Teacher’s Day – South Korea

Teacher’s Day is one of my favorite Korean holidays.  Its not just the cute notes, buckets of flowers, snacks and other assorted gifts.  Sure those help but what really makes me love Teacher’s Day is the realization of how much value Koreans have for teachers.temp_1431679395167.-504624130

There is a separate holiday where the entire country devotes itself to their teachers.  You could argue that its a Hallmark holiday (and i’m sure stationary stores love it) but there’s also a Teacher’s Day song that everyone knows and the day encourages students to visit their old teachers.

Teacher's Day Assembly.

Teacher’s Day Assembly.

This year was the first year I had actual visitors in the 2 hour block our school devoted for students to reunite with their old teachers.  Our students were dismissed after lunch while we had prep time and still got out 2 hours early.  Last year’s 4th graders came by in force dropping off the cutest hand written notes you’ve ever seen. Continue reading

Starting a new school year – Korea

The 2015-16 school year started at the beginning of March and its been a whirlwind of excitement.  I still can’t believe I’m almost finished with 2 full years living in Seoul.  Time certainly files by and I miss each and everyone of you reading this back home!

I am the new 4th grade team leader and inherited a number of responsibilities with said promotion.  Sure I’ve had lengthy meetings and spent time helping our new teachers adjust but I love it!  Its given me a chance to help pick the direction of our classes and school while honing my leadership skills and satisfying that primal urge to be the boss.4-3 classroom

Every school year presents new challenges but Korean ESL classes are uniquely different from those I taught in America.  My new crop of Korean 4th graders are as cute as ever and I have a huge range of English abilities.  Some kids already come up to me everyday and chat away about their family and home life while others are still working at a Kindergarten reading level and developing beginner speaking skills.

To help cope with this spectrum of abilities and adapt to a new schedule we are incorporating centers every week.  I’m working closely with my Korean coteacher (Mr. Kim) who thankfully has the best English I’ve seen in a coteacher.  We’ve got a wonderful relationship and have bonded over his time studying in Texas among other things.  He is the 4th grade Korean team leader and surprised me the other day by offering to share some of the burden when we are slotted to teach 36 students at once!

Speaking of that schedule a few of you heard about the new Korean laws that forced our hand.  The government is apparently trying to shrink the English education in South Korea and has limited the hours that we can teach English.  As a result we adapted the schedule and hired a few more teachers.  So far its working well in my grade but we’re bound to hit some rocky patches eventually.

I started a chess club this year and its already going strong in its 3rd week.  They capped me at 16 members even though I had 31 sign ups.  Normally I wouldn’t mind the smaller class but I get a stipend based on numbers so am still trying to weasel a few more spots.  The kids love it; we start each week with a quick chess lesson about tactics or how to mate with certain pieces before spending about an hour playing against each other.

There’s a lot of last year’s 4th grade to look forward to as well.  We are still planning a number of field trips (including the overnight to Gongju!).  My administration is the same as the end of last year and fight for better English programs but they unfortunately are sitting backseat to the Koreans.  Its to be expected but we are hoping for more equality in scheduling, planning and the rest.  We’ll see how the give and take goes but whatever happens I know I’ve got a great job!

Two months that flew by

I can’t believe I’m already into my third month here in Seoul!  It feels like only yesterday that I was sitting at Forte’s pizzeria eating my favorite two slices, Bacon Chicken Ranch and Caeser Chicken Salad pizza.  Man those would be delicious right now.  I mean the food here is out of this world; both in tastes and “creativity?” but in many ways it doesn’t compare to what we have back home.

I’ve tried creepy meals and dined with new friends, sang my heart out at 3am in a Noraebong, danced until the subway started running again at 5:30am, hiked to 4 different peaks in Bukhansan National Park, visited Buddhist temples and 3 Royal PalacesI fenced my heart out and beat up a bunch of Koreans, enjoyed my brother’s visit with hikes, great food and learned about the Korean war while crossing into the DMZ.  The list goes on and on.  Its all been a great 2 months and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

I’m already feeling like I’m going to stay on for at least a 2nd year although I am pretty certain I want to find an international school instead of a hagwon.  We’ll see what happens with my new administration in the next few weeks; so far I met the new director and she can speak English at least ten times better than Mrs. Yi; she also seems to be much more knowledgeable about what an ESL classroom really needs like oh I don’t know, phonics?

My apartment is mostly set up but I am still looking for a few things.  I’m hopeful that today’s paycheck will arrive  before I leave for the day so I can start scouring what the expats are leaving behind on craigslist as they leave this lovely country.  I figured out how to use a “dehydration” cycle on my washing machine that cuts down drying time from 3 days on the rack to about a day and started cooking my own meals too!

