Tag Archives: making friends

Teaching and Learning

16 May

I’m aware of how cheesy and cliché it sounds, but teaching and learning are two things I do pretty much every day here, with varying degrees of success.

When it comes to teaching, this week I’ve been struggling to learn how to discipline my classes. I’m not a very stern person naturally, and it’s hard to discipline children when you can’t actually say much that they can understand. One punishment that we do dole out a lot in my classes is to make students stand at the back facing the wall, and all my students know what a silent and angry pointed finger means!

In the last class of today, which was a particularly rowdy one, I turned around and caught one of my students firing a spit-ball at my co-teacher’s back. This infuriated me! I know this class is unruly because my co-teacher is unpopular and the students have no respect for him, but not speaking Korean, I am only as strong as my co-teacher. I immediately ordered this girl to the back of the room, but she apologised and begged me to change my mind. She’s a pretty good student, who I also have for after school class and who always works hard, so I nearly gave in and allowed her to stay put. At the last minute I decided to hold firm – I can forgive many things, but spitting paper at a teacher is not one of them. I didn’t tell my co-teacher why I’d sent her there – one punishment ought to be enough. I felt terrible about it when I saw her face though! I suppose I’m torn between wanting to be liked, and wanting to be respected.

One of my adorable letters!


Obviously some students like me, as I received a pair of letters for Teacher’s Day! Teacher’s Day is when Koreans honour and celebrate their teachers, often by visiting former teachers and giving flowers and other gifts. My school had a ceremony in the morning where the students sang to us (enthusiastically but not very well!) and gave us carnations. Some of the classes had decorated their classrooms with balloons and in one case a red carpet leading me up to the lectern. The students seem to enjoy Teacher’s Day more than the teacher’s do, I think!


Back to the learning… I’ve realised that a certain amount of homesickness has started to set in. I’m lonely. Not to a crazy extent – I have made plenty of wonderful friends here who I see all the time. I can share things with them and relax around them in much the same way as I can with my friends at home. The difference is hard to explain. Essentially it’s tactile. My group of friends and my family at home are all pretty tactile people – we hug and hold hands and link arms and curl up on the sofa. It takes a long time to get to that point with new people for me; I’m generally not that cuddly a person! I realised that I’d been skipping a few stages by just drinking a little too much which allows those barriers to come down. Problem is, I don’t actually feel any better for it in the long run, so I’m going to have to try and push through it sober, I think!


I’ve always been surrounded by pets, too, so being literally alone in my flat all the time is having an effect. I’ve always thought I could live alone, and I think that’s true, but I can’t live alone and pet-less! I have no idea if I’ll go straight home at the end of my contract or if I’ll be tempted to resign, but I’m worried that I wouldn’t be able to live here, by myself, for more than a year without getting seriously depressed. After all, I only survived the last three years or so in London thanks to these little guys:

My guinea pigs, Arthur and Merlin. Merlin is still with us, and currently wrapping my Mum around his paw.


Teachers’ dinner in Ulsan

24 Apr

This week is kind of a cushy week for me. The kids have mid-term exams for three days, so Monday – Wednesday I desk warm in the morning (for the non-TEFL teachers, that means I sit at my desk and do whatever!) and then go home after lunch. I only have to teach Thursday and Friday, and because the other classes will be behind, I’m going to show a Wallace & Gromit short and give the kids worksheets based on that. It’s a light week.

Because of it being mid-term week, my faculty organised a teachers’ lunch this afternoon in Ulsan, a city about an hour east of Busan on the coast at the easternmost point of the South Korean peninsula. I haven’t had a chance to socialise with my co-workers yet, because my school hasn’t organised any social activities, or if they have it hasn’t been with the whole staff and I haven’t been invited. My immediate co-workers in the English department are mostly married or a bit older than many of my EPIK friends’ co-teachers, which I think explains why they haven’t invited me out socially.

I was naturally excited to spend some time with my fellow teachers outside of the office! I already knew that not many of them have a lot of English (other than the English department that is) and they seem quite nervous about using the English that they do have. I hoped that this little road trip would give them a chance to get more comfortable with me.

