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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Angry Birds

Let me introduce to something that has somehow turned into a prominent part of my workday, Angry Birds. Angry Birds first started out as a game that you could play on your computer or iPhone:

Angry Birds Game

Here in Korea, Angry Birds have been taken to a whole new level. There is Angry Bird EVERYTHING. Angry Bird key-chains, Angry Bird pencils, Angry Bird erasers, Angry Bird socks…

Angry Birds Cake-Pops

I had never heard of Angry Birds before coming to Korea, and the other teachers mentioned them to me when I first got here, “The kids love Angry Birds. “Angry whats?” “You’ll see.” Indeed I did, but I still don’t really get it. Why are they so popular? And, what are these birds so angry about, anyway?
Everyone at school loves Angry Birds, from the three year olds to the thirteen-year-olds. I’m not sure if this is a global trend or just Korea. But they are seriously obsessed, some of them especially. It’s the new Pokémon. Someone somewhere is making a ton of money off of these pissed-off birds.
On the positive side, we teachers can use this obsession to our advantage by using Angry Birds as rewards (usually stickers). But, sometimes it gets annoying. Like, when kids won’t accept stickers that aren’t Angry-Bird stickers. Or, when they find a way to relate every lesson to something about Angry Birds.
Or, when writing a paper on why it is important to respect your teachers (assigned to a certain class that can’t seem to grasp that concept), one of the kids wrote that “Disrespecting the teacher makes teacher a very angry bird.” Um, yes, it’s true, but so does your freakish obsession with Angry Birds!
I’ve learned the Korean word for bomb, sounds like “pook-tan,” because there are bombs in the game, so the kids are always talking about them (there are also pelicans. Seriously, what is with this game??). A couple times, when drawing apples on the board, I heard a chorus of “Pooktan! Pooktan!” “Say BOMB,” I tell them. You can insult my drawings, but at least do it in English. Geez.
            While all of the boys in my Kindergarten class love Angry Birds. One of them, Daniel, is particularly fond of them. It’s all that he talks about, all that he thinks about, and (I’m sure) all he dreams about. His favorite color is red, because that is the color of the main Angry Bird character. We have to make him use other colors when he’s coloring, so that his coloring-pages aren’t giant red blobs.
The best behaved I’ve ever seen Daniel is the week when one of the other teachers told him that if he got three “good-points” he could have her giant Angry Bird pen. He eventually got it, and now he’s always running around showing it to everyone, including the teachers. “That’s nice, Daniel.”

Me, Daniel (in his Angry Bird sweatshirt)

I confiscated one of Daniel’s Angry Bird toys the other day because he took it out during class-time. And, while sitting next to my desk during lunch-play (as he usually is, since he usually doesn’t behave himself enough to be allowed to play), he was whining to me with all of the English he could muster, begging for it back. “Austinnn Teachaaa, me like this Angry Bird doll SOOO much…me is SO SO SOOO like it…this is my FAVORITE FAVORITE FAVORITTEEEE Angry Bird Doll…” I couldn’t decide if it was funny or just plain disturbing. For the record, he got his toy back at the end of the day. I’m not trying to traumatize the kid.
Angry Birds, at least, seem to be bringing out Daniel’s creative side. He is always getting in trouble for drawing Angry Birds on his worksheets and stealing my board-markers to draw Angry Birds on the board. And, I must admit, the drawings are quite impressive. The other boys even ask him to draw them pictures of Angry Birds.
Last week, we were learning about plant-life, so I asked the kids to draw and label flowers. Daniel, of course, drew Angry Bird flowers (the centers were Angry Bird faces, surrounded by petals). He also brought a pair of homemade, very realistic, paper Angry Birds to class to be displayed as decorations. We now have what looks like an Angry Bird shrine in a corner of the classroom. Alas, if only he were this enthusiastic about studying English.
There was also a huge fiasco when some of the elementary students stole Angry Bird stickers off of the Salmon Class sticker boards. They were telling me about it for weeks (“Me is five Angry Bird stickers MISSING!!! Sonic is TEN Angry Bird stickers MISSING!!!!!”), so I finally hid their boards inside their lockers so it wouldn’t happen again.
My Korean co-teacher, Ellen, is no longer amused with the Angry Bird obsession. “Salmon Class has made me HATE Angry Birds, I want to tell them that they aren’t allowed to talk about them anymore.” But, if we banned Angry Birds, and therefore Angry Bird stickers, how would I ever get the boys to do anything?
I keep waiting for this trend to be over. They have to get over it eventually, right? Can we move on to something else, please?? So far, no such luck. If this fad lasts all year, I’m going to come back to the US a very angry bird indeed.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Eat Your Kimchi

The first word that people usually associate with South Korea is “kimchi,” and with good reason. I don’t know how it started, but Kimchi is a huge part of the culture, and something very unique to Korea. When I first heard that fermented cabbage is a staple in the Korean diet, my initial reaction was “um, why??” I’ve always thought of cabbage as having very little taste or nutritional value, and, why would you feel the need to ferment it?!?

 This is kimchi 

Koreans eat kimchi ALL THE TIME, with practically every meal. For example, when I ask my Kindergarteners what they ate for breakfast (as an English warm-up question in the morning) the answer is usually “rice and kimchi.” This is pretty much the most un-breakfast-like meal I can think of. Kimchi, while it comes in many varieties, is usually quite spicy. And, white rice? Really?
Now that I’ve been here for a while, and have been eating kimchi at least once a day, five days a week (they serve it with lunch at school), I’ve actually grown to like the taste. It’s really spicy, and I like spice. I think it also has something to do with the fact that we don’t get to eat salad very often here, and kimchi slightly resembles salad, emphasis on slightly. Most foreigners seem to hate it, and maybe I’m just going through a weird phase. Sometimes I even crave it on weekends when I haven’t had it for a day or two. It’s really odd, I know.

Some kimchi varieties

In an attempt to understand this strange concoction that has found it’s way into my stomach (and heart), I did some research…ANDDDD….I stumbled across across a fabulous article, saying that kimchi is actually REALLY GOOD FOR YOU! Health.com lists it as one of the world’s healthiest foods! Read on…
“Koreans eat so much of this super-spicy condiment (40 pounds of it per person each year) that natives say “kimchi” instead of “cheese” when getting their pictures taken. The reddish fermented cabbage (and sometimes radish) dish—made with a mix of garlic, salt, vinegar, chile peppers, and other spices—is served at every meal, either alone or mixed with rice or noodles. And it’s part of a high-fiber, low-fat diet that has kept obesity at bay in Korea. Kimchi also is used in everything from soups to pancakes, and as a topping on pizza and burgers.
Why to try it: Kimchi (or kimchee) is loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, but its biggest benefit may be in its “healthy bacteria” called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This good bacteria helps with digestion, plus it seems to help stop and even prevent yeast infections, according to a recent study. And more good news: Some studies show fermented cabbage has compounds that may prevent the growth of cancer.”

