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.