Saturday, March 27, 2010

The first month

The Flight
So for any of you that think flying to California is rough, you have no idea how bad flying and jet lag can be. So far starters, it was dark outside the plane the entire time I was in the air, so I went almost 24 hours without seeing sunlight. My flight left O'Hare on Tuesday, February 16th at 1 AM and arrived at Incheon, South Korea at 6 AM WEDNESDAY! That night I feel asleep at 8 PM. It goes without saying that this was one of the roughest 24 hour periods of my life. The air line was actually great too. The service was very good, but a 14-hour flight is about as enjoyable as getting a root canal without Novocain, so needless to say, it took its toll. To make things even more painful, the EPIK (English Program in Korea) staff whisked us away on a bus for 4 hours shortly after landing, so by the time the other teachers and I arrived in Jeonju, we were taxed beyond all belief.

The Orientation
In order to acclimate us to life in Korea and to prepare us to teach, all the EPIK teachers were required to attend a 10-day orientation in Jeonju, South Korea. Jeonju is a city of about 600,000 people (small by Asian standards) and is well-known for its bibimbap (I'm sure Eggy is salivating while reading this part). For those of you who don't know what bibimbap is, it is a Korean dish consisting of rice, beef and other vegetables with a raw egg (which I ate and did NOT get food poisoning). For ten days I dined and consorted with people from all over the world. Most of the other teachers in EPIK are from the United States, but there were significant numbers of people from the UK, South Africa (home of the world's sexiest accents I think), Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Every meal was an absolutely enchanting experience. Besides eating the best cafeteria food that I've ever had (I would never, never be able to eat in Baldwin again) I was able to sit and listen to stories from all parts of the globe. I was particularly awestruck by a conversation I had with a Kiwi named Seumas. For the last 15 years, Seumas has gone through cycles of teaching in Korea for 12 months and then taking a six month holiday in Thailand. Besides this seemingly ideal lifestyle of spending half a year vacationing in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, I was enthralled with Seumas' stories about his many travels. He has literally been to almost every part of the world, including Tibet, a place restricted to most foreigners (so that we cannot see the despicable things that the Chinese government is doing to the native Tibetan population). Although I only made a few close friends (one of which is a Californian who I will be rampaging through Seoul with in a few weeks) I can barely describe how amazing it was to spend ten days getting to know people that I never would have met if I had stayed home. How many people can say that they worked with a South African and a Brit on a project in South Korea? So about that project: at the end of orientation, we were required to compose and execute a mock lesson plan in front of our fellow EPIK teachers. My group was assigned a lesson where we taught middle school students how to describe what they like to watch on television (in English). Despite nearly eight hours of daily lectures, orientation was a mostly positive experience. I could have done without the lectures, which were often repetitive and were given by one too many wannabe stand up comedians, but overall it was great. My last night in Jeonju was particularly memorable. I went with some pals to a bar called "Manhattan." While I was there I had a long conversation with a Brit named Laurie about how the world actually loves Americans, but just dreads that one loud, stupid American that makes an ass of himself. I also got in to some bar games with the locals. I'll leave the rest of this episode to your imaginations.

My Assignment
For the next year, I will be teaching at an all-boys high school in Yeongju, South Korea. My co-teacher's name is Mr. 유 (Yoo) and so far he has been an invaluable resource to me since coming here. Mr. Yoo has assisted me with almost every aspect of becoming a public school teacher in Korea and I would be like a lost child if it weren't for him. Even though his English is not very good, we have shared many laughs and drinks and he has taught me some useful Korean phrases. For those of you that are wondering, I did not speak any Korean before coming here, but I now have about 90% of the alphabet memorized and can say a lot of important phrases such as "hello" "thank you" "you are very pretty" "this is too expensive" and "how much is this?" I am what they call "빨리 배우네" (barly-be-oo-kyay: quick learner) so I feel that I can get a very good grasp in Korean in a short time. I actually have a private tutor now. I met a Korean woman in a clothing store and she asked me if I would teach her English. Since I cannot accept any money for side teaching I told her that I would do it if she would teach me Korean (we talked through my co-teacher who translated for us). She is about my age and very pretty, so my motivation to learn will be high. So far my experience in Yeongju has been great. It is hard to get around because almost no one speaks any English, but almost all the locals I encounter have been very friendly. Typically when I walk through town I will be followed by about three or four girls who turn and giggle with each other if I catch them following me. Sometimes they will even work up enough courage to say hi to me and try to speak English with me. One thing is for sure, I will NEVER make fun of a foreigner trying to speak English in America. On the first day of school we had an opening assembly which was unlike anything I have ever seen in an American school. I didn't understand almost anything that was said, but I was shocked to see the students saluting the principal and chanting. The part I did understand was when I was introduced to the school and received a standing ovation from everyone. Between being the heartthrob of every woman and girl in Yeongju and receiving a standing ovation from 700 students in a packed auditorium, I think my ego now dwarfs the Coliseum. So much the better I say. So today I finally led my first class. While I think most of the students were unenthusiastic and not very excited about my lesson plan, I feel that I made the most of it. It was a little disheartening to be received less than enthusiastically and I felt ashamed of my own lesson, but then I remembered how unenthusiastic I was about learning French in high school and basically I am in the same position that my high school French teacher was: teaching a foreign language to unwilling students. However there were several fun moments in class and my students seem to like and respect me a lot. In fact most of them will stop and say hi to me in the hallways and give a slight bow. One student even yelled out to me from a second story window to say hi. Overall, I have a very good feeling about my situation for the next year.

Until next time, take care everyone. Anyon-gi-keseyo.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Just launched

Dear Friends,

I have finally broken down and joined the blogosphere. I am using this space to keep my friends, family and others up to date on my travels around Asia, to air my random thoughts and hopefully to influence rational minds. I hope you will follow my posts with great interest.