A Children’s Art Show in Downtown Uijeongbu

I’ve never lived in an “urban” environment before.  But I have been really enjoying the conveniences of downtown Uijeongbu.  When it comes to entertainment or food, most of what I could want is in easy walking distance.  The neighborhood’s diagonal streets used to fluster me, but after a few months I’ve found them highly navigable.  As far as living goes, our present set-up is pretty ideal.

Apart from fixtures like shops and restaurants, my favorite thing about our neighborhood has to be the various events and performances that are usually going on along the main pedestrian road.  Usually it’s something simple, like a musician or a band setting up some amps and microphones and playing for the public.  But from time to time, something a little more intense goes up and really draws a crowd.

This morning I walked to the bank, and found myself in the middle of an exhibition of children’s art.  Evidently part of a three day festival, the paintings were lined up in rows according to age group, while the artists were receiving awards and certificates up on the stage.

image

Korea's Finest, just starting out.

I can’t say too much about the specifics of the show, because nothing was in English, but it was delightful.  Several paintings were quite good, and the whole thing had a really positive atmosphere.  The theme of the pictures seems to be Korean culture/nationhood, and there were plenty of interesting and expressive takes on it.

image

Paintings lined up by the Smoothie King

image

My personal favorite piece. Love the composition and contrasts!

image

More pictures (and plants) just outside the door of my bank.

image

As you can see, this child has strong opinions on which country Dokdo island belongs to!

I love public art, and I’m glad that Uijeongbu’s kids got a chance to contribute to the festival (or whatever’s been going on) this morning.  Things like this are what I hope I’ll remember best about this year.

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.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

20140613-195618-71778792.jpg

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Series of Short Posts 1: Beginning My New Job

I am so sorry I have been absent for such a long time.  In all honesty, I have been a combination of busy, homesick, and actual sick, so I haven’t really felt like writing.  In fact, I have about 3 unpublished drafts waiting for me to finish but who knows if/when I will finish them. To catch everyone up, I thought I would write a series of short posts and TRY to publish one everyday.  We’ll see if I can maintain that!

First off, Beginning My New Job. I have now been working at my job for about a month.  The beginning was a little difficult because I had an entire week of shadowing the current teacher.  This would have been fine except for I had already been doing pretty much the same thing at the other campus.  So it got old pretty quickly.  It is a weird situation to be in, having a classroom but not wanting to step on anyone’s toes.  Watching a teacher, who is very much ready to return home, in his last week with his students.  Not that he was in any way a bad teacher, just that you could tell he was over worked and ready for some time off.  I talked to him a lot about going home and what he was excited about etc.  Speaking to and saying goodbye to him actually launched a week or so of intense homesickness.  I was just re-signing a new contract for the year and all this talk of home seemed to make the thought of another entire year seemed unbearable.  In fact, at the time I was feeling homesick, I started writing a lengthy blogpost about the whole situation.  In the last two weeks, however, this feeling has already faded and life feels ok again.

My schedule is pretty nice.  I start work at 11am everyday and work until 7:20 (except Tuesdays, when I have to be at work for a staff meeting at 9:15).  Since I started though, I go into work early almost everyday.  I have not yet found a way to get everything I need to done in the amount of time I am given.  I am told that this will soon change.  Everyday I teach 1-2 Activity Room classes for kindergarteners.  They only last 40 minutes with the last 10 being spent on playtime.  During these periods we play bingo, freeze tag, alphabet games… and so on.  I feel like these times are some of the most stressful of my day because the kids just want to run crazy and play on the play structures.  It is very difficult to get them to behave at times because I am not their normal teacher and I only see them once a week for 40 minutes.  They are super cute though!

I also teach ESL1 everyday from 3pm to 4:20pm.  These are kids who are in elementary school and have never taken English before.  Most of them are in 1st grade, one is in 2nd, and one is in 3rd.  As you can probably guess, this creates quite a large knowledge gap.  This class is pretty fun because, even though they do not understand me most of the time, I have lots of free reign when it comes to curriculum.  I get to plan a lot of fun activities for them and there always seems to be extra time.  The hardest part is that the kids are still having a really hard time with phonics (knowing their letters and sounds) but we have had to move on to words, vowels, and so on.  So I have been doing a lot of backtracking to the basics.

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I teach BC 4 which basically means 4th graders who have gone through the program.  There class is from 4:30-7:20 (and remember, this is AFTER all day elementary school).  A couple of the students have conversational English to almost the level of an American 4th grader.  At times, I forget that I am teaching English Language Learners which is probably not a good thing.  It doesn’t help that we use American curriculum though.

I also teach BC 5 in the same time slot but on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This class has been challenging in a lot of ways for multiple reasons.  For one, there are 9 students (soon to be 11 starting this week).  They are older and do not fit very well into my tiny classroom.  Their curriculum is also much more challenging.  One of the workbooks they use (TOEFL iBT) is a workbook for high schoolers to test their ability to succeed in English-speaking University. Think of the SAT but only focused on reading, writing, listening, and speaking English.  THESE KIDS ARE IN 5TH GRADE!!!  The last couple of TOEFL lessons I have taught have been about the Earth’s magnetosphere, Tabula Rasa (Psychology), and the Industrial Revolution.  It is ridiculous.  Sometimes I’m not even sure of the correct answers from the multiple choice questions and I consider myself pretty smart!  So basically my teaching this workbook is me giving them the correct answers.  I find this style of teaching for this particular book to be ok though because I have a lot better things to be teaching them and our time is precious.

Anyway, my short post turned into a long one.  I will leave you with a couple pictures of my classroom.

Robin Class!

Robin Class!

Color overload?  Yeah, me too!

Color overload? Yeah, me too!