Monday, December 28, 2009

Wait, you mean you actually want the bus to come to a complete stop before you get on?

It's not easy to fit in in Korea. Actually, I, with my blue eyes, light hair and freckles, stick out like the sorest thumb that one could imagine. In Spain I could at least try to dress Spanish, and pretend that I was at least from another European country, and I could understand if people were laughing at me behind my back. Here however, is quite the different story. I could dress like a Korean, learn to speak the language fluently, and use chopsticks like a pro, but I would still be most obviously, without a doubt, a foreigner.

This is not a bad thing however. Foreigners here, at least in my city, are treated very well. A lot of the time people don't talk to you because of the communication barrier (sp?), but those that do are pretty darn polite and willing to help if you appear lost. I appreciate it. In Spain I would get offended if people would respond to me in English when I would speak to them in Spanish. Here, I do not want to offend people by assuming they speak English, so I will point and make lots of silly gestures to try to ask questions, and I am most grateful when they use whatever English language skills they have to help me out!

To live here, and enjoy living here, as a foreigner you bascially have to learn to laugh at your mistakes. There is such a huge cultural diffence between my country and this one. My co-teacher and I were talking about this just today. Respect for elders, or those with more authority that you, is a huge deal here. Learning how to accept a drink from someone, and how to pour someone else's drink, is also important. (I offended my boss the first time he poured a drink for me, as I did not hold my glass with two hands as is expected here for someone accepting a drink from a person of higher authority). I am trying hard to learn how to not offend people here by doing things that we back home would consider normal. It will take a lot of learning, but I am willing to do it! I hate to make others uncomfortable, or to be disrespectful, so I want to learn as much as possible!

The busses here are quite a laugh too. I decided today, since it is cold, that I would take the bus to the gym instead of the 20 minute walk. I flagged down the 66-4, and was able to jump into the open door on the still moving bus before the driver shut the door. Yes, it barely came to a stop before it got going again! I had just enough time to swipe my card before he slammed on the gas. Luckily, I was holding onto a handle at this point, so it wasn't until a few seconds later, as I was trying to make my way towards the middle of the bus, that he swerved a bit and I went flying through the air, swung around a pole, and shouted out "holy crap!" all in one swift move. (This is where the laughing at yourself comes in handy). I'm laughing now, actually, as I re-live the moment. The one good thing about this is that I will probably never see those people again in my life, at least if I do I will not recognize them, because so many of the people here look very similar to me right now. I'm sure though, that they will recognize me again in a second if we ever cross paths, thinking to themselves "hey! theres that pole dancing girl from the bus!" Needless to say, I walked home from the gym.

Just some random thoughts of the day. New Year's is coming soon! I am excited to go out and celebrate. The Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday in the country, and that does not take place until February-ish, but I'm sure this one will be fun as well.

That's all for now!!

Pictures (hopefully...)

I'm still trying to figure out how to post these within my blogs!! Anyways, here are just a few pics...the first is on the day of the Christmas party at school, Stella (her little sister will be in my class) and Allen showing off their cool gifts from Santa, me in front of one of our newly decorated classrooms, and two pictures from my apartment. Sorry they're sideways!! My bathroom (well basicaly just a shower room, as you can see the shower head is between the sink and toilet) and a view from my doorway. Its bigger than I expected...just right for me!

Friday, December 25, 2009

So this is Christmas...

Well Christmas has come and gone here in Korea, and I gotta be honest, it passed just like any other day! Besides the fact that I talked to my family back home and they were celebrating, you wouldn't have even known that it was a holiday! Kinda a good thing for me here, so I didn't get sad at all. I'll update you on whats been happening this past week.

Sunday I went into Seoul to see the Nutcracher with some teachers from my school. I don't think I've ever seen the whole ballet! It was soo pretty. We went out for Mexican afterwards (it was no Taxco, but it was decent)

Monday was my first day trial teaching at the school. I was pretty nervous, but all of my classes went surprisingly well. The kids were all very well behaved, I think because I was a new teacher and they were used to their regular teachers. All in all, the day went well.

