Wednesday, March 1, 2017

This is my last year, I swear (and some stuff about Tokyo)

Today is the first day of my last year working in Korea. Seriously. This time I really mean it. If you don’t believe me, take a look at my phone. I’ve got a countdown clock going to the last day I officially have to come into work. As of right now I have 11 months, and 12 days. After that, the future is very blurry, which is both terrifying and exciting at the same time. 

I spent some time in Tokyo on a solo trip recently. I had no idea what to expect when I got there, except for things friends had told me and some Youtube videos. I didn’t know if I’d get lost, lose all my money or worse. This was my first solo trip that didn’t involve a visit home, and my first trip to Japan. And, you know what?

It. Was. Awesome.

I went shopping, I ate food, I got NAKED (not in public).  Even though the weather wasn’t that ideal while I was there (crazy wind), it was the most calming trip I’ve ever had. My head tends to be very busy, particularly when others are with me, and it can be frustrating when I can't get some time away from that.  But here I was, in a new place with new people. I couldn’t read the language, or understand most of what was being said, and my impulse was to respond in Korean (what little of it I know). Overall, not a good indication that I’d survive 5-ish days by myself.

But I did. And, even more importantly, it was probably one of the least awkward trips of my life. I slipped into the daily Tokyo routine relatively easily. There were no children gawking at me, like they’d just seen a bear wander into the building that no one else could see. None of the children randomly shouted “hello!”, running off like it was a ding-dong ditch without a door. I did have a girl wave at me from her stroller, but I think she did that because she likes to wave at people. I waved back.

The children, and adults, didn’t particularly care that I was a foreigner. And when it became clear that I didn’t understand most of what they were saying, they were professional and friendly. And, in turn, I was the relatively calm, curious foreigner. .. I hope. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Quick Catch-Up Post

Hello, everyone!

It's been a long time. A REALLY long time, unfortunately. I seem to do this a lot. Sorry!

I've survived 5 semesters in Korea so far, and 1 day of summer English camp. Since I don't have much to prep for tomorrow, I thought I'd update my long neglected blog. A lot has happened since my last update, so I'll try to cover some highlights.

1. I went to Singapore. Most of my family and friends probably already know about that, but yeah. It was hot, humid and fun.

2. The CT I was hoping to still have, I still have. She's pretty much the only person in this school I can joke around and have conversations with, so that helped with my sanity this year.

3. Dyed my hair. I'm now Black Widow. :P

4. Had a birthday. It was grand.

5. Lost my passport. That was not grand. People, do NOT lose your passport. I had to take a day off work and go up to Seoul to get it replaced, which brings me to...

6. I stayed at a very unclean hostel near Hongdae. Don't recommend it, but I did meet this girl who was in Korea for the first time and we got chicken galbi and listened to a band in Hongdae sing "The Scientist".

I've been open to new experiences this year, more than I used to. I've never toured anywhere by myself until now, and I've found that it can be really fun. And, you have a chance to meet new people along the way. And sometimes they'll be a little crazy (in a good way), and you'll find yourself at an international festival, dancing to "Uptown Funk" while a henna tattoo dries on your hand.

I have 9 more camp days to go, and then I'm off to my own summer vacation. I'll let you know how that goes and what I did. I promise that update won't be months after. Promise!

Thanks for reading!

p.s. if you're raising your eyebrow at the whole dancing and henna tattoos thing. Yes, it really happened. No, I haven't gone off the deep end.

p.p.s. It's so muggy right now!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Welcome Back to Korea

Hello everyone!

Since my last update I’ve been to the US and back. I’m glad I got some down time, visited with friends and family, and got to eat my weight in food. But now I’m back in the cold (which isn’t all that bad at the moment, looks like winter is almost over) and back to school (temporarily).

Welcome to the one week back, we’re not going to do a lot of teaching, get ready for graduation period. All the students are back, but there aren’t supposed to be any classes until Monday next week. So, essentially we’ve been cleaning and discussing these past two days back (and eating chocolate).

