Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Volleyball, Bamboo, and Teaching with Allergies

September 22nd was an interesting day for me. It was the day I found out that I had been 'recruited' for the teachers' volleyball team. A 4th grade male teacher was talking to my co-teacher and making volleyball movements with his arms. That was all before they were discussing my size for my uniform. So I just put two and two together. That's right...this is no leisurely game. It is an intense nine-man set-up where we travel to different elementary schools and play other teacher teams.

So Wednesday began like any other. Then 2:10pm hit and it was game time. The PE teacher came to my office to get me. I had already changed into my activity clothes by this time, so I was just going with the flow. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. We walked downstairs and outside where he handed me a uniform and told me to get in the car with my principal and the schools business manager. Neither spoke to me on the ride there (I don't think they really could) so I just sat in the back and tried to keep from laughing at the whole situation. We arrived at the school and began our warm up. I was just stared at like they had never seen a foreigner before...it was a little uncomfortable. Then a really sweet woman who spoke great English came to talk to me. She said everyone was intimidated that I was really good, they thought maybe I played in college. I had to assure her that my only volleyball experience included middle school, the beach, and college intramurals...I was no where near intimidating. While I was 'fraternising with the enemy,' the business manager at my school kept eyeing me to warm up with him. He scares me a little. He is very intense and takes his volleyball very seriously. I warmed up with him for about 25 minutes. By this time, I was exhausted and sweating profusely...and the game hadn't began yet.

When the other team walked in I had to hold in my laughter. Once again, I thought this was just a "hey let's get our schools together and hit around a bit" kind of thing. No...they walked in, uniforms on, short little shorts, knee pads, and actual volleyball shoes. One man even had his fingers taped! I was thinking...ok...I obviously didn't get the knee pad memo...are these people really going to dive for the ball....do I have to?

The whistle blew and it was show time. I wished I could have observed for a while but they through my right into the action. I quickly realized my role and why I was there. Each team has to have at least three women playing...I seemed to be number three and we were all put in the back. Remember how I said it was nine man volleyball? Ya...well that is entirely too many people on the court at the same time. The three of us women hardly ever touched the ball, except to serve, I kinda of think that was the point. But I did serve very well thank you.

I learned afterward that it was only a practice game. We had another practice game on Friday and just this past Monday. This Wednesday, the 30th, is an actual game...it should be interesting! All in all...except for the fact that I don't have a translator, no one really explained the rules to me, the Korean criticism when I make a mistake, and the sweaty long sleeved uniforms without air conditioning...it's really fun! I'm glad I was asked to participate. I'll keep you updated on how our 'season' goes.

Saturday Andrew and I decided to continue our adventures to see the ''12 Scenic Sites of Ulsan" adventure. It was really cloudy and expected to rain so we didn't want to go too far from home. We decided to check out the Bamboo Forrest just off the Taehwagang River. Once again, the only directions we had was which bus to get on. It failed to tell us where to get off. This time we thought we were smart and brought a map. It didn't go too well. To make another long story of us getting lost short, we found it eventually and were not as impressed as we thought we would be. It was neat yes, but we learned it had been man made which kind of took the impressive factor down a bit. We were so exhausted after walking so much when we were lost, that we took a few pictures then returned home. It was kind of a bust. But on the bright side, we can cross it off our list. Bamboo Forrest....been there...done that.

I am beginning to experience what it's like to have allergies for the first time. I ran into another foreign teacher who said the same thing. So we have self diagnosed that it's allergies. It's awful! I mean the sneezing, running nose, congestion...it makes teaching a bit more challenging that's for sure. Oh...another week of teaching. I don't have any exciting stories for you. I just took a few more photos because they are so dang cute! These photos are of some students playing a memory game that I created. They had a blast and got so competitive. It's quite hilarious! Check out the excitement on number 69s expression! I love it!

Well this weekend is Chusok, Korean Thanksgiving, so I have off Friday and Monday! I'm pretty excited! You'll have to wait until my next post to find out where I go!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Teaching and a Temple

Let's see...some interesting teaching experiences this past week...