Tuesday was the day that I met my new students that will begin in January. My co-teacher and I have one class of 6 six year olds, and one class of 10 seven year olds, but they are actually not six and seven. In Korea, everyone is considered one year older, because they count the time that a baby spent in the mothers womb as one year. So you are born one year old. And, if I understand correctly, you do not actually turn one year older on your birthday, but everyone turns one year older on January 1st. I believe this is how it is done. So, my six year old students, are all mostly only 4 years old US age. So they are 5 years Korean, and then on January 1 they will all turn 6. Understand? Good, me neither.

Needless to say, they were pretty stinking adorable. I took the six year olds for a 30 minute class period while their mothers talked to my boss. I basically did a lot of miming and singing (by myself). My director was in the room with me, so he actually translated a bit of what I was saying. That was pretty helpful. Most of them understood and were able to answer "what's your name?". We took a quick trip to the bathroom, and then we went back to the classroom for more singing. When they come back to school on Tuesday I will begin the day with the 7 year old class, my Apple class, for 80 minutes, then after a ten minute break I will teach the 6 year olds, my Banana class, for another 80 minutes. After lunch (which I eat with the class) we have 40 minutes of "special class", either playing board games, singing songs and learning chants, science, art or taekwondoe (which I do NOT teach, thank goodness!). Then the kindergartners leave. Eventually I will teach some elementary classes in the afternoon, but until a few of the current teachers leave I will just have lesson planning for the last few hours of school. I can't wait to start teaching! It will be so challenging, but so fun to be creative with the kids.

Wednesday we had our school Christmas party. Santa came to school, and the kids got gifts, sang songs, made cards and decorated Christmas "cakes". Quite the fun day.

Thursday (Christmas Eve) was a nice relaxing day. I joined a gym here, so I made my first trip there. The treadmills each have a TV in them! So I was able to watch a movie while I walked, which was awesome cause I wanted to watch the end of the movie so I walked longer than I ever would normally! It is custom here for the men and women to shower at the gym before they leave. However, they are communal showers. I don't think I've ever showered in a big communal shower, so I wasn't quite sure if I would. I brought my shower stuff just in case, but decided not to. Not this first day, maybe I will eventually after I get more comfortable!

That evening I went out with my friend Molly and her sister who is visiting from Indiana. We went to a kalbi restaurant, they cook the food right on your table and you eat it right out of the pan. You can either just eat it plain, or put it on a piece of lettuce and shove it all in your mouth. REallly good and fun to do!!

Friday was Christmas. After talking to my family at my grandma Mullis' house, we went to Itaewon for the day. An area of Seoul that is basically like walking into NYC. Lots of American restaurants, Starbucks, little clothing stands (like Chinatown). It was nice to enjoy some comfort food for Christmas. We just wandered around a little, then came back to Dongbaek and ate dinner (tempura, little dumplings and something else I can't spell yet, but it is almost like Italian gnocchi texture and is cooked in a spicy sauce, pretty tasty) and watched "Miracle on 34th Street". A good Christmas overall. I skyped with my family again late last night while they were over at Joe and Gails for Christmas morning (and saw the traditional breakfast my mom always makes....ahhhh sooo good!!!).

Today we are going to eat lunch and go to this place called Dr. Fish. It is a little spa type place, where we go and put our feet in a little pond and fish come and suck the dead skin off our feet!! Haha sounds great doesn't it!! I am super excited about it. There is talk of an ice bar tonight too, so we shall see.

Hope all of your Christmas' were Merry and bright!!! Happy New Year too!! ( I am trying to figure out how to post pictures, I will do it as soon as possible!)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Meet me at Emart

The past couple days have basically passed in a blur. I will sum them up for you all...
Thursday morning we had a field trip. All of the kindergarten classes went to an indoor playground called I Love Strawberries. The kids jumped around and played and rode a train for a few was extremely exhausting but soooo fun watching all of them play!! After we went back to school I observed more was a lot less overwhelming than the first day luckily. Still a little confusing about what classes I will be teaching and what material, but on Monday I will get my schedule so that will make things much easier.

