Sunday, August 30, 2009

Concerning dizzy first impressions

Hello again! Picking up where I left off, Friday I finally got to see my school. It occupies two floors in a building about five minutes from our apartment (more about that later) and all of the classrooms are named after Ivy League colleges. The kids are painfully cute, they are all dressed up in the school uniform of polos and burberry print shorts for boys and skorts for girls. In winter, they are even cuter because they have this grey sweater with the school's emblem on it. Quite the little scholars...until they set foot in a classroom. Oh, my. It boggles the mind that so much noise can come from such little packages. I am sure that to a large extent, I'll have to give in to the fact that I am, in fact, teaching young children and all that comes with them. But...I am also going to implement a trial run of the "indoor voice" philosophy.

Mostly, I think the name of the game for the first month at least will just be staying on top of my schedule. I start at 10 every day except tuesdays, when I start at 10:45, and I finish at 7. Every morning, I teach kindergarten. Unlike the upper level classes, the school teaches kindergarten as a complete program in and of itself so while everything I teach them is basically English, I teach subjects like "science" and "good manners" a couple of times a week, with the more predictable language and phonics. Since it's kindie, this is really just different excuses and prompts to practice English.

Then, afternoon classes are kind of a jumble. The kids get older as the day goes on so my last class is actually around 6th grade and pretty serious about studying. The challenge, however, is that every class has a different curriculum that I not only have to manage, but usually also coordinate with the Korean teacher that takes the class the other half of the week. AND, each curriculum involves multiple workbooks and student books and practice books and homestudy workbooks (very different from workbooks apparently...), some of which I teach, some of which I correct, some of which I assign, and some of which I leave for the other teacher. And sometimes, the lesson does not take up the class so I always have to be prepared with extra practice and activities. BAAAAAAAAAAHHH! It's quite a lot to fall into.

The good thing is that the lessons themselves are really not difficult at all to teach. It is usually a question of repetition and a lot of it. Once I get a feel for how each class progresses and what I do when, I think this should be pretty easy. I also get anywhere from 2 to 3 breaks a day to catch my breath and figure out what I'm doing. I can see myself having fun with this, especially as I get to know my kids. The classes are pretty personalized, I have anywhere from 1 student in a class to 12 at the most, so it's not too overwhelming. They already know me as "Becky Teacher". So, once I get over the noise and hit my stride, I think I can hopefully find ways to ride the wave of chaos and enjoy it. After work that day, a bunch of teachers went out to this yummy Indian restaurant and I got mango lassi, a mind chicken curry and garlic naan. MMMMMMM. It was a welcome break from Korean food, though I'm getting better with it.

Saturday, a teacher came and took Asteria and me on a walk to the Yusang hot spring district of Daejeon, where a lot of hotels have spas drawing from...oddly enough...the Yusang hot spring. We'll be going back and trying one pretty soon because it is only a few dollars to get access to the pools. It might be a bit of an experience as it is gender segregated and usually naked....but, when in Daejeon, right? As it was, we contented ourselves with this weird public foot spa that we found in the middle of a park in that neighborhood. It's basically a lot of Koreans on their lunch break soaking their feet in hot water. Random but pretty nice. We had Vietnamiese for dinner (fried pineapple rice with shrimp, not bad at all) and then went to a house party in our new apartment, where we are moving on wednesday. "Mansion of the lot"? I'm still trying to figure that one out. To be fair, it does probably have the most space of them all but it is far from palatial. One room is small, the other smaller, and it has weird narrow rooms off of rooms that are kind of pseudo balconies and one proper balcony that is screened in and random movie posters on the wall. Asteria and I have our work cut out for us though I really don't know how much we can do. To be honest, it was a little bit of a blow because I've always been a bit of a homebody in that my personal space is really really important to me. Oh well, I'll get used to it and it is only a year.

After that party (which did not help our impression of the apartment as we didn't really know anyone and felt out of place- Whitman seems very far away), we went to a club called Cacoon in the bar district. Oh. My. God. It was insane. We were the only white people in the entire club of packed dancing Asians and it was seriously like we were movie stars. Heads turned as we walked through the crowd and the guys kept coming up to talk to us and dance with us. It was a lot of fun but I am not used to getting that much sustained attention. Today, I'm feeling a little tired of being out of place and getting used to completely new surroundings. This may not be the year I built up in my head but I still have faith it will be a really good experience for me and get easier as I settle more and more into the city. I'm starting to miss everyone, email me or post comments to this! Love from this side of the Pacific!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Concerning a flight, a love motel, and a very bright city.