I found out that we definitely won’t have a replacement for my co-teacher who’s leaving. This means a total schedule makeover for the new year. I get less time with the 3rd and 4th graders, and kindergarten is completely cut from the year (kind of sad about that one). I get one more class period with the 5th and  6th graders, which could be good or bad. I’m still deciding.

Once again, I’ll be teaching some of my classes with the homeroom teachers. The thought of this stressed me out at first, but taking a look at the suggested schedule layout and my CT’s input on the matter makes it better. Instead of dealing with 8 HR teachers, I’ll only be working with 4. Plus, they don’t touch my designated sections in the book. No touchy.

Some other good news -- There won’t be an after school class in the English room any more, which means we can liven up the place without worrying about those brats other students tearing it down. And no more incessant banging on the door by students who can't figure out that a dark, locked classroom means you should wait or go next door to politely ask someone to let you inside. 

My CT and I (whom I really hope will be my CT this last year!) talked a lot about things to change up the classroom and classes. More posters, projects, and themes! I’m pretty excited about it.

What this will mean for the English camps, I’m not sure. I just hope I’ll be the main voice in that like I have been before. That’s the highlight of my job, and I don’t want to give it up. Plus, I still need to do my Harry Potter camp. 

Thank you for reading. I'm really trying this year to keep this up to date. Especially since it will be my last year here. Keep an eye out for another update, hopefully very soon!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Desk-Warming in 2016

It seems like the only time I really update my blog is when I have some desk-warming time. So, here I am, sitting at my desk with nothing much to do. I have three more days of this.

Some news -- apparently one of my co-teachers is not staying next year and, due to some budget cuts, she’s not being replaced. It’ll just be me and one Korean English teacher. Not only that, but the ct I thought for sure would be my ct next year still doesn’t know what’s going to happen. Yaaay…..

I’ve had to deal with substitute ct’s, working with homeroom teachers and pretty much teaching on my own, so what else could they possibly throw at me? Famous last words, I know. Good thing this is my last year.

I have no idea how this is going to affect the lesson schedules next year. We’ve typically had it so each grade had one lesson with just the Korean teacher and then 1-2 with both of us. That’s ten lessons, split between 4 grade levels a week, 2 grades per ct (about 3-4 classes per grade). That gives me 7 lessons a week, counting the KG classes I teach solo once a week.

I have this dreaded feeling they’ll decide that, hey, Emily Teacher did ok teaching with the homeroom teachers. Let’s do that for an entire academic year!

Nope. Nopety nope. I hope the HR teachers object to any proposals resembling that, should they arise. Do you know how stressful and difficult it was to communicate with those teachers, to sync the lessons and then teach while most of them sat in the back and didn’t bother to talk to me until last minute?

Nope. Nope. Nope.


Well, it’s certainly been an adventure so far, hasn’t it? And I seem to have named my blog fairly well, because things do get stranger by the minute. You’d think that being here for two years would diminish the surprise, but you’d be wrong. I still roll with the punches, though. That, or go sit at my computer and browse flight options…

Other than the unknown future of English classes at this school… I’m cold. It’s dropped well below freezing point today. There are only so many layers I can fit under my coat. I’m very grateful to my ct, who left me her little electric mat to keep me warm while I’m at school. If I could carry a hot pack the size of this thing with me on my walk home, I’d be very happy.

Thanks for reading! 3ish more days of this weather.  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Health Check or Spa Day?

Looks like I finally have some down time, everyone, so you get to hear about my interesting health check experience. Yay!

To be honest, it was kind of exciting... for a health check. This was the third health check I've had since coming to Korea. The first was in a gym, the second in a small hospital over in Sintanjin. This latest one was at Sun Healthcare International. The swankiest hospital I've ever experienced.

The reason it's so nice is because people go there for medical tourism. This means they travel to Korea for medical reasons, whether it be cosmetic medical reasons or more life-threatening ones.

