Suddenly Blogger works at work!
I'm going to put a whole bunch of junk up now while I have the chance. Almost all boring work stuff, but maybe helpful/interesting to other people wanting to know what to expect if coming over as teachers.
So I'm writing this at school on a Wednesday with the intentions of posting it at the weekend, so that I don't have to sit and write blog posts right in front of Mike at his apartment, because that's weird. Especially when he's included in the post somehow.
This week is proper full-on classroom teaching for the first time. Of course I've been shitting it all week, but there have only been a few rocky classes, and I'm starting to get the hang of it. It has to be said that this was partially a moronic choice as far as career path for yours truly, given that public speaking definitely falls near the number one spot on the list of top ten things I'd rather die than do. But I'm starting to get used to it.
The boys are a decent mix of those who are petrified, turning bright red when I walk over and refusing to lift their heads from their desks and those who are practically (and sometimes literally) falling out of their seats with the desire to partake in bad behavior. It's hard enough to keep on top of a room of forty fourteen year old boys, without the fact that they all speak a language that I do not -- an enormous advantage to troublemaking. Luckily, Liz's famous "Look" translates rather well, and a well-timed glare from across the room puts a swift end to whatever it is the little monsters have their heads bent together whispering about.
Some favorite tricks so far:
Telling a less aware student to ask me, "Do you love me?" I have absolutely no idea what inspires innocent boy after boy to voluntarily repeat what another boy is telling him to say in front of the entire room without knowing its meaning, but it seems to work every time.
Asking me in rapid Korean if I know who the president is and then busting a gut when I look confused.
And of course the ever popular "Do you have a boyfriend?"/"No."/"Pick me!"
I think of my in-class coteachers as small, medium and large. Referring to their level of helpfulness, not their actual physical sizes, although that pretty much matches up as well. No one bothers to actually introduce themselves to me, maybe because they assume a foreigner won't be able to remember/pronounce their names, and they're half right -- I usually butcher pronunciation, but I do at least tend to remember. As well as I can American names anyway -- sometimes I get nervous when I'm being introduced to someone and names just disappear into the void. So Small and Medium don't have names. Small doesn't appear to actually speak English and so she can't translate my instructions for the class when they don't understand, so those classes are just general confusion. Not sure what to do about that, since it's a lower level class as well. She also appears to be sort of mean and not very compassionate toward the boys. She just interrupts my class to shriek at them in Korean, even though they are ultimately misbehaving and goofing off because they have no idea what I'm telling them to do. She told me they are "naughty boys" and "animals" and she was quite serious about this. I'm not really sure why she works here.... Medium speaks excellent English but is very concerned about making sure I stick to the textbook, which makes me want to scratch my face off it's so boring, so I know what it must be doing to these energetic young men.
Large is Mr. Kwan. We like Mr. Kwan very much.
Mr. Kwan wears jeans everyday, even though all the other men wear suits, and he told me that in his classes, I don't have to teach from the book. Or rather, that there were ways to fit the book into ten minutes and do something better with the rest of the time. He thinks the book is tedious and pointless (because it is) and that I would be better utilized in just speaking with the boys, getting them to talk, discussing culture and (he said it, not me) music. And here is the very, very most important reason why we like Mr. Kwan: Mr. Kwan invited me into the top secret second floor men's room smoking club.
I don't know what it is with this school, but it's the same over at Mike's as well -- somehow absolutely everyone knows everything about us. Gossip spreads like brushfire. So, even though I have never once had a cigarette anywhere near campus, Mr. Kwan knew I was a smoker. I asked him about Korean women and smoking and he said Koreans don't like it when women smoke, so they don't for the most part, at least in the open. Then he said he thought that was stupid, and asked how I am smoking during school since there is no smoking on campus. I told him I've just been waiting until after school (no easy task this week with all the nerves). He told me that some of the younger male teachers sneak cigarettes in a specific men's room upstairs between classes, and that any time I want to go, I should just send him a message and he would escort me.
