I am trying to savor this moment. This moment right here. I just got done with my first week of teaching English to Korean kids and I am so happy to finally be done with this marathon of a week.
**Disclaimer** I am not going to edit this post before I post it. I apologize for any spelling or grammatical errors.
After orientation, we drove into Ulsan. I already talked about the last morning of orientation and how sad it was, but to reiterate, I miss my EPIK friends already. On Friday the 26th, I met my co-teacher. Her name is Shin Haing Ran. Her westernized name is Haing Ran Shin. In Korea, names are written with the surname first to stress the importance of family. She did not tell me how old she is, but she is so pretty and young looking, so I don’t think she’s much older than me. She picked me up at the Sports complex in a taxi – she doesn’t own a car – and brought me to my apartment which was only 5 minutes away. My apartment is in the Mugeodong neighborhood of Namgu, Ulsan. I am essentially in the Ulsan University pocket of Ulsan. Think Dinkytown, except way more condensed. I am really self-conscious about standing out as a foreigner, so I haven’t taken any photos of my neighborhood, but I will next week at some point.
My apartment. Oh, my apartment. It’s actually really nice for my single-person-living-in-Korea status. I was pleasantly surprised by how big it is. Also, I have a futon! Which is slightly crazy.
Honestly, my apartment is great so far. I have neighbors upstairs that seem to randomly come home at 11:30 at night and then wake up at 5:45, but only two days so far. I haven’t heard him any other time. It’s bizarre. There are only 5 or 6 apartments in this building, I think, but I haven’t seen any of my neighbors yet. My apartment is on a very quiet street. There is a children’s library across the street, so it does sometimes get loud with children (is there no relief from yelling children?!) randomly. Only one day was really bad, though. Then I just close the window! The strangest thing I had to get used to pretty quickly was how dirty the floor gets. It’s disgusting. Because there’s no bathtub, the water goes all over the bathroom. The first day or two, I didn’t have bathroom “slippers” (flip flops, essentially) and my feet were so nasty after walking around in that water and then over the not super clean floor in the rest of the apartment that the floor got so gross so quickly. I finally cleaned it yesterday, but not with actual floor cleaner, so once I get more familiar with home goods stores around, I will spend a day deep cleaning everything. I’ve just been so tired.
Living alone has been REALLY nice, though. For those that don’t know, I have never lived alone. Never. I can finally walk around in my underwear!!! It’s so LIBERATING!!!!!! And I don’t have to pay rent so I think going back to the States will be a rude awakening when it happens. I won’t have to pay bills until the end of September, either, so it feels especially freeing.
So, my first weekend in Ulsan went as follows:
- got shown around the neighborhood by Haing Ran (HR)
- HR showed me the way to my main school
- HR brought me on the bus to my second school
- HR brought me grocery shopping
- HR got my heat turned on for me (thanks HR!)
- After HR left, I did laundry, unpacked, and settled in
- Skyped my parents
- Fell asleep at like 9:30 or something super early
- Made sure I knew the way to the bus stop I was going to later that night
- In the meantime, walked to my main school again and then around for an hour taking in the sites of South East Mugeodong
- Skyped Katie Johnson
- Went into the Samsan or new downtown area of Namgu to meet Jackie, Josh, and Kezia at the Hyundai Department Store
- Walked around the Hyundai Department Store looking for a pillow (no luck – 80,000won!! Which is $80) and Pony shoes (no luck)
- Walked from Hyundai DS to Kezia’s apartment which is in central Namgu and hung out until we were to meet a bunch of other Ulsanites for dinner
- Had dinner at a Korean BBQ place with other EPIK teachers and other people (both Korean and not) who were looking to make new foreigner friends
- Met 3 new Korean friends!
- Met another English teacher not associated with EPIK
- Went to 3 different foreigner bars in downtown Namgu with the other Ulsanites and EPIKers
- And at 2am, we decided, noraebang???? SURE, WHY NOT.
