Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Last post of 2009!

It's almost the end of the year, but instead of winding down everything here has picked up considerably.

Because the schools are closed for a month-long winter vacation, the extracurricular schools have started five-week intensive classes. This means two extra classes a day for me (excepting Fridays - at least there's that!). It also means the work day begins at 9:30 in the morning. In terms of 'normal jobs' this doesn't sound so bad, but I have to stay at the school until 9:30 at night as well. So basically - that's a lot of work.

We do get a break between morning and afternoon classes, but if you're lucky and have absolutely nothing to prepare (and you're able to get right out of the door), you can only squeeze two hours out of this.

Adding to the situation has been the drastic drop in temperatures that has happened in just the past few weeks. All of a sudden it's gotten quite chilly, so even when there are break times, going outside isn't the first thing you want to do.

Christmas was very low-key this year. Courtney came from Seoul to visit, and because both of us were under the weather and freezing we only got to walk around a bit in the downtown area and go to the Christmas dinner that a bunch of the people here set up. It was a nice dinner, but I wasn't up for doing much so I was in bed before 11 p.m.

Up next - we leave for Taiwan in two days! We're getting excited, because it's been 60-70 degrees there, and it will be a nice escape from intensives. Mostly we're just hoping our flight isn't delayed, because if it is we might not get back to our city in time for our first classes on Monday.

I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and a Happy New Year to all!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sokcho/Seoraksan and a general update

It's been a while since updating, so here's what's been going on :

- Halloween was very cute, but exhausting. No one got 'Waldo' besides the foreigners.

- The first weekend of November we went to the city of Sokcho, on the eastern coast of our province. It's a small fishing town on the East Sea/Sea of Japan. It was very nice, though there were a couple interesting moments when we were trying to figure out where we were staying for the night. On the second day we were there we went to Seoraksan park, which was very, very pretty. We took the cable car to the top of one of the peaks, and it would have been perfect if it hadn't been sprinkling. I took a ton of pictures, and will upload them soon.

- Last weekend (and last night) were going away parties for one of the guys that we know. It's hard to believe that people are going to start leaving, and new people are coming soon. This is just the first of a potential many....

- In a couple of days I will have been here three months.

- We're planning a possible weekend trip over New Years to Taiwan, since we have that Friday off of work. I'm very excited about this.

- Beside that, it's been mostly work as usual. This coming week is our final full week of the fall semester of classes. Then all of the schedules will change, and it will be interesting to see what new kids/levels I'll get to teach.

Here's a quick sample of my Sokcho/Seoraksan trip :

Playing on the rocks, looking at the pagoda

At the famous Buddha statue in Seoraksan

My favorite shot of the mountains at Seoraksan, with a bird flying by, right after the rain stopped

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Not too much is going on here. One of the highlights of this week was that last night for dinner we went to a beef barbecue. Beef is hard to find here, and when you do find it isn't the best quality and it's very expensive. However, a few of our friends found the only 'cheap' beef restaurant and we finally got to try it. It was good enough, but the portions aren't very big and it's still about twelve dollars a person. I'm glad I finally tried it, and it will do in a pinch, but I was still a little disappointed.

Right now we're getting ready for Halloween. We're one of the few schools that are celebrating it - we are having parties instead of normal classes for all of the younger kids/'fun' classes (though a part of the party includes having to take a quiz, so it isn't all fun). While we were in Seoul I got my 'costume' - I'm going to be Waldo (of 'Where's Waldo' fame). I barely have to dress up, and it was the easiest costume I could think of. I just hope the kids know who it is.

And I hope that at least half of the kids show up. The flu has struck the school kids hard over here, and there are kids absent (about half of them) in all of my classes. While it makes it a lot easier and less stressful to teach, it's going to be hard for them to make up all of the classes they're missing.

The other big news is that for the winter semester the other girl and I are probably switching schools. There's a new LangCon opening up in the northern part of the city, and because Jackie and I are 'experienced' they wanted us to help out there. We won't have to move apartments, but it is quite a ways away so we'll have to take the school buses to the school. I'm kind of sad, because I've established a routine here, but on the other hand it will be exciting to meet new people, see a new part of the city, and have the chance to 'start again.' Also, it will be interesting to be the 'experienced' ones in the office, and to help another school start up their program.

I've been taking a ton of pictures (we went to the river and the statue park last weekend to take autumn shots), so as soon as I upload all of my Halloween pictures I'll be sending out links.

I hope everyone has a happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On strike

Last weekend was filled with shopping. I didn't do much of it, I was mostly along for the ride. We tried to shop in the cheap underground mall on Saturday but encountered only problems. Apparently foreigners aren't allowed to try on clothes in any stores.

