Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Siem Reap to Bangkok by bus

I know that when I was looking into traveling from Siem Reap to Bangkok by bus recently, there was very little information available that was less than a few years old. From my own experience I can tell you that the roads are a lot better than those posts make them out to be.

I also want to clarify something: it really does take nine hours however, this is divided up into three parts: sitting in a minibus in Cambodia, standing in line at immigration at the Thai boarder (for an hour and a half, maybe two hours), and sitting in a minibus in Thailand.

Honestly, it's not that bad. I even managed some sleep.

Here's what you do (#10 being the easies to mess up, in my opinion):

1. Ask your hostel owner! I was staying at a rather helpful hostel where I was able to book the entire thing without getting out of my PJs. Most hostels, I imagine, are equally as helpful (it's good business).
If your hostel owner doesn't have something set up himself, he'll know where they do.

2. Wake up at about 4:30AM, maybe earlier. Have snacks with you, because you won't have much of a chance to eat all day. Or even buy anything.

3. Get in a tuktuk sent by your bus company.

4. Chat with your future bus mates for a while while the guy who overslept gets dragged out of bed.

5. Watch in amazement as a small, impoverished Cambodian man somehow fits 15 bags in a cubic meter worth of trunk space.

6. Squish. As you get out of the van, a man will put a sticker on your shirt. Don't take it off (your shirt or the sticker).

7. Fill out a quick form and get it stamped. You have now exited Cambodia. That was the easy part.

8. Take that form to another building, where you will wait in line for what seems like an eternity without it moving. Then, suddenly, you will all be ushered into the building together to...
Continue waiting.

9. Get a quick stamp from a chubby Thai man and wonder what took so long for the line to move (I think this may have something to do with my ownership of an American passport: Them be rich people! No questions, move along!)

10. As you exit the immigration building, that sticker on your shirt will get you grabbed by a random dude who will tell you to wait in some random open space. You will then have to wait for every other person that was on your bus (regardless of how slow they were getting in line/how far behind you they are; I was first through immigration of my group, so I sat around for at least a half hour).

Be warned: the man whose job it is to spot the sticker on your shirt is LAZY. Keep an eye out for the people who were on your bus. One guy on my bus walked right past us, and if we hadn't literally run after him, he would have wandered off, and likely would have never found us again.

11. Be put on another bus before you are given any time to buy anything to eat.

12. About three an a half hours later, arrive in Bangkok.

13. Enjoy your stay!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Travelers' Itch

As someone who considers herself a traveler, I relish the ability to see new things and explore REALLY old things, travel to off-the-beaten track gems, or take in a well-known-for-a-reason hotspot, but Cheongju is not any of those things. It has its charms, and as far as teaching in Korea goes, it's a great place to save money, and it's even really central so you can go anywhere you like in three hours or less.
For me, however, that doesn't help so much. There is nothing new to see here after a couple months, there is certainly nothing particularly old here (or really in Korea, it's all been destroyed), and while not many tourists come to Korea (and thus it's a bit off the beaten track), in my opinion it's for a reason.
Because of this, I've been thinking: I need to get out of here. Or, at least part of me does.
Many people are drawn to Korean culture, to Korean food, to Korean language, history, or any of a number of other things which are distinct about this country. Still more are drawn in by the pay, especially for the inexperienced. Nowhere else in the world, that I've seen, can a fresh-out-of-uni teacher save so much money while going out every weekend, traveling when possible, and generally living a middle-class life on their own.
*One exception may be Saudi Arabia, but the lifestyle mentioned would not apply there.
To me, the major bonus of being an expat is immersing oneself in an awesome culture, and Korea is just not a place that appeals to me in that way.
Don't get me wrong, the money is great. For someone just out of university, the ability to actually build myself a savings is not something I take for granted in this economy.If possible, I would stay here for a few months past my year contract to save up some more $$$, but once I have a bit of padding I'm moving on to greener pastures.
Where are these greener pastures? you ask. On the other side of the fence, of course. Honestly, I know that everywhere looks better than here right now because where I am is here, right now. There has to be some way to choose, though, and so I've been doing some thinking.
Right now, number one on the list is Turkey, specifically Istanbul. For me, the culture is much more intriguing, the history much richer (and still visible), and I've heard some great things about it.The money is the worst in Istanbul when compared to elsewhere in the country, but I'm hoping that with a year of experience under my belt I'll be able to get a better-paying job. Still, the thought of not being able to save money is not so exciting. Other blogs I read discuss the lack of savings.
At this point, I really don't know what I'll be doing at the end of this contract. Five months is a long time. Part of me wants to stay to get the money in the bank, but I feel like I've been in Korea long enough to know that its not for me.
Hopefully I will be able to achieve the while-in-Korea goals I had set for myself before this year is up, but as much as I would hate to not meet my goals, that wouldn't keep me here.
And I just keep daydreaming of getting back to the Middle East!

