Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tweak It Until It Works

Just to warn you, this post is about how the Korean school is organized and a snip it of how I teach. It's kinda boring if you're not interested in that sort of thing. And it's still slightly boring even if you are interested in it.

Today is the first day of the new school year and new semester.

Korea's school system is a bit different than in California. For example, instead of starting a new school year in September, they start their new school year in March. The end of the school year is approximately in December/first week of January, followed by a two month break. In the two month break, the students come back to periodically clean the school and to graduate.

For the last two months I've pretty much been twiddling my thumbs. So to say that I'm excited about the students being back and teaching again is an understatement. I love how they bombard the school with all their energy, excitement, and happiness. The school is a sad place without them in it.

I taught two classes today. Just laying down the ground work of a point system which scores good behavior, participation, and listening skills. Also, they are picking out their own English names and making name cards for their desks.

I have a pretty big classroom with boards on the back wall that I can post stuff on. I've decided to use it to keep track of the points. The winning classes get a class party every two months.

There are three grades: first, second, and third. Which is approximately seventh, eighth, and ninth grade in California. The classes in each grade compete against each other. In one period, the class can only earn a total of 10 points. If they end the class period with negative points, the entire class has to do 50 jumping jacks.

I am also taking pictures of each class and posting their pictures by their section on the board. This task got the first class off to a rocky start because they didn't want their photo taken. With that in mind, I didn't let the next class into the classroom until we took the picture.

Also, the first class had difficulty coming up with their own English names. This led to not everyone thinking of a name and completing their name cards. Also, I wanted them to write down their student identification number, Korean name in Korean, and English name in English for my own roster, but that couldn't be done either without their English name. For the next class, I gave them a list of boys and girls names they could choose from, or they could make up their own.

Fixing those two problems with the lesson made the second class go way smoother and it was more enjoyable for everyone. The kids were laughing at the jokes I was making and got excited when I got excited... that can only really happen when things go accordingly.

Hopefully this system I am implementing sticks. If it doesn't, I'll do what I do to my lessons when they don't work, tweak it until it does.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Korean Red Ginseng Drink

A month or two ago, I was eating lunch with my co-workers.

One thing you might not know is that Koreans say they don't speak English, which is misleading. Yeah sure they don't speak it, they are too shy. This however doesn't mean they don't know English. And more likely then not, they can understand what you are saying.

Mrs. Hwang is sitting next to me, and a young male co-worker is sitting across from us. She proceeds to ask questions about my dating life. "Ms. Wilson, are you single?... oh, you are? Do you like Korean men? Would you ever date a Korean man?... oh, you would? How old are you? Oh well Mr. Kim* (points across the table to Mr. Kim) is 26 years old and he is very smart, and nice, and single...."

AWKWARD to say the least. So here I am, knowing full and well that Mr. Kim understands everything Mrs. Hwang is saying to me in English. All he can do is smile, and all I can do is say,"Oh really?" and act like I can't take a hint.

Ever since that conversation, whenever I see Mr. Kim around he gives me this 'I like you' look. And I just smile back.

Today I'm in the office with the Vice Principle, Mr. Kim, and one other teacher. He comes over to my desk and gives me a drink labeled 'Korean Red Ginseng Drink'. I thank him for the drink, and he gives me a goofy smile and awkwardly lingers a bit, then takes off back to his desk.

I'm thinking, red ginseng? What's this good for? I go online to find out why people drink red ginseng. Turns out, it's an aphrodisiac. It "enhances libido and copulatory performance".

Wait, wait, wait... did I just get hit on? Is he trying to tell me something?

*I'm actually not sure of his name. Half the people at my school have the last name Kim, so guessing his name is Mr. Kim might actually prove to be true. But as for now, it's just a guess.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Hey, when are you suppose to be in Korea?"

Living in Korea feels like I am in a dream. Even though I've told you about how much I like it here, in this case I'm literal. As if at some point I am going to wake up and be in California.

For the first two months here, almost every night I would have variations of the same dream. I would be hanging out with my family in familiar places, they would ask at some point, "Hey, when are you suppose to be in Korea?" and I would respond, "Holy shit!" and panic, knowing I'm suppose to be there but I'm not. Then I would wake up and feel anxiety about possibly forgetting something important.

Same thing happens if I watch a lot of t.v. at home. I'll be sucked into America through episodes, then go out to do some mundane errand, walk down the street and be shock a bit, think,"Oh yeah that's right, I'm in Korea." The shock turns into a lingering buzz for awhile, until I get use to the 'being illiterate' and the Korean chatter surrounding me. If I am listening to music while I'm out and about, it extends the buzz. To actually understand the ambient language is what prolongs the shock. Like my mind is being distracted by what my ears are hearing while simultaneously catching up to the images my eyes are trying to comprehend.

If that makes sense at all.

Confused as to which reality it true, as to whether I'm in California dreaming about Korea or if I'm in Korea dreaming about California, all my thoughts get mixed and my conception of reality is at a constant double check... especially at that limbo time between going to sleep and waking up.

