Thursday, 23 December 2010

Korean Culture Seminar

Last week Tom mentioned that our boss said we had to go to Suncheon (the nearest big city, about thirty minutes' drive away) on the 23rd for some kind of seminar. Earlier this week, I brought it up and tried absolutely refusing to go - it's our free time, and it's two days before Christmas - and ended up having a slight argument with the boss. Apparently it (whatever 'it' is) is now a legal requirement for foreign teachers in South Korea.

This morning, we got up early and were picked up by the boss's husband at 8.50, along with some other foreign teachers, and went to Suncheon. The seminar was at the university - other than that, all I knew is that there were going to be two hundred English teachers there, and there was going to be a lecture.

We arrived, and yes, there were some other foreigners there. We stood in a higgledy-piggledy 'queue' of sorts for a while before the boss's husband made us skip the queue - the other foreigners were judging us! It was really embarrassing! There was a piece of paper with lists of schools and each school's teachers, and we had to sign our name. Someone knocked me while I was signing so it just ended up as a squiggle. No one looked at me or anything. Anyone could have signed against my name.

Then we were given a booklet and ushered into a lecture hall. We sat down, and I brought out my knitting - after all, I was attending under protest and wanted to make that as clear as possible. After a loooong wait, while a 'photographer' (read: guy with a camera) took many photos of the audience, the shockingly uncharismatic leader of the seminar came out and spoke into a microphone. Everyone ignored him. Eventually he managed to get some attention, and did the odious thing of repeating "Good morning!" until he felt that enough people had shouted it back at him. Ugh.

After some speaking, which I didn't bother listening to (and during which the photographer got a picture of our row, which included my knitting and several people looking very bored and/or asleep), there was a 'cultural performance'. Seven women in traditional Korean dress played traditional Korean instruments and sang a traditional Korean song. It was quite nice, although they weren't very good, and it went on for ages.

When they finished, the uncharismatic speaker said "in Korean we say encore! It's a Korean word!" and tried to encourage the audience to repeat after him. Well, first of all, it's blatantly not a Korean word, and secondly, some of the more persuadable members of the audience did repeat him and unfortunately the singers took them seriously. And played the same song again. I was making snarky jokes about having deja vu and getting my book out, because seriously.

The singers had apparently finished too early - while we waited for the main lecturer to show, someone decided to take it upon themselves to read out the booklet we'd been given. One of the first things she said was "on page six, there is a list of some cultural differences that might arise between foreign teachers and their students." Page six is headed 'Act on the Protection of Children and Juveniles from Sexual Abuse'.

She went on: "you might think your students are cute, but don't pet them" was particularly interesting. And then she just continued reading from the booklet. Apparently we can't exhibit our students' physical deformities for profits or entertainment - rubbish! I think there was a pretty big translation mistake because juveniles also aren't allowed to "deliver the teas, etc. deviating from a place of business which mainly prepares and sells the teas, etc., or promoting or tolerating it." Juveniles can't tolerate tea businesses? What does that even mean? I guess that maybe a 'teahouse' is used as a euphemism for a brothel and there was some misunderstanding there, but still, come on.

She finished speaking. We were still pretty much in shock. The lecturer appeared to have arrived, but he was talking to the presenters off-microphone - I joked to Tom that he was trying to get out of doing the lecture. Eventually the presenters returned to the mike and said "please understand, this is the first time we've done this. The seminar is over."

The lecturer had gotten out of doing the lecture.

Now we really were in shock.

We left, were showered with sweets, promptly got separated from our boss's husband, hung around for a bit, and then were driven home. We were told the seminar would last from 9.30 till 12. It lasted from 10 till 10.35.

I understand that a sexual abuse seminar for teachers is a good thing. But it was patently ridiculous. They should have sent letters out to the individual bosses and we could have had in-school lectures rather than the complete rubbish which went on. We're definitely planning on being well out of this country by the time this rolls around next year.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

6 Days Until Christmas!

Since the surgery, we've both had a nice week. With not much time left until Christmas, we've been in a frenzy of ordering things (in Tom's case) and knitting things (in mine), and I'm pleased to announce that I only have a few more inches of knitting to go. I might possibly have to rip back a finished sock and re-knit the top of it - I ran out of yarn on the second sock so had to make that one about an inch shorter - but I might conveniently 'forget' that socks are meant to be the same length. I'm not decided on that one yet.

I've been having a much better time with my classes - Tuesday and Thursday are guaranteed to be good days, because all of my students are lovely, and I'm now dealing much better with my Wednesday and Friday problem students than before. I'm lucky in that my kids who 'act out' generally only go so far. If I let them talk in a stupid voice or spend two minutes acting out how sausages are made (including sound effects), then at least they'll speak English and join in with the class. Tom, unfortunately, can't allow that because his students will take an inch and run with it. I wonder why: there are several differences, such as my students are generally from wealthier families, spend more time together (each class is at school together, and possibly in other academies together)... I'm not sure.

The major events of this week were that both Tom and I went out, individually, with an adult student.

