Thursday, March 13, 2008

Life in Korea

Isn't too Bad. In the accopmanying photo album, I have a few pictures up of my apartment - which does suck. That will be changing on Wednesday or Thursday though. One of the other Americans at my school is cutting her contract early and heading back to the states after seven months of teaching in Korea. She's been great in helping me figure out the area and the buses, and I get her apartment after she moves out - I hope.

The weirdest/hardest thing about being in Korea is the language. Unlike most of the areas in Eastern Europe where I couldn't speak the language, I can't read it here either. At least in Slovakia or Croatia you can make sense of the letters enough to figure out locations or things like computer, hostel, water, etc. When everything is in Korean letters, this is much harder.

Because I was so fed up with the teaching the first two days, I didn't do much exploring. This changed during the past few days where I went exploring. Day 1 I sauntered through the foreigner downtown just off of the American military base. It's full of Pakistanis, Indians, and refugees from all over the Middle East, in addition to the Western contingent. On one street I heard more Arabic than Korean.

Day 2 I ventured down "Olympic Way" replete with statues honoring the ever important 1988 Seoul Olympics. At the end of Olympic Way was the most modern, disgusting mall I have ever seen. The real sad part was that just to the North of the mall was a 1300 year old temple being surrounded by modernity.

The pictures throughout this post are from the temple . Apparently that's the big thing to do in Korea - to check out all the old temples. When I hear temple, I think thousand year-old relic. Sadly this is not the case for many temples since the Korean War pretty much leveled most of the country.

Last night, I ventured back up to Foreigner town and bought a phone from a departing American. Sadly I forgot my camera, but that didn't stop me from hopping around Seoul's hippest downtown area. Since it's a city of 10 million, there are many "downtowns" but this was probably the biggest.
It reminded me of the Swiss in how clean and efficient it was, especially the train station, but it definitely wasn't Switzerland. There were people everywhere. Switzerland is much more relaxed and spacious. Not the case in Korea.

Today is Friday - Thank God. Tomorrow I'll be heading off to a town, named Sokcho, on the Eastern Coast which apparently has a huge national park and a harbor with lots of seafood restaurants (though I'm pretty sure the seafood is much different than what I'm picturing in my head right now). Until then, it's another day's work and a run through the smog suffocated streets of Seoul...

Teaching in Korea

Pretty much sucks. That's pretty harsh, and it's only my fourth day - but it's not too far off. Most days I teach five different classes. It's set up like this.

9:30 - 10:50 - seven-year olds
10:55-12:15 - four/five-year olds
2:40 - 3:20 - 3rd/4th graders
4:10 - 4:50 - 3rd/4th graders
4:55 - 5:35 - 3rd/4th graders

This is a picture of my school - it's the building in the middle with the radio tower behind it. The picture below nicely captures the Pizza Hut on the first floor.

The absolute worst part of my day comes during the 80 minutes I have to spend with the four and five-year olds. On Tuesday, I walked into the room, and they cried, for 80 minutes straight.

Let me back up a second. I got into Korea on a Sunday night, caught my own bus from the airport to the city center, where my boss picked me up (late of course). I got into my disgusting apartment - later post to come - at 9 pm. My boss said, oh by the way you have to teach tomorrow morning at 9 am. Nevermind the promised orientation, acclimation, or training.

I'm a pretty relaxed guy, but I was thrown into a classroom full of Korean students, having absolutely no grasp of teaching or Korean. The so-called "curriculum" was a list of three books that took about 20 minutes to teach. Here I was with 60 minutes, seven students, no ability to communicate, and nothing to do. Yea, I was screwed.

Over the past four days, I've gotten pretty used to most of the classes. The afternoon students at least understand when I'm yelling at them, so they listen now. Those classes are only 40 minutes which makes them pretty tolerable. I've figured out the seven-year olds enough to plod on through. But today, I had the four year olds for 80 minutes, we built legos, for 80 minutes. How do you teach when they can't even understand you are supposed to be teaching them?

Most days - I just take it one step at a time. I can handle just about anything, and now with the four-year olds, I see myself as a day-care supervisor. Let's see if they provide some training if the ever get mad at me....

Ok well that's enough complaining about the teaching. I think the recruiting agency I went through was fine, but I think there just isn't much emphasis on training teachers to be successful at my specific school. For those thinking of teaching abroad, beware of empty promises. It's now become pretty much and in-and-out job. I'm currently taking my lunch break at home...

Also, below is the customary "first day of school" picture.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Leaving Middlebury (Again)

This is a picture of the ever-famous "Demilitarized Zone" demarcating the de-facto border between North and South Korea. In one week, I will be living less than 100 km from one of the most contested borders in the world. I know - I'm surprised too.

This current adventure began last Wednesday. At the beginning of the semester this last fall, I decided to "feb" myself and signed up for graduation in early February. Doing so saved me (well Mom & Dad really) the $24,000 needed for this second semester. I graduated on February 2, 2008, and had no prospects for a job whatsoever. After lounging around Middlebury for a month and enjoying all the benefits of college life without the academic requirements, I got a little bored. In between hockey games, lectures, and skiing, I managed to apply for a teaching position in Korea. Since March is a very important month for starting school, Long Bridge Pacific decided I needed to ship out immediately.

Last Wednesday I had a phone interview with Sam, director of the Songpa Language Institute, and about ten minutes later, I had a job. The details of the job are still a little up in the air, BUT I do know I will be teaching English to elementary and middle school students at a language school outside of regular public schools.

I depart for Korea this coming Friday from Minneapolis, so this next week will be quite the whirlwind tour. I'm headed home to Iowa from Middlebury on Tuesday after saying all my good byes this weekend. During my brief stay in Iowa, I have to take the foreign service exam, and then I'm headed to the airport and off to Korea - for a year. They are flying me back to the states for a week or two in April to obtain the proper work visa, but who knows how that's all going to work out.

I'll try to be better about updating from Korea than I was from Budapest. Given this is a real job and I won't have every Friday off, I anticipate I'll be doing a little less traveling and a bit more exploring of Seoul. As always I love emails, use this address: And I'll be sure to post my mailing address once I'm actually on the ground.

One question a lot of people have asked me is: Why Korea?

I don't really know. I tell people there is a big demand for English teachers so they pay well, but really I just saw an ad on google, and now I'm leaving in a week.

This is where I'll be for those a little fuzzy on their geography: