Sunset at the Pagoda Garden the National Museum of Korea
I've been in Korea for six months today! (Well, a year and six months. Six months this time around.)
I live in Seongnam, one of the northern most southern suburbs, this year. I'm much closer to Seoul this year (twenty minutes vs. an hour) which is nice, but the proximity to Seoul means I haven't really developed a social life in the area where I live in. The handful of foreign teachers living in my building introduced themselves when I first arrived, and they're nice and we chat in the elevator or the bus stop, but I already had a social network set up and I quickly fell back into my old routines. I rarely want to socialize after work, but I miss the spontaneity of getting dinner with friends after work without first having to spend forty minutes on the subway.
Marie and me at a clam bake in Kongdae.
I've been back to Ansan (the city I use to live in) a few times to see friends. Nostalgia is a funny thing. I'm glad I don't live in Ansan anymore, but that didn't stop me from getting emotional over old sights. That was my bus stop, the kimbap shop I went to that once, the store where I bought my chopsticks and extension cord, and I go all ♫ memory // all alone in the moonlight // I can smile at the old days // I was beautiful then ♫ The quickest way from Seongnam to Ansan is by bus, and the route happens to pass directly by my old school. I usually spend the trip with my nose in a book, but the first time I happened to look out the window at a stoplight and spotted a teenage boy that looked suspiciously like one of my 6th graders last year. Huh, I thought, he looks just like Jinho. And then the light turned green and the bus drove past my old school, and I realized the kid probably *was* Jinho.
Your average Saturday afternoon: riding your motorcyle to the park to practice traditional Korean dance with your friends. AS YOU DO.
School life is different this year. A new national curriculum was introduced this year and the 3rd and 4th graders now have English twice a week instead of once a week. This means there are 42 English classes taught at my school each week, more than I can personally teach. Instead, my co-teacher and I teach each grade together once a week and the co-teacher teaches each grade solo once a week. It works okay, but it means that I'm never the primary teacher and I'm always playing by someone else's rules and cues. There's also a lot less communication between me and my co-teachers. Last year, my co-teacher and I would plan lessons together and then prepare our respective parts. This year, I plan my lessons alone, without discussing the lessons plans with my co-teachers, and half the time I feel like we're teaching two different lessons that just happen to share a vocabulary set or grammatical concept. There's no cohesion between my lesson and my co-teacher's lesson.
4-4 Class playing a board game in English class.
I think my current students are lagging behind my last school. Both of my schools have been in poor areas, but I think this area is more impoverished. A significant number of my students are on welfare and we did so poorly on the national tests in July that the principal has decided that all the homeroom teachers have to teach three extra classes a week and extra teachers have been hired to offer remedial classes for struggling students. Right around the six month mark last year, I saw an explosion of English from my students. Almost over night, they went from only using sentence fragments to full fledged sentences arguing the merits of different Kpop bands. Teacher, I don't like Top. He is ugly and has big face. I LOVE G-Dragon! HEARTBREAKER! I just can't see a similar widespread surge of English use among my current students. It's not all bleak - a group of 6th grade girls and I recently got into a discussion about our favorite member of 소녀시대 and a 5th grader brought me his essay on the wonderful cockroach to edit - but for every bright student, there are another dozen who, when asked what their name is, can only answer, "Teacher, WUT?!"
I really wanted to make the effort to travel around Korea more this year, but I haven't done a very good job of it. In April Siobhain, Caroline and I went to the Nonsan Strawberry Festival in Chungcheongnam-do. It was your typical country fruit festival, full of giant strawberry balloons suspended over the fair ground and strawberry infused foods, many of which were not improved by tasting like strawberry. (Strawberry flavored hot pepper paste is not delicious. Nor is strawberry flavored seaweed.) There were also copious amounts of fried food and I finally tried a french-fries-covered-corn-dog-onna-stick, which was exactly as delicious as it sounds. I'm just a little ashamed that Korea beat the South to inventing it. The weekend was lots of fun and navigating Korea outside of Seoul was too difficult and and I remember thinking on the train back to Seoul that I need to take more weekend trips. That was five months ago and I haven't left the Seoul area since. Hopefully I manage to see a bit more of the country before my contract is up.
(l → r) Siobhain, Caroline, Strawberry Chick who grabbed my ass, me
It's been a good six months, and I'm glad I came back for a second year.