Today we started our orientation for SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education). We started off with breakfast, which was typical Korean food. Like in Thailand, they tend not to eat very ‘breakfasty’ things for breakfast. We had gimchi (fermented cabbage), rice, some salady stuff but they were also kind enough to serve us some cereal. I think it was the first cereal I have had since I got here, and it was great. After breakfast we had no real obligations until lunch, so a group of us went to get some coffee, and it was also some of the best coffee I have had in Asia. I think these trends will continue throughout my stay, as South Korea is definitely a lot more developed than Thailand. This is quite startling when you put it in perspective of how destroyed Korea had been after the Korean War. After coffee and a long discussion with some new people, we had lunch, which was pretty much indistinguishable from breakfast. Finally, it was time to actually start the program.
The opening ceremony included a three-person group playing on kyotos (stringed instruments similar to harps). Although they played one song that sounded traditional, the other three songs were Pachelbel’s Cannon, Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Let it Be. All the songs reminded me of sitting at the piano in Minnesota, whether practicing the Cannon for Sarah’s friend’s wedding, playing Moon River with Anna singing along, or surrounding the piano at Christmas singing Let it Be. Of course, it was all played with a completely different ‘Asian’ sound. What I found most fascinating were the little twangs the musicians produced on the instrument that gave it an almost southern sound. The performance was followed with a video for the SMOE program, that really highlighted the strengths of public schools in Seoul. I’m a little skeptical, as it may have been a piece of propaganda. The schools looked too good to be true. I’ll let you know what mine actually looks like.
I also found out today that I am going to have middle school students. I’m excited, because little kids just don’t have enough experience to, in my opinion, make language learning fun. Middle schoolers should have the capacity to directly participate and enjoy my lessons. There were three lectures following the opening; one about the Korean school system in general (presented by a very funny woman with a self-deprecating style of humor), another about Korean history (presented by a dry yet humorous high-school history professor), and the third about the city of Seoul. All were useful to some degree. My favorite part, however, was how they would criticize policies or the government in between lines, saying things like ‘don’t say I said this, but…’. It is obvious that they want some further level of democratization and openness, even though this country appears decently democratic. We were taught the nitty-gritty things as well (such as insurance and health insurance) and it ended up a good day.
After dinner we decided to go to an optional class on culture and etiquette. It was incredibly boring, and most of us left half through. There were some interesting points, such as accepting things with both hands and making sure you don’t address other teachers with their first names, but he kept emphasizing certain mundane things that made the lecture far from exciting. The teacher was very nice, but he also kept insisting we do not know too much, or they will expect too much. Apparently, we should just appear somewhat conscious of Korean etiquette.
Still waiting on my placement and my address, which is a little frustrating. As soon as I know, though, I’ll let you know.