A Family-Filled Chuseok

For ESL teachers in Korea, Chuseok is a godsend. The variable-length break falls shortly after the start of the summer semester. It has allowed Kris and I to escape from child-induced madness for a few days every year. This year, Chuseok is even sweeter. Kris’ mother Dalene and her boyfriend Dave have visited us all the way from South Africa!

Dalene and Dave arrived last week, in the middle of our final week before Chuseok. Both Kris and I were strung out from the semester and looking forward to the visit and upcoming Chuseok break. Our batteries were drained, and we couldn’t wait to recharge. They arrived on a Saturday of an Ultimate weekend. Their first taste of Korea was the glorious insanity of a ROK-U weekend. While it wasn’t Dalene’s first time in Korea, Dave must have had a peculiar first picture of foreigners in the ROK.

In the following week, Dalene and Dave had to entertain themselves during the day. Kris and I still had five more days of child-wrangling before Chuseok. They took the Seoul city tour buses, zooting about between all the tourist attractions. In the evenings, we did our best to give Dave and Dalene a taste of Korean cuisine. We have eaten more different Korean dishes in the past few days than we had in the previous few months. By day, Dalene and Dave took in the sights. By night, we devoured our way across Seoul. There was a brief interlude in the Korean eating for a surprise birthday party for me. Kris and my friends in Seoul plotted behind my back. They gathered in secret to celebrate my birthday and that of Cam, another friend in the group. Dalene and Kris even managed to make and hide a birthday cake. I was surprised, and didn’t stop smiling the whole time at the party.

22219398_10154718180095563_33893800_o.jpg

Once we had served our last remaining time at school, we packed up and headed on a day hike of Manisan, on Ganghwa island. The tour was organised by Seoul Hiking. We stopped at various cultural points of interest before hiking the mountain itself. We saw a medieval fortress, neolithic rock structures, and a cultural market. Then it was time to lace up our shoes and tackle Manisan. It took us an hour or so to reach the top, slowed by Kris’ recovering leg and sightings of squirrels. At the top, there sat an ceremonial alter and various cultural implements. It was a meditative reward for our hour’s exercise. It was a delightful day trip.

Next, we set our sights on Busan. Kris and I have been to Busan many times, but most of our visits have been for Ultimate. We hadn’t visited Busan as tourists since our second month in Korea. We were excited to explore a place where we were far less familiar than Seoul.

Our first destination in Busan was BIFF square, a massive street market. Like Myeongdong in Seoul, we wandered between the food carts and storefronts. We took in the wares and eats on sale. The selection rivaled that of Myeongdong, particularly in the food department. We ate Turkish kebabs and rolled ice cream, and bought more than we probably should have.

Our next major highlight was Gamcheon Culture Village. A large suburb in the hills on the edge of Busan, Gamcheon is a hub of shops and artists. It is famous for being mostly comprised of small, single-storey houses. This is in contrast to other areas, where houses are rare but apartment complexes litter the land. We thoroughly enjoyed walking among the colourful houses. We read stories of the area’s history and marveled at the artwork displayed in the streets.

22219236_10154718180200563_1555552732_o.jpg

Our last two days in Busan were mostly spent in the Haeundae area. The only major excursion not in this area was to Busan Tower, the beautiful building featured at the top of this piece. In Haeundae, we first visited Busan Aquarium, where we saw, amongst many other marvels, otters being fed. Kris squealed in delight at their cuteness. After leaving the aquarium, we walked the streets once more. We explored the hills on the edge of Haeundae’s famous beach. Then, we lazed about on the beach, reading books and taking in the beauty of the area. It was a good way to refresh our bodies after the running around that we had done in the previous few days.

22290732_10154718180190563_1249144397_o.jpg

Dalene and Dave’s time in Korea is drawing to a close. They leave on Friday afternoon, leaving only one more full day to show them what Korea’s got. Kris and I adore having family visit, as showing them what we love about Korea reminds us as well. Our hearts will be heavy when we say goodbye to them, but we will treasure the memories of the things we saw when we were all together. We will go forward refreshed and ready to face the months ahead.

