Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Illinois Workforce Development System

During my period of unemployment, I was required to register with my state's job bank in order to receive benefit payments. The entire system is basically a giant, online database of job seekers and employers. But for month after month, no job matches ever came around for me. I constantly added more skills to my profile and broadened my job requirement criteria, but still no jobs "fit" my skills set.

Until now.

I just received an email from a gentleman named Scott Kim who found my information through the Illinois Workforce Development System. He wanted to tell me that he has a great opportunity for me to teach English in South Korea, which is one of the most up-and-coming places in the world for English teachers.

I can't decide if this is the ultimate example of how lethargic the American unemployment system is right now, or just the funniest damn thing that's happened to me in a long time. Or maybe it's a resounding victory for the unemployment system, since they found me the very job I'm already doing, thereby proving that their job seeker-employer matching system is PERFECT, if a little slow.

In any case, I emailed the guy back, thanked him for his interest in me and told him the humor in the whole scenario. I hope he finds it as funny as I did.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Sorry for the lack of updates. Since Saturday afternoon I have been completely incapacitated with some unknown illness. I actually had to take off 2 days of work (a fact of which I am not proud since I've only been here 3 weeks), but I am happy to announce that I am back today (Wednesday) at about half-steam. I still feel rather poor, but since I only have one class on Wednesdays, I figured I could brave it rather than use up another sick day.

The whole debacle started after mountain climbing with my students on Youngnam Mountain on Saturday. I woke up with a bit of a headache and a slight fever, but nothing was deterring me from hiking with the kids. I had been excited for days about going up that mountain with those kids. And I must admit, it was a blast. I was amazed watching 1st-6th graders climb up the side of a mountain at some inclines that made me scared, with footing as narrow as 10-14 inches sometimes and no handrails. The kids loved it. What I loved was that this kind of a trip would never fly in America. Too much liability, too many kids would complain because it's too hard, too many parents up in arms because it's just too dangerous. But every one of those students made it up and down that mountain without a bit of complaint. No one got hurt because everyone watched out for everyone else. It was really fun.

And then--on the way down--I started to think that maybe ignoring my early warning signs for illness was a bad idea. I played it cool so the students didn't worry, but I started to get dizzy about halfway down. When we got to the bottom, I felt ready to pass out. Of course, I had been hiding all of these symptoms, so Sara thought that when I asked if we could go home, it was merely a suggestion. She wanted to get something to eat, and I didn't want to stop her. So we got some fried chicken (KFC actually) and headed for home. When we got home, I hit the bed like Jim Thome hits a low fastball.

Skip forward to about 10:30--my fever is spiking at around 103, and I can't stop coughing. We got to the hospital by our apartment. No ER. A nice Korean man finds us a cab and sends us to the right place. We get there, struggle to communicate. I feel stupid because if I go to a Korean hospital I should know how to tell them what's wrong. I'm in the ER. I have a chest x-ray. Some doctors listen to my chest. There's a nice doctor there who speaks good English. I am relieved, except they don't know what the problem is. "It's not pneumonia," he says. "Whew, that's good," I think. I never even thought of pneumonia. Another 10 minutes and I'm behind a curtain being asked to drop my pants by a Korean nurse with a needle. She gives me a shot for the muscle aches and pains. They send us back to the front desk, I get 3 days worth of medication, and pay 19,800 won. (That's about $16US) I get in a cab and go back home.

They told me to come back in a few days if they symptoms don't go away. Well, it's been 4 days and they're still here. Sara is sick now too, so we'll be going back tonight. Except this time I'm not at all nervous about the conditions.

At any rate, I don't think Sara and I will be going mountain climbing again too soon.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Since Friday is slow, and since the time difference worked out in my favor, I just finished watching the White Sox beat the Rays 3-2 LIVE on my 85" touchscreen blackboard in sparkling HD. Technology is a wonderful thing.

By the way, if you'd ever like to skype with me, feel free to drop me an email and I'll tell you my skype name. I would post it here, but this is a public blog, and I'd rather not have some guy from Montana calling me at 3am.

Cause Sara Did It

Ok...I suppose I'll tell you all about MY teaching experiences thus far.