Friday, September 7, 2012


I know I haven't yet blogged about most of my vacation, but I wanted to shoot something up here about how I've been moved to class number two at the YMCA! I am officially no longer in the 'beginner' class. Cheongju's YMCA has several levels of classes, ranging from "uhhh, what sound does the little 2 shape make again?" (class zero) all the way to "I'm pretty darn good at this" (class five, I think?), and I am moving my way on up.
I don't think I've mentioned it before, but one of my goals before I leave Korea is to pass the beginner TOPIK (Test Of Proficiency In Korean) test. Depending on my progress by the end of this year, I may change that to the intermediate test, but I'm not gonna set my goals too high. One thing that has been disappointing about Cheongju for me is a lack of options for learning Korean outside of the YMCA.
Many cities have universities which offer courses for foreigners wanting to learn the language, but this is not one of those cities, unfortunately for me (but probably fortunately for my savings account). It's not that I don't enjoy the classes at the Y, but they're a bit too laid-back for my learning goals. It works well for people who want to go a few times a month and pick up a bit, but I definitely feel like I could have been working faster (and now I'll probably be in over my head in class two).
I do a lot of studying outside of class on my own, as well (I have a good amount of free time here), and I keep finding new resources to help me with more relevant vocabulary (I'm currently working on a reading activity related to housing, with words for rooms of the house, furniture, and things like 'real estate' and 'contract'

~language happiness~

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Let's start at the beginning

Alright, I know I've done quite a few interesting things recently, and people have been bugging my for pictures/blogs/my first born/etc.
Two outta three ain't bad, right?

I figured I'll write first about my summer holiday, before moving on to some of the smaller things I did in the weeks before the holiday. Since it was a bit of a long holiday, and since spanned three countries, I thought I'll split up the post into a few smaller, easier to digest bits.
Logically, then, Ill start at the beginning:


Shopping at Ben Tranh market in Saigon
I really didn't get to see, well, ANYTHING that most tourists see in Vietnam. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam's biggest tourist draw, is about an entire day of traveling (minimum) away from where I was, in the south.

Met this guy while wandering around Saigon.
I flew into Saigon, eventually (sidenote: there will be another post about my traveling ordeal), and once I got there I only had a few hours to walk around, in which I saw some pretty gardens, did some shopping, and had some pho.
French influence, anyone?
I also went tour-company shopping. At 6am or so the next day I left (with my decide-upon company) for the Mekong Delta region, the rice-basket region of Vietnam, where the majority of life still depends on the river.
A boat like the one I was touring on
I know it sounds super cheesy, and parts of it were, but I did feel like I could extrapolate from what I saw (the really touristy stuff) to imagine what life is like for the actual residents of the Mekong region. At least, I feel I can imagine better than I could before, or than I imagine others can who have not been.
I held some bees
I also drank vodka with SNAKES inside.
It was pretty vile.
I also did a home-stay on this tour, but contrary to what I had been told, this was nowhere near the highlight of my tour. It could not have been more fake, and all I got out of it was some really bad alcohol and drunk tourists to go with it. I mean, it only cost me what it would have cost me for a single room in the hotel that I would have stayed in otherwise, so I can't really complain, but a glimpse into rural life it was not. Regardless, I had an interesting time in Vietnam, and I would love to be able to see more of what seemed like a lovely country (truth be told, it's certainly in the cunning for Christmas vacation).
Here's a bit more of a glimpse of what I did on my tour (the captions should let you know what you need to know):

Alligators. Caption totally necessary, right?

