TESL


It’s been an eventful last week. I had a pretty productive weekend and went to the dentist for the first time in a few years. If you go for a span without a cleaning there is a certain amount of apprehension before breaking the spell of not visiting. My worries were eased. Though I did have a couple very minor cavities the dentist assured me that they weren’t anything to be concerned about and that all in all the chompers were in great shape.

The hygienist was a little nervous and giggling quite a bit as she worked on me. She was mortified when she sprayed the water pick across my face and inadvertently jabbed me with the dental pick. I took it all in stride and was laughing with her as she dried off my face “I didn’t know I was so sad.” Haha. With no insurance a cleaning and an X-ray  only cost me $120. The appointment is setup in June when I get back to tack care of the cavities and all in all I was feeling pretty satisfied.

Saturday I dropped by Hongdae with one of my Korean buddies. I felt kind of bad for how things turned out. He doesn’t really kick it in that neck of the woods so after a dinner at Shamrock I showed him the ever infamous Zen Bar 1. For the record this fiasco of an establishment isn’t really my bag of tea but he wanted to see some of the more packed establishments and likes hanging out at establishments similar to this. It was early into the night so this was one of the few places with many patrons. I grew weary of the noise and excessive intoxication and decided to head out before the last subway departed back home, my Ilsan homies were incommunicado after a COEX food/wine buffet and was feeling uninspired. Unfortunately he wanted to stay and hang out with some Americans he met. I received a text the next day stating that one of the girls he was talking to charged a few bottles to his tab for the price of 800,000 won ($700ish). I hate it when other foreigners, especially ones from my home country, act scandalous.

The following day was a group excursion up to Kintex in Ilsan for the 4D festival. While this sounded great in theory with appealing promo videos the reality was disappointing. What my friends didn’t seem to translate when looking up this event was that it’s pretty much geared for kids. I love teaching kids but it’s not my idea of a good time spending an afternoon at flashy yet simplistic, glorified amusement park. Especially in a foreign country where there is no English directions. Lesson learned? Look up some reviews from other foreigners beforehand, don’t be the Guinea Pig.

Graduation was on Monday which went off without a hitch. My kids were outstanding in delivering their speeches to the biased audience of their parents. One of my highlights was definitely the conversation with the father of one of my more mischievous students. “So my daughter was behaved in your classes?” He asked with a stoic face. “Yes, she was.” I answered somewhat untruthfully.” He broke into a big grin and replied “You are a nice teacher, but I don’t believe you” and proceeded to laugh heartily. Classic.

My vacation has now begun and it’s off to a superb start. Yesterday was a holiday so six of the crew from school all went out to Yeouinaru on the banks of the Han river. One nice things about being right next to this subway is that it is the lowest in South Korea and if artillery coming from up North were to fall (incredibly improbable) you can take shelter 9 stories below sea level. Tandem bikes and groups of families and young adults on mats were abundant as everyone wanted to enjoy a rare 50+ (Fahrenheit) day. The evening was finished of by a visit to a local Chinese/Korean restaurant near our apartments for Shabu Shabu. This is a dish which starts out with one large pot of boiling broth which is divided into two sides. One features a salty flavor and the other a spicy. You are given a base of greens, bok choy and mushrooms to add to the soup and an assortment of banchan (ever present Korean side dishes) including thinly sliced radish kimchi, sesame tofu ribbons with green onions and peanuts. The selection of protein is up to you and our group of 7 choose the mix with thinly sliced lamb, beef, tripe, frozen tofu cubes and seafood (octopus, muscles and scallops). Sustainful feasting ensued and the entire meal cost a mere 40,000 won ($35) for all of us. I was a little shocked I hadn’t tried this yet but not a month goes by I don’t discover a new cuisine Seoul has to surprise me with (especially since I started eating meat in the last two months).

Today I visited the pension offices and was pleasantly surprised at how easy the whole process was. My round trip ticket didn’t raise any eyebrows and it only cost about 10 minutes of my life. 10 days after I depart I get 10% of my income deposited into my Korean bank account. I applied for a global Visa card from Woori Bank (1-2% surcharge on all purchases) and should be able to easily visit Los Angeles after Arizona before I cruise back North to the Pacific Northwest and my beloved Seattle until the end of April. I’m also hoping to pick up a new laptop while there so these funds were kinda crucial for that kind of spendage. Tonight there is a benefit show in Hongdae with some friends and start my round of goodbyes until Spring before departure next week.

