Friday, 26 July 2013

I've got a feelin' that Korea's gonna be a good, good place to work.

Living in Korea has given me a new appreciation on how to "live it up" and while I am able to paint the town" and have "shut it down" on many occasions, at the end of the day, the main reason that I am here is to teach and learn about a new culture. To that end, you will find below some information that is really to handy to know before you leave for Korea and decide if teaching is really for you!

Three useful tips for arriving teachers.
  • Don't pack food - there are plenty of foreign brands in places like Homeplus, Lottemart, Emart as well as some local mom and pop stores. There is also Costco and, even in my little town, plenty of foreign marts that cater to expats.  If you are Irish, you may want to bring some Barrys or Lyons for your first month but after that get someone to send it to you. Black tea here is mank. You can get most spices at any of these places plus there are plenty of websites you can order from. 
  • Unless your feet are extremely small/large you can get shoes here. In school, you wear these slipper shoes so you don't need shoes for work. They sell clothes here too - no one walks around naked! And they have places like H+M, Aland and Forever 21.
  • Even though you are told it already, you will be living in a SMALL one-room + bathroom apartment, more than likely. Don't OVERPACK or you will feel cramped. 
Three things you'll never get used to. 
  • People spitting loudly, disgustingly and constantly - everyone does it but especially teenage boys. One boy at my bus stop does it from the minute he arrives until the minute he leaves. Aaaaack! YUCK!
  • For a country that prides itself on respect for elders, I thoroughly dislike being on the bus and seeing all the teenagers sitting down and an ancient adjumma or adjosshi standing. Typically, it is myself or the other Waygookins who get up to give her/him our seat. 
  • Not always having toilet paper and/or soap in the bathrooms! Always carry some with you ....that reminds me I need to buy some tissues and wet wipes! 
Three things you'll want to take with you when you leave.
  • The Korail app for your cellphone/mobile phone. This is a lifesaver! You can buy tickets on it in advance up to about 15 minutes before your train leaves. It's in Korean but the ticket itself is in English. It's so handy and you can book for multiple people as well. It means you don't need to line up in a long queue only to be told there are no tickets left! Also, it's a great way to practice your Korean.
  • WIFI! It's everywhere and so easily accessible. It's the most amazing thing ever!
  • The abundance of coffee shops - not to say that there aren't coffee shops in other places, because there are but in Korea....WOW! They are magnificent. No lie, there are 5 coffee shops all within a stones throw of each other and my house: Ediya (delicious Chai latte), Paris Baguette, Twosome place, Rosetta and Plan B (my favourite). That doesn't even count the numerous ones on the other side of the track as well as other sundry ones that are near the universities. 
Must-see favourite locales. 
Ok - I don't live in what is the most exciting place in South Korea  - but it will be in the next 5 -10 years! 

The Sejong lake park is beautiful. It has an amphitheatre in the middle of the lake, a little beach area and lots of nice water features and cycle/walking paths. Walking along the river to Homeplus is an adventure for the brave as, at a few points, it's kind of hard to tell where you are and if you have still to reach HP. It's about an hour walk. I've only done it once but on several occasions, I have walked along the river which has cherry blossom trees lining it. Stunning in spring. There is a little memorial park near where the foreign quarter live. It's really cute and has lots of lights which is nice for when you have a late picnic. For more information as well as pictures, click HERE.

A great story from the classroom. 

Wow, so many to choose from! I am teaching phonics to my 2nd graders and as I've been having some computer problems recently, I had mostly been doing review the last few weeks. Once my computer was in excellent shape again, we were doing an alphabet race using an online bomb timer that counts down to a BOOM explosion. My kids loved it and asked me to do it again. I put it on for 20s and most of them rushed over to touch the spark or the bomb. They counted down with the timer (yay, for numbers!) and then when it exploded threw themselves on the ground as if they were dead. We ended up using the timer several times in the class and each time they responded as above. I don't think I stopped laughing the rest of the class! Click here for more details on this story. 

Another one just happened yesterday! I am teaching camp and with my 5th graders we were doing a game where they had to introduce themselves, spell their name and say where they were from. I was throwing a bean bag to each student and all was going so well until I threw the bean bag to this one boy. He's really excitable and very hilarious so he was jumping on his tiptoes the whole time he was giving me the spiel. When he was finished, he threw the bean bag back to me and it landed on my shoulder. That's when I realised that instead of throwing the bean bag he threw his yoghurt drink instead and it landed on my shoulder spilling on to my hair and clothes. Immediately everyone reacted: the other boys (4 of them) fell to the ground laughing. The three girls were laughing while trying to make sure I was ok and the culprit - well he was standing there appalled but giggly. I've never had someone apologise so profusely before! What a great way to start camp! 

So you might think, I'm mad to miss a Korail app and that people spitting is the equivalent of nails scraping a chalkboard for me. You might think I'm mad to try and highlight a town that really doesn't have many amenities at present but I think that to "live it up" one needs to see the world you live in through different glasses.  

PS For more information on what your options are for teaching in South Korea, please look at this page. It also provides information and links to an excellent recruitment agency (Footprints Recruiting)and a company that provides excellent TEFL training (i-to-i).
PS This post was inspired by the Black Eyed Peas "I gotta feeling".

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A few of my favourite things

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 once I caught a [bomb] alive.

So last Friday, my 2nd graders were playing an alphabet race game with a bomb timer that counts down and then explodes. My kids loved it...this is them reacting to it: try and stop it and then die as dramatically as possible!

