Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rafting, Etc.

This weekend I went river rafting with some friends. There is a website called Adventure Korea that offers affordable (usually) short excursions around South Korea for various activities. I got up a little after 4 on Saturday to make sure that I would be ready by our 4:50 meet time, after which we would head to the subway and make our way to Seoul.

The whole way into the city I was worried we weren't going to make our bus. One of the girls got stuck at the gate into the metro because she didn't have enough money on her card, and while she added credit to it we missed the first train (which should have gotten us to our destination about 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time of 7:15 am). I guided our group through the subway system (not hard) and luckily we made it to the bus at about 6:58. As it turns out the bus didn't leave till about 7:10, so we would have been fine.

After a few stops and a few hours later, we arrived at the Hantan river and separated into our groups. Fortunately, one of the guys in our group spoke passable Korean, and so he could translate when English failed our guide. We learned how we should float down the river, should we be tossed overboard in the "dangerous" rapids, and then set out.

I swear, we were about par for the course in hitting rocks and getting stuck. Our guide was a sweetheart, so she was easily forgiven, but it was a little annoying. The "rapids" were very tame, and for the most part it was just a trip down the river with occasional opportunities to get out and swim. At one point there was a cliff you could jump off, but the Adventure Korea staff refused to let us saying that people had died there before because some places are more shallow than others, while we watched a Korean tour group jump off one after another.

It was all OK though, because it was still a really good time and a nice change from the usual routine of going out to bars on Friday and Saturday.

After rafting we had a very decent lunch and then travelled to a bungy jumping area. It looked really fun, but I just didn't want to spend the money (35,000 Won) to wait in a two hour line for a 3 second jump and a minute of hanging upside down. Instead I basked with some friends in the shade under the bridge, laughing at the girls who screamed hilariously all the way down.


Work has been good so far. I'm getting into the groove of things, but I'm a little annoyed at how challenging it is to prepare a lesson that is even slightly above average without putting hours of work in outside the office. I'm not complaining about getting work done, but I have about 12 different classes, each of which requires different prep (albeit minimal prep considering the straightforward idiot proof lesson design we're asked to follow). So it seems like a waste much of the time to prepare a genuinely good lesson, for a 40 minute class, that I'll never have another opportunity to reteach and tweak, unless I sign on for another year contract and happen to teach the exact same class with the exact some material (which always seems to be changing).

Not to mention many things that are common place in the US are challenging to make work here amidst the teaching styles these kids are used to combined with the lack of proficient English that the class needs to understand what exactly I'm asking them to do. For example, nobody ever does group work here. Ever. I don't know if it's a Korea thing or an SLP thing, but asking kids to get into groups and practice the words and phrases we've been learning can be a serious pain. They just stare blankly and say nothing to each other. I have to walk around and tap them on the shoulder and say "talk! Speak!" three or four times before they timidly roll out the phrases. The classes I've used group work with more than once are getting more used to it, so it's good to know it will take. Eventually.

So, my problem right now is demanding a high standard of behavior from my kids, while relying primarily on talking and asking for a single respondant, and writing and drawing liberally on the whiteboard. The kids who aren't getting called on sometimes start chatting (in broken English, bless them) or goofing around, and rightly so! They're bored! But I have so little time during which to teach them (usually a little less than 40 minutes), combined with the fact that, regardless of whether or not they understand a concept I have to move forward and finish a book, page for page, on schedule, makes it very difficult and seemingly a waste of time (or so I feel now) to put a considerable amount of effort into an excellent lesson.

What can I do?

What I'm considering, and I haven't figured out how yet, is adopting some sweeping behaviors and methods of presenting the information that I can use across the board in every class. That way my effort can be focused on creating a teaching and classroom style that is effective and engages everybody, not just the kid I happen to call on. If there is enough work for the day, I can break the lesson up workshop style and do some initial teaching, let them work, reel them in and reexplain and clarify, then finish work before the bell.

Ideas are more than welcome.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A little taste of culture

It was Friday night. I had been talking about going to a Norae Bong (Karaoke but in a private room with only your friends) for half the week and - I hear this happens a lot - all the morning teachers went out to dinner together and then to a norae bong without inviting the afternoon teachers. And I being new and having no phone or numbers, didn't know how to go meet up with them. I was sad but figured it wouldn't be so bad doing something else.

Tyler and I went to this Italian place near school called Basilico and met up with Shelly and Stephanie from school. We had dinner, and Stephanie texted the other group and found out where we could all meet up. I was excited.

We had a little time to kill so Stephanie and Shelly went to Home Plus to get some supplies and Tyler and I went to some batting cages a couple blocks from school. I'd never been to a batting cage, so it was pretty fun hitting 15 or so balls at a time for 500 won. There was a group of Korean guys there, goofing around, hitting the punching machine that measures your power level (I have yet to hit OVER 9000!!!), and batting. We started trading off the cage with them, and they start making fun as Tyler hits balls, yelling out "Strike!" and "Foul!" and "AHHH!" all with heavy Korean accents. They all gave him high fives and pats on the back when he came out.

We were about finished, when they handed Tyler another 500 won coin and motioned for him to bat again. He did, and then they handed me a coin and start talking excitedly. One of the guys comes up behind me and starts massaging my shoulders, as the whole group, in unison, starts singing the rocky theme song music. No word of a lie. I bat and do horribly, so one of the Korean guys gets up to do it and says "I immitate" and does this goobery little version of me hitting balls.

Soju commercial - hilarious

One of the guys with them spoke enough English to get by with us, and asked where we were going next. We told them, and they invited us to come out with them instead and get drinks. How could we refuse?

They took us to a little place where they ordered a couple plates of appetizers (a fruit plate and a plate with warm kimchi and tofu, then some shoestring french fries or "French potatoes" as one of the guys said, trying to explan) and seven bottles of Soju by the end of it. Soju is a Korean alcoholic drink that is almost as cheap as water, .

All the guys we went out with were a range of ages from 24-32 Korean age (You turn 1 when you're born, then age another year at the new year. Your actual birthdate doesn't factor into Korean age). I wish I knew all their names but I only remember Ji Hoo because he's the only one who made a big deal out of us learning it.

We learned a bit about Korean drinking customs, for instance when you pour you should put your free hand to your chest just below the shoulder joint, almost in your arm pit, and you should always serve from eldest to youngest in descending order out of respect. And you never pour your own drink. Some of the guys would put a finger in another person's shot glass (you drink soju shots, though not always all in one gulp) to see if there was any liquid left in the bottom, I assumed because if there is, it is a sign that they do not want to continue drinking.

We basically had a roudy good time, trying to communicate and pantomiming everything we couldn't get across in language. They all want to go out to Hongdae, a district in Seoul, and also want to play basketball, and one guy wants to spar with me in Judo.

After drinks, we all went to a norae bong so I could experience it for the first time. These guys had work the next day, and stayed out with us till almost 2 am (one guy passed out at the table at the soju place and everybody put him in a cab and sent him home, and another couple were passing out on couches at the norae bong). They didn't have a lot of conventional western songs at the norae bong, but they did have things that you would NEVER find in the states, like Avantasia and, most importantly, FULL MOON BY SONATA ARCTICA!

I sang my little heart out on that song. I haven't tried speaking this morning but I imagine it won't work out so well. We parted with them amidst numerous promises to e-mail and call as soon as we get phones. I hope we hang out with them again. That is how I'll have good opportunity to practice Korean.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Today was my first day being fully in charge of classes. I was nervous for the first couple but by the final few classes of the day, I was fine. It was really easy to slide back into the old student teaching groove and even to let loose.

It could just be that, because I'm a new teacher and a male in a very male dominated society (I will accept that as a potential factor in management and respect HERE in South Korea), that the students are being angels while they find my weak points. Heck, it probably is that, but right now I really don't see any problems in the future coming from my kids. Reigning in the "issues" left over from the previous teacher took about 4 minutes, and was really just my introduction and institution of a few rules. These kids are wonderful, thus far.

A few hiccups today. The kids in my very first class were supposed to be issued new books, but they hadn't been, so when I asked them to take out their books they go "Teacher! No book!" and I even checked a couple back packs to make sure they weren't lying. So, they got off without homework today.

Another class, when I opened up the books and lesson plans that were made for me today (my first few weeks of lesson plans were laid out by my supervisors, a few were made by me, but that's just how they do it here at first) the class had already done the work for today. In fact, they had it done for the next three weeks of plans in the book. So...we played hangman, I worked on learning their names, and we made a one word story where I wrote out their poor grammar and we corrected it all as a class.

My last class of the day we had no clue what to do with, except that they worked out of a particular book. Fortunately they're the highest level of students at this hogwan (private school) - 8th grade, approximately - and they told me where they were and what they needed to work on.

Some goof ups, but none of it was my fault so I'm not too worried. We straightened it all out, so it should be fine from here on out...hopefully.

Tomorrow I have what the previous teacher called her worst class. They've seemed like pretty solid kids to me, but we'll see how it goes. Awesome.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

How Embarrassing

A short, goofy anecdote.

I was shopping at Home Plus, looking for an air mattress so I could stay the night at a friend's place in Seoul. I got what I wanted and was headed down to grab a bite before heading back home. Now, in Home Plus there are three floors and in order to go between floors you ride an escalator-ramp. Genius Korean engineers designed these escalators to keep you from crushing somebody or being crushed by your shopping cart as you go up or down. The cart locks into the grooved floor and you sit back and wait till you get to the end.

Grace told me that during the summer, very often escalators will shut down because people's sandals get trapped in the works and clog the whole thing up. I noted it, but thought nothing more on it.

Coming down with my air mattress, feeling especially efficacious due to my flawless ability to hand a cashier my wares and hand her more money than I know the items cost, I saw a small commotion in front of me at the bottom of the escalator-ramp. A girl seemed to trip slightly, no big deal. Except she didn't move away after recovering. Instead she starts talking and pointing at the base of the ramp, and there was her tiny sandal, wedged in the machine where it goes under the floor.

I moved aside to avoid the sandal, but the kid pushing a cart in front of me was completely unaware. His cart ran into the sandal and bunched it up into an effective rubber break. The cart stopped completely, but the escalator kept on moving under it. The first the kid knew of the whole deal was the cart trying to cram itself inside his chest and his feet still trying to move forward under it all. Reacting quickly and using my super human American strength, I picked up the front of the cart so it could move forward, freeing the kid, and then picked up the back end to get it off the escalator.

I did one good deed, it felt like the right time to cap it off with another. I reached down and attempted to wrench the sandal out of the works. While I focused, an old man coming down the escalator just barely noticed me, and started to backpedal in order to keep from falling over me. So here I am, surrounded by Koreans on an escalator covered in shoppers that isn't about to stop, trying to pull a sandal out that is only going to cause more problems. And like Lennie in Of Mice and Men, instead of doing the smart thing and letting go, I just pulled harder on the sandal instead of getting out of the older man's way. I tore the whole thing in half. Looked at the girl who it belonged to, told her in English, stupidly, that her sandal was stuck, and got the hell out of there.