Tom went to a 'hof' (which we've been told means 'bar') with a male student on Thursday, as theirs was the last class of the day. I can't tell the full story here as I wasn't there at the time - I just know that Tom came home tipsy with 'shock' (also quite a lot of beer). The waitress had stayed with them, drinking herself, fawning over them, and when he saw the bill it was obvious that they were paying for the privilege of her company! Given that this student has a wife, Tom was disturbed by both the woman's obsequious behaviour (I like to think that obsequious behaviour is something he would never expect from me) and how much his student enjoyed it. He drank as quickly as he could so that they would leave sooner (!) - and was glad to turn down the offer of dinner because he knew I was cooking at home. What annoys me is that the waitress and his student responded by complimenting him on what a good girlfriend I was - aaaaargh. Poor Tom.


On Friday one of my students invited me to go for coffee with her friends. She and the other student in that class have already taken me out for lunch at a very nice, cutesy, Cath Kidston-esque Italian restaurant - I went back there with Tom last weekend and on the way we saw this wonderfully named cafe on the right - so I was looking forward to it.

My student took me, with her two best friends from high school and her daughter, to a very nice coffee place downtown. I've met her daughter a couple of times before - she's about seven (I hate Korean ages, they're ridiculous), and has come with her mother to class when she's been unwell, and I've provided her with colouring pencils and tissue. Combined with the fact that I'm white, and this little girl is in awe of me. She draws pictures of me (her mother is an art teacher), and I often get updates in class along the lines of "my daughter misses you!" It's very sweet. After what happened at the hospital, with a stranger trying to initiate a conversation with me moments after I came out of surgery, I've gotten more and more annoyed with people constantly staring at me, and shouting at me in the street, and generally treating me like some kind of circus freak - but my student's daughter I still have some patience for!

Anyway, we went on to a seafood restaurant and oh my god. Four things are important.

1. I ate raw seafood. A lot of it. It was good!
2. Korean meals are huge. There was so much food... and then the waitress took away the remains... and brought another whole fish out for us. I was the only one who hadn't eaten that afternoon/evening and I simply could not match the amount of food they were putting away. It was astounding.
3. The seven year old was eating clams from the shell, and picking apart crab legs, and eating raw cuttlefish, and so on and so on. I know she was brought up like that, but it was amazing to see a child eating fish that wasn't covered in breadcrumbs!
4. I nearly ate something and then they told me it was alive so I didn't eat it. Urgh.

I had a really lovely evening, although when I got home Tom complained that I stank of fish. Understandable, really.

Today we're hoping to go back downtown because the Christmas lights are now up! We went to see them last week but there was nothing, apart from a few (unlit) bulbs on a couple of trees - but on Friday my student's friend drove past them and there were lots of Christmas lights everywhere. It was very exciting. Pictures will hopefully be forthcoming.

Korean Surgery

So last week we ended up not going to the Namhae Hilton, which wasn't a huge surprise given how things seem to work around here! We've been told 'maybe around New Year' but no one's holding their breath.

My hospitalization went well, as did my recovery - the whole experience was more traumatic than painful or risky or anything. Unfortunately, the moment I stopped taking the various medications I was on to prevent an infection, I started to develop another bad cold. I'm very angry at whichever student it was who gave me this cold, and I fully intend on punishing them for it!

This is an email I sent to my parents on the day of the surgery, if anyone's interested in what it's like to have surgery in a country where you don't speak the language, or quite understand the culture, or have the same beliefs:

Saturday, 4 December 2010


I've been a little bit lax on the whole 'updating' side of things - not really for want of anything happening, because funnily enough it's been a fairly eventful couple of weeks!

Last Thursday (the 25th) was Thanksgiving in America, and as I am never one to ignore a holiday, especially when I have even the flimsiest of excuses to observe it (we lived in America last year!), we hosted Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday 27th. The day before, I had begun writing an entry for this - I had a bad head cold and felt horrific. It was like someone had stuffed my head with fibreglass, and my teaching that day sadly suffered. Luckily, by Saturday morning I felt much better, although I'm still recovering from some aspects of that cold now, a week later.

The cooking details of Thanksgiving can be found meticulously recorded here, here, here and here. We invited some of the other foreign teachers, all of whom are American, and are pleased to report that we cooked and served a somewhat-convincing Thanksgiving meal - despite the lack of turkey. And cranberries. And so on.

As usual, hosting Thanksgiving meant that we were Buying Things in Korea, and hence Mistakes Were Inevitable. Turkey was nowhere to be found, so we bought a duck, and then on the day decided that the duck was unlikely to be big enough so I returned to the butcher's, bought a smaller duck, stuffed it with a tangerine and an onion, cooked it for a few hours, and then realized it was a chicken. Thankfully that was the worst of our issues, which was almost surprising.

 The next day, we climbed a small mountain opposite Tom's school and took some photos of the city that has been our home for over two months now. The paths were fairly treacherous: I'm not known for my superior balance anyway, and the steepness combined with the mass of autumnal leaves on the ground meant that I was clinging to Tom for dear life most of the way.

