A quick catch up - Korea Month 1

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Asia » South Korea » Gyeonggi-do » Bucheon
October 4th 2007
Published: October 4th 2007
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We've been meaning to start this blog when we got here but have been putting it off...so to catch everyone up quickly we're just posting emails we've sent home that tell of our adventures here so far....we've tweaked them a bit and added some info...we'll have more info soon and will update our blog much more now that we have one set up....Enjoy!

First few days!

We have arrived at our schools and apartments in Bucheon. It is a big bustling city of 700 000 people - mostly apartments and stores. A lot of commuters to Seoul. Our apartments are nice, though Ryan’s is the nicer of the two, so we will get the internet and phone connected to his place and split the bill (we pay for these extras) rather than pay it for each apartment, his place is very close to my school so we will probably hang out here more in the evenings that we stay in anyway. My apartment is a bit further into the city and is surrounded by shops that are lit up like Tokyo!! See the picture below) There are lots of ESL teachers in this city and many of the big group of 400 that came over with Canada2Korea (our company). We had a good flight, flying over Canada, the top of the world, Russia and China to get here, a little turbulence but nothing much.

Our teachers seem very nice; they took us out for our first Korea meal for lunch when we arrived. I had noodles in a soup like dish, they serve there meals in little portions which are laid out over the table. People share their dish with everyone, it’s considered normal and customary to eat of another persons dish. The food is spicy but fresh and delicious!! In saying that though we went out for pizza that night to get some filling carbs!!!

The people are very friendly and accepting of white people. Taxi drivers welcomed us to Korea when we got in, people sitting out side cafes having coffee shouted hello at us as we walked past, they stare and point but in the nicest way possible!!! (lol). You feel like a celebrity!!! Everything is pretty cheap, and the food is good.

Apparently Korea is top in the world for technology designs, though closely followed by Japan and China. Everyone is working for their country and the honour of their family. Everything is done to perfection and with pride. But they need English for commerce so here we are! Teachers are very well respected out here

It is going to be a huge culture shock. Many people can’t speak english, though will understand a few words and mime. I (laura) met the principle of my school and it was too funny, how he would bow and then the teachers with me would bow then I would bow then he would bow and set it all off again!! lol

We both slept well on the plane- a very long flight regardless! We are having fun and keeping/feeling very safe and happy.

"Annyong haseyo" (hello)

I (Laura) have a beautiful well stocked classroom and lots of space! (Nice change from Silverstream!) The children are wonderful; they are so excited by a new white teacher! They think Ryan and I are movie stars because the only white people they ever see are movie stars from TV and movies!! haha! Ryan has been called Ashton Kutcher, Brad Pitt and of course Superman again.

The food is spicy but some of the dishes are delicious! They eat so much rice though! My teacher eats it for breakfast (!!) lunch and dinner. The lunch is provided by the school and its usually very good and delicious Korean food, usually a soup (yesterday a delicious fish soup) then noodles and rice and today we had curry, there are usually fruit and vegetable also and today we had ice cream. Breakfast I have at my apartment. AT this point Ryan and I go out for dinner most evenings, or make dinner at his apartment now that we have figured out how to use his oven (his is more spacious and better for spending time hanging out together in the evenings.) They have a huge selection of fruit and it is all very fresh as it isn't imported, but is grown here.

In the afternoon after class I teach an adult conversation class (2days a week) but that doesn’t start until week 3 and I will also teach bright kids after school (2days a week) I get paid very well for these extra classes about 25 pounds/$50 for 40 mins for each class. Ryan is currently teaching 20 hrs a week to grade 7’s and 8’s, 10 hrs each grade. Eventually this will get moved up to 22 hrs once he switches to the grade 7’s and 9’s. He will also be teaching 2 conversation classes each week after school each being a 2 hr class.

The children call me "Seon Saeng nim" which means Teacher (as they can’t pronounce McCullough!). I showed them a power point presentation of my life, Ireland and my family. They all cheered when I said I was engaged and they clapped! It is very honourable to be engaged or married in Korea. They looked at the pictures of you both and mum, dad, Katie and Matthew and told me I have a beautiful family.

This weekend a big group of us are heading to Seoul (the capital city of South Korea) to do some sightseeing. There are lots of Canadians and Americans in Bucheon working as ESL teachers so we have already made lots of friends.