My main co-teacher and I got a lift out to Ulsan with another female teacher and two other colleagues. It was basically a car full of women, and it immediately had that relaxed, gossipy feel that a group of female friends together always has. It felt pretty good to be in that car, feeling kind of like one of the group even though I mostly had no idea what was being said. My co-teacher is very good about trying to include me, so a couple of times when something particularly funny and easy to explain happened she filled me in on the joke and I was able to contribute something, which was awesome.

We were the last car to arrive at our destination, which immediately caused some hilarity (women drivers, eh?) but also meant that we got to sit together. I was pleased to be able to build on the camaraderie that had started in the car, and rolled out my very basic Korean, saying “this is delicious!” when I started in on my barbecued beef. Again, my co-teacher and the others made efforts to include me when possible. Not everything is going to be translatable, but they actually asked me questions and tried to speak a little English, which I really appreciated. Also no one tried to make me drink any alcohol, which I was so relieved by! I’m not a big drinker and I really hate daytime drinking! I didn’t want to get embarrassingly drunk in the middle of the afternoon trying to be polite and not refuse drinks!

There was a nice ice-breaker early on in the meal when the kid serving us asked my Korean co-teacher where I was from. One of the Korean teachers with little to no English told him I was from England and he should practise his English on me! He obeyed this command first saying “Hi!” and then “I love you!” whilst my colleagues died laughing.

Koreans seem to really appreciate my eating skills, which I’ve often thought are undervalued back home. Often when I’m eating with Koreans they will prompt me to try foods and sauces and ask me how I like them. I thought that my willingness to try everything on offer in the lunch room at school had won me some brownie points, and today that was confirmed by my co-teacher. I was happily trying some traditional Korean soy bean stew and packing it away, as per usual, when I felt I was being watched… I looked up to see the somewhat surreal sight of the entire table of thirty-odd Koreans watching me intently!

Me: Err… did I do something wrong?

Co-teacher: No, they want to know if you like this? They think many foreigners don’t like soy bean stew, they say it’s stinky.

Me: No, it’s delicious! *thumbs up to table*

Entire table: Ahhhhhhhh!

Co-teacher: Koreans like people who eat well. You eat everything and try every food so everyone at Daeshin (my school) likes you!

I was pretty chuffed about that! Maybe that’s why I get some much food left on my desk?!

Some of the teachers I was sat with followed up their meal with “cold noodles”. When this arrived it was actually spicy wheat noodles with chipped ice! I couldn’t believe it – I’d never seen iced noodles before. Of course, this resulted in one of the teachers grabbing a bowl and spooning me out a generous helping to try! I was a bit nervous this was making me look like a rude fatty, but the teacher said (via my co-teacher) that Koreans love to share food so I shouldn’t worry.

After eating (and being grilled by the principal and other teachers on why I don’t hate the foods they’re convinced all foreigners hate!) we went out to the coast to stand at the point which is the easternmost point of South Korea (or rather, where the sun rises first on Korea and Eurasia). It’s not much to look at, although I’m still sad I forgot my camera because I realised that this is it! I’VE NEVER BEEN THIS FAR AWAY FROM HOME!

I got a lift back to Busan with a different group of teachers, including two of my co-teachers. On the way we chatted about my brother and his love of experimenting with strange foods, and brainstormed all the weird and, quite frankly, gross foods that we could get him to eat in Korea! Look forward to that, Tom!

Ajumas for a Friday

20 Apr

It’s Friday! My Fridays are actually one of my busiest days. I have three lessons back to back in the morning, which is no fun. Especially as it’s grade 2 then grade 3, then grade 2 again! I get so confused…

Anyway, I get a little break around lunch time, but it isn’t long enough for me to get stuck into my lesson planning (and it’s a light load next week anyway) but it’s too much time to be able to waste on Facebook, so I’m going to post about ajumas.

Ajumas are a phenomenon that every waygook (that’s foreigner) who comes to Korea will become very familiar with. The term basically means older married woman, but it becomes synonymous with Korean old ladies.

Korean old ladies all have the same spiral perm, and the same uniform of outdoor wear (usually North Face hiking gear from head to toe, sometimes in multiple clashing colours) and a visor. They’re little, and adorable, and also the bossiest, rudest, pushiest people on the planet!

