It’s the Little Things

I’m starting this post at 4:00am, which you might think is really early to be awake. 4 days after jumping ahead 13 time zones, I am congratulating myself for it!

Yesterday (Tuesday) was my second day “on the job” and it was quite eventful. I will describe it as well as talk about some things that I have learned about South Korea and Koreans; the “little” things in life that one can only learn about another culture by experiencing it for oneself.

Day 2: I arrived with the other newbies to clock in at 8:50am and went straight to the daily teacher’s meeting. Again, it’s just a meeting to discuss the day’s classes, activities, and any concerns someone might have. Then, we went to pick up the kids from their hotels. I was to shadow teachers in the Cooking content area for the morning. It began with a combined class of about 30 students with the usual 2 teachers (plus me) and for the first hour, students learned vocabulary: several cooking utensils and ingredients. It’s been interesting to observe each teacher’s different style of delivery. Even with some of the most fun, entertaining teachers, the lessons are quite dry and there are no hands-on activities provided except for completing written exercises in their books. While I understand that this format is the norm in the Korean public education system, I would love to develop some more engaging, hands-on activities for the kids to do with the PowerPoint presentation being just a supplement to the lesson rather than the entire lesson. (I discussed this with one of the more seasoned teachers here, and he thinks my ideas are wonderful. I’m going to volunteer to the be on the committee that revamps the lesson plans every 6 months.)

After the language lesson, the kids got to cook during the next hour and a half. They were provided a recipe for chocolate chip pancakes and then the utensils and ingredients, and told to start cooking! Each team (4 students) were to a table, which had a gas range. For my fellow Americans reading this, you probably just had an accident in your pants thinking about teenagers using sharp knives and fire and hoping I don’t get fired over any lawsuits. Relax! Koreans are a lot more responsible and and trusting. This is not a lawsuit culture. The students did quite well (despite one table of rambunctious boys spilling everything all over the floor… then immediately rushed to get a mop and cleaned it all up, by themselves,without the teacher having to tell them or help them!) and the pancakes turned out great! There was one table of girls who insisted I try a piece of each pancake they made. It was very sweet and they clapped for me every time I tried their pancake and told them it was delicious!

Following the cooking, there was an hour left before lunch and classes switched teachers for this (for the sake of observations, we newbies stayed in the same classroom all morning to be able to get a real taste of the content area and to observe different teachers). This next teacher was very nice, but had the students complete activities in their workbook for the full hour and by the end, everyone had finished the activities and were just sitting around with nothing to do. (The other teacher didn’t show up and I got to be the second classroom teacher.) While they were working, she made them hot chocolate… which I thought would have been a fun activity for them to do themselves! But what do I know? I’m just a newbie. 🙂

For lunch, it was apparently decided that we teachers would be eating at the Pizza + Pasta restaurant instead of the cafeteria, though I had sort of been anxious to get back to their Korean buffet! But it was more important for me to be social and continue getting to know my fellow newbie teachers as well as meet more of the oldies. I learned that teachers get discounts at most of the places there, so for only 4,000 won (about $4 USD) I got a huge plate of spaghetti, a slice of pizza, and a soda. Those of you who know me know that I don’t usually eat like that and haven’t touched soda in years, but when you’re hungry and haven’t been paid yet, and just doing what the crowd does, and already ate all your food in your apartment, you don’t really worry too much about your diet. (And by “diet” I don’t mean that I’m ON a diet, but rather what I habitually eat on a daily basis.)

I forgot to mention that before lunch, I had found Chris (half of the newbie couple from New Zealand) and we were standing around chatting waiting for his other half, Shanti. We we were standing around outside when all of a sudden, we hear the high-pitched screams of teenage girls and the rush of a stampede headed towards us. Startled, I backed away while Chris, who had been dealing with that all day, allowed the mass of Korean girls to swallow him up and demand his autograph while shouting “you’re so handsome!” The poor guy, who is tall, blond, and with piercing greenish-blue eyes, has gotten a taste of what it’s like to be a celebrity among fans. We ate lunch outside and quickly discovered that to be a mistake when the girls came and found Chris again while we were eating.

After lunch I shadowed a loud, fun, outgoing woman named Gwen, who is from Georgia. Our activity was dodgeball! I was excited because it would be out of a classroom (it’s been gorgeous outside) and something a little different than sitting and reading a PowerPoint. Was it fun, you ask? Um… it was interesting. Once they understood how to play and the teams took their places, there was very little movement and they took their time taking aim at the other players. Most of the girls let themselves get hit on purpose in order to be “out” to to not have to play. Most of the boys goofed off and only a few followed the rules of the game (which goes to show that teenagers are the same everywhere!). At one point, one of them kicked the ball across the court and over to me on the other side, where I caught the ball in one hand against my leg. There was an astonished “Ohhh!” exclaimed by all of the students in unison and from then on I was known as “Very Good Sports Teacher.” (Even I was impressed with how I caught the ball; sometimes those light rubber balls just bounce off of you when you try to catch them.)

