Tag Archives: chicago

Warm Desks

It’s one of those weeks. One that baffles most and provokes teachers in America to an irate frenzy. This week I am desk warming. It’s 95 degrees outside, 83 in my classroom (with the AC at full), and I’m keeping my warm desk company.

The kids are all gone on summer vacation. I have summer camp until I leave, but for some reason there is no class this week. So I will sit at my desk and get paid to watch YouTube videos. “Why?” you may ask. “Why is Korea paying you to literally do nothing? Why can’t you go on vacation, or at least stay home? Why are you coming in to work for no reason instead?”

Rule #1 of Life in Korea: Don’t ask questions that you don’t know the answer to.

Alright, so I’m not just watching YouTube videos.  I’m trying to be productive and forward-looking. I’m leaving Korea in a couple weeks, and I’ll be landing back in Chicago (jobless as yet) within a month. So this week I’m focusing on applying for jobs. I’ve got a dozen apps out, a few solid leads, and even an interview later this week. Hopefully that goes well. I’ve been looking mostly at web development jobs. We’ll see where I land.

YouTube: Check. Job applications: Check. Next on the docket: Prepping to leave. This includes auctioning off all of our stuff that we’re not bringing home with us. Anyone need a blender? Mattress topper? Dehumidifier? Going once. Going twice. Then there are the goodbyes. Last weekend we made our last trip down to Busan to say goodbye. This coming weekend we’ll be heading to Seoul for the last time. We’re also taking a quick and long-overdue tour to the DMZ. In two weekends will be our going away party.

Overall I’m pretty excited about going home. I will certainly miss certain aspects about life in Korea. Free time is abundant, booze and cabs are cheap, and money is bountiful. It’s a carefree lifestyle that is simply impossible to maintain in Chicago. That said, there is plenty to look forward to in Chicago: our church, good friends, the cats, our neighborhood, and our house.

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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.


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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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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