So we decided to go to Seoul on Sunday, just for the day. It was a good time. I got to meet up with my friend again, and even found a Halloween costume.

Today has been my relaxing day, since we did go on strike. From what I've been told, the private schools are all striking against a government proposal that changes the hours that hagwons (private schools) can stay open - from midnight to ten p.m. I guess I mostly agree with the government on this one, because it already seems like the kids are in school long enough each day, but as I am only a visitor in the country and have no idea about politics here, I'm just going to be happy with my day off.

However, the DMZ trip is definitely off for now, since I have to make up today's classes on Saturday. Only a couple of hours and eight kids, and we're the only school I know of that's having a make-up day, and it's doubtful that all of the kids will come anyway. Needless to say, we're not very happy about this. Oh well. We'll just reschedule for another time I guess, even though it won't be as fun (we were planning on going with a really fun, big group of people).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Almost halfway through October

The first weekend of October I finally went to Seoul to see my friend who recently arrived. There isn't too much to tell about the trip, because it was the holiday weekend and there weren't many people or even open stores, so there wasn't a ton to do. We mostly just walked around a bit of the downtown, and Itaewon, which is the 'foreigner' part of the city (because it's near the U.S. Army base). At the very least, my friend and I were able to catch up a bit, and I figured out all of the logistics involved in going to and from Seoul.

This last weekend was a bit crazy, but I had a good time. We were even able to drag ourselves out of the house on Sunday afternoon to go to the last soccer game in Chuncheon for this season. I bought a team scarf and the small group I went with was up on the jumbo-screen at least five or six times.

The weekends have been more and more important since I'm starting to get a little frustrated by some of the work stuff going on. The biggest thing for me is having kids who are either so busy or tired that they just don't care about the class. It's hard to teach anything in an environment like that, and it makes me not care about teaching when they don't care about learning, which is not a good thing. I'm working on it, day by day.

My other highlight of this week was that I got my very first paycheck! It was getting kind of desperate and I had had to borrow a fair amount of money in order to not go into my U.S. accounts, so it was the biggest relief when I checked the ATM after work. We then went out to the giant grocery store and spent a ton on food and cleaning products. I'm most thrilled about the 3$ bottle of Dran-O I found, because now I can take a shower without having to wade around in a lake for hours after (remember when I said that there was no stall for the shower - yeah, after the shower clogged it was just gross).

In other big news, it seems that there is going to be a country-wide strike coming up next Tuesday, which means that we have to make up classes on the following Saturday, which means the DMZ trip has to be temporarily suspended. More on this as it develops.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

September is already almost over

These last few weeks have been about finding a routine. Now I really feel settled into my job and to the city. There have been bits of homesickness, but nothing too terrible. I'm still in the phase where most of the time things are still new and exciting.

Almost all of the highlights have been over the weekends, with the exception of one Tuesday night all of the teachers I work with were treated to a huge duck barbecue dinner and karaoke (which, because it was a Tuesday night I chose to decline). It was very interesting, because there is a very ingrained drinking culture here. It's customary to drink (a lot), especially when going out, and even with your boss and co-workers.

Weekend highlights include a number of nights out (one in particular that ended in a really fun noraebang session - 'noraebang' is the Korean version of karaoke) and a local soccer game.

This week is a short week because everyone has Friday off for Chuseok, which is kind of like Thanksgiving. I have plans to go to Seoul over that time to visit a friend I lived with in Argentina who recently arrived to teach just south of Seoul. I'm definitely looking forward to that! There are also plans to go to the DMZ as a large group later this month.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Non-Korean Korean Birthday

I'm a quarter of a century old now! And if anyone asked me how I envisioned I would be spending this birthday, I would have never even come close to the reality of it. But at the very least I had one unforgettable birthday weekend!

On Friday we celebrated at school. My boss got a cake from the bakery next door and because there were no plates we all just dug in with chopsticks. I think that almost made it taste better. Friday night Jackie and I went out with another co-worker, and other teachers from our building randomly showed up and we all played cards until 4:00 in the morning before ending our night with a McDonalds run (not my idea, but it did taste very good).

Saturday we got a late start (which tends to happen when you go to bed at 5:00), and went shopping downtown with Jess (our head Korean teacher). She then drove us up to a restaurant in one of the mountains to watch the sunset, then we went back to my favorite barbecue place for pork. After that we went to a few places to try to find other people, and then Jess showed us what Korean clubs are like. That was definitely a unique experience - you pay for a table, and then the waiters drag you to strangers' tables because they want to meet you (even though this is very difficult if no one speaks English and you can't hear anything over the music). But in the end, it was at least interesting and there was a lot of fun Korean dance music.