Advertisements

Week One, Take Three

Eight days ago, I started my new contract in Seoul, after the chaos that was packing up our Wonju house and leaving for the big city. Some of the few things that I knew about the job included that I would be teaching five different levels of kids for at most five hours per day, and that I would have a Korean teacher to assist me for the first time. Although this meant many more working hours per week than 2016, it was a far better arrangement (time-wise, at least), than the nine-hour-per-day academy job I held in 2015. I didn’t know what the five different levels would mean – would they range from never-exposed-to-English-before to virtually fluent? I was also wary of the effect of a Korean co-teacher on the class – would they be helpful and make my life easier, or were they simply a set of eyes and ears that the school would use to keep tabs on me? In the first week, my work would go from the chaotic fog of the unknown into the comfortable familiarity of another year of teaching kids in Korea.

The first aspect of my work that I explored was the commute. Every day, I have a painless, four-subway-stop trip from our home, with a brief walk from the station to the school. Leaving the door of our apartment to reaching my classroom takes only thirty minutes – a brief commute for a city as vast as Seoul.

Upon reaching my class, I met my co-teacher. She is a lovely lady who is very capable at communicating in English. I was worried that I would constantly be piecing together what the school wanted to me, but my co-teacher instantly filled me in on the exact situation. I was relieved. The only unfortunate part is that I do not have her in my class for the whole day.

The kids came next, in five waves. Each class was more advanced than the last, although not by as much as I was hoping. Level 1 kids have had little to no exposure to English, whilst Level 5 kids are on about the same level as the mid-tier children I taught last year. My dreams of a purely conversational class where I would be exploring complex issues and fiddling with grammatical minutiae were dashed. At least they were all relatively well-behaved. The only times that I struggled were during the Level 1 and Level 2 classes. My co-teacher is not present in these classes, and they were not able to understand most of my instructions, and this frustrated both the children and myself. Of all of the levels, I’d rather have a co-teacher in lower levels (at least for the beginning), but we can’t always get what we want.

Despite some small niggles, I can see myself being comfortable at the new school. The first week was mostly spent giving children books, learning names, and playing games. Only towards the end of last week did we actually start to do any book work. Once that started, the teaching rhythm came easily. Another year, here I come!

So, I Have a New Job

After a week of unemployment, I managed to secure myself a job in Wonju. I count myself rather lucky indeed. Why? While I may still be teaching, I am doing so on much closer to my own terms than my last contract. My new job is far more suited to me for a number of reasons: it is a part-time job, I am generally teaching elementary students, and, unlike my previous contract, I will have the ability to take time off to go on holiday, cover Dota events, and generally be more flexible. Most importantly, the job will provide me with a visa to stay in Korea for another year. Having this job takes me one step closer to being able to write and create gaming content full-time. I hope that it is the next step down a road that I truly want to walk down. For now, it’s just another step.

I was put on to the job by a fellow South African who is now learning to play Ultimate in Wonju. Kris, ever concerned with my well-being and ability to be a funcitonal human being, managed to find out that the friend’s school was looking for a part-time employee to cover some classes that were currently being taught by Korean teachers. I later confirmed this with the friend, and messaged the head of the academy in hope.

I waited a few days. There was no reply. I spoke to the friend again, explaining that their boss had not got back to me. On the outside, I was playing it cool. On the inside, I was a molten, swirling mass of emotion. I really wanted the job. It sounded almost ideal for my needs. My friend politely explained that the boss was overwhelmed with the beginning of the school year, and that the boss was very keen to have me. Heartened by this news, my emotions cooled, and I began to wait once more.

A day or two later, the boss replied. She was sorry that she had not responded to me sooner, and arranged a meeting at a nearby coffee shop for the next day.

At this meeting, I was not sure who was more nervous – me or her. She seemed to be warm, kind, and thrilled at my interest to join her crew. We discussed details of the job. We drank our separate beverages. We shared a little bit of our respective life stories. After about half an hour, the meeting was done. I was to start work the next day! Whilst I was saddened that I could no longer spend my days entirely at a nearby PC room or in the house, I was happy to once again be earning an income. In my brief moment of unemployment, I felt deeply castrated by the fact that Kris would be working hard whilst I sat around in search of employment. Now, I will be able to work shorter hours without taking too much of a pay cut compared to my previous job. I am much more comfortable about the situation.

