Tag Archives: korean

Language Learning Adventures

One of the most effective, most basic methods of learning a language is mimicry. Babies are all about it, and it works pretty well for them. They pick up language faster than anyone else. (OK, they may have some other advantages, but whatevs.) Often if I’m in public with nothing to do, no one around, and some time to kill (such as on the bus, waiting to meet a friend, etc.), I’ll quietly repeat things I hear to practice Korean. I’ll parrot the radio, an overheard conversation, the bus stop announcer lady, whatever.

There’s a coffee shop that I stop in at nearly every morning on my walk to work. It’s a buck for an Americano. The coffee is crap, but it’s cheap, and Korea is generally lacking in quality coffee, so I don’t feel too cheated. I’ve gotten to know most of the women who work at the shop; they know me and my order. About a month ago, I noticed that they always say the same phrase every time that I leave. I’m not quite sure about the Korean, but it’s something like “taoseyo” (다오세요). They’d always say it right before I walked out the door, after they’d thanked me for my business. So I figured it was some form of a farewell. Perhaps, “See ya later,” or, “Have a good one.”

I decided to employ my stellar language learning technique, and wished them a “다오세요” back. I’m sure I butchered the pronunciation, but who cares!? For the next few weeks, I would always wish them a “다오세요” back before leaving the store. I was quite proud of myself for picking up a new phrase all by myself.

Then one evening Sara and I were having dinner with her coteachers. As we were talking something one of them said sounded familiar to this phrase. I realized to my delight that I had someone here who could probably understand my hackjob pronunciation enough to translate this mystery farewell phrase. I asked her what it meant. It took me repeating it a couple times, but she finally understood me.

“Ah!” she said. “다오세요. It means, ‘Come visit us again soon!'”

I promptly stopped using the phrase at the coffee shop.

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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 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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Summer Camp

Remember going to camp when you were a kid? Boys weren’t allowed in the girls’ cabins, and vice versa. Everyone snuck out past curfew to meet up with their crushes or had to sneak them into their room without getting caught. Life feels about like that right now.

We’re at Ulsan’s new teacher orientation, and they don’t have couple housing. So Sara’s in a dorm room with a bunch of other women, and I’m in my dorm room with a bunch of guys. On the upside, we’ve made a lot of friends with all the other teachers, which is great! There’s some pretty cool folks here that we’ve enjoyed getting to know. While the majority are from USA and Canada, there are also a number of Brits, Aussies and South Africans. It makes for a fun mix. On the downside, having a summer camp girl friend has been pretty obnoxious. Oh well. We’ll be in our new home by the end of the week.

Which, by the way, we’re excited about! We’re going to be in 연암동 YeonAm Dong (literally, ‘soft rock neighborhood’), which is northeast of the city, right beside the airport. I’ve marked our schools on a Google Map. I will be teaching middle school, and Sara will teach elementary school.

Orientation so far has been primarily a crash course in Korean and an introduction to 울산 Ulsan. We’ve explored the three major expat hangout spots already. Last night we went out with some other new teachers and made friends with several other teacher who have been here for a while. We also had some delicious, late-night, street-food momos! Mmmmm. I could get used to that.

Today was our day off, so we tried to go see the new Batman movie, but it was sold out when we arrived. Instead, we spent our time exploring the grocery store and taking an inventory on the food situation. As it turns out, it looks like we’ll probably be able find a lot more of the food we’re used to cooking than we initially supposed. Some items were very expensive, like olive oil. We even found cheese, although the prices for it were listed in body parts rather than Korean Won.

We’re hoping to get our cell phones by Tuesday. We should also be in our new apartment by Friday. Classes start Monday. Woohoo!

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