Now I just need to decide what to do for my remaining 8 days. Visit a Jjimjilbang for the first time? Maybe see a Japanese vs. Korean rockabilly band battle? Not quite sure yet. I do know one thing. I love it when your biggest looming problem is how to deal with the freedom of a two month vacation. Viva!

 

Well, the school year is starting to wind down and everyone here at my school is getting ready for some big changes. Only two of the Korean teachers are staying so offices have been pretty packed and some of us have a lot of teachers observing our classes. I was a little embarrassed on Tuesday when my drama classes were observed by four of the new Kindergarten teachers. These activity classes involve a lot of singing and dancing.

My vocal chords are not really serenade-esque (as anyone who has been to a Norebang with me can testify to…) and since the songs don’t come with associated dances. That means that I get to make up all of the dances in my class. Even though I was president of Thespian Society in high school I’m not really into choreography. I always did the dramas in the Fall and opted to play rugby instead of do the musicals in the Spring.

I was pretty surprised when one of the new teachers came up to me in the hall and asked me “Are you Nathan and friends with Mary and Jacob?” Turns out that she was one of their co-teachers at their hagwon that closed in November. For a city of almost 12 million it still feels like a small world.

I’m slammed at the moment with projects and paperwork. Currently trying to figure out if I can get my pension (roughly 10% of my paycheck) reimbursed since I’m going home for so long. An extra $1,300 would definitely help out in terms of leaving enough money to cover student loans and maybe pickup a laptop while I’m back home. Looks promising but keeping my fingers crossed. Fighting off a sinus infection at the moment which is probably why it’s so easy to get distracted by writing an overdue blog post.

Wish me luck tomorrow, have an appointment at the dentist and it’s been a few years since my last visit. Really hoping I don’t need too much time under the drill, if any.

Well things have been a bit hectic here the last couple weeks. Last Wednesday my manager pulled me into her office…and informed me that they were unable to book as many students for the kindergarten classes starting in March. The director was willing to be “generous” and offer a 3 month (unpaid) vacation back home starting in March until June and then come back as an afternoon teacher. “Isn’t that wonderful?” was the delivery. To say I was a little shocked would be an understatement. I just got back from one vacation, and my bank account reflected this. A 3 month limbo, even back home, is not really what I was looking for. If I had a lot of savings and didn’t mind burning it all a backpacking trip through Europe would be great but my current funds don’t really allow for such an expedition.

In many ways I have to reassure myself that coming over here and is not just taking a small detour in accomplishing the goals I have in life. I look forward to Masters school and starting my career back home and justify my time spent here as a great way to become a more well-rounded student and gain a larger perspective on the world. I do truly believe this. There is a small nagging voice in the back of my head that does sneak up from time to time and sel-criticisms of just procrastinating and enjoying the easy lifestyle that Korea offers ex-pat teachers is not the path right now. 3 months of coach surfing and spending all of my savings would be giving those self-doubts a little credence in my opinion.

Back in Bellingham I worked afternoon and evenings at UPS immediately after graduating. While having the day to myself was nice I remember that a lot of my time interacting with friends was later at night and most of the friends who socialize at these hours do so at bars over drinks. This is all fine when you are still riding that postgraduation high. I’m 26 now and trying to flex some of the maturity I will need to really accomplish the things I desire to do in my life and revisiting this lifestyle doesn’t have a huge appeal to me.

Plus, while many teachers I talk to don’t really like the kindergarten classes (especially other guys) these are the times when I get the most gratification from teaching. The physical energy you have to expend is quite a bit more with students at this age but the payoff is immense. The influence and admiration you gain with them and being able to see how rapidly you are affecting them in a positive manner is one of my favorite things about teaching.

I explained both these things to my bosses and a compromise was struck. I am going home early March and coming back near the end of April to start kindergarten classes in June. My director gave me a decent raise and is going to put me back on the payroll in May. I will be the most veteran foreign and morning teacher at this point and the second longest teacher at my school. I will also be the oldest one. Amazing how much can change in one year.

