Read From the Beginning

Bus From the Airport

24 Oct 2008
Posted by Jordan
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Welcome To Home

25 Oct 2008
Posted by Jordan
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Posted by Jordan
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This isn't really our "view." Rather, it's what you see when you look out from our front door. Our view is really out the other side of our apartment, where we've got some nice green mountains to look at. But anyway...

First Impressions

29 Oct 2008
Posted by Marisa
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We've been here for a few days now and these are the things that have impressed me the most:
I cannot believe this country exists. On one hand they are totally developed and part of the modern, western world. You can clearly see the western influence in the way they dress, the entertainment they watch, and even in some of the food they eat. However, they are often in complete shock to see an actual western person walking around. And it's not just the kids who act like crazy people when we're around, but the adults too. They will say hi to me and the run off giggling back to their friends, people who are older than I am! I don't know how they can be so westernized, yet completely unaware that we actually exist.

Everyone is very friendly, even if they may stop, point, stare and laugh at us as we walk by. Everyone tries whatever English they may know, and then talks away in Korean in hopes that we'll understand. Bus drivers have helped me to get on and off at the right place, customers have motioned us from inside the restaurant inviting us in and then helped us to get seated. Our landlord invited us over for dinner. Our co-teachers have driven us all over the city helping us to find the things we need.

First Day 01

Our apartment reminds me of Ma Hang, a big government subsidized housing complex near our home in Hong Kong. Despite having a relative large amount of space, all the Koreans still prefer to live on top of each other in giant high rise apartment buildings. Luckily, it's easy to find your way home because the only tall buildings are the apartments. So you can just look up and find your number. Just like Ma Hang, all the apartments are the same ugly, cement housing blocks that are definitely uninviting. But once you're inside it is very pleasant. I could not believe how large our apartment was. After living in Hong Kong and having a bedroom the size of a closet, I was prepared to have very little space. But we have enough room that we could play hide and seek (if we had some furniture, that is).

There are bakeries. I have never moved anywhere outside the States that has had tasty bakeries. I had determined from this that I would never move anywhere where there were tasty bakeries. Even when we went to North Carolina I was disappointed. To me there is nothing like a doughnut from Cub. In fact the Cub bakery is the standard that I hold all bakeries to. And few have compared. Here in Korea, while they don't perhaps have the same selection as Cub, I think the bakeries may still stand a chance in competing with Cub. (And despite my desire to move away from doughnuts, there is a dunkin' doughnuts right around the corner from our apartment).

There is no McDonalds. I thought all Asians loved McDonalds. I guess I will have to change this assumption to all Chinese love McDonalds. You couldn't go half a block in Hong Kong without coming upon McDonalds. And it was so good too, much better than any McDonalds in the States. Here we have Lotteria, the McDonalds stand in. But they don't have the popularity of McDonalds in China.
My parents would love it here. As I sit here writing, it's "cleaning time." There is a twenty minute break during which all the students get brooms and mops and things and clean the school. I'm not sure what the point of this is, since I think we still have janitors. I guess it's to instill good cleaning skills in the students. Some of them use it as an excuse though to come say hi to me (and tell me I'm pretty, which I guess is just as good a way to spend your time as cleaning).

Bowing has already become ingrained in my very being. It was practically instantaneous upon landing in Korea. I think there was one awkward time when I tried to shake someone's hand (thank goodness I didn't try to kiss them), but otherwise bowing seems to me to be perfectly natural. I don't know how I'll ever stop.
They have the perfect recycling method here. They have free recycling and really expensive garbage bags you have to buy for your garbage. Anyone with a brain then will recycle as much as possible. Now that I've experienced it, it seems like the perfect method for encouraging recycling.


Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

I've spent the past two days talking about myself. I have 18 different classes and in everyone this week I have to introduce myself and say as much as possible. Then I get to respond to questions from the students. Luckily this is highly entertaining, and keeps the process from being too repetitive. The most popular questions include: how old am I? (met with loud exclamations of disbelief and excitement. I gather the previous English teacher was 55, so perhaps that's why it's so exciting. Or perhaps I look really old. Or perhaps they think I am too young to be here?), how old is Jordan? (this is met with even more exclamations. From this I can only gather that most couples here are not the same age.), do I have a baby? (always said with numerous giggles, this is middle school I guess, and babies are funny), how tall am I? (I can't deny that I love this question. My co-teacher always reinforces my answer by taking off her shoes and standing next to me, showing that I am indeed several inches taller than her), how tall is Jordan? (clearly met with wild excitement and disbelief, since they already thought I was tall), is Jordan handsome? (of course), as well as many questions about my favorite things and my knowledge and enjoyment of Korean food (as if I would claim to not liking kimchee to any Korean). Some of the more interesting questions and statements have been: Is Jordan fat? (the answer was met with much disappointment), being told that I have a high nose (I took this as a compliment), having Edelweiss sung to me (I sang along) do I like beer (umm, no), and what do I want to be when I grow up (I lied and said a teacher). Erica also generated some interest in one class when a boy asked if she was pretty.

First Day 03

The co-teacher I've working with the past two days, Miss Doo, has been very nice and seems to find her students highly entertaining. She clearly enjoys them very much, even though they are loud and crazy, so that makes it fun to work with her. I believe I will have a total of 4 co-teachers I'll be working with and it will be interesting to see how they all handle the classroom.

My school is quite large. It contains grades 7,8 and 9, with about 300 students per grade broken up into nine different classes. I teach grades 7 and 8, since the ninth graders are preparing for some test and I'm not experienced enough to teach them. I'll also have conversation classes in the afternoons with specially selected students and faculty. These haven't started yet, but I'm looking forward to having more personal conversations with people.

My main co-teacher who has been helping me adjust to Korea is Ms Park. She was delighted to discover that she is the same age as my mom and declared herself to be my Korean mother. I think she may even have a daughter my age as well. At least one close in age. She is very kind and always telling me what to do. On the first day of school she decided I was too scantily clad and gave me her scarf to wear "in front of the students" and also gave me pointers about what shoes the teachers wear.

In the school everyone wears indoor shoes or slippers. The women all wear what look like normal shoes, the men where sandals, as do the students. I only have one pair of shoes with me. I don't have enough to designate one for indoor and one for outdoor. So I've been wearing various things. I guess my slippers were not acceptable to Ms Park. But I think come winter I'll be wearing them again, because my sandals will be a bit cold. I've decided to give them a week to get used to me and then I'll wear what I want on my feet.
For the first time in my life I've found myself eating hot lunch. I wasn't really given a choice in the matter, and it seems that everyone eats the school lunch, so I've been going along with it. Also, I think I may be paying for it somehow, so I figured I should eat it. But for a girl who wouldn't even eat hot lunch in the States where they serve chicken nuggets, this food is a bit of a stretch. But I've been eating it; I just tell myself that's it's very healthy and good for me to eat. Then I close my eyes and eat the seaweed that is served on the side. I also stuff my mouth with rice, since they don't have water with the meals, so I have to wash it down with rice. The highlight has been eating a donut with chopsticks. Today I had a chicken drumstick which I was at a bit of a loss how to eat. They offered me a fork, but I said, "in America we eat these with our fingers, a fork isn't going to help me."

The day is almost over now and I've been informed by the co-teacher (Miss Kim) who sits next to me that at 4:30 I go home everyday. So that leaves me about ten minutes. I've been taking the bus to school, which has been a bit of an adventure. Yesterday afternoon was my first time and I left school with the bus number in hand, but could not find a stop with that number. So I ended up getting on a random bus and pointing at the word 'university' to the bus driver (we live by Gunsan University, a nice landmark when you don't know your way around). Luck was with me and he told me the bus did go there. After riding the bus for a while I was a bit doubtful, especially when we drove to the edge of town to a huge industrial, scary park. But in time the bus driver pointed and I felt relief when I realized I knew where I was. This morning I was apparently standing on the wrong side of the street to catch the bus, but another bus driver stopped and got out of his bus and took me to the other side just as my bus was pulling it. So at least the bus drivers are very friendly and helpful. Everyone, with the exception of our super boss, has been very friendly and helpful, which makes everything much easier and enjoyable.

Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

So my Dad always used to tell me before traveling that I should always travel with $200 cash, just in case. Me, in my wise generational wisdom, thought this was somewhat useless advice, since I have a credit card, and a debit card, where could I possibly go that would not be able to access my money? Afterall, "MasterCard, it's everywhere you want to be" right? Normally I travel with $20 so I can buy a hamburger at the airport.

But this post is to let everyone like me know that my Dad was right. You can travel to places that won't be able to access your money. Even places as seemingly advanced as South Korea. After being rejected from several ATMs around town, we learned that most of the Korean ATMs aren't hooked up to the international network. Suddenly, Jordan and I found ourselves with no money. I had to go to school one morning with only 2000 won (about $2) which needed to get me to and from school. Life is a bit different when you suddenly realize that you have no money.

The situation isn't as bad as I'm making it seem. Despite the one day when I only had $2 to my name, our credit cards do work in Korea and most places where we spend our money will accept them (the grocery store, the dollar store, and many restaurants). For the small things like the bus and taxis, we were lucky enough, despite my disbelief in my Dad's advice, to travel with a decent amount of cash, which we were able to convert and have been using stingily until we manage to get a Korean bank account, where all our hard earned money will be deposited and easily accessed by even the most Korean of the Korean ATMs.

The Hood at Night


Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

Kimchi, I think I can safely say, is the favorite food of Korea.  You can't go anywhere, order anything, without getting a side dish of Kimchi.  You can't talk to any Korean without them wondering if you like Kimchi.  I'm not sure what happens if you tell them you don't like it, but I imagine they may not like you quite as much as they used to. Or, if you do claim to liking Kimchi, everyone decides you must be a good person.  I'm not quite sure what it is about this food that makes everyone fanatical (it would be like if we were crazy about pickles), but to Koreans there is no life without Kimchi.  (Upon consideration, we have decided they must be addicted to it.  Kimchi is spicy and spicy food does release endorphins, which make you happy.)


Kimchi actually covers a wide range of fermented vegetables that have been flavored.  We are most often served fermented cabbage with a spicy flavor.  Although there are many kinds served in different areas of Korea as well as during different seasons.

I like Kimchi a little bit.  I like it enough to be able to eat one piece.  I'm hoping to acquire a taste.  Jordan of course loves it.

Kimchi is said (by Health magazine, not the Koreans) to be one of the world's healthiest foods.  So there's no reason to refuse a little Kimchi.

For more information see wikipedia.

I Do Love Miss Doo

03 Nov 2008
Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

Today begins the first week of real school for me.  Last week I was just going around introducing myself and not really doing a whole lot.  Today I actually had to teach something.  It has so far been quite easy.  The school wants me to teach pretty much directly out of their (somewhat sketchy) textbook.  So last week I learned what page we were on in order to read through the page we covered today.  The only tricky part proved to be that some of the questions are in Korean, which of course means nothing to me.  Ms Park, my co-teacher said, "it's okay you can guess what it means." Of course when I did that and determined the question to be "which statements are true" she informed me that I was wrong.  The question, it turns out, was which statement is false.  

Despite my inability to guess exactly, the lessons today have gone quite smoothly.  Monday and Tuesdays I have first years (seventh grade) with Miss Doo.  Miss Doo is definitely my favorite teacher.  She never leaves me standing awkwardly at the front of the class, she tells me what to do, she lets me leave early to go have a rest.  She just rushed in during lunch to turn the somewhat flimsy pictures I had prepared for class into a real, laminated teaching tool.  So I will feel extra prepared for this afternoon's class.  