Fruit. The skinny yellow one on the near end gave me a
 terrible sore throat so I didn't try many of them.

I wore a stereotypical hat.

This was my underwhelming homestay (the room was fine,
the experience is what was unimpressive)

I wore another stereotypical hat.

This is the bit of a glimpse I got into real Mekong life,
boating down a random river the morning after our homestay.

Doin' some fishin'.


Making rice paper

That's a bridge. A very skinny one. Hold on to those
railings (and your camera)!

We also went to a fish farm, where this little dude got so
excited for breakfast that he flopped out of his cage.
My favorite Buddha

We finished up with a visit to a minority
Cham village. This is their mosque.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why *NOT* to live in Seoul: Six reasons why I love living in Korea's most boring province

Inspired by a question asked by my recruiter recently, I would like to share a few reasons why I love living in not-Seoul.
As a resident of Cheongju, capital of chungcheongbuk-do (chungbuk, for short), likely Korea's most boring province, I can think of more than a few reasons not to live in Seoul. Here are a few:

1.Have a ready-made network of awesome people, always happy to befriend a newbie.
Although I did not see another foreigner for just over a week after I arrived, from the first night I stepped into a bar I've made amazing friends, and I make more weekly, even four months later. That is (obviously) not to say that there aren't some amazing people for you to befriend in Seoul, I'm sure there are, but they're a lot harder to find.
In addition, the relatively small size of Cheongju's foreigner community means that i would feel comfortable approaching any foreigner I see on the street, and we likely have friends in common.
2.Learn Korean (or don't)
Every time I've gone to Seoul, I am taken aback by the number of people who speak English.
Oggling a subway map one day, a random dude directed my friend and I in perfect English to the correct platform.
Buying beer from a corner store, I asked in Korean if they had any paper cups (generally at the counter and sold in singles for this purpose). The cashier ( an older guy) was visibly shocked by my words and could not stop praising my Korean. He even engaged me in a short conversation about where I live, etc. while this was nice, I remarked as soon as I left that i never would have learned Korean in Seoul. Or at least not as fast. There are no opportunities to practice, even the store clerk speaks English!
That being said, I do know people who have survived here for a year or two without any Korean, so if that's what you're afraid of and why you want to live in Seoul, you don't need to worry (and odds are that even if you're not in Seoul, you'll still be in a bigger city than Cheongju, where you can survive on English if that's what you want).
I'll probably write another post soon on my opinions about that, but that doesn't belong here.
3. Save BUCKETS of money.
Seriously. Without trying AT ALL, I have ~$2,000 in the bank in four months. This is after buying a new MacBook, plane tickets to Cambodia, and $400 worth of dental work.
4. Be centrally located.
I can be at Inchon airport in 2 hours ( it can take that long from some parts of Seoul), in Busan in 3 hours, in Boryeong for MudFest in 2 hours, in Daegu in under 2 hours, in Yeosu for the World Expo in 3 hours (with transfer in Daejeon). For those of you who aren't familiar with the geography of this country, all of those places are really far from each other. But not from me.
5. Be able to breathe.
I've heard a good bit from friends, forums, etc., that the pollution can get pretty nasty in and around Seoul. I've never been in the city for more than one night so I can't say I've noticed, but the air here is (hot and humid, but) not at all like what I've heard of Seoul.
6. Experience Korea.
This one kind of combines all of the previous reasons into one.
I know that Seoul has all the conveniences of Western life, but of you want those, then stay home. You are moving probably at least a third of the way around the globe, things will be different. You do not NEED Taco Bell (but believe me I do go every time I'm in Seoul), your favorite brand of candy bar, a shwarma stand to go to when you're drunk. I know they're nice to have, but that's not Korea.
I bet one of the most appealing things about getting a job in Korea is the ability to see the world and save money at the same time, right? I sure think so. But if you ask me, that's not seeing the rest of the world, that's seeing the parts of the world that are just like ours.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Work-ity work work

