Posts Tagged ‘JLP’

The Hen House

About a month and a half ago, my co-teacher approached me desk with concern. My heart thudded with dread… What had I done wrong? Was this the end?

She informed me with worry in her eye that I would be traveling to a second school a few days out of the week. Just as well I thought. She mentioned that I would be at an all-girls middle school. Perfect.

As I scooted up the wooded drive, I left gasps and excited exclamations in my wake as the girls hiked their way up to school. Once in the teachers room, I was immediately introduced to the Vice Principle – a relatively tall, roughcast, yet amiable man. In short order, I was introduced to the head honcho. While he appeared older than the VP, he had a trendy look. Short spiked hair, green slacks paired with a light colored polo covered by a sport coat. Our interaction was brief, but my impression was that of a kindhearted man.

Back in the teachers room, some played it cool, while the majority of the teachers were eager to meet me. At one point I was stood in the middle of the room  while the staff clapped me on. Deflecting attention, I passed on the sweet breads that I had brought to share and headed to my new desk.

After brief school tours by both the VP and my new co-teacher, I was off to teach my first class of mademoiselles. While chatty and excitable, the girls were quick to quiet down when I called attention. I tried my best to follow the structure of my predecessor, (a Canadian gal who had been here for 3 years) but apologetically stumbled about. The girls were patient and helpful.The rest of my classes followed in a similar fashion.

Passing times were filled with girls excitedly popping in and talking over one another “teacher do you like KPOP?” “teacher my name is Ji Won” “ooo teacher, your eyes are blue” “teacher, Min Su loves you”. While I did my best to spread out my attention, zero names were remembered, and zero proposals accepted.

In true Korean form, the school campus is built into a hillside. Unlike the boys middle school that is nestled within an old neighborhood, this school neighbors only a few orchards and a small temple that I found on my afternoon wandering. Despite the inherent institution-ness of the compound it is tranquil and calm, with a familiar feel. It didn’t take me long to draw a parallel to the myriad of dated environmental education centers that dot my home state of Wisconsin. Like those, the school hails from the 60’s yet its clean and harbors that camp-retreat type atmosphere.

The peacefulness of the school was only compounded by the ideal blue-skied balmy spring day. If I could get paid to relive this day, I think I would harbor no other life aspirations. Smart (excitable) diligent students and kind coworkers are going to make upcoming Tuesdays and Wednesdays optimal.

The day ended with the Vice Principle making plans to take me hiking and an invitation to join the girls on a island trek next month. Just as I was headed out, the student welfare teacher handed me a steamy container of dukbokki (a slurry of soft rice cake, fish cake, and spicy red chili sauce called gochujang). While I have little love for spicy fish cakes, I have no reservation in saying “life is good”.


Bimonthly Recap

I have been working and living in Yeosu-si South Korea for exactly 2 months now. Although Korea is not new to me, this school, this age demographic, this city and even this province all are. I am a sporadic writer with an interest in being comprehensive. I also have trouble being concise. These truths don’t bode well together. Instead of trying to fill all the gaps between my previous posts, I am going to simply lay out some lessons I have learned over these 2 months.

Lessons learned: 

  • If you forget the keys to the English lab, there is a second set in the main office. Be warned, acquiring them is a time commitment.
  • Toilet paper is nonexistent in academic building 4, it must be sourced in building 1.
  • While most public sinks in Korea only produce cold water, the one on the left in the men’s faculty washroom has hot water.
  • It is appropriate to take food as well as dishes from the dinning hall.
  • Murphy’s Law is real. The day you choose to wear an un-tucked flannel and blast pop music while editing photos and stuffing your face, is also the first and only day the Vice Principle pays a visit to the far-flung-always-forgotten-English-Lab with the provincial academic director in-tow.
  • School lunches are no longer something to dread.
  • A room exists at Yeosu Middle School that is accessible only to the male faculty (There is a females’ version as well). It is complete with a kitchenette, bed and heater. The question is, when is it appropriate to use this haven?
  • Classroom windows must be opened even in the dead of winter to “change” the air. Whats wrong with the warm air?
  • While my small private academy last year had 3 industrial paper cutters, my large public middle school has none. 315 worksheets must be cut in-half with either an exact-o-knife or scissors.
  • Korean middle school boys can be fairly violent towards one another. They can also be surprisingly gentle and affectionate. (via the school talent show I also learned that they can make for convincing girls as well)
  • It does in fact snow in Yeosu and its even capable of “accumulating”. Well for a few hours at least…

This 2 month recap is timely. The semester has ended, winter break has already begun for students, and we are almost a week into the new year. Today was the first of my 2 weeks of winter camp before I am free to take my 2 week holiday to the Philippines. I look forward to the time away but am also eager to see what lessons the new year hold!

