Be forewarned: this is going to be a long post but I will try to only mention things that stood out to me beyond the routine.
I recognize that it has been a very long time since my last post but I must stress that I have been extremely busy and there have been other priorities. Plus, time has flown by; more than half of orientation is over...
A bunch of old/returning ETAs came to Goesan and there was a panel day in which our ETA class got to ask any questions we had. There were three different panel topics: geographic type (urban/suburban/rural/island), school type (middle/high school and co-ed/all boys/all girls), extracurriculars (things outside of our teaching). We split into three groups and moved from room to room. By the end of the panels, I realize that I prefer a suburban/urban placement and want to be involved in a lot of extracurriculars. I was still iffy about middle vs high school because I think there are so many pros and cons to each. I also felt pretty strongly about not being at an all-girls school but other than that, I wasn't sure. There was a previous ETA who learned piano at a piano hagwon and that's actually on my list of goals for this year. I have never learned how to play an instrument (not really at least) and I really want to have that skill.
So we got a weekend "vacation" trip to Donghae City. Donghae is on the east coast of Korea and we stayed at a hotel called "Donghae Grand Hotel". And surprise, it's a hotel owned by Jungwon University. This weekend trip should have been nick named "Jungwon University vacation" because we also went to a museum on Sunday that was also owned by Jungwon. It was pretty obvious though since everything was still marble. It was actually a really great weekend though and it was a lot of fun. The hotel is right off the beach and has a bridge that connects the hotel to the beach directly instead of having to cross the street. Donghae turned out to be a lot of fun and Mrs. Shim and the KAEC office accompanied us.
On Friday, after arriving in Donghae, we had a Buddhist presentation by a Buddhist monk. From that description (which I was first told), I imagined a Korean monk who had studied English. What we actually got was an American monk who now lives in Korea. It was interesting regardless but I was definitely expecting something different. I have to say the best part though, was after the talk. The KAEC office brought cookies and cheese and crackers. I nearly died when I saw the cheese. I didn't realize how much I would miss eating cheese. There's almost no dairy in my diet in Korea. I mostly get calcium from the ice cream I eat...
Later in the day, we went to visit a Buddhist temple near the base of a mountain. Since we were visiting on a Friday afternoon, there weren't that many people around. I would find out on Saturday, when I went back to go hiking, that it is actually quite a hiking spot for literally hundreds (and probably thousands over the weekend) of people. There was a lady there who gave us a short presentation on the Buddhist temple and its history. The mountain and its surrounding area is really quite beautiful. There is an area near the base of the mountain that you can swim and play in the water.
On Saturday, we got to eat at the hotel breakfast buffet. As a side note, the food during this weekend was delicious; there was even eggs over easy at breakfast. Breakfast, lunch, dinner--it was all good. So after breakfast, we had a free day. We could stay at the beach and have a beach day, go hiking in the mountains, go cave exploring (there's a cave nearby), go to town, etc. The OCT was not to help us beyond directions and we were told it was a "test run" for what our year in Korea will be like when we're off on our own. I decided I wanted to go hiking and cave diving and talked to some other ETAs who wanted to go hiking too. I figured it would be best to go hiking first since the earlier in the day we hike, the better it is (before it gets dark, etc). We took a public bus to the mountain we had visited Friday, the one with the temple. We were intending to climb to the peak of the mountain this time though. It was actually a really long bus ride (40 minutes or so and that excludes a transfer). By the time we go to the mountain, there were already a lot of hikers there. And I believe I mentioned this a few posts ago but Koreans are SERIOUS about their hiking. They have all the equipment and gear... We stopped a guy for directions and he is a good representation of everyone who was there...
On Sunday, we got ready to leave the hotel in the afternoon so we would have time to stop by a "comprehensive" museum (also owned by Jungwon--go figure) and travel back to Goesan. I'm not quite sure how to describe this museum except for the fact that it is indeed quite...comprehensive. Pictures will probably be a better explanation than words... Keep in mind that all the following pictures are indeed taken at the same museum.
We then proceeded to head back to Goesan but it took much longer than anticipated with traffic. The most stressing thing about the entire weekend was Sunday night. We had a group meeting and the OCT pretty much unloaded everything onto us. There were two main things:
1. Camp Fulbright (CF) was starting and would be ongoing for the next two weeks.
-CF is a two-week long English summer camp for Secondary Korean students (mostly). It's a pretty prestigious camp in which they can only speak English for two weeks. Past ETAs are Camp Instructors (CIs) and the students are in classes, clubs, activities, etc each day. CF is actually pretty expensive, from what I've heard, about $2000 per student. The student's English level ranges from beginner to advance. This year there are about 100 students enrolled and there are about 8-12 students per class. Each year there is a theme that the camp has. This year it was Hollywood genres (Action, Suspense, Comedy, Historical, etc).