In Korea, being elderly means everyone has to respect you, and no one can tell you off, so you can get away with anything. Mostly this manifests as pushing people about, especially on public transport. I mean this literally – if I’m trying to get off a packed subway train and there’s an ajuma behind me, most often she’ll wedge her forearm across my lower back and use me like a snow plough to barge her way through the press of people. I’ve come to expect it, and I now know exactly how much resistance to put up to make sure I stay on my feet, but get out of the way!

The ajumas of Dongdaesin-dong (my local area) seem to be a friendly bunch. One day whilst I was waiting for a subway train, an ajuma decided to chat to me. Undeterred by the fact that I didn’t understand a word she was saying, she babbled away at me in Korean until the train arrived, when she gave me a handful of hard-boiled sweets and a a huge grin for my trouble.

Recently in my local pharmacy, I was set upon by a gaggle of older ladies telling me (in Korean, but with miming) how beautiful and tall and thin I am (Koreans seem fascinated by my height as I’m about 10cm taller than the national average). When I said thank you in Korean (“gamsa hapnida”) they burst out laughing, repeating me and nodding and smacking me on the back. When I smiled and bowed they were even more pleased, and started patting me all over like a dog who’d mastered a particularly impressive trick. It was completely adorable.

So there you go! I’m sure I’m likely to have even more run-ins with Korean ajumas during my time here. Personally I enjoy their cantankerous old lady shtick, so I’ll continue to accept my sweets, pats, shoves, and tellings-off with a smile.

I’m here!

21 Feb

I wrote this blog post last night, so please adjust accordingly for time! I only got the internet working today.

I arrived in South Korea yesterday after a day spent on two planes (one for about 4 hours, the other for about 9 and a half hours) and a three hour coach journey. Today I have been very jet lagged, feeling queasy and tired as I fight my body over when it’s time to eat and sleep. It’s been a difficult day but hopefully tomorrow will be better. I’ve never experienced jet lag before, even when flying to Malaysia, so I’m confident that it won’t last for long.

The trip was easy, really. I did cry a bit though. I was so tired from not being able to sleep the night before, and feeling stressed out and scared about my big adventure that it was all quite overwhelming. I was still determined to go, though, and jump right into this crazy, ill-thought-through decision to come to Korea to teach. I reasoned that if you can move to another country for a year for the first time, to start a job you’ve never done before, and you DON’T freak out, then you’re clearly a robot (and I’m sure Asimov would agree).

So far we spent today being introduced to the EPIK programme and the training we’ll be having here at Jeonju University. The university has the cutest slogan – Jeonju University: The Place For Superstars. We are staying on the university campus in dorms which sleep two to a room. I’m sharing with a lovely Canadian girl, and across the hall are a young British couple who are really nice too. Making friends over dinner in the canteen is pretty weird – it feels like a weird mix of holiday camp and early days of university when you really wanted to make some friends. I can’t say I have any proper buds yet, but everyone is really chatty and friendly, and the British guys across the hall are going to Busan too so I’m hoping they’ll want to stay in touch and not just keep to themselves.

Today had a traditional entertainment display featuring some drumming, a fan dance and an amazing tae kwon do demonstration from the university team, who were spectacular. The choreographed 7 on 1 fight scene to some metal music, and the smashing of boards with feet, was only bested by the dance party finish where the team body-popped to “Every Day I’m Shuffling” (or whatever that song is called), and they were finally aloud to smile. The kids were both adorable and terrifying – they were so serious whilst yelling and smashing things and leaping about like angry cats, and then so cute and chipper when dancing across the stage to take their bows!

Tomorrow I get a chance to try out tae kwon do for myself, as well as having some TEFL-type lectures and some basic Korean lessons. That’s the format for the next two days (Tues and Weds) and then we have a field trip to try out some traditional Korean crafts, and learn a bit more about the history and culture of the country.

My schedule here is pretty tight with lessons up until about 8.30pm, but I will try to figure out the weird internet security and get this posted tomorrow evening. I am surprised that the university security means we can only connect to the internet via cable. So old school for the land of the super fast internet!

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