Overall, even with teaching a full load of 28 classes per week (including my after school groups) I feel like I am doing very little work. I think back to all the stressful days teaching at home and even my worst days here aren't anywhere close to that bad. I have yet to come home, burst into tears and question whether I will ever want to teach again. So....progress! I spend most of my day making kids laugh, playing games, and answering questions. I cannot do anything close to complaining.
Last Monday I finally got to start teaching. I can already tell that Mondays are going to be the worst because they are full of the dreaded monsters known as SIXTH GRADERS. Really these kids aren't too bad, they just rough house a house and get REALLY loud, REALLY fast. My voice threatens to go by the end of the day as I spend most of it talking over them.
On Monday afternoon I got to meet my first "special class" of returning students. Um...hilarious. These are fifth and sixth graders who have lived most of their lives in another country and just moved to/back to Korea recently. They speak too little Korean to be integrated into the regular classes, so they are segregated out into a little class of 8 students. They are awesome, and I can already tell these guys are going to be a highlight of my week. When I asked them what they missed most or had the most trouble getting adjusted to, Faith said "Food. Good food. I need an IHOP and a Taco Bell like...now." Dustin said "Have you tried to go to the bathroom here?! It is just a little hole and you have to like squat over it. And when you're finally done with that, you go out to wash your hands and you have to touch the SAME SOAP that everyone else touched! It is terrible!" I loved them even more for picking up on things that I had specific had issues with. Communal soap totally grosses me out, I fear the squat toilets deeply, and I miss pancakes like it is my job! There is one girl in the class from Japan and I feel bad for her because she doesn't speak Korean OR English. It must be really difficult for her.
Remember: You can click on any of the pictures to see them larger.
The horror. You can even see stuff down in it!
They are truly heinous.
On Monday I also left school early so that I could go allllll the way over to Mokdong Immigration office to apply for my ARC and multiple entry visa. I was originally planning to go back and get it when it was done, but the journey was so hellish that I decided I would just pay the $3 and have them send it via courier. Monday night I met up with Angie, Sal, and South African Laura to get some food at the delicious little noodle place in our building. We each got a dish of our own (I got the black bean noodles...so good) and we shared a big dish of the chicken meal (mmmm). It cost me a grand total of 5,000won...which is right around $4. Awesome.
Tuesday at school was pretty uneventful, it was third graders all day and they are precious. They still laugh at all the "jokes" in the book and videos and ask tons of questions without being too shy. Tuesday afternoon I started my after school program and that seemed to go pretty well. There are 5 groups of various English proficiency that we rotate through. There are five of us that teach Fun Based Activities, Pros and Cons (debate), Reading/Writing, Science and Social Studies. Each class is only 40 minutes long and it really flies by. Easy (and often fun) money. On my way home I managed to get on the wrong train because I wasn't paying attention so I had to get off and turn around, adding about 15 minutes to my already long commute. Oh well, lessons learned.
Wednesday is my only real day of mixed classes (two 6th grade, one 5th grade, one 3rd grade) so that kept me on my toes. Wednesday I am also done after lunch is over at like 1:30pm so that is nice. I basically just hung out and internet stalked people, as per usual.
Earlier in the week we had all gotten this absolutely precious e-mail from our landlady Liz asking how things were going and basically just checking in on us. Angie and I decided that we wanted to invite her and her husband out for dinner, which we set up for Wednesday night. Since we don't really know the area, we asked them to pick and we ended up at this traditional bbq restaurant very close to our house. Candice from South Africa also joined us, so we had a nice little dinner for 5. This was the type of restaurant where you take off your shoes, sit on the floor, and cook at your table. Once I got used to my legs falling asleep, it was quite nice! We had duck, which was very good. "Mama Liz" and "Papa Kim," as they told us to call them, kept giving us more and more food! We also had some awesome (and super spicy) duck soup to eat. At the end of the evening they wouldn't let us pay and I look forward to returning the favor sometime in the near future. After dinner, they invited us up to their apartment and deck. The live in the top floor of the building, which is half house and half open deck overlooking the city. It was a beautiful night and we had good conversation and awesome fruit with a great view.
Thursday was great because it was fourth grade and they were full of random questions. Thursdays also include my smallest class, my first and second grade returning students. So tiny! When I walked in and explained that I would be teaching them, this adorable little girl Isablle said "But teacher...we already have a teacher." So I had to explain that I would only be there a little part of the week and that the rest of the time she would still be with her other teacher. Then she said "Teacher, when I am in school my Korean Teacher tells me I have to take my shoes off so I don't get the floors dirty. But I don't want to wear these." And she points at her school shoes. "I just don't understand! At my school in America I never had to take off my shoes!" So Young (my other co-teacher) was saying that when she and her daughter moved back to Korea her daughter was in the first grade and came home crying becasue she didn't know how to use a squat toilet. There is a lot for little brains to process, but I think it is probably easier for the littler ones to adapt than the older ones.
