Tag Archives: teaching

Teacher’s Dinner 2 – The Return

6 Nov

Teacher’s dinners are always an interesting experience. At my school only a few teachers can speak any English, and of those only a few want to speak to me. Usually I end up with one co-teacher who will occasionally speak to me, and then I just kind of eat and nod and smile and get accidentally kind of insulted (“she’s very quiet” one teacher accused me, in Korean, via my co-teacher, frowning at me) and often very confused (“would you like a drink? How about a coke?”  *co-teacher says something in Korean behind her hand whilst pointing at me* *everyone laughs*). It’s also a good opportunity to bond with the staff – I usually make a few jokes and eat my way through the meal valiantly enough to make a decent impression.

Tonight my teacher’s dinner involved two things that surprised me:

1) We were eating at a shabu shabu restaurant. This is a type of meal where a boiling pot of water is put in the middle of the table, and a lot of raw food is brought out for you to throw in. Like fondue without the cheese. Our shabu shabu had beef and a massive platter of interesting-looking seafood. I’m not a huge seafood fan – I like fish and prawns but that’s pretty much where I stop. Our platter incorporated a whole octopus. An octopus I’d assumed was dead. Oh no. My co-teacher dumped the motionless octopus into the water, and it immediately started writhing around whilst she used the tongs to push it’s tentacles under water. I wasn’t expecting this, and must have made an obviously shocked/confused/terrified expression because one by one, my colleagues began to laugh.

Maybe it was the effect of the accumulative laughter (there are always so many awkward “I know you’re talking about me” moments at these things that seem to involve Koreans laughing at me) but something in me said you have to eat this octopus. You may remember my feelings on the be-tentacled sea creatures that make their way onto my plate. If you don’t, check out my previous post “Ten Tips on How to Survive Korean School Lunches“. Regardless of the horror, I severed some barely-boiled tentacles with the scissors at our table (in Korea you get scissors not knives) and chowed down. Afterwards I felt a kind of weird, manic glee. I felt like Ozzy Osbourne post-bat. I had WON the dinner!

No one else cared.

2) The second surprising occurrence happened in the car as one of my co-teachers was giving me a lift home. He was chatting to me about missing my previous co-teacher and friend (who left for another school) and lamenting that he felt bad for not finding more time to talk to me at work. He asked me if I would be staying another year, and I said that I wanted to go home. He expressed the usual surprise at this answer (although on a one year contract I’m sure many teachers don’t intend to stay long-term) but then said “I’m sorry you’re leaving. You are a good teacher. I like your lessons a lot. I hope you will teach in your country because you will be a great teacher, I’m sure.”

I nearly had a heart attack. Feedback! Positive feedback! Feedback is like gold dust in Korea – it’s not in the culture, seemingly, to make a big deal about commenting on work performance. I know one of the things I’ve struggled with is a lack of performance reviews and support about the actual teaching aspect of my job. If I ask for feedback I often get a smile and something evasive. I learned not to take this too personally, but it can be demoralising when the only feedback you get is negative comments from your Vice Principal (which is what I usually get) about things that have nothing to do with your teaching. It reinforces to me the idea that I’m really only set dressing for the school – I’m here to make them look good, but not to do any actual teaching. It’s a little frustrating. So to actually hear that one of my co-teachers is happy with the way I teach his classes? Made me ridiculously happy.

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Procrastination is a swamp, social media sites are the R.O.U.S

31 Oct

Wow, I’ve been really bad at updating this bad boy, huh? Hardly surprising, given that I am the Queen of Procrastination. I’m so lazy that if there was a competition for procrastinating, I would probably have a nap and then forget about it.

Actually, terrible jokes aside, motivation is something that I really struggle with. When I was at university I used to write quite close to my deadlines, although when it came to my dissertation I actually managed to hand it in early – printing it out at the library and stepping over piles of huddled, crying students as I left. Then post university my motivation has been slowly draining away, until I find it hard to do work without an imminent deadline. I often leave my lesson planning until the last minute to finish – spending ages making minor changes to a power-point and then finally doing the majority of the work the Friday before I have to teach it. I sometimes plan after school classes the same day as I teach them in an attempt to motivate myself with a rapidly approaching deadline.