So yes. Mr. Kwan is our very favorite so far.
Today is Immigration: Round two. Yesterday I had to go pick up my medcheck results from the hospital, since my coteacher just disappeared this week (some sort of surgery, I'm told.... and Mike is told as well). Fake coteacher got another teacher to drive me, and she kept apologizing for not speaking English. This is something that I don't understand at all. It absolutely could not be more different than the US. If I had a thousand won for every time someone has apologized to me for their English since I got here, I could blow this taco stand and retire to an empty beach somewhere right this very now. In the States, people take offense if they even so much as hear someone speaking another language. The concept of this beautiful young woman who was going out of her way to do me a huge favor because I don't speak Korean, even though she had never even met me before, apologizing to me was appalling. I think I managed to explain it thusly:
"We are in Korea, yes?"
"I don't speak Korean. My fault."
And it really is. And I'm going to start serious work on that.
What it comes down to is, I will always be at a disadvantage in this country as far as figuring out what the hell is going on. But it doesn't have to be nearly as bad as it is at the moment. And the easiest way to solve this helplessness that's been driving me absolutely mad (despite the fact that absolutely everyone has gone out of their way to help in anyway they can -- it's the having to ask that gets me) is to learn Korean. Or at least start trying.
Today was the school festival and a much needed break for my little socially anxious nerves -- no classes. Instead I got to sit in while Mr. Kwan and Medium coteacher did quiz games with the boys.
Last night things got a lot better after I met Mike and his coteacher Mr. Khang at what we've knighted the "smoking pit" over in Mike's neighborhood. We drove to Immigration to put in for our ARCs (a fairly efficient experience for something government run) and that was all fairly straight forward. Then, when we came out I could definitely tell we were near the water. I thought I had heard Mr. Khang say something about it on the way in. I said I was excited to be living close to the water and preempted any potential razzing from Mike by explaining that, although he lived close to the water his whole life, I didn't see the ocean until I was seventeen. Mr. Khang generously offered to drive us to the seaside since we were so close so we could take a look.
Well. It made my whole day better, even though it was raining. I'm not a big fan of umbrellas and I especially hate it when people try to hold their umbrellas over me (if you've ever seen my hair, you know it's not a good idea to even tempt it with something it can get tangled around), but Mr. Khang was so insistent -- every time I told him I didn't need the umbrella, it would move further over my head, leaving more of his exposed, until eventually he was holding the umbrella over only me. I can't handle all this courtly behavior -- I'm supposed to be the gentleman in any given situation.
We saw some men who had the biggest fishing poles I have ever seen in my life (hold your tongues, euphemism enthusiasts). I like fishing but I think I would feel ridiculous with a little ordinary pole standing next to those guys (seriously.... hold them).
Today I realized that the reason the men who share my immediate office do not speak to me is quite straight forward -- they don't speak English. Or at least, they think they don't speak English. I was sitting at my desk watching yet another warning in Korean cycle across my computer screen and I couldn't help but laugh. Not only do I have absolutely no idea what the computer is trying to tell me, but as far as I know, there's no one in the office I can ask for help. That's when the one we'll call Sharp Dressed Man walked past and saw my palm-forehead situation. He leaned over and looked at the screen, said something in Korean, looked at me, pointed to the screen. I did the universal face for I-have-no-idea -- which will just be my face soon. More Korean. He called another teacher over and they chin scratched for a minute over the entire matter. Then he patted me on the shoulder and walked away. Fifteen minutes later, Fake Coteacher came in to tell me that a computer repair man had been called and would be here to fix it sometime tonight.
Ever since then, he says hello when he walks past. I can't understand anything he says, but he always talks with loads of enthusiasm and at absolute top volume, which is hard not to laugh at sometimes, if only because I cannot imagine what he could possibly be saying all of the time that he's so passionate about. He also paces the office sometimes waving a big stick in the air and slamming it against his palm, every now and then sticking his head out into the hall to scream something to the boys, then pulling his head back in and laughing. I like him. Too bad I can't talk to him.
