Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Expanding My Horizons

Due to something unfortunate, I got a chance to try something new as a far as my Korean speaking and job at the English center goes.

The unfortunate thing is that all last week, Ridia started getting sick. When Monday rolled around, she was at her worst. She texted me while I was walking to school saying she couldn't come to work. In more than a year -- my entire time at the school -- she has yet to miss a day. Now, Geoff and I haven't missed either, but a number of other Korean teachers have. Even some of our other native speaking teachers have missed a day.

Either way, it's a rarity for someone to miss work in South Korea, so she was pretty sick. She asked Geoff and I to teach her class, so we sort of scrambled to come up with some worksheets and games. It wasn't a big deal. Geoff came through big and found a great dinosaur measurement worksheet that fir in with both of our lessons.

The big thing for me was that Ridia asked me to do orientation. That's basically the only part of class that she speaks Korean to the kids. She explains about the English center, the equipment, our lessons and so on.

Now, I speak Korean almost fluently at this point, but I still get nervous speaking in front of a lot of students whom I don't know. Students are the harshest and meanest critics of a Westerner's speaking ability. Their initial shock (which all Koreans have) turns to rude comments if they can't understand you. Never mind the fact that you may just know their grammar better than they do. Haha.

I have heard Ridia do the orientation a thousand times, so I knew what to say and how to do it. But I knew I wouldn't be as smooth. So I decided to do it Korean and English. That makes sense being at the center.

On Monday I was actually pretty nervous, but the kids took to it and understood me right away. So that felt really good. The difference is that what takes Ridia 15 minutes to describe, I buzz through in less than 10. It's part nerves and part that my speaking is not as elaborate or in depth as hers.

Well, she was still feeling sick today, so Geoff and I split up the class in two and did the first two lessons, and Ridia only had to worry about teaching one class in our third time slot. She asked me to do the orientation again. I was feeling more confident about being in front of the kids, but I didn't want to sound like a dummy in front of Ridia.

I definitely did a better job of it today. I spoke my Korean more smoothly, and explained things better than I did yesterday in both languages. I even stretched it out a couple more minutes. Ridia said I did a really good job. She would tell me that anyway, but it's still nice to hear.

She's told us before how sick of it she is that she has to give that opening speech almost every day. And we would be, too, I'm sure. I told her awhile ago I'd be willing to do it for her. I just never really expected her to ask me to run the show.

But it's been a success, and I'm guessing she'll let me do it on a more regular basis now that she's heard me do it. I don't mind showing off a bit. I think it even helps me connect to the students a little bit better.

So it's been an exciting week so far, and we have big things to come. Get ready for Christmas pics from both our afternoon classes and my time Jeong Mi and friends. It's going to be a fun month.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bucheon Year End Dance Party

My good friend Eun Sang threw a year end party at his dance studio in Bucheon last Saturday. I met Eun Sang at Bamboo Dance Academy and did my performance and the competition with him. I was super excited to go to the party at his studio.

Though they did play some salsa music, and we definitely did dance, it wasn't a salsa party. They played pop music and dance music throughout the night, and had a big buffet of food and a ton of beer. It was awesome.

On top of that stuff, there were also three different dance performances by some B-boys and some high school girls, as well as a singing performance. There was also a magician! It was awesome. Its no secret that I'm a big fan of magic acts, and this guy had some pretty good tricks, and even had a bird do some card tricks with him. And to make it even better, Jeong Mi volunteered and did some tricks with him! It was really fun.

We saw a few of our friends from the Bamboo A Team there, with whom I did the Seoul Salsa Competition. It was great to see everyone and hang out. Bryan and Geoff came along with Jeong Mi and I, and there were a couple western girls there as well.

We drew numbers and they handed out prizes at the end of the night. Geoff won some comfy socks!

It was really nice to do something different. I've been stuck in a rut lately, for sure. This came at the perfect time to shake things up. I can't wait until they throw another one.

Check out all the pics here!!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

North Korea's Facebook Page

Cracked.com is one of the foremost contributors to research and information on the Hermit Kingdom. They are presenting, for the first time, the Facebook page of North Korea.

Check out the page here!!!

And don't forget to check out the number one dictator on their most recent crazy dictator list!!! You know him, you love him. It's Kim Jong-il!!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Winter Semester Begins

It's the start of a new semester and changes are already taking place at Hambak.

The first big one happened last month when our secretary and friend, Sunny, did not have her contract renewed by the school. It's sad that she's not here, but the good news is that our new secretary, Olivia, is really cool. She is an English major, as well, so that could be helpful to any of our teachers who don't speak much Korean.

With the new semester, our after-school classes are all leveling up. My first graders are moving onto level 2 of our Backback book series. I can tell you that they're not all ready for the jump, but certainly enough if them are so that they can help the others along.

I did our new level tests on Monday, and was initially worried that my first grade class would top the 20-student level. I knew that three of mine were taking this semester off, but I interviewed eight students, meaning there was a strong chance that I'd hit that magical, terrible number.

What I didn't know, is that five students are taking this semester off, and I only got three more. So that puts me at 18 students. That's one less than last time. And even better is that one of my "trouble makers" didn't come back. He was a nice boy, but he talked too much and he stood up and walked around the room so often that I was frequently stopping class to reprimand him. He's not bad, but he's a first-grade boy. There's only so much I could do.

My fourth, fifth and sixth graders are my favorite class. It's the most advanced class we offer, so I get to teach a lot of writing and grammar. It's something I really enjoy. That class added one new student, but shrank to ten total. I had fifteen last time. The students who dropped out were some of the lower-level fourth graders and one of my sixth graders. Unfortunately, one kid who I wish had dropped it is still there.

He was going by the name of Spongebob, but now changed his name to Elmander, a soccer player. He already told us he doesn't want to be in class, but his mother wants him there, so she signs him up. Unfortunately, now that he's signed up, she seems to not take any responsibility for him getting here. Last semester, he came 10-15 minutes late every day. It got to a point where I told him if he was late, don't bother coming.

I don't know how it is in America now, but in Korea, if a kid shows up late, the class loses it and teeters on the edge of chaos. No matter how well they're studying before the kid arrives, everyone has to say something when he comes in. It's a nightmare.

So we talked to him and talked to his mom. I already knew the problem. He is outside playing soccer every day, so he delays his arrival to the classroom. He came on time Wednesday for the first time ever. But I don't expect this to last. Parents here need to understand that a kid not wanting to attend class is just harming all the other students. It's selfish of the parents. Let the kid join a sports academy. That's what he wants to do.

We do have some great news now that December is here. Geoff and I are about a month away from moving out of our crummy current apartments into these sweet, lost-style apartments in a building that's a block away from us.

I've documented my troubles. I actually don't mind my apartment, but none of the appliances work. The air conditioner doesn't work. The heater doesn't work. The washing machine has been repaired twice. And the building frequently shuts off the hot water. It's an office building, essentially, and we're just converting it into living quarters. Therefore, they don't cater to the residents.

Ridia has been doing more wonderful work for us, and got us into the new places. I'm moving Jan. 1. My only responsibility is getting my stuff there. I will hire a moving company for the job. What would take me a group of friends and most of a day will take them a few hours. I don't know the price yet, but it'll be worth it for sure. I'm so excited to move into an actual apartment. Just having the loft in which to keep my bed will pretty much double the amount of space I have. It's going to be so nice.

The other big news of late is that I decided to join a gym. I've felt like a lazy slob recently because I haven't been salsa dancing anymore. It just got to be too expensive, and the late class times meant I wasn't getting to bed until close to 1 a.m. three nights a week. It also ate into my weekends a lot. Jeong Mi and I still attend the Saturday open dance sometimes (though it's not been switched to Fridays), but we don't take class.

So I joined a gym that is about two blocks from my house and sits between my home and the school. Adding to it is that the gym is also a sauna. So after working out, I can relax in the steam room or jump in the hot tub. It's a pretty nice extra feature. And it's also important to work out in Korea. With all the drinking, it's not difficult to start growing a little belly. Thank goodness I will continue to avoid that. Bryan and Geoff also joined the gym, so that's good, too.

Other than that, things are pretty routine here. Nothing lately has happened as far as the crazies up North are concerned. Geoff and I had no classes today, so we did a ton of prep work, and we're also discussing winter camp, which is fast approaching.

We have the last week in December off for vacation, but neither of us have plans yet.

That's what's happening here now. Hopefully everyone else is doing well! So it goes.