Getting set up in a completely new country with a vastly different culture isn’t the smoothest process, and I’m still a way off being sorted. So many things that we use everyday without a second thought become a bit of a challenge when things are all in funny shapes and sounds. Unlike in Japan where I was working for a Western company and living in a fairly Western ski town, I’m now deep in Korean culture, the only native English speaker in my school, and so faced with a lot more daily challenges.
My computers are in Korean
I’ve already managed to break one of the school’s computers so am onto my second one this morning. I have two computers, my laptop for the office and the desktop that is all connected up to my smart tv. This means transferring over and ppts between my two devices or sitting in my empty cold English classroom looking very anti-social. I’ve tried for a while to change the languages into English – probably what broke my previous laptop – so I’m currently sticking with what memory I have for where all the buttons are and then watching youtube videos when my memory fails me and I can’t find the animate image in slide.
I really want a phone
I’ve actually managed to get a handset! Thanks 100% to my part Korean friend who did all of the talking for me. The only issue, my certificates that state I’ve registered as an ‘alien’ here so can be given a contract have different dates on them. Apparently someone in the immigration office had their computer set on the wrong date, so everyone who went has useless pieces of paper and are having to wait for our actual cards to arrive before we can move forward.
My personal laptop broke
This is crazy annoying as I only bought it 6 months ago, but the WiFi card has died inside it, so it’s completely useless. Acer USA were all prepared to come collect it until they realised I was in Korea so need to deal with Acer Korea. These guys seem to think that I have to pay for it to be fixed as the laptop was made over a year ago, despite me sending the receipt showing I only bought it 6 months ago. An on-going process, hopefully to be solved soon.
As you can see most of the struggles revolve around technology – but it is so integral to absolutely everything! All my lessons are now (for the first time ever) based around a PowerPoint and trying to meet up with people in the middle of the 4th biggest Korean city when you’re all arriving at slightly different times and no-one really has a clue where they’re going isn’t easy when you’re not connected. It hilariously took us an hour to all find each other last week when we met at a station that turned out to have about 28 different exits as well as further countless gates for if you were exiting into the car-park.
I’m still awkward as anything with all the other teachers in my school, never sure if I’m using the appropriate greeting and sometimes thinking I should just say hello to everyone instead of Korean as that’s surely what they’d expect! Still I’m trying and there’s a fair few teachers that have attempted broken English conversation with me over lunch/in the office which is nice and helps me to not feel so much like the odd one out living in a world of semi silence.
I have had successes though! I now have a Korean bank account. Although my card is the most basic one as despite asking at every stage for the wireless cards, I was given the normal one.
I have an amazing classroom
When I first walked into it it was like the land that time had forgotten. It’s actually quite sad story – my school looked like it had a really good thing going with a couple of NETs, an English teacher’s office, mini library and lots of classes.
Then all the funding was cut and lock simply put onto the door and dust allowed to cumulate, the previous teachers final whiteboard notes slowly hardening onto it.
So now I’m the first NET in the school in just over a year. It took a while to clean off the board, and the kids have come round a couple of times to give it a bit of a sweep, (kids keep the school clean to promote good work ethic – hence why it’s never really properly clean), and I opened up all the blinds. There’s a lot of work to be done with the space, but there’s a huge amount of potential.
I’ve taught my first day of classes, but today is the kids’ assessment day for levels in their other classes, (English is ungraded), so I’ve had more time to tweak my opening and do a bit more sorting. I’ve never had close to 40 kids in my classroom so it’s a very different experience. The classes have been okay, the one I’ve taught to a girls’ class being hilarious as they were determined to cheer after each line I said in my introduction, my boys were slightly less enthusiastic, but still part-taking. I’ve done what all good teachers do and stole ideas from others to try make my next introduction lessons more interactive and just get the kids speaking as much as possible. I have around 800 different students that I’ll be seeing this term to and next term I think the grades I’ll be teaching will change and I’ll get 400 different ones added to my roster, so remembering names is going to be non-existent – meaning I can’t call out kids to speak and need to make sure I’m creating the right environment for them to open up in.
My classes are also ‘My Classes’ – as in, I teach them in their entirety and my co-teacher will arrive some time into the lesson and mingle around, occasionally saying some things in Korean. I don’t see them beforehand to run through what will be happening, we’ve just had a quick chat about which pages they would like be to roughly cover over the next two weeks and I’m left to it. This is apparently fairly standard for EPIK teaching in middle schools, due to the students English being strong enough to not need lots of translation from the Korean co-teacher. I’m enjoying the autonomy I have over my classes and will really start to enjoy them when I get the dull introductory class out of the way and can get on with the material.
I also started up playing frisbee at the weekend, arriving with a horrific hangover after our arrival night out involving lots of So-mek (Soju mixed into beer), the afternoon did wonders to blow away the dullness in my head and it was a great group of people to meet with lots of experience living here. Frisbee is one of the biggest ex-pat sport leagues in Korea, so I’m excited for when the season properly gets started and we road trip out to other parts of the country. I’ve also joined up for some 6 a-side football on a Wednesday night to vary up my sports – living alone really makes me want to have things on as many evenings as possible – you can’t just hang with housemates after work – so I’m filling up my diary; just need that first paycheck to come in so that I can keep paying for it all!