Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another Mountain Trek

Another busy week in Suji, starting with our late arrival back home on Sunday night from Taebaek...and then the wonderful feeling on Monday morning that my body had been run over by a truck...I guess hiking a real mountain will do that to you! There were plenty of distractions this week that once again made the workweek fly by: Grace's birthday party on Tuesday (one of my kinders), our LCI hiking field trip on Wednesday, and a VERY eventful Friday night out!
Our hiking field trip was definitely a memorable experience- the Korean staff had informed us that it would actually be more of a "nice, easy stroll" than a hike. Nope- it was a real mountain, just a 10 min bus ride from school, right in the middle of metropolitan Suji! The students were mostly all wearing their yellow and gray LCI sweat suits (that they wear for P.E. each week), but the weather turned out to be hot and humid- within 5 min of hiking, we had over 100 sweaty, crabby kindergarteners (and teachers!). Apparently, the Korean supervisor leading our big group took the wrong trail up the mountain...I believe it was the equivalent of a double black diamond back home?? We were literally shoving kindergarteners up the vertical incline, catching them when they slipped on the loose rocks and tripped over the tree roots. This was especially difficult, given that every teacher had a minimum of five kinders hanging onto their hands, arms, and clothing. This hike really helped me to practice that virtue of PATIENCE!!
On Friday, Christine's uncle visited her at the school and accompanied us to our favorite little Korean restaurant near school. This restaurant is run by a cute little Korean man and his wife who get really excited when we come in...even though we always ordered the exact same things, because they were the only dishes we knew were on the menu (this is important info that gets passed along from teacher to teacher at LCI- your selection at restaurants near the school can be pretty limited, depending on what knowledge past teachers pass along). Christine's uncle speaks fluent Korean, though, so we were very excited to have him translate the menu for us! Cheesy Ramen and Bibimbap are great, but we were all feeling the need to expand our palates!
I ended up ordering a beef rib soup...which was not so great, kind of disappointing. It looked like a clear, thin broth with a few green leeks floating around and random chunks of bone (with a bit of meat attached, depending on the bone piece!). Oh well- it was only 4,500 won, which is about $3 US. I'm excited to go back to our place and order other new things, though!
Afterward, Christine, London and I had a pretty extreme night out in Suji and can't beat the price for fun here, $5 for a few bottles of soju, the traditional hard liquor here! There's a little "hut" across the street from my apartment that sells drinks, snacks, alcohol, etc- very convenient for going to grab another bottle of soju if necessary! We met up with some of the other LCI teachers in a nearby town, at a German pub, then ended with norebong. This norebong was pretty floor hallways, a little "stage" in each private room, and giant teddy bears on the benches in every room! Some things about Korea like that, I will never understand!
This week should go fast, too- only school on M-W...then October break! It's a national holiday, somewhat comparable to a Korean Thanksgiving, when everyone returns to their home village. I'm going with Christine and Shauna to her uncle's house in Cheonju- I'm very excited for another little trip!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The First Weekend Trip- Taebaek

Great weekend! London and I traveled to the Taebaek Mountains (pretty much straight east from Suji) on Saturday morning. It was exciting to just be on a bus, knowing that we were leaving the great metropolis of Seoul for somewhere calmer, greener, and less-polluted. We arrived in Taebaek with pretty high hopes of clean air and nature!

However, we were in for a rude awakening when we stepped outside the Taebaek bus terminal to a dingy, run-down looking town. And cool temperatures (which we did not pack for). And rain (which we foolishly had not accounted for). We had about 5 hours until London's boyfriend Fred and his roommates arrived from Pohang...and some pretty downtrodden spirits!

We saw a sign for some caves and tried to walk toward them...out of the rain and cold...carrying our travel packs...for over 5km. There was NO way we'd turn back, even though the signs for the caves were becoming fewer and far between...and the hiking along the roads was becoming a bit treacherous! We needed Taebaek to redeem itself! We did reach the caves, a few hours later- and they were worth the trek. My first cave! A real, underground cave! We got our hard hats and were on our own underground...I can't believe I didn't even get claustrophobic. Apparently Korea has been good for me in a few ways!

And speaking of conquering fears...the next day we hiked up Taebaek Mountain, to the Munsubbong peak. This was a real mountain climb- climbing over rocks and boulders, hanging on to rope railings at the more unstable points. We couldn't see much of any view until just about the top- I think that saved me from feeling the vertigo! Bridget just reminded me today about how scared I was to climb Diamondhead Mountain in Hawaii all those years back...she says that I must have been doing that all for attention, if I'm climbing mountains with no problem now!

