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!
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. (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!