Jar o' kimchi

So, there you have it, folks. There is some reason to all of this kimchi madness. Note: There is even an entire museum in Seoul dedicated to kimchi, which I will definitely be visiting…Eat your kimchi!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Solitude

Looking around a bar one night, a friend mentioned to me how many of the foreigners here seem to be lonely. Oceans away from your home, your family, it’s hard to imagine that one wouldn’t get lonely sometimes. Committing to living across the globe for a year, in an entirely different culture with an entirely different language, one has to be prepared to feel some degree of isolation.
We don’t easily blend in here, even in areas like Yeongtong, which are known for having a lot of foreigners. Dramatically different in language, culture, and appearance, we are definitely outsiders. Also, the Koreans don’t usually give foreigners much extra attention, like they do in some of the other countries I’ve visited. If anything, many of them seem to want to avoid you so that they don’t have to speak English.
Talking to my friend Moon, I asked her if she thought that most of the foreigners here suffered from some degree if loneliness. She offered that it seemed to be more of feeling of solitude than loneliness. I like this differentiation, and it seems accurate. The sense that I have is indeed of a self-imposed, peaceful solitude. There is time and space for reflection. You can easily get lost in the quiet, and the sea of unfamiliar faces, sights, and smells. The foreignness becomes increasingly familiar over time, but the sense of being an outsider seems to remain.
“There seems to be a lot of creative tension here,” an American who has been here for a couple of years mentioned to me soon after I arrived. I think I know what he means now by creative tension, but it’s hard to describe in words. It is something within the solitude, and you can make of it what you want.
Perhaps this tension is what you find when you sever yourself from everything in your life that is familiar and comfortable and hop on a plane to the other side of the world. While it seems more than a little cliche to find yourself on the other side of the world, you do seem to find something. You also find that in order to hop on that plain you probably had to be just a little bit insane. So there’s that.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Boys Will Be Boys


So, we have a problem in my Kindergarten homeroom class. The boys. There are only three of them, down from five when I just started. Which would seem like it would make things easier. But, the two that left were the good ones (in terms of behavior), so now it’s me versus the three muskateers: Eddie, Sonic, and Daniel. First off, they can’t stay in their seats. Second, they won’t listen. Third, they won’t stop FIGHTING.
Let me explain the fighting part…At first, it was just confusing. They were always telling me that one of the others were doing something bad, then the other would deny it. I didn’t know who to believe, especially when I was just starting out and didn’t know who I could trust (if any of them). Also, as I mentioned before, they speak very little English. They aren’t supposed to speak Korean in class, but this is nearly impossible for them, since it would mean a room of five-year-olds sitting in silence (I wish).
So, the boys kept getting in these fights in Korean, and I wouldn’t know what the heck they were talking about. Supposedly it all started when they were playing together at Sonic’s house and Daniel got upset that Sonic and Eddie didn’t let him take more turns on the Wii game, or something. Now they are constantly arguing. Sometimes it even gets physical, and when they try to explain to me what happened (or what they claimed happened), it usually goes something like this…
Daniel: “Austinnn Teachhaaaa…Sonic is…me…this (hitting motion).” (Translation: “Sonic hit me”)
Me: “Sonic, did you HIT (insert hitting motion) Daniel?”
Sonic: (wide-eyed) “NO!”
Daniel: (equally wide-eyes) “YES!”
Sonic: “NO!!!”
Daniel: “YES!!!”
Me: “Sonic, Daniel, SIT DOWN! Both of you, BAD POINTS…stop fighting!” (as I dramatically walk over to the board and put red tallies by their names) “Three bad points is NO PLAY!” (at lunch time)
            My Korean co-teacher, Ellen, has been trying very hard to get these boys to behave themselves and to get along. When she discovered that I majored in Psychology she suggested that I use my Psych skills to figure out why they’re always fighting. I have absolutely no clue. She holds them after class every day, so they can talk to her in Korean about whatever happened between the three of them that morning. We also tried a strategy where we didn’t let them play during play-time for a week, and instead made them read quietly. Of course, “reading quietly” basically means me putting them in three corners of the room, facing the wall (with a book in hand), and yelling at them every minute or so when they start arguing again.
            On the plus-side (not really), I have gotten a new Korean word out of all of this…it sounds like ”il-i-ko”, and (Ellen explained to me) means something like “I will tell.” It is not a nice word. Daniel is not allowed to say it anymore. Daniel seems slightly sociopathic. He keeps lying. To me, to Ellen, to his mom. He can be very convincing, much too convincing for a five year-old. Anyway, needless to say, I find all of this fighting a little distressing. Am I not giving these boys enough attention, love, what is it?? WHY CAN’T YOU ALL JUST GET ALONG, SALMON CLASS??? I mean, the girls are PERFECT. They try very hard and do whatever I tell them, for the most part. They even spontaneously started massaging my back today; they called it “massage-ee.” But, I guess, boys will be boys.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pepero Day

          11/11 is Pepero Day in Korea. A Pepero is basically a chocolate-covered biscuit stick. Photo:

Pepero sticks

          So, two Peperos make an 11, get it? This year was 11/11/11, so it was an extra-special Pepero Day. I, of course, was oblivious to this day until the night before, when Jackie informed me that it was like Korean Valentine’s Day. Apparently it was created by the cookie company that makes them. So, Hallmark is to Valentines Day as Lotte Confectionary is to Pepero Day.
          A bunch of the kids at school brought Pepero for their classmates and teachers. After about an hour I was overwhelmed by the quantity of Pepero in my teacher’s basket, so I started opening up boxes and feeding it to the kids. They LOVE it. I mean, what’s not to like about a chocolate-covered biscuit stick?
          The rest of the day continued in this manner, receiving and giving Pepero. I also ate quite a few and at the end of the day felt like I’d had enough Pepero to last me a lifetime. I still ended up leaving work with a bag of it (it kept appearing on my desk…Pepero fairy?). It’s good with coffee, and I might bring a bunch of it back to school in a few days to bribe the kids with. Or, does anyone want me to send them some? ^ ^ (asian :))

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Halloween

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Halloween at EOS with a “Halloween Festival.” Halloween isn’t usually celebrated in Korea, but the hagwans seem to like to incorporate various aspects of Western culture into the teaching. The Kindergarten festival included a “fashion show” and a song and dance competition. Each class learned the words and choreographed danced moves to a Halloween song. The “fashion show” consisted of the teachers dancing in their costumes on stage.
We were originally told that we were going to each have to dance for two minutes alone. Even though the majority of the audience was going to be under the age of seven, I was quite frankly terrified. But it didn’t turn out to be bad at all. We actually only danced alone for about fifteen seconds and then the rest of the time we were dancing with other each other. I actually won third place (and a 20,000 won, or about $20, cash prize) for my grape costume (I safety-pinned purple balloons to a purple sweater, attached a green felt leaf, and wore a green beanie and green yoga pants). First prize (50,000 won) went to Anna Teacher, who dressed up as a cowgirl, riding a blow-up horse.
The kids got up on stage and performed the routine that they had been practicing to a Halloween song. My class’s song was called The Haunted House and went something like “The haunted house has black cats creeping round, the haunted house has bats that fly a-round…” Anyway, needless to say, the whole day was pretty hilarious, and pretty fun. Also, the kids looked ADORABLE in their costumes. Most of the Kindergarten girls were princesses, naturally. Here are some photos:

