Quick update

Hey everyone!  Sorry for the lack of updates but it has been really stressful, busy, and crazy the last couple weeks.  So this is just a quick update to let everyone know that things are getting WAY better!  David and I are officially moving tomorrow to Uijeongbu (pronounced wee-juh-ng-boo) to a new school where we will actually get to teach!!!  We are so excited.  We also have had a lot of crazy things happen to us with regards to our current job and so we will fill everyone in soon!  For now, I am spending my last day of work laminating a million things and listening to my boss interview new victims teachers over the phone.  It is horrifying to hear the “half truths” he tells them as well as remember how he said those exact same things to us!  Hopefully they will google the school before they sign any contracts or send in their paperwork.

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Nose Change?

On Friday I got asked for the first and probably not the last time if I have had plastic surgery on my nose.  This question was posed to me in the form of “Nose change?”  In America, I feel as though plastic surgery has very negative connotations unless you are getting it for reconstructive reasons.  In Korea, however, plastic surgery is much more common place and it is more normal to be asked by a random, mischievous 12 year-old boy if you have had some work done.  Although, I doubt David will ever be asked these types of questions (Editors note: David wants me to mention that he has been asked if his hair is “original” aka dyed).

This past week was quite long and straining.  David and I had a high school camp (well mostly David) that called for an almost completely different curriculum than anything we have done so far.  We also only had 1 and half days to plan for it because we have been booked up with other camps pretty much everyday.  Luckily, David didn’t mind putting in a little weekend work and I had time to finish up the things David couldn’t get to while he was teaching.  Luck was also on our side because the kids were pretty well behaved.  We were all pretty worried about the situation because we had heard their English level was very low (which it was), we had to teach them business English (which David tried), and they were all boys.  They were coming from an “engineering” school, which in Korea, seems to be on par with military schools or alternative schools in the U.S.  These boys futures are already decided.  None of them will be attending college and all will be working in factories or joining the military.  So we were afraid they would be crazy, out of control, hoodlums.  In reality though, they were pretty normal, everyday high school kids.  Making foolish decisions but still fun to hang out with.

Like most other countries in the world besides the U.S., drinking and smoking is a lot more lax here.  Although the high schoolers were all under age, their teachers allowed them to drink and smoke in their rooms.  This may have resulted in one group of them punching and breaking a very expensive Samsung T.V.  How or why this happened is very unclear to all of us not involved, but the students who did the punching seemed quite proud of themselves…  I hope they have to work it off doing hard labor or something.

This week also marked the first time that we got to go to the Aquapia (massive water park).  They just finished remodeling it and…. dang.  First things first though.  In Korea, whenever you go swimming, you must wear a cap or head covering of some sort.  So I bought a baseball cap and David bought a swim cap.  Then you head for the locker room and are given a magnetized bracelet that is the key to your locker.  It is pretty snazzy and high tech.  The water park itself was really fun.  It has a lazy river, about 4 water slides, a wave pool, two hot tubs, a play structure, and the Flowrider, “surfing” ramp thing (and that is only the indoor part)!   My goal in life is to master the Flowrider before I return to the U.S. but right now I can not do anything on it.  In fact, at one point I got pushed over the edge by the current and was stuck against the edge because the water was crazy strong (don’t worry mom, my head was above water I just couldn’t stand up!) and the lifeguard had to pull me upright.  Flowrider 2, Tara 0  That will change soon enough though.

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Random Flowrider picture from the internet!

Also the outside part of Aquapia has a slide called the X-Wave… It is probably the biggest and scariest waterslide I have ever seen in my life.  I WILL DOMINATE IT!

Well that’s about all I’ve got for today.  We are sitting bored at work waiting for our boss to come in so we can start planning our vacation to Jeju in February!  We get about 9 days! Woohoo!

Ways Koreas Has Already Changed Me!

As we approach the three week mark of our time in Korea, I can’t help but notice that I have already made some changes in my life.

1) I don’t have a cellphone.  Well not a working one anyways.   I am still waiting for my alien registration card so that I can get a plan.  Although I have heard it is WAY cheaper to get a pre-paid plan ($15 for two months vs. $70-100 for 1 month) but then I won’t be able to use 3g.  And really, what is the point of buying an expensive iphone if you can’t use internet except when there is wifi.  Decisions, decisions.

