to do the PPT's while the CD player is broken. Others just shut themselves down and restart over and over. It's a nightmare when you have planned something such as the bookwork. In some classes I have taken over the dialog doing it "old school" by acting out the voices myself. The school knows about all their computer problems and made the IT company apologize. I am guessing since this is such a wide spread problem that things won't get fixed for a while.

The environment of the English Office is a lot better than last year. We chat with each other and share snacks. Yet the room is still small and I find myself wanting escape since I am the kind of person that likes to keep to herself and get her work done. I am looking forward to when they build the English department and praying that our office will be bigger.

But the other coteachers see the hard work I am putting into the lessons and praise me. Also after teaching our classes I talk with my coteachers and tell them that we did a good job together.

I just need to sometimes cool down my rush to plan everything and take it easy at the office.

As for the 2S2 group I have received a lot of inquiries from folks in the area who want to organize something. They appear really enthusiastic and willing to plan stuff with me. So don't fret the 2S2 down here is still alive. haha

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sigh

I just want to quickly say here that I probably overreacted with the turnout of my first 2S2 meeting. On the facebook page I have made this clear so to make amends. But it got people talking and hopefully I will get some help with organizing something for next month. Really it makes me so nervous and stressful organizing something for people I have never met and don't know what they like.

In other words I think I am more of a follower than a leader.

Sparked But No Fire

This post is to follow up on the 2S2 group I created in my area. It flopped.

I advertised it on facebook and managed to get 56 people to join. Out of the 56 people who came to the first meeting were my coworker and her friends. They didn't even really know why they were there. I explained it to them and showed them a document with a list of ideas to do in the area. We sat around the cafe for a few hours and then they all decided to go to Seoul to eat Mexican food. Conclusion: they didn't really get that this group is meant to explore our area...not Seoul. I am grateful they came and despite the end result enjoyed meeting them.

The way I see it is that if I didn't tell my coworker about it and she didn't bring her pals than no one would have shown up at the first meeting.

Now I understand people don't have to come and that few could be skeptical about what this group is about. But I am not interested in organizing and caring for something if I have no audience. Sure perhaps if I organize something for the next few months more people will show up. However, I don't really care. I give up, see.

I have my friends in Seoul that I have made through getting to know their blogs, and if I miss out on their meeting then I miss out on seeing them. A part of me, therefore, would rather keep growing the relationships with my Seoul friends than try to make new pals down here.

Another reason I don't really care to start this group is that my ideals for the group aren't popular. I like art, nature and not drinking. That last part is the big sign that I am probably not a fun person. I can't drink for medical reasons and also I just don't like how I feel. Don't get me wrong, I love wine and would not mind enjoying a wine tasting day. But going to a bar or club is not my style. Therefore I feel I can't reach out to the expat community since my idea of fun is probably compatible with just 1 or 2% of my peers.

If I were to start a group in my area it would be an Artsy group...like the one in Mokpo. They get together and create works of art...and go to galleries.


As you can see my ambitions have hit a wall and that is why I am not going to lead a 2S2 out here. Therefore if you do live in my area (Yongin / Bundang / Suji) and want to have a 2S2 here then you put it together. I would be more than happy to lend you the list of places I thought would be fun to explore and help you in other ways. Ok?~

Saturday, March 13, 2010

School Elections

At the beginning of the school year kids participate in school elections. When I arrived at school last week there were campaigning kids holding up signs and shouting their name. Also they had their team of friends beside them.

It snowed last week and of course it is all melted now. Winter is still lingering around with some days acting like spring and others not. This image above is a part of my 30 minute walk to work.
One of my favorite parts of being an Elementary school teacher here in Korea is walking to school with the kids. However, they kind of do push past you and run you over with their rolling backpacks...but the "Hello, teacher"s are always nice.

Because of construction going on, due to they are building a new gymnasium/auditorium, they have the kids funneled down this makeshift walkway.
Here we come to the part where the campaigners were working hard.
The following student is really nice. He was in my winter camp class and was a lot of fun. Unfortunately for him the other "tough" boys in the class teased him a lot. If I could have voted I would have gone for him.
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The entrance to the school had signs put up made by the students hoping to win. 
Just some of the fun surprises you run into at work here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gio Cat Cafe = Puurrrfect

Hidden in an alley inside the Hongdae area of Seoul is a cat cafe called "Gio Cat." I mentioned this place earlier telling you how much I really wanted to go.

Well after lunch, last Saturday, JH and I headed over there. It wasn't hard to find, and the sign up above was really helpful. To find this place head towards the mini-park where the artsy stuff goes on. There is a Smoothie King and just past it is an alleyway. The building at the end of the alley houses the cat cafe. You have to go inside the stairwell part and walk up to the third floor.
Near the entrance was a neat little Japanese shop, which to me resembled the ones I saw in Japan. 

It was a Saturday and the place was packed. Since it is a small space they only allow a number of people in at a time. So we had to put our names and number down on a waiting list. After about an hour they will call you to come in.

I want to remind you all that last year, when I went to Tokyo, I found an original cat cafe. I do believe the concept of a cat cafe was born in Japan. So I would like to point out that I have some global experience with cat cafes. How Korea's cat cafe ranked...well we are just going to have to find out.

