Getting dropped in the deep end with sharks that don’t speak English.

So the cycle was broken. I couldn’t keep up the post a day pace I had set for myself for all of two days. My apologies. Unfortunately I came down with a bit of a cold yesterday, so after I got off work I decided it was better for me to just down some soup and rice and then get to bed early. Thankfully, with the extra sleep and a few packets of Theraflu I’m feeling halfway decent right now. Which is good because the show must go on, both here in my blog and at work! So to continue on with the tale of my first couple of weeks in South Korea I shall take this post to briefly describe to you the happenings of my first week of teaching.

The day had finally arrived. I was to begin teaching in Korea the Monday after I arrived. Just a quick recap here; I arrived Saturday night around midnight. When my director dropped me off she checked to make sure my phone was working and told me she would call me with the details for me to start on Monday. So as much as I wanted to just leave my apartment on Sunday and go exploring I really couldn’t since I had to sit by the phone waiting for it to ring. I had no idea, and actually still have no idea, if my phone has an answering machine function. From looking at it I would have to say no. It was all fine though because I figured that would give me a great excuse to just stay in and unpack. I obviously had a lot to do to get unpacked and give my apartment that actual moved in feeling. The one snag I did come across was that there was basically no food in my apartment. In the fridge was a giant jar of pickles and two bottles of pomegranate juice concentrate the previous tenant had left for me. Not exactly something that I would consider lunch. Around three in the afternoon I couldn’t really take it anymore and decided to venture out in search of food. Luckily I didn’t have to go very far as there is a small corner market about two blocks from my apartment. So I stocked up on some essentials for the day, ramen, cookies, bananas, and a two liter of Coke, and then quickly made back for my apartment to wait for my phone call.

Back in the apartment I hastily ate one of my cups of ramen and a banana, then started to continue the whole unpacking process. By now it was sometime closer to five in the afternoon, and I was starting to get a bit anxious. My director had left me her number in case I needed to get a hold of her for any reason, but either my foolish pride or something very similar kept me from picking up the phone and dialing. This internal struggle continued on for the next three hours. Luckily the internet was already hooked up in my apartment, and I had even figured out how to work the wireless router that the previous teacher had left for me so I was not without entertainment. Finally a little shy of nine o’clock at night my director finally gave me a ring to ask when I would like to go see the school for the first time. After a little bit of miscommunication, she thought I wanted to see it that night which was the last thing I wanted to do, we settled on her and her husband picking me up from my apartment at one the next afternoon. Not a word was said about teaching or anything of the like, simply that I would be going in to have a look around the school and watch a few training videos. It all sounded good to me, so that was that.

The next day my director and her husband picked me up around one after a little more miscommunication. What I took as her telling me that she was coming up to my apartment was actually “meet us in front of Starbucks.” I was starting to see a trend on the communication front. That small snafu aside, everything went pleasantly enough. She and her husband were both quite pleasant, and she made sure to point out the directions to me on how to get to work on my own. Now before I got to Korea the previous teacher had told me it was about a forty to fifty minute walk to get to work, but my mind did not quite make the connection as to exactly how long of a walk that is. I’m actually not that upset with it because it is helping get me back into, and eventually keep me in, shape. Still, it is quite the hike to and from work.

The tour of the school was brief enough because it is quite a small academy. There are six little classrooms and a small “auditorium,” which in reality is just a slightly larger classroom with a projector in it. After my brief tour my director sat me down at one of the computers at the front desk, and showed me how to access the training videos that the school has online. The academy I work for is part of one of the larger franchised academies in Korea, not much unlike a McDonald’s for the English language. I was through about one and a half videos before the four other Korean teachers turned up for the day, excited to meet me. After introductions to everyone, who all luckily for me and my horrible pronunciation of the Korean language have English names just for school, my director handed me my “Teacher’s Diary” complete with my weekly schedule. She briefly went over the contents with me and then told to not really worry about teaching for that first week, to just instead use the time to play games and free talk so that I could get to know the students. With that I was whisked off to begin lesson planning for my classes that started in a little less than an hour!

Unfortunately for me that turned out to be the shortest hour of my life. The one saving grace was that in my Teacher’s Diary the previous teacher had printed out a four page letter of advice to me, complete with a list of game that the students should know. So I put together a hasty lesson plan for the day consisting mainly of alternating games of Hangman and Pictionary that I figured should suffice for any age group that was thrown at me. Oh how wrong I was, and how quickly I found out.

When three o’clock rolled around it was time to head into my first English class ever. Now before I left for Korea I had picked up and read a few books on how to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL), including the most helpful, TEFL for Dummies. I am still not sure how much, if any, that research helped me during that first class. Within about thirty seconds in the classroom I realized that my plan of Hangman and Pictionary was totally out the window. The three students that stared me down giddily from their seats appeared to be no older then first graders. The clincher for me was that they all had their books open on their desk so that I could plainly see that they were only on the letter “E” of their very first phonics book.

God’s holy trousers was I in trouble. Looking back now I honestly can’t tell you how I managed to entertain those three munchkins for fifty minutes. I believe there was some combination of them repeating words that I read out of the book, and each one in turn coming up to write their ABC’s on the whiteboard. Somehow I did manage to make it through that class though, and compared to that gale force wind of misunderstanding the rest of my day was a breeze.

