Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Day After

Here it is, the day after my favorite holiday of the year, and I find myself bored, alone and a little nauseas. Last night, after I finished teaching, I met with my presentation group for the class “Contemporary Issues in International Relations” and we went over a basic plan for our presentation. I say basic, because there’s still a language barrier and said barrier has been getting in the way more and more. Still I trudge along with a saying in my heart, a saying that I read on the side of a building: “Language study is a marathon, not a 100-meter dash.” Boy is that ever the case.

After spending my entire Saturday researching for my presentation and then eating a 5000 won pizza from the restaurant “Pizza School,” and after watching “The Forbidden Kingdom,” I can’t help but think back on this time spent here in Korea and wonder what it’s all been for. Why am I here? What am I hoping to accomplish? And is 1 year going to be enough time to do so? Maybe it’s the fact that since 8pm last night, the only person I’ve talked to in person was my roommate, and that was only when he came in to get his stuff together for a trip to Daegu. All I know is, here I sit, in a silent room, in Korea, 20,000 miles away from anything resembling Halloween, 20,000 miles away from anything resembling home, and I can’t help but think: Was it worth it?

Okay, maybe I’m just sad that I was so busy that I didn’t have enough time to come up with a decent costume, but anyone who’s seen my costumes over the past few years knows that they really haven’t been all that great, so that’s not really an excuse. Maybe it’s the fact that as Halloween night began, I fell asleep and then woke up early the next morning. No candy, no trick-or-treaters, no scary movies. The lamest Halloween ever. I mean, at least the one I spent in Japan, we had a costume party at the church, so that was fun. But as Korea is not a Halloween celebrating country….well, it just didn’t happen.

Well, anyway, enough of that, this blog/diary thing is long overdue. It has been 3 months since I came here to Korea, and I really haven’t posted anything for two months. That’s just shameful. And here I was all pimpin’ this page as the place to go when you want to know what Scott is up to. Wow, I doubt anyone even reads this thing anymore. Oh well, it’s cathartic and it makes it so I can look back on the days I spent here.

Basically, I got placed at Cheokgwa Elementary School (척과초등학교 for you inquisitive folks) teaching 13 hours a week. Now, originally, I signed a contract for 9 hours a week, all of which was supposed to be afterschool programs, but that changed. Yes, that’s right, it changed. Would you call it exploitation? You might.

Anyway, it works like this, I teach 6 hours of regular English during the school day, required to follow the Korea-prescribed curriculum, which I have to say is really weak. I mean, we’re doing things like, “How many cows?” In the third grade, and not the full “How many cows do you have?” Oh no, just “How many cows?” Why? Because they say that the kids won’t remember it otherwise. News Flash, the kids aren’t really going to remember it anyway. The only thing they’re really going to remember is how it felt to learn it, and whether or not the teacher was really fun. I mean, if the class basically blows, they won’t remember, but you teach them a game, you dance like a loon, and all of a sudden, they remember stuff.

But what do I know, I don’t even have a degree. Anyway, that was kinda the mentality when I started. There was this overwhelming feeling of “Who do you think you are?” when I started. Mostly, it was from the other teachers who found out that I’m still in school, and there we were, all sitting around feeling awkward while we tried to work together. That changed when two things happened: First, I went to the school’s campout activity, and Second, I started that English Living Room program.

Alright, so the campout was fun, and instead of leaving, like many of the teachers did, I stayed the entire night, coming out and talking to the kids at 2am because they were still up. The PE teacher was trying to excite them back to sleep, but all it was doing was keeping them up, so I came out and hung around, making jokes and generally giving the kids an opportunity to speak English. I think they liked it, but the most interesting thing was that I met almost all of the parents, and I taught the parents my Preposition “In, on, under” lesson :P If you are ever placed in front of 100 parents, I recommend you make sure they realize that you are much better than they are, it works, I promise. And the best part was, because I’d taught the lesson in the after school class, half of the kids sang along with the song, and showed that they were just as good as their parents…always a smart move when you are trying to prove you can do the job.

So, that leveled the playing field. Suddenly, all the parents felt as though I was a good addition to the school, and being that I am the first foreign teacher at Cheokgwa, the next batch better thank me from the bottoms of their friggin’ hearts. Good step forward if I do say so myself.

Anyway, the second thing that happened was that I started the English Living Room program. Now, this wasn’t my idea, it was the idea of the provincial office of education, and thus, got added to my hours. So, those extra 4 hours…yeah, that’s the living room. What do I do? Well, I teach the intermediate kids even more English. It’s kinda like doing a free Academy program, and basically, I teach mostly with Youtube and iTunes as my friends. We read a little from a text book, we watch Disney clips via Youtube that utilize said textbook lessons, and almost always sing a song. My goal: to instill a recognition of English as a functional language.

Now, how does this help prove my point? Because my assistant in this English Living Room is the vice principle…and the only comment he has ever made to me about my teaching style is “You are a great teacher. Organized, interesting, insightful. The kids love it, and you teach them well.” Apparently, the Provincial Office agreed, because when they came to review our school, they took Ms. Yi out of the picture and put me in as the full-on English teacher, which to them was just an easy step but has increased my work double fold. It’s a terrible time to do it, since I just finished midterms and now have a bunch of presentations and an experiment to do, but it did one thing: showed the school that this guy from the US, this undergraduate student who claims to have taught English in Japan, actually knows what he’s talking about. Since then, no comments about my experience, and the only thing I ever hear is: “HAHAHA, He’s so funny.” That’s right, successors, you better walk tall.