Well, I made it. After an 11 hour flight that passed surprisingly quickly (save the freakishly active one year old to my left and lack of personal TV), Asteria and I stepped off the plane and promptly melted in the Korean humidity. The airport itself was very orderly and logical, it was the people that defied convention and took offense at the bare idea of a patient line. After fighting tooth and nail for bus tickets, I ate my 15 hour old meatloaf sandwich (actually pretty good if somewhat...aesthetically compromised) and we started the trip to Daejeon. Worn to sheer exhaustion, we both accidentally fell asleep but still made our stop just fine where we were picked up by our two bosses. The instructions sent to us by the school were detailed enough that the whole process was pretty painless.

We settled into the cheap motel that is home until wednesday (when we get to move into our apartment) and passed out. Next morning, we went to lunch with the academic director, a ridiculously kind-hearted woman in her thirties, and tried spring chicken stew. It is Korean belief that the only remedy for heat is...more heat. I was sweating before the meal and mostly liquid by the time it was done. Objectively, it tasted fine and I would have it again but it will take me a time to click into Korean flavors. It has been the hardest thing for me so far. That night, the current teachers came to take us newbies out for Korean BBQ and it was a really really nice time. They all seemed very happy with their experiences and gave us some advice for the coming months. The BBQ itself was incredibly ornate- even if I am not used to the flavors, I certainly appreciate the effort that must go into making the 5-15 side dishes that seem mandatory here. I had the famed kimchi- kind of anticlimactic, really what it sounds like. Spicy pickled cabbage. I also found out that night that Asteria and my apartment is apparently the 'mansion' of the lot, including 2 bedrooms, a little office, a living room big enough to accommodate not one but two sofas and...get this...a bath tub. We have been told this is the culmination of Asian luxury, so I am understandably excited to move in and settle.

That night of sleep abruptly ended at 4 AM when jet lag kicked in, and I stumbled my way in the morning to the hospital for our swine flu tests. The manager of the school drove us, (similarly kind and a bit shy) and we picked up cell phones. Handy. After a lunch of the weirdest pizza I have ever had (cheese ball things on the crust, corn, mango, pepper, onion, what we think to be ham, and a sweet potato paste served with corn on the cob on the side) we met the academic director at this beautiful coffee shop overlooking the whole city. Over some delicious kiwi juice, we went over an overview of the different programs available in the school. Tomorrow, we actually start observing which will be a lot more helpful. The kids sound pretty darn cute though so I am looking forward to it a lot. After the coffee, I had the best sushi I've ever had and an early bed. This morning we had our comprehensive medical exams which was more like a circus than an appointment; Asteria, another new teacher, and I were herded around to different stations like cattle taking our charts ever which way and laughing to each other in passing. We had bibimbop (spicy spicy rice with vegetables that I had with shrimp- yummy, kind of a Korean stir fry or pad thai) to make up for losing 3 vials of blood on no food or liquids since last night and here we are.

Over all, I think things have started well. I did the vast majority of my freaking out before I left (only my immediate family know how thoroughly) so I feel pretty at peace with my decision. I have not felt the excited mania that I did in England fairly salivating over every "cheers", but I'm happy to discover the quirks of Daejeon. So far: I know it is a cliche, but my god is it bright. I am shocked that we can see nocturnal pictures from space of American lights because I would expect them to be completely eclipsed by Asia's overwhelming glow. They seem to have a monopoly on all things neon and cartoon and the senses most definitely reel. Everyone carries an umbrella all the time, because heaven forbid an Asian be wet or tanned. They actually have whitening skin products just like we have self-tanners. Cultural conventions never cease to amaze.

Last thing before I close the first of many novels that I am sure will follow, etiquette. We are learning how to blend in a little more but it does not come automatically. Take everything with two hands, but if it is with one, under no circumstances should it be the left. Never fill your own water glass. Don't make excessive eye contact with an elder. NEVER ever give things in increments of 4, it's even worse luck than 13. I am sure I'll be adding to this list as I go. That's it for now, next up: seeing the school, going to a party at our apartment on saturday, and hopefully a few touristy things over the weekend like the hot springs. Love everyone!