Archive for June, 2012



It’s dawning on me how close I am to the end now: only three Mondays of regular school remain; and two paydays. Yes, that’s how I measure time, in Mondays and money – two ‘m’ words firmly at opposite ends of the ‘how good stuff is’ spectrum. Their alliteration is perhaps not something I would’ve noticed before but I think like a teacher now, and having spent five hours of each week for the last 10 months with my group of 6 and 7 year olds sounding out words I’m now really good at phonetic spelling, and I’ve been hardwired to inwardly and appreciatively doff my metaphorical cap in the direction of any outstanding orthoepic occurences.

Attitudes are changing at school. By this I’m mainly referring to students’ attitudes towards a particular co-teacher; a particular co-teacher’s attitude towards me; and, circuitously, my attitude towards students. I think a lot of relationships begin with tentative feeling out, cautious attempts to ascertain stances, viewpoints, beliefs, tastes, reactions to certain situations, senses of humour – the nature of the other party. Such gradual exploration I have witnessed in the lessons I co-teach with one particular guy, all fifth grade classes and one sixth. They’ve had 16 weeks together and the students’  repect and cooperation has declined in direct proportion to the amount of time being taught English. I’ve been trying to work out recently if their Korean teacher hasn’t noticed, doesn’t know what to do about it or just doesn’t give a damn. His attempts at discipline are sporadic, half-hearted and seemingly random. They’re also unfair, because he’ll allow the same group of kids to get away with the same kind of behaviour for weeks and then suddenly turn around and punish them for it.

His lessons are all wrong and the students control them: any textbook work he just finishes in silence by himself (often incorrectly); each class consists of at least one game (something that should be a reward) and 5-10 minutes of whichever one of the Spiderman films the students ask for on the day; he allows students to walk around during class, sit on each others’ laps and throw screwed-up bits of paper at each other – if he decides to punish more than one student at a time he’ll  send them to a table at the back of the room where they sit together and chat, if he tries to remove kids on their own they just tell him no. He’s cultivated a classroom environment in which kids can do what they want – and they know it. Since this has happened gradually as students have realised they can get away with more and more I have little authority and it’s often undermined – I confiscated a tipex  that was all over the desks and my co-teacher returned it immediately to the culprit. I’ve offered suggestions outside the classroom more than once, but these have been ignored.

He’s anolder male, and his attitude towards me has become more stereotypical. He’ll often get me to do his photocopying, return his lunch tray to where it gets collected from (our canteen’s being renovated so we get little lunch boxes delivered), or other menial little chores that are too worthless to argue about or question.

It’s a peculiar situation though, because I like the guy. I struggle to hide my contempt when he asks me to do something that really should be his job to do, but otherwise we get on when not teaching together. He grows little plants in the English room, and he gave me one to take home the other day. He leaves little sweets on my desk when I’m out of the office (that’s another thing – his overuse of candy in the classroom). He responds to every powerpoint I present with a smile and an “awesome job, can you save PPT my computer?”. I talk to him about weekends, holiday plans, feelings about Korea, progress with Korean than all my other co-teachers put together. He just seems to lack a good deal of common sense. I hate it when people feed their dogs at the table and then slap them on the nose for jumping up at mealtimes when they suddenly decide its wrong or for begging when guests are round, and that’s kind of what he’s done with these kids. The vice-principal walked in to one of his lessons the other day (I wasn’t there) and observed how ridiculous it was – now he’s been warned about his teaching and he seems to realise something needs to be done. Hopefully things can change, or both these students and their next English teacher are going to have a horrible time when they meet next year.

My attitude towards teaching is changing too. In these lessons I feel really bad for the handful of kids who sit quietly, earnestly listening to what you’re trying to teach, so I’ve been focusing on them, chatting to them rather than chastising others during revision or individual work time. This has extended to my other classes too, for better or worse: when I introduce a topic I spend my time having conversations with the interested students and inviting questions, rather than trying determinedly to coherce every last person into another listen and repeat exercise. Instead of games where teams have to repeat a textbook phrase for points (“Nami is stonger than Jinho”) I’ve been doing quizzes or debates (“who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman?” Spiderman, because he is stronger”). I know I should aim for maximum participation but I feel like the kids do enough mindless repetition when I’m not there, and practise of “real” conversations with a “real” foreigner is priceless.