The Girls

The Boys

Chris

Daniel

Salmon Class + Austin Teacher

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Never Never Land

          Brief update: The time has come at EOS for us to begin preparing for the Kindergarten musicals. I believe that the actual performances will be in February. But, there is A LOT to be done, so we are starting now. Each Kindergarten class pairs up with another to put on a performance. The teachers are in it too, of course. We are given the largest roles since we are obviously much more capable of memorizing lines in English. Many of my kids can't form gramatically-correct English sentences yet.
          My class (Salmon), is paired up with Jessica Teacher's class (Stingray). We will have thirteen students in total. And then there's us. Initially we were going to do Little Red Riding Hood, and Jessica and I were going to share the part of the Big Bad Wolf. We have scripts from previous years to work from. But, I wrote a new scene (requested by my Korean co-teacher, Ellen) between the birds, the flowers, the trees, and Little Red Riding Hood, because we needed more characters. I thought it was pretty good, personally :). I included the wise Oak Tree giving Red Riding Hood advice about not trusting people (or wolves) she just met. We also needed a song for the forrest critters to sing, so I was going to suggest Colors of the Wind (Pocahontas) :). Note: We have a lot of freedom in certain aspects of the job, since the parents of the kids and the owners of the school don't speak much English.
          Anyway, we are no longer doing Little Red Riding Hood. Something about problems locating the music for it. So, we are going to do Peter Pan. At the moment, I am transcribing part of the script (for some reason the school only had the hard copy, not the electronic), while editing it. I must say, out of all the plays that we could be doing, I'm pretty excited to be doing Peter Pan. I will be Captain Hook. So I'm ready to be really piratey for the next couple of months. Note: In some ways I feel like I'm already living in Never Land (lots of kids and clowning around), so this play is not much of a stretch. Okay, back to work...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fall Field Day

           As you may have noticed. I haven’t been blogging as consistently lately. A lot of my time is taken up by work (typically from 9am-7pm, sometimes with an hour-long break in the middle). I’ve also been busier lately outside of work, which is a good thing. I meet up with both Moon and Jackie most weekends, and have been spending time with some of the other teachers from my school.
Last week all of the “Native teachers” went over to one of the Korean-teachers houses, Sabina, and we made dinner. I have also been frequenting Now Bar (the sign says “Now!! Bar”), the expat bar in Yeongtong, which I mentioned before. It’s a great way to meet other foreigners and English-speaking Koreans who live nearby. I’ve been going most Friday nights.
            Anyway, on to the point of this blog post…Fall Field Day. This was an event that we had at school with the kindergarteners a couple of weeks ago. The teachers all showed up at 8:30 in the designated uniform of an EOS shirt, jeans, and a backpack (Amanda and I did some last-minute backpack shopping the night before since neither of us had one here. I found one I like at Suwon station for only 10,000 won).
The teachers were driven to a park in one of the EOS busses, were we met the kids (also bussed). Most of them were dressed in their cute little PE uniforms (black sweat-suits with a Burberry-like pattern on the sides). The day consisted of game-playing and picnic-ing, all while many pictures were taken (as always are on event days), so that the school could show the students’ parents and prospective parents how much fun the kids were having with their native English-speaking teachers.
            There was a foot race, a race where the kids and teachers pushed a huge ball, tug-of-war, etc. On one of the rounds of tug-of-war, just the teachers played (ouch my hands). Here is a picture that Amanda took of the Salmon girls and I:

Me, Julia, Lucy, and Chris

Afterwards we sat on a mat with the kids and ate snacks. The school provided kimbap (kind of like a sushi-roll with cooked fish), and each of the kids brought something to share. I brought rice-crispy treats, which I thought the kids would like, but they didn’t seem to, “teacher no”. We were also provided with a fair amount of coffee throughout the day. Which was very necessary.
            Here are some pictures I took on my phone of the picnic:

 Julia

 Sophia

Sonic 

Daniel 

 Kimbap, etc.

            All in all the day was pretty fun, even though we had to be pretty on-it to keep the kids under control. Much of it just seemed pretty hilarious/silly to me, as usual. Like the warm-up dance that they had all the kids do while singing a song that sounds like “choo-choo-cha-cha-choo-choo-cha-cha.” It was a nice day and great to be outside, playing games and eating snacks. Fall is the nicest time of year in Korea, with cool, clear air and red and yellow leaves.
I’m experiencing real seasons for the first time in my life. A little different than Santa Barbara, where the temperature simply drops a few degrees and sometimes it gets foggy. I am getting pretty nervous for winter, though. It’s supposed to be a particularly cold one. There will be snow and Siberian winds (literally).
            Side-note: I have a Korean phone now. It’s an LG smart-phone that I got for free with a yearlong contract (I pay monthly). It’s awesome, puts the iphone to shame. I love it. Has great apps, is easy to use, and takes really good pictures for a phone. As they say, “LG is about making life good.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Very Bizarre Birthday

