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!