I'm going to try to make a point of talking a bit more about work, seeing as that is what I do with the majority of my time here.
My job is pretty great, but it is exhausting. I catch the bus every day at 8:40, have 1-2 before-school classes starting at 9:30, then regular classes from 10:50 to 12:05 and 1:00 to 2:15. Then and after school class on Monday and Wednesday.
Then I clean my room (sweep and wipe desks daily, mop twice a week), sharpen pencils, and/or laminate stuff or make worksheets/prepare for the next day's classes. Then I go home at 4:30.
It's about a 25 minute walk home, which wasn't so bad when the weather was nice but lately it's just too g**d*** hot. So when I can, I skip out 5 minutes early to catch the bus (which only runs once an hour) at 4:25. If I miss it (and sometimes when it's not too hot), it's a hot sticky walk home.
My regular classes are not much fun. It's generally me trying to get kids to recite sentences from a story that they pretty much have to memorize. They have five weeks to learn the story and complete three (small) textbooks, two based on the story and a third on phonics.
My special (before- and after-school) classes are the more interesting ones. Last month, we had a loose focus on the outdoors and spring and summer. We did a story on spring, a week where we learned about playground stuff and then went outside, a story on rain/playing in puddles, a day of review and then we went outside again (I was trying to get them outside before the weather gets too hot). This month there's kinda a hodgepodge of stuff. This week we're working on reading. Which kinda sucks for everyone involved but it's an important skill. Which reminds me I need to make the worksheet for the 5-year-olds. Grr. Next week we're doing verbs and playing a game with balls and learning verbs. Then we're gonna learn some vocabulary about snack time and make Chex mix. That should be a fun class.
I enjoy my special classes because they're the only thing I really get a say in, the regular classes I really just have to teach the book. Which is easy, but I don't feel like much of a teacher.
I also have to come up with activities for 'camp:' two days before summer vacation and two days after. It's really just supposed to be games and activities because it's off-book and 'camp'-y, but I have no idea what to do. it's just two days, 25 minutes each day. all the other subjects are doing cool stuff like making food and doing art stuff, so I want to make mine interesting.
Look at me! Keeping my blog updated! woo! Hopefully see y'all soon!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I'm going to Cambodia. No biggie.

For those who haven't heard yet: my summer plans are official. I'm going to be flying to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) four weeks from today (woah!) and spending twelve days mostly in Cambodia before flying out of Bangkok.
Originally I was thinking I'd spend a fe days in Saigon and a couple in Bangkok, but I'm thinking now that I'll focus this trip on Cambodia, trying to get some tropical into my life.
It will be rainy season, which makes travel a bit tougher, but the jungle is supposed to be emerald green, the country's usual layer of dust traded for a lustrous shine and terrible mud pits for roads.
Eh, it happens. I think it'll be worth it. It's not like I had a choice for when my vacation time is.
In addition, monsoon season causes the Tonle Sap lake to flood a nearby forest, submerging the bottom chunks of trees, creating what is known as the flooded forest.
That'll be me in that canoe.
Photo Credit
Angkor Wat
Photo credit for Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
And of course there's the largest religious building in the world - Angkor Wat, part of the complex of Angkor temples outside of Siem Reap,

which also contains Bayon, home of over 200 iconic giant carved smiling faces, as well as the where much of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was filmed: tree-root covered Ta Prohm.