- Didn’t get home until 4:30am
- Fell asleep at 5am
- Did not feel great
- It rained all day
- Worked on my introductory Powerpoint for my first week of classes FOR LIKE 5 HOURS IT WAS SO HARD OMG
- Had dinner – milmyun (cold) noodles – with my new friend, Huni (maroon shirt in the picture)
- Took a walk around Ulsan University with Huni in the pouring rain. He used to be a student there so he pointed out a bunch of the restaurants along the way.
- Went to bed
And that brings us to Monday. MY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL. Like, so many emotions and terror just remembering that first day. It was so scary.
My main school is Munsu Middle School. I teach there Monday through Wednesday. I teach at my second school, Wolpyeong Middle School, Thursday and Friday. All together, I teach 22 hours – the way they calculate hours is periods, not actual hours in the day. I’m at the school for 40 hours a week and have to teach 22 class periods in a week. On Monday, I teach 4 class periods;Tuesday and Wednesday, I teach 5 periods a day; Thursday, I teach 3 class periods and half a period for English club during the lunch hour; And on Friday, I teach 4 class periods and half a period for English club during the lunch hour.
Monday. First day of school jitters. I was so nervous and HR kept commenting on how nervous I was. It’s like, you’re not helping HR!! I got to school and HR showed me my desk (I have my own laptop!) and my English classroom. I can’t post pics yet because I only took a video of all my classrooms and I can’t post videos on here. She also showed me the cafeteria. I was introduced to the principal and vice principal, both of whom are very nice and sweet. I introduced myself in Korean and they were both impressed. I then had to introduce myself to the teachers in Korean. It was great because I said my first phrase in Korean and got a huge round of applause. Once I said hello, I said “Pleased to meet you, my name is Emily, I am from America, I am happy to work with you” all in Korean and they were so happy and cheered for me. It was awesome! All that work at EPIK orientation paid off. I had my first class during second period. 2nd grade (equivalent to 8th grade) boys. For a first class, I think it went pretty well. For the first two days, I really struggled with time management. The activity I had for them kept not filling up the time and it was really hard for the first two days to try to fill the 45 minutes allotted for class. The first day of class was very difficult, let me say. 2 2nd grade boys classes, 1 1st grade boys class, and 1 1st grade girls class. It is the general consensus of every English teacher at both my schools that 2nd grade boys are the WORST and 1st grade boys are the BEST. And girls are also amazing. I found this to be true as well. Those darn 2nd grade boys made me want to pull my hair out. My first day was a series of ups and downs and I have never realized just how different each class can be. I don’t know why I’ve never thought about this before, but it’s shocking how it’s never just one bad kid in the class. There’s always like 3 or 4. And then there are the angel classes with no bad kids. Teaching, I tell ya.
Tuesday was much better. In terms of emotions. I felt better that I had had my first day and more in control of my mental stability. Tuesday was when it all came crashing down. Meaning, I made it through the day and had more of the same – good 1st grade boys, bad 2nd grade boys, and good girls all around – and that night, I crashed hard. To be honest, I don’t remember a single thing about Tuesday. So let’s move on to . . .