I turned 22 (Korean 23) a couple weeks ago, and my birthday was, like most of my life lately, quite an adventure. It was fun, exhausting, and at some points just plain bizarre. You’ll see what I mean…
The evening before my actual birthday I met up with my good friend Moon, who came to Korea a couple weeks after me and is living in the same city, about 20 minutes away by bus. Part of what drew me to the school I am currently teaching at was the fact that Moon and I would be located in the same city, albeit a large one. Being both quite new to the life-in-Korea thing, and me without a phone, we decided that I would take the bus to her area of Suwon at the same time she was getting off of work and we would meet at the bus stop (something that we’d done before), get dinner, and take it from there.
            After meeting up, Moon and I decided that we might as well stop at The Big Chill (the expat bar in her part of town) before dinner, because it was Ladies Night (every Friday) and, being ladies, we could get free drinks. We had a few of those (hard to say no to free drinks, especially non-soju free drinks), and talked to some of the characters at the bar.
          One of them was dressed in chainmail. Our conversation began something like this: “What brings you to Korea?” “Uncle Sam.” “Why are you dressed in chainmail?” “Why not? I like dressing up.” “Um, yeah, dressing up is fun...” The Korean bartender was nice, though. His English name is Skyler, but is moving to Canada soon and is thinking of changing it to Jun, pronounced June, a somewhat common Korean-English name. We told him that we liked Skyler better, as June is a female name is the US, but he should of course choose a name that he feels reflects him.
Note: the people that I’ve met at expat bars in Suwon have all fallen into one of four categories: 1) native English teacher (from Ireland, England, South Africa, et.), 2) Korean interested in meeting foreigners, 3) American in the US army, or 4) Samsung employee. Some are here because they wanted to travel, some are here for the money, some are super into Asians and/or Asian culture. So, all in all, it is a very interesting crowd. Another note: people here seem both intrigued and confused by the Moon and Austin name combo, some have even said that we sound like a country band.
Anyway, a little later on, Moon presented me with a “choco-pie” (kind of like a ding-dong, very tasty), then she and a few of the characters sang me happy birthday and I blew out a lighter. After the free drinks were over, we made our way to a Korean BBQ restaurant and discussed life (Moon and I do this a lot) over soju and lettuce-wrapped charred beef (I LOVE Korean BBQ, by the way). After a while (not really sure how long), we were the only people left in the restaurant and the Koreans hinted that we needed to leave, so we did. I took a cab home. Conveniently for us, the 20-minute cab ride in-between our areas of Suwon is only about $10.
            The next morning (my birthday) I woke up feeling exhausted and hung-over. It had been a long workweek. Yet, I decided that I needed to rally and do something fun since it was my birthday and everything. Jackie and I had talked about spending the day on the Korean wine-train (link: Wine Train). It takes you from Seoul to S. Korean wine-country while you sip wine, eat snacks, and are entertained by musicians. You stop in the wine-country for lunch, soap making, and foot soaking. I still really want to do this, but it also leaves from Seoul at 9am on Saturday, and is a bit pricey, so we decided to do it another time. We had also talked about going to Everland, the 4th ranked theme park in the world (link: Everland), conveniently accessible via public transportation.
            In addition, there happened to be the annual expat soccer game happening in Seoul, at the World Cup Stadium. All the foreigners we knew seemed to be going and there was a beer and hot-dog included with the ticket purchase. When I woke up on Saturday that was exactly what I was in the mood for. So, I met up with Moon again, and we trekked it to the soccer game where we met up with Jackie, her boyfriend William, some friends of his from his soccer team (Seoul Storm), and two girls that one of the guys works with. I had talked to some of the other teachers from my school about meeting up at the game as well, but it ended up being too difficult with all the people and various cell-phone issues.
            The game was a lot of fun. There were two different Korean teams playing each other, and there was a lot of other entertainment incorporated besides the actual soccer (fireworks, ball-juggling shows, games where random people from the crowd could win things). It seemed they were trying to make it Western, since the game was for foreigners, but exaggeratedly so. The stadium is HUGE, and there were sooo many white people, which actually felt pretty strange, in a familiar/comforting sort of way. I honestly wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the game, more just looking around the stadium, chatting (being able to talk to a bunch of native English speakers has become a bit of a treat), and enjoying my beer and hot-dog.
            Moon, Jackie, William, etc. and I left a little before it was over to avoid the crowd all massing to the subway and went to a Korean BBQ restaurant in another part of Seoul. Have I mentioned that I LOVE KOREAN BBQ?! You cut up the meat with scissors and grill it in the middle of the table and then wrap it in lettuce with bean sprouts, red-pepper-sauce, etc., sooo good! We also drank a lot of soju and beer, which is custom with Korean BBQ.  I was very glad to be eating and drinking with two of my best friends. Also, at one point I looked around me and thought “it’s my birthday, I’m cutting meat with scissors and taking soju shots, and I just met most of these people today,” again, BIZARRE. Gotta love the adventure. But wait, there’s more…
            So we all went to a bar that one of the guys knew that he said played good music. This transitioned into a club, which was pretty packed and a ton of fun. We danced, at one point on an elevated platform in the middle of the room. Met a few Koreans who, odds are, I will never see again in my life, and whose names I can’t remember anyway. Jackie and William went home, and Moon and I left to meet up with her friend Scott, who she met through a friend at Wesleyan, and is also a new teacher in Korea.
          We all got some street-food (it’s everywhere, and for the most part delicious, although some of it is very strange, like the dried octopus), and met up with some of Scott’s friends at another club. At this point it was very late and I was very tired. Scott had already paid for a bed at a hostel (called The Yellow Submarine) and so he, Moon, and I went back there. I got the bed, and Scott and Moon slept on a couch for a few hours.
We left The Yellow Submarine at about 7am so that Scott could have his bed back, and took a Hellish series of fluorescent-light filled subway-rides back to Suwon. The past 48 hours had consisted of a lot of soju, very little sleep, and we got lost, of course. There were people coming in from a long night in Seoul, looking as bedraggled as we felt. At one point Moon thought she was going to vomit, so I found a shopping-bag in a bathroom that I carried with us for the rest of the journey.
All in all, a fair bit different from past years, or maybe not so different. Loved-ones, food, music, dancing, and the next-day daze in which I realize, “oh, yeah, I’m older now.” Different or not, I am 22 (or 23), and, almost two months after arriving, life in Korea continues.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chuseok

          These past couple of days have been the Korean holiday called Chuseok, similar to American Thanksgiving. According to Wikipedia, Chuseok is: “a major harvest festival and three-day holiday in Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar…As a celebration of the good harvest, Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional food such as songpyeon and rice wines.”
          Songpyeon is a Korean rice-cake, different from the American version of rice-cake. The outside reminds me of the mochi ice-cream balls that are sold at Trader Joe’s. Again from Wikipedia, songpyeon “is a traditional Korean food made of glutinous rice…They have become a popular symbol of traditional Korean culture. Songpyeon are half-moon-shaped rice cakes that contain different kinds of sweet or semi-sweet fillings, such as sesame seeds and honey, sweet red bean paste, and chestnut paste steamed over a layer of pine needles, which gives them the fragrant smell of fresh pine trees. They were made into various shapes with the participation of family members and were often exchanged between neighbors.”

Songpyeon

          On the Thursday morning of the week beforehand, we had a special Chuseok-day with all of the kindergarteners. The Korean teachers and students all came dressed in hanboks (traditional Korean clothing), and EOS provided the native teachers with hanboks to wear as well. The female hanbok is a bit like a brightly colored tent, or at least the ones that we were given, and not the most flattering. The kiddies looked really cute in theirs though, and some of them had really nice ones that were intricately made and beautiful. Some of the little boys wore puffy pink pants that were tight around the ankles, which I thought was precious.