The views at the summit of Taebaek were absolutely amazing...I kept telling myself that I wasn't going to give in to all those cliches of becoming so inspired and enlightened by reaching the summit...but I had to! It was such an awesome feeling to reach that peak- there were 360 degree views of mountains as far as you could see...and amazing stone altars scattered across the plateau at the top of the mountain. I had heard that the mountain is integral to Korean culture- something about how they believe in its power and spirit. It was so easy to understand that while standing atop the peak- not only because you could see other Koreans meditating, praying, and even singing to the stone temples there, but also because the feelings of just being there were so overpowering. I can't put it into words too well- but I hope that some of my pictures captured it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Everything has been so busy lately, it's been tough to find even a few minutes to blog and email. Every spare minute at school is occupied by correcting spelling tests, grading essays, or writing weekly kindergarten reports...not to mention the prep for each class. I know that Darren gets a lot of satisfaction out of me saying, "teaching is a lot of work!" and "I'm so tired by the end of the day!" :) And I can't deny's very exhausting. My voice is spent and my brain is exhausted from constantly trying to account for every little detail in the classroom. I also have to snap out of "ESL teacher mode," in which I over-annuniciate and slowlllllyyyy dictate every single word, to overcome the language barrier with my students.
I've also been feeling a bit more pressure at school lately...I'm at the point (almost six weeks in) where the students' progress is beginning to show, and parents' feedback is starting to roll in. This feedback has been both positive and negative- I know that a few of my kindergarteners have really improved their interest, motivation, and focus in the past six weeks with me. It is difficult to refrain from ranting about the other parents- those who are very overbearing and overly-concerned with their child's work...they can make it very difficult to stay confident in my abilities to teach and guide their children.

However, my elementary classes have suddenly begun to make a turn for the better this week...I actually felt in control, effective, and in-tune with my students this week! There are still some behavioral problems...I hadn't initially thought that behavior managment would even be an issue, after hearing so many stories of strict Korean schools...and just knowing that each class would have a maximum of only 10 students! But I think that the students feel so much pressure from their Korean teachers, their parents, and their classmates, that English school with us is their only time to let their guard down and actually act like a kid. I can't believe the schedules of some of my students...Korean school, homework time at home, English school, Taekwando, piano lessons, math tutor, science tutor, computer school...some of my 2nd grade students have school and tutors until 10 pm every night! (and then more tutoring on Saturdays). It's no wonder they have trouble concentrating and listening to me every afternoon!

Looking forward to this weekend- joining London, her boyfriend (who teaches in Pohang, near Busan, in southeastern Korea), and a few of his co-teachers for a little trip to the Taebaek Mountains. This region is supposed to be pretty undeveloped, compared to the rest of South Korea, and have beautiful terrain- forests, mountains (obviously), rivers, and GREEN space (a rare, rare commodity in South Korea!). Even if we just get one afternoon of hiking in- I'll be so happy! I miss nature...the concrete, sewage stream, and endless high-rises are already getting a bit old.

Pictures here: Bibimbap, a traditional Korean mixed rice bowl...and some type of dumpling soup from a really great sushi place near school (Dad- you would love it- I'll take you there when you come!)

Video: just a quick hello to a few of my kinders!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom!! I told my students today that it is "Britney Teacher's Mommy's birthday!" They have been learning all about dates, the calendar, and the seasons for the past month, so I think they actually understand that. Unfortunately, they were a bit rowdy today...and got a bit distracted from the task I gave Alice and Katie demonstrate here.

Irene, however, was in an excellent mood as usual- she appears VERY excited to be saying happy birthday to Britney Teacher's mom!

Irene, by the way, is certainly a sly little kindergartener- she is the youngest in the class, barely 5 years old, but she knows exactly what to say to make you melt and give in to her. There's no better confidence booster than Irene stopping you in the middle of the class to say, "Britney Teacher...I love you." She also tells me every day, "Britney Teacher...beautiful." And let's be honest- that's exactly what I want to hear on a rainy Monday morning when I walk into school!

I feel so happy with where I'm at in terms of teaching and leading my kinders- I've been surprised with how natural it feels to lead them in class and other activities. I love interacting with them and discovering how much we're able to communicate. I'm also surprised by how I've managed to discipline and manage them- I feel confident that they know to listen to me and to obey my rules. And no matter how much I yell or take away their privileges... it's a pretty great unconditional love the end, they still love you...they'll still think you're the greatest, most exciting thing in their life!