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The past 10 days or so have been spent in the company of Elizabeth’s parents, visiting Korea (and Asia) for the very first time, from England. When they touched down at Incheon International Airport a week ago last Thursday the number of people in Korea with Elizabeth’s accent skyrocketed from one to three. Aside from how nice it is to be reacquainted, if only briefly, with someone from home – to hear stories firsthand about little English goings-on – the visit forced Eliz and I, in an effort to give them a proper taste of the place, to keep busy – there were a few ‘firsts’ for us, too.

The first few days were a whirlwind: in between meeting the Korean class crew, two consecutive nights at a noraebang (and the subsequent necessary recoveries), a visit to Bulguksa temple, a delicious Indian lunch at our friends’ apartment, a trip to the beach and first experiences of Korean BBQ, kimchi, jjigae, bibimbap, soju, makgeolli and my Korean cooking there was little time to catch our breath. Bulguksa is probably my favourite temple I’ve seen so far. It’s not too dissimilar aesthetically from most of the others, but its location – deep in the hills surrounded by nice-looking vegetation – and its layout – vaguely pyramidal with ascending levels having decreasing areas – appealed to me. We also travelled to nearby Seokguram Grotto, where I learned that you can use the word ‘grotto’ after words that aren’t ‘Santa’s’, and we saw a giant holy Buddha.

You were supposed to make a wish and add a single rock to a pile; but we obviously just tried to stack them as high as possible.

Weeknights were spent trying to work out which were the cheapest and tastiest restaurants that would cater to all tastes while offering the most authentic insights into Korean cuisine. This was not easy, and in fact one night “the girls” went for chip butties. Meanwhile, “the boys” ate at one of those ubiquitous street vendors – but instead of dining outside stood up, we went inside, something I’ve never done before. I was only able to vaguely translate about half of the menu, and our options were narrowed further when we were told there were no bibimbaps or soups available, but we settled on sundaewith kimbap and a rice dish to accompany. Sundae is animal intestine filled with blood that I think I’ve had before; and this time it came with liver and other entrails. I won’t be orderding it again. After eating, Eliz and I would try to keep up with her parents at a bar or a cafe serving makgeolli, but mindful of the fact that we were working while they were on holiday, we often abandoned them early with garbled instructions on how to get home in Korean.

Plains of Sinbulsan

The following weekend we went hiking in the Yeongnam Alps – a series of (ten?) peaks exceeding 1000m in height. Knowing that the plains atop Sinbulsan are one of Ulsan’s famous 12 scenic sites, we decided to attempt to scale that one. Having learned from our culinary mistakes the last time we went up into the mountains, we equipped ourselves with sandwiches and snacks galore; but set off pretty late into the day, meaning we had to quick march all the way to the top. The first half hour was tough and sweaty – there were steep climbs up rocky steps and slippy slopes – but the subsequent 90 minutes or so were trekked on a windy road, which occasionally afforded us impressive views of Eonyang (in West Ulsan) down below. At the end of this was a sort of giant natural crossroads, with paths leading directly up to two peaks as well as indirectly to the rest of the Alps. The natural beauty of the place (and the plains) was spolit slightly by the huge wooden veranda and convenience store that had been built there – but otherwise how would we have got ourselves a well-deserved melon ice lolly?

I tried to eat said lolly whilst hiking the remaining kilmoetre or so to the top of the shorter peak (fading daylight and our legs would only allow us to go this far) and learned that you can’t eat while walking uphill. So, Elizabeth and I lost her Dad and spent half an hour looking worriedly for him only to be reacquainted at the benches outside the shop with taunts of how he made it all the way but we didn’t. The following day was spent resting our weary thighs at the beach in Busan and then it was over as quickly as it had begun and we were bidding farewell once more to a reminder of home, and a reminder of just how different the life we lead here is. I hope they had a good time!


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