I wasn't there for either.

First of all, this checkup was required by my school for all the staff. It was also paid for, which is probably the only reason I got to go to a place that looked like a 4 star hotel. Otherwise, I'd probably opt for a more affordable one, where it's perfectly normal to carry an open urine sample across a hallway (yup).

Sun Healthcare was a pleasant surprise after the first two. Before you begin all the screenings, you're lead to a changing room where you find the locker that matches your wristband number. The wristband is your key for the locker and for later (getting to that). Just hold it up, it unlocks, and change into some baggy scrubs (aka pj's) and slippers.

Next, blood sample time. I'm not particularly fond of having my blood drawn. I have a thing about needles being poked into the crook of my arm, call me crazy. But it certainly was the least terrible experience I've had. The sign up list is electronic for every test area. The wristband I talked about earlier? You just hold that up and your name goes on the list. I've heard that there is a similar system in many spas/saunas/jjimjilbangs in Korea. Made waiting to be jabbed by a needle seem more luxurious.

Once that was done, it was urine sample time. You'd think there wouldn't be much to say about this, or that I wouldn't want to talk about peeing in a cup, but you'd be wrong. Like I said, my last checkup involved peeing in a paper cup and carrying that cup across a hall. I could have tripped, run into someone, all kinds of disasters could have occurred. At Sun Healthcare, they have a two-way cabinet in the stall. You pee, put the cup in the cupboard, close it, and it "magically" disappears. Nice, right? No one has to see your pee but you and the professionals.

Everything else after that was pretty routine. Hearing test (done in a sound proof box), sight, height, weight, blood pressure, chest x-ray, and dental check. I have great teeth, by the way. I might have had to go through the awkward braces and tooth-gap phase in high school, but at least genetics has given me plaque resistant teeth (Thanks, Mom and Dad!).

Last thing, I had a short doctor visit. I was not expecting a guy close to my age, of reasonable attractiveness, to ask me personal questions, but hey, it's got to get awkward somewhere. Once that was over, my co-teacher and I headed out for a bite to eat. Easy Peasy.

I finally got the checkup results last week. Wasn't really surprised by the results. Could lose some weight (in my defense, I'd been on 2 flights a couple days prior, but still), but otherwise I'm in the normal range.

So, that's my story. One of these days I'll actually go to a spa or jjimjilbang here and tell you about that too.

Thanks for reading! :)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summer Camp (And some stuff on MERS)

I am so behind on updates it's ridiculous.

So. MERS. I'm sure most of you back home haven't heard much about it. Google it, freak out on my behalf and then PLEASE take a deep breath. I'm alive. My school has stopped checking everyone's temperatures in the morning, while class representatives line up with signs and face masks (creepy, imho).

All's well. Sort of. Well, it could be better, but the situation has been improving. So, think positive!

We're about a month away from summer break in Korean schools, which means one big thing for me -- English Camp!

I was nervous my first time planning, but after finding my mojo during winter camp I'm pretty excited. I've heard of other English teachers stressing out over it, and I do admit that planning will come with some level of stress, but I look at it like planning any other children's activity group -- just with English language and Western culture thrown into the mix.

Another note, my co-teacher pretty much took the lead in planning our first camp together. I was still new to it, and whenever I made a suggestion it didn't go over very well. But, the next camp I wrote out this detailed plan of activities and a theme, and sent it to her in advance. It was my way of showing what I was capable of, and I was successful because this year when I mentioned I was planning the summer camp she trusted me to work on the details alone.

So, let's say you're planning an English Camp in Korea for the first time and have no idea where to start. Here are some of my thoughts on the whole planning thing:

Movies: Some say yes, others say "you're lazy". I say, it depends. I've used them in a way that compliments the English/Culture learning. English camp is not just about learning words, but also familiarizing your students with the world they come from. Lazy? Only if you don't have any reason to show a movie other than "to fill up some time". If your school is fine with it, why not?