At this job, my procrastination is made all the more obvious by the amount of free time I have. I teach four 45 minute lessons a day and run a lunchtime “English cafe” (i.e. open classroom) for half an hour. I have three free periods every day to plan, prepare my materials, and generally sit at my desk. That’s nearly 2 ½ hours a day. I barely manage to finish my lesson planning in that time, and rarely manage to do much else constructive. I usually fritter away the hours on various blogs and social media sites. When I get home, I do more of the same until 6ish, when I generally eat dinner (or go out in search of food) and then I put on the TV. And that’s it until bed! 

I need to recondition myself into making better use of my free time. Maybe the reason I’ve not been able to do it since I left university, is that university was the last time I was spending all my time and energy on something I wanted to do, and enjoyed – studying literature. I want to start my own business when I go home to England, and only work part-time to pay the rent, but this is going to require a lot of self-motivation. I’m sick of feeling so lazy all the time, and I’m sick of losing hours to Facebook.

To this end, I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo this year. For the next month I’m going to try to cut out (or at least down on!) my internet-based procrastination, and my TV watching, and write 50,000 words instead. I’m hoping that the idea of failing, the tight deadline, and the powerful motivator of shame, will help me get some of my old energy back. I used to write for fun when I was a student, in between reading for fun, reading for university, and writing essays. And working part time! If 21-year-old-me could do it, then 27 year-old-me can do it to.

Wish me luck. As the Koreans would say- fighting!

Oh, and congratulations if you got the reference in the title. I’m officially crushing on you a little bit right now.

Top 5 Confusing Korean Compliments

27 Aug

I was going to update you on my summer, but I actually don’t know where to start. I’ve left it a little bit too long and I have so much I want to say that I think that, actually, I’m not going to say anything at all. I’ll leave the summer for now, and come back to that once my friends upload their photos (I am a terrible photographer – I mostly just forget to take photos, or am too lazy or embarrassed to get my camera out. Especially when everyone else is snapping away!)

It’s the first week of the new semester and I’m sadly not filled with the renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm that I had secretly been hoping for. Instead, I just feel a little bit homesick and a little bit tired. I’ve been in Korea six months as of August (man, that’s flown by!) and I really miss my friends and family. I also miss being able to make decisions about my future, long-term. Living in another country temporarily means I am always thinking about things that I want to do, or make, or own when I get back because there’s no way of doing those things now. Does that make sense? I miss making plans, and starting on projects, and a feeling of stability.

I’m sure these feelings will pass, though, once I get really stuck in to the new semester. I still have plenty of things I want to do and experience here in Korea, and a load of wonderful friends to spend my time with. It really makes a huge difference to know so many people who are incredibly easy to be around. It also makes a huge difference that it’s now raining! If anything could make me feel happily at home again it’s rain. Ah, England. I miss your grey skies, wet days, and cool winds now that I’ve endured endless weeks of heat and humidity. A typhoon is due to hit Korea (only glancing Busan, I’m told by my students, who are mostly upset that this means school won’t be cancelled) this week, so that should bring a little change. Hopefully it won’t do too much damage as it passes over.

My students seem to feel much the same as I about the new semester. They’re unhappy about the shorter summer vacation (shortened from last year to make up for the loss of Saturday classes) and seem tired, but they also seem to be seeing me with a renewed fascination leading to a barrage of observations that resembles their curiosity from the very start of the year.

Let me give you my top 5 confusing “compliments” from my Korean students (I say “compliments” because I’m not sure if some of these aren’t just descriptions!):

5) “Teacher! Small face!”

My small face. Photo by Maddie Lamb

This is something most Westerners hear from their students and hairdressers, and something that confuses us all no end. What does it mean? Well, students often couple it with a raised fist, or a circle made from hands that they squeeze down around their own faces. Does that help? They think the typical Korean face is quite round with small features and they strive to make their faces look smaller as a result. With my middle school kids this mostly means big blunt fringes. Personally I can’t really see what they’re talking about most of the time, but I am repeatedly told that my face is small and that this is a good thing.