A Years End was good enough to produce a 2014 annual report for my blog. While it was insightful, (I have readers in Russia!?) it was more-so inspirational. It has motivated me be more prolific in the new year which is probably just what WordPress was going for.

This seems like a good opportunity for new years resolutions:

Apart from abounding blog posts I also aspire to add my photography into the mix. They say a photo is worth 1000 words and I have gigabytes on gigabytes of photos…

The interactive global-readers map has me aspiring to broaden my international reach. Maybe I could partner with that man in Seoul (  and use his helium balloons to drop thumb drives loaded with my blog into North Korea…

A New Years resolution is not complete without the half-hearted thought of living a healthy life. While I have been quite mindful of how I’ve been living recently, I want to layout some definitive goals:

Instead of a cold 10 minute wait followed by a 10 minute car ride, I will bike the 30 mins to school. Slight digression. I was told it snows maybe once a winter in Yeosu South Korea and it never sticks on the ground. While it has snowed multiple times in the last month, (only to melt away instantly) this morning I found the world coated in a fine white New Years shawl. I was more elated than you would expect a native Wisconsite to be over a bit of snow. That all ended 3 seconds later when my bike slipped out at the end of the driveway and I re-aggravated my thumb which I had sprained nearly 3 weeks earlier while snowboarding. No pain no gain?

I want to be consistent with my gym regime. I hope to make it to at least 4 of my 5 crossift classes each week. Jiu Jitsu (a Brazilian martial art) will have to wait until the aforementioned injury has healed…

Lastly I want to work on living a minimalist lifestyle. Minimalist. “being or offering no more than what is required or essential” literally simple by definition but multifaceted and less than easy in practice. In short I want to buy less, throw-out less and generally have less. Consequently I recently started following an insightful blog: Becoming a Minimalist

Of course I could go on and on with new years resolutions but lets be realistic. Besides, will what I write here and now define my entire year? No, each day is an opportunity for growth,change, and resolutions.

So I appreciate you- my readers in Russia (and the rest of the world for that matter), for following the musings of an American kid teaching EFL in South Korea. This last year was a good one but I am optimistic about the one to come. May it be filled with more photo laden blog posts than you ever care to read, blizzards in Yeosu (its still snowing by-the-way) and less sprains!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 390 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Monday fun-day

Back to life. Back to reality.

The first weekend spent in my new city came and went in the blink of an eye.

On Friday night I learned that I live extremely close to the token foreign bar in Yeosu. In attending trivia there I met slews of foreigners from all parts of this province including a few fellow Midwesterners! Saturday was a rainy one spent skyping, eating and movie going. Late in the evening I had the opportunity to meet up with an English couple that I had met originally in my previous city the first time around. Although we had only met 2 brief times over 14 months ago, we were able to catch up over soju and Korean bbq. We spent all of Sunday exploring the ’12 Yeosu Expo grounds and adjourning island. After a night of laundry I was thoroughly knackered.

The school week begins at 8:30AM Monday morning for the teachers at Yesou Middle School. All academic faculty (40-50 people) gathers in the main office, a space crisscrossed with cubical dividers and interspersed with 3 large green kitchen tables each with a comfortable capacity of 8. Although it is my 4th day on the job, and  I spend a good portion of my time in this office I still see many new faces.

The vice principle’s secretary hands out sheets of paper filled with busy hangul (Korean text). In my distraction of all the lines and circles I miss the cue to stand as one and face the flag. By the time I decide that it would probably be appropriate for me to put my hand over my heart it is apparently already time to sit down. My eyes wander back to the agenda as the principle addresses the masses. They don’t wander long before Nuna utters my name from across the room. All eyes on me.

Ah, I see.

I am expected to stand next to the principle at the front of the room.

I knew this would be coming but did not know it would be the first point on the agenda. I come prepared with suit (freshly laundered and ironed), tie and fancy chocolate. I stand facing my colleagues as the big man reads off my credentials. When he finishes I take it as my cue to bow and give a piece about my gratitude. It sure is getting warm in here for November!? I cut to the chase and pass out the boxes of chocolate (apologizing for bringing Pepero Day one too early). In a moment that feels particularly Korean to me the room erupts in applause. These guys are stoked about chocolate. Nuna translates (and undoubtably embellishes) my short introduction.

