The challenges of ‘dynamic’ Korea

Tuesday October 18th, 2011

I’ve been in Korea for 8 months and 1 day. It has gone by quickly – just as everyone said it would. I’m well into making plans for my return to Canada, and look forward to sharing those with you soon.

One thing that people always mention when they talk about teaching in Korea is the unpredictability. Native English teachers, such as myself, are constantly complaining on Facebook and other sites that they are getting unexpected workloads dumped on them, or deadlines changed at the last minute. Over the last two weeks I have been dealing with a great example of this ‘dynamic’ work environment. I thought I would share this experience as an example to anyone who has heard the complaints but wants to get a good idea of what they are all about.

  Recently my main co-teacher has left the school for maternity leave. What this means for me is that the reliability of information about school events and schedules has dropped dramatically. Just before she left, my co-teacher and I were working out a schedule for my grade 1, 2 and 3 classes. The idea was that I would teach one class a week, on Thursday mornings. My co-teacher made a schedule to show me. She said I would teach every Thursday morning, but the order the classes came in would change, and that she would get me the updated schedule.

In true TFK style she never gave me the updated schedule. I figured it didn’t change or if it did it would be a minor change (like this week I’d teach Grade One class three – 1.3 – instead of Grade 1.2 or something). For two weeks everything went fine. I taught two grade one classes, both on Thursday mornings. Then I’m sitting at my desk one Monday morning and in walk 28 grade one students. Hmmm…. guess I’m supposed to teach them something?

I wasn’t totally caught with my pants down; I was re-using the same lesson to teach all the first grade classes, so I had my materials ready. What I didn’t have were fresh photocopies of the coloring worksheet that I end the class with (usually I prepare 30 new worksheets on Wednesday afternoons to be ready for the next morning). So basically I couldn’t use the final coloring worksheet and had to improv the final 10 minutes of class time – no big deal. That afternoon I set out to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I ask one of my co-teachers to find me a copy of the schedule that my old co-teacher forgot to give me. When I get my hands on it I see that after the first two weeks the schedule changes to every Monday and Thursday. Okay, solid. I can deal. Later that week I teach my Thursday class, as usual, and then check the schedule. It says on Monday I have grade 1.5. The final grade one class.

I like this because it means I can relax on Friday afternoon because I don’t need to have a grade two lesson prepared until Thursday – a whole week away. I’m a fairly conscientious person and I try to be prepared for anything, so just to make sure I casually mention to my co-teacher on Friday afternoon that I have my final grade one class on Monday. She says there is no grade 1.5 class and that I should be teaching grade two. I look at the clock – it is Friday afternoon about 10 minutes before I go home for the weekend. I realize that if I have to teach grade 2 Monday morning it means I now have to spend my weekend preparing a lesson. Bullshit. I show her the schedule and point out that it says grade 1, class 5. She says its a mistake and that she will call the grade 2 teacher to have her bring her class 4 days early. I tell her I’d rather have Monday morning off because I haven’t prepared a Grade 2 lesson and would have to work the weekend to do so. She agrees and mental prompt pops up on my videogame based worldview that says; Crisis Averted. I come in Monday morning and enjoy my free period, content in the knowledge that I don’t start the second grade classes until Thursday.

Then ‘dynamic Korea’ struck again. Just as I was settling in to start working on my grade two lesson plan this morning (Tuesday morning I might add) in walk 30 eager second graders, looking forward to their English lesson with Tom teacher. I shoot my co-teacher a ‘What the fuck are they doing here?” look while smiling through my teeth at them. She says she doesn’t know. I check the schedule. Not only am I not supposed to have this second grade class until Thursday, I’m not supposed to have any classes on Tuesday – ever. Sorry kids, Tom Teacher has nothing to teach you.

Unfortunately that doesn’t exactly fly, especially in Korea where ‘face’ is involved and you can’t just send them back to their homeroom teacher with a note that says; “Check the schedule dumbass.” I ended up grabbing a grade 3 lesson from last semester and managed to get through the 40 minutes. Being able to think on your feet and not show fear is definitely a plus in this job. As long as you look like you know what you are doing the kids tend to think you do. Bless those cute, gullible little scallywags.

