Archive | October, 2010


18 Oct

well after all my stress from last week i’m happy to announce that my principal has given me the ok to have the extra two days off. apparently mia begged him and after he talked to some colleagues, realized that i’m not really asking for anything too outrageous. on friday i received three phonecalls and a text message  from co-workers all telling me the good news and all wishing me congratulations. it was actually so sweet. anyway, i didn’t want to break the news yet until i was sure but i’m sure now!

today i went to thank him profusely. i told mia that i would bring him some canadian presents back, which mia said was a lovely idea. she told me that she thinks i’m pretty much korean due to the things i say and how i feel. she said that she feels like there is no distance between her and i in terms of culture. pretty good i think!

also: i got my hair done at  korean hair salon and got two compliments from male grade 6 students and julia was literally speechless. apparently my “front hair” or bangs were a complete shock and she said that i am “soooo beautiful” now. also the owner of the salon asked if i was koren.

overall!  a success.


it was bound to happen eventually.

14 Oct

well after that thanksgiving post things were sure to turn slightly sour.

a long time ago i found out when my winter vacation would be: jan 14-30. i am staying in korea for christmas because of the winter camps which will be taking place for 3 weeks directly after the holiday.  my co-teacher asked me to be back for january 31. at the end of last week i realized that there is only school on jan 31 and feb 1, and then the new year’s holiday starts for the 2-6, which means i have the rest of the week off.

after discovering this i asked my co-workers about what usually happens on those two days, as first semester is technically over and second semester doesn’t start until march. she told me that monday no one teaches, and that i might teach tuesday. to me, this sounded like the perfect opportunity to stay in canada for another week, thus taking 12 holiday days off, but getting 15 due to the holiday. after talking to both my co-teachers they didn’t think it would be a problem, but of course the principal has the final say about everything.

so today we (mia and i) went to ask about me taking two days off when i wouldn’t be teaching so i can fly home to be with my family and friends for an extra week.

well. he said firstly that i would be using up all 21 of my holidays if i went. this was because he was somehow counting not only the national holiday (5 days INCLUDING the weekend) but also some of the other weekends. i explained to my co-teacher that national holidays don’t count into my holidays, so i’d only be taking 12 days off and i get 21 WORKING days off. she told him.

then he said that i’m not allowed to take so many days off before i’ve been in korea for 6 months. is this true? i don’t think so. however, we were informed by the board of education that we should be taking 16 days off in the winter break alone and then 5 for the summer break. so i am well within my limit here. then he says that he knows that sometimes foreign teachers will go home for the holidays and then quit. this may be true, but will me taking off two days make me want to quit my job? if i was going to quit then i would quit anyway, 2 extra days or not.

in the end he decided that he has to think about it and ask around for advice. it was extremely frustrating to be in that position. i could not explain my own situation, as he speaks zero english and i couldn’t even understand what he was saying. everything i said had to be translated by my co-teacher, and then most things that he said were not translated back to me.

so i went back to the office with mia, where after i was asked if i was ok, immediately started to cry. i was just so frustrated and my hopes were pretty well dashed. of course all the teachers felt terrible and wanted to help in anyway they could, but the sad reality here is that the principal has the final say and it is not questioned.  all the teachers chattered around me trying to think of ways to help. one suggestion was that i leave on the  21st of january, so that i am only using 7 holidays instead of 10. this is an option that would help me to use less holidays, but would not help me to stay home for an extra week. one of the other teachers said they would vouch for me and tell him that i deserve the days off and that i won’t quit. sweet, but they really would be unable to do that due to the hierarchy.

realistically i will still be leaving for two weeks, whether they like it or not, but i will be absolutely miserable if i have to come back for those two days. other teachers have said that you should never listen to the first decision because it’s often apt to change and i really hope that’s true.

truthfully it’s my own fault for getting my hopes up, but i just didn’t think taking off two days would be such a huge deal.