Themes: You can apply things to a theme that might not always appear to connect at first. Do a little creative thinking. Just like a good story has multiple layers to it, your camp can too. I don't mean make it complicated, but just look at your theme from a different angle. Take Christmas as a theme, for example. You can stick with Santa OR you can talk about Santa Claus and Claus figures around the world. Then, you can jump off from there and do even more. Also, sometimes there are things about your culture that are very new to your students even if they're old news to you. Use that to your advantage.  

Prep-Work: If it's something the students could do themselves, in most cases you should just let them do it. You don't have to cut everything out and assemble it for them. This is camp, not a birthday party. You have time and the kids are happy to do it. Turn on some music, and let them go at it.  

Materials: Sometimes things that are cheap back home are pricey and hard to find in Korea. This means looking for alternatives or simplifying your activity. We made dream catchers last year, which we made with small plates, yarn and paper. It doesn't have to be the aesthetically best of the best. It just has to keep the kids entertained and busy.

Efficiency: Your students don't have to be doing something "planned" every minute of camp. At least mine don't. I've always enjoyed schedules that had some elbow room. Plus, there's always the chance that something you planned ends up being a flop. It's easier to let go of the failures and move on to something else if you're open to the idea of failure and hiccups.

Ok. Thoughts, done. Thanks for reading. It's probably not a very fun post to read, but hope you found it useful.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The first day of the rest of my year

Hey everyone! By the time I post this, the majority of you will be waking up on the other side of the world, maybe hitting the snooze button a few times and giving yourself a pep talk to get out of bed. Sounds like my morning, actually.

Moving on...

Today was the first day back to school for the new academic year. I kind of wish that US school years ran a similar schedule, just for the fact that it can sometimes be confusing to keep track of what year you were in which grade. Plus, as an Arizonan I wouldn't mind a long winter vacation vs. summer. 

We spent the first day without classes to teach, but we kept pretty busy. First there was greeting the vice-principal, tea time, greeting the principal, finish up tea time, early lunch, talk about co-teaching plans, cleaning, meeting and the surprise arrival of some former 6th graders (in their middle school uniforms and uniform hairstyles, I might add). Busy day. I was so wiped out by the end of it all, I felt like I'd just gotten off a 12 hour flight.

I have one new co-teacher this year, and so far we're hitting it off pretty well. I'm actually feeling sad about the fact that she'll be leaving in October on maternity leave, especially since that means she's going to miss how gleefully insane I can become during that month. The co-teacher she replaced was on maternity leave up until the week of Halloween, and she missed out on my Halloween lessons too. Sigh~

Looking back a year, I can safely say I feel more comfortable and organized than I did the first time. I remember being shown to my desk, handed a pile of books and materials, and nervously blinking my way through planning sessions with my co-teachers. Orientation hardly prepares you for your first day. They might cover some lesson planning and "what to expect", but I can't help but think about the story of the blind men and the elephant when thinking back to orientation. You never got the whole picture, and in our case the blindness was induced by ambiguity.

Now, I understand how the textbooks work (for the most part, still can't read half the text since it's in Korean) and I know more of what to expect or what to ask. I was a little frazzled by the idea of working with a completely different co-teacher this year for half my classes, but we communicate like we've known each for a lot longer.

I'm also surprised to say that I'm not so easily surprised anymore. To clarify, one of my coworkers is very.... unique. I met her my first day at the school, and had no idea what to do. I kept saying yes when I meant no, feeling like I'd been caught in a compromising position when I hadn't, and just plain awkward the rest of the time.

So far, I'm just rolling with it and it's working. She might have asked me to come with her to the bathroom today and hand-fed me a piece of chocolate, among other things, but I managed to laugh it off. Which is good, because I have more important things to mull over than what unusual thing she'll do next. What important things? Tune in next time.

That's my way of saying I'm still mulling....... (Don't worry, it doesn't have anything to do with a secret boyfriend, marriage proposal or anything a wild imagination could cook up)

Thanks for reading!