Category Archives: Teaching

A Day in the Life of Davo

Winter is finally descending on Ulsan. Before we got here, we used to hear people complain about how cold Korea is. Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t believe them. I’ve lived in Chicago and Prague. We’ll have weeks where it doesn’t get above zero Fahrenheit. Ulsan is at the same latitude as my childhood home, Chattanooga. How cold could it really get?

What no one explained to me was that they don’t turn the heat on in a building until it’s below freezing outside.

So I’m sitting at my desk wearing long underwear, pants, a sweater and a decent jacket. I’ve got a bottle of hot water shoved under my sweater, and I’m freezing.

An empty classroom: The calm before the storm!

An empty classroom: The calm before the storm!

One upside to winter in Korea is our apartment floor. They have this invention called the “ondol” (온돌). Basically, the way they heat their houses is by pumping hot water through the floors, making it an excellent place to curl up on a cold day!

Teaching English in Korea is pretty much a dream job, especially at my school. I teach 22 classes a week. I see every kid from 7th grade once a week, and every kid from 8th grade every other week. This means I have to plan a total of 6 lessons a month. I’m also not supposed to assign any homework, nor do I create any tests or quizzes. Consequently, I don’t have to grade anything, either. My co-teachers are also responsible for helping with classroom management, so half the time I don’t even have to be the one punishing the kids.

So with my job, basically, I keep all of the fun, wonderful aspects about teaching, and can all of the annoying, frustrating parts.

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My classroom, where all the magic happens.

Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. But my school basically leaves me alone. I’m supposed to have a co-teacher in class with me, but for about 2/3rds of my classes, they don’t show up. I’m left to fend for myself. This has it’s pros and cons. On the one hand I have the freedom to do pretty much whatever I want in the classroom. On the other hand, I’ve notice a dramatic improvement in class participation and behavior when the co-teacher actually bothers to show up.

Nevertheless, the kids are on average (with definite outliers) well-behaved. I imagine what would happen in the States if there was a middle school teacher who didn’t speak English. The class would be absolutely nuts! They’d probably eat the teacher.

I also have a lot of downtime at my job. I teach 22 hours, which leaves me 18 hours to prepare the 1 1/2 lessons that I teach each week. How do I fill this time? Well, I will mention that I can name all 196 countries in the world from memory. On a more productive front, I’ve kept of some of my freelance relationships from back home.

Outside of work, life here is sweet. Honestly, this year feels like an extended, slightly more structured vacation. I have no responsibilities outside of work, giving me tons of time to pursue leisure activities and hobbies. I’ve started exercising a good amount. Sara and I are planning on running the Chicago Marathon when we get home next year, so I’ve started training for that.

I’ve actually really (for the first time ever) started to enjoy running. I finally broke through the 5-mile ceiling that had given me trouble in the past. Now I can go farther without much difficulty, and the miles keep adding up! It’s exciting. Although, the cold weather has added another level of challenge. Running in 37 degrees is no walk in the park.

We’ve also made a point to explore and experience Korea as much as possible during this year. We rotate weekends. Every other weekend we do something explore-Korea-ish. On the off weekends we stay at home and relax or socialize. We’ve been to Seoul and Busan a couple times, the lantern festival in Jinju, and hiked several mountains in the greater Ulsan area.

The view from Muryeong San behind our house.

The view from Muryeong San behind our house. (Taken a few weeks ago.)

Now that cold weather is setting in, our explorations might slow a bit. However, we’re looking forward to our winter break at the end of January. Philippines and Thailand here we come!

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A day in the life….

At home (particularly at work) I used to sarcastically say “a day in the life, livin the dream,” when things got particularly out of control or generally just straight up ridiculous.  I don’t think anyone would call our life at home “the dream,” although I think our life at home is quite nice actually! In Korea, I feel like people would call our life a dream. We have tons of free time, a decent amount of money, our jobs are cake and well… were in Korea!  So, I thought I would post some photos of every day life.  You know “a day in the life, livin the dream!”

Above is the hallway to my classroom. There are usually many Korean children running around in the halls yelling “HELLO TEACHAAA” or “Nice to meet you.”  No matter how many times I tell them that they see me everyday so they should say “nice to SEE you” this just does not stick 🙂

This is the fantastic woman that I work with, who is totally hilarious.  She is the co-teacher who likes to whisper in my ear things like “I stole your cherry” and “I brought you a muffin.”  I can understand why she whispered that she stole my cherry, but I don’t know why the muffin was a secret.  She is full of surprises  and makes my work day very entertaining.  I love her.

This is where all the magic happens people! Kids come here to see “the Sara teacher” who bestows on them a wealth of practical and useful English.

…….NOT!

This is what is actually happening in my classroom.  I am teaching my children how to say very useful things that come out of this book such as the key sentences shown above. These sentences can be very useful for children when they are in an English speaking situation and a scene like this happens.

Random person walks up to a Korean child and asks in English: “What do frogs eat?”

