Tag Archives: korea

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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Go to Geojedo

Last weekend to celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary, Sara and I headed two hours south to Geojedo. Geojedo is a little island paradise at the very tip of the Korean peninsula, known for it’s seafood and natural beauty. We spent two days exploring a sleepy seaside town and the surrounding area.

After dropping off our bags at a cute hotel overlooking the seashore, we headed into town and explored a bit. After wadding into the icy water at the black pebble beach, we stopped in a little restaurant for some fresh seafood.

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This was actually a historic moment for the two of us. It was the first time in our 10 months in Korea that we voluntarily ordered fish at a restaurant. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Korean food, and I love seafood. However, most Korean seafood isn’t quite to my taste. As I explained to my coteachers (and blew their minds in the process), most Americans like fish; we just don’t like our fish to taste like fish. Not so here in Korea. Needless to say, Sara and I were nervous about trying fish, but it was actually pretty good!

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After dinner we headed back to the hotel and watched the sun set. There was even a rainbow! We befriended the hotel owner and his daughter (who spoke excellent English). They helped us plan our activities for the next day, and we ended up chatting with them for over an hour.

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The next morning we headed to the other side of the bay (under the rainbow in the picture above). We spent the first half of the afternoon exploring the purply-red, rocky shore.

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We then boarded a ferry which took us around Haegeumgang. These towering stones jutting out of the ocean have been named the #2 scenic site in all of Korea. They are fascinating to observe from afar. You can even see a cave that the ocean has carved out of a fissure in the stone.

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We quickly found out that you get to see the cave from closer than afar. The captain piloted the boat in until we had less than a foot of clearance on either side. It was a little scary, but pretty cool at the same time.

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From there the ferry headed over to Oedo. The entire island has been converted into a garden. We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the winding, immaculately manicured, Dr. Seuss-esque paths.

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It was a wonderfully relaxing weekend. Our only regret is that we didn’t know about this place sooner! It’s hard to believe that such a beautiful place exists just two hours away.

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Spring is here!

Spring is here in Ulsan, and so is our old roommate, Corrinn!

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Spring is here!

The weather has been pretty consistently in the 60s, occasionally dipping below into the 50s or reaching up into the 70s. It even got up to 76 a few weekends back. Trees are beginning to bloom. In a few weeks, cities all over Korea will start hosting their annual cherry blossom festivals. Sara and I are signed up to go!

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Flowers blooming

We were both stoked when Corrinn emailed us and said she wanted to come visit. She flew in on Wednesday, and is staying for a week. On Saturday, we decided to trek up to Gyeongju. Located 45 minutes north of Ulsan, Gyeongju was the capital of Korea until the 900s. Seolwi (Bella), one of Sara’s friends, was an excellent tour guide. We visited Yangdong, a traditional Korean village, and Bulguksa. Yangdong was fascinating. The village looks like one would image Korea looked like 500 years ago. Despite its antiquated look, it’s entirely populated by normal Koreans living normal lives. Sure, there’s a satellite dish here and a parked car there. Otherwise, it looks like medieval Korea. Constructed in 528 Bulkguksa is a temple that was the seat of Korean Buddhism. Of all of the temples we’ve visited here in Korea, I would say it is the most beautiful. After a day of touring, Seolwi took us to her mom’s Korean restaurant for some delicious authentic food.

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Me, Sara, Seolwi and Corrinn at Bulguksa

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Lots of details on the temple roof

Saturday morning I woke up feeling a little achy and tired. It only got worse that night, so yesterday I went to the doctor. He informed me that I have the flu. Booooo! He loaded me up with drugs and told me to take it easy the next couple days. I stayed home and rested while Sara and Corrinn went on an adventure to Busan.

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Beatiful woodwork everywhere

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Bulguksa Temple

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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.

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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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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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