I am a Middle School Teacher

So we’ve officially been in our new city for three weeks! And during this time, I’ve done a terrible job keeping up a flow of updates.  Sorry about that.  It seems that, for the past couple of weeks, it has been success enough to continue adjusting to a foreign land.  After work, we barely have enough energy to walk two blocks to our neighborhood market to pick up bread, let alone process into words every change our lives have undergone these last few weeks.  But I think we can finally say we are adjusted to the reality that we aren’t going home next week after a lovely Asian vacation.  We are here to stay.  This is our new “home.”  At least until the next grand adventure. 

My primary middle school!

My primary middle school!

So, I’m a teacher.  Two years ago, I would have never guessed that every week, I would be standing at the front of a classroom, teaching over 600 students who barely speak my language.  Each day requires every ounce of my creativity, as I am continuously searching out successful methods to communicate to a bunch of angsty teens who’d rather be listening to E.X.O. or beating LoL than playing bingo with English vocabulary words.

And I absolutely love it.

Each week I teach at two middle schools in our little town.  My primary school is the local public middle school.  Here I teach 15 different classes of 7th, 8th, and 9th graders.  My classes emphasize the listening and speaking aspects of language.  The students are a wide range of completely dedicated to completely uninterested, completely crazy ( I get an average of around twenty TEACHER WILL YOU MARRY ME’s a day), and completely adorable ( I had one sweet little boy bashfully admit to me he liked to sing, and then not-so-bashfully break into a ballad for the whole class to hear!).

My adorable seventh graders!

My adorable seventh graders!

My secondary school is an all-boys Catholic school.  A little bit of a shock here, as I wasn’t told it was all-boys, and discovered this forgotten detail the minute I walked into my first class.  I quickly adjusted to the 40 pairs of little eyes staring at me, and pulled out my feeble knowledge of popular Kpop girl bands!  Apink, you saved my skin, as my boys have officially given me the stamp of approval, after I let them each take turns saying which girl in the band they thought was prettiest. 

The native teachers at each school have been so welcoming to me, and I am already making good friends with the sweet gray-haired history teacher who sits next to me in the teacher’s office.  We enjoy using Google images to help communicate back and forth about various subjects (Last week, he pointed to the computer screen and proudly exclaimed: “Jimmy Carter! Handsome boy! Favorite president!”).  Several times a week we will end the day with one of the teachers running out to get a big box of food from a neighboring street vendor.  We’ll gather around the little table, break out the disposable chopsticks, and commune together over deep-fried squid, marinated rice cakes, and Sundae (rice noodles cooked in pork blood, stuffed into a pig intestine).

My co-workers are incredible! We may not speak the same language, but their kindness is evidenced every day by sweet little gifts and welcoming smiles.

My co-workers are incredible! We may not speak the same language, but their kindness is evidenced every day by sweet little gifts and welcoming smiles.

Brady teaches at two elementary schools.  His primary school is on the other side of the road from mine, allowing us to walk to and from school together every day.  DREAM COME TRUE.  I can’t tell you how awesome it feels to see my sweet husband’s silhouette coming up the sidewalk to pick me up after class, and walk side by side with him home, sharing the funny things our students did that day.

Brady has had an awesome experience so far.  I always knew he would be the perfect elementary teacher!  He is excited to start incorporating his passion for art into his classroom, encouraging the kids to make their English endeavors artistically creative.  Being young and cute and innocent, Brady’s students love to sing every day in class, and are extremely affectionate and helpful (He told me today that he tried to make them play a competitive game in class, dividing the kids into teams.  The students refused to let anyone lose, and every winner stopped to help the struggling students finish the task!). 

Well, lesson planning is calling my name, so this teacher better hit the books before heading to bed.