The first week of teaching is over. This week was mostly introducing myself so I made a PowerPoint! I’m feeling very Irish because I had to talk a lot about Ireland!
So it’s been an interesting week. There are a lot of cultural differences here. It really is like stepping back in time socially. Men never address me- they address Ryan (not so much with men our age- the social sexism is changing with this generation but anyone over 30 is still traditional).

The public toilets are often urinals (for women too…it’s very awkward for a foreigner!!) In the summer the women put on a lot of hats, sun cream and whitening cream as it’s preferable to be as pale as possible, how funny, westerners are the opposite- applying fake tan and baking in the sun! Teachers call each other Seon saeng nim which means "teacher" and they bow to each other in the hall ways and when entering the staff room. They bow to the head teacher and vice principal every time they see them -a lot of bowing, the kids also mostly bow to the teachers (and me) when they see us.
Public transport is very cheap-about $1.20 (60pence) to ride the subway to Seoul (about 40mins away) taxis also are quite cheap.

The classrooms are huge and very well stoked I just got a new shipment of lots of lovely new things! They put a lot of money into the education system here.
We are heading out to a Canadian restaurant/bar tonight called Canada buddy, they do good Canadian style food and lots of esl teachers meet there! It’s small but English movies are played and we can all talk English!

People are quite shy about speaking English here, but those who do and usually good at it.

ps: the food is great! ive eaten lots of weird fish, squid octopus, shrimp etc!!

We are currently in Suwon at a week long teachers conference, were we are getting training for our years teaching in Korea, there is internet access but u have to wait in a line for quite a while. As with Korea some of the lectures have been very interesting... others very dull and not very helpful!

We are staying at a beautiful hotel, it’s all paid for by the government and we get super all inclusive meals and accommodation for the week. It’s a hotel country club so super fancy- they didn’t go cheap on us.

We’ve been meeting lots of people, there are 200 people at this conference and 200 at the one next week. There are Australian, New Zealanders, South Africans, Americans, Canadian and the UK all represented.

Anyway, now I have to go to class, this is the last full day (wed) and then tomorrow they are taking us to Tour the hwasung World Heritage museum. Then Friday is just a half day before we head back to Bucheon for the weekend (pron Pucheon as their Ps and Bs are indecipherable) confusing!!

Week 2 in Korea is almost over, and we are having a great time, its been great this week to be surrounded by so many English speakers!

Hey all

So another week is almost over.. i can't believe that we've been in Korea for almost 3 weeks now! Its speeding by because we are so busy.

I can’t remember if I told you much about orientation? We stayed in a gorgeous hotel in the countryside all inclusive and had a fabulous time, with buffet meals in the beautiful gardens. They also took us sightseeing to a famous palace and Buddhist temple in Suwon which was very interesting. At the palace was a very old tree (est: 600 yrs old). It’s called a wishing tree and people write their wishes on a piece of paper and tie it to a rope around the tree. It’s an old Korean fable but the tree was covered in wishes! At the palace there was a TV show being filmed, and we got to watch the actors and Ryan even tried on one of the wigs... some hilarious photos.

At the orientation we were treated with some traditional korea dancing and music. It was all school students and it was absolutely amazing. The children came out and we figured it would be cute but they were all so talented it just blew our minds.

Next week is the equivalent of Christmas or thanksgiving here and is a huge family deal. Its called Chuseok and its a 5 days weekend where Korean people go and visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects and have lots of thanksgiving dinners.

We are going to take the opportunity to do some sightseeing. We are planning on going island hopping of Incheon (if we can still get tickets - its very busy at this time of year) and then go see the Seoul tower and building 63 in Seoul, then a boat ride up the river Tan. We are also hoping to spend a day or two hiking in the mountains of Shieung, and then maybe a day at a theme park called everland - which is similar to alton towers but more nature-esk with lots of parks etc. We'll see everything has to be finalised yet.

In October we are booked to go an see the DMZ the (the Border of korea, from north to south) Its the demilitarized zone. You can see across into no mans land which separates the two countries. So much wildlife has been preserved in this zone as no man has walked in there for 50 years. There are species of wildlife that are no found anywhere else in the world. It will be fascinating to go see and is a must do tourist activity in the area. We are going with an organised group so we can have a proper tour.

