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"So I guess this is where I'm supposed to introduce myself. I'm a Canadian male teaching ESL in Seoul, Republic of Korea. This will be my second stint teaching ESL, only this time I'll be teaching at a High School, using my actual teaching experience to use. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me - no question's too small. Take care, and enjoy the ride."

Other Blogs of Note

  • Student in Korea
  • Seoul Man
  • The Daily Kimchi
  • Surviving South Korea
  • Books I'm Reading

  • "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire" by Niall Ferguson
  • "Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World" by Haruki Murakami
  • "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" by Samuel P. Huntington
  • "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" by Benjamin M Friedman
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  • finding volunteers can be tricky... Tuesday, March 27, 2007 |

    One of the challenges with having 40 or more students in your class is trying get them all to speak. The students recognize that the odds are in their favour, primarily because they know that they can probably get away with speaking next to nothing, after all, English speaking class is a breeze, right? Not in my class, for sure. If I catch the kids napping, they have to practice speaking english, at their seat, or if its a repeat offense, at the front. And all you need to do is make one example, and the rest of them are cured. The students know that as long as they avoid eye contact, they are usually safe. The problem was volunteers. Already a tricky enough problem for them to understand...."Why would I want to be centered out...?", I used my only ace up my sleeve when I asked the students: "Who likes pizza?" and then grabbed the first lucky child to raise their hand. Now the kids have stage fright (I don't know why....) and finding volunteers has been a struggle. It only took one child per class to "point" out who they thought would be a good volunteer for me to have ONE lucky contestant, but I always need to. So, in a country where they cry for you to NOT ask them a question, I invented this little card. Mock all you want for using a prior card about Karl Rowe, this little buddy of mine is working like a charm. The kids who "volunteer" get one of these cards, and then, anytime in the future they don't feel like talking when their "number" gets called, they only have to pull this little card out, and they're free, until the next time. The joy with this is that with students memory being what it is, right now, they're fighting over something so simple as a piece of paper; a piece of paper that is going to be ripped, torn, or, heaven forbid, "gasp" - lost. Ahh, the joys of preying on the students minds....good thing they can't see that far ahead to know how "useless" this will be....
    I love teaching....

    It's all about who you know.... Sunday, March 25, 2007 |

    In this country, it's all about who you know that gets you places. The common belief in Korean management has always been that males make better management: the reason being that a lot of the management positions for hire are handed out to friends of those men already entrenched in positions of power. However, "it's all about who you know" stretches far beyond just management positions and paybacks....
    A perfect example of this happened just the other night. A friend of mine who is actually a Korean living in Canada for the past six years came back to Seoul to do research for her Korean company in Toronto. She reconnected with a friend of hers, and her friend offered her tickets to the Chinese National Symphony Orchestra that was playing last Friday night at the Sejong Arts Center main hall (see here). I was lucky enough to be invited by her, because she was given free tickets from her friend who was able to catch their first Orchestra concert on Wednesday at the smaller venue in Seoul. I arrived in time for the show, and we were promptly greeted by the VIP usher, and ushered to the front row; we sat in the most expensive seats in the whole theatre; our face value tickets were 150,000Won, or 185 Canadian at today's rate. The theatre was packed with people, and the show was amazing. I've never appreciated the violin so much as I did after watching the show. When you sit so close, you appreciate things more.
    Another perfect example happened last year involving my cell phone. When my old phone died on me, I was left searching for a new phone. One of my Korean friends put me in contact with a friend of hers who deals with large phone purchases, or in bulk quantities. I ended up going to a basement dimly lit office space, but walking out with a phone that was more than 50% the price that it was selling for in the store, and I get to keep the phone. Typically, when you cancel a phone contract, the cell phone company keeps the phone that you were using - I however get to keep this phone for as long as its needed, canceled contract or not.
    So it just goes to show you, that whenever you meet someone in Korea, do your best to remember them, because Korean's love to try and use their connections for you (and love when you use yours to help them). It's all about who you know.....
    God bless,

