Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not Quite Real

Whew! I finally got a few minutes where I am not expected somewhere (and I am not falling asleep) to update my journal.  Getting internet access in my room also helps, as without the cord that I got today I would need to be downstairs in the lounge hogging the common computers.

SO, lets start at the beginning.  It was a VERY long flight from Chicago to Seoul, however Korean Air was great! The stewardesses were so friendly and helpful-even to the super annoying and rude old woman in front of me. She was American/Canadian and I seriously thought about smacking her.  There was a huge group of American grad students on their way to Kuala Lumpur and there were a few SMOE teachers sitting near me on the plane.  At each seat we had a personal entertainment system that had movies (American, foreign, Korean, classic), TV shows, the map channel, and games that you played using a controller that popped out of your armrest.  I haven't played Tetris in forever, but I probably played for over an hour.  I watched 3 movies and slept for about four hours.  The food was awesome, too. We had two meals and the first time they came around the woman asked if I wanted beef, or a traditional Korean dish. So I chose the Korean, because why not? It was fantastic, and I definitely made the right choice. After she set it down she was like "so...do you know how to eat this?" and when I said no she ended up giving me a card with directions about how to mix the different ingredients. An adventure already! I think it is pretty funny that they have pre-made cards that describe how to make the bibimbap with pictures and directions in four languages.  I was telling another girl about it and she said on her flight she just mimiced everything the Koreans next to her did.

When we arrived at the airport, I hooked up with Julia and Erich to go through the H1N1 checks (they made you fill out a questionaire about symptoms and they took your temperature as you got off the plane) and picking up our luggage.  When we got down to gate F we met up with the various recruiters and I finally got to meet Dave from Footprints who has been so helpful during this whole process.

huge SMOE signs greeting us in the terminal
After a big enough group arrived, we loaded on to a bus for the 2 hour trip down to Sungkyunkwan University in Suwon where we are having our "official orientation, unofficial H1N1 quaratine."  By the time we arrived it was around 7:00pm so it was just a free night.  I grabbed a quick dinner with Laura, a girl from South Africa, and then unpacked some of my stuff in my room. My roommate is named Emma and is from England. The rooms are really nice- this whole building is. The food has been good so far- and Korean.
my room- my bed is on the left
On Sunday I overheard two girls talking and one of them introduced herself as Helen, the girl whose friend my mom had met at a training the week  before they left.  We had exchanged some e-mails and it was totally random that we ran into eachother when there are so many people on campus. Monday morning I ate breakfast with her, her roommmate Manisha (from Atlanta), Julia (from NY who spent the last year in Korea teaching in an private language school) and Laura (from Chicago). After breakfast we went back to our rooms real quick and then walked around campus for a while. We are not allowed to leave campus because Korea is taking the H1N1 quarantine stuff very seriously. (We also have to take our temperatures each day with provided thermometers- old school glass and mercury kind that take your temperature in Celcius- that we were given as we walked in. Then we turn in our temperature sheets to the staff each day. I had no idea if I was reading it right or not, so I ended up converting it to Farenheit and it looked right to me so I turned it in. As a fun sidenote, on Tuesday I was shaking my stupid thermometer and it slipped out of my hand, breaking and spraying silver mercury all over my floor.  I knew better than to touch it because it is poisonous or whatever, but I did end up playing with it some before I disposed of it.  Mercury is seriously awesome.)
maps of the two campuses- we are on the Natural Science campus

In the middle of our walk we stopped in a little cafe in the student center and got some iced drinks and looked at magazines. It was a lot of fun and good relaxation. After our walk, we ate lunch and headed over to the auditorium for Opening Cermonies. They had some performers come and play traditional Korean instruments.  They played classical music, a folk song, and "Let it Be" by The Beatles.  They were very good.
performers at the Opening Ceremonies
After the Opening Ceremonies, there were a few lectures/presentations.  The first one talked mostly about the school system in Korea, and then we went on to learn about Korean History.  My jet lag caught up with me around 4pm and I was exhausted. I felt bad because we were in this huge auditorium listening to a Korean high school teacher talk about Korean history and I couldn't keep my eyes open! It was made worse by the fact that I was pretty much right in his direct line of vision, just about 10 rows back. Oh well.