The typhoon that past through Korea at the beginning of the week has brought us a lot of rain. It is very humid and warm even when it’s raining. But the rain freshens up the city air so it’s all good. There apparently is another typhoon on the way, I will keep you posted. We would be excited to see a tropical storm!! We re feeling pretty safe 6 floors up in an apartment, - Ryan’s is 15 floors up!

We went for sushi the other night, the chef spoke perfect English so I was able to tell him "nothing too weird" but I still ended up eating lots of salmon but also 4 different types of octopus (I’ve eaten so much octopus and squid since I got here) Usually it tastes pretty good, I also enjoy crab, but some of the octopus is so chewy its really like bubble gum and you wonder how you will swallow it!!

Lunch today was delicious it was noodles wrapped in seaweed and cooked in batter…with rice- of course- they eat rice with EVERYTHING- even breakfast. We're eating well though and have not lost any weight... probably put some on!! We're able to get pretty much everything we want here, a lot of stuff we were told to bring is actually here, maybe in smaller cities it wouldn’t be but we are in a pretty metropolitan city so we're well stocked.
Anyway, that’s all really all for now...

I had to do my last presentation on Ireland today and the teacher told me she was envious that I came from such a beautiful country! The photos make me homesick! Miss the Irish air and of course all of you.

But in saying that I’m having fun times and loving every second here, so don’t worry about me. I feel very safe here; Korean people are very conventional and polite. We haven’t had any problems.

The people are very kind generally. Ryan was in the elevator the other day carrying a heavy box and an older man got in and grabbed one side of it to help support the weight! The can be very sweet and old fashioned like that! Ryan spotted an old lady unable to open a heavy door to get out of a store and he ran over and opened it for her, the look on her face and the huge smile you would have thought he handed her a blank cheque!! The kids are pretty good, and they now recognise us as teachers, most of my kids will bow when they see me, they are very respectful.

Apparently the kids told one of the other teachers that I am strict but they love me!! Which is exactly what I want! I still get random kids coming up and saying "ooooohh teacher so beautiful" !! ...I’m not letting it go to my head though; all westerners are "beautiful" to them!! lol The kids have been excellent I have been able to be a fun teacher this week now that they know my expectations and that I don’t take any crap!! They are used to English teachers being very soft with them lol

So its Friday!
Soooo happy it’s the weekend, I’m exhausted and dying to go explore more! What is better than a weekend?.... A loooooong weekend! The holiday chuseok is giving us 5 days of exploration!

Koreans are big into gift giving, and some random teacher today gave me a delicious cream cake as a chuseok present. Ryan got an umbrella and some rice bread…which we didn’t like much…Other random stuff I had forgotten in prior emails....

1) when u enter a store like walmart / tesco they have door greeters who say "anneyong hase yo" which means hello and they bow to you! New spin on the greeter job!

2) they have the tiniest dogs here in the city, who when are full grown are not much bigger than a puppy Jack Russell, they have these size of dogs in various breeds in these sizes.

3) Koreans don’t like confrontation (probably why Korea is called the country of the morning calm) they will agree that there is a problem if u come to them with one but they are hopeless problem solvers!! They just let things go. (Which isn’t always helpful) When it is helpful is the shock syndrome it has on my grade 6's when I confront them about their behaviour! (hahaha!!)

4) WE finally found an English map of our city, and have discovered various parks that are only a short walk away. One of them has the biggest rose garden in Korea- in May (my birthday)!

5) It is very tropical here at the moment, overcast, sticky heat, sooo humid. I’m really looking forward to heading out to the beautiful sandy beaches of Incheon Islands. The schools have NO air conditioning so it gets very hot, but they do have fans on the ceiling and beside the teacher’s desk.

6) i got my first pay cheque - am sooo happy. Im also happy to be getting paid similar money to Silverstream. I will have even more in my pay chque next month when I have all those private lessons included! yay

7) Teachers here expect to be under whelmed by the English teachers (as many of the people who come over are under qualified to teach). My classroom has lots of resources but no decoration. So I’ve been working busily to make it bright and inviting with lots of environmental language. The Korean teachers are so surprised and excited by this as English teachers have a reputation for doing the bare minimum as they have no teaching experience to know what is needed to enhance learning. They have so much in the way of resources here, nothing is too expensive. It’s amazing!

thats our email blog more info to come soon!! Wonderful pics from our CHuseok adventures to follow!


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