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!

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The Winds of Change Blow Again

When Kris and I returned to Korea, we were simply expecting to have a relatively quiet couple of weeks, with Kris finishing off the last few weeks of her old school year and myself quietly waiting to start a full-time position at the academy that I was working at. All we were planning on doing was coasting until the new school year, where Kris would resume her position at her old school and I would move from part-time to full-time. That was the plan. That was not at all what happened.

In the days following our arrival, Kris did some serious thinking about her job at the time. She considered all of the extra hours and effort that she put in to her work, with no notice from the school. She was feeling unappreciated and undervalued. She expressed this to her liaison to the school, and even wrote and signed a letter saying that if the school continued to treat her merely as a resource, she would not re-sign her contract. The school accepted this decision. Kris was out of a job, and we thrust ourselves into the job market once more.

After frantically ravaging Facebook’s various Korean job boards and groups for a few days, a friend connected us with an employer that would offer Kristen shorter hours for higher pay than she received last year. She jumped at the opportunity. This meant that we were moving from Wonju to Seoul, Korea’s capital and largest city. As for myself, I followed a couple of leads towards a communications company where I might have a chance to do editing or writing work. Sadly, those opportunities didn’t work out. I was disappointed, but soldiered on. I decided to work with the same company that Kristen had signed on to. The shorter hours would mean that I would still have time to write and pursue my hobbies, while retaining a full-time paycheck and a visa.

Once our jobs were settled, we hunted for houses, settling on a slightly expensive but very modern and wonderful apartment. We are now two minutes away from two subway lines, with a 10-minute walk to a third. There is even a gym in the building, to help me work off the weight I put on eating all of the food in South Africa.

A slow running down of the clock may have turned into a panicked search for new opportunities, but Kris and I are optimistic about the change. It will be an experience to live in Seoul, and hopefully our positions work out for us. We start our contracts shortly, so we will soon see whether we jumped out of a cozy nest into the lion’s den, or whether we simply upgraded into a job that is better for both of us.

One Month in Wonju: Achievements and Goals

Kris and I have now spent one entire month living in the lovely, pokey town of Wonju. In our time here, we’ve done a bunch of stuff that I am proud of. On the other side of the coin, there are a whole lot of things that I would like to get done in the remainder of our time here, however long or short that may be. Here are five goals that I feel are most necessary to aim for in the coming months, and five achievements that Kris and I have made, in no particular order.

Goals

1.) I need to be far more pro-active in the mornings. Now that I have a more flexible job (see the achievements below), I need to make more effective use of my time. Whilst playing games is great and all, I need to start doing it on stream and creating content.

2.) I want to be able to play one more point of Ultimate Frisbee between each rest point. Currently I feel that my fitness levels are limiting my play, and I am sick and tired of feeling this way.

.3.) I should probably wear pants more around the house in the mornings.

4.) I want to find at least one paying Esports writing job, be it a once-off article or a recurring contract, in the next 4 months. Gotta start somewhere.

5.) I want to keep enjoying life as much as I have in the last month!

Achievements

1.) Kris and I (almost entirely Kris) organised an Ultimate Frisbee team in Wonju, and successfully got most of the team to our first week of games.

2.) Kris and I both managed to renew our ARCs, so we can legally stay in Korea for another year. The details may be written in permanent marker, but apparently they’re legit!

3.) I managed to secure myself a great, flexible part-time job. It gives me time to write, and lessens my time with kindergarten children. My sanity is closer to normal levels than it was last year.

4.) Kris and I have extensively cut down on the amount of cold drink (soda for my American readers) that we drink. It was largely an unconscious decision, as buying soda just never settled into our Wonju shopping routine. However, when we noticed this, we decided that this is a good thing and haven’t bought cold drink for our house since. We might have a can or two when out and about though, but nowhere near the three 1.5-litre bottles that we were drinking every week.

5.) I have begun writing for GosuGamers.net with regularity again. During the move, I wasn’t able to write a piece for them for weeks. Now, I’ve done two this week already. I want to write more in order to get more exposure, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Overall, it’s been a stellar month. Whether it’s because we’re not nearly as overwhelmed by the newness that governed our teaching experiences last year, whether we’re part of a better community, or maybe because we’re honestly just enjoying ourselves more readily, Kris and I have had a good time of it in our first month in Wonju. Here’s to many more!

7 Weeks, 7 Lessons

On the 29th of February, Kris and I will finish our first year-long teaching contract in Korea. I cannot believe that time has flown by so fast. It seems like only a few weeks ago when we stepped off of the plane and were swept into an ominous black taxicab. We feel like we’ve known some of our friends here for many years already. And yet, it still feels like we are incredibly new to both teaching and Korea in general. With only seven weeks remaining until we leave Dongtan and start the next chapter of our adventure, here are seven things I have learned in my time in Korea so far.

1.) No matter how far away from each other you are, family and friends stay together. Whether we have brief discussions and catch-up sessions via Skype, post meaningless links to each other on Facebook, or get together on grand trips to Australia, it is very easy to keep in touch with one’s family and friends.

2.) Moving away teaches you who your true friends are. It is very easy to maintain friendships when those who you feel are close to you are within close proximity. When you are on the other side of the world, with a time difference of seven hours, and plans need to be made to communicate, it reveals who is willing to take the effort to do so. Some people you chat to on a constant basis. Others you don’t even need to do that much.

3.) Non-verbal communication is extremely powerful. You are trying to buy an incredibly necessary item. The shopkeeper and yourself do not share a common language. You awkwardly flail your hands in what you hope is close enough to an accurate depiction of your necessity. The shopkeeper smiles eagerly. They take you to something completely opposite to what you intended. You wince, smile nervously, and try again until you get it correct. Moments like that help you observe that communication goes so much further than words.

4.) Cleaning cat litter on a daily basis is far cleaner and easier than doing so on a weekly basis. Not to mention cleaner, quicker, and far less smelly.

5.) Coming home and trying to write (or otherwise pursue ones hobbies) is tiring, but rewarding. After nine hours of herding small children in the general direction of education, the idea of performing actions that require further effort is not a pleasant one in the slightest. However, I have produced some of my best work (including the majority of these blog posts) in the evenings after teaching. Sometimes, you just have to do what has to be done. It is worth it in the end.

6.) Cats like nothing more than destroying things. In the time that we have played housekeeper to our two lovely furry babies, our apartment has taken a bit of a beating. They have clawed much of the upholstery. They have removed a panel from underneath the sink. They have scratched the side of our wooden cupboard in their constant jumping atop of it. And they have looked adorable throughout all of it. Annoyingly so.

7.) Things that would be impossible alone are within your reach if you have good support. Neither Kristen nor myself would be here without each other. I would never have gathered the motivation to complete all of the admin necessary to reach Korea. Kristen would have left within the first month without my moral support. I would not have had the courage to move to part-time employment (to focus on my writing and Dota-related endeavours) without Kristen’s reassurances. Together, we are far stronger than we are alone.

I have grown more in this year than I have in a long while. It has not been easy, but with Kristen’s help, I have managed to try and follow my dreams. In the coming months, my pursuit of Internet notoriety will intensify. For now, I am trying to savour the last few days with my current children. They aren’t making it easy – they’re being particularly rowdy and disruptive – but time is passing faster than ever. I can’t wait to see what the future will hold.

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.