Now seems like an appropriate time to start my first ever ‘blog’. I arrived in Korea two weeks tomorrow and I’ve experienced my first few days of teaching, so I’ll have plenty to write about. Also, I’ve been given the afternoon off. At home! (‘Deskwarming’ – which involves sitting in front of a desk at school for hours on end during otherwise free time – is the norm here, so I’m a very lucky young man.)
Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. University finished in June, had my holidays and graduation in July, and in August I flew out to Korea to begin a year’s contract as a Native English Teacher at a school here. My employers were as confident in my 0 hours experience as I was, so they organised a week-long orientation at Jeonju University where myself and 400 or so others were, basically, taught how to teach. Obviously we went to a nurae bang (karaoke room) on the very first night, which made the long and gruelling days even worse than they should have been. Lectures were held 9am – 5.30pm and Korean lessons 7.20pm-8.30pm every day, save for a field trip in the middle to Hanok village and Keomsan Temple. Highlights were fan-making (mine looked like it was made by one of the kids I’ll be teaching, but by my own clapometer enthusiasm it was voted third-best); the food, traditional cuisine making a nice change from the orientation’s school canteen; Elizabeth making a little child cry; paddling in a river at Keomsan; and being force-fed ‘Korean pizza’, rice parcels and spicy peppers by a group of locals, who said Eliz had a ‘number one mask’ and who then laughed hysterically when we tried to eat the skins of the grapes they gave us (here you suck out the insides and throw away the tough outer layer). The temple itself was pretty cool too. Here are a few pics from the day, the rest will be on Facebook at some stage:
Apart from the field trip, there were other small saviours that made the days easier to get through. Two were our amazing class leaders Grissom and Lynn. Another was a taekwondo lesson one morning, when we were able to kick away any stress. The achy thighs for days afterwards were definitely worth it, even if they meant we had to suffer the ridiculous lifts in the apartment we were living in (you had to be there). There was also Liverpool’s first every victory at the Emirates. And of course it was great meeting so many new friends. Even so, I think I can speak for most when I say we were glad to find ourselves sat round a table anticipating a huge buffet at last Thursday’s closing ceremony, and of course the orientation talent show. The less said about that the better.
The next day we were all transported to our respective cities, introduced to our co-teachers and shown around our apartments. Ulsan, Cha (or Charles) and 202 Jennis One-Room have all presented their own individual quirks in the few days I’ve know them. It took bumping into fellow waygooks (foreigners) in town before Eliz and I realised we were in the expensive area of town searching for work clothes in the Hyundai department store – it was a bit like recent graduates heading to Harrods to look for knock-off shirts and skirts. On a sidenote, white people are so rare here that they say ‘Hi’ and nod to each other even if they’ve never before met and never will do so again. Other idiosyncrasies included a ‘romantic relaxation’ cafe where we were given a private booth to drink our milkshakes in and being charged an entrance fee to enter a ‘cat cafe’ (more will follow on one of these when we actually have the money to get in). The negative sides to the city are the pollution and the driving – both are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Charles has been incredibly helpful since I’ve arrived, but two things I can’t help but smiling about just thinking about him now are his swinging-arm swagger and his flirty nature – every lady we’ve met together he’s had at least a 5 minute conversation with when a simple ‘cheers’ will suffice. Having heard other accounts, I seem to have a pretty nice apartment too it’s got a sort of wall between bed and kitchen, and there was internet here when I arrived, and even a beer in the fridge!
The teaching – which started at vacation camp on Monday – has been good. It doesn’t take long to realise that different groups respond differently to different activities. Basically, boys like games which provide an opportunity to show off in front of their friends, girls like to show off in front of the teachers. Yesterday I bought a guitar and I was guitarist for all my classes in their song competition today. I noticed a sneaky camera in the audience so hopefully I’ll have a video of it shortly. In my opinion, ‘Clementine’ was just pipped by ‘You Are My Sunshine’. I think that song will haunt my dreams forever. Still, it’s worth it for the ego boost I’ve had since being at school. I’ve had kids running up to me and measuring themselves against me and I’ve been called handsome by everyone I’ve met so far from my female vice-principal (who thinks I should be a movie star) to a male shop assistant.
I guess the real test starts tomorrow though, when the holidays end and school proper resumes. But so far I can only comment on what has been, and first impressions, on the whole, all-in-all, in a word, have been good. The people have been amazing so far – from orientation staff to the delivery man who gave me a lift home when I was lost to the kids at school. The food has been better than expected (apart from at orientation and I still don’t like kimchi). The weather has been hot, but better that than too cold. Of course there have been downsides, but only small ones and I don’t wanna return to this in however many years and read all about how rubbish Korea is. And like I’ve been told, I’m in the ‘honeymoon stage’ – it’s all downhill from here, so there’ll be plenty of negatives to report sometime along the line. Until then!