After school I did two more of my first lesson and one of my second, so things sailed right along pretty smoothly. When I was done with the afterschool program I went over to Gangnam and met up with Helen for dinner and coffee. We had a nice relaxing dinner in a random little restaurant and talked a lot about how the year is going so far. It is so interesting to me to hear how different everyone's experiences are. More and more I am becoming aware that this whole program is a total crap shoot...and I got SO lucky. My apartment is small, but great. It is clean, in a nice area, and our landlords are awesome. My school is supportive, my co-teachers are fantastic (and speak English VERY well so we have very few miscommunications), and the kids are overall superb. I really lucked out. Helen has not been quite so lucky and has a harder time adjusting because of some mandates put down by her school, and because she is teaching at an all boys middle school with low English proficiency (so I would probably be bashing my head on a wall by now). But we are all adjusting and surviving, so that is good!
Friday was another uneventful day of teaching and I spent the day with fifth graders and my third and fourth grade returning students. One of the funniest things about the week is finding out all the "English names" that kids have chosen. Christina thinks that there must have been some list that we had to choose from in French/Spanish class beacuse we never had any really off the wall names like some of these kids. In one sixth grade class, I have EIGHT Brians. (Andie also has a Brain...oh the misfortunes of switching vowels.) I don't even know that many Brians in the states! (A little digging revealed that there is a Korean-American pop star named Brian, hence the obsession.)
The only English name I refused was "Cheese Pizza." Some other qualities names were Rucy (Koreans often mix up r's and l's), Francesco, and Peach. A personal favorite would have to be Cyclaps...which I am assuming is a bastardization of cyclops. Awesome. Cyclaps it is. I almost cried laughing when Andie started talking about a student in her class named Transformer. She said she can't call on him without laughing and it is always difficult not to laugh when the teacher says "Transformer, sit down." Amazing. Most of the girls names chosen are kind of old fashioned, like Sally, which is also interesting to me.
As school was winding down on Friday afternoon at like 2pm, I got an awesome surprise: my Alien Registration Card was delivered! This was an exciting time for me. Sienna and I went over and got me a KB bank account and I got...drumroll please...a cell phone! So once all my friends get their ARCs and cell phones, all will be well with the world and we will be in much better contact. I will post pictures of my phone at a later date...it isn't really that interesting.
Friday night a bunch of people in our building accepted Liz's offer to go out to dinner with her and her husband. We ended up going to the same restaurant, and somehow Angie and I were seated in front of the duck again, but it was very good (again).
Angie and I through the steam of cooking duck.
Andie and Arianna.
Melissa, Frank and Cory.
Papa Kim, Andrew, Mama Liz
Their rooftop view where we retired after dinner again.
Awesome desert spread: cookies, concord grapes, watermelon, apples, and dok (rice cakes).
After dinner, Angie, Andie and I went over to Cheonho to meet up with English Tom for some drinks. We relaxed for a while at this little chicken and beer place swapping stores, and shared some beers and a bottle of soju. After being there a while, it started to drizzle. Then, it started to POUR. In the time it took us to dash back to the metro (about 7 minutes) we were totally soaked...and earned some interesting looks from passersby.
On Saturday, I went totally sloth mode. I hung out in my apartment, ate ramen with Old Bay on it (seriously, do not knock it til you try it....that stuff is delicious and tastes like Maryland is having a party in my mouth) and caught up on TrueBlood, ANTM, and Secret Life online. It was a well spent day!
Sunday I met up with Angie and English Tom and we went down to Insadong and the surrounding areas. We started out walking around on the street in Insadong, looking at the shops and stopping for an awesome steamed dumpling lunch (on the floor again).
Streets near Insadong.
While walking I spotted my first crazy street food and decided to try it. Tom said it was beetles, but upon research it turns out that it is actually silkworm larvae...which somehow is grosser to me. I paid like $1.60 for a cup and we ended up eating...three of them. They were squishy and not delicious. I had to surrepticiously dispose of my larvae cup.
Larvae being boiled. It has a rather unpleasant smell.
My own little cup of tasty goodness. When you tried to stab them with a toothpick, they made it difficult and got all squishy.
Tom was man enough to eat one with me...Angie was not.
Angie with her less adventurous (yet significantly more tasty) baking soda and sugar candy.
Then we wandered over to the Cheonggyecheon Stream and sat for a little while relaxing under a bridge. Finally we ended up over near the Gwanghwamun gate where they have put in fountains, a big statue, and a huge landscaped area that is beautiful. There is also big topiary sculptures of Haechi, which is the mythical animal that is the symbol of Seoul.
Watching the kids play in the fountains was SO funny. They were so cute.
The landscaping was stunning.
There were huge flower designs and swirls made out of tons of different plants- including some cacti!
He has kind of a happy, walrus-y face.
And check out those chubby 'tocks.
Much like the (in)famous Wendigo, the Haechi is an animal comprised of many halves of animals.
After wandering around Gwanghwamun, we headed back towards Insadong where we had a fantastic (but crazy expensive for Korea) dinner of galbi, which is marinated ribs cooked over charcoal at your table. We thought it was 30,000won per table, but it turned out to be 30,000won per PERSON. Which is only like $25 and there was a lot of food, it was just way more than I am used to paying here. Then we walked back to the metro and headed home to rest up for another week of school.
Our delcious galbi and sides.
Streets at night.
Today was nothing special at school. I am (still) battling a terrible cold/sinus infection/allergies and since I got here I've used up all of my decongestants/antihistimines...and I brought like 3 boxes of them. I felt pretty terrible and yelling over sixth graders did not make the situation any better. At least the rest of the week just gets easier!
I promise promise promise to update more often! Thanks for all the messages of encouragement.