Experience #1: Well, Mondays, I teach 3rd grade all day. I decided that we needed to play a game to help the kids learn different kinds of food (mainly fruits). I decided to print about ten different pictures of food off the net and hang them on the chalk board. I divided the class into two teams. Team Green and Team Red. Each team was given a color coordinating fly swatter and the object of the game was to smack the food picture that I said. If I said, "I like apples," they would smack the apple. The first person to hit it get a point for their team. If I said, "I don't like apples," and they smacked the picture, they lost a point. Understand? Good.
Well, in the first class it got a little rough. I was just having them use their hands to smack the cards. Kids were running into each other, smacking the chalk board with their bodies, hitting each other...I honestly thought someone was going to lose a tooth or something. It was beginning to get a little physical, so by the next class I found the two fly swatters. I thought the safety problem was solved. Key word... thought. Well this one adorable boy in the back so so excited it was his turn, he ran to the front of the room, slipped and smacked his face right into the corner of the teachers metal desk. I about had a heart attack as he was rolling on the floor, holding his leg and face with the swatter still in hand. I looked at my other co-teacher, Ms. Roh, in horror as she was asking him if he was okay. Meanwhile...they were having this agonizing conversation in Korean...and I had no idea what was being said. All I knew was that his cheek was beginning swell and was already bruising. He stood up, limping and holding his face. I assumed that he was going to the nurse. But Ms. Roh told me he wanted to have his turn before he went. My heart broke. It was so cute...but so sad because I felt so horrible. He did end up winning his turn if you were wondering.

Experience #2: I have one sixth grade class in the afternoons on Tuesdays. As I was walking to the classroom with Johnson, he informed me that he had a meeting and would not be teaching with me, but I would be fine to teach alone. I thought he was kidding. I had not materials! He told me to just do the reading, writing, and singing part of the DVD and that should be the 40 minute. He came into the classroom with me to set the CD up. It was not working at all and then he told me sorry but he had to leave...then he left. It was me and 33 sixth graders with a massive communication barrier. I had no material and now to CD. So I just made the whole thing up. They had n idea what I was saying so I had to act out a lot of words and draw a lot of pictures. It was finally a success when they drew me a picture of what they did on their vacation (since that was what the last lesson was about). Some students even wrote some sentences! It was a proud moment.

Experience #3: So as I was leaving school exhausted, I went to bow out to the principal when I noticed him in his sweatsuit on the front step with a few other older men. They were watching soccer practice and drinking. (Oddly enough, it's not out of the ordinary for the teachers to drink at school.) He waved me over to sit with them. I looked at my co-teacher Johnson and he told me to go. My Principal poured me a glass of "wine" in a Dixie cup. What I understood was that it was a Korean traditional wine. All I could tell was that it smelled normal and had rice chunks in it. I took a sip and he immediately corrected me and said, "one shot!" Then he shot his wine, and poured the cup over his head to prove that it was empty...however, it wasn't completely empty and it ended up dripping down his face, but he didn't bat an eye. So as they say, when in Korea, do as the Koreans do. So I drank it in one sip and they clapped. He asked me if I wanted more but I just politely said no thank you, maybe later. I had to reflect on what just happened...

Experience #4: Wednesday was teacher activity day again. We played kickball and volleyball this time...no other traditional Korean games. It was really fun and we all had a good time. Afterwards, we went and had refreshments. This included: beer of course, aloe juice, orange pineapple juice, some type of clam, and a fish fry. I am not one for fish but I told myself that I would try anything. They literally just put the entire fish on the grill...scales and all. Then put it on a plate. Once I got past their eyeballs and their scales...the meat was actually pretty good. The dipping sauce was delicious which helped.

Saturday was another 'get on a bus and pray we get off at the correct stop' kind of day. Andrew and I boarded bus number 1713, we were headed to the alps for some 'adventure' which is what the website told us. The only direction we were given was to get on either bus 803 or 1713 and get off when you are by a temple. So...after being on the bus an hour, we realized that we were the only ones left and the bus driver kept looking back at us through his rear view mirror. I told Andrew that maybe we were supposed to get off with everyone else and he doesn't know how to tell us. I began to get a little nervous. But then we saw it...a Temple! As the bus turned into a rest area/makeshift bus station, we realized that this was the last stop and our destination. So naturally we got off.