2) I wear slippers all the time.  I used to not really wear slippers or socks in the house, but I have recently adopted this Korean cultural habit like a boss.  I wear my cat slippers in the house, I wear bath slippers in the bathroom, and I would wear slippers at work if I didn’t have to run everywhere all the time.

My house slippers!

My house slippers!

3) I expect to eat rice at every meal.  David and I went to a Korean BBQ a week or so ago and did not realize we had to order rice separately.  We had finished our food and were still hungry which was confusing because usually you feel pretty satisfied by the meal.  Then we realized, WE HAD NO RICE!!!! I now understand why my dad eats rice everyday.  I have only been here for two and a half weeks and expect it at every meal, so going your whole life eating it, must be very hard habit to break.  Also, David thinks that if people just ate more rice in the U.S. it would solve a lot of the hunger issues there which is probably true.

4)  On another food note, I never know what I am eating.  At work, depending on what shift we are working, we sometimes get 3 meals a day (for free) of work food.  There is always at least 4-5 different dishes not including Kimchi.  One time I thought to myself, “How do Koreans know all the names for the different foods we are eating?”  Then I remembered that they have lived here their whole life so of course they know all the names!  Usually the food is pretty good and I just eat it no matter what it is. But sometimes it is horrible.  The other day we had “fish”.  The scales and the bones were still majorly intact (there were more bones than I even knew could exist in a fish).  Breakfast is interesting because it is pretty much the same as every other meal.  Rice, Kimchi, spicy side dishes… the only difference is there are usually eggs of some sort.  The past two breakfasts we have eaten, what I believe are quail eggs.  David LOVES them, I think they are weird and gross.

On another note, the other day we had sundae, a specialty of the town we live in.  Je Jin, our friend/ Korean assistant at work, told us we were eating “dak” which is a type of noodle.   However, David and I were both horrified because we thought she said, “dog”.  Imagine how I felt when we came home and David looked up sundae on the internet and found out it was made of pig intestines and probably other things… I think it is better to just not know.

5) I talk very slowly and in short sentences.  I…just… want… everyone… to… understand… me…  Examples: Bathroom?  Lunch time!  Let’s go!  Huh? Take scissors, cut.  Color this.  What?!

6) I drink coffee from a can or a dixie cup.  Coffee is hella expensive here.  I have had exactly one cup of regular coffee from a coffee shop (more on that later) and it cost me 6,000 won or around $5.50.  So now I go to convenience stores and get a delicious can of “latte or mocha” for a mere 1,000 won.  At work we also have these powdered french vanilla “coffee” that I drink from dixie cups.  David sticks to tea.

My Christmas Dixie cup for coffee at work.

Some beautiful English on a beautiful dixie cup.

7) I ride the bus almost everyday. When I lived in Eugene, I hated riding the bus.  For some reason I really enjoy it here.  To get to work, David and I take two busses.  First, the 400 to Byeong-Cheon, then, we transfer to the 500 to our work.  We usually leave around 8:10 in the morning and get to work by 8:45 or earlier.  The total time on the bus is probably only around 10 minutes though.  I also discovered that if you scan your bus card again before you get off, you don’t have to pay for the second bus ride!  So to get to work it only cost us 1,350 won each vs the 6,000 won it cost to take a “call van”.

8)  I feel confused every single day of my life.  No matter how often I tell the children I don’t speak Korean, they don’t believe me.  They come up to me and speak whole paragraphs in Korean, to which I just give a confused shrug or say, “English only.”  I still don’t know our home address but luckily we live right across the street from Korea Tech University, so if we are lost we can always just tell a cab to take us there.  In the office, I feel like I NEVER know what is ACTUALLY happening.  It is like there our two realities.  David’s and my reality and the Korean reality.  We hear our boss speaking angrily in Korean, have no idea if he is mad or just speaking loudly let alone what he could potentially be mad about.  Go to a restaurant, order food, hope you didn’t order live octopus.  Even when Koreans can speak English to us, a lot of the time (especially with children) I can’t tell the difference because their accent is so thick.  This is why I desperately need to learn Korean.  I have no time right now though!