Planning has been crazy, as planning a huge, international trip is apt to be, but I love it. I pour over my (somewhat disappointing) Lonely Planet, scour internet forums, and spend far too much tome comparing tour companies for the few things I think would be easiest by tour (such as mt journey on the Mekong from Saigon to Phnom Penh).
I found a really excellent-looking tour agency that is doing a special at the moment for buy-one-get-one urban adventures- if you book by the 30th! They're half- and full-day tours of a city (or starting in a city and going somewhere nearby), and at buy-one-get-one, why not! I only have so much time, and so I know I will need to take a few tours to get the most out of my journey. I'll probably do one in Phnom Penh and another as a day-trip from Siem Reap. I was thinking of adding a second in either one of those cities and doing one in Bangkok, as well. When they'e two for $40-50, they're hard to resist.

As you can tell, I've gotten a bit obsessed with the whole planning thing, but that's half the fun (who am I kidding, hopefully only 1/100th of the fun)! 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

So apparently my last post was in March... Say wha??

I haven't posted in quite a while, I know. I've mostly just been settling in to life here, so there's not much to talk about.
Recently, though, I've taken a couple trips: one to Seoul where I accidentally saw a lantern festival and one to the beach, where I stayed in a pimped out penthouse and plopped my ass in the sand.
The thing about living in another country is that everything is remarkable and everything is the same. To me, this is just my life now, but I'm trying to come up with something to say, because I know that even though it's just daily life to me, it's interesting because it takes place on the other side of the globe.
Lotus Lantern Festival
About a month ago now (maybe more??) I went to Seoul, simply because I hadn't really been yet. I informed my boyfriend that he would be joining me (as if he didn't want to see the capital of our current county of residence) and then he promptly forgot until I mentioned it the night before we left. Guess how much planning I had done at that point. Yeah... I find that's generally the best way for me, though. I booked a hostel while on the way to the bus station on Saturday and barely knew what I wanted to see. 
It's a good thing we didn't have much of a plan, because that left us googling at our hostel (The Kimchi Guesthouse in Hongdae, a pretty decent place, especially for the money), where we discovered a lantern festival was happening. Our friends wanted to meet up there, and we set off to find them.

We never did.

That's okay, it was awesome anyway.

On the Saturday night we stumbled upon a giant parade.
*This will be one of those times when I mention how odd it can be to be a foreigner here.*
As we were standing to the side of the road, taking pictures, a woman comes up to me... and puts a shirt on me. Not gives me the shirt, this woman puts it on me.
And then procedes to photograph me.
Photographing in my beautiful new shirt
This country can get on your nerves sometimes, but that was just hilarious.
Other than the parade, we saw some stereotypical tourist sites in Seoul, like the gyeongbok palace and then we (I) did some shopping. It was a nice weekend, but I definitely have more to see and will be going back.
Some more lanterns from the parade
Blub blub
The main lantern design, the lotus (it was the lotus lantern festival, after all).
These two ladies smiled nicely for me =)

The other trip I've been on so far was to the beach. A few weeks ago (the weekend before my birthday, Memorial Day weekend in the States) was a holiday here as well as back home. Generally, Memorial Day weekend maks the beginning of the summer season, and so what better place to go for the weekend than the beach!
I think I'm the person about a third in from the left, but I'm not sure, Ed took this...
Koreans don't really do the beach, they don't like the sun (hence the amazing skin), so the beach was pretty deserted, which worked for us. The sun was also pretty patchy, but I definitely got some color. Mostly it was just nice to have a wekend way from Cheongju to relax and drink with friends. Which brings me to another odd thing here: no open container laws. Run to the mini mart, buy some beer and/or soju, and go drink it on the beach. perfectly legal.
Then we went back to our PENTHOUSE (I did mention that, right?)
Super excited about our penthouse!
 that the eight of us kinda accidentally ended up in and had a jolly old time until the wee hours of the morning. Rinse and repeat the next day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Growing a social life from scratch