-How this relates to us as ETAs: CF is a way for us to have teaching "crash courses" in a way. We have to teach three lessons during CF to different classes and different levels. We plan lessons, get feedback from the CI we are teaching for, and teach the students while being observed by the CI. Overall, CF provides opportunities to actually spend time in front of real students and teach in a real environment. We also get feedback and can develop our "teaching persona". We dress the part and try to really pretend we're in our schools. The truth is however, CF is nothing like the real thing. The students who attend CF have pretty good English compared to students in our real schools (remember that CF is really expensive and parents who can afford it send their kids here to practice/learn English). Nevertheless, CF gives us an opportunity to get a grasp of what a 45 minute lesson feels like, be in front of real students, etc. We also had to sign up for other things related to CF like Night Fun (an hour long period in which we play games with the campers) and Activity Weekend (we spend a few hours with the students for a different activity... think Olympics, etc).
2. Our placement forms were due on Thursday.
-We fill out a placement form about the things we want, the things we don't want, etc. We write down everything we think would help us have a successful Grant year and we submit it to the KAEC. They then place us in different schools all around South Korea, where we will be teaching for the rest of the year.
-This is pretty much the pinnacle of everything. Our placement dictates a lot about what the rest of the year might look like. I'm sure I'll look back and think this is silly since we will learn to love where ever we get placed, but it is still important nonetheless.
Since there was CF for the next two weeks, there would be no group meetings from Sunday night until after CF was over. Instead of the workshops, we would have supplemental talks that were optional to attend. On days we would teach, we would head up to our classrooms immediately after lunch and that would take up a majority of our afternoon. We would also have to add lesson planning to our list of to-dos, which include our Cultural Adjustment Checks (CACS), our weekly short responses about how we're adjusting to Korea, one-on-ones with an OC, bi-weekly meetings with a member of the OCT to talk about the CACs and other things that are bothering us, studying Korean, etc.
It may not seem overwhelming but at the time of, it felt as if there was a lot to do. And in a way, there was. Plus, we were not mentally prepared for it; we had just gotten back from a beach vacation in Donghae.
I had signed up for teaching lessons a bit later than other people so I was teaching High Beginner Documentary, High Beginner Epics/Historicals, and High Intermediate Comedy. Let's be honest, out of those three, only comedy sounds really cool. And I can't even say I signed up for that because the third lesson is done in pairs and the OCT assigns it. I had signed up so late I was stuck with Documentary and Historical.
I wasn't teaching until Thursday and almost all of the supplementary talks sounded pretty interesting to me so I have attended almost all of them (so far). The one on this day was particularly of interest to me because it was about North Korean defectors and how we can volunteer to work with them during our grant year. We got some brief history about North Korean defectors, common routes taken to get to South Korea, etc. We also learned about Hana centers, which are centers in South Korea that provide resources for defectors, from psychological counseling to English teaching. This is where ETAs come in. There is a program through Fulbright (started last year) that works with eight Hana centers located all around South Korea. ETAs volunteer and teach English on a weekly basis. They are trying to pair people up so there is a closer bond between an ETA and a student. After this talk, I knew I would at least have this on my placement form. This is something I'm very interested in doing and I want to have an opportunity to work with these students.
There was a K-Pop supplemental talk that I had to go to. I don't listen to K-Pop but I know it's HUGE in Korea. It's actually the number one export out of Korea (no surprise) and it's actually a really fascinating industry. They didn't go into as much depth about background like Amy did a few weeks ago when Tracey and I asked her about K-pop but they introduced us to a lot of groups. Well, the talk was interesting and I'm hoping to at least understand the industry while I'm here so I can relate better to my students.
I also had my one-on-one with JR, one of the OCs where I talked about my concerns regarding placement, etc. Long story short, JR told me he could see me in an all-boys school. When he said that, I actually thought about it and realized I could definitely see myself in that position. I'm not completely sold on the idea but I could definitely image that being a cool environment to teach in.
This was the day I taught my first lesson for CF. It actually went pretty well. I taught about personality and dance and linked it to the daily theme of Documentary through a dance documentary clip I showed at the beginning. Something interesting is that no one wants to stick out here. Being seen as different or individualistic is a negative thing. All the girls have the same haircuts, no one wants to say they don't like kimchee or K-pop, etc. Well, the lesson itself went well but there was an activity that I had that was similar to Musical Chairs but requires dancing. The kids would have to dance to the music playing until I stopped it. When the music stop, they would have to freeze. The problem is that if one student wasn't dancing, everyone would stop dancing. I had to either get all the students or I would get nothing. That's something I'll need to figure out when I start teaching too.
The placement form was also due at midnight. I filled it out pretty late, around 11pm and I ended up putting a lot of "no preference" on my sheet. I honestly do believe I can adapt to different situations over time but we'll see what happens. Where ever God puts me, I'm sure there's a reason for it.
So Friday was my roommate Christina's birthday so I got her a cake from Tour De Jour (a bakery chain in Korea) in Goesan on Thursday. I got our Korean class in on it and we surprised her with it during class. It was pretty cute. Also, our second Korean teacher (our four hours of class are split up into 50 minute blocks with 10 minute breaks with one teacher teaching the first two lessons and another teacher teaching the last two lessons) brought chocolate snacks for her (and the class) to have.