Friday was another day of observations, and then Friday evening we had a work Christmas party. All of the teachers and employees and the director of the school went to a restaurant called Shaboo Shaboo (sp?) We had this amazing dinner where you sit on the ground and cook your own soup at the table. We added mushrooms, different kinds of greens, and an amazing beef. Our table got the spicy version which was sooo good but pretty hot. The mild version was tasty too and reminded me a lot of a soup that my dad cooks at home with ramen noodles and mushrooms and greens. Then, after we finished that they added these really tasty noodles to the broth. After that was finished, the cooked a sort of stir fry rice in the dish, which was probably the best part of the meal. We just scooped it out of the pot and it was the tastiest thing ever! After the dinner we went to a local bar called Wabar. It apparently is a popular bar for the foreigners in our neighboorhood. Several Korean teachers came out as well, and I met a few other foreign teachers who will be around over winter break. We stayed there until around 2:30, then I walked home, basically just over a bridge and I was back at my apartment. I am finally starting to learn my way around!

After I got home last night I talked to Joe for almost an hour on skype, that is such a cool program because you can actually see who you are talking to, it is much more personal! I also called my friend Mariana from Mexico, and talked to my cousin DJ for a few minutes too before going to bed.

Today I was finally able to sleep in past 5:30! I have been waking up super early each morning because of jet lag. I was up around noon today, and then I met up with my co-teacher Lydia. She is sooo sweet. She is also new to SLP, and to Dongbaek, which is nice because we were able to walk around for a bit and see the area. She lived in Kansas for a few years up until this past May. We went out to lunch (where I drank my new favorite beverage, pomegranate juice), then we went to Emart, which is basically the Korean Wal-Mart. She was able to help me buy some things for my apartment, cleaning things (yes Mom I will be cleaning my apartment) and etc. She wanted to buy me toilet paper, which, I guess, is a very polite thing to bring when you visit someones house here in Korea? Different, but I was grateful to her! I have an extra large supply now.

Tonight there is a party for one of the Korean co-teachers mothers. It is her 70th birthday, and they are having the party at a ski resort nearby. I am still undecided if I will go or not....aside from not having any sort of ski attire I am extremely tired! I should finish organizing my apartment and buy some food to have here also, and just relax after an extremely busy week, but I do want to go to the party, so who knows.

Tomorrow I am going to see the Nutcracker with some teachers, and then Monday I start my trial teaching at school. Hope it goes well!

I'll post more within the next few you all!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Back to school, back to school!

December 17, 6am

So, I made it!! The flight finally ended and I made my way back to my city of Yongin. When I arrived at the airport I wasn’t able to find Eddie right away, the guy that was supposed to me picking me up. I stood around awkwardly for awhile, occasionally walking back in front of the large group of people holding signs with others’ names on them. But I couldn’t see my name so I decided that I would go to information and have them help me call him. On my way over there I got stopped by a man who asked if I needed help, where I was going etc. I explained to him that I was waiting for someone to pick me up but that I didn’t know where he was. He told me he would call him for me, so I gave him Eddie’s number and sure enough about five minutes later Eddie came to meet me with two of his friends that he had run into at the airport.

We arrived in Dongbaek a little over an hour later. We stopped first at my apartment, with which I was very pleasantly surprised!! I’ve been told that the apartments are nothing more than a studio with a tiny tiny kitchen and bathroom, so I wasn’t expecting much. And although it is not huge by any means, it will definitely work for me!! After you walk in, there is a bathroom (actually, basically just a shower with a toilet and sink inside, no shower curtain which makes for interesting showers). After a step up there is my kitchen, a small gas range and sink and cupboards to the right, and then a fridge to the left. Then, there is a sliding door that leads to my bedroom, where there is a small table, a wardrobe, a TV stand with a few drawers and a TV, and then my bed, which is actually bigger than I expected! I brought a set of full size sheets with me, but the fitted sheet was too small so I am using the flat sheet and then the blankets that the school provided. Not the most comfortable bed, but it will do! Then, there is another sliding door where there is a tiny laundry room, nothing more than just a washing machine and little storage space, but it is nice that I have this room to dry clothes.