It's hard to believe, but I spent my birthday day hiking! Jackie and I had a "birthday hike" up the closest and smallest mountain, which is a few blocks away from where we work. There was a very pretty panorama of the city, and also a number of strange exercise parks at the top. Apparently the thing here is to climb a mountain in order to work out.

Anyway, now it's the week again, and it's back to the normal routine. Though after all of the money I spent and the late hours I kept over the weekend, having a few normal days is what I really need.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

New classes and the H1N1 scare

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are now my long days. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I only have two periods of classes, and while they can be challenging because they are the younger, lower-level students, it's a breeze to prepare and they love all kinds of games.

M/W/F is a different story. I have all four classes in a row, and they range from the lowest levels to middle school kids, which is my new 6:50 (last) class of the day. My first day, last Monday, with these students wasn't a disaster per se, but it was one of the worst classes I've had. However, now that I've had the chance to do some more preparations and I know what to expect, today's class went much better. Teaching the middle school kids here is very similar to back in the U.S., just that they don't necessarily pick up on all of your jokes right away.

One interesting thing that happened during my last class today was that a man and woman came in during the middle of the class to take everyone's temperature. I'd never seen anything like it, but the kids were completely unfazed by the whole thing. Apparently the fear of H1N1 is so great they do this every single day during classes, so if anyone has a temperature they are immediately taken to the hospital. I know people back home must be concerned about the flu as well, but is this happening in any U.S. schools?

Other than classes, life has been pretty calm. Last weekend was very fun because we met quite a few people, and even ended up in a norae bang (karaoke room) until 4:30 in the morning with the people we just met. It was quite an experience! I'm still hoping to get photos of the kids/school and some more of the city, and I'll send out a link with all of that as soon as I can!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

First week of classes

It's now Friday in Chuncheon – just one more day of classes and I've completed a full week of work. Classes so far have ranged from pretty bad to really good. Every day I teach different classes at different levels. The kids that attend my school are just entering school, so they're quite young – Korean grades 1-3, or 7-9 years old. This can make classes both more fun, because you can play more games and the kids are very cute, but also more difficult because the majority of them are just starting out with English and with the classroom environment. For the most part though, I would say that it's been quite fun so far. Next week I start teaching a Monday/Wednesday/Friday class with older students, and I'm a bit nervous because it's focused on reading rather than the basics and games, so we'll have to see how that goes.

On the social front, we met a friend of a friend of a friend (etc.) last night for dinner. It was an interesting experience – we tried dak galbi, which is supposed to be a local specialty. If we hadn't been meeting a stranger I would have been taking pictures, but it was a huge pan of chicken, cabbage and other vegetables, and rice noodles in a spicy sauce. Though it was quite a bit spicier than I'm used to, I'm proud to say that I ate quite a bit of it and even enjoyed it.

Tonight we have plans to meet some of the teachers who work on the floor below us at a local bar. It should at least be entertaining to go out and see what the weekend nightlife consists of in this city. From what I've seen and heard, this city (and country) is extremely safe, so that shouldn't be a problem.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Of hospitals and (kind of) work

Today was the big hospital visit. We spent most of the almost two-hour visit waiting (and being winked at by an older gentleman). The first station was the 'quickfire challenge' - eyesight, height, weight, hearing test, colorblindness test, and blood pressure in about five minutes total.

We then moved on to the blood test, where once again the nurse could not find my veins (it's very difficult to gesture 'I have deep veins'). She actually withdrew quite a bit of blood, but we didn't have time to just sit around and we were sent directly to the bathroom for the urine test.

After that we went down to radiology to have x-rays taken of our lungs. It was like a huge, awkward hug with a machine.

Even if it was slightly strange, it was definitely a memorable experience. Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed and see if I pass everything - we get our results on Friday.

Most of the afternoon and evening was spent at the school, doing some important work and some time-wasting. I think I'm really lucky with the school and co-teachers I ended up with. They're all really nice, and I've been getting along really well with my neighbor (Jackie, from Florida) who got here a couple of days before me. Not only that, but she's a bit more outgoing and we've already got plans for multiple dinners/parties to go to with people we've just met (most are friends of friends though, so it's not like we're going around making plans with complete strangers).

All in all, things are going really well so far. We have just a couple more days until we're given our class assignments, and then the first day of classes will be on Monday.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First day in Korea

The first full day has been exciting and fun-filled. We started early, but I was able to wake up at 7:00 a.m. without my alarm (which was a miracle in itself). Luckily I live a few doors down from the other American teacher, so we were able to make it out on time and we met one of our Korean co-teachers on a corner and she took us to Seoul.

Most of the day was spent doing an orientation. It started with the presenter having some kind of attack and being taken to the hospital. After that it was less eventful, with the highlight being a long lunch break where we got to walk around the area.