Native teachers in their hanboks (courtesy of Amanda Teacher)

Instead of teaching classes, each teacher was assigned a traditional Korean game to play with the children. The games written on the schedule were “tal mask dance” (led by Gym Teacher), “too-ho play” (you try to throw an arrow in a cup of sorts, led by Jessica Teacher), “hoop play” (you try to roll a metal hoop with a stick, led by Anna Teacher), “neolttwigi jaegichaga” (kind of like teeter-totter, led by Amanda Teacher), “targeting stones” (you put a bean-bag on your head or shoulder and walk across the room with it, then lean over so that it knocks over a block, led by Hillary Teacher), and Ttakji game (led by Austin Teacher).
In my opinion, my game was the least fun. You basically took a folded up piece of magazine paper and threw it on another folded up piece of magazine paper, trying to throw hard enough so the paper on the ground would flip over. As far as I saw, none of the children were able to do this, and neither was I. I offered a lot of encouraging “almost!” and “nice try!”s. At least I got to help out with targeting stones, which was much more exciting. Here I am teaching the kiddies the game, photo credit to Hillary Teacher:

"Take one, please"

The Angelfish girls were having a hard time with this game.

          We got Monday and Tuesday off of work, which was great since I had been feeling sick, my immune system must be adjusting to being around so many kids. On Monday, Amanda Teacher and I went to Namsangol Hanok Village. This is a folk village in Seoul, which contains five restored traditional Korean houses, a pavilion, a pond, and a time capsule. The time capsule was buried in 1994, to celebrate Seoul’s 600-year anniversary, and is scheduled to be reopened in 2394.
          The village was hosting a special celebration for Chuseok. There were a bunch of people, mostly Korean of course but there were also a fair amount of foreigners. There were traditional games being played, and I recognized some from the games we played at school. One could also partake in traditional craft making. There was fan painting, mask painting, songpyeon-making, etc. There was also a performance area. We saw some live music, acrobatics, and a tightrope walker. Here are some photos:

Traditional Korean house

Arrow game

Time capsul

Tight-rope walker

All in all, Chuseok was a nice introduction into traditional Korean culture. Koreans seem to be very in-touch with and proud of their roots. The have a very rich culture and history indeed. Here is a little background info from one of my guidebooks: The traditional religions are Shamanism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, all which have shaped Korea’s sociocultural development. Christianity has also developed a very large following. South Korea has faced invasions from both Japan and North Korea and, lived under colonial rule by the Japanese for 35 years.
Fun fact: The national flower of Korea is the mugunghwa, or the Rose of Sharon, which (according to my guidebook) “is remarkably tenacious and able to withstand both blight and insects. The flower’s symbolic significance stems from the Korean word mugung (immortality). This word accurately reflects the enduring nature of Korean culture along with the perseverance of the Korean people.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cake and Indian Bracelets


Today I had my best morning yet at EOS. First off, apparently on the last day of every month (which was today, August 30th), the school celebrates all of the birthdays that occurred during the month. So, to my delightful surprise, I walk into my homeroom (Salmon Class) to find all of the children sitting around a beautiful cake wearing party hats (precious!).
Only Olivia had her birthday this month, so her Mom provided everything for the party. In addition to the cake, there was a princess-themed tablecloth, miniature wrapped fruit-baskets for everyone, and an elaborately decorated poster featuring pictures of Olivia. Sharon Teacher, the Korean teacher in charge of Salmon Class (she has been one of the main people training me; I adore her; she is also very pregnant), explained to me what was going on.
Sharon told me that we were celebrating Olivia’s birthday, so I was to read aloud the card that her parents had written about her (which Sharon had translated to English) and help Olivia read something about her and her family. Then I was to ask Olivia some questions about the pictures. Easy enough. I performed my duties, while Angel Teacher (the Korean helper-teacher) took pictures.
“Olivia’s Mommy stayed up all night doing this,” said Sharon, gesturing to the elaborately decorated poster, “no sleep,” she explained. “I will not do all of this, as a Mommy” (eluding to her unborn child). But seriously, all night? No kidding!
The cake was delicious, and the fruit was also good. Worth noting: there were a couple cherry tomatoes in the fruit basket, which was different. After everyone was done eating, and a sufficient amount of pictures had been taking, we moved on to the next activity: making necklaces for Indian Day.
Indian Day is this Saturday, and by “Indian Day” they mean Native American Day. There are actually Indian children at the school, and I am a little curious as to why their parents haven’t objected to the un-PC title of this day. Basically, the kids (optional) and teachers (required) dress up in Native American outfits, come to school (at 11am on SATURDAY, and we don’t get paid for this), and participate in a variety of activities. I’m not sure what these activities will be exactly, all I know so far is that I need to pull together a costume and come up about twenty-five “Indian Names” to assign to the children in Salmon Class and Tuna Class. I also keep seeing these random cutouts of Native-Americans popping up around school.
So, today we made our Indian necklaces, which was actually quite fun. We gave the kids little bits of clay, which they rolled into balls, and then we poked holes in them to make beads. We also gave then pieces of felt that had been cut into leaf-shapes, which they decorated with colored pencils. Then the beads and leaves were strung onto necklaces. I made one too. They actually looked pretty cool, very earthy. Also, between the birthday party, necklace making, and lunch, I only had time for about an hour of actual teaching (for Kindergarten). Maybe Indian Day won’t be so bad after all…

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Sunny Sunday in Suwon

It was a very pretty day in Suwon, so I headed out for a hike. Took these pictures with my camera phone. The first few are from the hike and the last few were taken on my walk back from the trail:

View from one of the trails

Trail

Cute graffiti art ^ ^

To get to the other side of the street you often times go underground.

