Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Christmas Season

It's hard to believe that Christmas has already come and gone.  The holidays really snuck up on me this year and overall if just didn't quite feel all that Christmas-y for me this time around. Last year we had lots of Christmas movie nights in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and maybe we should have put in more of an effort to do the same this year, but I think it just got kind of crazy for all of us in town in the weeks before Christmas.

The weekend before Christmas we all had to spend the entire Saturday at the Mungyeong English play competition that all of our schools were competing in.  The whole English play ordeal was pretty much a terrible experience for me--mostly due to the fact that my coteacher dictated how I had to write the play, then did not help me whatsoever with ANYTHING after that point.  I did the entire thing by myself, which is in no way how it's supposed to be.  The whole thing was a big source of frustration for me because the kids and I put in a ton of time to practice, but because he basically didn't care, the end result was noticeably way worse than what the other schools did.  In a lot of ways, I felt like I was set up to fail with a lot of the things that went on, which not only made me upset for the time I wasted trying to work on the play, but also because the kids spent so much of their time practicing and trying to learn their lines, which is obviously not that easy for fifth and sixth graders to do in a language that isn't even their native language.

Anway, I was a judge the day of the competition, meaning that I had to be there not just for the plays the elementary school kids did, but also for the speeches that the high schoolers and middle schoolders did.  Needless to say, this was a VERY long day for me, and on Tuesday I had to go and judge the finals for the competition.  I was happy I got asked to judge because it meant I got to make a little extra money, but I was less impressed with the strong inclination I have that our scores didn't actually matter. I don't want to say too much, but in the end we had a suspicion that we were asked to judge to make it appear more fair.  The whole speech and play competition thing bothered me only many other levels as well, but I will spare you all with the details because I won't want to get to negative and rant-y.Overall I'm just happy that I won't ever have to do this whole thing again.

Thankfully, all of the play madness was over by Tuesday, which was a big relief for all of Jeomchon's NETs.  Wednesday was Christmas Eve day, which is pretty much just an ordinary day in Korea.  However, in the elementary schools it was the last day of the semester, meaning that classes finished by 12:30 and then all of the teachers went to a restaurant for lunch.  Once we got back to school we had a meeting and some time later teaches slowly started to leave school early.  Now, typically when teachers leave I wait for someone to tell me to go home because technically according to our contracts we are supposed to stay at school the whole time.  However, many times the principal or vice principal will tell us to go home and then it's ok.  Since I don't want to get in trouble and assume anything, I will usually just sit there and wait for someone to give me the okay.

Surely at my old school last year they would have told me to go home right away, so I guess this set my expectations a little too high.  Around 3:30 it was only me and the other Korean English teacher (who only comes to that school once a week) left in the teacher's room.  She looked at me and said "did everyone else go home?!"  At which point I replied by saying that I had no idea because I never have any idea of what's happening at that school.  She nodded in complete agreement and we continued to talk for some time, which was nice because I got some interesting insight about how this school compares to others she works at (the kids are way less motivated to learn) and about the play situation (my CT told her he had helped me the whole time....which made her feel bad because she would have helped me if she had known the reality of the situation).

Needless to say, we were both not too happy about being left in the dark and being the only ones left at school, so when 4:20 came around I was more than ready to get out of there.  It was Christmas Eve, but it didn't feel the least bit like Christmas.

Luckily, we had a party planned here in Jeomchon that night.  We were lucky to be joined by not just the people in Jeomchon, but also some friends from the neighboring towns of Sangju and Yeochon. It was similar to the secret Santa type thing we did last year--we all got assigned a person, bought a present for them,then after they opened their present they had to guess who their secret Santa was.  The night was absolutely lovely, and finally made it feel like Christmas for me.

One of our friends who left in August sent us presents.  Nice to know we aren't forgotten by those who left us!

America, Korea, South Africa, and Scotland

Jeomchon's finest ladies

Country count: 7 South Africans, 1 Australian, 2 Canadians, 5 Americans, 1 Englishman, 1 Scot, and 1 Korean.
So lucky to have so many friends from all around the world to be my family away from home.
 We really had a great night, but I tried not too stay out too late because the next morning we were having another gathering at my place.  I was lucky enough to catch a few friends on skype before I went to bed, but it did mean that I didn't get a ton of sleep before waking up for church in the morning.

It was tough to get out of bed in the morning, but I made it to church then quickly walked home after to get my place ready for Christmas lunch.  We had a small gathering Christmas day, but still ended up having a ton of really great food.