After returning from Seoul we stopped by the school. It's very cute - on the fifth floor of a huge building. Everything is very clean and brand new, so that's nice. I also received my signing stipend (so I have cash now!) and got to meet some of the other people working in the building. I've also been given the welcome news that my work hours will be from 1-8 p.m., so I'll get to sleep in!

We also made a stop at a grocery store to pick up supplies. It's a bit more difficult to do this part when you don't speak the language. If Jess (one of our Korean co-teachers) hadn't been with us it would have taken us more than two hours and we probably would have caused some kind of incident, so we got lucky with that.

I like my apartment. It's really close to the school, and to a number of stores and restaurants. When I arrived the school had already stocked it with furnishings and supplies, and it even has a washing machine. The only questionable part is the tiny bathroom with its make-shift shower (a showerhead but no curtain/space for a shower), but I can get used to it.

I have made some progress on deciphering Korean. Today in the car I figured out how to write and the pronunciation of about half of the sounds. However, this will do me little good if I don't know what the words actually mean, so I still have quite a bit of work to do on that.

Hopefully I'll have pictures of at least my apartment and school soon (I just have a little organizing to do here before it's presentable enough to show off).

Tomorrow I have to go to the mandatory health check-up at the hospital, so I should be off to bed soon!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The End of Summer

It's hard to believe, but it's been almost a month since I arrived. By this point I'm feeling pretty well settled into the program, but as February changes to March there are going to be quite a few changes around here.

First, this weekend another big group of volunteers are leaving and only about half of the people that I started with will still be here. We're also getting three or four new volunteers to replace them. While I'm looking forward to meeting the new people, it's a bit sad that some of the people I've grown attached to are no longer going to be here. I started with a really good group.

Second, school begins again as summer vacation ends. This means I'll no longer be working for breakfast and lunch, but rather a post-school snack and dinner. Currently I've been waking up before the sun, and we leave the house while the sun is rising. Now work won't start until after 4:00 in the afternoon, and I won't be getting back into Cordoba until after dark. On one hand, this is excellent news for a night owl. On the other, it has been kind of nice having such long days because even when I take a three hour nap it still feels like I accomplish a lot during the day. It will be nice being able to go out at night though, since that is a big part of the culture (that I've been too exhausted to participate in).

In other news, one of my roommates and I are planning a weekend trip to Villa Carlos Paz, which is one of the touristy cities close by. If we can get things organized (organization tends to be an issue around here).

I hope everyone is doing well!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

About time...

Time is a funny thing here.

I came in knowing all about what I lovingly refer to as 'Latino time' (where things are allowed to go at their own pace, and schedules are very loosely followed). But what I wasn't prepared for was just how strange time works here.

On the one hand, every day feels like it's as long as two or three. A few days feel like a week, a week feels like a month. I think this is because we wake up so early to go work at the comedor (7:00) and get back around 2:00 (at which time everything closes and I usually take a long nap). The sun doesn't set until after 9:00 p.m., dinner isn't until after 11, and people don't start going out for the night until 2:00 a.m. - it's amazing that people are actually able to wake up in the mornings for work.

On the other hand, it's hard to believe that two weeks has already passed. I'm only here for about eleven weeks total, and I've already made a substantial dent in that. Other people in the program are already preparing for their departure, and we've been getting new people.

Ultimately, I think I just wanted to talk about time because I feel bad that I have yet to post any updates yet. I'm going to work on correcting that, since I have been taking a lot of pictures and have quite a few stories already, and we have wireless in the house so I don't really have any good excuses for not writing anything.

Hasta pronto!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Test Post/Itinerary

This is my first time using this site, so it will take a little while for me to figure out exactly how the html works, but I think this is a relatively easy-to-use forum to post about my travels. I will still be writing emails, but I hope to use this as a place to write in more detail about day-to-day life.

Here is what the itinerary is looking like:

  • 02 February - 15 April = Cordoba, Argentina
  • 15 April - 19 April = Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • 19 April - 20 April = Iguazu Falls (Brazil and Argentina)
  • 20 April - 23 April = Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • 23 April - 26 April = Santiago, Chile
  • 26 April - 27 April = Lima, Peru
  • 27 April - 30 April = Cuzco/Machu Picchu (Peru)
  • 30 April - 01 May = Lima, Peru*
  • 01 May - 09 May = Tikal and Copan (Guatemala to Honduras)*
  • 09 May - 14 May = Roatan, Honduras*

Then home (though as of now I still do not know how or when)
. By the end of May/beginning of June, camp should be starting again, so there is a lot to look forward to in the next six months.

Hopefully the next time I post, I will have arrived in Argentina!

* = rough plan