Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Wonderful List

Well, the "list" from The Korea Times has been viewed by many westerners in Korea at this point. A lot of westerners who blog about Korea (known as K-bloggers) have been discussing and criticizing.

But to their credit, they're also coming up with their own lists. So since I regularly follow other K-bloggers, here's my list as well. Now, this is just based on MY personal observations. Other lists will vary,

Aaron's Top 10 Korea Features
  1. Korean Girls - Okay, admittedly this sounds like a pervy way to start my list. But what I mean is that the girls here are much more open to chatting and becoming friends. I have a few male friends here, and they're very nice people, but that isn't the norm in my situation. When I'm out at night and someone is yelling about me being a foreigner or telling me to go back to America, it's a male. These guys are both young and old. But the girls are welcoming and friendly, and always willing to help if I need it.
  2. Convenience - In America, there are a couple of food places open 24-hours, but few are within walking distance at 3 a.m. With the way the neighborhoods are laid out here, there is a variety of convenience stores and little restaurants that are within a couple of blocks. And they're ALWAYS open.
  3. Street Vendors - I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a fan of all the food here. Some of it is very good, but I can't eat the same thing every day. That's why street vendors are great. Even in a small area like my neighborhood, there are plenty of these guys. They sell fish on a stick, hot dogs on a stick, chicken on a stick and a variety of non-sticked foods. You can get donuts, cookies, fruit and a bunch of other snacks. And they're SUPER CHEAP. I can get a corn dog bigger than you'd get at the Rocky Grove Firemen's Fair, and it's only 80 won here. That's the equivalent of 60 cents in America.
  4. Street Markets - Going along with my love of street-related things, the markets are great. There's fresh fruit, chicken, fish along with clothes, shoes and other things you might not be able to imagine. Once again, the prices are low. And I realize they're trying to sell things, but they're friendly. There aren't many westerners in my neighborhood. Their business wouldn't be hurt by brushing me off. But they treat me like they do everyone else.
  5. The Language - Everyone who knows me knows that I LOVE languages. I studied German and English in college. Now I'm studying Korean, and it's so much fun, despite being a lot of work. The alphabet is a totally different set of symbols, but it's well-organized and easy to understand. Right now I'm beefing up on my grammar and vocabulary. But learning it has been a blast, and the Koreans really appreciate someone putting effort in rather than just taking money out. That being said ...
  6. The Paycheck - Westerners are obviously doing a service to Koreans by educating their children in what is currently the global business language. But they still pay us pretty well, considering it probably isn't overwhelmingly difficult to fill our spots in a school or academy. I'm not over here just to make money. I want to learn the language and culture as well. But knowing I'll be able to come home and pay off all my college loans is a nice treat.
  7. The Culture -Anyone who regularly follows my blog knows that I have a lot to complain about. But much of it is just me getting used to my surroundings. The reason I find their culture so interesting is because much of it is so different from America. Yes, that means I complain a lot. But even the things I dislike or don't understand are interesting, even if it's just because I dislike or don't understand them.
  8. The Students - Again, it's something I complain about. That's mostly because it's my job to see these kids every day. In actuality, I feel sorry for them. I don't think they study harder than we do in America, but they study differently. While we have many hours of homework in America, they spend more time in academies. Which is worse? I don't know. But at least at academies, they get to see their friends.
  9. Social Culture - This is coming from someone who likes to drink. The drinking culture is fun. Many bars and restaurants don't have closing times. That is cool, except that it can lead to many people drinking too much. I like it because if I want to drink, I can. That option is always available. Of course, even for non-drinkers, you can always go see your friends at almost any hour. The only downside is that, in Korea, groups go out and stay together. They sit at the hof with their friends and aren't open to meeting new people. In America, socializing and circulating the room is usually the way to go. People are more open about meeting new people. But you can always have a good time with your group of friends, even if the other groups are keeping to themselves.
  10. Travel Variety - This sort of falls under the culture section, but is a bit different. You'll see the culture here no matter where you go, but that doesn't mean you can't always be on the go. Korea is not a large country, but it offers many different areas to visit. There are mountains, beaches, temples, monuments, countryside and big cities. If you want to see the whole thing, you'd better take advantage of your weekends and get around. And how can you do that??? Because of the ...
  11. Public Transportation - Surprise! I'm throwing in an eleventh. The public transportation here is wonderful. The fares are incredibly low (roughly $1 each way on a bus or the subway) and they get you almost anywhere you want to go. They've gotten me everywhere I've tried, anyway. The only problem is that the buses and subway stop at midnight, even on the weekends. When they do, you can still catch a taxi for a relatively low price. Other than the early ending to the night, transportation is fast, convenient and inexpensive. This is one thing America could learn from the Koreans.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Wonderful List?