I take my seat and lay low as other faculty members bring up various topics and points of interest. It isn’t 20 minutes before the meeting is adjourned. I hastily throw my ppt. onto a jump drive and rush off to my 9:00AM class.

Today is the first day that I won’t be traveling from class to class. I am looking forward to the opportunity to stay stationary and teach from my own space. Every “plus” seems to come paired with a “negative”. My USB doesn’t work on my classroom computer. After 45min of my famous “off the cuff” teaching I am granted a break. I take the opportunity to prepare my teachers workshop which I am to facilitate after lunch. Time elapses much too fast and its back to class. My ppt. still doesn’t work. There is no wifi so I am unable to email or dropbox the materials from my laptop to my new (dysfunctional) desktop. At least I have a 3 min. youtube video waiting in the wings…

Its already lunchtime. Today is the first that I am able to head there with Nuna. I sit between her, another English teacher and one of the school counselors who has great English speaking ability. The meal is filled with fairly effortless communication.

Already it is time for my teachers workshop. I introduce myself then give the 5 other teachers the opportunity to fill out simple worksheets and introduce themselves. The idea is that we would end the class with “two truths and a lie”. I am informed all the teachers know one another extremely well and that Koreans are incapable of lying. No game it is. Apart from Nuna, the school counselor from lunch and another English teacher, there at two others. The home economics teacher (these boys have home ec!?) and one of the science teachers. Apart from getting denied lessons on how to knit the class goes fairly smoothly (It wraps up around the time the Packers wrap up their glorious defeat over the Bears).

Nuna calls off the second hour of teachers workshop so my structured workday is effectively finished.

As a young kid I recall having a short list of achievements that I should attain as an adult. First and foremost is having my own space – no bedtimes, no need to pick my Legos up off the floor. Second is to have an area of my own at work. This must be complete with personal copies of keys and state-of-the-art technology. Last is any “toy” I desire. Of the more reasonable goals listed, I think I can safely say I’ve met my requirements.

I have made it.

Maybe they will let me stick around? Just as long as I don’t loose my set of classroom keys or break my smart-board…

♪♫Stuck in the middle with♫♪. Them.

Today was a significant day. It was the first of many spent in my new home city of Yeosu, South Korea. It was also my first as an EFL teacher at an all boys public middle school. Its true, I am employed by the Korean government to teach it’s youth English as a foreign language. Its a weird world. Before I go over my day, there is a bit you should know about public schools in South Korea. Those that still have the funding to have a native English speaker have just the one. Although all schools have Korean English teachers  they generally lack in the ability to actually communicate in English. I don’t say that as slander. But fact (my main co teacher speaks very well). The stage is set.

8am I wander to the end of my new street to the predetermined rendezvous point where my co-teacher (whom I instantly established as Nuna – older sister) picks me up for school. The previous nights sleep was a rough one. I contribute little and less to the conversation. Maybe 10 minutes later and we are at the end of a road surrounded by middle school boys in their classic Asian prep-boy uniforms. Although more formal in appearance, it feels a lot like that time I got stuck in a heard of buffalo in Custer SD. Its only seconds upon parking at the back of school before I am enthusiastically greeted. New Teacha? Oh! Name? Oh! Berry handsome! Oh! OH! Where from?

Korean public schools are streamlined learning compounds. While classrooms have a respectable (often impressive) array of technology, the rest leave something to be desired. My compound: Yeosu Boys Middle School, is a particularly old one. It consists of multiple linear structures all relatively parallel to one another. Each a couple or stories high. My school has about 600 students. Again, all boys, all middle school aged. The teaching staff is 36 with a slew of other support staff. I’m the only one in the school with hair that is naturally not black and eyes that are not dark. I’m as novel as a golden snowflake on a field of white.

Nuna steers me through the masses. She instructs me to set down my things in her office. Minutes later I am off to meet the chain of command in ascending order. After lots of bowing and rehearsing of my formal Korean greetings we are off to meet the big boss. Nuna leads the way with our respectable entourage in-tow: vice principles of all kinds, administrators, lesser administrators, jugglers and thieve’s. All of our assembling to find the big man himself is out for a walk. We settle on meeting his secretaries. The highlight of that exchange is that I receive my package of organic health products that I had ordered the week prior.