Can't understand the bus schedule?... Neither can we!

Can’t understand the bus schedule?… Neither can we!

9) I enjoy my job! Obviously there are stressful times or things I don’t like but for the most part, I enjoy my job, love even.  It’s is like my favorite things about camp only for shorter periods (which in my opinion is pretty great).  Hate the kids? They are leaving the next day!  Awesome kids? You just had the best day of your life!  Then there is the planning part which I enjoy almost as much as the camp days.  Plus, free meals, sledding, amusement park, and water park!  Pretty good gig if you ask me!

Me with my favorite team of kids so far!

Me with my favorite team of kids so far!

Busy First Week

My Christmas Dixie cup for coffee at work.

My Christmas Dixie cup for coffee at work.

So we had a lot of things going on this week.  Most days ended with us stuffing our faces at a local Korean place, then going to sleep between 9-11 (mostly on the 9 side).

Monday:  We had our medical exams.  These were very nerve wracking mostly because we had no idea what was going on.  We were just shuffled between two floors around to about 4 or 5 different rooms and we had no idea if we were “passing” or not.  The first thing we had done was our weight and height.  The scale had this machine on top of it that would come down and hit you gently on the head to get your height.  I had no idea that was happening though so I wasn’t even standing straight and David ducked out of the way and it hit his shoulder… so he had to do it again. Then we got our hearing tested.  They put headphones on us and when you hear a beep in one ear you are supposed to raise that “ear’s” hand.  It kept getting quieter and quieter and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hear the next one and then it was over.  The eye test was a normal eye test except they had numbers, letters, and… symbols (think fish and umbrellas).  This whole time they were telling us to breathe because I think they could tell we were freaked out.  I’m sure I looked all bug-eyed.  Then we got our blood pressure done and ours were both a tiny bit high, probably because we were so freaked!

After that room we went downstairs to get a “dental” exam.  She looked in our mouths for two seconds, said “clean” and then that was done.  Next we had the urine and blood tests.   For the urine test you had to pee in a dixie cup (almost exactly like the one pictured above now that I think about it) which was different.  Then we got our blood drawn to test for HIV/Aids.  The weirdest part about that was that the nurse did not wear gloves!!!!  It was crazy!  I mean, I know Koreans are super healthy and such but still… that was weird and you could probably get fired for that in America.

Finally it was back upstairs to get chest x-rays for TB.  I got put into a little room with like 25 lockers and was just pointed toward a locker.  When I opened it I found a gown shirt but I didn’t know if I was supposed to put my clothes in the locker or what.  So I secretly (and as uncreepily as possible) tried to watch this ajumma (older woman) next to me to see what she did.  That is pretty much my life here.  I watch other people to see what they do and copy.

After that we were finally done and I snapped this gem (click to enlarge):

Look closely and it is hilarious.

Look closely and it is hilarious.

 Tuesday:  David already told you about our first camp.  He mostly helped out in “Hospital” class and I mostly helped in “Cookie”.  At one point in cookie class we accidentally lit a baking paper on fire…. so that was scary and funny.  Luckily, we got the fire put out before too many cookies got burnt.

Wednesday: We got our medical test results back.  This was also scary because even though we were 99% positive we would pass, it was still the difference between deportation and our year abroad.  Luckily, WE PASSSED!!! Then it was off to the immigration office in Cheonan to apply for our alien registration cards.  We should get them next week or the week after.  Then we can get wifi, health insurance, and (most importantly :P) cell phone contracts!

Thursday: We had kindergarten camp and our first day of teaching.  I taught three lessons of “Dance” and one “Rudolph paper bag” class.  David taught “Immigration” for three classes and “Rudolph paper bag” for one.   Luckily, kindergarten classes are only 20minutes long because they have such short attention spans.  But they were awesome!  Enjoy some kindergarten cuteness:

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One thing I really like about children in Korea, especially young children, is there is a HUGE culture of sharing.  For example the kids parents all packed them ENORMOUS amounts of snack food.  They know that their kids share everything so they pack lots extra.  At one point one of the girls gave me a little cracker or something, then I looked up and about 15 different students were gathered around me trying to give me snacks.  I got to try a bunch of different crackers and chocolate.  I also got a Satsuma and an Oreo (so apparently they have Oreos here).   And they thought it was the funniest thing ever when I would say thank you to them in Korean.

