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!