I've lived in South Korea for six months. I like it and I recognize that there are many positives about the country. That being said, I tend to disagree with almost everything on this list of wonderful things about the country. This was on The Korea Times website.

Wonderful List?????

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trip to Suwon

After a decent week of work with no glaring problems, I had a pretty big weekend for the first time in awhile. It was big because I finally did something a little different.

On Friday, I just hung out with Vicky for a couple hours. She went to Hong Kong for the weekend to see her sister. Her sister has been in the Philippines for the last three months, and has a weekend or so in Hong Kong before coming home.

So Vicky's family took advantage of the proximity and took the four-hour flight to Hong Kong for the weekend. It's funny to think that in the time I could go to Hong Kong from South Korea, I could be simply traveling from one end of the US to the other. It makes you realize how expansive our country is. Even people who never travel outside of America have an incredible opportunity at the vast space and diversity in our own home. Think about it.

So on Saturday, I took a trip to Suwon to see my Korea best buddy, Chris, a Boston guy whom I met at Jungchul when I first arrived. He just came back to Korea about three weeks ago after about four months at home. I've never been to Suwon before, so we thought it would be fun for me to head out there for the afternoon.

Well, Suwon isn't ridiculously far away, but there's no real direct route from where I am to Suwon. That's simply because I'm a bus/taxi ride away from a train station.

So I hopped on the 65-1 and went to Juan Station. That took about 30 minutes. I then hopped on the subway, transferred in Guro, and made my way to Suwon. The train ride rook about another hour. All-in-all, after 90 minutes and $3, I went from west of Seoul to south of Seoul.

The fun part, for me, is that it was the first time I took the train by myself. I know guys who speak and read no Korean, and take the subway all the time. But I was hesitant to do it alone. But as I should've expected, there were no problems at all and it was a breeze.

Chris has a really nice situation in Suwon. He's working at a public school and they seem to really take care of him. His new apartment is miles better than mine, and the neighborhood he lives in is clean and seems nice.

We went to a high school near his house and kicked the soccer ball around for about 90 minutes, and we got lunch at a kimbap place near his house. It was a lot of fun.

After that, we hopped back on the subway and came back to Incheon, where we relaxed for an hour or so before heading out to InHa to have a couple drinks. We met with my one college student, Jess, and she invited two of her friends.

Chris knows three of my four college students because he taught them before I did. He introduced us all and convinced them to keep their study session going under my guidance. Thanks to him for that. Haha.

We only stayed out until about midnight, but we had a really fun, laid-back time.

I did pretty much NOTHING today and it was great. I like to think of Sunday as my rest day, otherwise I'd be in big trouble come Monday morning. So I got some groceries, did my laundry, updated the old blog and, unfortunately, followed as Pitt lost in the NCAA basketball tourney.

That's the only sad event that happened this weekend. And I'm not even a little bit upset about it. Go figure. I think I've gotten over my little 6-month slump that I hit, and I'm really starting to take everything in stride.

I hope all is well back home. Love you guys!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Will Never Marry a Korean Girl

Mom and dad can stop worrying. Apparently, girls here are even more unrealistic about their future husbands' wallets than the majority of girls in America. Here's the story:

Korean girls are greedy and selfish

This story says that Korean girls expect the guy they marry to already have the equivalent of $210,000 in their bank accounts. Now, university graduates who enter the job market generally make less than I do at my teaching job.

Granted, they don't have house, car or student loans because their parents pay for everything. But they still spend tons of money on entertainment and material possessions.

But even if they didn't spend frivolously, they still would have to save for more than 10 years -- probably closer to 15 -- to get up to $210,000.

The common marriage age here is somewhere between 28 and 32. If a male student graduates university at 27 (because of their two years of mandatory military service -- then he wouldn't be getting married until he's 42! No Korean girls want to marry a 42-year-old guy. And if they do, then the guy needs a lot more than $210,000.

This may be the most vain and self-serving culture I've ever seen in my life.

Monday, March 16, 2009

St. Pat's with Ex-Pats

So I spent my first St. Patrick's Day in Korea, and was not disappointed at all. But let's go in chronological order.

On Friday night, the teachers at my Jungchul campus went to dinner and then to a noraebang. You know how when your boss takes you and your co-workers out and everyone is civil for awhile? Then, as soon as the boss leaves, it gets fun?