The industrial nature of Gwangyang surrounded by the mountains was kind of spectacular, although Tom in particular couldn't decide whether it was horrifically ugly or not. We could see the bridge to Yeosu, which is meant to be completed by 2012, when there's some kind of expo here. (And Wikipedia says: something about Yeosu's Expo 2012 bid. Well, that makes things far clearer.) Tom says that bridge is named after a Korean general who fought the Japanese off from here. The bridge lights up at night - oddly, given that it's not in use - which is nonetheless very pretty.
At the top of the mountain is what we believe to be a war memorial. This tall, tower-like structure is the centrepiece; a couple of engravings at the bottom show men with guns, and some Korean writing. There are signs plastered all over the place saying "CCTV", although no one else was there. In fact, the whole mountain was strangely deserted, given that it was a sunny Sunday and (you would think) more people would be out for a walk.

The first part of this week was less fun, with various work issues. Another English academy in Gwangyang is closing, and my school is inheriting a couple of classes of students. Of course, any parent wants the best for their child, but my Korean co-teacher and I are reluctant about the whole thing. First of all, the students want to keep learning in the same way they did in the other school, so we're not allowed to use the books that form the E Bo Young curriculum. Nor are we allowed to have classes bigger than three students, although the actual school rules prohibit classes larger than nine. Secondly, the parents have been badmouthing many other English academies and teachers in the area, so we're worried about what might be said about us. Thirdly, this means that from next week I'll be working 2.40-9.10 without a break two days a week, which will rise to four days a week from January. The parents are paying more for all of these privileges, obviously, but none of this extra goes to the teachers.

My health has also suffered slightly, and on Friday I'll be in hospital to have some precancerous cervical cells removed. I'm psyching myself up to have my insides electrocuted by a doctor with whom I have no language overlap (not to be melodramatic or anything), but am pleased with the prospect of a day off, sitting in bed knitting. Recovery time is very short, so the next day we're off to Namhae Island, about one hour from here, to spend a weekend at the Hilton with the other foreign teachers.

This week, there has also been the start of December! And hence the start of Christmas celebrations in our home and schools. I made Tom an advent calendar after he woke up on the 1st distraught, and individually we've been doing Christmas crafts in our classrooms. I have five classes a day and have given each class a section of the wall which currently displays their Christmas work, but which from January will display anything I feel like. This is a picture of Class 2 and Class 3's work: class 2 did some colouring (they're about seven years old) and class 3 (about eleven years old) wrote letters to Santa.

We also made some snowflakes, and taped them on to the windows to prove that it does snow in Gwangyang! As you can see, Class 1 (aged six) were very busy with their proper work yesterday and didn't get to do any colouring or anything Christmassy. It was tragic.

We also decorated our apartment - yesterday we went to Home Plus and bought a Tesco Finest (!) Christmas tree. It's 150cm tall, and very wide, and (slightly peculiarly) came with fake cinnamon sticks, berries and pine cones attached.

We documented (almost) the entire process of decorating the tree on Facebook, but here are a few highlights:

 An empty space where the tree will go! We used to have a huge, ugly armchair here, which we have been fretting over for a couple of weeks now (where oh where can we put it to get rid of it?). In the end we have just dumped it unceremoniously on the balcony, justifying it by telling ourselves that we won't use the balcony in the winter. Except to dry clothes. And we can get those out there by climbing out of our bedroom window rather than using the living room door. Sorted.

 First thing to go on: lights!

 Tom adds some decorations.

 And I put the star on top. Incidentally, I also bought that jumper from Home Plus yesterday. Under 20,000 W (about 11 pounds) for a pure cashmere jumper! It's very soft. I'm happy.

And the final shot of the tree in all its glory. The lights have eight settings, and can do all kinds of amazing things. When I got home last night, I sat in the dark with the lights on and felt very Christmassy.

The tree feels very special because we earned the money to buy it. I'm perfectly happy knowing that each of us taught for one hour to buy that tree. Definitely one hour's work well spent.

Monday, 22 November 2010

On Being Different

On Saturday we went to Home Plus. We went to the drinks aisle. There was  another woman in the aisle, with her little girl in the trolley. The child was probably about a year old. Whilst innocently looking for orange juice, this woman caught our attention and said to us, in broken English, "she's afraid of foreigners," gesturing to her daughter. Indeed, the little girl was staring at us worriedly. It was true. But why did she tell us this?

On Sunday we went to the butcher's in search of a chunk of meat to roast. It took a while, mostly because we couldn't figure out how to say that we wanted to spend so much money and what could they give us for that price. They kept putting various things on the scales and pointing to the number, and offering us discounts but not very clearly (so was the price they just showed us already discounted, or would they take half off?), and complimenting Tom (with some surprise, amusingly) on his beautiful girlfriend - and eventually we walked away with just over a kilogram of pork which cooked beautifully.

Living in Korea can be a challenge, but there are also times when life is more fun when you're communicating through pointing and gesturing.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Doing stuff at the weekend!

Well, Tom and I actually had a fairly productive weekend for once! It was nice to do things, rather than just sit around watching X Factor - although we managed to fit that in too, of course.

Last week was fairly typical: I think the only things worthy of mention are PAYDAY! and the fact that I got two new students in my Wednesday/Friday adult class. Oh, and we ordered an oven online, although it's going to delivered to a friend's place, hopefully this week.

