Tagged: Teaching

in Life

Departure / Reunion/ Unemployment

This was originally written in October of 2010 and never published. Here it is now.

So this is it, the afterglow;  what I’ve been thinking about for so long has finally come — total relaxation and a time to really reflect on all those things really missed so much. And what did I miss the most? Not sure anymore — been back over a month now and it’s all the same as it ever was. Snapped right out of it. And whatever that feeling was before coming home, I miss it. Leaving was far more emotional than I ever thought. Looking through some of my previous notes, it seems I really did not enjoy teaching English at ECC. BUT, the overall experience was well worth the aggravation. Well worth it.

The trip home pretty much sucked: 4 hour bus ride to the airport, 2 hour flight to Shanghai which resulted in one fuck show of an International transfer that took us through customs and security (twice), 14 hour flight to New York, quick BLT in Ozone Park,1 hour flight to Boston, and finally… an ice cold Shipyard at my friend’s house where I slept for 16 hours on the couch. When flying around the world, never transfer in China!

There’s something to be said about teaching English in foreign countries as a form of cultural imperialism. Let’s use fashion as an example. For the longest time in Korea, I wanted some clothing designed with Hangul, but all the trendy shops ever had in stock were representations of the West; Coca-Cola jeans, Marlboro tees, Ive League sweatshirts — pretty much any emblem of bootlegged American pop culture one could imagine. You’ve caught me rambling again.

missing all the good students

A 5th grader in one of the afternoon classes was caught drawing a caricature of Jason Teacher. With less than three weeks until departure from a year long adventure teaching English in South Korea, Jason Teacher could barely contain his emoticons. He snatched the picture from her unsuspecting fingers, and after examining it carefully, was reminded of a ‘how to scare an American’ joke. A polite suggestion was made to the student about the drawing. She sneered, then erased frantically.

Kindergarten Open Day

It’s been one of those months you just want to end, which is too bad because of all the wonderful sunshine. We’ve been preparing since the end of May for two days of Kindergarten open days which are happening right now. This is a time for the parents to see where their money has been going, as they sit in on our classes and watch us waygookens do a wide-eyed wobble in front of the whiteboard. Stress much? I finished two out of three open classes today and then had the pleasure of sitting in for a “question and answer” session with the parents. Did you ever see Lost in Translation? There is this great scene where Bill Murray is shooting a commercial for some kind of whiskey, and the director just starts rambling on and on in Japanese. Minutes later the translator turns to Bill and says something like, “Hold your hand higher.” Today in my meetings with the parents, one of the moms went on for maybe 3 minutes with facial expressions galore: Jason sawn seng neem this, and Jason sawn seng neem that. Then my partner teacher turns to me and says, “Why did you give her son a bad evaluation?” Hmmm, how do you say in Korean “royal pain in the ass“? The irony of this whole open day situation is that the parents come to the school for a taste of the everyday learning environment, but it’s all been rehearsed many times. Now I’m thinking about those stealth marketers you hear of in major US cities who are paid to approach total strangers with some fancy new wyziwig and ask you to take a picture of them in front of some retardation. I’m pretty sure a parent even asked today if we had done that lesson before because it seemed so smooth. Oh well, one more day and I’ll return to my usual routine of teaching English.

boseong green tea festival after children’s day

Over the weekend, we went to the Boseong Green Tea festival held in the neighboring town of — you guessed it — Boseong. Other than the mistake I made of taking two buses to get there, it was a solid trip. Much to my protest, Erica decided to make her own Green Tea from a bag full of freshly picked leaves which took nearly 2 hours of mashing, mixing, and burning. A local woman who spoke amazingly good English later explained to us that this was a real treat. Because it was the first harvest, and the tea had endured long winter months, it would be much stronger and have “real medicinal property”. Really though, I think it tastes almost fish like. Guess I’ve never really had good green tea.

Last Wednesday was Children’s Day, an otherwise random day off during the week which gave us a much appreciated break from the insanity. A few noteworthy incidents to report from the last week include: A student vomiting at random during lunch from eating too much rice (or perhaps it was the fish water), another exploding into tears because I took his pencil case (he threw it across the room first), and during our field trip to the World Photonics Expo, one little girl hurled a rock at the head of another student (direct hit). Never a dull moment at the unvarying six hour circus we call Kindergarten.