Wednesday. I woke up and felt super homesick. Like, walking to work with tears in my eyes. Why did I do this??? What is wrong with me?? How do I teach these kids anything?! I’m a failure, I know it. I miss Minnesota, I miss my friends, I miss my family. I will say, I never let it take me over completely, so I made it to work without shedding tears and got a hold of myself by the time I sat down. HR asked how I was and I said, “I’m really tired today.” And she said, “Yeah, you look tired.” Thanks, HR!! That’s typical of Koreans, though; they will be honest with you. I think it might have been because I wore my glasses . . . because I was tired. Wednesday was good for lessons. I FINALLY got control of how long my activities lasted. I figured out how to draw out my introduction and got them excited to know more about me. It’s great how every single class responded in the same way to 3 or 4 things I said or did during my presentation. Since I will be seeing each class only once a week, I think it’s sad for my Monday kids and great for my Friday kids. As the week goes on, I get more confident in how to time certain lessons. So, Wednesday was great. My Vice Principal gave me pizza and cola (all things that I haven’t eaten or drank since the first week of June) which I had to accept because it is very rude in Korean culture to not accept food from an elder or from anyone offering. So I had caffeine for the first time IN FOREVER was so wired, I got 2 lesson plans and Powerpoints done for next week. That is the thing about teaching right now; everything is taking me time to figure out. Like lesson planning. One of my friends says he’s not going to lesson plan when he’s not at school, but there’s no way that would work for me. My Powerpoints are so detailed and it takes me so long to get it right. I know I’ll get better in time, but right now, I feel like I need a lot of time to perfect them and even figure out what and how I’m teaching the material.
That’s another thing. I have to teach from a textbook. Which I’ve never done!! It’s so hard to figure out what to do when you’ve never done it and don’t have anyone holding your hand. I really like Haing Ran, but her advice was, “Do 10 minutes of warm-up, then do the book work for 10 or 15 minutes, then a game” which I had gotten from the girl who’s place I took. HR also told me to go over the key expressions and lesson focus. I’m not sure what I’m expecting, but I wish I had an example lesson I could watch just to figure out how to frame the things I’m supposed to be teaching. That has been really hard. It’s knowing the framework and how to actually teach what I’m supposed to teach.
So, though Wednesday morning was the hardest I’ve had so far, by the end of the day, I felt amazing and productive and like a sparkly unicorn and isn’t it grand how I live in Korea and everything is pretty!? And on Thursday morning, I felt similarly. Kind of. It was my first day at my second school and I had to take the bus to get there. Wolpyeong (WP) is located near the city hall in central Namgu which is about a 25 minute bus ride. I got to WP after a stressful bus ride – I was so scared I’d miss my stop, but it all went okay! – about 15 minutes early. I met my co-teacher at WP and her name is Park Sae Byeol (SB). She is so sweet! She took two years off and this is her first time being someone’s main co-teacher. She doesn’t have a good handle on English as HR, but she is more worried about making a good impression and was super cute. At first, I was turned off because she didn’t really give me any direction. If WP were my main school, I would have felt completely in the woods, but because of MS, I knew where the laptop was and how to plug it in and felt comfortable going through all the drawers of my desk finding the textbooks and started looking through them. SB never introduced me to the principal or Vice Principal, but I was ushered to the long staff table and was told to say a few things to all the teachers. I introduced myself (again) in Korean, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you, my name . . . blah blah” and again, they were so surprised and shocked and again, I got a huge round of applause. SB was shocked, too, because I hadn’t told her I knew any Korean and she had stood up, ready to translate for me. It was pretty funny and I think I made a really good impression. She told me later that she was impressed with my pronunciation. After all that, she showed me my classroom which is MUCH nicer than Munsu’s AND it has a smartboard. I can just tap on it and the screen progresses to the next slide. SO COOL. WP has a lot fewer students than MS so there were less desks and the room was bigger and cleaner. Things were newer, too. Again, I didn’t take pictures of it, so I will add those later. But here’s a few pictures of the outside of WP:
My classes were two 2nd grade boys classes and one 2nd grade girls class. Gah, again with these rowdy 2nd grade boys. I just can’t believe how crazy they are. The girls were precious, though. I had English club at lunch. It’s fun because they are watching Mulan and so, I just got to watch a movie with them for 20 minutes. The English club is made up of about 12 3rd grade students who are going to an English high school next year, so they sign up for English club to get more practice since I don’t teach 3rd graders. I got some lesson planning done yesterday in all my free time.
Last night, I was so tired, I watched some K-Dramas and went to bed at 9:30. FINALLY WE’RE AT FRIDAY.