This story is a prime example of the fact that regardless of how well you prepare — no matter how well you clarify things with the Koreans you work with — there are always surprises waiting to jump out of left field right into your lap. The only way to get through them is to keep an open mind and a smile on your face. Oh, having a blog to bitch about them in is a plus as well.

I know I’m at risk of running long on this entry, but I’m going to go ahead and update you on last weekend’s activities anyway:

On Saturday I participated in a scavenger hunt that was organized by a prominent member of the expatriot community. In fact you may remember my trip to Boryeong Mud Festival a few months back? Well the same girl that organized a trip to Boryeong for 70 foreigners also organized a city-wide scavenger hunt involving 27 teams of 5 competing over a 6 hour period. Props to her for keeping life interesting for the foreigners of this city. The scavenger hunt involved getting as many pictures and videos of items on a checklist as possible. Each picture or video was worth a certain amount of points, and many had bonus points for the team with the best picture or video. Most of the required items were hilarious and challenging. Some examples;

1) buy a live fish from an ajumma and set it free in the ocean.

2) Play rock paper scissors against as many korean children at one time as you can (bonus points for whoever gets the largest group)

3) Go to a local bar and make a human pyramid with your team mates. Get a picture of your team taking a shot while in the pyramid.

Our team put in a pretty serious effort, but maybe we shouldn’t have bothered – many teams just stayed at the bar where they did pyramid shots and drank the afternoon away – which is arguably more fun than running around the city trying to convince suspicious Koreans that you want them to kiss their girlfriend while you take pictures because you are ‘playing a game.’ We did get some fun pictures though. For instance, one of the challenges involved ‘planking’ somewhere in the city. Planking is when you lie down face first on the ground with your arms by your sides and your whole body totally straight. The idea is to do it in strange places, such as the middle of an intersection. Planking became an internet phenomenon and thousands of people have uploaded hilarious pictures of themselve planking in various places. We decided to do our plank on the escalator at the local mega-mart. It made for an awesome picture that I will post up if I can get my hands on it.

The one problem with the scavenger hunt was that Koreans are totally unfamiliar with the concept. In Canada you can make a stranger do almost anything just by telling them you are doing a scavenger hunt (I once spent ten minutes trying to get a picture of a mid-air high five with some people back home). Things are a little different in Korea. Even with two Korean speaking teamates we weren’t really able to get our message across to the locals (who were a requirment in about 80% of the pictures). They just didn’t understand the nature of the game, and couldn’t get their heads around helping a stranger for no reason.

Despite this, the day was still alot of fun.

Sunday I travelled to Daegu for the third weekend of Ultimate action. We played two more games, this time against significantly tougher teams. We fell behind in the first half of both games but managed to rally back and win both of them. We are now 6-0, but we will see how things go this weekend as we have 6 games over two days on the beach –> including one game against the only other undefeated team in the league, besides us.

Wish me luck and good hands for this one.

That’s all I’m going to say for the moment, have yourself a good week and stay tuned for more updates as they develop.


About bnbnower

A recent graduate of Carleton University, set adrift into the real world with no tangible goals or properly defined aspirations, I decided to set off for South Korea where I am teaching English as a second language. In my spare time I read, rock-climb, play frisbee and watch movies and television.
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One Response to The challenges of ‘dynamic’ Korea

  1. Megs says:

    Possibly one of the most entertaining blog entries you’ve written in a while! I enjoyed this one 🙂 I can imagine why people complain so much about English teaching in Korea now, omg I would be soo frustrated!! The scavenger hunt sounds like fun too! Hilarious that people don’t have any idea what you were doing- it’s so true that people do pretty much anything here for a random scavenger hunting stranger lol! Glad things are going well over there, I can’t believe it’s been 8 months already!! I’m excited to hear about your travels after your done in Korea 🙂

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