Then the weekend came along! On Thursday, during the online ordering of the oven, I mentioned that I also wanted a small dining table. All I wanted was something cheap and wooden. Suddenly, six or seven people were involved in the purchase of a second-hand table, with phone calls and text messages being sent all over South Korea. Eventually we agreed that our boss would give us a table that she has in storage and would take us to a second-hand store on Saturday morning.

On Friday the table arrived, with four 'chairs' (stools). We refused the stools and sadly hid the table away - it has metal legs and I'm not happy about it.

On Saturday, we got up early and were taken by our boss's husband to a furniture store. The furniture didn't look second-hand... but it did have the higgledy-piggledy, cramped atmosphere which, in our experience, 'proper' furniture shops lack. However, after being told that their cheapest chairs were 45,000W each, we called our boss again and reminded her that we wanted second-hand. She insisted that this shop was as cheap as any second-hand place, but to be honest, even if that turned out later to be true, I didn't want to kit out a rented apartment (which is only ours until next October) with brand-new furniture.

Funnily enough, a couple of minutes' drive away we found a real second-hand shop with a small round table and two chairs which we got for 60,000W. We paid, went home, and the set was delivered to us for free within twenty minutes of paying for it. We are pretty pleased with it.

The other major Saturday event, except for discovering a local butcher's (an extremely fun experience), was going out for dinner! On our own! With nothing but two phrasebooks and a dictionary to help us! It was a local place that we've walked past countless times, on the way to both the yarn shop (more on which later) and the nearest taxi rank, which looks fairly traditional - at least, it requires the removal of shoes and sitting on the (heated) floor. We ate gamjatang, which is a "spicy soup with pork vertebrae and potatoes," and tastes much nicer than it sounds. Overall we ate this huge main dish (it was the smallest size, shockingly), rice, all the assorted side dishes, and had a beer each for just 23,000W. Eating out is definitely cheap, but we remain skeptical of the people who claim that it's cheaper to go to restaurants than to cook in Korea.

In knitting news, there are some Top Secret Christmas Projects going on, which I am very excited about. Also, after using Judy's Magic Cast On (video) for my first pair of toe-up socks, I have gone sock crazy and have spent a significant amount of the last twenty-four hours gazing longingly at sock patterns. That cast-on is just so easy and beautiful. Several times I have thrust the laptop at Tom gabbling "oh my god these are so beautiful look LOOK." I even laughed at a knitting joke. (Why is this knitting pattern called Crusoe? Because it's stranded. Hahaha!) I think I'm going to have to make these, which necessitates another trip to the yarn shop, of course.

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Since we arrived, we have met two Westerners properly (and one left not only the country, nor the continent, but the hemisphere two days after we met her), and seen two others. Yesterday, however, that completely changed. We went for lunch with the other couple who teaches here, who left for new adventures today, and the new couple that arrived just a few days ago to replace them. This means we are no longer the new teachers! Yay!

The food was very, very odd - the American bar and grill buffet was far from American, and really quite strange - but there were some nice tidbits among the mess. In my experience, Korean food is generally palatable to Westerners, but this meal included cold things and... yes. Anyway. The new couple were really nice, and we hope that they liked us as much as we liked them. It was strange and exciting to meet people who are basically us, a month ago!

In fact, it's been more than a month since we arrived, and we've now done five weeks of teaching. No plans for this weekend except downloading X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing tomorrow - I feel almost as if the weekend has snuck up on us!

I had a much better week this week, after a good few days of being generally grumpy. Overhanging issues have almost entirely been sorted, or at least their solutions have been planned, so that's that. Next week is payday, which means a bevy of interesting things - most excitingly, we will be able to buy an oven! We're also plunging headlong into the holiday season, which even Tom is anticipating this year. He's decided that we're going to show Korea how to do Christmas properly, although this seems to mean that our Christmas tree will be on the balcony, where strangers can see it but we can't. That's a point we'll have to rethink.

Saturday, 30 October 2010


The Geoje Island pictures, promised last week and finally uploaded today =) This place was odd: it seemed like it built large toys out of wood, mostly ships. This is one of the ships.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


The weather in South Korea has been wonderful. Before we came here, I was terrified: the previous teacher had told us that she had never in her life been as cold as she had been in Korea. I was unwilling to ignore her, even though she's from Africa, and packed accordingly, gibbering quietly to myself all the while.

Then we arrived here and it was like summer! It was almost always sunny, with the temperature above 20 degrees. We had one rainy day, and a few rainy nights (although it was always fine by the morning). Last week, my co-teacher told me (as we were driving to work in brilliant sunshine) that in Tesco, an employee had told her that the temperatures would be going below zero this week. We laughed. It was a prophecy of insane proportions.

On Saturday morning it was a little bit cold, but Tom put that down to us being outside at 10am, which is something that we never really do. It warmed up, anyway, and on Monday we walked to work wearing only one layer. The skies were clear and it was hot.