I was not lucky enough to be given the 2 week grace period to observe and get my feet wet. I was instead given 1 week and then had to dive in head first. It took awhile at my primary school (Dongbu Elementary) to fully understand my role since only one of my co-teachers speaks any conversational English. As nice as the other two are, it's very difficult for us to talk, much less lesson plan. And so, I end up being a talking parrot for 3rd and 4th grades. My schedule looks like this:

M: 6th grade--5th grade--3rd grade--2 hour English camp
T: 3 3rd grade classes--3 4th grade classes--2 hour teacher course
W: 4th grade (I like Wednesday)
Th: 5th grade--4th grade--2 hour English camp--2 hour teaching course
F: 6th grade--1 hour English camp (Friday's nice too)

I was told that they wanted me teaching the teacher training course on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I was the most qualified foreigner to teach a college level course. (Pat on the back) As nice as that is, though, it also makes Tuesday and Thursday an absolute nightmare.

Anyway, back to the kids. I teach 6th and 5th grade with Hyeun Bum, my main co-teacher who speaks nearly fluent English. We have a lot of fun, use a lot of activities outside of the textbook, and I really believe we get through to those kids every time.

4th grade is taught alongside Mrs. Lee, who is a joy to watch, even if she doesn't speak much English. I've never seen a group of students respect their teacher more--anywhere. Recently, Mrs. Lee worked out that on Wednesday we would teach the textbook lesson and on Thursday I could do whatever I wanted. (SWEET)

3rd grade is cute, but the kids just plain don't know much. I am there basically so they can hear a native speaker of English. It's hard to teach them much, but they're just so darn cute that I love the class anyway.

Youngnam Elementary on Tuesdays is both a blessing and absolute hell. Since I'm only there one day a week, the rockstar image will be hard to shed. I am followed everywhere by a gaggle of girls who all but sit on my lap when I'm at the computer. It's nice to be such a spectacle, but a moment's peace away from the screaming 9-year-olds would be nice. Plus, 6 straight classes is a little taxing.

The students are all at different levels, like Sara has said, but most of them can answer basic questions. At Youngnam last week, I was asking a 35+ student class how they felt that day. I asked a few students in the front row and got responses of "I'm fine," "Ok," and "vely good-uh." At the end of the row was a tiny, squirrely looking girl who I assumed didn't know what was going on. In my attempt to teach EVERY student at least something, I wanted to ask her. So I walked over to her, squatted down next to her desk and said, "How are you today?"

She looked at me for a moment before quietly squeaking out in perfect English, "I'm alright, but I have a cold."

It's times like that when I know it's all worth it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Engrish in the Classroom

This is an actual picture from my classroom. I haven't said anything, because I figure it probably won't ever come up in classes, but I think it's funny.
I'd like my stake extra pointy please!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Getting on Our Feet

Enter week 3 of our lives in the Republic of Korea.

It feels more like 3 months, yet we're just now starting to settle in. We have been given a computer and microwave, our internet is connected (and lightening fast!), we have cell phones, we know our home address, we've met several foreign and Korean friends, lesson planning is becoming routine, and we are starting to feel comfortable going into restaurants alone.

Still, there's so much left to learn here. All of my Korean friends tell me that my accent is great, which makes me happy, but it's also a burden. I say something to a Korean, who then assumes that I speak fluent Korean because my pronunciation is good and begins chattering away at me. I then have to interupt them and tell them that I speak very little Korean. Pronunciation don't mean squat when you only know 20 words.

Luckily, the Korean people are friendly and welcoming. Sara and I don't feel afraid or embarassed about trying to adventure out. On Saturday, we took a cab to the Andong Dam where we took pictures and searched (ironically) for some water to drink. We scaled a small mountain at a slope of about 65 degrees in tennis shoes. We also went over the Wolyeonggyo Bridge, which is the longest foot bridge in Korea. It's named for the view one can see from it during the night of the moonlight reflecting on the river. We were there during the day, but will be sure to go back at night for the full experience.

On Saturday we went to Akdong, the "new downtown" here in Andong. New downtown is right. This neighborhood is bigger in every way than old downtown Andong. Wider streets, bigger buildings, more restaurants and bars (or hofs), and a movie theater that we will be frequenting. The night ended with Sara and I having a late dinner and some drinks with 2 foreign friends and 2 Korean friends.

And so now begins another week of teaching. Today is light, with only 2 classes and an English camp (voluntary after-school English lessons). Tomorrow will be heavy, going to Youngnam for 6 straight classes, then to Andong Elementary for the class I am now painfully aware that I will be teaching until June. The rest of the week unfolds as always, and I'm sure there will be new challenges to face and more things to discover.