Back to the halls. More: New Teacha? Oh! Name? Oh! Berry handsome! Oh! OH! Where from?

Lots of waving and “good mornings” on my part.

I am informed I need to set-up temporary shop for the week in the main teachers office. Just below the v.p.’s desk. Cue more awkward greetings, bowing ect.

By now it is about 9am and time for class to start. Nuna takes me to her homeroom class for an introduction which segues into a impromptu lesson on tropical fruit, sports and geography. My lesson is cut short as it is again time to try and meet the head principle. The troops are reassembled and we are again at the door of his office. Moments later the man himself emerges from a side door. Akin to a king of old, he is late aged, large, and formal in his actions. He has genial – winky eyes and a welcome ALMOST jolly aura. After bowing and formalities we take a seat in his throne room. It isn’t long before we both exhaust our knowledge of the others native language. Nuna steps in and talks up the highlights of my short career. Its a beautiful autumn day, the windows are open. I zone out getting lost in the soporific sights and sounds. Gazing out I see trees in autumn color, in the mid-ground are some of the impressive structures built for the Yeosu World Expo of 2012. In the background is the sea, speckled with tall rocky islands and ships stretching back into the hazy horizon. Muffled shouts of boys playing on the pitch drift in. The scene has a gentle orange hue to it.

I snap back to the immediate. I throw in a few nods and other affirmations to show my competence. Then its all over and I am back in the busy teachers office dropping my haphazardly made Into PPT. onto my thumb drive. I teach a class. And then another. The classes consist of 33-36 middle school aged boys. There are 3 grades, simply 1,2 & 3. Grade 1 students are keen to learn and respectful. Grade 2 not so much. Grade 3. Sharks in the water. The struggle is real, I imagine it will take the first couple of weeks to establish my dominance and fine-tune authoritarian control.

Lunch time. I join a gaggle of teachers on their migration to the mess hall. After dishing up my tray I take a seat across from the formidable looking P.E. teacher. I soon learn he majored in boxing. How do I relate to this guy?! Teachers stream past me one-by-one. All too shy to sit next to the white guy. In a kind gesture, the vice principle introduces me to “the virgin” teacher at the end of the table. Hands over the face. She hasn’t heard nor probably understands what her supervisor said about her but she is just as embarrassed all the same. After a few more moments of silence between me and Rocky, the v.p. finally commands the young looking music teacher to sit next to me. Neither him nor I have much to say.

Back to the halls. More: New Teacha? Oh! Name? Oh! Berry handsome! Oh! OH! Where from? – These sounds and phrases play on repeat throughout the entirety of the day.

After tweaking my PPT. Nuna gives me a grand tour of the compound. I visit the boys playing soccer on the pitch. I wave to those playing basketball. I dodge balls near the foot-volleyball (is that what its called?) court. Inside of the gymnasium is the advanced foot-volleyball players. Apparently they will head up to Seoul next weekend to compete for the title of Top Middle School Boys Foot-Volleyball Champions. Last stop on the tour is the smallest and furthest removed building. It houses the science classrooms as well as the English lab aka home away from home away from home. The wooden floors look and sound like something from a horror movie. The chairs are mismatched. The “smart board” is as old as I am. It smells like the root-cellar, but its mine.

My final class of the day is Grade 2 – Class 3 (2-3). Lets just say I was happy to not have  to do any more “instructing” after that.

All throughout the day and even prior to my arrival at school I gathered that the largest expectation of me as the token male foreign teacher was to play on the teachers volleyball team. They play during 7th period every wednesday. As much as I would like to please them, there are a few complications. First and foremost is my unfamiliarity with the sport and major lack in ability. It sounds like these bros are C.O.M.P.E.T.I.T.I.V.E. Second is the language barrier. This will pair nicely with the aforementioned in creating major embarrassment. Last is dress code. I would be most comfortable, not to mention expected to wear gym shorts. This isn’t possible as I’m not supposed to expose my large shin tattoo. Although tattoos are becoming popular with the younger generation it is still quite taboo and seen as “dirty” with the older folks.

All that to say I was expected to play volleyball given my first day happened to be a wednesday. Somehow with Nuna’s help I dodged a bullet but I know I won’t be so lucky next week…

After a hectic day I went shopping and purchased more things for work and my empty apartment. Then I treated myself to a “cheez-a” crust pizza at Pizza School and a walk around my new realm.

This year will be more of a learning experience than I had anticipated.