Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy December 1st

I'm halfway through my first week of teaching and so far so good. It hasn't been perfect but I'm slowly finding my feet and I think given a few more weeks all the kinks should be worked out.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Korean education system, the school that I teach at is called a hagwon (학원). Hagwons are private academies that students of all ages can attend after their regular public school day is over. Competition is fierce in Korea and there are hagwons for all sorts of subjects. Chungdahm Institute (CDI) where I work basically manages the largest group of hagwons in the country that are geared at teaching students English.

During the week I teach classes from 4:30pm to 7:30pm and again from 7:30pm to 10:30pm. Luckily I have the second class off on both Mondays and Wednesdays but as you're probably realizing, these kids spend a hell of a lot of their time in school. They might attend CDI classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays but it's likely that the other days of the week they're taking courses at other academies too. Pretty crazy right?

So I've now taught four classes since starting on Monday and I feel like I'm holding my own so far. Each teacher has different levels and different materials that they teach and I'm pretty comfortable with what's on my plate. In training they tried to prepare us for a real classroom setting by role playing student management scenarios. You know, Johnny is doodling so what should you do? Or Sandy is a chatterbox so how do you handle that? Or Fabio has fallen asleep at his desk, will offering him real butter wake him up? (These kids really will fall asleep sometimes, I wasn't kidding about how much time they spend in school)

But there's really no preparing for a room full of fifteen 11-year-olds. The wonderful and frustrating thing about working with kids is how unpredictable they are. For the most part the classes have been pretty good but it's a process. I've worked with kids for something like ten years now but upper level elementary and middle school were never my specialty and teaching is new for me. Yesterday my two classes were pretty shaky in terms of getting the kids to participate and actually keeping the class from imploding during the final hour's group project.

My class today though was a horse of a different color. Angels! Every one of them! They all listened politely and were eager to answer questions and one kid even stuck close to my "Raise your hand when you want to talk rule" which honestly I don't even follow. If my life were a movie right now it would be Toy Story 3 and my classes yesterday would be the Caterpillar room and I the plastic space ranger getting bonked endlessly over the head. Today though was the Butterfly room all the way. Sweet relief. Each class has its perks but I won't deny that having a dream class like today is anything but a blessing.

I'm also incredibly lucky to have been placed where I am. The other teachers are so great and it's a very comfortable environment to be working in. I still feel like the new kid in town and will for a while but having been welcomed in so warmly is helping ease my worries.

On the way to work today I managed to snap a few pictures of the area between my apartment and the school:

Actually this is the daytime view from my apartment. It's uh, prettier at night, as you can imagine. Also I had no idea if the haze today was fog or smog...

Sidewalk area outside my building.

Everyone and their mother is wearing these right now in Korea. Actually more accurate would be that everyone and their mother, father, siblings, grandparents, children and great uncle Bilbo are wearing these right now. They are everywhere and in every color and most of them are super shiny. The family that bundles in astronaut coats together stays together I guess.

A peek down a side street. It's pretty stark weather for picture taking but I just wanted to offer a glimpse of my neighborhood.

Ah yes, the local one-of-a-kind malt shoppe.

In Korea it is illegal to own a gun so police carry these light up orange baton thingys. I am more than okay with this. If you hunt you have to keep your gun at the local police station and check it out when you want to use it. These laws make so much more sense to me.

I love that they celebrate Christmas here! Well, sort of. I'll talk about that more as the month goes on as well as about the local department/grocery store where this big sign is hanging outside of.

There's a handful of public schools along the street that I take to get to work.

The local fire station. 119 is the emergency number. 911 to 119, easy enough to remember!

Look at that badass bird. I feel safer already.

I've already heard it said many times since I've been here that Korea builds "up, not out". There just isn't room to build out so there are tons of buildings like this that have restaurants and stores on the upper floors.

One of the two subway stations closest to me. The other is Woninjae Station.

Weird pillar statue thing in a park across from my school. That's all I got. I don't know what it represents and haven't had a chance to check out the park yet but at some point I will solve this mystery. I'm hoping the park will be really pretty come spring.

And last but not least, the totally friggin creepy Samsung claymation ad that I pass just before the entrance to the CDI building. Forget the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, these are the faces you will see when the world is coming to an end.

And just so we're clear, he'll be the one riding the pale horse. You have been warned.

Trivia of the Day:  The crowns of Silla (신라) were made in the Korean kingdom of Silla approximately in the fifth and sixth centuries of the Common Era. Of the ten fully golden crowns in the world, eight are from the Korean Peninsula. Out of these, six are from Silla, and two are from the neighboring Gaya (가야) confederacy. These crowns were excavated in Gyeongju (경주시), the former capital of Silla, and are designated National treasures of South Korea. The Silla crowns are very fragile and weigh more than one kilogram. The Silla kings probably did not wear the golden crowns like hats. They were probably used only for formal and ceremonial occasions. Some scholars believe that the crowns were never worn at all but made specifically as burial goods.

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