Namhae during Chuseok!

I got a rare 5-day weekend last week due to Chuseok, the Korean equivalent to Thanksgiving but with less racism.  So David and I decided to take another WINK (When in Korea) trip to Namhae Island.  It started out like most WINK trips with a overnight bus ride from Seoul.  I hate these overnight rides but luckily I was able to sleep quite a bit this time around.  Around 5am we arrived at our first stop, a temple on a mountain.  Bleary-eyed and half asleep we climbed to the top and watched the sunrise over a series of small islands that dotted the coast.  It was quite beautiful.

*Please note that the following two pictures were taken by Oisin Feeney of WINK Travels.

Sunrise on Namhae

Sunrise on Namhae

On our walk down to the mountain it started pouring rain.  We got a little nervous because we were supposed to be tent camping on the beach. Luckily, the rain stopped right as we were setting up our tents.  After eating a delicious lunch of chili dogs and hamburgers, we did some kayaking in the bay.  It was lots of fun and only marred by a dead seal found on one of the “secret beaches”.

David and I are in the second yellow kayak from the left.

David and I are in the second yellow kayak from the left.

One of my favorite things that we did on Namhae-do was going to the rice terraces.  It was a beautiful area with amazing views and fun walking trails.

Another amazing thing that happened was getting to witness bioluminescent plankton.  It was pretty hard to take a picture of this awesome experience but hopefully I will remember it forever!  Basically, when you walked into the ocean, the plankton lit up in a neon blue color.  Apparently, the plankton do this as a defense mechanism to scare away predators.

On our last full day, we moved to an area that had a German Village.  It was really random but also fun.  David and I ate some German sausage and I had a beer.  We also got to see some German architecture.  Overall, it was a great trip!

Well, I was a kindergarten teacher for 5 minutes…

So, two weeks ago, my school imploded. The Korean staff (bus teachers, supervisors, cooks, lunch ladies) had not been paid on time for over 2 years and had not received their full salary in 3 months.  Two Wednesdays ago (July 23) was the final straw and they all quit.    By Wednesday evening, kids were getting pulled from classes and told to take all their books home by parents.  By Thursday, only about 3 Korean staff remained. That same day we received news that the school was closing on Friday.  Since then it has been a whirlwind of confusion and chaos sandwiched around a one week vacation.

David and I had planned to go to Jeju for the week, leaving on Friday night straight after work.  But suddenly, I had no job.  My school was closing and my kids were getting ripped away from me.  On my way to work on Thursday I cried for the first time about the whole situation as the weight of it hit me… on the bus… surrounded by random Koreans.  It was a great way to start the day.  I had no idea how I was going to enjoy a vacation when I had no income to come back too.

Luckily for us, on Friday (the day we were supposed to close), a man, ironically also named “Mr. Kim”, bought our contracts and we were saved in the nick of time.  And when I say “nick of time” I mean we were told that we still had jobs at 6pm that night, an hour and a half before we were supposed to start our vacation.  Those three days were an indescribable cavalcade of emotions for me.

It seems like David and I have been beaten down a lot since we have come to Korea.  It has made me question whether coming here was the right decision for us and if I am where I am “supposed” to be.  The answer is still unclear.  Here’s hoping that things get better at the “New CIS”.

You Might Be Hearing Less of Me.

I have been very neglectful of this blog lately, mostly because I have been exhausted from work but also because I have just been lazy.  Starting July 18th, however, you might be hearing even less from me… Is that possible? I’m going to venture to say yes.  Basically, long story short, David and I don’t seem to be able to find a good job, work for a year, and go home.  My school, Gangbuk CIS, is doing some “restructuring” to put it nicely, and I am being required to take over a kindergarten class without getting any of my other classes taken from me.  This basically comes down to me working from 9:30 am to 7:20pm straight (minus a lunch break), Monday through Friday.  That is 42.5 teaching hours a week. It is going to suck…

However, I have had a few days to digest this information and  decided to look at this a good opportunity and not a something that will steal my sanity.  Here is my list of reasons why this is a good thing.

1) I get to teach a kindergarten class.  I might be eating my words in a couple weeks but, honestly, I am really excited to teach a kindergarten class.  When I signed my contract, that is what I thought I would be doing.  This will be my chance to experience this age group in my own classroom, with my rules, and my teaching.  Plus they are so darn cute.

2) More specifically, I get to teach Dolphin Class. Dolphin Class at my school had 8ish adorable, really smart, mostly well-behaved six-year olds.  It is their second year at CIS so their English is already pretty dang good.  Dolphin class was always one of my favorite classes to teach in Activity Room because they are consistently awesome!  If I had to choose one of the kindergarten classes, it would be that one.

3) No more Activity Room. I was not a fan of teaching activity room.  I liked teaching a couple of the classes but most of them were really crazy and hard to control.  The hardest part though was coming up with activities each month.  The activity room is a small space filled with toys and slides.  I have to keep the kids doing an activity for 25 minutes before they can play.  This is not an easy task.  I am glad I will be done with it.

4) I will get paid more. Not a lot more, not enough to make all the hours “worth it”.  But still more.  I have realized that I need to start saving more money and this will help.

5) I already almost work this many hours anyways.  I usually come in by 10:30 everyday already so I only need to add one hour extra AND I will be getting paid for it.  Right now I am at work a million hours and don’t get paid for it… so yeah… might as well throw another class at me.

Long Time No Post

Hey everyone! Still alive and kickin’ in Uijeongbu.  It is crazy how long it has been since my last post.  I just wanted to do a quick update of what David and I have been up to lately.