I'm one proud peacock this morning. Yesterday, Fake Coteacher came in and explained that, since the previous nitwit native took off with all the textbooks for the parents' class, I would need to nip out and buy a new one to teach them from for... today.
Maybe I should explain about my school's situation real quick. Apparently, in September, the school acquired its first native English teacher, a girl named Michelle. Well. Michelle didn't eat Korean food, apparently. In fact, Michelle didn't eat anything except hamburgers and fried chicken, according to my coteachers. Michelle had a very hard time adjusting to both Korea and the task of wrangling boys in the classroom everyday. So Michelle waited until she got paid on the 25th of the month and then she packed her shit and flew home, without even giving notice.
So my school is paying very close attention to me. The principal, who is like the Godfather, as far as I can tell, told me (through Coteacher's translation) that if I have any problems at all, I should tell him. And everyone is obsessed with how I like the food. They seem excessively satisfied when I tell them I like Korean food, very much in fact.
So the point is, I can't tell how much of the extremely kind treatment I've received since I arrived is just normal, and how much of it is people going out of their way to make sure I don't have a conniption fit and flee the country with all of their won. So I've been going out of my way to seem as capable as I can without actually getting myself in too far over my head. So when FC told me I needed to buy a textbook, I decided not to panic, but to nod as though it were the simplest request in the world. I've got to learn how to do these things sooner or later, right?
God bless the internet and expat forums.
Kyobo seemed to be the answer -- I could kill two or three birds with one hour and a half subway trip. Not only do they have a decent selection of ESL/EFL textbooks, but a respectable foreign language section and a stationary shop. So I did some characteristically anal subway planning (Bupyeong - change to Line 1 -- Seoul -- NOT Incheon -- Bugae next stop, etc. etc.). You get lost on the subway enough times, you learn to cover all your bases.
Of course, it was pouring when I headed to the subway station, which is a decent ten or fifteen minute walk from my flat. I really, really need to learn how to dress for the weather. I never could get it right in New York either. I always end up completely sopping wet when it's raining out, no matter what I do.
Well, long story short, although the Seoul subway system is slightly more confusing with slightly less obvious English than the Incheon line, I somehow made my three transfers without a single mistake. I did stop to ask a punk rock station shop clerk if I was getting on the right train at one point -- I was. As soon as I walked out of the subway turnstile or whatever it is here, I ran almost smack into the tallest man I have ever seen -- a foreigner. He tried to say hello, but I wasn't sure if he was speaking to me or not (which is stupid because anytime I hear English these days, it's almost exclusively directed at me) until I had kind of walked past him, and by then it would have been weird to turn around and go back. Anyway, he was massive. And my very first fellow foreigner sighting.
Kyobo Bookstore was pretty alright, what I saw of it. There really is a decent supply of ESL/EFL materials, which I had doubted there would be for some reason. The English language book section is limited, of course, and probably not where you want to head if you're looking for something specific, but there are enough odds and ends to be able to pick something decent up if you're not being particular. Me, I went for Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries and Hwang Sok-yong's The Guest. I even got a membership card.
After successfully completing my textbook mission without having to ask a single question or favor of my coteachers, I went above ground for just a minute to smoke a cigarette and bask in my own glory. My first official glimpse of Seoul.
When I went back into the station, I ran into an Indian woman who works for a nonprofit involving WWOOFing -- which stands for a lot of things, technically World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, but more commonly and colloquially know as Willing Workers On Organic Farms. It's basically a sort of loosely organized network of organic farms all over the world who take on travelers to work the farms in exchange for free room and board during their stay. It's a fantastic idea that allows those who aren't trust fund babies to travel at much lower costs, and also allows for a chance to really get to know the place you're visiting, and the people who live and work there. Plus, it's a great way to help the organic farming movement develop and thrive. She gave me her phone number and email address and told me I was welcome in India anytime. It's just another place to add to the ever-growing list.