Then on the walk home... it was unbelievably cold. The wind was horrific. The temperature had dropped from about 20 degrees to something closer to zero, in the space of eight hours. Tuesday was even worse. And - and - the window in my classroom wouldn't close properly, so I spent six hours in a freezing cold classroom with nothing more than a cardigan for warmth. (I had a coat, and a hat, but couldn't exactly wear them in front of my classes without looking like I was about to walk out.)

I've been knitting a scarf, as mentioned before, and am now working on it at super-speed to try and get it done before I freeze to death.

Other than that, things are going well. Teaching is beginning to come more naturally to both of us, thankfully, and I'm very much looking forward to the rapidly approaching holiday season. In fact, I'm planning on making it come even earlier by celebrating Thanksgiving with my classes. Which I'm very excited about!

A couple more things on an administrative note: the last post I wrote is meant to have some pictures at the bottom. I think the website I'm using for my blogs is having a small issue with photo uploading at the moment, and I've been unable to add the pictures. Once they're up, I'll post again to let everyone know that the photos have finally arrived. Also, don't forget to check out my cooking blog.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Third Week

Our third week in Korea: we tried new things! Korean things! And even tried some on our own!

Last Saturday we went to Geoje Island, or 'Geojedo', which no Korean person I know has ever visited. I've told my co-worker and various students about the trip and everyone went “oh. I've never been there.” It was a very strange day – very enjoyable, don't get me wrong, just mad. There are some pictures below the fold (click on 'Read More' to see them).

The week itself seems to have gone quite fast. Monday is my least favourite day, for reasons imaginable as well as it being the only day where I teach in Jungma (at Tom's school) rather than on Posco Island. I find the Jungma school a little oppressive, just because I'm used to having fewer children and bigger classrooms and only one colleague! The first of my two adult classes cancelled (rescheduling for Thursday, much to my annoyance) but luckily my later adult was able to come in early, so I didn't have to hang around for too long.

On Tuesday I decided that I had had enough of one particular class. To help my co-teacher out, we had agreed last week that I would only teach half a unit at a time to some classes, which meant that the last time I had my MIT class I only had material to fill about half of the time. They were nightmarish. So I prepared: I had a seating plan, developed throughout the day specifically to annoy; I created rules and punishments (most of which involved the confiscation of Talking Club dollars); I printed off a creative writing activity; and I put my best 'angry teacher' face on. It worked! There was no fighting, no shouting; the children were silent (albeit sulky); we got more work done than is usual.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the class, I relaxed the rules and asked the students what they thought had worked during class today. Surprisingly, they came up with many more 'pros' than I could. Then I asked what was bad, and was naturally overwhelmed by the flood of responses. I told them that if they behaved, we would do fun things in class and I would not be as strict; if they continued to fight and shout, my classroom would continue to be a strict and forbidding place. Then we did the “I'm sorry to hear that” activity from the website Strange Lands, and all was well.

Now to get a little bit 'knitty' – please skip this paragraph and move straight on to the pictures if you're not a knitter. Yesterday, after a few days of being on a yarn-shop quest, I made my way to a knitting shop just a couple of minutes' walk away from our flat. It was magical. I bought two skeins of a multicoloured yarn (green, pink and brown; very autumnal), a wooden circular needle (no straights available, which was a bit strange although far from inconvenient), and got started on the Palette pattern from the Knitty website. Currently four or five repeats of the lace pattern in and I'm excited about having a homemade scarf for the winter! The pattern is simple but interesting - YOs on a purl side? Purl-slip-pass? Weird! I hadn't brought any of my own knitting supplies from home, lacking the suitcase space and figuring I'd just go for a year without doing anything, but it was not long at all before I started to get desperate for a pair of needles.

Right: sorry about that, here are some photos. Enjoy your weekend!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


Yesterday I had my first two adult classes, both of which I was dreading.

The previous teacher told me that her adult classes were always fine, but that the mere fact of having to do them made her stomach sink. Tom tells me that he can't wait for his adult classes, because it's an opportunity to do real teaching - to teach people who want to learn, and to be able to deviate wildly from the prescribed text.

I'm not as enthusiastic a teacher as Tom, clearly.

I've mentioned before, I think, that I like to play with the children. Children you can fool into thinking that you know what you're doing. Adults can tell that you're just making it up as you go along. You can't distract adults with a game of hangman, particularly when there's only one adult. Because both of my adults classes have just one male student. No pair work going on here.

My first class yesterday was simply, no matter what, going to be difficult. I have two very young children who are on phonics book 1. I printed off a few worksheets, drew the alphabet in footsteps on the board, and waited. One child showed up. The other one never came. So it was a one-on-one lesson between an adult who speaks no Korean and a child who speaks no English (but knows how to say eight of the letters in the alphabet). Lots of drawing happened.

After what was, for me, a full day of teaching (bearing in mind that I only had five lessons a day last week), a guy walked into my classroom, introduced himself, and told me that he was nervous because his new teacher (me) looked like a movie star. I laughed and thought "aha, you should see me when I've washed my hair." It was nice talking to someone whose English was fairly good for fifty minutes, particularly after a long day of "repeat after me. I will go to scouting camp this summer. Repeat. Yes, everyone." The second was awkward and I got a little bit bored, but neither was as bad as I was expecting, I suppose. It's not a part of my week I will be looking forward to by any means, but at least I survived it. And it's something to put on the CV.