Becoming Expats

I can’t believe we’ve already been in our new country for two weeks!  The time has flown by, and we’ve hardly had a chance to recognize each transition, as they’ve all come at break-neck speed.  We are quickly adjusting to the fact that we are not tourists cheerfully observing a new culture with the comfort of a roundtrip ticket in our back pocket.  We are expats, embracing the reality that this is now home.  And so far, we couldn’t be happier about it!

EPIK Teacher Orientation

The past nine days, we have been located at a university campus in Deajeon, where we have survived a grueling yet rewarding teacher training orientation.  Every new public school English teacher in Korea must go through intensive training put on by the National Institute for International Education (NIIED). The English Program in Korea, commonly known as EPIK, is well known for its high standards for teacher applicants, and excellence and proficiency in training and implementing those teachers in the Korean public school system.  Our orientation affirmed our expectations in the program.  We have come out filled with practical teaching knowledge, a broad network of experienced support staff, and dozens of fellow foreign teacher friends!

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2015 Spring EPIK Orientation

Jeonju Hanok Village (전주한옥마을)

On one of the days we were given a break from the brutal lecture schedule and explored a traditional Korean village: Jeonju Hanok Village.  With over a thousand-year-old history, Jeonju Hanok Village has so many interesting aspects of Korean culture to offer.  Below are just a few:

Bibimbap (비빔밥):  Jeonju is famous nation-wide for its Bibimbap!  This traditional Korean dish is served as a bowl of hot rice mixed with “namul” (sautéed vegetables) raw or fried egg, flavored with either soy sauce, “doenjang” (soybean paste), or “gochujang” (chili pepper paste).

Bibimbap (비빔밥)

Bibimbap (비빔밥)

Hanok (한옥):  Hanok traditional style Korean homes are easily identified by their beautiful upturned roofs (“Cheoma”).  Hanok homes are where Korea’s famous “Ondol” heated floor system originated.  Even in historic times, Koreans were environmentally conscious and built their Hanok homes with all-natural, recyclable, nonpolluting materials.  The Cheoma roofs can be adjusted to control exposure to sunlight inside the home, and the “Hanji” (paper) windows allow air to circulate.

Hanok Traditional Korean Homes

Hanok Traditional Korean Homes

Hanok architectere is easily identified by the upturned corners of the roof.

Hanok architectere is easily identified by the upturned corners of the roof.

Jeondong Catholic Church (전동성당):  Built in 1908-1914, Jeondong Catholic Church stands as a memorial marking the spot of the first Korean Christian martyrs: Yun Chi’-ch’ung and Kwon Sang-yon in 1781.  Jeonju city is the historic seat of the Joseon Dynasty.  Christian faith was then seen as a threat to the state established Confucian system.  In 1801, several prominent leaders of the early Christian church were also executed on this spot.  It is said that the cornerstones used to build the church were stones taken from the very gate the martyrs were hung from.

Jeondong Catholic Church, memorial to Christian martyrs of Korea.

Jeondong Catholic Church, memorial to Christian martyrs of Korea.

The Philosophy of Taekwondo

On a separate day, we were lucky enough to take a class on the Philosophy of Taekwondo from a Korean university Taekwondo master instructor!  For two hours, the gym was a chaotic throng of struggling Westerners attempting basic stances and kicks, peppered with the instructor’s laughter at our clumsiness!

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I thinks that’s all I have time for tonight!  Next I will give an update on our first few days discovering the city we will be teaching in and our new apartment!

Thank you all for following along and keeping us in your prayers!

Discovering Hongdae

Tonight I’m cozying it up in a cheerful coffee shop in Seoul, husband by my side, celebrating the end of a successful first few days in Korea! The week has been non-stop, and we can feel the toll of the extreme transition we’ve endured starting to wear on us.  For the most part, we’ve been pretty good at fighting the desire to lock the door, pull on the sweats, curl into the fetal position, and succumb to hibernation.  It hasn’t been hard to stay active, now that we find ourselves in the middle of one of the world’s most vibrant cities!      