Then there was my new drunk businessman friend. I have a knack for picking up intoxicated public transportation buddies where ever I am, so I guess it should be no surprise that my first venture into Seoul would end up this way. My favorite part of that conversation was when he decided to inform me, "I have drink tonight." You don't say.
I'm getting some very unpleasant vibes about how shit works around here. Well. Not vibes, so much as just things people are saying outright to my face.
My first (seventh) graders are divided into two categories: low and high. That's cool. As much as it sucks to be slapped with a "low" label, I'm sure, it's really helpful for me not to have the lows mixed with the highs so that I'm having to either bore or confuse (I think I do enough of both as it is). However, I get the feeling these "low" labels are sort of ... well, universal.
This shit is confusing, alright? I don't know if it's a Korean thing or a public school thing or a Korean public school thing or what, but my schedule gets changed so often that I can barely keep up with it. Often times I don't know what classes I will have until right before they begin (which makes it immensely difficult to be and feel prepared for class). Maybe there's some bigger picture I'm not getting, but let's just say, I don't blame the kids for being confused -- I'm confused.
This morning I was sitting at my desk waiting for the boys to file in and there was some sort of mix up about who was supposed to be here and who was supposed to be somewhere else. So Medium coteacher turns to me and says, "Sorry. They are a low class. They are confused."
This would have been perfectly acceptable, had I been giving them their instructions in English. However, they were being dealt with in Korean by a Korean teacher. So apparently "low" doesn't just refer to their English skills.
I've even noticed, as I walk around during class, that the kids are extremely quick to turn on one another. One kid at the table will be completely lost, and everyone else is shouting at him, watching me out of the corner of their eyes, shaking their heads and aishing when the kid doesn't know what to do. Or even worse, laughing.
That's the wrong road to plow with me in charge, however. You wanna laugh at your buddy? That's fine. The next question is coming to you in loud, rapid-fire English -- loud enough to draw the attention of all three surrounding tables. So you go ahead and tell me you don't know in front of not six, but eighteen of your buddies, alright? Little shits.
What surprises me is that they seem to expect me to somehow be proud of them or impressed by them giving their classmates a hard time. I'm not. At all. And it may take all year, but they will get the message.
I also don't know how off limits it is for me to touch the boys -- the male teachers do, but I haven't seen a single female teacher touch a student. But that's one of those things they are just going to have to complain to me about directly. I don't have many options with the lower classes and it's especially bad when I manage to catch a kid who doesn't appear to have any clue what's going on, and therefore can't understand the difference between me saying, "You're a stupid little twat who will never amount to anything," and "Don't worry about it -- it's okay." So shoulder squeezes and back rubs are all I have in those cases.
Remember I said I'm not down with making the boys do things in front of the class? Today I was told directly about that one. I've been giving them exercises and then walking around from table to table making them practice either in front of me or with me directly. So I know that everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing, at least for as long as I'm standing there. And I know everyone has heard at least one example of how to do the exercise correctly. But today a totally random coteacher I've never seen before told me I should be calling on the boys to practice in front of the class. I nodded, of course, and then half-heartedly made an attempt to quiet the class, before quietly asking a couple of boys at the front of the room to practice for me. I don't see the point in publicly humiliating the boys. If they can say the sentences to me one-on-one, then I don't need them to prove they can say them in front of the entire class. And I don't want the boys to be terrified to come to my class. I'm working my ass off to make them as comfortable as possible, so that they stand a chance of actually opening up and speaking to me in English. So until someone who's actually in charge of my paycheck tells me I need to be making the boys recite in front of the class, I'll just continue to nod politely and completely ignore that suggestion.
So I'm slowly learning what I can get away with, with each coteacher. Fake Coteacher insists that I use the CD, which is stupid. Medium Coteacher insists on doing the lesson entirely out of the book. Random New Coteacher wants the boys called in front of the class. Small Coteacher doesn't want anything except not to be here, apparently. And Mr. Kwan wants class to be as entertaining as possible.
(Guess who's still my favorite.)
And if anyone read all of that, you should probably just give up on your life now.