So this Friday was special because we had GLEE Membership Training (MT). So MT is essentially an overnight hangout party at a pension (home you rent). We barbecued, explored, danced, hung out, etc. There were more than a few... interesting moments though. So apparently every year they have a cross-dressing show where we pick boys to dress up and turn into boys. Since the girls outnumber the boys by a long shot, we got to pick the boy we wanted to dress up. There were three teams and thus three boys who were transformed into looking like women. It was pretty interesting to say the least...
After getting back from MT, I had to go to the CF Activity Fun I signed up for (Mental Olympics). I was in charge of Jeopardy and the different groups of kids came and played. It was pretty funny since they are all so different and have different personalities. There were some random things some of the kids said but I can't remember them off the top of my head anymore. I think I'm gonna start a quote book with things Korean kids say...
Sunday was the day my "Suburban virginity broke," as Anna put it. Anna, Payal, and I took the bus to Cheongju to watch The Dark Knight Rises and explore the city a little bit. It was amazing. I haven't spent much time talking about Goesan but there's not much here. Cheongju is a suburban area but as I've mentioned, suburban in Korea isn't equivalent to suburban in America. It's actually quite big and there is so much to do. Anna was there to visit her cousins so Payal and I went to watch Batman. Anna met up with us after Batman so we could all go shopping and exploring together. It was awesome--both the movie (though not the best thing in the world like some people made me believe) and exploring Cheongju. There were so many shops and food carts and just things to see. You have to remember that I have been stuck in Goesan for the past few weeks so I felt like a kid on Christmas. The three of us were like bright-eyed, bushy tailed deer. Coming back to reality and Goesan was a bit disappointing though. The minute we got off the bus and walked back to Jungwon, we had went too far to come back down to reality.
I went to CF Homework Help, which is an optional thing ETAs can attend. I was teaching on Tuesday so I decided I would go and at least meet the kids I would teach. They were hilarious. So for their final project, they are required to write skits. There was one kid who had the funniest skit. His title was "(His name) has 3 girlfriends. He is a player." I kid you not. His skit was about 20 lines long but it was girlfriend after girlfriend telling him they loved him and then finding out about the other girlfriends and bursting into tears. These kids are ridiculous.
This was my second day of teaching and the kids were super calm. I was given feedback from the CI to "fake it til you make it" because I didn't look super confident up there. There was also a mandatory workshop about culture that we had to go to. It was about being sensitive to things we do as foreigners and as Fulbright ETAs since we will be judged very harshly as Americans, etc.
So during orientation, many returning Caucasian ETAs have made comments about how people go up to them at the coffee shop or the bus stop, etc because they are clearly foreigners. Most of the people who go up to them want to use their English or want to know more about them, etc. I remember thinking to myself that that situation would not be applicable to me. I am Asian and I have already been mistaken for being Korean multiple times while in Korea. If I am sitting in a coffee shop by myself, no one is going to take that as a cue to come talk to me because I'm very obviously an American. No one. So there was a supplementary talk about being Asian and how that might translate into our grant year. I'm okay with not being treated like a rockstar and I know there are pros and cons to each side. It's a lot easier for me to blend in on a bad day when I don't want to talk to anyone but it might be harder for me to make local friends. Only time will tell.
Also, our TKD master told us that we only had three days left of TKD. This was new news to all of us. The last two days (Thurs and Mon) would be sparring. Yep... sparring with a real person.
FINALLY. My descriptions/explanations about what occurred in more recent days has gotten shorter as this post has gotten longer...
So today was my last lesson. It actually went REALLY well; I think this was my best lesson yet. I taught with Rachel and we taught parody/tricks under the Comedy umbrella. We actually played a prank on them at the beginning and told them we would be teaching Shakespearean Comedy. It's funnier than it sounds because the ETA yesterday taught about Shakespeare and it was a dry lesson. If only I had taken a picture of the look on these kids' faces. They were grimacing and in shock. There were even some audible groans and a student who said, "Why teacher?" One thing to note is that a lot of students have accents so it actually sounds more like "Why Tea-cha?" We even had another slide on elements of a Shakespearean Comedy. Then we told the kids to pull out two pieces of paper and that they would spend the entire period writing their own Shakespearean Comedy based on the elements they learned. The kids looked absolutely miserable and it was hilarious for us. I actually started laughing midway and couldn't stop and had to hide myself. When we finally said we were kidding, the kids were so relieved and they actually paid attention for the rest of the lesson. I think they really enjoyed it to be honest. We also got really good feedback from our CI.
TKD was awesome. Sparring is actually a lot of fun. I got paired up with Stephanie and we both got 1 point from our hits so we tied. We get to spar again on Monday so I'm looking forward to that.
In the meantime, I'll commiserate with my fellow ETAs: