Schools in South Korea and My First Week

So now that I told you all about finally getting here I thought I’d talk about my first week living and teaching in Yeongwol, South Korea.

First some general/background info on my school and schools in Korea in general….

For my first few days at school, I just sat at my desk to “plan” and get ready.  In Korea, instead of teachers having their own classrooms they work and prepare for class in an office.  Some schools have a few offices full of teachers.  My school has one really big room with a bunch of little desk/cubicles that we work at, each with a computer and some drawers.  The vice principal also has a nice big desk in this room.  However, the principal gets his own cushy office that he rarely leaves, complete with leather chairs and couches, etc.  Anyway, when class time comes, the teacher goes to the students’ classroom.  Each student has a homeroom and they have every class with this homeroom.  They have their own classroom and this is where the teacher comes to teach, except for special classes like art and English.  My school has an “English lab” where English class is held at the far end of the building because apparently class gets loud.  So it’s technically like I have my own classroom, but I usually spend my free time at my desk in the office.  I was supposed to have a few days before I started teaching to hang out in the office, but one of my co-teachers asked me to start a day early.  I said yes because I didn’t want them to think I was unprepared or didn’t want to work.

I have four co-teachers that I work with, one of them being my main co-teacher who helps me with any problems I have in getting settled (help set up bank account, register for Alien Registration Card, or ARC, which is my Korean ID, etc.).  Each class I have only sees me once a week and spends the rest of the week in English class with only their co-teacher.  Each co-teacher is different and gives me different degrees of independence in regards to planning and teaching the class.  For the most part, co-teachers are responsible for discipline and some of them ask to see or approve my lesson plans ahead of time.  Although I’ve only been teaching here a short time I do feel that it’s a little overbearing having someone looking over my shoulder to approve things, especially while I’m still trying to find my groove and figure out what exactly to do with my students (there is no curriculum or textbook for me).  I know that it just takes some time to figure out but sometimes with someone looking over my shoulder it feels like I don’t really have the space to figure things out.  But then again, some of the teachers tell me to just play games!  So if they don’t take it seriously, I shouldn’t stress out or take it too seriously either.  The classes are split into two categories, vocational and academic.  Vocational classes are students that (most likely) won’t be attending university but instead will take up a trade or already have a job out of high school.  Vocational classes are less motivated and have less English knowledge.  The academic classes know more English and are more motivated, as they are headed to university and need to know English for an entrance exam.    The students work very hard in their classes, or at the very least they put in a lot of time at school.  The day starts at 8:30 AM and most students usually stay in school until 10 or 11 PM.  AFTER leaving school that late, some go to private academies, called hagwons, until 12 AM or later.  Maybe they even study more at home once they leave the hagwon, or even wake up early before school to study.  Let’s just say that students sleeping in class is extremely common here and students often say that their schools are like prisons!

So there’s some general background info.  Now to my actual teaching experience that first week!

For my first week of classes, I did a self-introduction powerpoint for my students with pictures of me, where I live, my family, and my hobbies along with some information about the United States.  After I let them ask me anything and everything.  Most of the questions were focused on beauty and physical appearance, which are big things here in Korea.  Combine that with an all-girls school and you’ll get some crazy questions!  Such as…

  • Do you have a boyfriend?
  • How old are you?
  • Is your hair real?
  • How much do you weigh/how tall are you?
  • What are your beauty secrets?  What skin products do you use? (Makes me giggle…I feel like I’ve always had issues with my skin and now these kids are asking my advice haha!)
  • When did you get married?  How did your husband propose? (Another LOL moment–Josh and I didn’t exactly do things the traditional route, and all of these girls have a fairy tale image of what these experiences are like in the western world!)
  • Have you had plastic surgery?  (Korea is the number one country for plastic surgery–some of my students have already had it on their eyes to give them a double-eyelid! Most common are eye surgeries and nose jobs to make the nose longer and thinner.  Business Insider did a good article on this topic–find it here!)

The students all ranted and raved (and continue to do so) about my looks–they love my big eyes, my “small face” (another common compliment here), and my thin body and they let me know it all the time.  They even tell me, “Teacher, so pretty!” on days that I feel pretty crappy.  So it’s nice to be worshipped like a celebrity! haha.  It was a long week of answering questions, some pretty personal but I didn’t mind because I appreciate their curiosity plus their questions and reactions were pretty entertaining for me.  The last two EPIK (English Program in Korea) teachers they had were males, so it must be exciting to have  a Western girl around.

Sometimes I am surprised by my students and how different they are from American high school students.  I hate to use this expression, and wish I could find another word, but sometimes they seem more immature here.  I think some of that has to do with the lack of independence they have–spending all day every day in school, can’t get their drivers license until 19 years old, etc. These high school girls often giggle with shyness the way a middle schooler in the States would, even when it comes to speaking out loud in class with the classmates they spend all day every day with. When they see me in the hallway or walking around town, they say hi, giggle, and run away.  It’s quite comical.

With my first week of introductions behind me, I then started planning for some actual classes.  This is somewhat challenging for the vocational classes between figuring out their skill level and finding what will motivate them.  However, I enjoy preparing and teaching the academic classes because the material can be more challenging and open-ended, where we have some real life discussions and creativity going on.  Overall, I’m enjoying the job and it’s pretty easy.

Not much happened our first week outside of class–mostly getting settled in our cute little apartment and buying things that we needed.  Here are some pictures of our first week and our town, Yeongwol:

 

Our first home-cooked meal in our new apartment :)

Our first home-cooked meal in our new apartment 🙂

Some small mountains and the Donggang River (동강) going through Yeongwol.

Some small mountains and the Donggang River (동강) going through Yeongwol.

A bridge connecting the two sides of town split up by the Donggang River.

A bridge connecting the two sides of town split up by the Donggang River.

Action shot of Josh skipping some stones!

Action shot of Josh skipping some stones!

Beautiful clouds and scenery!

Beautiful clouds and scenery!

Some boys (maybe around 9 or 10 years old) came down next to me to play in the river.  One gave me an enthusiastic "Hello!  My name is (insert Korean name here that I can't remember)!"  But the others kind of ignored me. haha

Some boys (maybe around 9 or 10 years old) came down next to me to play in the river. One gave me an enthusiastic “Hello! My name is (insert Korean name here that I can’t remember)!” But the others kind of ignored me. haha

A collection of their shoes and bags of snacks from the convenience store while the boys splashed around!

A collection of their shoes and bags of snacks from the convenience store while the boys splashed around!

Nice views all around.

Nice views all around.

Sky and clouds are beautiful!  I love the fresh air that we have in Gangwon-do compared to the rest of Korea.

Sky and clouds are beautiful! I love the fresh air that we have in Gangwon-do compared to the rest of Korea.

A few of the bridges in town.

A few of the bridges in town.

People going about their business with a nice natural background.

People going about their business with a nice natural background.

A part of Yeongwol on the other side of the river from me, nestled between hills and small mountains.

A part of Yeongwol on the other side of the river from me, nestled between hills and small mountains.

 

Thanks for tuning in everyone 🙂  This coming week I’ll blog some about a few of the trips we have taken–climbing/surprise music festival and spending our Chuseok vacation time hiking and climbing in Seoraksan National Park.

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