The decision to uproot myself yet again and place myself in a totally different culture - this time one where I don't even speak the language - was a decision I made rather easily. When I made the decision, I thought "oh, people do this all the time. All the cities have at least hundreds if not thousands of foreigners, and I know they don't all speak Korean, nor do they sit in their apartments by themselves." Thus, I assumed, there must be some kind of built-in network of foreigners that makes themselves known to newbies.
This, of course, was a completely ridiculous assumption. Many schools do have multiple foreign teachers, and some have many. So far I am the only one I know who has no other foreigners at their school. (Update: EPIK teachers (public schools) are generally the only ones at their schools, but they have an orientation together so they know who's around, and I think there's one at each of the bajillion public schools, so they have a network going in.) Many of my friends find the thought of getting plopped here by myself kind of amazing.
But there I was. All by myself. And so I went out on a Saturday night. By myself. It was probably one of the scariest things I've done, and I've done some pretty scary things. Meeting people is not my forte. I went out on a Saturday night. By myself. And for the first while, I stood in a corner. It's not something I'm proud of, but I just can't do that first little bit of putting myself out there. but then I ran into the people from my plane. And then someone else recognized me from Facebook. And so I entered into the ridiculous network that is the Cheongju expat scene.
I did make friends my first night out.
Photo pilfered from: Vicky Franklin
I already have a good bit of thought on a follow-up to this, but I'll leave this here for now and end by saying that being the only foreigner at my school is difficult, and I think for some people it would make the first couple months difficult. I've somehow managed to not let that happen to me and have broken into the world on my own, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it for everyone, and I still think it would have been much easier to have some coworkers to hang out with. Who knows if easier is better, though, my life is pretty great right now, so despite the tough first couple weeks, I'm not complaining at all.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Twenty-odd days in: I can do this!

Last week I posted about my first week of teaching, and although I do not think this will be a weekly post, the second week was pretty dramatically different from the first, so I thought I'd write another.

I came down with some kind of miserable sickness last weekend. It involved three days of voicelessness and a whole lot of coughing and a very stuffy nose. I spent all day Sunday chilling in bed trying to heal before finally venturing out to find a pharmacist, realizing this was nothing rest could fix in the 18 before I had to be at work. Not having a voice is not OK when you're a language teacher.
Me. With sickness.
After a good bit of effort later I finally found an open pharmacy (most are closed Sunday). Then came the fun part: charades. my frog voice pretty quickly got across the throat problems, and some pointing later I got what I would call some pretty terrible dayquil/nyquil and some kind of thera-flu type drink mix. They helped (especially the drink), but I still chugged and entire big mug of hot tea between each class to get me through just 25 minutes of speaking. Tuesday was a bit better, but still involved lots of tea-chugging.

Wednesday was the first day of my Samul Nori (사물놀이) lesson. Samul Nori is a band made of four different types of percussion. The oe I'm playing is not pictured here, but it's called buk (북). It's probably the most familiar to Westerners as it is essentially a base drum.

These are some of my Samul Nori-learning classmates.
Not the best picture, but you can see some of the instruments.
The lesson was a lot of fun, and I got to meet some new people, something I've been working hard to do around here. I actually saw all three of the folks in the picture later in the week (I'll talk about that when I get to the weekend).

I also ventured out to another solo restaurant meal, something I have been hesitant to do since my first solo restaurant experience was super awkward. My second experience was significantly less awkward and equally delicious. The meal was similar to the previous one I had had solo, Samgyeopsal (삼겹살), it was prepared in the same way and served with essentially the same stuff, but t had a different meat.
Not really sure that this is called, but it was delicious.
Thursday I had my first actual Korean Bibimbap (비빔밥). Thos of you who keep up with me on Facebook will know that I had bibimbap on the plane, but I feel like anything you have on a plane can't be too official. Thursday's was definitely more delicious. After bibimbap and some exploring, we ended up at a cafe, which brings me to something I'd like to point out to those of you outside Korea. Coffee is really damned expensive here. It's always delicious, but compared to the price of a meal (and compared to how much you would pay back home, the price is crazy. I'm glad I'm not a huge fan, as this means I can just have the occasional sugared-down coffee drink as a treat and not break the bank.