12 Oct

as all canadians know, this past weekend was thanksgiving. i spent it doing typical canadian things like working on a saturday for sports day, attending a music festival in seoul at night and then eating pumpkin pie and cheesecake for thanksgiving dinner. well, at least one of these things is semi-normal.

since i last posted i have no idea what has happened, so i’ll probably just stick to recent events. this weekend was sports day at my elementary school. i was mostly excited for it, except for the fact the week had already seemed 10 years long and the idea of going back to school on a saturday was not what i had in mind for my sleep in weekend. luckily, waking up has been much easier these days, due to a recent purchase of a dr. light alarm clock.



dr. light.


i don’t think i’ve yet complained about the fact that i have two windows, both of which face the hall. or maybe i have. either way, it’s made waking up in the mornings torture. my poor body is confused due to never seeing natural light so most mornings were spent depressed and weepy pretty much until i was off the subway and walking for 5 minutes in the sun to school. the lamp was just over $100 and was suggested by my own mother to purchase. my co-teacher bought it for me online and it was delivered the next day. anyway. it’s made a big difference i think because i don’t wake up depressed and sometimes i even sleepily think the sun is in my eyes (that’s a bit sad).

so anyway. i woke up at 7 am on saturday to trek down to school. sports day is not really anything like track and field day is in ontario. firstly, there are over 1500 students. secondly, the parents also participate. and of course there’s the choreographed stretching routine that all koreans are raised on and know. apparently my videos are going to take like 60 hours to upload so i’ll save them for another day. here is a selection of photos:

i have about 100 pictures from sports day because i was the designated photographer. my only other duty was to help with the sprints (pictured above) where 9 children would run at once to be followed immediately by another 9. all 1500 students ran. our job was to figure out first, second and third place and stamp them on their hands immediately before the next group began to run. this proved difficult when the parents start to get involved and the children are jumping around like maniacs and standing in front of the finish line. anyway, it was adorable.

so that went until around 2 pm, at which point i went home and napped. then i woke myself up, showered and headed down to hangang park to the global gathering electronic music festival. it was definitely enjoyable over all, but i was super tired so i left at 2 am, which really was late enough for an old person like myself. i had a wonderful experience with a cab driver on the way home which consisted of the following”

“odieayo?” (or something like that which means where are you going)

“gil-dong yok”

*insert correction of my pronunciation*

“yes, there.”

“ok ok ok. 40,000 won.”

i knew where we were, and i knew that the trip couldn’t cost more than 30,000, but i was super tired so i agreed.

“front seat. front.”

“no. no sharing.”

he wanted me to sit in the front so that he could pile more people in the cab to make more money, and thus increase my travel time by who knows how long.


“no. i am paying you 40,000 for this ride.”

“ok ok ok.”

10 minutes pass.

“oh. gil-DONG yok?”



“what? no. you said 40.”

“so far…sooo farrrrrr.” (korean whine)

“no! you said 40.”

“so far. service chargee.” (whatever that means).

“well you said 40.”

at this point he made me get out in the middle of the street at 2:45 am and asked another cab driver to take me. it ended up costing 23,000 won.

this is typical. cab drivers will try to rip you off if you are a foreigner. i was irritated. but oh well.

so the next day a couple of friends and i headed to costco (which i have mentioned before) and bought pumpkin pie and cheesecake and ravioli and all those things. we headed back home to our friend’s house to eat our feelings re: being in korea on thanksgiving.

on the way home we of course encountered another cab fiasco. our cab driver picked us up off the street, as usual. we get in and immediately the car behind starts honking because we were in a right turn lane and he wanted to go. however, there were people on the cross walk so we couldn’t go anyway. our cab driver starts yelling and waving his hand out the window. then the guy gets out of his car and comes to yell at our driver for several minutes. the meter was on. then the other guy stands in front of the cab and won’t move. it was quite amusing and we wanted to film it, but this guy was clearly insane and we feared for our lives. in the end, the guy got back in his car and we mosied on our way. the fight cost us $0.20 cents.

after eating our massive amounts of dessert and moaning about stomach pains, we headed off to insadong for dinner and to take some pictures wearing hanbok.







i wasn't really wearing glasses.


the woman who ran the photo place was actually in love with all of us and couldn’t stop laughing at our antics.

so we ate pajon, or green onion pancake with seafood (which is becoming my favourite korean treat) and toasted to how thankful we were to be english speakers who were born in canada, but could choose to come to korea to teach. despite how much we all moan and at times may hate our jobs and the country we’ve CHOSEN to be in, we really should be grateful for even being here. not everyone has the opportunity to move to a new place and experience a culture like we do. although it’s not always easy and can in fact be very difficult, i guess we’re all hoping it will be worth it in the end. in the meanwhile, we should be thankful.  i often forget this and have to remind myself that i made this decision and therefore  should be relishing in it. that’s my thanksgiving resolution (a common canadian thanksgiving tradition, i think).