Today I have five classes, two of which will be actual teaching and three of which are review sessions. Those should also be fairly dull, but I'm sure I'll make it through. If anyone wants a spoiler for the potential next entry in my cooking blog, I'm thinking of making this, with pork, for dinner tonight.

And now some photos of our new flat.

 Starting in the spare room...

A Picture Post

Thursday, 7 October 2010


It turns out that I am simply not physically cut out for the difficult business of being a teacher.

Tuesday and Wednesday each involved their own separate hospital visits. The first, on Tuesday, was for the medical exams required to validate our E2 visas. I had my first X-ray – Tom was surprised to hear that, but of course I've never broken a bone or anything. The whole experience was quite weird, with various patients being ferried around the same set of tests: urine, blood, sight, height, blood pressure, hearing, dentist, and so on. Everything was fine (we saw the results today, turns out I am blood type A+, which is something I never knew before!) except that the dentist told me that I needed three wisdom teeth extracted.

Understandably, this panicked me quite a lot – and then I realized that I don't even have three wisdom teeth yet. I think the dentist was quite zealous.

Unfortunately, their over-excitement at my teeth meant they overlooked something which turned out to be fairly important. The next morning I found blood in my urine, which necessitated a return to the hospital. Tom's colleague, the other foreign teacher, very kindly took us there and waited around with us for an hour while they grew things from my pee (nice). I was prescribed some antibiotics, which were mercifully cheap – 10,580 won, and the nice man in the chemist waived the last 80 – and we went onwards to Hadong and Pia Valley, which was stunning and which I will write about, or at least post pictures of, another time.

So: two days of teaching and I was bleeding from somewhere one shouldn't really bleed (all that kept running through my head was scenes from House where bloody urine means that someone is about to die!), had a very sore throat from all the talking, and a nose alternating whimsically between runny and blocked. With any luck, the upcoming year, with its constant exposure to children, will toughen up my immune system a bit.

Being a teacher is hard, physical work.

In other news, today we visited Tesco for a second time, had our visas changed from single to multiple entry (we can travel, and they'll let us back in to Korea!), and got the internet! Tomorrow we are getting our alien registration cards, and will officially be legal immigrants to Korea. My Korean is improving, or at least my accent and willingness to have a go is. I managed to get us home from Tesco in a taxi without showing the driver the written address, at least until he asked which tower block we were, and I asked the man who guards the bins (recycling is taken very seriously here) which bin I should put polystyrene into. I was very pleased with myself, even though all I did was say "where?" and wave the polystyrene at him.

I absolutely love this country.

First Days of Work

Tom and I have now been teaching for three days: he is brilliant, and I am sick.

The first day was nice, although for me the company's constant and inevitable inability to tell me about the changes they make to my schedule reared its ugly head once again. Rather than being in Yale, I was in Boston. The Boston teacher had been told about this on Friday, which was nice for him. So far I have remained amused by this, rather than irritated, although we'll see where we are in a few months.

When I first got my schedule, I was slightly disappointed to see that all of my classes were above the 'phonics' level; I thought it would be fun to teach young children who needed to learn the sounds of Western languages before they even learnt any words. So I was quite excited to see that my first class turned out to be with two small children on phonics book 1, unit 6. Annoyingly, phonics book 1, unit 6 is the letter H. How on earth do you teach children (who already have the huh sound in their language) how to pronounce H in English?! I honestly spent the entire fifty minutes going “ha! Haaaa! Hahahahahaaaa!” to two very hyperactive Korean children. Before class, one of them kept running in and out wildly; the other one was pretending to sneak into the room, and running out whenever I addressed him. The entire class was a cross between fun and hell.

My first day at my actual school, on Tuesday, brought with it some very fun classes. My current schedule is working 3-8 at Tom's school on Mondays, and 3:30 to 8:20 at another academy ten minutes' drive away, on Posco Island – which I'm sure can't be its real name. POSCO is the major company on the island, a steel works, and all the children are the sons and daughters of “Posco men.” I've been drumming ambition into my girls and a sense of ambition into all of my students, which is the only way to go, really.

Teaching Korean children can be very sad a lot of the time. Yesterday, Tom taught a fifteen year old who had had to do eleven hours of work. He told Tom that when he leaves school, the first thing he wants to do is spend a week playing.

What's more, a lot of it is learning by rote – some classes call to mind the scene from Matilda where the children are chanting monotonously. I work through the books with them, and have assigned some homework (which I hate doing) but not much, and have introduced some activities within the context of using the book which most of my children seem to enjoy. But whenever I can, I play games with them. It gives them a chance to practise spontaneous spoken English, and (more importantly) it gives them a chance to have fun!


This entry was written on Sunday 3rd October, while we had no internet.

One constancy of Saturday – our third anniversary – was that it was completely surreal.

It began on Friday evening, when suddenly the wall began speaking loud Korean. We couldn't understand a word, apart from something that sounded like 'picture ID', and figured out that it was echoing around all eleven or so apartment blocks. A few hours later, as we were going to sleep, the doorbell rang twice. Having heard horror stories about Korean Jehovah's Witnesses, we left it.

