Friday, October 30, 2009

Through the End of October

Unfortunately, I was not able to defer the Fulbright. That means that I had to decide yes or no. I decided on staying in Korea, because it does not feel right to break this contract. However, the Fulbright representative was really nice and told me I could re-apply, and I didn’t even need to worry about all the little details (like teacher recommendations and language evaluations). Hopefully I can get the award again.
Pusan never happened. I was planning on a fun long weekend trip, but at the last moment decided against it. It was just too much money and not enough time. Instead, I stayed in Seoul. I hung out a lot with Ais on the weekend from the 9th to the 11th, and it looked like she was going to stay. We met up with Grisel, Todd, and Molly and went to Hongdae to play darts and go dancing. Jerry was really mad with me because I was late, but it really wasn’t my fault. I was just really confused and couldn’t find my way to the subway station. I had only been living in Seoul for a month, what did he expect? He quietly withdrew and didn’t talk to us the rest of the night. Since then, I haven’t tried to contact him again. I don’t know if it is a Korean thing, but he was too needy and impatient, which isn’t me at all.
Sunday the 11th I met up with Ais and Todd and went to the Canadian brewery for a couple of beers and darts. The owner there is really nice, and it is really close to my house. Also, they have a Sunday brunch. Yum. Afterward we went out for burritos at Dos Tacos and I won some heart pillows at a dart booth. They are pretty nasty, actually, but fun because I won them. Ais slept over and told me she decided she was going to leave. The breakup was too messy, and she couldn’t stay in Seoul any longer. Although this kind of crushed me because she was my best friend here in Seoul, I definitely understood that she had to do what was best. I just wish that the best would be staying here.
My lessons during the week of the 12th through the 17th were pretty boring. The first graders practiced telling stories while the second graders worked on communication. However, I added on some more workload with the start of my morning and afternoon classes. I LOVE these classes. There are only fifteen students, and since the area most Koreans need to work on in terms of their language abilities is speaking and listening we spend most of the class just talking. I can already see improvement in some of the students confidence, which makes me feel like I am actually helping these students. All of them work so hard but they are always working with the goal of passing a test. Since these classes are not graded, I can spend them doing whatever. Hopefully, I can let them use English in a fun and exciting manner and broaden their interests and help them find what they enjoy. I have been reading a book about Korean culture by a famous comic artist and he stresses how the Korean education system leaves no room for creativity or entrepreneurial behavior, but solely creates test-taking machines. Hopefully I can shape some students in having a creative edge over other Koreans. I also spent much of my week on my Korean lessons, both with my co-teacher So Young and at the Yeoksam global center. I love free language lessons!
On Friday night, I had Andie and Paul over to watch some Youtube videos and go to the Rainbow Bar in Gangnam. Pretty chill night. I ended up going to Itaewon because I wanted to dance, and I didn’t come home till late. However, I woke up quite early because my friend, Brent, had tickets to Seoul Fashion Week and wanted me to join. I got to the stop at 1:30, but Brent wasn’t there. I ended up reading this random atlas of the Middle East until 3 when he finally showed. We were given back stage passes to the fashion show and I had a great time watching the show with Brent and his friend Mike. (These are there English names . . . I am actually not sure what their Korean names are). The first show was great, with good outfits, good music, and a good atmosphere. The second one, however, was awful. Throughout the entire show slow Christian music was playing and all the models had their midriffs exposed. Not cool. After the shows, we went to City Hall to meet up with a lot of the other English teachers at Oktoberfest, which had all you can drink beer for 15,000 won, which is only about twelve dollars. Brent and Mike gave me some great tips on the Korean language, and I can have a VERY small conversation with Koreans about where I live and what I like. VERY small, mind you. After this huge Oktoberfest party, Brent, Mike and I headed to Itaewon and went to SoHo bar for a couple of drinks. There was a group of Deaf people at the bar, and I ended up talking to one of them, Byeong Hun. He was very nice, and we decided to meet up later. This means that I have added another thing to my plate: learning ASL. Although Koreans sign KSL, obviously, we figured it would be easier for me to study ASL, and most Deaf Koreans know a bit of KSL.
On Sunday I met up for Andie for a nice dinner of Korean BBQ. I don’t know why Korean food is not more popular in the United States, because it is SO fun to eat. Afterward, I walked around Olympic Park for about an hour, and was going to walk home but it ended up being a VERY long walk and I had to take a bus. I’ve been buying Korean shoes and they are too small. When I got home, I studied some more ASL, finished my lesson plans for the week, and went to bed.
Monday the 19th through Thursday the 22nd I taught my first graders a lesson about ethics and my second graders a lesson about the person they admire. I have to give a speaking test next week, and this was the introduction to the speaking test. 700 students is way too many kids to test, so the test will start out with a reading and writing portion. I have been reading all of these letters and essays this week which has been killer, but it will make the speaking portion a lot smoother. Monday through Wednesday was typical, with badminton and Korean lessons. Thursday night, however, I went with Andie, Sam, Sonali, and Brent to Seoul Fashion Week. We went to a show that was featuring Hanbuks, which is the typical Korean clothing. We thought it was going to be a really stupid show, but it ended up being pretty interesting. They weren’t the huge puffy Hanbuks that make all women look pregnant, but, dare I say, sexy Hanbuks.
Friday the 23rd was amazing. It was the Suh-Moon festival, so I didn’t have to teach. Instead, I walked around the school and ate all this great food and played fun activities. I was supposed to judge a chicken fight (where people hop around on one foot and push each other apparently), but since I didn’t know what the heck to do I instead just played all the games instead. I did a cake walk, a shoe kicking contest, arm-wrestling, a screaming contest, limbo, and threw some darts. I also ate an awesome kimchi pancake and some kids tricked me into eating a tablespoon of wasabi, which was not cool. Around eleven, I judged the English pop-song festival. Not only are these kids amazing at all school subjects, they are also fantastic at singing pop-songs in English with great voices. Although I disagreed with the judges on the placing of the winners, all of the students did a really good job. After the contest, I watched some students make silly putty with chemicals and dissect a frog. Finally, the English room was decorated for Halloween, and I got my face painted and listened to Halloween music (aka “This is Halloween” on repeat). I definitely acted more like a kid then a teacher on Friday, but I am young, so whatever.
When school was let out, I jumped in a car with some of the other teachers at Suh-Moon middle and high school and headed to Dae-bu-do, an island on the west coast. I do not know why I agreed to go to badminton training with a bunch of teachers whose names I don’t know and who do not speak English, but I had a blast. The island was beautiful, and we had rented a pension for the night. There was a piano at the house, and immediately one of the teachers started playing and I joined in and we played a duet by Czerny. Afterward, one of the teachers rented bikes and I tried to help one of the teachers re-learn how to ride a bike but failed miserably. Next, we went to a seafood restaurant and ordered a lot of sushi. I had things I have never seen before, such as clams the size of footballs. The best part? Freshly cut octopus that was still moving. One tentacle struggled so hard and was sticking to the plate that I couldn’t get at it with my chopsticks. The other teachers cheered me on and I finally got it in my mouth only for it to suction on to my tongue. With one bite and swallow, however, I was declared the winner. Do you know how Koreans award the winners? They get you wasted. Before I knew it, I had drunk way too much soju and way too much makeli. I thought this was badminton practice. Being a lot taller than all these Koreans, however, I was probably one of the more sober teachers, but I was nowhere near sober. They were drinking hard alcohol out of bowls. Since none of them spoke English, the only thing we could communicate was ‘drinking contest’ and I think I fell asleep around ten pm. I woke up in the only bed in the house, which made me feel awful. Everyone else was sleeping on a yo, sleeping pad, but when I apologized, they all said, “Oh, you need a bed. You have such long legs!” That made me feel better. For breakfast #1, they fed me a spicy, peppery clam soup, which was delicious. We finally played some badminton in the morning, but I was still a little drunk so I went for a walk to clear my head. When I got back, it was time to head back to Seoul. Well, I thought that was the plan. Instead, we went to a breakfast place and got haejang. When I looked up this word in my dictionary it said “the food one eats the morning after drinking to relieve a hangover”. I could not stop laughing. I would argue that this says a lot about Korean culture, that they have a single word to describe the food that one eats to relieve their hangovers. I did not have any haejang, because I did not think sheep blood soup was the best way to cure my hangover. While eating this soup, they had Abba blasting from their cars into the restaurant and I could not stop laughing. Haejang, Abba, and badminton training, with me the only foreigner in sight? Hilarious.
