Saturday, September 7, 2013

Three Weeks In

It's Saturday afternoon in Korea. I write from Holly's Coffee a nice little shop we found down the street from where we live. We have coffee. We have Wifi. We have each other. What more do we need?

We've been in Korea for nearly three weeks. One week of orientation. Two weeks in Cheongju. We like our neighborhood of Bunpyeongdong. We're finding our way around to the grocery store, the apple-stand man, a rice cake shop, a bi bim bop restaurant, and the river walk where we go jogging. At least once a day we look at each other and giggle: "We live in Korea. We're doing this!"

Jeremy and I work at different elementary schools. And even though they are only 2-3 miles apart, our schools each have about 1,200 students and 60 staff. We live in a small, but populous, country now. Our co-workers are friendly and helpful. We're settling into our routines and how to do our jobs.

My school among the many towering apartment buildings

School starts each day at 8:40am. We have desks and computers provided by the school. We work at school 40 hours a week, but only teach 22 hours a week. We each have 5-6 classes a day which we teach with our Korean co-teacher. We only have to plan 2-3 different lessons each week, and we just re-teach them 22 times! Our jobs are not hard or stressful. We don't give homework and we don't have to grade any papers. We just plan activities and games to get them practicing their English.

We teach kids from about ages 9 to 13. Some are great at English, others look completely lost. It is quite common for kids to attend 8 hours of school and go to a private school (or Hogwon) in the evening. Most specialize in more English instruction. It's difficult to have relationships or much of a connection with the students because their English is limited, but also, we interact with about 350 students each week! I asked one of my co-teachers, "Do you know all the students' names?" She looked at me and laughed. Of course not. So we're working on making name tags. 

We came here with a program called EPIK (English Program in Korea). It is a high objective of the Korean government to put one native English speaker in every public school in Korea. They want Korean students to be exposed to "authentic English language."The program attracts applicants from South Africa, the U.K., Canada, and the States. People who want to to travel and make some decent money. The program hooks us up with a school, a co-teacher (a.k.a. Korean God-send), and a furnished apartment. We're so grateful for our set-up and our co-teachers.

My wonderful co-workers
For example, on Monday morning, a co-worker showed up with rice flour: "You are gluten-free. This is gluten-free." I thanked him and asked how much it was. He said it was my "welcoming gift." That afternoon, my co-teachers arranged to have us meet up with a real estate agent who showed us some larger apartment options. All three of my co-teachers from school drove Jeremy and I around and asked questions for us. These women all have families and obligations, but they took time out of their lives to help us out. In the end, we decided to stay in our one-room (essentially, studio) apartment. We'll save money, we won't have to hassle with moving, and we're happy about that.

On Tuesday, my main co-teacher took me to a Korean bank down the street. She got me a bank account, so that I can get paid and function here. Something I simply could not have done without her. That afternoon, I asked another co-teacher is she knew what corn starch was. She said no, then went right to her computer to figure it out: "Oh, yes! I will find for you." I tried to assure her this was not urgent, she went anyway. The next day, she came to school with three--fairly large--packages of corn starch: "I found for you!" I thanked her repeatedly. "If you want more, I will write how to ask for in Korean!" Little does she know, I have all the corn starch I could possibly use in several years.

On Wednesday, Jeremy was invited by some men at school to play volleyball. They had a good time, even the principal played! This is amazing because here, as they say, "The principal is the king of the castle." J said that whenever someone would make a mistake, the principal would come over and lecture them about how to do better next time. Afterwards, they all went out for dinner which is a whole 'nother blog in and of itself. There is a hierarchical structure that must be observed in who pours the drinks, using two hands instead of one, the way you pour, the order in which you eat, the order in which you leave the restaurant! He learned a lot about Korean culture in just a few hours. He even made a new "friend" who kept slapping his back
, touching his upper-thigh and saying, "Before we were strangers, but now, we are friends. I'll take you to Costco!" We may have a field trip in the works.

Then on Thursday, my three co-teachers, one of my co-workers, and Jeremy's co-teacher ALL accompanied us to a cell phone store to buy cell phones. We walked in, they said, "You two just sit down, we'll handle this!" The five of them proceeded to surround the one clerk and ask him questions and negotiate a deal. In the end, they decided that they probably had used cell phones of their own and they'd just see if maybe those could work to save us money.

Our cell phone entourage

I know, right?! SO kind. We feel incredibly blessed.


Anonymous said...

I am so happy for you, my friend. Miss you tons but glad you're doing so well! Much Love!

Ashley Barber said...

These people are INCREDIBLE!