I've really been able to relate to the movie Inception. I'm easily confused about my actual reality.

What I've notice now is, slowly but surely, I'm getting use to living in Korea. Things that I once marked to be out of the ordinary are now common occurrences, and rarely wasted on individual thought. My dreams about California are extinct. More and more each day, instead of noise that I block out naturally, I listen in on Korean conversations and see if I can pick out a word or two. My mind has finally caught up to the visions around me and I can clearly see I'm in Korea, regardless of how much English media I've soaked up throughout the day.

And even though my mind is adjusting to my environment, it continuously processes all sorts of new information every day. Korea and everything it has to offer will never cease to be different to what I'm normally use to.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Winter Break/The Lazy Blogger aka Me

So I spent most of my winter vacation with my friends Melissa and Michelle. Curious enough, my friend Melissa wrote a blog all about our winter vacation. You'll even notice we have the same layout. Being the lazy blogger that I have come to love, here is the link to her blog: Life, Love, and Learning in Korea. She pretty much says it all :)

Oh and if you want to know what I am doing at work nowadays, here is a blog from another friend of mine that, once again, says it all. Really, I couldn't say it better than she did, even if I tried. Enjoy! Experiences Teaching Abroad: Desk Warming

If you want to see pictures of my winter vacation, they are up on facebook.

Much Love!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Seoul Train

When it comes to traveling and going out to Seoul from Suwon, you have your pros and cons. Seoul is definitely where you go to have some fun, so I tend to overlook the cons because the pros kinda outweigh them.

So what first, the good news or the bad news? Let's go with the bad news first so we can look forward to the good news, shall we?

Alright, the cons:
  • 1 1/2 hour - 2 hour metro/train travel (depending where in Seoul you are going to). This is the time it takes just to get to Seoul. This means that I must leave Suwon relatively early if I need to get to the place in Seoul at a specific time. Relatively early being right after work.
  • If I want to take the metro home, a good rule of thumb is to leave wherever I am no later than 10:30pm. If I don't, then the metro will most likely close down on me and then I'm forced to take a taxi. If I catch all the right trains, I usually get home in an hour and a half, which puts me back in Suwon at 12:00 am. This is a con, because I am leaving early but still getting home late.
If I want to stay later than 10:30pm in Seoul I have two options: I can take a taxi or I can wait for the metro to start running again.
  • Taxi's cost between $30/$40 (30,000 won/40,000 won) to get from Seoul to Suwon. When you are with others, this is more plausible. The only time I've taken a taxi by myself from the Seoul area back to Suwon was when the trains stopped running on me and I had work the next day.
  • The metro is back up and running around 5:00am. This puts you back in Suwon around 7 or 8 am, depending if you fall asleep on the metro and miss your stop or not. You can only really take this option on a weekend, and even then it screws with your sleep pattern. Going to sleep around a time when you usually wake up, well, let me just say you spend the rest of your weekend trying to get back on track. And regardless of your efforts, you still may be tired come workday Monday.

After reading that you must think, "Wow. Why would you ever stay out late in Seoul?! You crazy mf'er!" Well, here are the pros:
  • It's Seoul. Do I have to say more?
  • Everything you could possibly think of doing is in Seoul. The times I have gone out have been totally worth every moment; you have so much fun that all the effort it takes doesn't matter in the end.
  • Metro time seems to pass quickly. The hour and a half it takes never seems that long. On most cell phones you can get tv for free, so you can just watch instead of idly wait. Also, the seats are heated, which is quite lovely. At most stops, there are places where you can purchase food and drinks, something to do when you are waiting for the train to come. And if you are worried about packin on the pounds, just walk up and down the stairs instead of taking the escalator.
  • There are other options than what I've stated above. I know you can use the bus system, which I hear is faster (unless it's during rush hour), but I haven't figured it out yet. And figuring it out may take some more literacy in Korean, which I also haven't figured out yet.
  • So there is the metro (subway) and then there is the train (korea rail). Up above I use the term "train" in reference to the metro, which isn't exactly correct because they are two different things. Korea rail can be a lot quicker if your location in Seoul is close to a major area, but you have to leave from Suwon Station. The train takes 30 minutes as compared to an hour and a half, and doesn't cost that much more. When I use the train, I generally get a ticket for $2.50. But the trains do book up quickly and stop running earlier than the metro, so most of the time it makes more sense to take the metro. But when everything works out, the train is faster and nicer.
  • I have read online that you can stay at a hostel for the night, where they give you pajamas, towels, and shower shoes, all for only $8 (8,000 won) but I haven't tried that either.
If you are done partying and want to take it easy before the metro starts running, there are plenty of places to go.
  • You can go to a DVD Bang, which is a place where you rent out a room with a ginormous tv and you also rent a dvd to watch. If you are in Seoul with a bunch of people who are not from your city, this is makes sense. Otherwise, it would make more sense just to catch a cab. I think it costs around $20/$30 (20,000/30,000 won) but all the times I've gone, someone else has paid for it.
  • You can go to a Norebang, aka Karaoke. Just like the DVD bang except you rent out a room with a ginormous tv and you sing Karaoke. The last one I went to was 30,000 won, and everyone paid like 5,000 won ($5). Not to shabby if you ask me.
  • You can always go and eat food. The street vendors are always open late at night, and a lot of the restaurants are open late as well. This is also good after you've been drinking for hours.
Even though you may not be convinced that it's worth it, trust me it is. I think everyone living here would agree with me as well. Seoul is where everyone goes to have a good time.