Frisbee

First of all, Ultimate Frisbee ended a couple of weeks ago and I have mixed feelings about it.  I loved hanging out with my team and they were all super awesome people.  However, I hated having to travel so much and always be on the move on my precious days off.  In the end, it was definitely worth it.  The Cheonan Cheonwons finished strong and almost upset the playoffs by losing in universe point against one of the most difficult teams in the league, The Feel (who, sidenote, KILLED us the first time we played them at the beginning of the season).  If you are interested in playing Ultimate in South Korea, the league is called Republic of Korea Ultimate and there is a spring and fall league.

 

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Gym Day

A LONG time ago, as in April 26th, we had Gym Day.  Gym Day is on a Saturday (one of two Saturdays we have to work) and is pretty much a day for the parents.  I was pretty sick that day but luckily I was armed with Dayquil so I made it through all right.  It turned out to be a pretty fun day.  I had to MC at the beginning which was nerve-wracking but I made it through.  Basically how Gym Day works is the parents bring their kids to a rented gymnasium (ours was on a college campus) and then a hired MC plays games and entertains the kids and the parents.  The classes are divided into two teams, red and blue, so it gets really competitive but not in a negative way.  I felt like it was mostly for the parents though.  One of the best things was that ENTIRE families came to the event.  This included parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles… you name it!  There was even a prize (a GIANT bag of rice) for the team that brought the most family members.

There is more to update about but I am feeling lazy so I am going to post this and hopefully update more later! XOXO

The Best Part of PTC’s

Today I had my last parent/teacher conference. I am so happy they are over and that I will not have to do them for a long time. The best part was what I found out about one of my favorite students. She is in my ESL class and the cutest kid ever. Her mom told me that she LOVES my class. She told me that her daughter rides the bus everyday a long distance just to come to my class. Apparently, this student told her mother that she could be taken out of all her other hagwons (art, piano, math…) but not CIS because she loves it so much. I love this girl.

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Series of Short Posts 3: Dinners with Mr. Kim

Nothing is ever simple in Korea (or in life, but we’re talking about Korea).

Things have improved tremendously for Tara and myself since we started our new jobs.  We’re happy and stable and we have great friends, and though we no longer work at the same site, we can appreciate the differences in our routines and the divergent perspectives that grants us.

That said, I sometimes feel like I’ve been stuck in a dinghy while Tara rides in a more seaworthy vessel.  Not everything, sad to say, is sunshine at CIS Uijeongbu.  A few weeks ago, we had something of a “regime change” in our office.  Our previous vice-principal (who was essentially managing the company in all but title) quit abruptly, and the man who stepped in to fill his shoes and direct this crazy show is none other than Mr. Kim, the company’s owner.  Despite predictions to the contrary, I have seen him in the office pretty much every day and he does appear to be filling that role.

Life under Mr. Kim hasn’t changed all that much, from one perspective.  The drinking fountains still dispense water.  the wifi signal still won’t reach my classroom consistently.  The building remains firmly rooted to its foundations.  The furniture in the office has moved around, but everybody sort of agrees that it kind of works better that way.  But despite the outward appearances, we have had problems.  Whether it’s Korean supervisors not being paid, or management “forgetting” to pay into our pension funds on time, or last minute announcements of new teaching assignments and the drastic curtailment of prep time, the new regime has often found itself in the position of apologizing and pleading for accommodation from us.

Mr. Kim’s preferred venue for such discussions is taking everyone out to dinner.  His preferred tack for navigating these discussions is to buy lots of meat and booze and encourage us to have fun.  Making plans on a Friday night is dangerous, because it’s becoming increasingly common for Mr. Kim to spontaneously decide we need to go out.  This means free meat and booze, and that’s kind of OK.  It’s just one of the features of the new regime, along with uncertainty over teaching hours and a dream-like sensation of floating through a sort of shadow-realm.  I’m betting most of my co-workers don’t even get that last one.

We’ve learned lots of things about Mr. Kim from these dinners.  For one, he is generous: not “pay your Korean staff on time” generous, but “everybody’s invited, let’s go get hammered!” generous.  Our last outing ended up turning into one of those boy’s nights you hear so much about in Korea, despite our staff being preponderantly female; on the other hand, our old vice principal used to sneak out of the office so that he wouldn’t have to tell all the girls we were going out.

Another thing we’ve learned about Mr. Kim is that he owns a norebang (that’s Korean for Karaoke club, for those who don’t know).  The first time he treated the entire staff (plus Tara) to dinner, he led us to the norebang for a glorious after-party.  Mr. Kim’s Norebang (the establishment’s actual name*) is sort of a shrine to Jeff Beck, for some reason, with other mid-70s guitar heroes accorded prominent, but lesser, status on its walls.  And when you go up to sing your heart out in front of everyone, you’re accompanied by an actual guitarist.  I don’t think Mr. Kim technically owns the guitarist too, but I’m not going to commit to that conclusion.  Either way, Mr. Kim is committed to the idea that his labor force will be content and his school will function well as long as everyone is having a great time.

Basically, Mr. Kim is Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School.  The metaphor is not perfect, but the mental imagery is just about.

Anyway, that’s how things are on my front.  Although things are weird here, and I’m going to have to figure out new and creative ways to politely drink less before these Friday nights kill me, we’re surviving and adapting.  I don’t know how long the new regime will last before Mr. Kim is sick of doing everything himself, but change is definitely a constant in our lives.

*as far as I am concerned.

Series of Short Post 2: Cherry Blossom Festival Edition

Well the Cherry Blossoms were here… and now they are gone.  Would they be as beautiful if they stayed year round? Philosophical musings aside, David and I went to a Cherry Blossom Festival on April 5th with some friends from Uijeongbu.  It was great fun, except the weather was not as nice as we hoped.  The festival was not quite what I was expecting and I did not want to be one of those people taking hipster pictures of the cherry blossoms.  This meant hardly any pictures of actual flowers but I got the interesting stuff!  I let the pictures do the talking.

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