So far I mostly just eat cereal for breakfast & make omelets.  I’ve got some frozen dumplings & bulgogi burgers that I’ll throw together with ramen.  I’ve learned how to make a few Korean dishes by teaching Cooking class in school and will start expanding my palate at home.

My after school classes are going well.  Clinic on Mondays just got a new student so I’ve gotta revamp the lessons a little; my Tues/Thurs book club finished their 4th book and I’m helping them with their writing and studying techniques before we start Judy Blume’s Fudge-a-Mania & Doublefudge.  Its a little odd that I asked for more advanced books in September and was given 2 easier Magic School Bus chapter books for October and then jumped 3 grade levels to the fudge series for November.  It’ll be way more challenging but I think they are up for it!

My Wed/Fri clinic is a lot of fun.  I’ve got 2 K-7 kids who are really enjoying the lessons we do and they are actually excited about getting homework!  We do a lot of conversation and just started talking about comparative adjectives.  My “shy” student is coming out of her shell as she realizes she has a better grasp of English grammar than my “bossy” student who keeps trying to cheat at phonics hangman.  All in all I really enjoy all my students I just wish I didn’t have to teach 2 hours everyday after a full day of Kindergarten.

Speaking of the full day Kindergarten they are reading & writing better already!  We put up a sight word wall, a phonics wall and have been working on creating our own sentences rather than just copying from the board.  They love centers which I do 3x a week and even my girl who is ran away from me in the beginning of the year will laugh and smile with me.

I still have so much to explore around Seoul and about Korean culture.  I’m planning on heading to the east coast this weekend to go hiking in Seoraksan National Park in the last few days of fall foliage.  I am excited to try the winter sports out here as it gets colder and still need to find a gym & jingabong (Korean Bath House).  I start my language exchange classes in the next few weeks and am excited to be able have more Korean than simply being able to order a meal!

I can’t wait to start traveling around the region and taking weekend trips outside of the city too.  Japan & Hong Kong sound like they are affordable & worth taking a weekend to and I just started planning a longer trip into Vietnam.  I was accepted into the beta for a crowd funding travel website, http://www.Trevolta.com, and am putting together a team to try and get a sponsored tour of the amazing country, including Son Doong Cave.  I’m looking forward to my trip to Boracay for New Years and joined another website called http://www.Couchsurfing.com to connect with like minded travel enthusiasts who will help me experience life like a local wherever I go.

Thanks for following my journey these past few months.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the updates and I will certainly keep them coming!  Keep reading, commenting and enjoying as I keep living, learning, traveling & teaching.

T-1 week!

I leave in one week, I think?  My flight has not been booked yet and I don’t have an apartment but somehow I’m not worried.  My recruiter hasn’t given me any reason to doubt my August 20th departure; especially since the teacher I’m replacing told me they booked her flight on Friday before she flew out on the following Monday.

The last few weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to catch up with most of my friends through a going away party, last week’s trip to DC and a few other occasions.  I’m throwing myself a farewell barbeque on Thursday and have a wedding Saturday so will certainly see anyone that I haven’t gotten to!

I got a little surprise last night after my documents arrived in Korea.  An email from a disgruntled former employee who went into quite a lot of detail about the travesty that is the school I’m about to start at.  Oh joy!  I responded and spoke to a few other contacts and it appears my biggest cause for concern is that the administration is “more concerned about money than kids or education.”  Well that might be disheartening but a Hagwon is specifically a “for profit private school.”  Oh, and my principal might not be my friend.  Isn’t that what most principals are like?  Even so, the disgruntled employee said I’ll get paid on time and don’t have to worry about them breaking my contract but that I should be scared of the CCTV cameras they just installed.  You mean they aren’t just for security?

Needless to say it startled me but hasn’t swayed me from my path.  I’m packing my luggage as I write this and putting the rest of my life here in NJ into storage.  That’s the weirdest part.  Who knows how long they’ll stay there or if I’ll ever open them up again; frankly right now my main concern is getting ready to go!

As a whole I’m quite excited about it and can’t wait to wake up in Seoul.  I’ve got some key people that will be missed and will be Skyping with.  For the rest of my friends this’ll be a test.  If we stay in touch great!  If i don’t hear from you while I’m gone that’s cool too.  I honestly am more concerned with whether or not we’ll be able to pick back up again whenever I return.  I already have a few friends that I know are timeless, those who have already been away for a year or more and can jump right back in.  I hope that most people in my life are like that but for the rest of you I guess there’s always Facebook.

Counting down the days is tough when you don’t have a flight but I wouldn’t be too sad if I get an extra day to hang out.