My First Week In Brief

04 Nov 2008
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.


Thanks for updating us!

...OK, I don't have much more to add since we already talked about most of this stuff in person, but I was interested in Mr. Sam. According to this incredibly useful Wikipedia page "Sam" is a real Korean family name, but there's only 51 of them in the nation. (Unless some Sams have died or been born since the year 2000.) Is your Mr. Sam one of the 51 real Sams, or is he simply having you call him by his English name?

I'm listening.

It's great to hear from you two, and to see your face and hear your voices. That video of lotte mart was great. I look forward to hearing about Starcraft.

Do you think i could get your dad's autograph? I've always liked Harrison Ford.

a jealous anthropologist

Okay, now I'm finding myself feeling envious of you guys and this amazing cultural adventure you're having. I've always wished to live somewhere where the culture was extreme and no one spoke English. And you're there! I'm almost ready to take a sabbatical from my life to spend a year teaching English in Korea! Keep the interesting stories and insights coming.

-Baba (you can tell your students they can think of me as "Minnesota Magnuson")


That is indeed a very interesting Wikipedia page! Alas, our Mr. "Sam" is simply using his English name with us.


You would love it here Baba: the culture is indeed extreme and homogeneous, and the English sparse; I'll post on those aspects specially later on. Maybe we could get Karith to come teach English here as well, and then we could have the whole family :)

Awesomeness, Joy, and Smiley Faces. =)

I don't even know what to say. TOO amazing!
You're beginning to convince me. :) Bethany and I have even been chatting about it -- after all, what better way to spend one's life than gallavanting all over the world in the footsteps of one's brothers?
I'm in hysterical giggles right now (or would be, if I didn't have an essay due in four hours). And I love your spiderman bag. And you are very tall. And very handsome. So it's not just the Koreans. :)
Love you!!!


For the sake of all that you hold holy--- both of you--- follow Jordan, not me!

(That is, you should say, "what better way to spend one's life than gallavanting all over the world in the footsteps of my brother?)

I don't know Matthew. Since

I don't know Matthew. Since Jordan, to some degree, followed YOU, even if I exclusively follow HIM, won't I still be partially following you?

So . . .

Be prepared to be Karith-stalked.

Well, I've got to say that

Well, I've got to say that being Karith-stalked sounds an awful lot better than being Creepy-Korean-Middle-School-Girl-stalked, and I managed to survive that long enough that they finally discovered that I pretty much go around town doing the same sorts of things that their parents do and decided that I was too boring to stalk after all... so go ahead and stalk me if you want, just don't expect any thrills.

I'm all for stalking...

I'm all for stalking... especially if it involves stalking Matthew :)