For the rest of the classes my plan of Hangman and Pictionary sufficed to entertain the students, provided that I opened up with a lengthy question and answer section about myself. I forced each student to stand up and tell me their name, age, brothers and sisters, and favorite hobby as a small form of introduction, but more realistically just to waste a little bit more time. By the end of the day my head was spinning, and I was not entirely sure what had just happened to me. It wasn’t an entirely bad feeling, in fact rather to the contrary. I thought that I had managed the situation quite well. My situation definitely was the perfect example of throwing a person into the deep end to teach them how to swim, and then telling them to stay there treading water for the next five and a half hours. I think that given the circumstances, I barely kept my head above water quite admirably.

The rest of the week I steadily continued to get better and better at managing the whole lot. I quickly discovered some other small games and fun worksheets to get the students working on their English while being mildly entertained at the same time. I only had a few real high or low points that first week. One of my more interesting classes happened first thing Wednesday afternoon. I went into my lessons Wednesday borderline giddy with excitement for reasons that shall be explained later. In fact I was even excited for my first class even though I knew the three students to be only a year older then my first class on Monday. When I received my schedule and student lists on Monday I had immediately latched onto that class without having to meet a single one of the students. Now in a lot of the classes the students get to choose an English name. Anything they like usually. This is great for them, but even better for a poor schmuck like me who makes a fool of himself every time he tries to pronounce their Korean names. Well the names my three students in that first Wednesday class had chosen immediately endeared them to my heart. My students were named Superman, Dragon, and Stella.

The day before I had the lucky experience of meeting Superman, Dragon, and Stella as they busted into my classroom to say hello and introduce themselves to the new Western teacher. At the time they seemed adorable enough, so they just furthered my already well held beliefs about them. Oh how quickly things can change. Throughout this whole process of moving to Korea and beginning my teaching career I have attempted to keep a level head and to not build up any of the stupid, hopeless fantasies that some people are keen to invent as to what the experience was going to be like. This class was the one exception to that rule. I had visions in my head of Superman, Dragon, and Stella instantaneously becoming my favorite class as they quickly learned English from their brilliant teacher and delightful shenanigans ensued. Well I got the shenanigans part right at the very least.*

Of the three, Dragon and Stella are quite well behaved, when they are not around Superman. I can not stress that last part enough. From the get go I had my hands full keeping the three of them separated and in their seats. Eventually I gave up on that fruitless endeavor slightly and had each of them coming up to the board to spell a word of my choice. All was going well enough until Superman started getting a little too rowdy again, so I told him that he lost his next turn to write on the board. After going around the other two and coming back around to his turn I figured I would give him an easy word to help ease him back into the lesson. Instead, when I held up the marker for him to come up and write he immediately just put his head down on his desk and started to all out bawl. After a couple minutes of fruitlessly trying to cheer him up and get him to stop crying I finally went and got my director and the usual teacher for the class to come help me out. He never did stop crying, but we did manage to get him onto the bus to go home. So yes, within my first week of teaching in Korea I made Superman cry.

The only other notable event from that first week of teaching was the major reason why I went into school Wednesday with such boundless excitement. Prior to my arrival in Korea I had learned from the previous teacher that there was an expat soccer team in town that played pretty regularly. As soon as I got to Suncheon one of the first things I did was request to join the “Foreigner Experience in Suncheon” Facebook group so that I could try and meet some new people and start building a new network of friends in my new home. On there someone was quickly able to point me in the direction of the “Gwansun International Soccer Team” Facebook page which I also rather quickly requested to join. After quick hellos and what not, I was invited to play futsal with the guys that Wednesday night. This was by far the most exciting news I could have possibly received that first week. Anyone who has even briefly met me before knows that probably my foremost love in this world is the game of soccer (though food may also be neck and neck with that…). I love soccer in all of its incarnations, be it playing soccer, watching soccer, soccer video games, talking about soccer, or even soccer ball shaped birthday cakes. Anything soccer related and it’s a sure fire bet that I want to be involved someway or another. Take this into account with the fact that I had not even so much as touched a soccer ball in the previous six or seven months and I was nothing short of totally stoked for Wednesday night. Now I should admit that mixed into this excitement was a fair bit of nervousness as well. In my opening post on the soccer team’s Facebook page I made sure to mention that I was a keeper and would be more than willing to fill any gaps at that position. As luck would have it they were in need of a keeper for futsal that week so everything worked out grand. Unfortunately this also caused a fair bit of nervousness in me because of my lack of recent playing time, so I hoped beyond belief that I would live up to their expectations. So Wednesday night came and went, and I think I can confidently say that I put up a pretty good showing of myself all things considered. I definitely saved far more than I didn’t, and had a couple brilliant ones that I would have been proud of even if I was in full form. Top it off with the fact that guys I played with seemed like really good lads, and it was a cracker of a night. The only downside was how horribly sore I was for the next few days…

Well I think that is more than enough for one entry. I obviously have omitted quite a bit from that first week in the interest of not writing a book of a post, but I think I’ve hit most of the better points from the week. Look forward to next time when I finish off the tale of my first two weeks with the second week of teaching and my birthday!

Cheers all!

*(Disclaimer: This will probably be the only post in which I ever use a student’s name, but for the sake of this particular story anything but the actual name on student list would have ruined the story. It helps when they have picked ridiculous enough names though.)

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