It wasn't until I asked Johnson on Monday which temple we were at that I learned we were at Seoknamsa, a Buddhist Temple located in Mt. Gaji. It is a 30-building temple of all women monks and famous for Zen meditation. The buildings were beautiful and the mountainous scenery was amazing! We noticed however a bunch of stacked rocks all over the place. I asked Johnson what that meant and he said people do that when they are making a wish or praying. We would have done it had we of known the purpose. We weren't sure if we could even touch them.
After the temple, we walked around on ground level again and came across a hiking trail. We began the hike up and after about 10 minutes we ran into a few monks on their way down. One woman said to us, "you're late." I looked a Andrew really confused. I asked her what we were late for and she just said we were late again. She was silent for a moment and then said, "It takes two and a half hours to climb up." It was already 3pm, so that's why she said we were late. Because by the time we walked down, it would be night. Andrew and I are in no way experienced hikers so we took her advice and stopped. We thanked her graciously and decided to get an earlier start next time.

On the bus ride home, we decided to get off at a stop a few ahead of our to look at some shops. I then spotted a McDonald's and had to have a fry break. When we left MickyD's, we ended up getting a little turned around and ended up lost for about an hour and a half. Mr. Andrew Directions didn't help the situation much, he just kept saying we will turn right at the next main street. THEY ARE ALL MAIN STREETS! I tried asking several people if they spoke English but it was hopeless. So after a long, exhausting walk, we spotted a familiar sight and made it home via Taxi.

As of this week...I am teaching and extra six hours a week via night classes on Monday's, Tuesday's, and Thursday's until 6:30pm. And Andrew teaches Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday night classes from 6:30pm to 8:30pm...so we really aren't seeing each other much which makes for a lonely dinner. It's for extra pay but coming up with six more hours of lesson plans for three different ages is difficult and exhausting...good thing it ends the second week in December...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

First Adventure in Ulsan

So Friday, Sept. 11th, at work, I decided that Saturday was going to be a day of exploration. So I looked up which bus would take me to the beach! I just wanted to walk around it, it wasn't hot enough to actually get in the water.

Saturday, with my bus list in hand, Andrew and I rode bus 127 for about 45 min. We got off when we thought we could see water. We guessed right and walked a little to get to Ilsan beach and the East Sea. The beach was small, kind of dirty and not really much to see. We were a bit disappointed and it was early in the day. We began just waling around and saw a steep set of stairs so we decided to climb up. Halfway through that climb we told each other that this had better be worth it. And it definitely was. At the top were several different paths to take depending on where you wanted to view the water.

We found out that we were in Daewangam Songrim (Pine Forest) and they say it's considered the second most magnificent spot on the East Coast after Haegeumgang. We began walking on a rocky path to see the famous Ulgi Lighthouse. It was beautiful and the views were breath taking.

From the lighthouse we took another path and found out that we were on the Daewangham Rock. "As legend has it, King Munmu, the 30th King of the Silla Dynasty achieved the Unification of the Countries of the Korean peninsula in AD 668. King Munmu use to express his desire to become a dragon after his death that would protect his kingdom from the enemies. When the king died he was buried under a great rock in the East Sea in accordance with his will and sublimated into the guardian dragon of the kingdom. People, therefore, call the rock 'Dae-Wang Am', which means 'The Rock of the Great King' and it is located in Yangbuk-myun, Kyongju. Meanwhile, the spirit of the Queen also became a guardian dragon of the Kingdom after she died since she could not forget her husbands noble will. Later the dragon flew to Ulsan and submerged herself under this rock right here to protect the East Sea. It is told that seaweed does not grow around this rock because of the dragon."
These rocks were so beautiful and the view was amazing! These pictures don't really do them justice but they are still pretty. We hope to get back there soon around sunset! We spent a few hours just exploring the area and all the different views and we didn't have a chance to go down all of the paths. It was a good day for sightseeing that we sorta just lucked into.

I have included just few other shots. One of them I thought was pretty cool. It's part of the rock formation with the Hyundai port in the background. As you have probably already guessed, Korea manufactures Hyundai cars as well as Kia right here in Ulsan. Every other car seems to be either a Kia or a Hyundai and I have seen some very cool looking Hyundai's that are not sold in the USA yet.

