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”.

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  In fact, I have about 3 unpublished drafts waiting for me to finish but who knows if/when I will finish them.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!

Warning to Potential ESL Teachers in Korea

*David is going to write about what happened to us in more detail later but I just wanted to put my two cents in.

This is a warning to all potential ESL teachers in Korea.  If there are any red flags about your new job, any at all, look for a new one.  If I had read a post like this before coming to Korea, I would have thought that the person was just being dramatic and that it would never happen to me.  However, there are so many jobs here right now and even if you have to wait a month or two for that perfect job to come around, do it.  It will be worth it.  Here is why:

It is EXTREMELY hard to get yourself, as a foreigner with an E-2 visa, out of a bad situation quickly.  As a basic rundown, David and I have not gotten paid in over a month and a half.  We have almost no money (think $100 between the two of us), had to cancel an 8 day vacation last minute, and have lots of bills to pay (phone, electricity, gas, credit card…).  Normally, if a situation like this arose in America, you would just quit your job and find a new one and file a complaint or sue your boss.  In S. Korea, you can file a complaint with the Ministry of Employment, but it takes about a month to investigate, and possibly even longer if your boss ends up never paying you.   The only way you can get a new job in Korea is with a Letter of Release (LOR) from your current school.  This LOR allows you to change your visa to a D-10 (looking for work) or just transfer your E-2 to another school.  Without the LOR, it takes 2-3 months for immigration to do an investigation and allow you to leave the school.  In our situation, this is crazy talk.  We have been denied a LOR by our boss because he says he will, “get the money.”  We have hardly any money and no idea if/when the school will ACTUALLY pay us.  We can not wait 2-3 months for an investigation to take place if we are not getting paid.  Forget about bills, what will we eat?

Luckily for us, it seems as though we might get paid tomorrow (but it could be a lie, who knows), but if we don’t, we are not sure what we will do.  There is legitimately no way for us to get out of this situation unless we have a LOR or leave the country.  Hopefully everything works out tomorrow.

Update: 2/25/14- We did not get paid today as promised and our pay is now over 15 days late.  We have also still not been reimbursed for our airfare.

Desk Warming and Photo Dump

February has been a nice break from jam packed January. Last week and this week, David and I have been re-writing the entire program (with the help of Je Jin).  We finished all the lessons plans last week, though, and with our boss on vacation for two weeks, it has been a little hard to stay motivated.  Honestly, we do not really have much else to do.  So we have spent a lot of time surfing the net, sending emails, watching Sailor Moon e.t.c.  I believe this is what I have heard referred to a “desk warming“.  Pretty much every Korean ESL blog I have ever read mentions it but up until now it had been a distant dream.  I actually enjoy a little desk warming except for the guilt I feel about getting paid to do nothing.  As I said above, it has mostly been a really nice break from our crazy January work-a-thon.

This brings us to our other exciting news!  We are planning a vacation to Jeju Island next week.  This island is often called “the Hawaii of Korea” but in reality, at least from what I have researched so far, it is not really like Hawaii at all except that it’s an island and it’s a prime honeymoon spot for Koreans.  That being said, David and I are super excited!  We get 9 paid days off because of all the time we worked in December and January.  So for 5ish days we are headed to Jeju.  Then we are planning to fly to Busan (a beach city at the tip of Korea) and explore there for a couple days, before we make our way back up to Cheonan.  So stay tuned for vacation updates!

I also joined an Ultimate Frisbee team!  We are called the Cheonan Cheonwons, which I have been informed by Je Jin that a Cheonwon is a 1000 won ($1) note.  So our jerseys are going to have the Yi Hwang, the guy printed on the 1000 won bill, in anime form, throwing a frisbee.  TBH, they are pretty awesome jerseys.  We had our first practice on Sunday.  To my extreme delight, I found out that 10 members of the team are new to Ultimate Frisbee as well (this made me happy because I am not the only one who sucks!).  Practice was pretty fun but really long.  We started at 1pm and I played until 3:30 when David and I had to leave to eat dinner and catch a movie we had tickets for.  When we left, the team was STILL playing!  All in all, I am pretty sore today from so much running.  I am really glad I joined though because everyone is really nice and I am excited to have extra reasons to travel and see Korea. *Side note: It was really weird seeing so many “foreigners” in one place.  Since David and I live in the middle of nowhere, we don’t see too many foreigners so it was pretty exciting.  It was also weird when I realized that we all had basically the same job (Native English Teachers).

After practice, I was extremely exhausted but David and I had plans so we went and got some pizza, then headed to the movie theater to see Frozen.  Whenever we buy movie tickets, we don’t really know what we are doing.  Apparently we bought “premium” movie tickets which we found out when we went to what we thought was our theater but they told us we were in the wrong place.  I got really confused because the guy told us to go downstairs but I thought he was telling us to wait next to him until we could go into the theater (this happened when we went to see The Hobbit) So you can imagine his confusion when I nodded in “understanding” and then continued to stand in line right next to him.  Then he tried to explain again and luckily David understood this time (I could hear the ushers laughing as we walked away… silly foreigners).  So what does a “premium” theater look like? Well first you walk in and there is a really classy lobby with chairs, tables, and books to read while you are waiting for your movie to start.  Then, you walk in the theater and all the seats look like this:

Couch seats!

Couch seats!

Every single seat was a two person couch.  They were super comfortable and had a ton of leg room.  And the best part was that it only cost 8000 won per person!  I love how cheap everything is in Korea.

Anyways, as we approach the two-month mark here in Korea, we are both enjoying our time here.  I have been getting homesick fairly often, but that is to be expected.  Remembering that I am only contracted for a year helps, a person can do anything for one year!  Well that’s all I have for now.  Enjoy some random photos that I have collected over the past couple weeks.

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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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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