Sadly, after dodgeball, it was back to the classroom for more language lessons for the remainder of the day. On the bright side, I got to observe my colleague, Matthew, who I had already observed the day before. He speaks Korean and uses it to get the students’ attention when they are goofing off or sleeping in class, which is a great strategy despite the fact that we’re only supposed to use English, because the kids can’t get enough of it and it holds their attention! The rest of the afternoon wasn’t the most exciting, and again, I can’t wait to develop some more hands-on games and activities to be used in the future. During the last class (which was an hour and a quarter) the kids had a game to play, and it went well except that most of them were bored with it after just half an hour and they goofed off the remainder of the class.

So, that was my day. I ventured out of GEV after work to get some more groceries from the Emart (about a 15-minute walk). Can you believe I managed to stay awake until 10:00pm? I was quite proud of myself! I’m also proud of how much I’ve learned in just the few days I’ve been here:

  • Ordering customized food in Korea is considered VERY rude. You order exactly what is listed in the menu whether you want those pieces of octopus in your salad or not. (Don’t worry, I didn’t learn this the hard way – I was told this before going in to order lunch. Phew!)
  • Very few people take the time to meet everyone in GEV. I went to introduce myself to the guard at the front gate, who speaks only a few words of English but who was obviously delighted that I spoke to him. While the others regard him as serious and unfriendly, he is now my new best friend.
  • Koreans sort their trash by plastics, biodegradable, and “regular” trash, and you have to buy different bags for each kind of trash. Yes, this means I had to go home and sort through the 2 bags of trash I have already accumulated.
  • Koreans, particularly adults, are shy about speaking English – not because they don’t want to (on the contrary, they are so desparately want to speak it) but because they are afraid of making mistakes. At the Emart I had a young girl come up to me and say “hello!” while her mother just smiled shyly and then broke eye contact with me.
  • The infinitive and gerund verb forms are confusing to Koreans (for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about – shame on you, by the way – an infinitive would be “to sleep” while the gerund would be “sleeping”). In the Korean language, the “-ing” form is what is always used and so the idea of an infinitive is very foreign to them and is also confusing because they know “to” as a preposition. (Look that one up… I’m not going to explain that one!)
  • Every American I’ve met here speaks Spanish! Well, they don’t speak it… they learned it at one point and are dying to practice it. I’m going to start a Spanish club and (hopefully) find some people who would want to go salsa dancing with me.
  • I haven’t experienced the REAL Korea yet. Living at the village really is like living in an English town (or at least, a “Western” town) and even the architecture of the buildings can’t be found anywhere else in the country. And, it’s not even like living in a town… it’s like living in a theme park, like I mentioned in one of my previous posts. There is a museum (now empty) in front of my apartment, and just 2 buildings over is the Exhibition Center. At any time of the day I can see “tourists” walking through and taking pictures in front of the various buildings, monuments, and statues. Kids’ songs are constantly being blasted throughout GEV, and walking around here reminds me of walking around the part of Six Flags that has all the shops and restaurants. I really haven’t experienced any culture shock yet and I’m thinking I’ll really have to make an effort to get out and see the real Korea!

That’s all I can think of at the moment. I’ve been so overwhelmed with new information that I’m sure I have learned way more than that, it’s just still being processed in my exhausted brain!

Today (Wednesday) is the last day of the current program, so it will be an easy day because the kids leave after lunch. After work, some of us are going to chip in for a cab and go over to one of the larger stores to get things we can’t find at the Emart. I don’t necessarily need anything at the moment, I’m going just to get out of the village.

Until next time, folks….

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8 Responses to It’s the Little Things

  1. Laura Brown says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your adventure with us!!! Its amazing how easily you seem to share the details of your days and make it engaging!!! A real talent!! Keep the stories coming.


  2. Alice La Russo says:

    Thank you for your newsy, detailed report of your days, Rachel. I’m loving it!

  3. Glenn Vickerman says:

    You said it Laura! You’ve got a real knack for it Rachie! I really can’t wait to get there and experience it for myself!

  4. zimzimmie1 says:

    What a crazy experience already!!

  5. Grandpa and Grandma Heim says:

    Well, we finally read all your blogs, Rachel. Old people like your grandparents take time for these things! We’re really enjoying your Korean journey vicariously and hope the whole year is as much fun as it is for you now. When Glenn arrives you’ll have the pleasure of showing HIM around. (You can skip the places and food you didn’t like, and he’ll not know the difference.)

    It must take a long time to write these blogs, but it’s very rewarding for us!

    Love you,

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