My Travels

My Travels
Koh Phangan, Thailand

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My (Real) First Day, Game Days, Slippers, Spices, Chants and other Randomness

Training...or on the train (Or subway)

Just thought I would throw this in here about my training since I didn't talk about it much yet.... (which there are reasons for...ask me about that later... ;)

While traveling on the subway in Seoul, there were two elderly gentlemen, so I offered them to take a seat, (as respect for your elders is especially big here, but even more so and is considered customary to give an elder gentleman or woman your seat if they enter the subway/bus/etc), one sat down, but after the one refusing to take the seat and motioning for me to take it, I sat down, as I saw that he wasn't going to take the seat either. They engaged me in conversation, introducing themselves as a doctor and lawyer and asking if it was my first time in Korea. They were glad to hear where I was from, one of them saying he had been to the US, to New York and California, among other places, I believe. (Many people have been to NY or Cali, it seems who have visited, or at least these are the main places they know. When I tell my students I am from NJ, it is helpful to tell them how far I am from NYC, then they seem to understand more where I'm "from." Also funny story about my "Jersey accent".... to be told later...)

So the one man was very kind and smiled a lot, and expressed how happy he was to get to speak English with a native, saying that he hadn't gotten this opportunity that often, so I thought it was very sweet and endearing how he said it, as I could see he was really happy and was genuine about it. He later told me he was not really a lawyer, the other man had just introduced him as that, as he did study law, but worked for the electric company now. Needless to say, it was nice talking to him and he was very kind.

New Food, Chopsticks, Staying in Seoul, Spice of Life, and finally getting to move into my new apartment!

During the training (a mixture of lectures, class observations and hands on training, i.e- presenting a lesson to the rest of the "training class", while also trying to get used to the time difference and trying not to get too sleepy during the observation classes and training, and unlike Bi-Bim-Bap (known as a mix of different foods you have to stir/mix together) it was not a very good mix- even the director mentioned she was quite sleepy during part of it!) And this is still not what I meant when I said the bit about not talking about training for a reason... that will come later yet...

Anyway, what I was going to say was that they provided lunch and dinner, during the training, which was a very nice unexpected bonus! The training was not paid, so this was good that I did not have to worry about that, as we do not get paid for the first month, since we get paid monthly, as I may have mentioned before (and may be mentioning again because of the lack of won (dollars) that is being experienced!

We stayed in Seoul for the training, getting a hotel for the Thursday night we started training(leaving early to arrive in time for training that morning), to go back late Friday night after training all day, then returning the following Monday and staying up to and including Wednesday for training and then traveling back that night. A whirlwind of travel.  The we was referring to the director and I, as well as a Korean girl who works in the office at the school, who stayed for a night and couple days of the training to get a feel for the new program/curriculum we will be using.

Chopsticks: Take Two

I also learned before this that I was not as good at using chopsticks as I had originally thought. I had never learned the correct way to hold them, so the teacher who was leaving kindly showed me how when the director took us out for lunch. It was a little hard for me to catch on how to hold them right (and use them right!) but was able to get a little better at it, even getting a compliment that I used them pretty well the first time I had lunch with the Korean staff and everyone at the training. I was glad, as I thought that it would take me years to get it right! Still not perfect at it, but I was told that everyone uses them differently and that practice makes perfect, as my lovely (white-haired) grandmother used to say. (I say white-haired to differentiate between her and my red-haired grandmother, which is what I used to call them to refer to them when I was younger.)

Finally- home sweet home (for the year at least!) (Or Whirlwinds and Dorothy's Slippers-there's no place like home?)

I was very happy to move into my new apartment after staying at the director's (which was very nice and they were very welcoming) and then traipsing through Seoul to find a hotel for the first night of the training. (--Cut to-whirlwinds-- This whirlwind of travel also coincided with reports on the news of heavy winds that caused some damage in Japan and parts of South Korea, causing damage to some buildings and causing a couple of bricks to fall into the street!)