The picture to the left I thought was a very cool shot of a mini waterfall between the rocks. It's kind of hard to tell because the picture is so small. You could venture off the bridge and walk down the rocks to the water but it looked a little to unsafe for my liking. We ended up climbing some of the rocks to the left that weren't as steep and had a few more places for us to grip with our feet and hands.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Second Week of Teaching

So the weekend came and went. It was time to begin my first full week of school. However, I woke up on Monday morning with four mosquito bites on my neck and three on my face. It was miserable...I looked like I had some strange strand of chicken pox. I figured that the only part of my body that was exposed was my neck and face than those pesky bugs attacked me.

I arrived at school at my standard time of 8:40am and went to my office. The day was very similar to that of last week. I did a few more introductions and then went to lunch. Apparently I wasn't holding my tray properly because when my co-teacher poured me my soup, it burnt my hand through the tray. So basically my Monday consisted of me itching like crazy from the dang bites and nursing the blisters on two of my fingers due to inadequate tray holding...I couldn't wait to see what Tuesday was going to bring.

I woke up with yet another bite on Tuesday morning. I was thrilled. I decided to mention the situation to my co-teacher since I know he had to be wondering what was all over my face. He told me that the mosquitoes in Korea are awful, as if I didn't already figure that out, and he said I could go and buy some anti-itch cream on my lunch break. So after lunch we went to the pharmacy. I had no idea what they were saying...I'll I knew was that I paid about $2.50 for a tube that had a mosquito on it. I dabbed a little on my hand before trying it on my neck and face to make sure I didn't react. It proved to be okay...I just hope it was actually anti-itch cream and there were no special instructions that said 'only use once a day and avoid contact with face.'

Johnson told me that in addition to my 22 contract hours of teaching a week, the principal would like me to teach 4 additional classes a week in the English Plaza with Tessah. I agreed knowing that it would give me something to do in the afternoons that I have four hours to sit at my desk. I was also informed that I will be teaching an English class from 4:30pm to 6:30pm three times a week, and I will be compensated extra, so that's nice. The only downside is that I have to come up with six extra hours of lesson plans a week which I think will get challenging.

Later that afternoon, Tessah came up to my office to work a little bit and we were trying to get her computer connected to the Internet. Johnson called the computer guy at the school to come help. Ten minutes later, the computer guy called back saying that he couldn't come in to help because he was going to the hospital with one of his students who had just gotten hit by a car! Tessah and I immediately looked at Johnson asking if the kid was ok...he just nonchalantly said I'm sure and went about his business as if this was a common occurrence. With the way people drive here, I wouldn't be surprised.

Wednesday's have now proved to be my favorite working day of the week. When I arrived at school, Johnson told me that during lunch I would need to go home to get my 'activity clothes' because on Wednesdays, the staff meetings are a field day. I was like, whatever, and fetched my clothes after lunch. In Korea, building relationships is extremely important so they feel that getting together outside of a meeting room allows everyone to relax and have fun. I totally agree! 3pm rolls around and all of the staff members met outside on the play field. They split us into six teams to stretch and warm up. Then the competition began. The first game we played was jump rope. Each team had two people turning the rope and the four remaining teammates had to jump. My team was very interesting. It was Tessah, Johnson, me, and three other teachers. One who was in her early sixties. I thought we were doomed from the get go. I didn't think that this woman could jump for that long. I was very wrong and my team ended up winning! I thought my legs were going to fall off and I couldn't believe that the older woman could keep up...it was awesome! Everyone plays, contributes and it's so much fun! For winning, we were given toothbrushes as prizes! Johnson told me they were expensive and was very proud. I just found it very interesting.

The next game Johnson told me was a very traditional Korean game. It is similar to Hacky Sac except it looks like a pom-pom with with a flat plastic thing on the bottom. When I looked it the bottom of it, it had a picture of Santa Clause and said 'Made in China.' I just found that ironic for a traditional Korean game. Anyways, I was terrible and contributed nothing to my team.

The next game was the hoola-hoop. I love to hoola-hoop so I was ready to redeem my self. I was doing pretty well until the PE teacher began yelling different commands. Johnson was too busy paying attention to translate. So I just tried to follow. We had to walk forward, then backwards, then apparently lift one leg up all while still hoola-hooping. I didn't quite follow the last instruction very well and I ended up marching or something strange. All I know is that teachers were staring and my hoola-hoop dropped to the ground rather quickly to put me out of my misery. It was fun none the less.

After all the hoola-hooping, we took a little break. We were served juice, beer, and watermelon. Strange combination but very refreshing. I figured if I stayed away from the beer and let the other teachers have a little too much, I could get my edge back. haha.

The final event was their version of volleyball. It is pretty much the same except the net is as low as a tennis net and you can either use your arms, hands, head or feet to get the ball over. Everyone was pretty good at it and the principal took it very serious. We had a lot of fun and I can't wait for our next Wednesday staff meeting!

Later that night after I returned home, Andrew called to have me meet him and a few of his teachers for drinks. They were celebrating their big volleyball win. So around 7:30pm we all went to a bar near my school. They are an interesting bunch of characters and clearly had a little too much to drink before they even arrived. Their intoxication mixed with what little ability they had to speak English made for some interesting conversations. It was a good time though.

Thursday was pretty uneventful compared to Wednesday. I did get my Alien Registration card which allows me to finally get Internet in my apartment and my health insurance card...it was a big deal. Later that evening, my phone rang and Tessah was outside my door. She said she needed to vent to someone because she was having an "I hate Korea moment." See she hasn't had hot water or gas, or a cell phone for two weeks because she didn't have her alien card. For some reason, my apartment already had both so I was pretty lucky. Her problems have been resolved for now, don't worry.

Friday I actually got to teach for the first time since I finished up my introductions. It was a lot of fun. For the first 5th grade class however, my other co-teacher didn't show because she got caught in a meeting and I wasn't sure which lesson they were on so I sort of just made up the whole thing as I went and it actually turned out pretty good! I really think I am going to enjoy teaching.

First Week of School

I know it's been like two weeks since my last post...but I FINALLY have Internet in my apartment! A lot has happened in these past two weeks so let's recap...
My first day of teaching was on Tuesday, September 1st. I was still staying in that motel at this time so my walk to school was less than 3 min which was really nice. I get to school about 8:30am, so it's not too bad. When I arrived, my co-teacher Johnson met me at the front door, I changed into my 'school' shoes and went immediately to a staff meeting where my introduction was going to take place. I was nervous. Johnson had given me about five sentences in Korean to say to the staff once the principal introduced me. I practiced about a hundred times in the hotel and a few times on the short walk to school. We sat at long tables in the schools library. We were the first ones there, and as the other teachers filed in, I began to doubt what little Korean speaking ability I had. Then a glimmer of hope...another American teacher walked in!! Her name is Tessah, she is my age and a recent grad from the University of Oregon. She works in the English center at the school. It was her first day too, so at least I wasn't alone. The principal introduced me, I said my little paragraph and everyone clapped...I'm sure it was a sympathy applause, but at least they weren't glaring.

Once all the introductions were over, Johnson and I went to our office and worked on some paper work. He seemed to be in and out all day...so I just sat and read over the teacher's manual and lesson plans. About noon we went to lunch. It's a little different to say the least. The trays are metal and resemble what I imagine prison trays to look like. Each lunch consists of a soup and rice, and three different side dishes. The food is actually really good. Everything is extremely spicy so I end up drinking my entire water bottle to try to keep my eyes from watering and my nose from running...it gets a bit embarrassing because no one else drinks anything with lunch. I am really trying to master the art of using chopsticks. I am terrible but I have improved. I catch the teachers laughing a little when I use them and I am always getting corrected...but I'm ok with it since they know what they are doing. The kids find it amusing to watch me eat as well.

After lunch Johnson told me that I can move into my apartment. So we went to the hotel and hauled all my stuff to my new apartment that is literally across the street from my school, which is so great. It's very small, but I got lucky with some of the amenities that were left from the previous owner. She left a stereo system, toaster oven, microwave, shelves and lots of other little useful items. The complex seems relatively new and it has a nice security system which I am quite fond of. When you walk through the front door you are immediately in the kitchen. It had a fridge, microwave, stove and sink. Just off the kitchen is the bathroom. Then I have the dinning room, bedroom, living room combo. And then that leads into the super small utility room where I have a washer and closet. It's quaint but I think it's going to work out just fine.

I found out that I have 22 different classes to teach. I have six classes of sixth grade, six classes of fifth grade, five classes of fourth grade and five classes of third grade. It's rather exhausting and the smallest class I have is 31 students! So it's about 700 students I have the pleasure of teaching a week!! But they are all so adorable and well behaved. When ever I walk down the hall they are always saying "Hello Sarah Teacher!" and bowing to me. I still am not used to the whole bowing thing. Korea is a culture that prides themselves on respect which is great...I'm just used to a good 'ole hand shake.
I left school around 5pm, and arrived home about 5:01pm :) I made a trip to Home Plus to get some hangers and a little bit of groceries. Came home and unpacked for literally about two hours just trying to get things organized!

Day two of school was more like a day of running errands. After looking for the nurses office for about 15 min to get my temperature checked (part of my daily routine), Johnson and I went to the bank so that I could deposit the money I had been carrying around as well as exchange some remaining US dollars. We ended up going to several different banks so that I could get a good exchange rate, which I appreciated, but it was still all kind of a pain in the butt. We went back to school to eat a delicious lunch and then we picked up Tessah so he could take us both to get our Alien Registration cards. We got lost on the way there but finally made it. We waited in a long line to register and then we had to wait a week for them to come in. I was so embarrassed to attach my passport photo to the registration form. I had to get one taken here since I didn't have anymore...and needless to say, it looks like a mug shot. The woman would not let me smile...she slicked my hair behind my ears and didn't even tell me when she was taking the picture...it's awful and I hope I never have to show the card to anyone. When my co-teacher saw the picture...he couldn't stop laughing.

On the way back from registering, instead of going right back to school, Johnson took us to a Whale museum right off of the port. It was pretty cool and some of the pictures they had from when Whaling was legal, were just amazing. It was a nice little cultural outing. Finally we got back to school and I showed Johnson the powerpoint that I made to introduce myself to the classes. He really liked it and when he saw the photo of some of my friends (Sarah Montgomery), he whispered that he really likes tall women! Haha...I thought you might like that Monty!

Thursday the 3rd was the first day that I actually got to begin introducing myself to the classes. I met with four of the fifth grade classes and showed them my powerpoint. Every picture they saw they would literally "ohhh and aww" over. After the slideshow, I give them the rest of the time to ask me questions. I got some of the strangest questions. The first two that I always got were how old I am and how tall I am. They think I am like this amazon woman when I tell them my height. Then I give them the height of the rest of my family and they can not believe it. They all just gasp...it's really cute. I have also been asked my blood type several times, (they all know theirs), my favorite type of clothing fabric, and just really odd questions...but it was kind of fun, until the 22nd time I had to do it. That's right...I had to introduce myself 22 freakin' times!!

Also, Thursday was the day that I noticed the kids clean the school themselves! They mop the floors, vacuum, clean the windows, bathrooms everything. It's actually a great idea because they keep it a lot cleaner during the day so they don't have as much work to do later.

School wise, Friday was pretty much identical to Thursday. Did some more introductions, went to lunch, worked on some activities for the students to do, sweat ed to death (there is no air conditioning), and went home. However Friday night, Andrew and I met Tessah at the bus stop where we went down to the Ulsan University area. She had been their several times but we hadn't. It's a very cool little bar strip and out door shops. We went to a western type bar for a little while and had Johnson meet us there. We saw several other EPIK people down there which was cool. Tessah had to leave to meet some friends so we just decided to walk around and feel the place out. There were several people dressed up as giant bottles of Soju (their vodka) and handing out bottles for free! Andrew and I managed to get six between the two of us so we called it a successful night. We thought Johnson was leading us out of the bar area and back to the bus stop but he had another agenda.

He took us to MyPark. It was a Karaoke place. I am not quite sure how to explain it. It was a building with a bunch of little rooms and I felt like it's what a brothel would be like. You walk up and down the hallways until a room is available. Andrew, Johnson and I crammed ourselves into a closet type room with a flat screen, two microphones and a song book. I just looked at Andrew like what the heck are we doing here. Johnson shoved the songbook in my lap and told me to go first. I was like ok...what the heck. I could hear the group next to us belting it out and they were just awful, so I felt a little more confident. Next was Andrew then Johnson. Johnson sang an old Carpenters song which was hilarious and actually pretty good, then Andrew and Johnson sang a duet to 'Take Me Home Country Road.'

Saturday and Sunday I just did tons of laundry and relaxed. I needed to prepare for my first full week of school.