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.