Do I wish I lived in Seoul? Sometimes, it would make traveling a lot easier. But that's the only reason really. Suwon is great. I love the school I work at, I love my job, my co-workers, the students, my apartment... I know others who work in Seoul and it seems as though they don't have such a nice set up like I do. Suwon is a big city too, so there are places to go out and things to do here. With that all said, if I renew my contract I would stay in Suwon.

Suwon is a great place to live, Seoul is a great place to go out to.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sick as a dawg!

So this last month or so I'm pretty sure I had bronchitis or mono, or some horrible hybrid of the two. Being sick in another country, well, is not the easiest thing in the world. Being in an unfamiliar place, not knowing where things are and not being able to speak or read the language in order to figure out where to go and what to do to get better, on top of having no energy to get out of bed = no fun.

My first attempt at getting medicine was going to the hospital. Luckily I had a friend who has been here for two years, and he told me what I need to say to the taxi driver to get to the hospital, he met me at the hospital and found out where I needed to go and who I needed to talk to. But it was all in vain, because at this point, I hadn't received my insurance card yet. He then proceeded to take me to the pharmacy, where I told the pharmacist what I needed.

Did the medicine work? Nope, not one bit. I continued to sleep 14 hour nights only to wake up and go to work and then come back home and sleep again. On the weekends, all I would do is sleep. And maybe, after two days of sleep, I would have enough energy to walk to the store to get food. But there was no way in hell I had enough energy to stand up long enough to cook food. I was lucky if I was able to take a shower!

One day a week or two ago, I was eating lunch with my co-worker, Mrs. Hwang. She was concerned.

She asked me, "When you get home in the evenings, are you really lonely Blythe? Do you get depressed?"
I laughed and responded,"No, why do you ask?"
She replied,"Well a couple of teachers and I have noticed that you have lost weight, and we thought it was because you are lonely and depressed."

I insured her that if I have lost weight here, it's because Korean food is a lot healthier than food in America. Later on I thought about it a bit more, and realized if I had lost weight, it was probably because I was sick and hadn't be eating. And probably because Korean food is good half of the time, and the other half... we'll just say it's 'interesting'.

Another co-teacher of mine, Mrs. Jeon (sounds like John), noticed that I was coughing a lot. Hackin' up all sorts of nonsense. She went to the pharmacy and got me medicine. For that kind gesture, and amongst others, I now call her my 'Guardian Angel'. She's the only person here that I can feel free to ask her about anything, and I know she'll understand and help. It's good to have her, I'm really lucky.

I felt better for like two days and then was sick again, this time with headaches and body aches, along with the coughing and extreme exhaustion. The same exact day I got my insurance card, Mrs. Jeon took me to a clinic.

At the clinic, we waited at most 2 minutes to see the doctor. He asked me questions in English and knew all the medical terms. Then he proceeded to stick a long, thin, skinny, metal rod-like camera up my nose. This was a very strange experience. There were flat screen tv's all around the room so EVERYONE could see up my nose. Mrs. Jeon had a pretty good laugh (Heck, I did too :). I couldn't keep my eyes open because it felt soooo weird. One jerk and man o man, that thing would be up in my brain.

Then he takes a similar camera, and sticks it down my throat. And again, everyone in the room could see what the doctor was looking at. On the end of the rod-like camera were pinchers (they looked similar to the pinchers pincher bugs have). He pinched my tongue a couple of times, don't know why he pinched my tongue, but it hurt. He stuck the camera far back into my throat and made me gag, then proceeded to spray some stuff in my throat. Not water. Don't know what it was.

He gave me a prescription for three different medicines. He told me to take them three times a day with food. When I was checking out, the visit cost a whole wopping 3 dollars. The pharmacy was in the same building, and when I got my medicine, they package each dosage (the three pills) together in a little wax paper pocket. This is brilliant! When you are sick, opening bottles and keeping track of what you have taken is hard enough, let alone in Korean. The only downside I see to it though is if you have small children around. Definitely not child proof. More like idiot proof. And the cost of the medicine? $4. That's right, $4 for 3 prescriptions.

The hardest part about taking the medicine was taking it with food. I had no food in my place because I had no energy to go grocery shopping. So I would sleep 15 hours, to be awake for 4 hours, and then go back to sleep for another 12. In that 4 hour window, I would get food, eat, and take my medicine.

This time, the medicine worked! Hooray! I've gone out of the house every day since :) And let me tell you , it was a long time coming. I felt like a prisoner in my own body. I can explore Korea again! And go dancing! And meet up with friends! And best of all, I can take showers and eat food! :)