But as I sit in my room, listening to children chanting in Korean outside my window, I try to absorb it all and convince myself that this isn't a vacation or overseas internship. I'm not here on some sort of retreat, and no one is coming to get me. I don't have a return ticket, and people back in America are all going on with their daily lives without me there as a regular part. And that's just fine.

This is my job. And this is my life.

At least for now.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Plot Thickens

So Hyun Bum found a document about the teaching class at Andong Elementary that I had no idea I was teaching. It was sitting around the staff room and has a date stamped on it from before HE even arrived at the school. It says I am to teach a 3 month teacher training course every Tuesday and Thursday from 5:30-7:10. What's more, it says nothing about any kind of payment for the course, except that Andong Elementary will get 300,000 won for hosting it.

Aside from the fact that 3 months is a long time to teach a course when you've only been in the country for 2 weeks, this schedule prevents me from going to my Korean language course on Thursday nights, which makes me a might unhappy.

Luckily, since I have the best co-teacher that ever lived, HB is calling the POE for me to find out more details and if we can either shorten the class or get another native teacher to teach part of it.

Aside from this minor setback, things in Korea are going well. Today, Sara and I are getting cell phones and (hopefully) bedsheets. We also plan to go up to the Andong City Dam and see the sakura trees blossoming.


My Classroom

Since I'm a loser and can't figure out videos yet, here are some pictures of my classroom.

My new touchscreen blackboard and computer desk. BDCafe Dongbu

And the view from my room.So...not a bad life here in the Capital of the Korean Spirit. (That's Andong's slogan.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Teaching Class

I will spare you the gritty details, but after about a week of quiet chatter from different people about me possibly going to Andong Elementary School on Tuesday night for a teacher training course, I found myself in the Andong Elementary School courtyard completely unaware of where to go or my purpose there. I was told to go to the cafeteria. So I went to the cafeteria. I said hello and asked the man at the front door if anyone spoke English. He said, "No, no no," and turned me away. Baffled about this situation, I tried to go the school's main office, but since it was 5:30, the school was locked up and no one was there. So, a little pissed off and quite lost, I decided to wander around the parking lot to see if anyone looked like they might know something.

After 15 minutes, I was confronted by two very nice Korean English teachers. They asked me if I was an English teacher and told me that we were in the building behind the main building, which I didn't know existed. They also automatically knew what school I was from, so it was clear I was the only one without all the details.

Once I got inside the room, I was greeted by about 15 smiling Korean English teachers, none of whom seemed purturbed that I was late. I was then promptly sat down next to someone who began chattering in Korean for 10 minutes until I was asked to introduce myself. I did, and we went around the room doing introductions in English. Most of the other teachers introduced themselves directly to me, which I thought was strange, but figured it was because I was foreign and they were interested. The woman next to me continued to talk then for about another 5 minutes, turned to me, and said goodbye. The room was then silent for what seemed like 2 or 3 minutes.

Everyone was looking at me bewildered.

And it hits me.

I wasn't supposed to attend a teacher training course. I am supposed to TEACH a teacher training course.

Now, pardon my language, but all that went through my head at this point was "shit shit shit shit shit shit shit." I was sitting in a room with 15 Koreans, all waiting for me to "start," without a single clue what they want from me or what the topic for discussion is. Plus, I find out we are supposed to be there for 2 hours. Though I walked carefully through the next 20 minutes, I am quite sure I made a fumbling ass of myself as I apologized profusely and tried to figure out from a group of half-fluent English teachers what, exactly, they wanted from me.

Somehow, by about an hour and 15 minutes in, I had pulled it together and I was telling them strategies about how to run an English class entirely in English. We went over setting an agenda and how to take attendance in English. But for the most part, it was a total disaster.

The best part: I get to do it all over again tomorrow.

Thankfully, Sara will be going with me, and we WILL have a plan.

This whole "Dynamic Korea" thing went from quirky and amusing to dreadfully inappropriate last night, but after a brief conversation with Sara, my spirits returned, and today is another school day.

C'est la vie.

I WILL have videos up later today. I am working on it right now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Oh Happy Day

I can get Dr. Pepper in Korea.

Will I pay 20,000 won for it? You had better believe it.