On the other hand...I'm finding elementary teaching to be a much different story. I know it's still too early on to judge (barely a full week of elementary teaching yet), but I haven't felt very positive toward it. I think these elementary students are so much more difficult to control and engage, even at 8 and 9 years old. It doesn't help that I have the lowest-level English speakers in my classes...I'm pretty sure they have no idea what I'm even saying half the time. In my reading & grammar class, NO ONE will talk except for the group of boys who whisper in Korean to each other the whole time. Plus, it's such boring work- boring enough if you already know English, and much more so if it's your second language! (I definitely remember these feelings from elementary school Spanish). I really need to work on ways to engage this class- already, I feel like I've lost against them; I've failed to capture their interest and attention, so they're doomed to tune out for the rest of the semester.
This has also felt a lot more difficult with the elementary teaching because I missed a few classes while sick last week, and because our supervisors are observing all of our classes right now. I can't believe how nervous that makes me during class! I just feel pretty lost, and there's always so much to prep yourself on...but impossible to find the time, between grading tests, homework, and essay journals...reading the teacher's manual...and even just deciphering the homework schedule for each of your classes! There's so much to know and to remember...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nore-bong and Insadong

On Friday was our staff party to say goodbye to the 3 teachers teaching and welcome to the 4 new teachers (all from MN!). The school supervisors (4 Korean women) took all the teachers out for Duck Galbi, the meal that you cook over a grill at your table. I was so surprised by how good the smoked duck galbi was!! They had tons of side dishes and extras to accompany the galbi, including lettuce leaves to wrap the meat in, different spices and marinades, onions and peppers to grill, rice, and a spicy tofu soup (sundubu jigae- one o fmy favorites here so far). The supervisors also bought us wine and beer- and encouraged us to drink a lot and then accompany them to Nore-bong (the private karaoke bars). I had heard tales of this before, Korean teaching staff and professionals drinking a lot with their employees, but I was still surprised by how fun they were to hang out with outside of school! I actually like them all a lot- and found out that night that Lucy, the head supervisor, is Catholic. I was so happy to find someone (and a Korean, at that) who is Catholic! She also seemed happy to learn that I'm Catholic and am interested in finding a church- she's going to look up an English-speaking mass for me.

As usual. the nore-bong that night was SO MUCH fun and SO HILARIOUS...I know, all of you are thinking, "No way would Britney ever do that!" But it's been one of my favorites here...especially the tambourines they give you in the private room you rent (by the hour)- I've been loving those tambourines! The songbooks to choose from have pages and pages of songs and artists, everything from Van Morrison and Bon Jovi, to Spice Girls and Kelly Clarkson, to the "Lion King" soundtrack (that one has been a particular favorite amongst a few LCI teachers). I've included a few pictures here- and yes, there will be lots more nore-bong pictures to come!

On Saturday, a few of us went into Seoul to an area called Insadong. This was my kind of place- smaller streets filled with local artists selling tradtional Korean crafts- painted fans, woven tapestries, jewelry, and the most beautiful pottery. Can you believe I didn't buy one thing?! (except a delicious bowl of plum tea at a tea shop...this area is known for its teahouses and tea shops). I already can't wait to go back to browse the pottery.
Haven't been able to blog recently because I was without internet for a few days (moving into my new apartment...finally!) and have been sick the past few days. Yesterday was pretty awful- tyring to get through the schoolday, teaching full-time now, while feeling feverish and achey. It sounds a bit far-fetched to everyone at home, but I honestly had to consider that my symptoms could be swine flu! Lucky mom and dad, getting the phone call at 4 a.m. from Britney, crying about how she may have swine flu...well, at least Argentina prepared them for this. And I thought that getting so sick in Argetina has prepared me for any obstacle here, too- but I was reminded again last night that getting sick in a foreign country is scary...especially with all the the hype of swine flu (and a few confirmed cases in nearby cities).

Today I felt a little better, still the same symptoms but not as severe. It's possible that I'm getting sick from all the pollution and mold here- a lot of the other teaches have had similar cases. And with me running down by the stream every other day, inhaling the sewage and city pollution, it makes sense that my body wouldn't be able to handle it.

I'm trying to take it easy this week now, but it's difficult because the school days are pretty long. So far, I haven't liked my elementary classes much...I am actually finding it easier to communicate with the kindergarteners! I'm teaching 3 sections of science, a reading & grammar class, and a writing class. I already feel guilty for giving these students so much homework- I just can't get over how much work they have, between English school & Korean school. Every class I teach requires at least 5 books, a few workbooks, a reading log, a writing journal or essay book, and CDs or tapes for listening homework. These poor elementary students have to lug all this around every day in their tiny "LCI Kids Club" backpacks!

One quick thing- I found out on Monday that I have a student named Britney in one of my classes! Spelled the same as me! I couldn't believe it- especially since all the students here tend to choose such old-fashioned or average names. I made sure to compliment her on her name choice :) I better be careful to not play favorites with her!