In the morning, Tom decided that the doorbell must have been our boss's husband, who was meant to pick us up at 10.30 on Saturday to take us to our new apartment, and had misunderstood and thought we wanted to be there for 10.30 on Friday evening. I dismissed this as ridiculous – they knew that the leaving teacher was going to be in her apartment until midday on Saturday, we'd already discussed timings, etcetera – but it seemed a little less ridiculous when we waited outside our apartment for twenty minutes with no sign of this lift. Eventually we gave up and got into a taxi, where I spoke Korean to my second Korean!

We arrived at the leaving teacher's apartment to find her hungover, which, we have been led to believe, is a very unusual state of affairs. The flat is absolutely beautiful. Funnily enough, it's not much bigger than the studio flat we stayed in for our first few days, but it makes better use of the space, making it feel cosy and house-like without being cramped. It is on the first floor, which is the English ground floor, so it doesn't quite feel like a flat in a tower block. The previous teacher decorated in beautifully: it is full of plants, and pictures of nature, and life. As well as all the usual (lounge, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen), we have a spare bedroom/study, a huge balcony area, and even a pantry! It is absolutely wonderful and I'm so excited just to be here.

Anyway, that was weird: moving into a new flat a couple of hours before its previous resident moved out. It felt very much like we were trespassing, or staying in a hotel. The leaving teacher made us feel at home, though.

The teacher had warned us about Jehovah's Witnesses here – Korea is bursting at the seams with surprises! - and said that she only answers the door if someone is meant to be coming over. Mere minutes after she had left for the airport, the doorbell went, and two Korean women were standing there with the Bible. I said “hello, I don't speak Korean” and went to shut the door – and she elbowed it back open again! After I stood dutifully for a couple of minutes, periodically shaking my head, she let me close the door,

After unpacking and a quick lunch we decided to go to... Tesco.

We'd seen, in the pantry, a few things that bore 'Tesco' labels – actual things we recognized from shopping in Tesco in England, with the English labels and everything! – as well as a few which had the Tesco Value blue and white stripes! A taxi to the store cost us 2800 won, which is absolutely nothing. We had discovered while we unpacked that the internet wasn't working, so our main aim was to get a router. After some fun (read: nightmares) with a few cashpoints, we found a router and I attempted to pay using my English debit card. Somehow the woman understood me and we bought it!

Then for the food. This was amazing: it was actually Tesco. Some of the signs had the character for 'won' (the equivalent of a pound sign) being cut in half. Some things we recognized, and had clearly been shipped out from England. The most mind-boggling thing was that you were clearly in Korea: the British stuff was strewn amongst the Korean stuff, and some of the British stuff had had their labels translated. Tom and I roamed the aisles trying to stifle our manic, disbelieving giggles and calculating the price increase for the imported items – which was fairly reasonable. We bought steak and sweet potatoes for a delicious dinner, and had a very lovely, if generally weird, anniversary.


This entry was written on Saturday 2 October, while we had no internet.

We were dubious about our two days of training in Gwangyang from the start. Our contract specified that we would be trained over three days in the head office in Seoul, but that never ended up happening.

Instead we spent Thursday at school 2 (there are three of this franchise in the local area), a few minutes' walk away from the apartment that we moved into on Saturday, observing the leaving teacher whose classes Tom would be taking over. As we walked in, she was taken aback by our height – a recurring theme throughout the training days, and probably one which will continue!

After the teacher explained the school's curriculum, we sat with her through some 'interview' classes, 'test' classes, 'normal' classes and 'adult' classes. Some of the children were extremely shocked to see new Westerners in their school, and Tom in particular got lots of 'he's so handsome!' comments. For convoluted but very amusing reasons, the leaving teacher had a picture of Gerard Butler on her file, and one of the children asked if it was Tom! I'm already worrying about fitting his gigantic swollen head through those tiny plane doors on the journey home next year.

This in particular has made Tom and I believe that Korean people are a lot more open than you would expect. One of the adults, whose English was impressive, told Tom that he was very handsome and that I was very beautiful. My Korean co-teacher told us that when she went to America, she was the only person who ran through the rain – everyone else, even those without umbrellas, just kept going. As a people, they seem somewhat uninhibited. It's refreshing.

Thursday was when the confusion over schools and classes started. For Tom it was easy: teaching at school 2, five days a week, all eight periods a day. I thought I was doing the same but at school 1. Then, after being given our schedules (the classes are all named after universities – I teach Yale, MIT and Harvard! Probably the closest to an Ivy League professor that I'll ever become), it turned out that I was teaching at school 2 on Mondays and school 1 for the rest of the week, and that I only had five classes a day, so would finish earlier than Tom. Then I found out that I was teaching at school 3 Tuesdays-Fridays, not school 1, and that I would be driven back to school 2 after my fifth class finished at 8:20 to teach the eighth class at 9:00pm. Thankfully, there are currently no classes that need me then, so for the first few weeks at least I'll be going straight back to the flat after a short day at work.