I went hiking up Mt Geumdang again —  a perfect way to relieve stress and forget about everything which does not concern another step upward and onward. This time, I paid a vendor at the summit 3000 KRW for a beer. As a service, she gave me a plate of those delicious dried bait fish some of you folks back home had the pleasure of sampling (I threw them off into the woods when she wasn’t looking).

Later that afternoon, I rode that so-called bike of mine along the river until I ran out of gas (metaphorically speaking). Pretty sure I ended up in the next town, but who knows.

the 18th annual Teacher’s Seminar Day

Remember back in grade school when you got those random days off during the week for so called “teacher seminars”? Ever wonder what that actually meant for the Teacher? Not me. I was jumping for joy at the thought of Mega Man 2 and beanbag chairs. But for the first time this past Thursday, I had to attend school on Teacher’s Seminar Day.

In preparation for the seminar, the teachers we were divided into groups of four and assigned a book from which to create an original lesson. This needed to include games and activities. Two speakers (called “teacher” and “presenter”) were then arbitrarily chosen from each group to present the material in front of the entire staff– some of whom did not speak English (thrilled, I’m sure those teachers were not). For reasons forever unknown, I was selected to be the presenter for my group, which meant creating an outline and giving a 10 minute demonstration of games for reviewing superlative forms of adjectives. This one is fat. That one is fatter. His is the fattest. Riveting.

Three days prior to the seminar was the due date for handing in our materials to the Academic Director. A few groups forgot to hand in supplements, or missed the deadline altogether, and this did not go over well.  Rather than speak constructively to adults in a workplace, she chose to scold us like children in a classroom. Oh shit, someone forgot their homework… Get the stick! Koreans, from what I have seen at least, take things far too seriously at times. The seminar day, I thought, was supposed to be a fun way for us to share ideas. Sigh… Yet another communication error which does not involve the language barrier.

Actually, the seminar day was a pretty good time. It did bother me however, that although they said numerous times we were not going to be evaluated for the presentations, the director closed out the presentations by saying, “Nice job everyone. I will later be evaluating your group’s work and submitting it to the school owners”. Really? Another  ‘misunderstanding’ here as well? After our free lunch, we played kickball and drank soju– occasionally stopping to admire cherry blossoms and the mountainous stone facade in the distance. A few beers and a couple of boxes of fried chicken later, we had a three legged relay race. Our team won the grand prize… glass lock tupperware.

March misery

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but it has been a long month. Sickness, scheduling conflicts, shitty weather, students that just don’t know when to shut the eff up…. it all added up to one miserable March. It was probably the hardest month for us since coming here in September. A lot of times with these new students, I feel more like a baby sitter than a Teacher. During story reading the other day, one little boy flapped his arms and blurted “bathroom”.

“Whoooooa Jack!” I said, lurching backwards. “Looks like it’s a little late for that there buddy”. Thankfully, his mother sent him to school with an extra pair of trousers.

Days later, in an Elementary School class, this one little girl (or rather, vampire with no cape) would not stop repeating after me. Normally, this is EXACTLY what you want from a student. Read. Repeat. Now do it again. That’s basically how every lesson goes. It’s brain-numbing at times. Had she at least been aware of what she was criticizing, and not just mocking Teacher, perhaps she’d of been sparred. Given the theme of things lately though, that was not the case. I told her I was going to get the Korean teacher after warning her several times to kindly stop. She laughed.

“Jason Teacher angry?” one portly little fellow asked with a smile.

Taking a deep breathe, I calmly swung the composite wood door open, and left the room. Already the students could be heard gasping from outside the classroom. Jason Teacher is fucking serious… And this time, this one and hopefully only time, will watch a student get what she deserves.

It was silent when the Korean Headmaster entered the room, a far cry from the zoo only 7 minutes before. “Which one?” she asked with extreme seriousness, whipping stick vigorously clenched in her right palm.

I looked the student straight in the eyes and watched her lower lip slowly start to curl. She was fucked, and she knew it.

“That one,” I said, pointing my index finger as I looked away.

Without hesitation, the Korean Headmaster slapped the ten year old girl in front of the class before dragging her by the ears into the hallway for some verbal abuse. Ten minutes later she returned, in tears and shaking profusely.