This morning, I woke up with butterflies in my stomach; only 4 more classes and THEN IT’S THE WEEKEND!! Today was the last day to meet any new students. Next week, I’ll have met all the little guys I’ll be teaching over the next year or half year (in the case of the 2nd graders – I came in mid-year and they will be moving on to 3rd grade in March). I felt super confident today as I went into the lessons. I tweaked my lesson to exactly what I wanted and everything was great . . . in the morning. English Club was great as usual. Then I met class 2-2 after English Club. 2ND. GRADE. BOYS. Known to the other English teachers at WP as the “Worst Class.” I couldn’t believe it. They were outright punching each other and drawing on the desks and one kid was brought out within the first 10 minutes (DON’T LEAVE ME WITH THESE HOOLIGANS, SB!!) and didn’t return for the rest of class. Those boys would. Not. Shut. Up. It’s hard to describe just how nerve-wracking it is when kids are talking while you’re trying to tell them information. All week, I haven’t outright yelled at the students, except for with this class. I had to yell twice “Everyone, be quiet!!” Usually, I just say, “Listen!” but I had to pull out the big guns. That being said, there were maybe 4 boys who were so charming and one of them said, “You are so pretty!” It was so sweet. But seriously, this has been the hardest part, these rowdy, crazy 13 year olds. How do I control them?! BAH. So, I had the worst class I’d had all week. Thank god it came at the end of the week when I felt much more comfortable and confident in my ability to deal with hooligans. The other 3 classes of the day were PRECIOUS. All girls. The first 2 classes were 1st graders and had a low level of English, but were very responsive and excited. And my last class was amazing. They were so inquisitive and really responsive and wanted to know all about me. They also asked if I have a Korean name. This means they wanted to make a Korean name for me because they want to be close to me! Isn’t that cute?
That’s one thing I will say about being here. I have never felt like such a celebrity. Everywhere I go in the halls, I hear little voices saying, “Hello, teacher!” I had to stop wearing my headphones near school because so many students were saying, “Hello, teacher!” or “Hello, Emily!” It’s just so nice to feel so appreciated. The teacher who’s place I took had the kids write me letters with questions they wanted answered. Mostly, they were “Do you have a boyfriend/husband?” “Will you let us play games in class?” “How old are you?” So all week, I included a 8 or minute long time period where they could ask me questions. Every class loved this. I showed off my Korean skills (“SARANGHAEYO” or “I love you” which the girls LOVED and kept saying back to me! and the other Korean I know) and I wrote their names in Korean on the board and they LOVED it. Every class went crazy for it. It was hilarious and made me feel so special. Also, I’ve been able to connect with them because I like K-Pop and they think it’s great how I’ve taken an interest in their culture. By the end of the week, I tried to give out 2 high fives per class which is something I want to implement at Munsu, too.
So, not only did they write me letters, but one girl drew a picture of me!! Another cute story is that at WP, there are two boys who clean the classroom right after one of the classes. They are 1st grade boys, so I don’t teach them. They came in and the one introduced himself and told me he lived in San Antonio for 5 years. His English is pretty good and he was so talkative. He then asked me if I had a Facebook . I laughed and said, I’ll tell you next time. He asked me to play “Timber” by Kesha for him while he cleaned. Such a charmer. Another fun thing about teaching in Korea is that no one can get over my blue eyes and blond hair. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “So pretty!!” over the last week, but it’s a lot. And I know for a fact that all my other EPIK teacher friends have gotten the same thing. Teaching in Korea is really good for your self esteem. Another self esteem booster is after I tell them my age, 29, they are shocked! I have heard on multiple occasions, “But you have a baby face.” Hahahaha. I was so worried about being older doing this job, but there was nothing to worry about and luckily, none of my coteachers are younger than me, which I’ve heard can be slightly awkward.
For now, that’s all I’m going to write. This is way longer than I intended, but I needed to get it all out. Now I’m completely wiped out and need to go watch a K-Drama before I fall asleep. ‘TIL NEXT TIME.