I also want to mention my second week of work. My first week was, as expected, difficult. I wasn't really sure what I was doing, had very little information in terms of lesson planning, there were no books the first two days... It was hectic. Week two went much more smoothly. I seem to be understanding the flow of things, the Korean teachers are getting used to me. Many of the kids still call me 'Amy Teacher' thinking I am my predecessor - ironic stereotype reversal that all white people look alike =) I am very excited for week three (though I could do with out the kids who don't cover their mouths) and the rest of the year. I think this is something I can really enjoy doing, and coming to Korea has been an excellent decision for me so far.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

About that whole 'learning Korean' thing.

I found a Korean class in downtown Cheongju, at the YMCA (I also discovered that Cheongju has a YMCA)! For me, this is rather exciting news, as learning a language generally works better when at least part of it involves actually listening to native speakers. I also learn best from listening. To celebrate, I thought I'd write a post about all the things I can do so far in Korean. It's not a particularly long list, but I figured it'd be good to write so I know where I'm starting from when I start this class.

*One reason I chose to teach in Korea is to learn Korean. It is considered a critical-need language by the US government, and is generally considered among the hardest to learn for native English speakers.*

I thought I'd just make a list of the exchanges I've had in Korean, because they are, after all, the whole point of learning a language. So far I have understood seven (that I can think of) different people asking me various questions specifically based off of what I have studied, and successfully responded in Korean when necessary. Plus one random Korean sentence prompted in English. As I said, not a very long list, but I'm proud of myself:

First, a little girl in my class asked where I was going as I rushed out of the room to grab something from across the hall. I responded in English, because they're not supposed to speak Korean in class.

Next, as I was leaving to walk home one day, another girl, leaving at the same time with her family made a big point of saying "Goodbye teacher!!" (in English), and I said goodbye back. I was headed off the property when I heard her grandmother ask where I was going. I was surprised by the question (and by understanding it), but I seem to have accurately portrayed where I was going, because they gave me a ride.

A couple days later, as I was walking down the side of the road a minute or two from school, a teacher at the school pulled up and asked the same thing. That communication was a bit more difficult, as she did not seem to know my destination (like a kilometer away), so she had to put it in to her GPS. I tried to tell her I could point and show her how to get there, but that point was not adequately portrayed.

I have also understood on two separate occasions when people (one grown woman, one student) have asked where I'm from, and have been able to respond appropriately.

One that is less useful but goes over well in the lunch room is understanding when people ask me if something is good/delicious. I, of course, always say it is delicious. *Note: I used this one again last night while out to eat :-)

Finally, my first somewhat un-prompted speaking of Korean happened this weekend, while out to dinner with some friends. One guy was talking to a random Korean dude whose English skills were rather lacking, and he was trying to say he had just gotten to Korea recently. I suddenly feel a twinge of  'oh, wait! I know that!' -When I first got to my school, it would be pretty much a daily occurrence that anyone who spoke enough English to do so would ask how long I'd been in Korea. After the third or fourth time, I learned the word 'came' in one of my lessons, and decided to make the sentence 'I/he/you came to Korea last week.' BINGO! I have a Korean sentence totally relevant in this random conversation with a random Korean.

I know these things are not huge conversations, but the fact that I am understanding native speakers (and they generally understand me in return) is very exciting to me.
My spelling still leaves a lot to be desired, maybe the class will help with that? And on the topic of the class: it's Saturday mornings from 10-12. I already missed the first two. I was told this is not a big deal, but I should really try to make it out this weekend. Which means I actually have to wake up on Saturday morning. Oh well, I think it's worth it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I survived my first week of teaching!

