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.

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