PS this post is inspired by my daily life and the nursery rhyme "Once I caught a fish alive" which was collected by Henry Bolton. 
PPS The bomb timer I use is this one

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Then when [I was] touched

Well, this has been one heck of a week! Starting on Tuesday things got awkward. As a female TEFL teacher, especially one working with Kindergarten and 1st grade, you have to carefully watch your students. As most people in Korea have similar body shapes, ours are very interesting to little kids who already have tons of curiosity about everything. I was warned about being careful by my brother when I arrived and have managed to evade any awkwardness until this week. I had taught Kindergarten in the morning without incident but at lunch time was heading to the bathroom when I met a bunch of these students brushing their teeth. I stopped to say hello and unfortunately one little girl snuck by my defenses. She reached out and touched my chest! I had a little shock because I wasn't expecting it at all but I quickly remedied the situation by leaning down and wagging my finger as I said a firm "No". Sadly, this incident is something many female TEFL teachers in Korea have to be wary of when working with Kindergarten and 1st Grade students. Also, if you go to the Jimjabang (Korean Sauna) you have to keep your wits about you as I've had several friends and acquaintances who've had similiar incidents with the adjummas (old ladies)!

And the hits kept coming. Whilst (thankfully) no one else has done this to me, I have had a series of misadventures that would make anyone want to run screaming! The events of this week seem to prove that "every interaction starts a chain reaction". Whilst Tuesday was about touch, Wednesday was about "Grocery bags full of alcohol and chocolate chip cookies". A few friends and I were having a 4th of July party on Thursday. So on Wednesday I set out immediately after school to Home Plus. I got the right bus to drop me off there. Spent about about 15 minutes grabbing everything and feeling very chuffed, I proceeded to the checkout. As the bill rang up, I packed my bags up. When the cashier asked for "points card", I reached for my wallet and then stopped in dismay and embarrassment. I'd left my card at home. My check card. I had no cash except for the taxi fare home ... which is 3,000 won and that just might buy me a bag of potatoes but would then leave me fairly stranded. Apologising profusely, red in the face, I said "Sorry" about 30 times and proceeded to pass my groceries back to the cashier. I was too embarrassed to go back afterwards and instead did a little of my shopping in one of the local marts.

Thursday was a double whammy of trying "to catch my balance". I had no classes so I'd spent the morning preparing some texts for my students, playing on Facebook, and starting this blog post. Around 10am, I decided to pay my gas and electricity bills. I reached in and pulled out the bills and then started to look for my phone. It wasn't on my desk, it wasn't in my bag and it wasn't at any place I'd been at since arriving at school. On Thursday, some mothers come and quilt in my classroom and I  usually stay at my desk and prepare for my classes.  One of the mothers arrived early and helped me to look for my phone after some gesticulation from me explaining what happened. Eventually she decided we should call my phone. It was answered - by the bus driver. Eegit that I am, I'd left it on my seat. Panicking because I knew I not only had to go to Homeplus to do yesterdays shopping but also get home in time to cook for our party, I was feeling extremely foolish as I would now have another errand to, possibly, run. From what I understood the people would be dropping it to me but I wasn't sure. I told my co-teacher the situation and we agreed that in the afternoon we'd call and figure it out. Luckily for me, the kind mother dropped my phone to me in my afternoon class. My students got a good laugh out of happy I was to have my phone and I realised that thanks to the stupid "choice we make and every [stupid] road we take" I've been lucky to have kind and generous people in my life.

 The second disaster of Thursday was when I proceeded to HomePlus to buy the food for that evening. As before, I got my food, proceeded to the checkout, was rung up, packed my bags and, luckily, paid. I turned to leave and that's when disaster struck. Everything flopped out of my backpack onto the floor. I'd been so busy making sure that the avocados were zipped in to the small front pocket I'd forgotten about the big one. Needless to say, I don't think I will be going back to HomePlus for a while!

Yesterday, was my next misadventure. I had been teaching my advanced class at Charmsaem, which had gone really well but I was exhausted. My class finishes at noon and usually by around 1230 I am on my bus home. Every time, I fall asleep on the way home -it's a pleasant way to spend the next 30 minutes. Yesterday was no different. I fell asleep and I didn't pay any attention to where I was until I heard "Oh, Margaret-Teacher". Looking up I say about 10 of my students on the bus heading to a birthday party in Jochiwon. I was incredibly embarrassed as I was lolled back on the seat, mouth open, feet stretched out. They took it in their stride and eagerly peered over my shoulder in amazement at the fact I used English on my phone!

 So you might think I'm mad to laugh off this series of misadventures and even to share them with you. However, to me, it seems "I was supposed to fall" into this last week as it gives me a reminder I am too used to forgetting: Laugh at yourself and the world around you. Have fun in your life and don't be so serious all the time. Sometimes it seems you can't catch a break and all you are doing is making a fool of yourself. But, it's ok, because sometimes "it feels like the world disappears around us" in the mediocre everyday-ness of our lives. I think that mishaps and misadventures remind us to live and "party all night till the sun comes up" and that's when we know we can "dance, and we laugh and we touch" and appreciate the little moments that make you smile.

 PS This post was inspired by Nathasha Bedingfield's "Touch".

PPS Thank you to everyone who laughed with me at my mishaps this week and to those I shared them with as they happened. Muuuah.

PPPS This post is dedicated to all those who've had awkward touching incidents in the saunas or at school. I feel your pain!