Kris and I are still in the early stages of our new start in Wonju. There are a number of significant events ahead. The Ultimate season starts soon. In about two months, the next Dota Major event will take place, which I am hoping to travel to and cover. Later today, I leave for Dubai to spend a weekend with my mother. All of these things are bright lights that we look to if we are having a mediocre, frustrating day. Around these events, we both need to work hard. And we will. We know the rewards that await us. We also know that there is one place in which we can find limitless energy – one another. Now, I must get off my lazy butt and pack. Thanks for listening. Chat again soon.

Stretched Thin

This week was another week of upturns in the outlook of our school. Several new children began class in the kindergarten section, two of which landed in my class. While this may be good for the school, it will remain to be seen whether it is good for my sanity and the dynamic within the class. On Friday I felt more tired than I had been in a long while. Having to get up and do writing yesterday felt like more of a chore than it had ever been. I have even neglected this blog for longer than I have ever done. Here’s hoping that this is not a sign for the weeks to come – I don’t want to feel completely drained of any will to do things outside of teaching.

The first new student in my class arrived on Thursday. At first, he was remarkably shy, but after a few lessons he perked up, and proved himself to be intelligent and good at almost all aspects of schooling. His writing is neat, he works well, and his phonics and grammar are up amongst the best in the class. I can see some problems coming in the future, as he is a very high-energy child who is quickly bored and does not handle boredom well. I will have to up my game when it comes to providing activities in the classroom.

The second new child arrived on Friday morning. A girl this time, she was, like the first new boy, quite shy at first. After the first lesson, she had not said anything apart from her name. The other children were even asking if she could speak. As the day wore on, she perked up a little. Her level of English is not as good as the new boy’s, but it is within the realm of possibility for their age and level of exposure to English. She tends to use Korean a fair amount and seems to require a lot of attention from me. Perhaps this will change when she bonds with the rest of the class.

Managing five children is far more tiring than managing three. Whereas I previously could trust at least one student to be able to complete the tasks that I give to them by themselves and bounce between the other two children, this will no longer be sufficient. I will have to adapt my style of teaching to better deal with the challenges of having a bigger class. Doing so is exhausting.

I woke up at 09h30 yesterday and 10h00 today, far later than I normally do, even on the weekend. Following this, I elected to laze in bed rather than do things such as writing (this blog and freelance writing) or casting. I feel a little disappointed in myself that I neglected these responsibilities. While teaching is my job for now, these activities are my avenues for the future, and I must be careful not to let the road become dusty from lack of travel. I have far to go in all of these, and not taking a few steps now may prove to be a big stumbling point in the future.

I did end up writing three articles yesterday and this post today, so it is not all doom and gloom. Apart from that, I played Dota and BioShock, watched Downton Abbey and Rick and Morty, and generally had a relaxing weekend. It was made less enjoyable by the clouds of not having done things and school on Monday hanging over it all, but it has been an enjoyable weekend nonetheless.

Now please excuse me while I enjoy the last few hours of it. How will I spend it? Hopefully with a combination of productivity and merriment. Most importantly, it will be spent with Kristen, and that is more than enough cause for me to keep smiling for the rest of the day.

Smoke and Mirrors: Open Class Starts Soon

Open class. These two words strike fear, anger, frustration, and the rest of the host of negative emotions in English teachers in Korea. Nothing seems more unnecessary than the pomp and fanfare that most schools go through to try and ensure that their current students return to their school for the next year. This sentiment is heightened when it involves actually bringing parents into the classroom to ‘show them’ how their children are ‘doing’. At our school, open classes occur next week. All of the teachers have their plans, myself included. As the time draws near, we come to see whether those well-laid plans will ever work in practice.