1 Oct

my mom has informed me that my relatives are wondering about what it’s actually like to teach in korea. some other people have been asking me that question as well, so i figured i might as well go about answering it.

teaching, for public school teachers, can be very easy. the curriculum is laid out. you only teach 22 classes a week (40 minutes for elementary, 45 for middle and 50 for high school). you have a co-teacher.

now all of these things can go horribly wrong. the curriculum can be lacking in many ways. although the textbook and accompanying cd rom are supposed to be all you need, pretty much all teachers adapt the materials and add to it. if you just stuck to the textbook then you’d probably only have about 20 minutes of teaching material, and some pretty bored students. we usually do certain parts of the textbook (which i think are a bit dry, but some of them are alright) and then change up the game/activity at the end. even this can be very easy to do. there are many websites dedicated to teaching at public schools in korea, which means that other teachers have published materials that they have made. of course, if you’re going to keep “borrowing” other peoples’ work, eventually you should put your own work up for grabs.

you only teach 22 classes a week. that equals just under 15 hours of actual teaching time per week. that leaves you with 25 hours a week to prepare for your classes. each week i prepare a 5th and 6th grade lesson (with the help of my co-teachers), as well as two lessons for my beginning and intermediate teachers classes. i also prepared a grade 4 lesson a month ago, which i will teach up until november. this is because i only see the grade fours two times a semester. no comment on that one. once a month i do an english club, which is pretty easy to do. it’s 80 minutes long, so i have to think of a bunch of entertaining stuff for them to do for that time period, but it’s been fun so far. most public school english teachers will tell you that they are fantastic facebookers and very internet savvy. this is because you need to figure out just WHAT you’re going to do for about 20 hours a week. this week i actually was marking some grade 6 tests, which took up some time, but normally i really don’t have much to do. this is why if anyone asks me to help them with anything (really, anything) i do it. for example, i’m going to help with a reading/essay competition as well as a production of the wizard of oz. these things probably will take up extra time (but not really) but i’m getting paid anyway and it’s nice to just help out the other teachers who work harder than i do.

i have two co-teachers: mia and julia. i am extremely lucky because they are both really kind and helpful. mia is unable to be a caretaker to me (take me shopping, to the bank etc) due to some other responsibilities, but other co-workers have stepped in to take her place. sophie, who i’ve mentioned before, is my friend/nurse who takes care of my physical health and is my subway partner. on wednesday julia and i went to a beautiful buddhist temple near coex mall and out for dinner. christina has offered to teach me korean every monday during 5th period, and also bought me a bamboo flute because she teaches that to her students. so all in all, i am really quite blessed. other people complain about their schools and co-teachers, but i really have nothing bad to say at all. everyone is just about as kind and friendly as possible.

my students! i have over 700 students a week. i have 9 classes of grade 6 (~28 students per class), 9 classes of grade 5(~28 students per class) and 8 classes of grade 4s (~33 students per class). it’s a lot. the major problem with this is that i do not get to know my students. i literally don’t know a single one of their names. this is not for lack of trying! i ask some students for their names and then immediately forget them because my ear is not attuned to korean names AT ALL. i recognize all of their faces, and know which students are mine, but i couldn’t even tell you sometimes if they’re in grade 5 or 6. don’t even ask me what class.

my students are quite well behaved. they call me “teacher!” (always yelling it), “erika” or “miss a” as one student calls me. i told them they could call me “miss s” if they wanted and there is a k-pop group called “miss a” so…there you go. i don’t have a complaint about any of them, well except maybe the one who commented on my arm hair. i think he said “tal” or “chal” or something that sounds like that. i had heard before that it means hair, so i knew he was being a little brat. i did actually call him a brat but he doesn’t know what that means so it doesn’t matter anyway. i then proceeded to cover his face with his hood. this is allowed and acceptable in korea due to the fact that many teachers can be affectionate with their students. nothing funny, just hugging or poking or things like that. my co-workers are shocked when i tell them that this could lose them their job in north america. they really do enjoy being affectionate with the students and it’s pretty sweet to see.

other than that i’m pretty much fully accepted into the korean teaching circle. i go out for teacher dinners, i sit at the table in the office and eat snack (and then sit there while everyone talks in korean), i sit with the teachers at lunch. i’ve even gone to insadong with two of the wonderful younger teachers, juah and jini. i receive numerous portions of dduk or a very dense rice cake with beans in it. i even am going to sports day next saturday. yes, i know, it’s a saturday. and technically i’m not ever supposed to work on a weekend. it’s in my contract. however, often here your option is to complain and lose favour, or just suck it up and give off a good impression. so i’m going to sports day (it’s only until lunch) and then i get monday off (which is canadian thanksgiving). i think it’s actually going to be fun. i’m definitely bringing my camera to take pictures of my students running around like little monsters. i’ll post them, along with pictures of my school itself soon. promise.