Probably the most common question I get, besides "What is your name?" and "Where are you from?" is "Do you like kimchi?" For those who don't know, kimchi is a fermented, spicy cabbage that is served with every Korean meal. To say it is popular is a vast understatement.

I tell the kids that kimchi is "so-so" while I wave my hand back and forth.

This is because I still don't know how to say, "It tastes like an old stewed foot" in Korean.


I am currently in the middle of my first day at Youngnam Elementary School. At about six times the size of Dongbu, this is a more hectic day than the rest of my school days combined. It is 1:12pm here, and I have already taught 4 classes, with two more coming this afternoon. And as if that weren't enough, I am somewhat of a celebrity here. It's difficult to walk through the halls without being crowded like I'm Bono or Paul McCartney.

At lunch, which was supposed to be my "break time" I shook hands with so many children that I barely got to eat anything. During second hour, I signed about 35 autographs. I told the kids to hang onto the signaure--that it would be worth something some day. I don't think they understood, but I'm unclear as to whether that's because the language was lost on them, or because it already means a great deal to them now. When I walk around this building, girls swoon and boys try their hardest to be "America cool."

Even as I sit here writing this, in their brand new English lab (similar to, but larger than, Dongbu's), students are crowding the door for a glimpse of me. Some are even brave enough to push open the door to mutter a "nice to meet you!" They probably don't know I can hear them muttering in half Korean/half English outside my door while they discuss the most appropriate way to greet me.

I'm still not sure whether I want things to calm down next Tuesday or not.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Elementary School

For those who might not know, I'm teaching elementary school here. I teach 4 days a week at Dongbu Elementary, grades 3-6. It is a small school (only about 120 students), but they are great kids. Each and every one is dedicated and friendly. Of course, they are children, and they do get out of line, but they are quick to fall back in and are laughing off their disobedience right away. Plus, they bring me chocolate. (score!) On Tuesdays, I will be going to Yeongnam Elementary. I haven't been there yet, so I'll post impressions when I do.

I just witnessed my first school assembly. I was asked to introduce myself, so I gave a short speech about where I'm from and why I'm here. It was translated by my main co-teacher Che Hyuen Bum. The students seemed mildy excited to see me, even though they have seen me many times before, but that isn't the reason for this post.

These kids are in the frickin' military! They stand, single-file, with as little movement as possible. Then, a lead student shouts commands at the students and they fall into a militaristic trance as they stand straight, salute their flag, and stand at ease. Hyuen Bum tells me that this is a tradition lasting from the Japanese invasion and occupation of Korea in the early 20th century. Since that was not a very pleasant time for Korea, it shocks me that they still practice it. Perhaps as the older educators retire and young, Korean blood is brought into the schools, this is a tradition that will fade, and new traditions will arise.

Now, I must go, as my daily milk has arived, and I must enjoy it.

Friday, April 3, 2009


We were told to expect the worst in Korea in terms of facilities, both in the classroom and at home. Everyone told us that the schools were falling apart and the apartments were so small one person would barely fit. I must be living proof that it's a case-by-case situation. My classroom was finished 3 weeks ago. Although my school itself is 90 years old this year, my classroom overlooks downtown and the mountains. Inside, it is lined floor-to-ceiling with new oak paneling. On one side of the room is an 85" touchscreen blackboard with computer connectivity. On the otherside is a 50" LCD HDTV (likewise with computer connectivity). I also have a brand new computer, digital laser printer and all new furniture including computer desk and chair, podium, multi-colored leather stools, a huge map of the world (pacific-centered), and cabinets lined with plastic food which comprise a supermarket and restaurant. Did I mention the 3 brand new student computers, world clocks from London, New York, Seoul, Moskva, and Sydney and the PA system with wall-to-wall speakers?

Then there's our apartment. After all of the preparation of lowering our expectations for what we assumed would be a chicken coup with a squat toilet, we were taken to our apartment building which was completed in January. Keypad entry system, air conditioning, brand new appliances, huge bathroom, and a patio overlooking the river and downtown Andong. It does not come with a TV, but that's about the only drawback there is. It is also exactly halfway between Sara's school and mine. Wow. We got LUCKY. It is a studio, but a large studio, and Sara and I don't need much room. Even for being a studio, it is by far the largest apartment we've seen. And I'll take one huge room over 2 tiny ones any day.

So thank you, Korea, for proving so many people wrong. Pictures and vidoes to follow in the next few days!