Enough about work, on to my impromptou trip back home. It took a little scrambling to figure out the logistics but I’m already anticipating my return home. Aroung March 9th I fly out from Incheon to Tucson, Arizona. My best friend is attending school there for his Masters and has Spring Break starting on the 10th. I have never really been to the Southwest and look forward to not only the adventures but the warm temperatures and cuisine of an Arizona Spring. After a week or two there I’m cruising over to LA to reconnect with some friends and family for about a week and then flying up to Seattle for the duration of April.

Sometimes you have to roll with the punches, such is life. I’ve got my gloves laced tight, a smile on my face and am ready for some epic adventure-filled rounds Stateside. Viva!

Last Thursday was the field trip to the transportation safety education center (this is the term I’m using since my coworkers were confused about an adequate translation). This was actually the shortest and most uneventful field trip yet. The center is located in Omomkgyo which is only 20 minutes away.

I was thankful for this short duration as the continuous repetition of “Wheels on the Bus go ‘Round and ‘Round” was quickly draining my cognitive reserve as well as my consistently mellow temperament. Our driver was the same one that will give some of us a ride back to our apartments on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I really enjoy his constant smile and cheerful attitude but his head-bobbing and waving of hands to the simple repeated children’s tune was slightly off-setting. Another 15 minutes more and I would have burnt out my typically gigantic well of patience and the fun factor would have taken a significant drop for all parties involved.

The field trip started with viewing a cheesy Korean anime about magic traffic light people who taught about how not to get hit by cars or other forms of transportation. It was all in Korean so I pretty much just dialed out for a bit, didn’t seem like I was missing much as even the kids quickly lost interest.

After the film we partook in some practice exercises and had numerous street-crossing demonstrations. I understand the necessity of instilling in these kids a healthy respect of the dangers of traffic here. This is a city of almost 12 million touting one of the highest population densities and where pedestrians don’t even have the right of way. Add on to this the ever-present scooters weaving between pedestrians on the sidewalk and red lights that seem more like a suggestion than a rigidly enforced rule sometime.

Couple this environment with a society that treasures their children and places a huge emphasis on their protection. I completely understand why so much extra education is geared towards being aware of the dangers presented by vehicles. Unfortunately this knowledge did nothing to alleviate my boredom. Common sense lessons in basic safety are devastatingly dull, especially in a foreign language.

Luckily enough the field trip concluded with a round of chaotic soccer and a trip to the large big-toy playground and the conclusion was quite entertaining. Huzzah!

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A common trend of mine seems to be blogging about events a week or two after they happen. I’d like to thing that is because I’m organizing in my head exactly what I want to impart. Letting the thoughts take shape and crystallize into the perfect coherent and eloquent form to express my life here in Seoul. Sadly, I fear this is more due to the fact that at heart I’m somewhat of a procrastinator and don’t get around to writing posts until I realize the memories are starting to fade from experiences and sensations/thoughts in the moment to mere cliff notes.

This entry is about my elementary kids and the awesome prowess they possess in serenading the judges (other teachers) into giving them pizza. The song contest took place two weeks ago and was a blast. Two of my classes came in first place and one in second. To be honest I was kind of rooting for the team that came in second the most. Their rendition of “Somewhere over the rainbow” covered by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was pretty cute. Not precisely all-city choir quality but I was cracking up at seeing them sing, especially the initial “Oooooo  oooooo ooooooo” part which they had trouble delivering with any flexing of their range. Picture one long monotone Oooooooooo *pause* ooooooo….you get the picture. They really tried hard and put their all into it.

I was feeling so motivated for these guys to score well I dropped by the local craft store and made them streamer flags that they could wave. I bought five different colors of streamers and attached them to similarly colored hard-foam poles. As they swayed them back and forth it kinda looked like a rainbow on stage. Kinda. Regardless anyone who knows me well knows arts and crafts aren’t really my forte so I was feeling pretty proud of even this small props-crafting.

Luckily enough 2nd still gets a pizza party, just not the SLP dollars (used on market day) or badge/pins that some students proudly have adorning their backpacks. They were beat out by one of my other classes with their cover of “World’s Greatest by R Kelly. They chose the song in that class…Me being a huge R Kelly fan and all (read the sarcasm…) you can see why I was rooting for Somewhere over the rainbow.