Friday: Friday was pretty stressful because we had another camp but only about three hours to plan the camp after the kindergarteners left on Thursday.  So we were stressed out.  Also it was middle school (not my cup of tea), and the classes were a lot longer, 45 minutes.  On top of all that, the activity I planned only took about 15 minutes with me trying to stretch it out as long as possible.  So then we would go out in the hall and play some games but only one class understood how to play.  The last class of the day would not listen at all and were horrible demon children (not really but they were pretty bad).  David had a grand ole time though so it might have been just me.  Although we did go to bed at 9ish last night and “slept in” until 7:30ish so that is also telling.

Saturday:  Today we are going to attempt to go into Cheonan and watch Desolation of Smaug as well as do some Christmas shopping.  Wish us luck!

P.S. Sorry this post is so long!

As a consolation prize for sticking around to the end, you get a picture tour of our work! Yay, you!

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The First Days at Work

For those of you who don’t know the details of our new job here in Korea, I think I should mention that ours is not a traditional teaching job.  In fact, our employer is a camp rather than a school.  The camp is located on the grounds of a resort/hotel, and our students come via appointments made by their schools.  Essentially, we are a field trip destination!  We have a particular group of kids for one, two, or three days (rarely more), and then they go back to the real world of school while we wait for the next camp to start.  Never having worked at a camp before, this is certainly a new way of working for me.  Fortunately for Tara, it’s right up her alley!

Being the official English teachers at this camp does come with certain perks.  Case in point, desks!

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Tara snagged the bigger desk, which coincidentally also has the superior computer.  I’m very jealous.

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So what do we do with our fancy desks?  It depends on whether or not we have a camp day.  If the kids are coming, then we’re out in the classrooms doing what teachers do.  Since this is a camp the emphasis is on fun activities rather than intensive teaching, especially since the kids skew to the younger grades.  On non-camp days, we prepare for upcoming camps, tinkering with lesson plans and discussing methods and schedules and all that good office stuff.

At least, that’s the pattern thus far.  We’ve had one non-camp and one camp day so far, and for today’s camp Tara and I mostly observed the part-time teachers.  Our first real camp is on Thursday, with kindergarteners, and boy, speaking of things I’ve never done before…

In addition to our little classes, the resort has other amenities that the students, and by extension ourselves, can take advantage of.  We have a sledding hill (whee!) for a quick dash of winter sports; an indoor water-park of fantastical proportions (currently closed, due to reopen in January); and a carnival/amusement park, which won’t be operating until we get some warmer weather.  Fun for the kids, a nice little perk for us teachers!

Thus far, the trickiest part of work has been getting there.  We believed that our apartment would be in walking distance of the resort.  While this is technically true, it is only so in the sense that a person might walk for an hour and a half or more and not suffer the loss of their feet.  The first day, we rode in a cab with a co-worker who happens to live in our neighborhood.  Since she had to be at work earlier than us today, we decided to try our luck with the bus system.  We managed to get ourselves about halfway there, but couldn’t figure out which connection to make.  So we found ourselves walking after all, until (as luck would have it) our co-worker passed us on the road!  We think we have it all figured out now, but transportation is bound to be an adventure until we figure out a real routine.

All told, we’re having an excellent time here in Korea.  We are on good terms with our boss, who seems excited for what we can bring to the camp.  All of the people we’ve talked to have been extremely helpful, whether they’ve had to be or not.  Our shower has been fixed (thank goodness), so we’re once again clean and pleasant-smelling.  And our work is looking to be fulfilling and enjoyable, even with the language barrier to contend with.  The kids have been great, generally all smiles and eager to say “hello!”  Not too much beyond “hello,” but they really do love it.

One last thing; after a couple of days of eating mostly ramen and other cheap meals, we finally had a truly delicious and satisfying meal of kimbap and bibimbap in a small restaurant near the Korea Tech campus.  The menu was all in hangul, so ordering what we wanted took all of our skill.  But you can’t really go wrong with bibimbap, especially served out of a hot stone bowl.  We don’t want to get sick of it, but I’m sure we’ll be eating there a lot.