It was certainly a challenge, but I survived my first week of actual teaching at work! As expected, it was certainly not perfect, it was a week full of mishaps - from no books at the beginning, to a special class I seem thus far unable to tame, to many a technological failure - but overall I think it could have been much worse!
I enjoyed a nice mid-morning bit of silence during a short class-free moment.
I know I don't have any experience teaching kids this little (or really much with kids in general), and so I'm trying not to be to hard on myself when I try something that doesn't work. On Friday the other English teacher at my school (who is Korean) had no classes and so came into mine to watch - she ended up teaching a few to show me some tricks. Normally this obvious commentary on the fact that my teaching skills left something to be desired would bother me, but honestly I was just happy for the help. I had been floundering all week - I knew what had to be taught, but I just don't know how to keep 5 year-olds engaged in what I'm talking about; now I have a better idea.
Friday afternoon I made next week's plan. I think having books from the beginning and having some idea what needs to get done each day is an obvious plus in eliminating the 'OMGIHAVENOIDEAWHATTODO' from my day.
This is Toto. He and his friends are used to teach the littlest ones.
On Thursdays I teach the babies, they're a Korean age 4 and 5, which means they were born in either 2008 or 2009. So Western age the youngest ones could be only a bit over 2. Toto, who is a different animal for each grade, is used to teach them English. It's a lot of fun, and I found I really enjoyed teaching them (the 5s were a bit easier than the 4s, as the 4s don't talk much), despite being very worried going into the day that it might be a disaster.
This is my "THE WEEK IS OVER!!' face.
Despite being a pretty great week, all the challenges made me very happy when Friday afternoon rolled around and I could officially say 'It's the weekend!' I know next week will bring a whole new set of challenges (especially because I seem to be getting sick... that's what I get for working with 5-year-olds?), but I know it will be even better, and hopefully within a few weeks I will be into a nice rhythm and planning will be a breeze. Until then, I'm keeping my chin up and struggling through it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Oh look, Korea!

Alright, I know you've been waiting for an update on Korea, so here it is. I've been here about 10 days now, and it's getting better every day.
This is the majority of my apartment. There are a couple more things on the wall now (like the velcro dart board I scored for about $2), but this is pretty much it. 
I knew coming in that the  apartments here are tiny. And they are. In the picture below you can see even better just how small my apartment is. It's fine, though, because I don't really need much space, it would just get messy.

This was taken from the back room-thing of my apartment, on the right is my bed, the white door in the back goes outside.
I have a two-burner stove and a microwave. The fridge is in the room I'm standing in to take this picture, along with the washing machine.
The view out my window. I live on a pretty quiet street, but the other side of my building is on a huge street, so it's pretty convenient still.

Despite being located conveniently for grocery shopping, etc., I'm way in the southeast corner of the city, so it's farther than I can bike (my preferred mode of transportation) to get to the foreigner bar area, and closer but still farther than I really want to bike the city center.

The view from the other side of my building. About three blocks down on the left is the giant everything-store, Lotte Mart.

My adventures in small-kitchen cooking have turned out rather well. I've recently acquired some delicious sauces/marinades, so it's gotten even better recently.
 As I said, I have a two-burner stove, and my counter space is about 1.5 sq FEET, so cooking (especially with lots of veggies to cut), is interesting.

We had a holiday on March 1st, Korean Independence Day. I didn't know anyone yet, so I went for a bike ride. I ended up here:
This weird-looking tower and adjacent lake (with swan boats!) are not too far from me (though the bike ride is very steep uphill at the end).
I went for a nice walk, getting stared at by Koreans enjoying the beautiful weather on their mid-week holiday. It's a nice little area, but it was kinda strange to be enjoying by myself.

On another note, I've been trying to learn some Korean. I have found a benefit of having glass doors in my house:
Yes, those are paper towels taped to my door to make a whiteboard. Hey! I'm taking advantage of the space I've been given.
Now for the work part. My first week I just kinda got acquainted with the book/software, and then on Friday I had my first adventures with a laminating machine! Here are some of the results:

I also finally got my teaching schedule on Friday, It looks pretty good. Here it is:
I average about 6, 25-minute classes per day. The earliest starts at 9:20 and the latest ends at 3:05.
It's actually a pretty sweet schedule, although I have to be in the building from 9-5, but that gives me time to review the lessons and do the afore-mentioned laminating.