Every morning, we wake up to the distant drone of a stereo outside in the alley by our guest house, blaring some recorded announcement.  It’s the same four or five-word phrase, over and over.  I wish I knew what it was saying, it’s obviously pretty important for them to play it so often.  And at seven in the morning, I also wish I knew how to turn it off!

After this harsh wake-up call, we stumble downstairs to the main floor of the guest house for our complimentary toast.  I always try to make some friendly conversation with fellow guest-house visitors.  However, we have yet to find other foreigners who speak any English.  Even though we’re in the capital city, success at finding English speakers has been a challenge, and has required us to hone our survival Korean language skills. 

We have quickly fallen in love with Seoul, and are becoming familiar with the vibrant neighborhood surrounding us.  Hongdae is a trendy and diverse corner of the city, filled with some of the country’s current leading music, art, food, and fashion.  It would take a lifetime to uncover all the treasures Hongdae has to offer.  I will offer you a peak at just a few:

Street Food

Around 11am every morning, vendors begin to open their shop fronts, turn on the burners, and send a tantalizingly delicious and diverse array of smells wafting across the bustling street.  Street food has always been one of my top favorite experiences of exploring a new culture, and Korea and not disappointed!

A blueberry

A blueberry “Long-ffle” from the Long Waffle stand! According to a local, if a couple can hold a kiss for three minutes solid, they are awarded a free waffle! We held onto our dignity and paid in cash.

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Cat and Dog Cafes

Hongdae is home to several adorable animal cafes designed to provide animal therapy to any traveler in need of a snuggle buddy!  At Hello Cat! Cafe, guests are provided with a wide variety of coffee beverages, to pair with their choice of furry friend.  Needless to say, it was easy to while away an entire afternoon in the company of a dozen kittens curled up on your lap!

For the small price of 2000 won, you can purchase packaged meat-like product, and thus the affection of of every feline in the room!

For the small price of 2000 won, you can purchase packaged meat-like product, and thus the affection of of every feline in the room!

Cats have a thing for my husband.

Cats have a thing for my husband.

Napping kitties for days.

Napping kitties for days.

Street Art

We are careful to always keep our eyes peeled for interesting art around the city.  Whether it’s with an interactive 2D mural, a blank canvas outside a coffee shop with pastels at the ready for the passerby’s use, or a staircase in a back alley splattered with a colorful design, Hongdae’s artist community has done its part in keeping the neighborhood beautiful. 

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Fashion

Ahhhh!!! The fashion here is everything I love!  When my husband kept remarking on how much I would enjoy window shopping in SK, I was a little skeptical.  All my concern floated away the first time I strolled down one of the main streets strewn with open-front clothing boutiques.  My audible squeals of joy and thanksgiving could be heard by all when I found my first Korean second-hand, thick, baggy sweater shop!  As my finger-tips stroked the long rack of gloriously chunky patterned works of art, I knew I was going to be okay in this new home of mine!

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Coffee shop is closing, and it’s a ten minute walk through the bustling crowds and crisp night air back to the guest house.  Goodnight from a very happy, sleepy traveler!

Thanks for letting me join your linkup party Mari’s World!

A New Chapter

This morning finds us sleep deprived, scatter-brained, nervous, and expectant.  Today is the beginning of a new adventure.

I can’t remember the last time I felt such sweet victory.  It worked. We did it. This is really happening.  After twelve months of intense dedication, we can now safely say that we have achieved a long-anticipated dream.

For anyone who might not know, today Brady and I are moving to South Korea.  We have spent the past year jumping through the hoops required of prospective expats: earning ESL teaching certificates, selling/giving/throwing away our possessions, quitting our jobs, selling our cars, giving away our cat, all the while stumbling through an endless maze of government paperwork.  There were so many days where we looked at each other and laughed, saying, “you know, it’ll be crazy if this actually works.”  But it did.  The bags are packed.  The paperwork is complete.   The goodbyes have been said.  The flight will soon be boarding.