After we ate lunch, it was time for some movies.  We spent the afternoon and evening watching Christmas movies (and The Interview, of course), drinking wine, and relaxing.

Our celebration didn't last too late though because some of us had English camp the next day.  

The day after Christmas I had a full day of camp, meaning that I taught fifth and sixth grade for four periods, first and second grade for two periods, and third and fourth grade for two periods.  I love many things about Korea, but they really need to learn to celebrate Christmas for more than one day.  I won't lie, having a full day of camp right after Christmas was ROUGH, but I am lucky that I am done with my camps now.  A lot of people are stuck with weeks of camp this year, so I'm definitely quite lucky in that department.  

Now it's on to a few weeks of deskwarming before I leave on my vacation on January 12th!  

So there you have it, folks! That was how I spent my second and final Christmas in Korea.  Although I wish I could be home to celebrate with my family, I am again reminded of how amazingly lucky I am to have friends who feel like family here in Korea.  

God willing I will be back home for Christmas next year, but I will surely always remember my Korean Christmases fondly.  If I couldn't be with my family at home these past two years, there is no better group of people I could have asked for to be my family away from home.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Ultimate Korean Surprise

It's not a secret that the English Program in Korea (EPIK) is undergoing huge budget cuts.  Afterall, this is the reason that I had to switch to elementary school after teaching at a high school last year.  When it came time for people in the February intake to resign their contacts last year, there were tons of high school and middle school teachers who were shocked to find out only two months before they contract ended that they would have to make the switch to elementary schools...or leave the country and face unknown job prospects back home.  Needless to say, this caused quite a bit of chaos, and I was thankful that I had six months warning about the fact that I'd have to make the switch to elementary school if I wanted to stay in Korea.

After that happened last year, we all knew that this meant that the EPIK program would be coming to an end altogether, and sooner rather than later.  We heard other warning signs of this when we heard that Chungcheongbukdo (the province right next to our province) cut ALL the EPIK positions for next year.  This was especially alarming because it's typically the urban areas that cut jobs first.  In fact, Busan and Seoul have been cutting a large amount of jobs for years, but they typically stick around in the more rural provinces for a bit longer.  However, starting next year all of the native teachers in that province will be gone.

When my friends in the February intake were asked to sign their intent for renewal a few months ago, everyone thought it was a good sign, even though we knew that big surprises could still happen...after all, last year everyone signed their intent to renew at their high schools and middle schools only to have their actual contracts arrive with assignments to elementary schools.

My friends have been waiting for well over a month for their contracts to arrive, and finally, this week they did....but again with some big surprises, not just for people in that intake, but for us all.

This year, teachers were resigned in our province, but just about everyone got assigned additional schools.  Essentially the schools of those who are leaving Korea in February are being reassigned to those of us who are staying.

Yes, that's right.  Even though I already have THREE schools, I have now been assigned two more schools.  That means that beginning in March I will be teaching at FIVE different schools.

To say I'm less than pleased is a bit of an understatement.  Although technically EPIK can do this to us--when we sign our contracts we are told where we will be teaching, but it doesn't actually say in our contract where we are teaching.  EPIK can pretty much put us at as many schools as they want as long as we are under our 22 hours.

I know nothing is ever certain in Korea, but these changes have officially put me on Korea overload.  I think I'm just sick of constantly changing schools in general.  This is my fourth year teaching and every year has been at a different school.  This time, I didn't even make it a whole year without having to start over again.  Ok, I'm not starting over completely, but yet again I have to learn a new bus schedule, make new first impressions, adapt to a new set of textbooks (because naturally every school I teach at has to use different ones), and most importantly, learn a new groups of students.

Maybe it means I'm getting to the point where I'm finally feeling ready to settle down, but these days I find myself with a much stronger desire to get back to teaching back home.  I think teaching the robotic textbook lessons of elementary school is taking its toll on me, which will only be worse in the new semester because now that I will be spread out between so many schools I'm sure I won't have any after school classes--which are when I can do my own thing instead of using the mandated textbooks and cds like I do during regular classes.

All I have to say is I'm glad that I will only have six more months of this teaching situation.  I'm thankful for the time I've had in Korea, and I'm trying to stay optimistic about my new situation for next semester, but my mind is starting to think more and more about what will come next.  I'm not the type of person who enjoys a job just because it's easy.  If I'm spending this much time at work I want it to mean something, and I think I'm getting to the point where I'm sick of going around in circles.

