Overcoming an unexpected hurdle

Day two with my new 4th graders went even better than I could have planned.  I cleaned up my computer and didn’t have random pop ups in the middle of my lessons; I knew who was a girl and who was a boy and even remembered a few names!  The presentation Mike & John (my team leaders) prepared continued along smoothly and helped my class generate a set of rules before laying down the 4th grade law.

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We used cupcake analogies to portray our 1-5 grading system and allowed the kids to get creative and make their own comparisons.  I had dilapidated cars (1 for needs improvement) turning into hotrods (5 for excellent), flip phones transforming before my eyes into low end smartphones and eventually a Galaxy 4s!  This was a clear favorite among the students and I will happily be able to refer to it when grading and explaining grades.

Today included Miss Nelson is Missing and provided the opportunity for me to read another chapter in The Witches.  All of that was pretty normal for a 4th grade classroom.  I expected these changes and embraced them as I began to embrace my new students and the challenges that we will face together.  After all I’m no longer working in a glorified daycare but rather a renowned private school!

The biggest change I noticed today was after the students had left.  We had a full team meeting including our 4 Korean counterparts.  Luckily one of the admins acted as an interpreter, but, as soon as we sat down (I’m ashamed to say) I got a little anxiety!  At my last job every meeting with administration ended poorly.  We were yelled at and blamed for things outside our control.  I was accused of lying and threatened with deportation; unfortunately that was the norm for myself and the other 10 foreigners.  Every time we needed a translator lies were told and we later discovered important info that was skimmed over.  I developed an unfortunate skepticism for Korean businessmen and administration after my horrible hagwon!

I kept this to myself, trusting in my veteran coworkers to vocalize any concerns.  Most of the meeting was the Korean teachers making sure that we were on the same page.  In fact, very little new information was dispensed in the meeting.  We made both sides aware of a few deadlines, some scheduling issues and shared classroom etiquette.  Extra attention was paid to advance notice regarding plans and changes (something that has appeared to be a luxury so far in Korea.)

Despite having a perfectly friendly and professional relationship with everyone involved I continued to find myself skeptical of translations.  Wary of the words coming from my Korean counterparts I forced myself to push these thoughts from my mind and leaned on my team lead while remaining silent.  Before long the meeting was over and I quickly realized that this new unexpected hurdle, this unfair prejudice that my previous boss instilled in me would be one of my toughest challenges in the coming weeks!

I want to end it there but I’ve gotta say that I love my new job and all my coworkers!  I know that this prejudice is unfair and am confident that my new colleagues will help prove just how false of a picture my previous administration painted for their brethren.  Oh, and I love that the Korean’s opened with “4th grade is best team!”  Clearly we are all on the same page.

A mildly snowy Christmas in Bukhansan

Brian and I woke Christmas morning ready to hike Bukhansan National Park!  We met in the subway and half slept through our 70 minute ride to Dobongsan station.  The plan was to hike up the same path I took in my first excursion to Bukhansan National Park and then head over to Jubong and come down the path my brother and I took.  We hoped that the recent snows were still blanketing the forest floor in the mountains.

Our dreams of snow were quickly diminished as we started up the crowded street. It looked just like Omok-ro, our street at home with a little ice and snow on the fringes of the sidewalk.  The route looked the same as my last hike except no one was wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  We weren’t expecting it to be completely snow covered but were longing for a few traces of that wonderful white fluff!

Stopping at the ranger station to check on our trail our hopes grew a little.  The ranger’s English wasn’t that great but she highlighted the main path up.  When I showed her that I wanted to hike across the ridgeline from Juanbong to Jubong peak she glanced at our shoes.  Spouting something in Korean I shook my head; I knew she was asking if we had crampons (spikes that you can attach for extra traction).  That meant it must be icy up there which means SNOW!

Maybe we were acting like our kindergarteners playing in the snow, we really were two grown men excited for the glory of this winter treasure.  When we got on the trail we were quickly rewarded with a semi frozen stream flanked by a snowy forest.  _DSC7802

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The occasional snow-covered staircase was replaced with a bouldering path that led us to the first Buddhist temple.  Juanbong silhouetted the many buddhas in front of this vibrant shrine.

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While inside the temple we appreciated the storytelling artwork and adroitly designed meditation rooms.  A passerby invited us to join them for a light meal in an antechamber but we politely declined.

“감사합니다 gamsahabnida (thank you) we have 김밥 gimbap.  먹어요에  주안방 Mogoyoe juanbong (We eat at juanbong).”

Well, my Korean is getting better but I guess half of what I said was in English.  I think the only thing she actually understood was that we didn’t want to eat with her.  We didn’t dwell on our lack of communication skills and got back on the trail!

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Continuing upward the path crept back and forth between a beautiful white carpet and crunchy brown leaves.  At one point there was a clear divide showing where the looming mountain kept half the trail perpetually engulfed in shadow while the other side still shone with the days’ sun. Continue reading