Here’s a shot of one of my older classes who won with “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. I tried to convince all of my classes to do some mild form of dancing (read pantomiming the lyrics) but they all balked. This class even refused to lean against each other during the chorus which urges this action.

Lean on Me takes the gold.

I was fairly vindicated by the surprised look on my coteacher’s face when they won. I choose the song and she had been fairly adamant about how it was too hard for them.

Dear blog,

Sorry I’ve been neglecting you so much. I know, I know, you are my Hermes carrying messages back home and promoting my exploits here in Korea. Yes, I know, in twenty years when I am much more tied down and think back to times of wanderlust you will be a testament of inspiration for adventures of yesteryear. It’s just that I lost that camera cord and really wanted to upload photos so that the text wouldn’t stand alone. This last week especially has been really hectic at school as we’ve had two new teachers show up and they’ve been observing me so I’ve had to really put my game face on. That paired with fact that it’s been the last week of the July session and I’ve had an increased classload has given me virtually no free time for blogging at school.

I’ll make it up to you by promising to put this and two other posts up this week. This first one will be the recap of mid-July and Marine Week in which our protagonist ventured out to the Aquarium at COEX with his awesome young linguists protegés the Cheetah class and battled the ocean/elements and made more expat friends from around the world at the Boryoeng Mud Festival.

First off, the aquarium was a complete blast! My kids were in high spirits and I had a delightful time watching them ohhh and ahhh at all the sharks, sea turtles, tropical fish, crocodiles and more. The AC was pumping out a cool flow and the humidity was low. Facilities were very modern and the fact that cost of entry is My aquatic buddies.usually $30 on the weekends made me thankful the school was picking up the bill on this one. Another one of my patented beaming smiles was let loose upon seeing the sea otter exhibit. I DIG SEA OTTERS in a big way. The way they sinuously move in the water makes me envious of a prowess at swimming I will never posses. Their features always seem to be mischievously smiling and mates hold paws when they sleep so that they don’t lose each other out on the open sea. There is no marine animal I would rather be than the carefree sea otter.

Cheetah class humming Under the Sea.

Boreyong was a blast. Our bus left Seoul at 7:30am and Noksapyeong is a good 45 minutes away via subway so we had to leave the apartments by 6:20 to play it safe. I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 am to make a huge breakfast scramble consisting of 12 eggs, one zuchnni, two yellow onion, 4 Korean chili peppers, 1 orange bell pepper, 1 potato, basil, oregano and some Boulliard’s Louisiana hot sauce and Sriracha Thai chili sauce. A little power breakfast to help with the beginning of the forey. The bus ride was uneventful but I was filled with a lighthearted joy upon leaving Seoul for the first time since arriving.

I loved zoning out on road trips and just soaking up the passing scenery of Washington as a child. This trait is not lost to me as an adult and South Korea’s countryside had a lot to offer. From mist shrouded mountains clad in verdant tones of green fauna unfamiliar to me to terraced agricultural hills and small clusters of skyscrapers indicating small towns (everything is compact here, which I dig since I abhor suburban sprawl). After this panoramic ride of 2 1/2 hours we arrived at Boryeong at around 10:30.

We lucked out and our room was ready so our crew of 6 unloaded backpacks an threw on some trunks in the room. A mini-fridge, small stove, pile of bedding on hardwood floor and separate bathroom was definitely the smallest room I’ve shared with a group this size. After assessing the facilities we headed down to the beach. Our neglect to put any sunscreen on is shown in the peeling skin currently on my shoulders and the pink, new skin showing on my nose. The water was warm and the beach expansive with a chain of islands of varying sized reminding me of the San Juan back home. I dove in and made a cross-stroke beeline for the nearest buoy 50 yards out. At 30 yards I was jarred out of my rhythm by a Korean coast guard member on a jetski waving me back to shore. Guess they’re a little phobic of tourism fallout if some intoxicated waygook (foreigner) drowns during the festivities. Fair enough.