Yesterday I learned that I will be teaching elementary school, which I am ESTATIC about! I think there are about 185 people teaching elementary, 140 teaching middle, and 115 teaching high school. I am very impressed by how many returning teachers, many of whom have only been here a year, are able to understand (and even read) lots of Korean. I hope that I pick it up as easily as they did! On Monday at the training we learned some interesting things about Korean English education. For example, the national curriculum doesn't have kids learning English until they are in 3rd grade. They don't learn the alphabet until 4th grade. Most of them learned at least preliminary English in kindergartens that they went to, or learn it in hagwons they attend after school. Apparently the third grade textbooks have basically no writing, it is all picture based. It should be very interesting!

I wasn't allowed to eat breakfast this morning (or have any water since last night) since we were having bloodwork done this morning. We started the morning learning about han ji, which is a traditional Korean paper/fabric made from the bark of Korean trees. We made fans by tearing different colors of han ji paper and adding it to the fan. They were useful when walking across campus in the heat! (It has been warm and muggy, probably around 80. It isn't as bad as DC in August, and there is a marked temperature difference in the shade versus the sun.)
my han ji fan
I swear I didn't know what we were making when I wore the matching shirt!
Throughout the morning session we were called out in groups of about 30 people at a time to walk back over the dorms and get our medical check. We were in the second group, and by the time we got there, they were a well oiled machine. We got papers and an identification number that was written in permanent marker on the back of our hands. Then we had our temperature taken, and we were given a cup to pee in, with three vials for blood tests, and two vials for the urinalysis, all with our number on it. We were given an eye test, they weighed and measured us, and then took our blood pressure and heart rate. Then we went to another station were they took three vials of blood before sending us off to answer some questions with a Korean doctor ("Do you have any sickness in your heart?" etc). After that we went off to the bathroom where we went in the cup and the nurse poured it into the two vials. This was especially interesting as we hadn't been able to drink since last night and I have remained pretty dehydrated since I got off the plane. Some people ended up having to go into the cafeteria and chug water! After peeing in a cup, we had to go up to our room and change into a provided shirt, take off our bras, all our jewelry, etc so that they could give us a chest x-ray. Lets just say that when it comes to little Korean scrub shirts, one size does not exactly fit all, haha. But I lived. The x-rays were done in this little x-ray bus, and as one girl said "there was no lead blanket to cover up your woman parts!" All very interesting.

This afternoon we had speakers come in and talk about classroom management and co-teaching with the Korean English teachers.  The first guy was from Canada and has taught in Korea for a few years.  He was hilarious, and made me really glad (again) that I got put with elementary kids!  The second woman is a Korean co-teacher.  She came in and showed how to make interactive lessons by teaching us some Korean vocabulary.  It was great and really made you think about the process of teaching a second language.  We also got an assignment where we are breaking into groups of 3 to do some demonstration teaching later this week.  I am with Brigid from Chicago and Natasha from Canada and I think we'll have a good group.  After the lecture I messed around online and went off to the evening class on "Survival Korean."  Um, I want to adopt the adorable woman who taught it as my Korean mother.  She was a great teacher and I really hope I learn Korean while I am here.  I will take the second half of her class later this week.
view of Suwon from my window
little old lady next door drying chilies to make kimchi

The reason I titled this post "not quite real" is because I keep thinking "Ok! I can totally do this!  Korea is a piece of cake!" and then I realize that this really isn't what living here is going to be like.  I won't be living in a dorm full of English speakers and running around all day.  It will be interesting to see what "real life" will be like here.  I look out my windo overlooking Suwon and I am anxious to get off this campus and see what living in Korea is really like. 

For now, I am looking forward to learning a lot more over the next few days of orientation, networking with teachers so I have someone to hang out with once I leave, and enjoying my time here.  I better sleep now, since this is the latest I have been up since I arrived!  10:37pm...gasp!

Much loooooooove.

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