In the meantime, I'm trying to look on the bright side....hey, at least this means I won't have to spend so much time with my aggravating coteacher.  Plus, I have tons of traveling coming up before these changes kick in, so I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The final stretch of the semester

It's crazy to think that this semester is almost finished.  Before I know it I'll be starting my last six months in Korea...but I'm really not ready to even start thinking about that yet, so in the meantime, here is what my next two months or so look like:

December 15-24= Classes
December 20= English play competition (which has been QUITE the experience for me and will need its own post at another time)
December 26th= English camp (yes, the day after Christmas I have an 8 hour camp.  Yay?)
December 29-January 9th= deskwarming
January 10th-January 31st= VACATION!
February 2-13th= Two random and completely useless weeks of school (aka HELL for teachers)
February 18-22= China! It's official, our visas are here, flights are booked and paid for, and our hostel is reserved.  I couldn't be more excited to spend Lunar New Year in China traveling again with my partner in crime from the Chuseok Japan trip, Jen.

It's also worth noting that January will be my first time solo-traveling.  I'm feeling a little anxious about it, especially since it's going to be for such a long time, but at the moment the majority of my nerves are due to the fact that I don't have the trip planned yet.  This is mostly because it took me forever to get vacation dates from my CT (another incredibly separate and frustrating story in itself), but now I'm trying to do as much cram researching as possible.  I'm not entirely sure what my whole plan is going to be, but I will definitely be visiting Cambodia and potentially Laos as well.  Traveling through southeast Asia for three weeks by myself is somewhat overwhelming, but I know I won't really be alone considering I'll be visiting huge tourist spots and staying in hostels where I'm bound to be in the company of tons of other backpackers.

I'm really looking forward to traveling again, especially since school has been slightly (ok, extremely) frustrating lately.  I should note just about all of that frustration comes from my co-teacher and not from the students (except for sixth grade, of course.  They are still evil).  Regardless, I'm getting restless, and it's definitely time to hit the road again!

Culturing it up in Tongyeong

Twice a year (once in the spring and once in the fall), the Gyeongsangbuk-do Office of Education plans "culture trips" for the Native English Teachers.  After the Sewol Ferry accident, the spring trip to Dokdo was postponed until August.  That trip started the day after I got back from being home, so I decided not to go (since I'll have another chance to go this year).  The fall trip was also postponed until this past week, which means it was really more of a winter trip this time around.  Delayed or not, I don't think any of us really cared.  Tell a bunch of teachers they can miss two days of school and go on a free trip with a bunch of their friends and we were all pretty eager to sign up.

This year's trip was to Tongyeong, a southern port city.  I had only briefly been to Tongyeong during our trip to Bijindo last spring, so I was happy to go back, especially since I knew how beautiful it is in that part of Korea.

Seven of us from Jeomchon went on the trip, so Thursday morning we met up and took the bright and early 6:30 bus to Daegu.  Once we got to Daegu we took a taxi to the meeting point for the trip and quickly saw lots of other people we knew from different towns.  We then got on the bus and were on our way to Tongyeong!

A few hours later we arrived and had lunch, then we were bused over to a beautiful park overlooking the ocean. We had some time to walk around...and of course, take some pictures.

After we finished at the park, we got back on the bus and headed to the cable cars. 

On our way up on the cable car
Obviously our car was the most fun

So many little islands.  Beautiful!

Once we got to the top, it was about a fifteen minute walk up lots of stairs to the top.  The sun was just starting to set, which made it quite beautiful. 

At the top...the sun was killing my eyes fro 90% of the photos we took on this trip.

After the cable cars, we went to a science museum.  I like museums and all, but this once was mostly about fishing, which believe it or not isn't really my thing.  Not much to report on this one, but they did have these cool photo taking centers where we could take pictures and send them to ourselves via e-mail.

After the science museum, it was on to see the Tongyeong Bridge...which we are all still not sure as to why we had to go see?  At this point we were all pretty tired, hungry, and ready to get to the hotel.

After quickly seeing the bridge, we finally headed to our hotel, dropped our things off at our room, and had dinner.  Dinner was a buffet that was served at the hotel.  I'm never much of a buffet fan, and the fact that the majority of the food we were served was cold didn't help....but hey, it's free food.

After dinner we went to our friend's room to have some drinks and hang out before our 10:00 room check.  Yes, we are grown adults who have proven ourselves to be capable of our jobs for at least a year....but apparently EPIK still doesn't trust us to our own devices.  Let's not even talk about how the rules would be drastically different if this were a trip for Korean teachers (there would be mandatory drinking and noraebang included until at least midnight).....but again, free trip and missing school--we can handle the double standard I suppose.  