(--Return to prior scene--) But of course being on the move is not the same as getting to move into your own place, which will be your home for the next year. It helped me feel more settled and ready to continue the adventure. I was happy to have all my stuff moved in and ready to explore my new city! P.S. Talking about Dorothy's slippers- that is what we wear at school. Not Dorothy's slippers, but our own slippers. As it is customary to take off your shoes before entering a building you are staying at, (home, school or restaurant, not a store or anything...) we have footwear we change into once we get to the school.

Do you like it spicy?

I got to try a bunch of new Korean foods, so this was a good thing and I learned that some of the foods can be really spicy. Not the "Oh yeah that's a little spicy." But the "They really ain't playing around" kind of spicy. Spice is what makes it interesting though.  Even if it makes your eyes water and your nose run. The spice of life. We all could use a little more spice and seasoning in our lives, right? Shoutout here to the Spicy Club and my bro KJ! Your entourage will be here to welcome you when you visit!

First Day as a Teacher.... for Real!

I went into it very nervous, as you saw from my last post, but was able to relax and get excited about starting. Although it was still a little nerve-racking at first, I am happy to say that I had an awesome first day!

It went really well and I got to start learning more about the students as they learned more about me and we tried to converse in English together. (Some of the students obviously still speak in Korean, which will be hard to tackle, as the goal is to get them to speak in English only during the class for the most part and to be able to explain in English to them and have them understand, otherwise they will not be able to learn if they are just given an explanation in Korean by their friends.) (They also enjoyed seeing pictures of my brother, whom they deemed "very hansom!" and these girls in the middle school class are KJ's above referenced new entourage! He was unsure how to feel about his new near celebrity status in South Korea!)

I had the first day as more of a get-to-know-you day with icebreakers and games designed to elicit English conversation and words from them. Then Friday was Game Day (every other Friday for the older kids, for the younger kids, I believe it is every Friday. Before starting, I was warned about the kids trying to claim it was game day more often than this, as they like to try to take advantage of foreign teachers, especially new ones! "It's Game Day, Teacher! Game Day! Play Game! I did get this request at least once, and I don't think it was Friday..!) They all seemed to enjoy it for the most part, with the exception of the one class of just a few boys (many of them are away for vacation right now, so classes are smaller) who did not want to do ANYTHING, even if it was a fun activity. They were just not interested! So I will have to work on them!

However, the other class, my biggest class so far, REALLY got into the activity, a competition that consisted of them being on 2 teams and running up to the board to write a word first to get the point for their team. They got quite loud, so much so that one of the Korean teachers came by to see what was going on!

My name....a Superhero Cheer? (or Spice and Superheroes)

Another highlight of the day was in one of my elementary classes. There are two boys that sit together in the one class. On the first day they played the name switcheroo game, which I was warned about in advance from them, as they each pretended to be the other one. Then, after that they proceeded to claim they had the same name as me....then one of them would shout my first name while pumping his arm into the air, as if he were saying the name of a superhero or celebrity or saying a cheer or chant, quickly followed by the other one doing the same with my last name. How they said it with their cute Asian accent made it quite amusing and endearing. Which I did not let them know of course.

I look forward to many fun (and challenging!) days. Including the days with extra spice and the days with superhero cheers!

My First day as a teacher in SOUTH KOREA!!!!! ;)


Totally scared terrified horrifed freaking out- what do I do?! I don't know how to pronounce their names! I don't know how to teach another language, have never done this before! AHHHH WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?

I had to talk myself down- okay this is normal to feel this way. The hardest part is starting? I asked myself. BUT HOW DO I START?

I reminded myself of my earlier quotes about new beginnings (see link for this prior post) All glory comes from daring to begin... AND...All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning and told myself this is normal to feel this way when starting something completely new like this, let alone being in a completely new, foreign place!