Well, that's how it is here. When Sunny was with the group, everyone was talking about work, and I mostly felt annoyed. But as soon as she left, it turned into a really fun time.

Of course, we had to get up reasonably early on Saturday because Tim, Vicky, Vicky's friend, Chong Wa and I went to an area near Seoul for a St. Patrick's Day festival.

Vicky saw St. Patrick's in New Zealand, but she said nothing really happened besides a few people wearing green and drinking.

But this was a great festival. It was almost all foreigners, with only a few Koreans sprinkled in. But here's why that's good. People actually said "excuse me" or apologized when they bumped into you. And everyone was socializing and having a fun time. They didn't whole themselves up with their group and ignore the world.

It was in a little closed off park area, much like market square. There was also a big pavilion there for bands. They had some Koreans playing traditional Irish music and even some Korean step dancers. We also got a free cup of Guinness and got our faces painted for free.

To top it off, they had a Korean U2 cover band that literally rocked the party. These guys were actually very good. Yes, I was surprised.

All four of us really had a great time. We had such a great time, in fact, that even though the others had tentative plans for the evening, they decided to keep our party going.

So after the St. Patty's festival, we got some dinner, the headed into Hongdae to keep the celebration going. It was a really great night.

The girls left around midnight, and Tim and I stayed maybe an hour later. I also spent way more money than I usually like to. But it was a celebration and a special occasion. And it turned out to be a great weekend.

Back to school on Monday, I found out my schedule was changed. I have four classes Monday and Tuesday, five on Wednesday and Thursday and seven on Friday. That sucks. I like having another day with four classes, but I never want a seven-class day. It's just brutal. That means my classes run from 2 to 9 p.m. non-stop. It's better than staying later though, which I think is partially what we were trying to avoid.

Also, I finished my second Korean study book. I have another book that is a little more advanced that I'm ready to move onto. I also can still work on all my vocabulary. But that's all coming well. Especially because I could help translate for Tim during his date with Vicky's friend.

Since I just passed six months, I'm going to add a big post soon with my first half observations. Also, I have a bunch of pics to add soon. Hopefully I can do the pics tonight. Until then, stay safe and I miss you guys!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Sharon Herald Story

Here's the link to the story in the Sunday, March 1 edition of The Herald in Sharon, PA. The story was written by Courtney Anderson. Enjoy!

It Keeps Adding Up

I feel like my blog has become my own personal forum for my complaints, but I want to be honest with you guys about everything that is happening. I've never been one to sugarcoat situations, and I'm not sure if I'd even be able to here.

So the bad things first.

After one of the teachers -- and one of my friends -- was fired two weeks ago, we were all upset. The company's reasoning was that the economy was bad. Well, the rumor now is that they're hiring another teacher. And our enrollment hasn't dropped if my call test lists are any indication. My calling duties increased by 14 students. Hmmm. Interesting to say the least.

My boss told me that the one adult I teach on Thursday really likes me, and wants to have me for more full classes. Well, my boss, Stacy, said we couldn't do that because it's just one guy in the class. she suggested me teaching him for 30 minutes, three times a week, rather than 50 minutes only one time a week.

I said that sounds fine. But then she dropped the bomb. She said one of those 30 minute sessions would be Friday at 8 p.m. But since I have a class at 8 p.m., she wants to push that class to 9 p.m. So I would be teaching from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday. I begged her not to do it. I never came straight out and said I refused, but I'm hoping she changes her mind before I go in tomorrow.

The thing is, I will refuse. I'm not working until 10 p.m. any night. Especially not on a Friday night. I would sooner quit and go back to America. That sounds rash, but the job is tedious enough getting out at 9 p.m. There's no way I can stay until 10 p.m.

She also said I should pick two days a week to stay later to do call tests. No way. If she wants me to do call tests on top of teaching, she needs to schedule me accordingly, so I have time during the day to do it. Don't try to give me responsibilities above and beyond what I'm supposed to do.

Okay. here's some happier news. This weekend was pretty good.

On Friday night, Vicky and I just totally relaxed in Guworldong. We just went out, got dinner and a few drinks and relaxed. We weren't with a big group or doing anything crazy. It was nice.

On Saturday, I went to play football with the Westerners, and we went into Seoul in the evening to Hongdae. It was the new guy's birthday and we wanted to show him the place where many, many westerners go to party. Matt has been here for a week, so far.

I've only been to Hongdae to go to clubs twice in my six months here. The first time was on my second night in Korea. The second time was last night. My 6-month anniversary was on March 5, so I put about as much time as possible between the two trips.