After dropping my things off, Eddie brought me to a small restaurant just down the street, where there were seven or so foreign teachers waiting to meet me. In my school there are 10 foreign teachers in total I believe, one Australian, a couple Canadians and the rest are from the US. They are all women and super nice and helpful. We ate an awesome dinner of beef (that we cooked on the table in front of us) kimchi (for those that don’t know it is like fermented cabbage, kinda spicy but I like it, which is good because it is served at every meal!), rice and a few salad type dishes. Over all very tasty!!!

I crashed soon after the dinner, which was good because I was expected to be at school right away on Wednesday. Brittany, who is a kindergarten teacher also, lives right down the hall from me, and she picked me up for work. We took the bus just a couple minutes to the school, and I met my co-teacher Lydia, who is also a new teacher to the school. She is Korean, and we will work together creating lesson plans, decorating and getting ready for our new students. Every morning we will be teaching a class of 6 six year olds, and 10 seven year olds, (the banana and apple classes as they are called here). I will teach the apple class for 80 min while she is with the banana class, and then we will switch. We eat lunch with the students and then I believe have one more afternoon class with them, and then they go home while some of the older students arrive for afternoon classes. So I will also be teaching the SR students, which are kindergarten graduates. Once a week I will teach a science, arts and crafts class, and one more special class, which I’m still not quite sure exactly what it is. I was a bit overwhelmed yesterday afternoon while my bosses were explaining everything to me, but luckily the other teachers tell me it is normal and I will eventually figure it out!!

I am absolutely amazed at these students. I observed five classes yesterday, and their level of English is way beyond what I ever expected. Krista is the girl that I had been talking to via email before I came, and I observed several of her classes yesterday. The students she started with did not speak a word of English when they started last January, and now they are talking away. I didn’t believe it when she told me that, but sitting in class and watching them read books, answer questions and take spelling tests was so amazing! I think Krista is a great teacher and has really good control over her class, so I have a really good example to learn from.

The students were really eager to ask me questions about my age, where I was from, if I was from and etc. They refer to me as “Betsy Teacher”. As you can all imagine, 6 and 7 year old Korean children are absolutely the most adorable things you’ve ever seen, mostly very well behaved and soooo eager to learn. Haha I may be taking all of this back after another few weeks of school or so, but at least I got a good impression on my first day!

After school yesterday I went back to the restaurant from the first night with Brittany, and we ran into a couple teachers from another school. One of them, Molly, came and sat with us after her friends left, and she asked me if I was going to be traveling during winter break. All of the teacher from my school are traveling, some back to the US or Canada, others to Australia, and possibly some other places too. I of course don’t have any sort of trip planned, and I was a little concerned about coming here and being alone for a week and a half, especially over Christmas. But Molly told me that she is going to be staying here because her sister is coming to visit, so she invited me to hang out with them during break. Of course I agreed that that would be great and I was extremely grateful. I’m soo happy to have met someone that I can hang out with, especially on Christmas and I know my mom is happy that I won’t be alone too! After we finished eating Molly took me around to a few stores in our village so I could buy some food, and it was nice to walk around and see where I am living! I don’t know if I would be able to find my way around again right now alone, but at least I’ve seen a little bit more of the area!

So, after that loooong day at work I was in bed at 9:30 last night, but unfortunately I was also awake just a little after five this morning! We don’t leave for school until after 8:30, so I still have a couple hours.

Hope you are all well, and as soon as I get the internet I will be posting these!!!!

Leavin' on a jet plane

Monday December 14, 2009 appox. 8pm CST

Whew. I can’t believe this day has come!! It’s not as though I was waiting for a long time for my departure day, two months to be exact, but after I found out I got the job on October 15 it’s basically been on my mind all the time. So here I am, on the Asiana plane from LA to Seoul….6 hours down, about 7 more to go!

So for those of you who don’t know the facts about what I’m going to be doing, I will be teaching kindergarteners English in Yongin, South Korea for a year. The school I will be working at is called Yongin Dongbaek SLP. SLP stands for Songang Language Program, which, I believe, is a chain of sorts of English schools. I’m sure I will learn more about what exactly it is, but there are like 60 schools all over Korea.

My school paid for my flight and also sets me up with a studio apartment for the year (I know these “apartments” are usually not more than a dorm room with a tiny kitchen and bathroom), however it will be a place to call my own for the year. I will post pictures soon after I arrive.

Eddie, the office manager of my school will meet me at the airport gate to take me back to Yongin. It is considered a satellite city of Seoul, and has a population of 700,000. The way that it has been explained to me is that the area I am living and teaching in is Dongbaek, like a little neighborhood of the city. My apartment should be about 15 to 20 minutes walking to the school, and just a few minutes by bus.

I arrive in Seoul at 6pm on Tuesday the 15; I’m assuming that we will go directly to my spartment (I’m hoping at least!) I will have a week of training and orientation, then a week off for winter break, and then on January 4th I will begin with my very own students.

I’m extremely excited about this new adventure!! It will be so different from the time I’ve spent abroad before, because I will be working instead of studying this time, and will be living on my own. But all the people that I know and have talked to have said it is an absolutely awesome time and many people extend their contracts because they like it so much! I’m excited to get to my city and start my new life as a teacher!

The flight has been great so far….My parents and I left the house at 4:30 this morning to catch my 7am flight from Chicago and then I arrived in LA a little over four hours later. My connection was two hours later, but LAX is huuuuge and there were so many people waiting to go through security, so as soon as I got to the gate I was able to board. That was nice because I didn’t have to sit and wait for long, because I sure am doing enough of that on the plane now! I’ve already watched two movies, My Sisters Keeper and Julie and Julie, both great movies. Of course My Sisters Keeper made me bawl my eyes out, and “Biggie” )the guy who is sitting next to me) was giving me funny looks. He is a big guy from the Caribbean, who studies in Santa Barbara and is on his way to Japan to meet up with his Japanese girlfriend (just after he spends the day in Seoul with his American girlfriend!) haha he’s a nice guy. I am on the window seat and he is on the aisle seat, there is no one in the middle so that is nice. Lots of room to stretch out. However when I got up to go to the bathroom (after I had literally tried shaking him awake and eventually just kept slapping his arm) he didn’t want to get out of his seat so I had to climb over top of him. Always a fun time.

The lunch was excellent. We had a choice of a steak dinner or a Korean meal, but I went with the steak just because I didn’t think having anything too adventurous would be a good idea for the flight. It was a great meal though, with a salad, roll, steak and potatoes and carrots, a good dessert and some (what I am assuming was ) raw salmon. It looked really pretty and delicious, but I think I just need to wait to eat my first raw fish until I am somewhere that is, well, not a plane I guess. I’m sure I will have plenty of opportunities over the next year!

I haven’t slept much, I’m not that tired actually and I was given the advice to not sleep if possible because I will be arriving in the evening and then I can just crash when I get to my apartment. I’ll probably read and watch a few more movies, and hopefully pass the time quickly. I’ve been checking out the windows every so often to see what’s out there, right now we’re over mountains again, a while ago we were over lots of glaciers and ice caps. I was wondering if it was ever going to get dark while we were flying, but I honestly don’t think so, even though it is a 13 hour flight. It is very different to be flying over the other side of the world! However there were a few hours where the lights were off and the windows were closed, so it was like a fake night I suppose.

Well I guess that’s all for now, I will post this as soon as I get to the internet, with more postings to come! (I promise I’ll do a better job on this blog than the one I started in Spain). Dad I hope your surgery went well and I can’t wait to call you guys tomorrow.

Keep in touch everyone!!!!