One Month In…

September 7, 2010

Well, dear readers, exactly one month has passed since I landed in Incheon (인천) and began my South Korean experience. Compared to my time in Japan (which I seem to be doing a lot lately), I am so numb to traveling at this point it takes a lot to get me thrilled. Don’t get me wrong, I love my corner of the world and I’m happy to be far from my homeland, but that just isn’t enough anymore. I want more. Maybe that means going back for a long time (years) until my travel batteries are depleted. I can’t say for sure. I’m just taking everything a day at a time. Here’s my progress.

Getting In Shape

I really let myself go in the states. This isn’t because all Americans immediately gain five kilograms upon being repatriated, but rather I just tend not to stay in shape when I’m not in a routine. Runners live by routines, schedules, mileage. Once I came to Korea and found myself being required to work the same hours every weekday, it was much easier to find time to run and hit the gym.

As far as running is concerned, there are a few back trails I use between the rice fields in the morning, sometimes even going around the track of Bugu Middle School. I always have to be careful to avoid spreads of chili peppers drying in the sun – they’re EVERYWHERE.

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Bugu is basically split into two parts: the town proper and the area reserved for nuclear power plant workers. In the latter, there’s a track that is lit until late at night for soccer practice. No problem with me taking advantage to do some speed workouts. In fact, I seem to be the only runner out there. Like many public areas in Korea, this outdoor fitness area contains some exercise and stretching machines:

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Which brings me to gyms. I have two options: using a free gym thirty seconds’ walk from my apartment, or paying ₩1500 to use the “Energy Farm” (nuclear power plant) gym. It’s a rather nice set up they have: bowling alley, swimming pool, full gym, squash courts, and a few outdoor areas. My weight routines have been rather slow going, but I’m getting there. One item of note: many gyms in Asia offer vibration belts for relaxation and stimulating the muscles; I don’t know if this is true of the US, but when in Rome…

Teaching English

As I mentioned, my school is very, very, very relaxed compared to my time at AEON in Japan. However, this is not a case of “it’s strict in Japan, it’s easy in Korea.” Far from it. I just have the fortune of having a good boss, which is paramount when teaching at a hagwon (private academy, 학원). Why is my boss good? Let me count the ways…

1. He’s the father of a 4-year-old, so he understands the trials and tribulations of dealing with a group of children.

2. He loves his town, and he cares about the progress of his students.

3. He respects me, by not treating me as an English-speaking monkey. He understands I have a life, and abides by the boundaries between work and home. He listens to my suggestions.

4. Financially, he’s loaned me some cash to get by until my first paycheck.

5. He doesn’t have a problem with me scolding the kids in Korean (key to establishing control, I think).

I work in a hagwon, which means tighter hours, fewer vacations, and no insurance for three months. On the other hand, I get to sleep in. I have security. Plenty of newbie teachers can get screwed by private academy bosses over scheduling, “teaching hours”, vacation time, and being terminated prior to finishing their contracts (to avoid paying bonuses). And, I need little-to-no preparation time for classes. All in all, a good environment.

I’ve had some problems with classroom control; some of the kids, especially younger ones, have been testing just how much I’m willing to put up with. Doesn’t matter if the Korean teacher yells at them afterwards. Once that fear or respect is gone, it’s gone. I don’t want to be too strict, and that’s my fault… but I also don’t want kids approaching me and insulting me in Korean, knowing I can’t understand them.

Even for those on whom I’m not very hard, they’re sensitive. My younger kids are very competitive, and when some lose a game, they cry. When they can’t read a sentence properly, they cry. Sometimes I just don’t know why they cry, but they do.

All of my students seem to be obsessed with my arm hair. You heard me. I guess it’s just not that common here. When I step close to check their books, they try to feel my arms. It’s a little pervy, if you ask me.

Korean kids seem to know a few English words from the start, probably foreign words that have been incorporated into Hangugeo (한국어):

“Oh my god!” They love yelling this
“Hacking” Students cheating, stealing answers
“Chance” Cashing in a favor from the teacher

People

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It’s been a little slow on this front. There’s a regular group of teachers in Uljin-gun who meet for drinks or move night on occasion, and some of them are good blokes. Not too many Couchsurfers in the area, but I have been surfing and hosts; will blog on that later.

Language

My Korean is building slowly, but I haven’t been devoting enough time to study. Not nearly enough. The written language is easy to learn, and I should get it down with practice. They say that living in the countryside is beneficial to your language skills, but Bugu is just too small; I don’t have enough people to talk to. Regardless, I know how most things work, even if I can’t speak.

Useful Websites for Living in Korea

General Information
Korea4expats
Galbijim

Ordering Online
Gmarket
WGinmall
EZ Shop Korea
ExpatExpress
Auction

Transportation
KORAIL
KOBUS
Miraejet (ferries from Busan to Japan)
DBS Cruise Ferry
(ferries from Donghae to Ulleungdo, Russia, and Japan)

Blogs I’m Following
Scribblings of the Metropolitician
Asian Correspondent: Korea Beat
Coco in Korea
I Live In Korea
Subbing in Seoul

Hot Springs
Deokgu
Baegam
Osaek

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