I've been there during the day to eat lunch and hang out, but the club scene isn't necessarily my thing. We had a good time, though. Vicky and two of her friends even met up with us. the only bad thing is that the buses stop running at midnight, so we had to leave kind of early in the night.

That's it for now. Yet another Pittsburgh team is destroying people with me out of town. The Panthers just wrapped up that sweep of UConn. Let's hope they hold to the theory of Pittsburgh teams winning when I'm not around.

Also, Korea lost to Japan in the World Baseball Classic. Well, lost is being kind. They got destroyed. The score was 14-2 and ended in the seventh inning because of the 10-run mercy rule. Hahahahahahahah. Koreans everywhere were depressed. On the other hand, the US beat Canada. No surprise there.

Have a good week, everyone!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Recruiting Frenzy and Endless Hours

I do complain frequently about the amount of work here. Mostly because I didn't have as much at home. Well, it wasn't so much that. It was more that when I got it done, I was done. There was very little of the extra junk that work typically involves.

But here, they abuse the Korean teachers. The bosses made them sit in for the PELT exams two Saturdays ago, even though they did nothing. Then, they had a two-day workshop this most recent Saturday and Sunday. It was, by all accounts, a total waste of time.

On Friday night, I went to Guworldong with Vicky and Cindy. I assumed we'd turn in early because they had to get up at 8 a.m. Saturday. Well, I was wrong, as I usually am in Korea.

We got Burger King (which I've been craving for months), went to a hof and then went to a singing room. The singing room was sweet because it had these full-body cat and dog costumes. I, of course, put them on. Why wouldn't I?

On Saturday, I played some football with the Westerners. As everyone knows, I don't like football too much, but it's worth it to spend time with those guys. I wouldn't say I'm sick of Koreans, but frustrations from work and social life make me want to take a break with my own guys. There's so much less stress involved with them.

On Saturday night, Vicky came to hang out. We had to do a little shopping. Then, we ordered some food and just rested. She was dead from the night before.

On Sunday, I decided to be totally lazy and do absolutely nothing. I had planned to write e-mails to a large number of people. I'm sorry I'm being such a sloth about it. There's no excuse for me putting it off. I just get tired and resist putting any effort out. I apologize and will return numerous e-mails soon.

I got a text Sunday afternoon saying we had to be at the school at 10 a.m. Monday (today). I, obviously, wanted to know why. So I asked for more information. I was told that the public schools were back in session today, so we would be recruiting outside of them.

Typical academy behavior to not give you any information until the day before. So because I was bothered by this, I asked for extra pay to do it. My head teacher agreed. I decided that I will now ALWAYS ask for extra pay. I'm tired of being pushed around.

Of course, that leads to another non-information issue. I got a text Friday from a student at our Songdo campus saying he came to meet me, and he would be back Monday. Well, I had to ask him why, because no one else said anything.

He said he would be in an essay contest, and Sunny (our vice president) said I would help him with it. Well, no one told me that I would help him with it.

The thing is, I have nothing against helping the students. I want to see them succeed. But I am tired of people volunteering me without my knowledge.

Well, Harry (the student) came today to try to find time in my schedule that we could work on his writing. I, of course, had no openings. My schedule is booked. But I found a creative way to meet him three times a week. I will bring him in when I am teaching other essay classes. That way, I can help him at the same time as my other essay students.

Back to the whole recruiting thing. We went out today in teams to various elementary schools in the area. Vicky, Cindy and I went as a team, and handed out little canvas bags with info about the school in them. The blue ones were for girls and the pink ones were for boys.

First, I thought this was a weird way of advertising. Just standing out in front of an elementary school to approach kids would be highly illegal in America. But when we got there, there were representatives from a bunch of other academies. So this seems to be the common practice.

I think we had a pretty big upper hand because we had the white guy. I'm sure Elias' team experienced the same thing. Parents love the idea that a native speaker will be teaching their kids.

We even had a wave of parents come in today for more information about the school. So I guess it worked for them. And hopefully it'll work for me too when I see a little extra cash.

Sorry to sound so cynical. This culture is sucking a little of the life out of me.

One last thing. Courtney Anderson, a reporter at The Herald in Sharon, PA, wrote a feature on my trip. It was in Sunday's edition. As many of you know, The Herald was my first reporting job out of college and I spent 14 months working there. The story turned out really nicely. Unfortunately, you can only see it in the pay section of their website. So I can't post a link. But you did a great job, Courtney. I certainly enjoyed reading about me!