On one of the public exercise machines

A taste of home, very near my apartment

No More Miss Nice Austin Teacher

          I have officially begun working at EOS Wingsly School. The first few days were a bit hectic, to say the least. However, I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it, day by day. A lot of the job is definitely different from what I expected. Here are some of the challenges and highlights of the past couple weeks:
            So, after three days of training, or, “observation,” it was time for me to start teaching. Observation basically consisted of me sitting in on classes, taking notes, and trying to figure out what the heck was going on. I was trying to understand the system, and many things weren’t clear to me initially: How do we know what we are supposed to teach in each class? How do we prep for classes? Can we leave children alone in the classrooms? I was also trying to remember the children’s names, the personality of each class, and what level they were at in terms of English comprehension. It was a lot to try to take in, especially in three days.
This was made more difficult by the fact the Koreans don’t seem to want to give you explicit instructions, perhaps because it is considered rude. There definitely seems to be a significant difference in Korean and American communication styles, and communication is made even more difficult with the language barrier. So, having realized this, the Korean teachers will usually explain something and then have one of the “native teachers” re-explain it.
The translation by the native teachers was definitely helpful, I would have been completely lost without it, but added an additional challenge in that every teacher has their own interpretation of how things should be done, and their own teaching style. In addition, as I have been told by some of the other teachers, “if something makes sense, assume that’s not how they do it here.” I’m not sure if this is particularly true to EOS, or just due to the difference values between South Korean and American culture.
            At the end of my final observation day, on the eve of my first day of teaching, Mr. Kim sat me down is his office for a pep-chat of sorts. Mr. Kim is EOS’s CEO, more commonly known as “King Teacher” (his wife, who I have yet to meet, is “Queen Teacher”). Mr. Kim, like most of the Koreans I have encountered, in mild-mannered, slight, and soft-spoken.
Whenever he talks it seems very deliberate, like he is feeling his way through the words. “I think [pause] you will be good teacher,” he told me, contemplatively, “but [pause] you need have more energy with children. [Pause] they have much energy, [pause] and you must also. [Pause] you also must find right voice tone. [Pause] raise tone, [pause] but with right timing. [Pause] only sometimes.” With those words of wisdom to guide me, I was hurdled into the classroom (at least that’s what it felt like).
The teaching-day is a steady stream of bells, students, and a few breaks. The first day went fine. In general, I usually just felt like I didn’t know what was going on. There is a Korean teacher in charge of each class, and the native teachers usually have a few classes that they teach primarily. I’m teaching several different classes, all at different levels. There is a schedule for what is to be taught in each class, planned by the Korean teacher.
Finding the right class at the right time was a challenge for me in itself. In addition I needed to make sure to have the correct folder for each class, with which to take attendance and look-up what was supposed to be taught. As far as the teaching went I basically just improvised, at least at first. Sometimes it seemed to work and sometimes it didn’t. The hardest part was when the class was at a particularly low level; getting them to speak any English felt like pulling teeth. Sometimes I just felt like I was talking to myself for forty minutes.
On most of the days I spend the majority of the morning with Salmon, my homeroom. I have also taught Tuna, Angelfish, and Blowfish, who are all younger. Kindergarten classes begin at 9:30 am and are done at 12:40 pm. Elementary classes begin at 3:30 pm and end at 6:30 pm. As of now, each day I teach 3-4 kindergarten classes and up to 4 elementary classes. The whole day goes from about 9:10am to 7:00 pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Tuesdays and Thursdays are shorter. This includes about an hour and a half break in the middle and sometimes an additional 45-minute break.
After my first day of teaching, I realized that my pre-conception about what it would be like to teach English in South Korea was, to say the least, off. Back in the US, when I pictured what it would be like to teach English to South Korean children, I imagined instructing these little bundles of cuteness who hung on to my every English word. I thought they would be shy, obedient, studious, and would astound me with their intellectual abilities. Which, in hindsight, is very stereotypical and I feel a little guilty admitting this misconception. A misconception indeed. Don’t get me wrong, there are some children that are like my pre-conceived fantasy children, but they are the minority, to say the least.
Salmon is one of the relatively mellow classes, thank goodness. It’s not too big, with only ten children. They are all 7 in Korean-age, which is 5 or 6 according to how we do ages in America (I’m still figuring this one out). The girls (Lucy, Olivia, Chris, Julia, and Sophia) are well behaved. The boys, on the other hand, are much more boisterous (irritating), especially the “three musketeers”: Eddie, Sonic, and Daniel. The other boys are named Ricky and Christopher. Don’t get me wrong, they are super cute, and I’m sure I would enjoy them all immensely if I were just playing around with them. Instead, our time together mainly consists of me trying to get them learn long and short vowels, do their phonics worksheets, and just sit still for a second and listen (!).
I would also like to mention that my first teaching day at EOS was “opposite day.” This meant that the teachers, and the students if they wanted, dressed up in opposite-outfits (one sock on, one sock off; half of hair up, half of hair down; clothes inside out/backwards). One of the teachers clarified this for me, “they basically want us to look ridiculous so that the kids will think it’s funny.” One of the boy students cross-dressed, which I thought was cute. We were also supposed to play games in class where the kids were to do the exact opposite of what we told them. Um, how is this different from other days? (Haha…).
Anyway, I have decided that the best way to keep one’s sanity in some of the situations I find myself in is to keep a sense of humor about it all. Trust me, there are plenty of things that I find to laugh about, even if sometimes I am just laughing on the inside because I don’t want to offend anyone. For example, the first thing I do when I come to work every day is to change into a pair of slippers. We all do, it’s required; students, staff, everybody. Well, they’re technically our “indoor shoes,” but, to my American eyes, they are bedroom slippers. There are certain places in Korea where this is necessary (ex: people’s homes, locker rooms, schools, some restaurants). At first I thought this was a religious thing, but I was told that they do it for sanitary reasons.
Another thing that I find amusing about my job is that for some reason they are always giving us little bits of food. We are already fed lunch (usually rice, soup, kimchee, a meat dish, and some sort of vegetable dish), but for some reason every day I’ve been at school I always end up being given at least a couple random snacks. They are either handed to me by one of the other teachers or staff while I’m teaching or in the teacher’s room, or I get back to my desk and some food is just sitting there.
I’m usually not sure where this food actually originates from (I’m guessing it’s usually from the Korean staff, some could come from the directors, or perhaps the parents), but I just take it and eat it so as not to be rude. It’s also usually pretty good, albeit random. Sometimes it’s a piece of chocolate, a date, a couple Pringles, or bit of chicken. Often times it’s something that’s “good for your health,” like this drink I was handed that supposedly contained my daily-dose of fiber and tasted like liquid jell-o. I’m guessing this food thing is part of the gift-giving culture. Or maybe it has to do with the collectivist, sharing thing. Or maybe the school just wants to keep us energized so we do our job well, I don’t really know.
            Also slightly amusing are some of the Korean fake names. All of the Korean students at hagwans are given English names, as are the Korean teachers, most of which are pretty normal (they like the names Alex and Allison), but some of which are very unusual. For example, some of my favorite names at EOS are Promise, Sunny, Archer, a particularly unhappy-looking girl named Shiny, and the boy in my homeroom named Sonic, Sony for short. I also find it funny that they literally refer to these names as their “fake names.” It gets a little confusing sometimes when you spend time with the Korean teachers outside of school, because you have to remember to call them by their real name, and then switch back to their fake name while inside the EOS building.
To summarize, this job seems to put much more emphasis on discipline and pleasing the parents, and less of an emphasis on actual teaching, than I initially imagined. Doing a good job, according to the school’s standards, requires a lot of energy, yelling, and a fair amount of theatrics. Although, the well-behaved, upper-level classes are much more similar to the teaching I initially imagined. I’ve been told that it takes about 2 months to get the hang of teaching here, and then it gets easier and more enjoyable. Also, once you bond with the kids I’m sure spending time with them becomes a lot more pleasurable. I’m already starting to get attached to some of them, and it’s only been two weeks.
Overall, in comparison to other hagwans, the main complaint about EOS (based on what I’ve heard) is that they make you work more than the other schools, but don’t pay you more. However, on the positive side, since it is one of the more high-end schools, the building is nicer (it has it’s own 4-story building, which is unusual for Korea). They also seem to provide us with more services than the other schools (we have Patrick, drivers that take us to the hospital if we are sick, etc.).
So, I hope this offers a glimpse of my work-life. I also hope that is doesn’t come across as too negative, as there have been both highs and lows and is a big adjustment. The beginning was a little rough, but it is steadily improving. I will write about some of the other aspects of living in Yeongtong soon, like the food, shopping, what people do for exercise, etc. I will also describe the other areas of Korea that I will soon be visiting, namely Seoul.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Day 3-Orientation

Yesterday, Saturday, was my orientation day, in more ways than one. First, I had my orientation at school, in which I went into a room with Sharon Teacher (all of the teachers are referred to like that, I'm Austin Teacher), signed my contract (I signed it before coming here but this copy had my actual start and end dates, August 19th, 2011- August 18th, 2012, since the first couple of days will be observation days and don’t count as actual working. Fine.), and went over the “Teachers Orientation Booklet.” This booklet described the kindergarten and elementary school schedules, EOS teaching methods, discipline methods, rules for teachers, etc.
Apparently each teacher has a kindergarten homeroom, mine is Salmon (they all have fish names; like Whale, Tuna, Blowfish, etc.). Native teachers are paired with a Korean teacher, who helps them with their classes. I will be paired with Sharon, who I like, but only for the next couple of months since she is pregnant, then I will be paired with another teacher who used to work at the school and is returning.
One of the highlights of the orientation was when Sharon was explaining the dress code. She said that it is important not to wear provocative clothing, as some of the elementary school children will not be able to concentrate. They also might come up and touch you, “they are young and can’t control themselves,” she explained.
Sharon also told me (in an indirect, casual, Korean manner) that if any of the kids ask my age, which they will, that I am to say I am “my age plus a few years,” since their parent won’t think that a 21-year-old is fit to teach their children. When I asked how old I should say, she contemplated a bit and then told me 27 would be good. She explained that this isn’t lying; it’s just to make the parents feel more comfortable. Stretching the truth in order to maintain appearances and satisfy expectations seems to be a theme in Korean culture, which I will elaborate on later.
After the orientation at school, Patrick asked me what my plans were for the weekend. I explained that I would like to get-together with some of the other teachers but didn’t have a phone or internet at my apartment yet so it was a bit challenging to do so. I had exchanged a couple of emails with Jess, but had only been able to send them from school. She said that she and a couple others had come by my apartment once or twice the day before but had missed me. Patrick offered to call Anna from his phone. He put me on with her and she said she would come meet me at school and show me around.
Anna is the athletic one whose 25th birthday was the night I arrived. She went to a private university in St Lois where she played basketball, and worked as a personal trainer before coming to Korea. She is full enthusiasm and positivity, and has an appetite for adventure. Sharon Teacher told me that Anna showed up her first morning at school, already having explored all of Suwon on her own, “so big energy.” I was very tired/jet-lagged, so I quickly drank a coffee, and we were off. Anna took me around Suwon (Literally. The main locations are located on the perimeter, shaped in a sort-of circle-square, which we walked around). She showed me the gym, McDonalds, Home Plus, a cute little park, and the 4-D movie theater (whatever that means).
Along the way she gave me all sorts of info and bought me a pastry filled with red-bean paste (tasty). She told me about the bus routes, Korean eating habits, and pointed out the “sexy bars” (the ones with tinted windows, which we avoid). At the end she drew me a map of the places we had been. She was meeting someone in Seoul so had to go but wished me well on my continued exploration of Suwon (“just get lost, girl!”), gave me her email address, a map she had drawn of the places she had shown me, and directions to a café with free Wi-Fi.
Later that evening, around 10, I was reading back at my apartment after spending some time at the café Anna had directed me to (Roastery Coffee House), eating dinner, and wandering around some, when there was a knock at the door. It was Jess, Hillary, and her sister, who were heading out and wondering if I’d like to join. Yes. I put on shoes and grabbed a sweater and an umbrella (we’re at the end of monsoon season, so it still rains quite frequently) and we walked a few blocks to Now Bar, the main ex-par in Suwon.
Now Bar would be difficult to find on your own; it’s on a side-street up some stairs and the sign is in Korean. Inside, there is a pool table, comfortable booths, a dartboard, and anyone can play music over the speakers from the laptop.  The crowd was mixed; Koreans as well as foreigners from Europe, South Africa, and the US. It was a slow night, but I was introduced to most of the people there. Apparently after you’ve been here a few times you either know or at least recognize pretty much everyone (there is a “crowd”).
Now Bar is owned by a Korean woman who everyone calls Mrs. C. According to Hilary, she acts as a mother to all of the regulars. She will let you nap there if you get too drunk (not planning on doing this) and will make you soup if you’re sick (Why would you be at a bar if you’re sick? Good question). She also serves popcorn with the drinks, which is nice. I read somewhere that it’s common practice in Korea to serve snacks with alcoholic beverages.
While getting an in-depth low-down from Jess about the students and staff at EOS, I drank my first soju cocktail of my stay in Korea. They come in different flavors (grape, peach, lemon, etc.) and are basically a bottle of soju, juice, and sprite in a huge glass with ice. Jess recommended the lemon, which I ordered, and it tasted like a lemon-drop. Drank straight, soju pretty much tastes like vodka, but is about half as strong, and comes in little bottles like the sake bottles at Japanese restaurants. I read that it used to be distilled from rice but is now made out of sweet potatoes. It tastes fine when mixed with something but hurt my stomach.
Jess and Hilary came to Suwon using the same recruiter as I did, DJ Choi, They are friends from their hometown in Indiana. They came here together but had to pretend that they didn’t know each other when they first got to the school, as instructed by DJ. The school now knows that Hilary and Jess were friends before and doesn’t care, but this deception was necessary at first in order for them to get jobs at the same school (see the theme I was referring too?).
Apparently the reason that the schools don’t want to hire teachers that know each other is that they are afraid if one of the teachers didn’t like it and left the other would follow, and then they would be stuck having to quickly fill two positions at once. The worst-case scenario for a hagwon (what they call the Korean English schools) is if there is a domino effect of teachers who “run.”
Running is a phenomenon here in Korea when, without telling anyone their intentions, a foreign teacher will pack up their stuff, withdraw all of the money from their Korean bank account, and fly home, breaking their contract (sounds so 007, I know). If this happens, there is nothing that the school can do except replace the teacher as quickly as possible. Contracts aren’t binding in Korea like they are in the Western-world, and are more like guidelines. Also, even if they were, a school isn’t going to through the trouble of pressing trans-national legal charges (don’t think this is the right terminology, but you get what I mean). Don’t worry, Dad, I’m not planning on doing this, I just thought it was interesting.
Of course, if you run, you will most likely never be able to get a work-visa to teach English in Korea again, and the staff, students, and other teachers at the school will be unhappy. If you decide you don’t want to stay out the full year and give two-months notice, you are allowed to leave while still respecting your contract, and this way the school has time to replace you. But if someone really wants to leave immediately, for whatever reason, sometimes they just do, and the school is left scrambling for a replacement teacher.
The hagwons are businesses, and the parents pay a lot to get the quality, in-depth English instruction that they feel that they are not getting enough of from the public school system. Many of the students come to EOS after regular school in the morning, and then have some other instruction afterwards, such as an instrument. Many of these kids are in school alllll day. Apparently some of the mothers have very high expectations and the school works very hard to meet their standards, or in some cases an appearance of these standards (by adding a few years to one’s age, etc.). Appearance is very important in Korean, part of the “saving face” aspect.
Anyways, back to the bars…after Now Bar, we went to the next most popular expat bar, Pamex. Pamex has low lighting, a dance-floor, and a DJ booth. This is usually where people come after having a couple of Soju cocktails at Now Bar. They have relatively normal (i.e. Western) cocktails at Pamex (you can get a gin and juice, coke and rum, take “jegger booms,” etc.). I got a vodka-tonic with lemon (they don’t have limes here, unfortunately). We also watched three Koreans take shots that contained vodka, 151, and Tabasco. I was impressed. This bar was pretty slow also; apparently it’s summer break for a lot of the schools so many of the teachers are traveling. We left around 2am and walked only a few blocks back to our various apartments, which are located within a couple bocks of one-another.
          This was my introduction to Yeongtong provice’s (of Suwon City) expat bar scene. It seems quaint; Jess equated the bars, Now Bar especially, to what you might find in a college town. The people seem friendly, the streets pretty safe at night. Although it is better to avoid the areas where prostitution is legal. Apparently it is also common to end up in a karaoke booth at the end of the evening, some of which contain drum sets (in case you feel the need to impersonate Justin Beiber). Something to look forward to.