Open class represents an actual class as pornography represents actual human intimate relations. The parents are herded in to the classroom situation. Everyone feels a little awkward. The children demonstrate their ‘skill’ by performing the same tasks that we have rehearsed with them for the past few weeks. The parents smile, happy that their child is at a successful institution, and that they have made progress worthy of entrusting the school with their money once again. The parents leave, waving goodbye to their little angels, telling them to enjoy their day. They leave with a glow of satisfaction, pride, and with a story to tell all of their friends. In the class, we roll over and go back to normality after the brief intensity of the class.

I have been preparing my children well, but not as well as I’d hoped. We are to read a story, write answers to questions from a book, and hopefully maintain order throughout these two simple tasks. The children were initially well-motivated by the possibility of disappointing their parents should they misbehave or not perform well. Sadly, as we practice the tasks more repeatedly, they have begun to become bored. I hope to maintain a balance between comfort with the material and complacency and boredom right up until next Tuesday, when all of the work will prove to be worth it or worth nothing.

As it is my first open class, I am nervous. I hate being observed in any way, shape, or form. I am remarkably insecure. This may seem ironic, as I regularly cast my feelings in the swirling whirlpool of ideas that is the Internet for all to see. I guess I am just more comfortable with my written expression than I am with my verbal. This is odd, considering I use my mouth for nine hours per day, but only pen words for a fraction of that. That is a contradiction for another day. Right now, I have to make sure my three small children can read a basic story and answer some easily-lobbed questions that they have managed to answer repeatedly.

Open class is little more than a pantomime. We put on a show and the parents lap it up, not wanting to imagine that they are experiencing anything other than a true class. Their little angel is doing so well! It must be true. My job is to make sure that the show is a good one, with no rampant chandeliers or over-long third acts. There are only a handful of rehearsals left before the curtain raises. Let us hope that the players will be ready.

Small Change, Big Impact

We recently had a new boss arrive at our first school in Korea, vowing to make changes and improve the state of the school. Unlike the majority of such vows made in Korea, he has actually acted on them, making a number of small changes already. The most pertinent of these is a change-up to our daily schedule. Our breaks are now shorter, and we have one additional class per day. It may no be a big change, and it may have only been in effect for a couple of days, but it has already made a noticeable impact on our approach to the school day.

Previously, we started the day with a period of largely smoke, mirrors, and bovine excrement known as ‘Sharing’. This class is one that all of the teachers at our school dread, because there is literally nothing to do for it. Until now, we have gotten by, weaving vast, creative webs of time-wasting and reviewing past content. As of yesterday, there is now essentially an additional 20 minutes of Sharing, in the form of ‘Morning Circle Time’. Where did this additional class come from? Our break times. Before this week, we had 10-minute breaks between the majority of our classes, an hour for lunch, and a 20-minute break between kindergarten and elementary classes. These have been hacked to pieces. We now only have 5-minute breaks between classes, 50 minutes of lunch time, and 15 minutes between kindergarten and elementary. Again, not exactly monumental changes. But the effects that these shortened breaks have had are quite significant.

The morning classes leading up to lunch feel like they take an absolute eternity to pass, simply with the addition of Morning Circle Time. We reach our shortened lunch break feeling far more drained, and have less time to recover through consuming either home-made or restaurant-bought edible goods and talking about everything and nothing with the other teachers. We also have less time to prepare for the upcoming classes, which hurts the effort we want to put into these later classes. In ten minutes, we had time to photocopy any necessary materials, or collect things that we needed for a lesson such as Arts and Crafts. Nor do we have time to simply sit, play a silly game on our cellphones, and disconnect from teaching for a couple of minutes and recharge our batteries.

On the other hand, the classes after lunch, including elementary, pass considerably more quickly. So, once we manage to reach the milestone that is lunchtime, it feels as if the majority of the day is over, even if this is not the case. Ultimately, I am sure that these feelings are temporary, and we will adjust to the new schedule quickly. For now though, we simply have to get used to it, and it is proving more unpleasant than I had previously thought it would be.

Will these changes truly change the course of the school? Who knows. For the time being, we will simply grin, bear our slightly less energetic smiles, and do what we do every day – try to actually teach our kids something.