Saturday, March 23, 2013

seven months & one year anniversary

March 20th marked my seventh month in Korea, and March 21st marked the one year anniversary of this blog!! This is officially the longest I have ever kept up with a blog/journal type thing, and I'm definitely glad I did it. Reading back on my first ever post, I was reminded of the hard times I was having back then and it really made me appreciate my current situation a lot more! I mean, a year ago, applying and coming to Korea was only a thought in my head, but I did it and now I'm here!  I went for a walk around my neighborhood this afternoon and it was so refreshing, the Korean people are so enthusiastic and interesting. One of my favorite pastimes is people watching, and guessing what their lives are like. I love the area where I live, if I walk along the main road it's busy with people, cars speeding by, and loud music spewing from shops but when I turn the corner into one of the backroads it's so peaceful, kids playing old ladies chatting on the sidewalk. I have five months left on my contract, and honestly, today made me realize that I'm nowhere near ready to leave this place; there is still so much I want to experience!

Friday, March 15, 2013

hello new school year!

When I arrived in Seoul six months ago, I actually came into my school halfway through the academic year (In Korea school runs from early March-early August, then early September-mid February) and just took over whatever the previous foreign teacher had been doing, since it was too late to try to change the rules or start a new routine. For almost two months I didn't teach proper textbook lessons since we finished it early, so instead I came up with filler lessons with games and such, then I was off school for two weeks in which I did a 'staycation' meaning I pretty much just bummed around Seoul and the area near my apartment. So coming back to school last week and getting back into a routine was a bit challenging, but today I completed my first full week back at teaching and I'm happy to report that it all went smoothly. It might be because It's a new year and students are still filling things out, but for the most part it seems that my students this year are really well behaved. The hallway were my office is located is a lot quiet now since the new sixth graders are not as rowdy as last years. But I do miss my students from last year though, they were the first bunch I ever taught and were goofy kids that made my classes really interesting; luckily I see them occasionally around the school when I'm walking home. Also, with the new school year has come the new EPIK intake; New teachers have arrived to start their contracts, and lives in Korea. I've met a couple of them since my building houses several foreigners, and It's almost like dejavu. Everything they're going through I did six months ago, all of their questions I had when I first got here. It seems like a cycle almost, since so many people come and go. There is still so much about Seoul and the public school system that I'm still learning about, but I'm trying to help out wherever I can, but still trying not to say too much and overwhelm them; for me, most of the fun from being in a new place came from getting lost, exploring and figuring things out on my own.

Things this year are really different; the second foreign teacher finished his contract in late February and wasn't replaced since my school no longer meets the guidelines for having to NETs.Now I am all alone in the office, and rather than teaching two grades, I'm now in charge of three, meaning one grade all together doesn't get a native teacher. I'm teaching grades 4, 5, and 6. Because I teach three grades, I only see each grade once a week and I've already noticed that bonding with them is going to be hard. Luckily, my new 5th graders are the same ones I taught during 4th grade last year so they're familiar with me, and seemed excited to have me as a teacher again. I also have three co-teachers now instead of two, and one of my grade 6 classes I teach with a homeroom teacher.
Two of my coteachers are the same from last term, and we are getting along really well. I feel like at the beginning perhaps they were cold/indifferent towards me because I was just another foreigner who isn't really that dedicated to the job, but hopefully by now I've shown to them that I really do care about the students and I want to do a good job so they've started to trust me more. My third co-teacher was a grade 6 homeroom teacher last year, and this is her first time teaching English in a long time. Her English level isn't as high as my other two CTs but we can still understand each other, and she is really sweet. Overall, I feel really lucky to have gotten the school I'm in because even with the language barrier, they're all super friendly and kind to me. I've heard bad stories of mean principals or VPs, and I can honestly say that mine go out of their way to make sure I'm comfortable. This semester I'm going to make a conscious effort to learn more Korean and try to socialize more with the other staff rather than eating and dashing, or staying shut in my office all afternoon. I feel the reason I don't try to talk to the other staff or my VP is because I feel guilty that I haven't learned more Korean, and they probably don't approach me because they're nervous of their English so there's definitely barriers we both need to work on.

It's finally starting to warm up in Seoul now, last weekend it was even warm enough to only wear a thin jacket and go to the park, and go on a hike the next day! There's a rumor floating around that schools typically ask if we want to renew whenever the weather starts getting nice, so I'm expecting it to happen any minute, but I'm still not entirely sure as to what I'll do; I've always been bad at making decisions.
A few photos from my most recent hike: we originally headed off towards Mt Achasan, but it ended up only taking about 40 minutes and wasn't challenging enough, so we kept going onto Mt Yongmasan. It's very clear that Hiking is Korea's national pass time since the minute we stepped out of the subway station there were tons of people decked out in their hiking gear; we actually didn't know where to go once we left the station, so we ended up following the parade in colorful hikers and ended up at the right place. Hopefully I will go on more hikes as the weather improves and will be able to make a post solely on hiking as I think it's a big cultural experience that everyone should experience at least once. Hiking in Korea is not the same as hiking back in the U.S. for sure!

parade of hikers
Seoul from the peak to Yongmasan
Seoul from Achasan & snack time