4) “Teacher, so tall. Good ratio.”

Ratio is another thing that confuses Westerners. My kids like to pinch my head from a distance and try to work out how many heads they can fit into my body length. Apparently being tall with a relatively small head (giving you a high ratio of head to body height) is a good thing, and something that Koreans strive to achieve through the use of high heels for women and lifts (a sort of wedge inside the shoe that acts like a high heel – usually seen in high top trainers and boots) for both women and men. It’s basically like worrying that you’re too short, but with added maths. You can read some things about ratios and other aspects of the Korean beauty ideal here: http://www.teamliquid.net/blogs/viewblog.php?topic_id=321767

3) “Turn and let me take a picture of your nose.”

My students like my nose. There’s a lot of plastic surgery in Korea, and getting a bridge built up on your nose (so it resembles my Western nose rather than the generally low-bridge of the typical Korean nose) is a popular surgery here. I guess that’s not surprising – I think nose jobs are pretty popular back home too!

I was once sitting in my classroom at lunch time chatting to some of my students when a girl tried to get me to turn sideways, holding her camera phone up at my face. I didn’t understand, so in exasperation she asked her friend to distract me. The second girl ran in front of me and started jumping about going “Teacher! Teacher!” to get me to turn my head, and when I did the first girl took a photo of my nose in profile. “Very good nose, teacher. I will buy,” she told me, very seriously, afterwards.

2) “Your hair, teacher. Original?”

Korean middle schoolers have to obey strict school rules about their appearance. The one that seems to upset the girls the most is the hair rule, which states their hair must be less than 10cm below the ear and straight. Some girls cut their hair shorter with special dispensation (presumably their parents have to argue their case) but most sport a shoulder length bob, with or without a fringe. Their hair is uniformly dark brown or black, and they cannot dye it. I have naturally wavy hair which I dye unnatural colours, and let grow as long as I can. My students are very jealous, and every alteration or new hairstyle is scrutinised in great detail. They were convinced I must have a perm for a very long time. They even seem enchanted by the frizz I’ve been sporting in this heat – apparently it makes me look like Hermione.

1) “You look like…”

I hear the name “Emma Watson” at least three times a day.

What do these women have in common? Anne Hathaway, Keira Knightly, Emma Watson, Kristen Stewart, a young Catherine Denevue? They’re young, they’re white, they’re skinny, and they look like me, according to my students and fellow teachers. Emma Watson is the one I get the most, although I’ve been told that from drunk Brits at times (I blame it on the frizzy Hermione hair). Sometimes a particular hairstyle will lead to an accusation of “Bella Swan, teacher!”. When a Korean teacher told me I looked like a young Catherine Denevue, however, my Korean friend considered this and then said “I think all Westerners look the same to some Koreans.” Hopes dashed.

Ten Tips on How to Survive Korean School Lunches

27 Jun

I love school lunch at my public school in Busan, South Korea. I stuff my face with pretty much everything on offer, much to the amusement of my Korean colleagues who I’m told “like someone who eats well, so they like you”. The self-serve buffet of steaming deliciousness is not without its pitfalls, though. Luckily for you, I’m here to give you the benefit of my wisdom. Bear this advice mind, should you ever find yourself working as an English teacher in a Korean public school. Complete with unnecessary footnotes.

 

1) Beware of unfamiliar foodstuffs.

It may sound obvious, but it’s an important thing to remember. When you’re starving and all around you children are stampeding* to get to wherever it is they eat like the herd of Gallimimus that nearly take out Sam Neill in Jurassic Park**, it’s tempting to get over-excited. You want to load up your tray with generous helpings of everything. This is a mistake.

Some of the unfamiliar items I’ve enjoyed at lunch include acorn jelly in soy sauce, some kind of fragrant leaves in red pepper paste, dried anchovies (more on these later) and some kind of root vegetable that looks like coral crossed with a slice of brain. These now rank as the most delicious things on the menu, but they taste unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten***. In the early days, you need to become accustomed to new tastes, and show your colleagues that you enjoy Korean food. The latter is especially important if they don’t speak much English, as food, and your enjoyment of it, will become your main form of communication with them. It’s best to take a little of everything, and clear your plate. This way you’ll look appreciative, and know what you enjoy and what you don’t when these things appear another day. 

Acorn jelly is actually quite nice. Photo from http://www.maangchi.com

2) Beware of familiar foodstuffs.

Every GET here has a horror story about a food item that looked friendly, but turned out to be something completely different. The obvious example to be cautious of is anything bread-crumbed and in nugget form. It might be delicious chicken. It might be prawn. It might be a fish-cake. It might be squid. It might be something totally unidentifiable. Don’t relax and load up your tray just yet, my friend. Especially if any of those items sound like something you don’t want to eat. Leaving a few leftovers is usually fine, but turning your nose up at an extra large helping you served yourself? Bad plan.

This rule applies to Korean items you think you recognise. Allow me to give an example. I hate squid and octopus (a big problem in Busan, whose streets are literally swimming with seafood) but I love vegetables. There is a dish composed of strips of a pale item in sticky orange sauce. This is variously cabbage, squid, or reconstituted fish. I can genuinely only tell which I have on my plate by the texture. It’s the Russian Roulette of food.

 

3) Beware the stealth tentacles.

As I previously mentioned, I don’t like cephalopods. Something about the texture of a tentacle upsets me. The idea of popping a whole baby octopus into my mouth makes me shudder. I’m not a fussy eater, and I enjoy fish, but these guys just squick me out. Since arriving in Busan I have discovered that people are actively hiding tentacles in my food. Often they appear in pajeon, a delicious Korean pancake filled with vegetables, sometimes prawns, and the occasional waving squid arm. Soup is another excellent tentacle hiding place. If you dare to stir up the sleeping miniature krakens at the bottom of your soup bowl, don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

The terrifying waving tentacles of doom. Picture by etheralmoor on deviantART.

4) Kimchi is your friend.

Kimchi, the ubiquitous fermented cabbage**** smothered in red pepper paste, is an acquired taste, present at every meal. Literally every meal. I’ve recently learned to appreciate its angry red presence at school lunches, because nothing will hide or alter the taste of something gross better than kimchi. Soup a little bland and salty today? Throw in your kimchi, stir it up, and you instantly have a tasty chilli pepper soup to dip your rice in. Reconstituted meat patty complete with grisly bits got you down? Load it on your spoon with some rice and kimchi and you’re good to go. Nothing at lunch except waving purple tentacles, taunting you with their creepy little rubbery suckers? Rice and kimchi, kimchi, kimchi.

 

5) I hope you like rice.

Rice is the other thing, alongside kimchi, that comes with every meal. Rice stops the spicy chilli that often appears in Korean dishes from blowing my head off every lunch time. It’s a Korean lunch flak jacket, that protects you from all the fearsome foodstuffs aiming to tear apart your innards. Please excuse that metaphor, but as an IBS sufferer, sometimes that’s exactly what eating feels like to me. Getting used to a new style of cooking is difficult for everyone, not just those with already grumpy guts. Rice is a good way of easing yourself into Korean food. If you’re fussy, it’s your safe option. If it’s too bland, try dipping spoonfuls in your soup. Don’t worry about eating it with chopsticks – the Korean sticky rice is difficult to get OFF your chopsticks, so you’ll have no problem shovelling it down.

Oh yes, soup. That’s the other thing that comes with every meal. I love soup, even if it’s just as a flavouring for my rice. Keep your eyes peeled for the kimchi soup options – these are generally delicious.

 

6) I hope you like chilli paste.

Korean food is quite spicy. That’s not to say it’s always spicy – some days there’s nothing spicy on my tray but the kimchi. You do get used to it, and there is always a non-spicy option, even if it is just plain rice. Be warned though, if you hate spicy food you’ll be missing out on the best of Korean cooking.

If like me you don’t mind spicy food, then you can relax. Koreans will generally wave you away from anything they consider too spicy, or at least warn you before you shovel a great, heaped spoonful into your mouth. For many foreigners in Korea this can get pretty frustrating, especially when every time you eat anything spicy your Korean colleagues coo in amazement, or restaurant owners try to stop you ordering your favourite dish. Just shrug it off. Koreans are proud of their food, and they will be proud of you for enjoying it. The only thing to watch out for is the runny nose – blowing at the table is a no-no (in fact any indiscreet public nose blowing is frowned on) but wiping with a tissue is completely fine. Be warned that Koreans don’t tend to drink water whilst they eat, so if you have a spice overload, chomping some plain rice is the only fast relief available. With that in mind, always save some rice until you’ve tried everything on your tray. Trust me, it’s safer this way. 

Kimchi is your friend. Photo by Nagyman on flickr.

7) Try everything, no matter how disgusting it looks.*****

This was some of the best advice I received before I came to Korea to teach, and now I’m passing it on to you. I think Korean food is, for the most part, completely delicious. Sometimes it doesn’t look delicious. Sometimes it looks revolting. I suspect this is a trait of school dinners the world over. Try it. Try everything. You never know when some mulchy grey-brown goop is going to turn out to be completely heavenly. It happens. I recently discovered that pork feet are wonderfully tasty and tender, for example. The dried anchovies in particular seem to put off a lot of Westerners, who are not used to eating their food whilst their food is eye-balling them reproachfully. This is a mistake, as these sweet, crunchy, fishy little guys are really quite nice.

 

8) Don’t ask what something is until you’ve finished it.

On the same theme, if you’re eating something and you’re not really sure what it is, don’t ask. Whether you’re enjoying it or not, if you’re determined to finish everything on your tray, ignorance is bliss. My co-teacher has a tendency to lean forward with a smile when she sees me swallowing down something obscure-looking and saying with glee “do you know what that is?”. Chicken necks, pig intestines, the ever-present cephalopod threat. These things are all easier to eat when you don’t know what they are.

 

9) If you have allergies, you should probably ask what everything is.

I’m completely contradicting myself, I know, but this is important. A lot of Korean dishes seem to include some kind of seafood or nut. If you have an allergy to either of these things, you are probably better off opting out of the school lunches and bringing in your own lunch. Try it out for the first couple of days to show willing, but be prepared to eat nothing much more than plain rice.

On the other hand, I’m dairy intolerant (part of the aforementioned IBS) and I’ve found avoiding dairy remarkably easy. Following my rules about taking small portions of unidentifiable items has certainly helped, but there also isn’t the same cheese obsession here as there is back home in the UK. It used to be stealth cheese I worried about turning up in an omelette, instead of tentacles. Those were simpler times.

 

10) Monkey see, monkey do.

If in doubt about how exactly to eat something, copy your Korean colleagues. Careful observation will show how to de-bone a fish with chopsticks, or get a slab of tofu into your mouth in bite-size chunks without any ending up on your lap. Sometimes when I get particularly stuck trying to eat something, a Korean colleague will pitch in with her chopsticks and, sometimes, feed me like a baby bird. You might think this sounds demeaning, but as long as I’m eating, I’m happy to be babied.

Much of the meat served at my school is still attached to some kind of bone. This seems to be very common – for example, a lot of fried chicken pieces are just whole fried chickens hacked up. You’re likely to come across some unfamiliar bones whilst navigating your lunch. If you’re one of those people who is grossed out by bones, you’re really out of luck. Most of the time it’s impossible to prise the meat off, and you’ll see a lot of Koreans just popping the pieces in their mouths whole, and then pulling the bones out afterwards.

Your colleagues are your guide as to what is appropriate, and what the hell you’re supposed to do with these weird leaves or flimsy pastel-coloured pancakes. Smile, say “ma shee say yo” (this is delicious) and whatever you do, don’t ask what it is you’re eating.

 

Enjoy!******

 

 

Footnotes:

*I don’t use the term “stampede” lightly. I once saw my kids knock over and trample an older Korean teacher who my co-teacher had to rescue by wading in, screaming, through the tidal wave of hungry students. I clung to the wall, terrified of being flung down the stairs. Another reason why teenage girls are not to be trifled with.

**Yes, I am this much of a geek.

***Except perhaps when I was a kid and I actually ate an acorn on a dare.

****Usually, although it can be a variety of different vegetables. Radish and cucumber are the two I come across most often.

*****This doesn’t apply to steamed silkworm larvae. If it smells that bad, and some Koreans think it’s disgusting, don’t eat it. Luckily this is unlikely to show up in the school cafeteria.

******I should probably say that these are just my experiences, in my Busan public middle school. The quality of school lunches seems to vary wildly, as does the helpfulness of your co-teachers when it comes to navigating them!

Four months and counting.

20 Jun

Today marks four months that I’ve been in Korea (okay, yesterday, but I didn’t finish this post in time). For the curious, the only person who has sent me something in the post has been my mother. Where are my Crunchies and packets of strawberry laces, people?

Ahem.

This last weekend was one of the best I’ve had in Busan. It wasn’t perfect – I’ll plot my perfect weekend for you all soon, I’m sure – but it was pretty close. Let me explain.

Friday lunchtime – I’ve now finished classes for the day. Afternoon classes are cancelled one Friday a month so the students can spend the afternoon on their “club activities”. These seem to be as varied as visiting museums, practising traditional drumming, or learning Japanese. I join my contact teacher and her group – the bowling club. I spend the afternoon at a bowling alley entirely populated by students from my school (there are three or four bowling clubs in total) where I bowl with some of the girls who offer tips, and share celebratory cookies. When you’re sucking at something in Korea, people will raise their fists to you and say “fighting!” in encouragement. A lot of that happens. The girls also teach me how to say “well done!” and we accompany this with high-fives. Bowling club is awesome.

Friday evening – I head to the cinema in Nampo-dong, my nearest “centre” of the city (Nampo-dong is the old town, crammed with shops, cafes, restaurants and bars) to see Prometheus. The film is so unexpectedly and probably unintentionally weird and confusing that when it finishes, the audience bursts into spontaneous, confused laughter. Luckily I’m with a fellow geek, so we spend the evening dissecting the mess before moving on to other, equally geeky subjects (if you were going to reboot the X-Men film series, and do it right, what would you do? Is Once Upon A Time any good, even if it is feminist friendly? Does everyone worth caring about die in A Song of Ice and Fire?). We go home when we realise that it’s nearly 4am.

Saturday – I roll out of bed at 11am to stuff down a bagel before heading over to the Boys Town orphanage. I don’t know what you imagine when you read the word “orphanage” but my mind goes to a very Dickensian place. It’s always reassuring then to arrive and see kids playing on a Wii in the entrance lobby. The building has a hospital/school vibe – vaguely institutional, but not forbidding or intimidating.

Photo from Laura Teague

I join the group of younger boys (elementary school age) who are doing arts and crafts. Today we’re making shapes out of pipe cleaners. Some of the boys are very shy about speaking to foreign women, but most enjoy playing with us after a while. The kids confiscate smart phones and cameras and run around taking photos of each other. Later the visitors produce sweets and a feeding frenzy takes place – the orphans don’t get access to that much of these kinds of treats, so they get very excited about snack time.

Photo from Laura Teague

Sunday – I went to explore the UN Cemetery and the Peace Park, and the Busan Museum. The UN Memorial is a very peaceful place, dedicated to the memory of the UN troops who fought and died in the Korean war, a war which is officially still ongoing. The accompanying park is filled with families enjoying the sunshine. A stroll around was the perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon, and made me feel that I’d really managed to accomplish something cultural with my weekend for a change!

So there you go, my awesome weekend. Now I just have to find a way to match it again in a few days time!

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!

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