I still wasn't totally convinced but tried any number of arguments with myself and even tried out a new saying on for size- "Making the beginning is one third of the work." (Irish proverb) (Thank you Kelly D. ! JK ;) )

It helped more and I was able to convince myself to go to face the....  (FILL IN THE BLANK HERE... unknown/music/wild chaos/loud and out of control children/other of your own choosing...?) ~~If you filled in the blank, tell me what you chose in the comments below, thanks!~~

Okay, so you want to know what happened on my first day now, right? How it went and all that jazz? Tune in for next week's blog! JK! Will be coming soon! Just had to do the teaser...! Look for Part 2!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Observations, New Beginnings and Looking Forward

~ All glory comes from daring to begin. ~ Eugene Ware ~Read more:

Top Priority

I went to observe at the school. As it is a private school or "hagwon", my hours are 2pm until 10:30pm. Here is how it works: Education is very VERY important in Korea, so students are in school ALL DAY- literally. A typical school day for them starts at 8am and ends at 10:30pm. They go to regular school and then end their day (and night) with private English school.

Class of Chaos or Calm?

Korean students are very different from American students. How so? You may ask, picturing a room full of well-behaved quiet students with their arms folded on their desks, as they look forward eager to learn.

 Not quite. In this "land of the morning calm," (the English name for the country) Korean students can be very loud and giggly. It is surprising at first how loud they can be. It is a normal thing for students to talk throughout the class period.

On the opposite spectrum, students can also be very shy and not confident with their speaking ability even if they are in fact good students and good at English. It is difficult for some of them, particulary middle school students, to speak out as they may fear making mistakes. In the Korean culture, it is very important to "save face" or not embarass yourself. It is not a good thing to admit if you do not know something. This may factor into their less-than-willingness to speak out.

Looking Forward: New Beginnings

Now that I am done with training, which took place in Seoul, I will be starting my first official day as a teacher in South Korea.

I am not sure exactly how to feel. The nervousness has passed (for the most part, unless I focus on it too much...) and I am now excited to see the students again and learn more about them as I try to making learning English fun for them, when they already are in school all day and may not really want to "learn" anything else.

I feel confident that I will learn a lot from them as they will learn from me. I will make it a priority to show that I care about them as people, not just as students. I will make sure they have structure and will expect the best from them. As I will be starting with just two days left of this week, it will be a good way to get to know them and get a little taste of where they are at and what they need and then I can more fully implement plans to teach them in the best way possible.

Excited to start, here goes!

~ All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. ~ Albert Camus~

Read more:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

First Full Day in Korea- Kimchi for Breakfast!

Welcome to South Korea!

Here I am in South Korea- excited for what is to come and ready to explore this new country that will be my home for the time being! I already love kimchi- their staple food- kind of like what french fries are to Americans or potatoes are to the Irish- it s a pickled cabbage that is spicy and Koreans eat this with every meal. I had it for breakfast today, was very good! Now let's backtrack and take a peek at what my journey getting here was like...and all of the thoughts involved with that:

Are you ready for this? Sudden Good-byes and the lack thereof
I knew that I was going to be leaving very soon, but did not know how soon and did not know how long it would actually be that I would be able to get a flight and be told to pack up and leave the country for a year. Let me tell you- it was very soon! I had 2 days notice to pack up and go to this exciting new land. Was I ready? Can you ever be totally ready for anything? I think you can be more prepared than I was, at least packing wise and getting everything in order and settled. I did not sleep that night- had to leave for the airport at about 3:45am and needed all the time I could to finish packing and everything!
I was (partially?) ready emotionally, (definitely time wise ready- was looking forward to this for a while and was ready to get here!) even though it was hard to say good-bye and leave loved ones behind.

What matters? What is this about?
But I don't really see it as leaving them behind, as much as not getting to see them for awhile. We will all have exciting new adventures this year and will have learned a lot. I plan to learn as much as I can while I am here- about the culture, about teaching, about listening and showing you care even if you don't speak the same language. About travel, about history, about people, about love. About learning and having fun and not worrying about what doesn't matter. About learning what truly does matter.