So, teaching has been what takes up at least 50% of my time, which means that I’m pretty much tired every night. I mean, how can someone balance a schedule like mine, making lesson plans and finding videos on Youtube, and not be tired. I joined a Hapkido dojo to lose weight and learn some gut-wrenching martial arts, but I’ve been so busy that I’ve only gone like 25% of the time. Lame. Whatever.

On top of my 13 hours of teaching (which is like 1-2 hours prep from each hour of teaching, so figure that math out) I have 13 hours of classes (and you know what they say, you should study about 3 hours per class, so mathematically speaking, we’re into 55 hours here, plus 21 for food and another 10 hours of travel time, we’re talking 86 hours at the most conservative estimate, which is more than half of the week). You add sleep and you have 84% of my week right there. So what do I do with the other 16%? Well, Hapkido is supposed to take up 2%, and now that I break it down like that, I wonder why I miss so much of it. The remainder gets lost on things like showering, talking to Marie from PSU or Tasol, a girl I’ve been hanging out with a lot, or wandering aimless trying to figure out ways to better improve myself. Oh, and then there’s church, which is 2%. Sheesh, it’s no wonder I feel incredibly busy now that I look at it in a purely numbers game. And that is with the most conservative estimate as far as lesson prep goes. I’m surprised I’m as relaxed as I am…maybe it’s all the sleep I factored in :P

Well, school is going alright. I feel as though I let things slip a little when I went to Seoul, and so I’ve been trying to play the make-up game, but since one of my professors really doesn’t like me, I’m not sure how all the grades are gonna come out. You see, this professor seems to enjoy making points, and enjoys it even more when people agree with him, even though he opens the floor for discussion or asks for opinions. I am used to the system of schooling where my thoughts may actually matter, and my experiences may hold some insight, but apparently, that doesn’t mesh well with his system, since every time I start to speak, he tried to put me on the defensive and turn my argument back upon me. It usually doesn’t work because I only like to quote things that I’ve read, so when he tries to say something like, “Don’t you think that Korea is an exception to that?” I say, “No.” and when he asks why, I say, “Well, because during that same people of time, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong grew equally as quickly as South Korea. All four of these nations are export-oriented, just like South Korea, and they were considered underdeveloped nations, just like Korea…” And blah blah blah, until he just he says he disagrees and then presents his argument against me to the rest of the class…in Korean. Jerk.

Anyway, Thomas backs up my theory that he doesn’t like me since, so I’m not just crazy. But, all I have left is a presentation, a couple of lectures and a final, so I think I’ll just tough it out. BUT, I decided to unenroll from his International Politics class next semester because I’m not a glutton for punishment. Besides, he’s got a very un-American attitude and takes a very reactionary view on the Korean economy, a view that pretty much every expert agrees is the wrong way to go about building up Korea, so I don’t really think I need to hear more from the so far right he’s left camp. And don’t even get me started on how he insulted me in front of the class on the third week, talking about how many people come to Korea to teach English who are underqualified…yeah, really? Go talk to my teachers, or my students, or their parents, or the Provincial Office if you think that this particular teacher is underqualified!!! Jerk.

Sigh, anyway, getting back to something that matters, I like my kids. I like my kids a lot. There are the annoying ones, of course, but the kids are still really cool. They’re goofy, they think I’m a giant, and overall I’m a superstar. So, like Mr. Chase back in Heber, I love my job. That’s why it’s so tempting to sign on for another year. I know I could learn Korean if I had the time, and I know that I’d love my job, but there’s the fact that I still have a lot of school left before I graduate that just solidifies the fact that staying here will not benefit me in the long run. I mean, this is all aside from the fact that I’m definitely heading home as soon as this contract is up because of Leah’s wedding, I’m not even pretending like I’m not going to that.

Lastly, and I thank anyone who’s made it this far down the page, there’s the language thing, which I talked about in the beginning. Sure I can do things like go into restaurants and order food, sure I can ask someone how much something is, but I still can’t do other basic things like ask where I can find something, if someone can help me, even find out what’s wrong with one of my closest friends. Why not? I don’t really know. It might be because I don’t have a whole lot of time to study Korean. It might be because I don’t have a whole lot of opportunities to utilize any of the Korean I do learn. It might actually be because all the Korean I ever learn is vocabulary with some very basic grammar mixed in. All of these things are adding up to become a fairly decent reason for not being able to speak the language very well. I’m just hoping that I can get enough of an understanding in before I have to go home and my opportunities to speak and use my language skills disappear.

That’s it, that’s all, that’s been the time I’ve been here. I’m sure there will be other things that I talk about in the next few weeks, like TaLK trips, the DOKDO problem that everyone keeps cramming down my throat, teaching experiences and other stuff, but for now, this blog is caught up with my life. This is a fairly basic understanding of all the things going on, all the stuff that bothers me, and even has some social commentary. But now that it’s been said, I feel better.

Happy Halloween readers. Hope your day was enjoyable.

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