We were finally called in and went inside the cafe.
Entrance Procedure:
It would seem that these themed cafes have a set up procedure upon entering. Here for you is what happens when you enter the Gio Cat.
  • Give up your outside shoes for indoor slippers. Place outdoor shoes in a basket.
  • Cafe staff takes you to your table (it is assigned to you). Puts your shoe basket under the table and tells you about the locker. 
  • You take your locker key and head to the lockers and put in any valuables / jackets / stuff.
  • Head back to your table. In order to enjoy the cafe for 2 hrs you must purchase a cafe item. To do this you head over to the cafe service area and put your money in a ticket machine. They have the usual cafe items like coffee and tea along with juices. 
  • They give you a copy of the names of the cats in the cafe with their pictures and you are ready to enjoy playing with the kitties.
  • Also they point out the cafe rules

Gio Cat Cafe Rules:

  • Don't pull their tails.
  • Some cats love the straws, so you have to remember to shoo them away from your straws.
  • Don't hit the cats.
  • Don't use your flash on the camera.
  • Don't feed the cats.
  • Don't try to pet an annoyed looking cat.
After you get that all figured out and squared away you can try your best at finding a cat friend. If you have any experience with cats you would know that they have their own personalities. Unlike dogs, cats tend not to come up to you and beg to be petted. Instead you have to befriend a cat by playing or coaxing it into liking you.

I mention this because that is the kind of atmosphere you run into at a cat cafe. You will see other folks with cats in their laps and feel some kind of envy. You will think "How do I get my own cat?"

After a while you float around the cafe and find the cats who are 1.) awake and 2.) interested.

Let's take a look around the cafe:
There was a large pedestal of cats in baskets sleeping. I believe we arrived at a major nap time since most of the cats were snooozing.
The one cat JH seemed to think he wanted to claim as his own was asleep, and it turns out sick. Ah well, he tried. Actually JH is not familiar with cats as pets. As is typical for most Korean folks their encounter with cats comes from seeing and hearing them on the street. Having a pet cat is becoming more common these days but for the most part it is still an oddball thing here.
I think JH secretly enjoyed himself, eventhough he claimed that he still likes dogs over cats. 
There were cats up fake trees~
This one I tried to coax down but it mostly just played and stayed up there.
JH tried to wake up his chosen cat, to find that it opened its eyes for a while and then went back to sleep.
After a while of not succeeding in getting a cat to befriend us, we went back to our table. Thankfully, there were two kitties in this area. The black one was so sweet and would crawl over to you and curl up on your lap. Now that is my kind of cat. The striped cat, over there on the left, was a menace. He is coming out of his kitty phase and wants to play a lot. But actually he was playing really rough with the black kitty. 
So the remainder of the time at the cafe I was glued to my seat caring for the little kitty and making sure "mean" kitty stayed away. 
Mean Kitty found solace in JH's lap.
Sitting back and taking in the atmosphere of the cafe was interesting. I watched as other folks played with cats and enjoyed themselves. I caught on to a trend that it seemed Korean girls dragged their boyfriends into the place, as the boyfriends seemed to have this awkward look on their faces. 

Korean Cat Cafes VS. Japanese Cat Cafes:
To get the record straight I have only been to one of each. However, I feel there was a distinct difference amongst the two.

  1. Preparation: The Japanese cat cafe was way more particular on the before hand preparations of going into the cafe. You not only changed your shoes, put your stuff in a locker, but also had to wash your hands with soap and water at a sink. The Korean cat cafe just let you sanitize your hand with sanitizer. Also the Japanese cafe, after you were done with the cats had you clean your hands again. And the Japanese one gave you a mini booklet on the cafe rules to read before you enter. 
  2. Cost system: As you know the Korean cafe makes you buy some kind of cafe item in order to stay at the cafe. The Japanese cafe didn't have this system. Once entering the cafe, in Japan, you could choose to buy a beverage or not. The entrance price difference I think is also something to point out. Gio Cat cost 8,000 Won for two hours. In Japan I believe it cost 900 Yen. By today's currency exchange that means roughly 11,000 Won. And that 900 Yen buys you only 1.5 hours with the cats, and if you go over your time rate any 15 more minutes cost you more. As you can see the Gio Cat cafe is way cheaper and better for the price than it's Japanese counterpart.
  3. Atmosphere / Set up: I'll be honest here, Japan's was way better. The Gio Cat cafe is set up very whimsically with fun decorations and mellow music playing overhead. However the space is small and not very bright. Also I believe there needs to be a good balanced ratio of cats to humans. The cafe in Japan wasn't crowded (I don't know if they have a system for when things do get crowded). Also they seemed to have less cats, whereas the Gio Cat cafe had about 20 of them, some even in cat-kennels. Needless to say the Gio Cat cafe had a cramped and chaotic feel to it, especially when the cats were active. Over in Japan things felt more mellow and spacious. Also the cafe in Japan had books available (although they were in Japanese) so you could relax in the cafe. Both cafes supplied cat toys so that wasn't bad at all.
Those are the major differences I can set my mind on right now. Despite that I feel Japan has got it right with their design and execution with cat cafes, I am grateful Korea has one. I love cats and don't really want to own one right now since I am penny pinching.

Check it out for yourself whether the Korean cat cafe is better / same / different than the Japanese one with these videos:


All in all, I really recommend you heading over to this place especially if you love cats. If you have an allergy to them well I'm sorry to hear that. =^^=
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