On Friday, we slept late (it's kind of necessary when you're working 3-10pm), and were picked up by my Korean co-teacher to be taken to school 3 at 1:20. School 3 is on an island called ???, past Tesco (more on that in the next post!), and in an old hospital. (My classrooms are quite dreary. I'm already planning a ton of art projects, although suggestions will be gratefully considered!) I am the only foreign teacher, which means (a little worryingly!) that the children have previously been taught English by non-native speakers. It also means that none of the children have English names. English names are a school policy – it forces the children to use their mouths to make Western sounds more often. However, it also means that I have to name them! It's an unbelievably weird feeling to look at a classroom of small children, children you met minutes before, and go “right... you're Tess. You're Oscar. You're Lottie.” It's also kind of exciting, though: I'm tempted to have themed classrooms. Dickens characters! Flowers! Best friends' names!

Another side-effect of my being the first foreign teacher at this school is that the children are terrified. In one class, I read something out loud for them – one girl was taken aback and said (the Korean teacher translated) that she'd never heard a native English speaker before. Another girl took one look at Tom & I and ran off screaming.

One thing that neither Tom nor I like about working in a school here is that corporal punishment is not only legal, it is practised. In our schools, by our Korean co-teachers. It's not something we can change, though, it's just something that we will never, ever participate in, and will try to discourage wherever possible.

It was a strange couple of days, but to be honest the whole week is unusual, to say the least. I can safely say that we feel much better about being English teachers in South Korea – starting Monday!

Thursday, 30 September 2010


What have I learnt over the last few days? That no one should ever travel anywhere. Or at least Tom and I shouldn't. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love being in new places - living abroad is never as scary as you think it will be - but the process of getting to the new place is invariably nightmarish. Science is not spending enough money on teleportation.

On Friday, we got our visas, and were told that we should be in Korea by the following Wednesday. On Monday, our flight wasn't booked: we were told that at 10am KST (3am in Europe) the next day, we would get our e-tickets. I got up at 4am on Tuesday... no tickets. After a slightly disgruntled email sent at 7:08am, we got our e-tickets by 8, finished packing, and were on our way to the airport five hours later.

Two planes later and we were in Seoul. The bus we were supposed to get from Incheon wasn't there (were we late? Had it already gone? Or did it ever even exist?) so we got a manic taxi ride into the heart of Seoul, where the substitute bus... had left two minutes before. In the taxi I had been struggling to keep my eyes open, to the point where I was practically having waking dreams, but after the excitement of taking a shortcut to our bus through a few hundred other moving buses, I stayed wide awake for an hour and a half until our bus finally left for Gwangyang.

From 3:30 to 5:30 we slept; the bus stopped at 5:30 at a petrol station. We stayed on the bus, having absolutely no idea how long we were going to be there, and a complete stranger unexpectedly bought us each an energy drink! The countryside was beautiful, and just before 8 we got into Gwangyang and were driven the couple of blocks back to our temporary apartment.

The flat is actually okay. Our first impressions, after a long day travelling, were of course negative. That said, the greasy pan left on the side is pretty grim. It's huge: a big open space, with a little, usable kitchen and a balcony with a washing machine. Not even the bathroom is truly small. All it needs is a good clean... and a bed. Sleeping on a thick blanket on a hard floor is not much fun, in case you weren't sure about that.

Today was much better. After some trouble with the alarm clock - the voltage difference makes the clock run fast, and made the 9am alarm go off at 7:30 - we got up at 10, discovered the internet connection, got up, and wandered around town for an hour or so. I took some pictures, Tom whined about how I was embarrassing him by looking like a tourist, we bought some food for dinner and returned to the flat before being taken to Tom's new school.

I'm getting far too tired to write about our day of training, sadly, but suffice to say it was fun. Tom and I are much reassured.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Getting to Korea

It was a little under a year ago that Tom and I first started thinking of moving to South Korea after university. A couple of months later, Korea became our exclusive and definite post-graduation plan. However, it wasn't until May that we started Getting Serious about it - applying for jobs, doing a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course, getting our visa documentation together - and July had nearly arrived when we finally were offered contracts. In early August we had received our degrees and could send them to Korea for the first stage of the visa process, and by next week we should have our visas and be in the air.

We never really considered teaching in another country, because even the minimal research showed that Korea was the best place to save money. As third-year students, particularly in post-recession, newly-Tory Britain, it was comforting to have another option: somewhere else to go, where we were guaranteed jobs and enough wages to start some savings. Many of the other students we know have been unable to find work in Britain, except for those who have returned to their pre-university jobs.

However, before we can take up our jobs as teachers in the south-western Korean city of Gwangyang, we had to go through the visa process. In fact, we're still going through it, which means that our flights are not yet booked and we start teaching in thirteen days. I won't delve too far into the details now: suffice to say that my partner and I are International, and that many institutions can't accommodate people who refuse to stay in one country. In fact, they simply don't like us. Our flights will hopefully be booked this week; our visas will come through on Friday or Monday; we shall fly at some point next week.

I might write more about the entire, ten-month process at some point, but for now Tom and I are preparing to start afresh on the other side of the world.