“She WILL NOT do that again,” said the Korean Headmaster (and she hasn’t). The teachers in neighboring classrooms later told me that the yelling from the hallway was scaring even their students. I could go on, but its all too trivial at this point. March also marked the beginning of the Asian yellow dust season. Every year during the Spring months, toxic yellow dust clouds from China blanket the Korean peninsula. Despite it all, I remain hopeful that April won’t be such a train wreck.

Have a nice life kiddies

Moving on to bigger and better things; Elementary School.  Thank God they are only young once.


The first day of school… again.

Kinder graduation has come and gone, and aside from a slew of technical difficulties, the show went smoother than soju. I may even opt for a career in professional back up dancing or traditional monster-ing once this teaching gig ends. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Na nun sheem pahn jah!”

Now we have new classes and new students, which means all new confusion. For many of them, Monday was their first day of school ever. Remember your first day of school? I remember being dressed like a bible salesmen and wearing really uncomfortable shoes that were ‘oh, so cute’. Thanks mom. The first day of school for these kids was one hot mess. Some kicked, others screamed, and the sour expressions on many of their faces said it all. “Fuck! This! Take me back to those worry free days of pant shitting and aimless wandering.” Some of these kids speak virtually no English, and I’m remembering a question many back home asked me before coming here: How do you teach English to children that don’t understand English? Thankfully now I know the answer.

Japanese Maple or Marijuana?

Today, we saw for the first time bandannas selected by one of the Korean teachers for the kinder students to wear during their song and dance, “Summer Nights”.

japanese red maple leaf

“Don’t you think these look a lot like marijuana leaves?” I asked one of the Koreans.

“What!? Really!? No it’s maple leaf.”

Given the violent history between Korea and Japan (the Japanese forcibly occupied Korea for 35 years), a Japanese maple seems an almost equally odd choice of design. One of many things I’ll never understand about this culture. What do you think?

Japanese Maple Leaf

A Japanese Maple Leaf

Kinder Graduation: The Impending Doom

No, it’s not global warming, peak oil, or another financial bust, it’s Kindergarten graduation! Apparently, this is a big deal in Korea (yet another thing added to the list of lies my recruiter told me). The “2010 Variety Show” features a full line up of skits, sing-a-longs, dances, and drum solos to be performed by the departing seven year old children. Hundreds of friends and family members of the soon-to-be elementary school students will flood the Namgu Auditorium at 9 a.m. sharp this coming Friday. As part of my ever expanding job description, I’ll be narrating a play about a Lion with hiccups, playing the monster in “Hungbu and Nolbu”, doing a 45 second dance to a Korean pop song, and finally — a full on dance routine to another Korean pop song called “Superman”. In three days… urgh. Let’s just get it over with. All month we’ve been practicing these routines, and I’m starting to get a little stressed about it. Did I mention my lines are in Korean? Or that my dance could get ‘mad props’ and ‘much respect’ from JC?

Lines to memorize:

“Nee ga Nolbu nya? Ee na bhun Nolbu, kam hee jay bee uh moke ughl, bo law duh lyaw? Bawl badda ya geyt da!”

“Ha ha ha ha! Na nun sheem pahn ja! — Naw gat chee na bun Nolbu nun, bawl bad ah ya hey!” (Wreck house and strike fear into feeble minded hearts)

We are supposed to be memorizing the lyrics (also in Korean) for the Superman song. What really bothers me about this is the fact that they simply handed us a sheet of words (written in Korean) and said, “Please memorize”. Even my partner teachers (who are Korean) found this hard to believe. “That is a really hard song even if you speak Korean”. Recognizing the gravity of such a request, we were later provided a Romanized version of the lyrics….

Ahbbulssa eo-jjon heojeon hadeora

Paran tah-ee-jeuh-eh bbalgan paenti-neum nae charming point-uh

Dolahrah jiguyeoldu bakwi

I don’t know what it says either, which is why I won’t be singing it on Friday. I’ll be there on stage with the rest of the teachers, dancing like there’s a scorpion in my pants and doing the mime box. But the line has to be drawn somewhere my friends, and I’m already having to wear lipstick and mascara.