Day 2-Health check, EOS

Today is my third day in Suwon and I am still yet to spend any of the won I exchanged for at the airport. Don’t worry Mom, I have been eating, I just mean to say that people have been very hospitable and buying me things. My first night, upon arrival at the apartment, Patrick presented me with a bag containing a liter of water, Mott’s grape-juice, and a sandwich. I’m guessing that these foods were meant to remind me of home and ease the transition. I don’t think I’ve ever actually eaten a ham and egg sandwich or drank Mott’s grape-juice, but they weren’t bad. Jess bought my beer the first night, a Cass, the cheap beer of Korea.
I was taken to the hospital by what some of the other teachers referred to as a “monkey butler.” Patrick came to my door a little before ten in the morning, brought me downstairs and drove me the three blocks to school where I got in the monkey butler’s (I know it’s totally wrong to call him that but I was never told his real name…I’ll just refer to him as MB) car.
Patrick explained to me on the way to EOS that this man did not speak any English but not to worry, there would be someone at the hospital that did. After we parked at the hospital, MB guided me to the elevator and then to the appropriate part of the hospital. He seemed very gentle and attentive, beckoning for me to go first through doorways even though I was following him. He glanced at me every few steps to make sure I was still there.
The hospital was very clean and I didn’t see any other foreigners. I felt very tall. The Koreans didn’t stare though, which I was grateful for. Sometimes when I would look around, in the elevator or the waiting room, I would catch one of them looking at me, but they would quickly avert their gaze. Etiquette is a very strong part of the Korean culture, from what I’ve read. The do indeed seem to be incredibly polite.
When we reached the area of the hospital where I was to receive my health check, a medium-sized room with various chairs and tables, a front-desk, and several adjacent rooms, I was taken to a nurse at the front desk who spoke English. She exchanged some words with MB, which I understood none of except for a few mentions of “E2 visa.” She then addressed me; “breakfast?” which I didn’t understand the first couple of times. I handed her my passport in confusion, then realized she was asking me if I’d eaten breakfast, and told her no (I had been instructed by Patrick not to consume anything except water from 10 pm the night before until my health check had been complete).
I filled out a form, then was given an article of pink hospital clothing and a numbered locker-key and told to go into room 5 and “take off…*something jumbled* your bra.” I would have been very confused and a bit perturbed, but had been told by some of the other teachers the night before the basic steps of the health-check, which included changing into a hospital shirt for the chest x-ray.
I took off the necessary clothing, put on the heavy cloth shirt, and went back out into the waiting room. MB beckoned me to a seat and we sat with the other people in the room watching the television, which showed a Korea girl crying dramatically and ripping off her sweater while a panel of displeased-looking people (who I imagined to be judges in some sort of Korean-idol) talked to her via microphones (critiquing her prior performance?).
After a couple of minutes I recognized my name being called: “Austin Lucy Clark,” and I was led through a series of health-check stations. The rooms were located around the perimeter of the waiting room, each numbered. In the different stations they checked my vision, hearing “press the button when it makes the beeeepppp sound”, urine (awkward), blood (ouch), teeth, chest/lungs (the man nicely asked, “may I touch your hair?” before moving my hair out of the way of the x-ray machine), and a woman asked me if I had any diseases (no). It was all very quick and efficient.
When we got back to the car, which was parked in the parking garage, I noticed that we were blocked in by a line of cars parked perpendicularly in front of the EOS van. MB seemed unbothered however, and opened the door for me to get in. He then proceeded to calmly push the cars lined up in front of ours out of the way (apparently they had been left in neutral), in order to make space for us to get out. I’m assuming this is a common practice in Korea, which I suppose makes sense in terms of space efficiency. Very efficient indeed, the Koreans.
After the health check, I was driven back to EOS. EOS, which stands for “English Only System,” is a prestigious-looking private school, with large columns at the front and a rotating glass door. You are required to take off your shoes and put on slippers when entering. There is a front-reception area with a large desk and couches, similar to a hotel. An elevator takes you between floors. I haven’t seen inside the classrooms but there is a computer lab and pool.
I was taken to meet the EOS director, Mr. Kim, who runs the school with his wife. His office contained a large table and chairs, an official-looking desk, a well-stocked bookcase, and a flat-screen TV projecting the feed from security cameras located around school. Although his office was a bit intimidating, and the lurky cameras made me a bit nervous, Mr. Kim was nice and gentle seeming. We motioned for me to sit at the table and sat next to me, then asked me some polite questions about my hometown (“Santa Barbara is very expensive, yes?”), my schooling, etc. After about 10 minutes he dismissed me in an inoffensive, Korean manner, by saying “I am very sorry, I have another meeting.”
Patrick let me use his computer until lunchtime, and then led me to the kitchen, where I was fed a very typical Korean meal (rice, seaweed soup, meat/vegetable dish, kimchee). Patrick explained that often times the teachers cannot eat the food at first, and that it takes some getting used to. I really didn’t mind it (I like spice) but Patrick bought me coffee and a granola bar from 7-11 afterwards (so that my palette didn’t go into shock?). As a manager of the school, a large part of Patrick’s job appears to be to try to make the new teachers feel comfortable, which he does quite attentively, it’s nice.