As for the actual mud festival section of the beach we didn’t spend a ton of time. $5 purchased entry to all the events like mud wrestling, mud slides and mud obstacle courses. Unfortunately this was the first day of festivities and the lines were lengthy so the only one we did was a slip and slide style race. I challenged my British buddy and had a glorious victory after a thirtyish foot long slide and scramble to the end. He claimed I had a false start, sore loser…haha. We painted ourselves with the provided cosmetic grade mud to help lessen the intensity of the sun but this proved to be in vain as Monsoon season rain reared it’s head and showered away our protective coating.

As the sun set we grabbed out bottles of cass, took a fortifying shot of Johnny Walker black label (they sell it in 7-11 here…) and changed out of our now filthy, smelling of the sea shorts to go grab some dinner. The bibimbap hit the spot and we meandered down to the beach to meet some Irish friends and their blokes. The opening night fireworks were phenomenal and I was very impressed with not only the size of the arsenal but the variety. Back home we don’t have shells that separate into a multitude of hearts or smiley faces on the horizon. Good times were had by all.

The next day we were tired of sand in our shorts and decided to go to the waterpark by the bus stop. My favorite ride was my first. However, I wasn’t used to the protocol and just thought it worked just like “Wild Waves” the Six Flags water/amusement park back home. I grabbed the bar and propelled myself down the tube. Bad move, here you are supposed to slowly lie down and let them push you to initiate the ride. I smacked my forehead on the top of the entry (good thing I’m thick-headed) but still managed to fly down the tube on the rushing water.

This tube did four consecutive circles (dizziness ensues not helped by blow to the noggin) and then spits you out into a large bowl. If you have ever seen the fundraising device where you put a coin in and the velocity makes it go around and round the bowl before dropping through the hole at the bottom you can picture this ride. I had more momentum than most due to my size and exuberant take off at the top so was spun about 4 times before falling through the hole into the pool at the bottom. Unbeknownst to me there was a life guard with a floatation device at the bottom who helps grab you and escort you to the exit. Makes sense considering the vertigo inducing dizziness of said ride. I however almost freaked out and started swinging when two hands grabbed me under the water, haha.

Mini panic attack and forced leave of the park was averted when I noticed the red lifeguard attire. Upon exiting two lifeguards were waiting questioning my state of health “Are you ok? Are you sure?”. Seems the lifeguard at the top had noticed me hit my head and had radioed her fellow employees bottom-side. I was laughing like a little kid and reassured them my condition was strong.

Many other slides and hijinks ensued and I also was pleasantly surprised to discover the sauna at the top which had around 70 separate water massage stations for your back, legs, shoulders and chest. Pretty savvy concept. The shoulder massage had a very strong flow and felt good to my muscles but extremely harsh on my sunburnt skin. We were all pretty burnt by the time we hopped on the bus back to Seoul. Koreans take extra precaution against sunburn and exposure to elements so the next day at class all my students were pointing and yelling “Red Teacher”!!!

Well blog, I hope this is a good start to making it up to you for not corresponding for some time. Tonight is another going away party in Itaewon for the last of the departing teachers finishing their contracts and leaving for home this Summer. A total of 7 teachers have concluded their time here and left for home since I’ve arrived. It’s been a little surreal just arriving and seeing so many people I’ve just met depart, also a little odd being considered the “veteran” amongst the new hires.

The going away party isn’t for another 7 hours so I think I’m finished with this post, ready to sign out of Facebook, watch one last video on Pitchfork TV and leave the “Interpark Soo” PC Bang (motto: The moment when after many years of hard work and a long voyage you stand in the centre of your room, house, half-acre, square mile, island, country, knowing at last how you got there, and say, I own this.) and go see some of Seoul. I think Boramae park or wandering around the grounds of a buddhist temple seems like the perfect idea right now. Cheers!

  Last Wednesday was the class field trip to the zoo at Seoul Grand Park. We were a little too late for the dolphin show and there wasn’t a ton of time so we probably only saw about one-third of the exhibits but seeing how excited the kids were made for a wonderful trip. Lunch time was also great as all the kids tried to share their deserts and snacks with me. The provided “vegetarian” lunch was a paris baguette croissant sandwich sans ham, it was really nice for them to provide an alternative but lettuce, cheese and mayo doesn’t really make the cut, haha. I especially want to provide a shout out to my student Seo Heo for sharing her kiwis with me, they were delicious.

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