Traveling with Style- falling asleep in style? (bonus to who knows what this references!)
Back to the airport. I took 3 planes total to get here. Newark to Charlotte, NC. NC to Seattle Washington and then Seattle to Seoul, Korea! The first flight was 2 hours, second flight was 5 and half hours and the third was 11 and a half hours. The Asiana airline was defintely my favorite to travel on- it was a first class experience! They had large, comfortable seats and provided blankets, pillows, eye shades and headphones- I saw The Way Back- very good movie based on true events about a group of people imprisoned in a Soviet Labor Camp in 1941 who escape and travel about 4,000 miles from Siberia to India, passing through jungles and the Gobi Desert. I also saw Harry Potter the final installment- Part 1! And I saw some of Rango- which seems pretty funny so far and I would like to see the rest of it!

They served us two meals on the plane- for the first meal, you could choose Western or Korean. The Western meal was steak bits with potatoes and the dessert was mango mousse cake (sounded good, did not look very good though...)

I chose the Korean meal: Bi-Bim-Bab, a famous Korean cuisine, which is a mixture of steamed rice and vegatables and had bits of beef in it as well. They give you a sweet and spicy pepper paste along with sesame seed oil to mix it all together. This meal came with kimchi and some type of bread/cracker with the kimchi. The kimchi was in a small closed container, so when I opened it, the smell was very strong and potent. My seat mate on the plane had chose the western meal, so I can imagine his thoughts on it. This meal came with a side of fruit, which was good and refreshing.

"It is a dish that people from all over the world can enjoy. Without a doubt, it is a healthy food choice for all," to quote the packet about the food that Asiana Airlines gives you with the meal.

The second meal was a chicken pasta dish, which they quickly ran out of, so I got the seafood pasta dish, which was very good.   It also came with fruit.

Tastes like Chicken?
For the first meal on the plane, I did not enjoy this kimchi as much as the kimchi I had for breakfast that the director of the school made for me. I used metal chopsticks for the first time, no forks here!
She also made some sort of breaded and fried food, that I was not sure what it was. My first guess was some type of potato pancake, from how it looked, and how it was fried. It looked like chicken, but was not spicy/did not have spices or anything. Had more of the texture of a potato pancake, but did not taste like it. It was served with rice, could not decide what it was, was hard to place the taste. I was able to use the chopsticks just fine so far, and also was able to eat the rice with them. The rice here has a different texture- more held together, so it is easier to eat it with chopsticks, you don't have to pick up grain by grain. Also had a chicken soup with breakfast. I am staying at her house for a few days, possibly the end of the week, until the last teacher moves out of the apartment that I will be moving into. It is very close to the school and have not seen either yet.

New friends at the airport
At the Seattle airport, I met a woman who was also going to Seoul and she was not sure where to go, so she went with me. She was very kind and told me about her daughter, who has been teaching in Korea already for over a year. She was going to visit her.

I saw her and her daughter at the Seoul airport after we got our luggage and her daughter was very kind and helpful - showing me around and helping me to get everything together for the bus and where to go for it. I was glad to have someone there who knew their way around. Her mom was very friendly and her daughter joked how talkative she was, as she started talking on the phone while still talking to us, which was cute and funny! The mother kept telling me where to put my passport and laptop and stuff- to be helpful about not losing it. The daughter joked about what a "mom" she was being, but I was glad to have them both there. Her bus left before mine and we exchanged info, so glad I met another teacher here!

I had to wait almost 2 hours or so to get my bus. I sat down in the front and when the bus driver got on, he said something to me, which I figured out was what to move to Seat 6, which was my assigned seat on the ticket. The bus ride was supposed to be 4 hours, but it was closer to 3, so that was good. I was falling asleep on and off, while trying to read. Not sleeping the night before had caught up with me and slept on and off on the plane, just in short amounts, as I kept waking up.

Monsoon Season

I noticed in the window of the bus that there was a Hello Kitty fan attached to the window. It started raining on the bus ride. It is fitting for it to rain my first night in South Korea. It is a kind of welcome, a statement that I belong here and I will be happy with my time here and will learn the new ways here.
The director told me that it is monsoon season, rainy season. It will be a year of new adventures, monsoons, storms, but also a lot of sunshine and stars and experiencing new things I have never seen before. Monsoon season, bring it on, I am ready!