The students were surprisingly quiet.  After my experiences last week, I was ready for the worst.  But they were quiet while we, the teachers, were talking and they dutifully repeated after me as I read through the lesson (Our Hopes and Dreams).  When it came time for the group work, some of them were more or less on task, or at least appeared to be when I walked by them (although I expect they had just grabbed the book and started saying the phrase we were working on, "what does your father do," in order to appear like they were busy).  Between Miss Doo and I we did eventually get them all to write down various hopes and dreams.  From my rounds it seems that most student's fathers are businessmen, while their mothers are housekeepers.  The students themselves ranged from wanting to be an astronaut to nothing, including a couple singers, a baseball manager, a fashion designer and an astronomer.  

I have one more class and then a conversation class this afternoon with a few "specially selected" students.  I haven't done this yet, so I'm not sure what to expect.  

Inside Lotte Mart

03 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

I've been so busy lately that I haven't had time yet to write about my teaching experience; hopefully I'll be able to do that in the next couple of days. But in the meantime, here's a little video we took on Saturday exploring the delights of our city's largest shopping center:

Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

So, this post is my best effort at summarizing my experience in Korea thus far without being too overly verbose. I'm afraid that it is destined to be no more than a collection of haphazard thoughts.

The Boring 101
First off, unlike Marisa, who goes by bus to and from the same school every day, I teach at two separate middle schools. Both of my middle schools are more rural and smaller than Marisa's downtown school: one is a 10-15 minute drive out to the edge of town, and the other about a 25 minute drive into the country (I'll try to get a map of Gunsan posted soon, with our various locations marked).

Both schools are in nice locations, with nice surroundings: trees, farmland, and a few of what they call mountains (meaning hills). The more distant school, Napo, is in an especially nice spot, in the heart of bird migration territory (people actually come from all over the world to witness the passing through of hundreds of thousands of migratory birds comprised of roughly 50 species, many of them ducks and geese--but I'll post more about that when the festival comes around).

Anyway, I am at Chayan Middle School Monday through Wednesday, and Napo Middle School Thursday and Friday; I have two coteachers, one at each school (Mr. Song, and "Mr. Sam," respectively--both very nice). My schedule is quite light, as I teach three classes two times each at Chayan, and four classes two times each at Napo. So on average I should be teaching about 14 forty-five minute classes per week, for a total of 10.5 hours teaching per week! I do have "special activities" scheduled every day at Chayan, though (don't know what they are yet--so far they've been canceled), and it is quite possible that I will end up teaching some conversation classes as well, so my load may increase.

I am generally picked up every morning by one or the other of my co-teachers (depending on what school I'm going to), which makes for a short and pleasant commute. Coming home from Napo I have to take the bus, because Mr. Sam has golf lessons (at a virtual golf course--more on those later), so a 25 minute drive by car turns into a 1.5 hour bus ride home.

Reception: Chayan

So Mr. Song took me to Chayan on my first day, and introduced me to the other teachers, principal and vice-principal. Lots of bowing (which comes as naturally to me as it does to Marisa--is it something in the air in Korea?), and everyone informing me--you guessed it--how tall I am, and how handsome I am (with an emphasis, I might add, on the later). I was plopped down at my desk, and everyone proceeded with the weekly faculty meeting. This meetings starts with everyone facing the Korean flag, putting their hands over their hearts, and mumbling something: my first dilemma; do I place my hand over my heart and risk intruding on a pledge reserved for True Koreans, or do I simply stand with my hands at my side and risk being seen as arrogant and impolite? I think I did something in between (while doing my best to look the opposite of arrogant and impolite), and plan to ask Mr. Song what to do in the future.

My second dilemma came halfway through the meeting, when Mr. Song stood up and motioned to me; everyone stares expectantly. I learned later that I was expected to give some sort of speech (had I had my wits about me I may have been able to guess as much at the time); instead I waived, smiled awkwardly, and sat down. This may have been a better course of action anyway, because my speech would definitely not have been as entertaining: everyone burst out with raucous laughter, as Koreans seem prone to do whenever an outsider does, well, just about anything.