    compare and contrast... Thursday, March 22, 2007 |

    It's been an interesting adjustment for me as a teacher the second time around in Korea. First, I had my job at my institute, or hagwon, where I primarily taught elementary aged students advanced English speaking and grammar. With smaller class sizes, it was easy to control the students, and with a small classroom, easy to get away with sitting down for the whole time, and teaching from a chair. Teaching middle school however, is a much different ball-game.
    If you've ever read stories about other middle school teachers, they'll tell you all about the students, and how, like typical middle school students, they have constant mood-changes, and while one week can be your easiest student, can also be your most difficult student the next. In Korea, they're somewhat the same, except much more respectful. Sure, students try to get away with a lot more when I am walking by, but I've heard much worse then what they say when I was teaching high school back in Chicago. The bigger difference comes in the way of respect.
    Each student generally pays the teacher they're walking past the usual respects; if they are your student, they will politely bow, very simple, but respectful nonetheless. When you start your class, the students also bow while sitting down, and they also bow when you finish class (In my class, they do the whole process in English, which makes the class leader usually flustered to be speaking English). The students are also responsible for the cleaning of the whole school; from wiping down the bathroom at the end of the day, to scraping gum off the floor outside of their classrooms, its all done by the students. It should be noted that while they don't break their backs over the labour, they do a pretty decent job. Watching over the whole cleaning is the teachers, who do their best job to point out all of the places where the students could clean a little harder, to which they grumblingly clean and answer to. Its quite a big change from how a typical middle school is run anywhere in North America.
    All in all, my school's been incredibly helpful to me. Aside from getting me a new television today when the cable company couldn't connect my cable because my television was broken, they've done everything in their power to make me feel welcome. They even bought me a family sized rice cooker when they saw how much food I was eating at lunch, and after they found out that I was asking questions about which model to buy; they just ordered it for me, and told me it was a gift. I'm wondering why I never tried teaching in a public school before.....
    God bless,

    disciplinarian... Monday, March 19, 2007 |

    One of the joys of working in my office has to be the head disciplinarian. You see, theirs no counselling office in my school; they don't want one. Instead, the head in charge of discipline has a desk in the same office that I do; its pretty cool. Students come in and out of the teachers office as if its Seoul Land, and once they're in, they know they're going to work. Its funny only because I know they're not my kids, and I know that the students probably did nothing but get in the way of the wrong teacher at the wrong time. Regardless, the best part is that their punishment is doing standing squats, holding onto their ears for balance; the bad ones do it each spare between classes for upwards of two to three times a day, and by the time they're finished, they're beat. The rest of us teachers just sit and watch, and the students are typically embarassed to notice you looking at them, so they usually look away.
    Oh, the small pleasures in life...

    The joys of "new" things... Sunday, March 18, 2007 |

    It's been interesting moving into an apartment that had no prior resident for over a year. Other than the fact that it had a layer of dust over everything, the apartment was also lacking in everything that you would need to make anything associated with food. While it's been nice, because I've been able to chose everything that goes in my apartment, from glasses, to dinnerware, etc, its also been a little frustrating, because you never have any idea what you're missing until the actual act of needing it. You don't realize how much you take for granted living at home, or moving into a place where there already was something there. Take my lunch for instance. I made a simple meal of pasta sauce, elbow macaroni, and sausage, and made a little extra because I was extra hungry. However, with no bowl, I tried first to pour the noodles into a small cereal style bowl, and split the noodles up, but that didn't work so well after a few ideas; I ended up eating from the same pot that I cooked the noodles in; note to self, I need a bowl of some sort.
    Other than that, its been nice living in a single apartment. Having lived with room mates at my prior institute, Having a place all to ones self is sometimes nice. There are still times however where it would be nice to have a room mate, but I'm sure that I'll end up enjoying the privacy more.
    Another interesting adventure has been life without a phone. One doesn't realize how much you need a phone until you don't have one. Trying to arrange help when you need a quick translation, to arranging meeting times, to just about any other time you might need communication, life without the device is nearly impossible. At home, I didn't like the phone; dreaded it. Here? Life's nearly impossible without it. On Monday, I'm hoping to be able to get my phone setup, so that will clear up the communication lines a lot easier than just by merely sending e-mails all the time, and waiting patiently for a response.
    As of tomorrow, I officially start teaching at my school. They've been so patient with all my questions, and everyone has been so nice to me, its somewhat of a pleasant change form my old institute compared to my new school. They're excited to see how the students will progress under my teaching; I'm just hoping that the students actually show progress, with me only seeing them a few times a month...Everyone is excited, so I'm sure it will be quite the adventure. My vice principal, who speaks about five words in English, wants to take me on a tour through Seoul; its been explained to her more than once that I used to live in Seoul, for almost two years; she seems to think that her tour would be different. It would be different alright - pretty silent...However, she is super sweet, and she only wants me to be excited about my job, so I'm thinking I will have to oblige her, and take her up sometime...my only worry is that my poor co-teacher, whose my liaison between the administration and myself with travel with for translation - I hope for her sake she doesn't have to, but its Korea, so her boss will make her.
    Otherwise, I hope that all is going well with all of you. God bless, and I'll try to post more often.

    the middle school experience... Wednesday, March 14, 2007 |

    Well, its so far been three days total at my new school, and I've certainly learned quite a bit, even though I haven't actually taught anything. The first day that I arrived, I met my co-teacher, and she informed me that their were even three teachers who were so excited by my coming to Korea, that they wanted to pick me up at the airport. Bizarre? Yes. But you see, I'm the first official teacher at my middle school, ever. My school's principal is almost into retirement, and so is the vice-principal, and neither of them has had a foreign teacher before. Many of the staff (over 60) have never "worked" with a foreign teacher, even though I'll be only teaching with four of them. Its been quite the experience so far, that's for sure.
    One, my poor co-teacher is roughly five years older than myself, so everyone who sees me following behind her thinks that I'm her boyfriend, which embarrasses her to no end; she volunteered for the part of being my official co-teacher, however, I do not think that she knew she was getting herself into. So far, she's had to sign up my internet in her name, and she will also have to do for my cable television; I've only been here for less than a week and I'm already indebted - seems typical for me:)
    As for the middle school experience, there's a common similarity; the girls seem to like me quite well, and the guys are either intimidated by me, or think I'm there for comic relief. For those who know me, you would know that I'm shy, so all of this sudden popularity is slightly embarrassing; its middle school . I wish I'd experienced middle school myself, but only so that I could remember what it was like. I went into one class to observe, and it was a little worrisome - not to toot my own horn, but I'm somewhat worried that the guys will do nothing but goof off, and the girls will do nothing but stare. The guys are as sharp as marbles, and the girls are too shy to speak. Its a lethal combination when they speak English; more of a struggle when they're Korean.
    So far, the staff have been really nice. I have my own desk in the teachers room, with a monolithic desktop pc, which is a greater help than I thought it would be. Other than the steady stream of students coming in and out of the teachers room, its usually pretty quiet. This situation is a stark contrast from my last position, where I was surrounded by so many English speaking staff; I don't know yet if its a good change or not.
    Well, I finally got my internet set up tonight, and I'm blazing. I was signed up for the fastest package, and I'm liking being able to use communication tools again:)
    take care all, and I'll post more soon
    God bless,

    anyone up for some racquetball? Tuesday, March 06, 2007 |

    Well, I'm wondering if anyone out there presently in Seoul can help me out. I'm looking (trying, and its not easy, even with my knowledge of Korean websites) really hard to find some racquetball courts located near Bundang. Within reason, I could care less if I have to travel close to an hour to play; I can't stand squash (too slow), and I want to join a club, if at all possible.
    If anyone out there even knows if there's a health club near them that has a racquetball court, then please, let me know, either by replying to this post, or e-mailing me (look for the "email me" under the pull-tab).
    Thanks for the help in advance, and God bless,