Korean child thinks: Well I am so glad you asked that particular question because I learned this in my English class.

Child says: “Frogs eat Grasshoppers.”

Child feels satisfied that they were able to understand that question and answer in English! Mission accomplished.  🙂
No but really, I am completely bound to this book.  I have to teach straight from the text book.  All the time.  In each chapter there are “key sentences” that the children will be tested on and sometimes these sentences are literally, “Excuse me, may I feed this wolf?”  “No you can’t it’s dangerous, you must stay back.”  Or they are like the ones shown above. (I guess animals are a theme?)  This was very confusing to me at first.  Korea, did you really fly me all the way over here and pay me all this money to teach these ridiculous phrases that are not helpful in any way?  Apparently so, but here is what I think the actual deal is, we are not really here to teach English.  Our Korean co-teachers speak fine English for elementary level, they don’t need us.  But here is what we really are, cultural liaisons.  My purpose here is to expose the kids to western culture.  It is that simple.  But, maybe they can learn some English along the way as well.

This is the view from my 4th floor office. Life is pretty hard some times. 🙂

Our street.  It’s not something to write home about but we like it.  You can see on your left there is a community garden.  Ulsan does a WONDERFUL job of using every inch of free space it has for gardens.  For example…


There is about 3 inches of space between the road and the fence, thus, corn is grown there.  Genius really.

In the evenings we either cook in our tiny windowless kitchen…. OR……

We can go out for Samgeopsal! This delicious goodness is our favorite thing to chow on for dinner, or any meal really.  We have found that frequently Korean meals at restaurants are a very interactive experience.  You or your server cooks food on some sort of grill type thing that is at your table.  We have had many different meals in this style and we really enjoy the entire experience.

One evening I got to enjoy Samgeopsal with two of my co-teachers and the precious Lilly! I had a great time learning from Koreans how this style of food is really meant to be eaten.  Things that I learned:

1) NEVER pour your own drink.  It is customary for the oldest person at the table to pour drinks for people throughout the evening and when that persons drink needs to be filled, someone else must fill it.  If you are the oldest person at the table, you should be keeping tabs on everyone’s drinking because a persons cup should never be empty and they should never have to ask for a refill.

2) You do not put the peppers, garlic, onions or kimchi on the grill.  Even though we know we are not supposed to do this, Davo and I still do it and endure the weird looks.

3)  Usually the oldest person at the table pays for everyone’s meal.  But, if you are good friends and will go out to dinner more often, you can take turns.  They promised me I would get to pay next time but somehow I think that just isn’t going to happen…

Well folks! That is a glimpse of everyday life in Korea.  I love it here but my standard response when asked about my experience is, “I love Korea.  My only complaint is that all my loved ones live very far away.” So, please keep in touch with us! I want to hear about your everyday life! Comment away! Send us an e-mail or snail mail! Sorry that might have been a little over enthusiastic.  The bottom line is I love you people at home really hard and I want to know what is going on in your lives too.  🙂
One more for you all! This is down town Ulsan at sunset. Beautiful.

Funny Moments in Teaching

Well, I just started week three of classes. I’ve met most of my kids. (There are close to 350 of them, who I see about once a week). Here’s a couple gems from my first two weeks…

Art Gallery

I’m sitting at my desk after lunch working on a lesson for next week. One of my students (who’s a serious fan of the Rolling Stones and David Bowie) comes into my room and hands me a drawing that’s somewhat reminiscent of Piet Mondrain’s Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow.

“I draw this,” she says.

I stare at it, blinking, trying to make sense of it for a moment. “What is it?” I finally ask her.

“Hell.”

“Hell?”

“Hell.”

“I’ll put it on my fridge.”

She smiles, “Thank you!” and walks out of the room

Inconceivable!

Once a week I have to read 40 new vocabulary words from a book over the intercom. I read each word three times, then read a sentence that uses the words. The vocabulary book was clearly created by a Korean who speaks English as a second language. Some of the “sentences” have been extra special:

  • Product – They product many kinds of sticker.
  • Backbone – He hurt his backbone in a traffic accident.
  • Production – The factory enables to us mass production.
  • Tooth – You must go to the dentist for your sick tooth.
  • Shop – The convenience shop opens during 24 hours.

Each time I come to a sentence like this, I cringe audibly on the intercom. So today I decided to read ahead in the book and see what landmines I’ll have to avoid next week. I get about halfway through when I come across the following word and accompanying sentence:

  • Weed – We can see the weed everywhere.

Petro-what?

In all of my classes this week, I’ve introduced myself and told them a little about my family, my hobbies and Chicago. After telling them about Chicago, I ask them to write what they know about Ulsan. It’s helped me get to know things that Ulsan is famous for. Here’s an aggregated list of the most popular choices:

  1. Hyundai car factory
  2. Hyundai ship factory
  3. Whale museum
  4. Kim Tae Hee (actress)
  5. Tae Hwa river
  6. Ulsan Pear
  7. Onyang Beef
  8. Earthenware
  9. Bamboo forest
  10. 12 scenic sites

The complexity of their answers depended on the class’ level of proficiency in English. For example, my advanced classes would write, “Ulsan is famous Hyundai car factory.” My intermediate might write “Ulsan is Hyundai car,” or just “Hyundai car.” My beginner classes would write partially in English, partially in Korean, or simply draw it.