As with Marisa, my first few "lessons" were spent mostly introducing myself, though I found that I was expected to teach about half a class period right off the bat. Fortunately I had my incredibly sharp wits, glowing personality, and dazzlingly good looks to cover over my poor presentation: everyone was delighted.

The first question, without fail, from every class except one (in which it was shockingly demoted to question number four) was "how tall are you?" When I told them I was almost 2 meters they were so amazed that you would have thought that they hadn't actually seen me in person already. The second question was generally "do you like StarCraft?" (computer games will get a later post); answering yes to this one basically got me a free pass for the rest of the period--maybe the rest of the year.

On Good Looks
I have never been told how handsome I am so many times in so few days as my first few days in Korea; I'm a little worried that it might go to my head--could that be why I'm smiling more often when I look in the mirror these days? Seriously, every supervisor, every principal, every vice principal, many of the teachers, and many of the students, upon first seeing me cannot help but declare "YOU SO HANDSOME!" In fact, one Supervisor informed me that I was both handsome and gentle, and that for these reasons he liked me a lot. This is sort of a perfect example, or analogy, of what we are coming to learn regarding image in Korea: it is everything.

When we had dinner with some other foreign English teachers the night we got to Korea, their advice was unanimously this: "wear a nice suit on your first day, be clean shaven and professional, and it won't matter what you do for the rest of the year; how you teach is not important--that you teach, and that you look good, that's what the Koreans care about." (I was slightly nervous about the image my Spiderman bag might present, but I decided that if wearing a suit to work couldn't earn me the right to also wear a Spiderman bag the, well, life just wasn't worth living.)

I am certainly not wanting to put any individual in a box here, but the basic emphasis on image in Korea has been impressed on us again and again.

First Day 04

Reception: Napo
The Napo reception was, to a large extent, similar to Chayan's, though I was a bit more prepared for my introductions this time around (I put a bunch of images on a USB stick to show off my family and history), and managed to take up the whole period of every class. Napo is a very small school, with thirty-two students and 13 faculty members, making for a whoppingly good student to teacher ratio: most of my classes there are six or seven students large. Because of their size and rural location the level of English at Nap is not as good as at Chayan, and is not expected to be as good; they are less worried about curriculum, and I am basically given a free reign to teach whatever and however I want. This is mostly a good thing, though it does lead to a bit more work, as the need to be creative is more looming (at Chayan, I could be as boring as cold in the winter and I would be playing at par--"recite from the textbook, now repeat").

Again because of the size, my superstar status at Napo is a bit more extreme than at Chayan: you would have thought that I really was Michael Jordan or Harrison Ford (who, incidentally, everyone decided that my dad looks like). The principal absolutely adores me for some reason, and, I think, would like to spend all day every day talking with me (though he doesn't speak English, and I, of course, do not speak Korean). When he took me by the arm and led me into the office for some one-on-one time I felt a bit awkward at our lack of common language, but he didn't seem phased in the least. He apparently loves geography (he whipped out a world atlas as soon as we sat down), and had a ball learning about the various locations I had lived (my co-teacher did eventually come in, which helped the advanced of communication). Before leaving the principal's office I was given--well, forced to eat really--a variety of Korean delicacies, and was loaded down with food and drink when I left for my own office (at Napo I share an office with Mr. Sam and no one else -- at Chayan there is a common teacher's office room).

Karaoke Lunch Extreme
Lunch at Napo was a Spectacular Spectacular beyond what I had imagined. The food was tasty as usual (and as usual everyone was impressed when I cleaned the spicy items off my tray), but afterward I was invited to the gym by some of the middle schoolers, and the real craziness began: badminton extreme, with spectators extreme, with karaoke extreme in the background. Maybe I'll take my camera one of these days; for now, I'll let you paint your own picture of this one.

More Details
If I've left off any details you're interested in, just leave a comment, and I'll do my best to inform.