Since we had to be back in our rooms by 10:00 anyway, we decided to get comfortable in our room.  A lot of people went back out after the room check, but we made the mature decision that it was better to get some rest for the next day (does this mean we're growing up?)

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel, but much to our disappointment, it was Korean-style breakfast, which meant that our options consisted of rice, soup, kimchi, and salad.  Not exactly what we were hoping for, but again, free food is free food.

After breakfast it was on to our first stop, which was a craft museum.  The whole thing was really small, and not really the most impressive collection of traditional crafts I've seen in Korea.  Though we weren't there for long, and it was quickly on to our next stop of seeing the Turtle Ships.

These famous Korean ships were used during the Joseon Dynasty, and were used in naval battles against the Japanese.  These are considered the fist ironclad warships, and are an important part of  Korea's success in naval battles that prevented Japanese invasion.

After we finished exploring the turtle ships, we made our way to the mural park, which included a walk through a fish market.  We have an outside market in Jeomchon where you can also buy fish, but since Tongyeong is right by the sea, the variety of fish was much greater.   As we walked by we saw a number of ajummas cutting up the fresh fish.  Yummm....

Soooo many fish!

These ajummas are pretty tough women!

The mural park wasn't really a park, just an area of town where there were murals painted all over walls, homes, and businesses.  Naturally, we had a fun time taking pictures and walking around this area.

Of course there had to be a Frozen mural

Lovely view of Tongyeong 

After the mural park, it was time to get back on the bus and go to lunch.  After some yummy galbitang, it was time to head back home.  

After the 2 1/2 hour bus ride to Daegu we still had another 2 hour train ride back to Jeomchon. It goes without saying that we were all ready to be home by that point. Luckily, the last part of our trip was made a little more festive as we were greeted in Jeomchon with some beautiful snowfall.  Needless to say, the South Africans were the most excited about the walk home in the winter wonderland.  Not a bad way to end the trip!
Walking in the snow with three South their excitement!

All in all, I'm not sure how much I really learned about Korean culture on this trip, but I most certainly enjoyed the break from the school.  It was also nice to spend time with the other native english teachers.  It's the first time I had been in such a large group of westerners since orientation.  Actually, the whole event reminded me of orientation quite a bit with the familiar faces of other teachers I haven't seen since August 2013. Only instead of being bright-eyed and amazed by everything in Korea, we are all now full of crazy stories about our students, co-teachers, and life as a foreigner in Korea.  It's amazing how much has changed since orientation days--sometimes it's easy to lose track of how many crazy/great/frustrating experiences we have in this job, but it's nice to take a break from the monotony and reflect on all that has occurred in the past year and a half.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Another Snowy Monday

For a while I was complaining about how it had been raining every single Monday.  Well, now that the weather is a bit colder, we've had two snowy Mondays in a row.  I have to say, I definitely prefer it over the gross, cold rain. Mostly, of course, because it's much prettier to look at, but also because there is something charming about the children's excitement as they play in fresh snow.

Of course, the kids are slightly less charming when they're back in class and can't sit still because they're so amped about the snow.  Case and point first grade.  I see first grade right after their lunch/recess break, which means that they were CRAZY by the time they came into class.  Kids were running around, hitting each other, stealing things from each other, and telling me long stories in Korean that I couldn't understand at all.  Eventually everyone calmed down and I was reminded again of why I love first grade so much--it's that pure enthusiasm they have about everything.  Plus, just look at how cute they are...

After surviving some much less enthusiastic and much more rude classes (I'm looking at you 4th and 6th grade!), I met some friends downtown for dinner. I was pleasantly surprised to see some Christmas lights on the walking street...although I am disappointed that the huge Christmas tree isn't there this year. 

After dinner we went to Dunkin Donuts (yes, Korea has Dunkins!) because we saw that there was a special deal going on right now where you can get hot chocolate in Kakao emoticon cups.  You may be thinking "Wait, people really care enough about emoticons that they are part of a Dunkins promotion?"  The answer is YES.  Pretty much every person in Korea knows the Kakao emoticon characters because everyone uses Kakao talk for messaging... and Koreans are crazy about emoticons.  Ok, it's not just Koreans who are obsessed with emoticons.  I'll admit I'm guilty of totally jumping on this Korean bandwagon.  

I've spent a lot of money at Dunkins in the past, but I have to say...I think this was the best purchase I've ever made there.  

I can't think of a better way to end a snowy Monday than with some hot chocolate, especially when it's as cute as this.