I’d done this drill about 15 times with my various classes, and pretty much knew what to expect. Then, yesterday morning, I had one of my lower-intermediate classes. We got to this part of the lesson, and while they were working, I walked around to monitor their answers and offer help as needed. I stopped at table towards the back of the class to look at their answers. It was a pretty typical list:

  • Car
  • Ship
  • Kim Tae Hee
  • Petroglyph
  • Pear
  • Beef

B’scuse me? This is my one of my lower-intermediate classes. Petroglyph? I was flabbergasted. I wonder how many kids her age in the States know what a petroglyph is.

As it turns out, Ulsan is known for the Bangudae petroglyphs. I don’t know much about them other than that, but I’m definitely adding them to the list of things I’d like to check out when Sara and I get a free weekend.

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First Day of Teaching

I just finished my first day of teaching and I am feeling like I can totally handle this. The kids are rowdy, but it is nothing I can’t deal with. My co-teachers are incredibly friendly and helpful. We have met a good number of people and are getting settled in our new neighborhood. Our apartment is starting to look and feel like home. We have a bank account and everything! Now the last thing is waiting on ARC “alien registration card” so that we can get internet at home. Unfortunately, this might take a month or so, but I am trying to stay positive, and I have internet at work in the mean time.

It looks like I am going to have a lot more down time here teaching than I ever had at the O school (not that there is really ever down time there)! I teach 22 hours a week and then “plan” for the other 18. So far, there is not much planning, and I think I am going to need to develop an internet hobby or work on my Korean during the down time. It is hard not being able to communicate very well with kids and teachers during the day. It makes for a lonely 8 hours. I have sat through a few lunches now with teachers who are all speaking Korean for the hour. Every now and then I hear “mi-gook” or “way-gook” which is “American” and “foreigner,” and all I can do is wonder what they are saying about me. It is a strange feeling. I am also hoping I can find other ways to connect with the kid,s because I am used to connecting with conversation.

Life in Korea has definitely been a challenge. As you all know, we travel a lot, but neither Davo nor I have ever been to a country that speaks as little English as Korea. We went to a restaurant the other day and put up two fingers and ordered “two” because we could not read the menu and we don’t speak Korean. We got “two” and luckily it was delicious. At the bus stop we look like a comedy show, and at the grocery it is a game of guess and check. In countries with roman letters a lot of the time you can make educated guesses about what something is or what it means. Here, you are fresh out of luck and everything looks like gibberish. I think Davo and I will learn a lot more Korean than we originally thought, because you can’t even get a taxi home if you don’t know how to say it in Korean! Luckily, our co-teachers help us out with a lot of things like getting a bank account, moving into our apartment, talking to our landlord, assisting with the ARC card, and internet but it is a strange feeling being completely dependent on a person you met a week ago.

Having a sense of humor here is crucial. In our bathroom the sink is connected to the shower, similar to how the bathtubs at home are connected to the shower. In order to turn on the shower you turn a knob on the sink that makes the water flow to the shower instead of the sink. The shower is just in the bathroom and everything in the bathroom gets wet when it is on, no curtain. So, the other day I am getting ready for school. I am all ready for school, and I go to wash my hands and BAM the water was not changed back to the sink and I got a shower in my clothes! Next I will tell you about the trash… o-boy is it hard core even for us earth loving hippies! Later for now!

First Day of School

Good news. Sara and I survived our first day of work! It was a whirlwind, and neither of us entirely understand everything that happened. However, we’re back at school for day two, so it couldn’t have been too disastrous.

First thing in the morning, we had a meeting with all of the teachers in the school. They had me come up to the front and said, “Introduce yourself.” So I said a few things. “I’m from Chicago. It’s my first time in Korea. I’m excited to teach your students. Blah blah blah.” I finished and set the microphone down.

They all just stared at me. Clearly, I was missing some sort of cultural cue. Not sure what it was. It happened again later in the day when I had a meeting with all of my fellow English teachers. Oh, culture.

Classes so far have been pretty good. I’ve just been introducing myself, letting them ask questions about me, and telling them about my family, Chicago, and my hobbies. Pretty routine. Next week I’ll jump in with actual lessons. The kids are very well behaved for the most part. I’ve also got a Korean co-teacher in the classroom with me at all times. At my school there are 6 other English co-teachers (all of them Korean) who cycle in and out with my various classes. My primary co-teacher is 한나 (Hannah).

Still no internet at home. Hopefully soon!

So aside from completely bungling introductions, things seem to be going pretty smoothly. Day 1 of teaching English: Success.

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