After breakfast #2, we headed to a seafood place to buy clams to take home to Seoul. We jumped back into the car and went to a grape place to buy grapes. Finally, they brought me to a temple and I took some pictures. By this time, I was very much drained, but they luckily brought me back to Seoul. However, it was already noon, and I had plans to meet up with Byeong Hun and his friends at two. I took a quick shower, and met up with Byeong Hun and his friend Seth at Insadong, which is a street famous for its art and shopping. Seth was also Deaf, so throughout the day I learned many new words in ASL. This was good, but confusing. Especially when we met up with a group of four Deaf people from Hong Kong, and everyone switched to ISL (International Sign Language). Somehow, however, it is a lot easier to speak in sign than it is to speak in Korean so we managed to communicate. After a lot of shopping and a huge walk, we ended up at Namsan tower, which overlooks Seoul. We took a funicular up the mountain, and then an elevator up the tower. The view was magnificent, but, being me, I had my camera but the battery was dead. Ugh.
After the fantastic time at the tower, we headed back to Myeong-Dong, another shopping district, and spent an hour looking for a restaurant. Normally I don’t care about wondering around for hours, but I was starting to get REALLY hungry. We finally met up with some of Byeong Hun’s friends and went to a chicken and beer restaurant. I was the only speaking person, but I ended up signing with this lovely girl by the name of Eunhoe Choi. She was fantastic at ASL, and taught me a lot of signs. I feel like I can decently communicate with my new Korean Deaf friends, but I have a long way to go.
Sunday morning, I went to Kyobo books to buy a book on KSL. I figured if I am learning the language I could learn the signs as well. This is SO much more difficult than ASL, however, because I don’t really understand Korean grammar at all. The explanations of KSL grammar, furthermore, are in Korean. Hopefully I can figure it out, but until I do, I will have to use ASL to communicate with my new friends. For lunch, I went to a Vietnamese restaurant with Byeong Hun and he showed me pictures of his travels to Taiwan and Hong Kong. I have two more places to add to my growing lists of desired vacations. Ugh. Sunday evening I worked on my lesson plans and watched some episodes of a Korean soap opera.
Did I mention that I am obsessed? There is this show called Boys Over Flowers and it is amazing. It was originally a Japanese comic, then a live action drama in Japan, then a live action drama in Taiwan, and now a soap opera in Korea. It is really fantastic. Of course, like any soap opera, it is over-dramatic, but it is helping my Korean language studies.
The lessons this week have been preparations for the speaking test next week as well as drawing Halloween costumes and haunted houses. I should take some pictures of my classroom before we take down the decorations, because there are a lot of good artists at my school. And creepy artists. A lot of blood and weapons . . .
Tuesday evening I met up with Eunhoe Choi at Tea Purple and we signed over coffee. When I’m with her for just even an hour I feel like my ASL skills go through the roof. She is such a great teacher. I invited her to my Halloween party tomorrow and I really hope she comes. I am also trying to get Sonali and Andie to learn ASL, because I want them to meet my new friends. I showed Eunhoe pictures of my family, and she said that when she visits the US she is going to visit me. Awesome.
Wednesday evening, after a REALLY intense badminton practice, I had an excruciatingly painful Korean lesson. So Young is a great teacher, but that also means that I am learning a lot. This hurts my brain, but I know it is the right methodology and I know that it will make me learn Korean faster and with a higher level of proficiency. But her lessons are killer. It also doesn’t help that I have a slight cold, or that I am a little paranoid about the swine flu. One of my classes was sent home because five of the students had H1N1. I really hope they didn’t pass it on to me. They are actually considering closing all of the schools, but I hope they don’t, because that would cut into our winter vacation time.
Last night, I had my free lesson at the Yeoksam global center. I like the teacher, but the students don’t take the class very seriously and it is a little annoying. And we are moving at such a slow pace. I NEED to do more self-study, but I am pretty busy with after school lessons, classes, and badminton, so I don’t really have the time. I also have been reading a lot of stuff about Korea, second language teaching pedagogy, and Korean politics. Combined with the ASL practice, I am happy that I had enough time to write this journal.
Speaking of said journal, I have been rambling. I am sorry. Way too long, but one last thing. I got a stuffed animal as a present from one of my co-teachers for Halloween. It is adorable. I am also having a Halloween party tomorrow. It should be fun.

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