Hagwon? I hardly know won!

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Better Busy Than Bored March 20, 2011

I haven’t written in a good long while because I have been one busy little beaver.

In February I spent a week in Bangkok and fell in love with Thailand. The food, the architecture, the hospitality, the weather. I loved it all. For every dog that isn’t in Seoul there are five running feral on the streets on Bangkok. There must have been a table tennis tournament in town, because people kept asking if we wanted to see a ping pong show. My life flashed before my eyes every time I sat in a tuk tuk.

I took a zip line tour through the rain forest which is the single most fun thing I have ever done in my life. Flight of the Gibbon picks you up in Bangkok, drives you out to the forest, you get to see some of the wildlife in a small and very up close and personal zoo, and then you zip line from tree top to tree top.

Just... Hanging Out!

Zip lining through the Thai rain forest

On a bike tour through the Thai country side with Absolute Explorer, I got to see shrimp, fish, and rice farms, even more wildlife, experience authentic Thai culture and have lunch at the mayor’s house.

Biking through the Thai country side

Taking a bike ride between rice patties

I met my parent’s foreign exchange student. Irene and her father showed us around for a whole day. We got to see Bangkok with Bangkokians, the Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha, an elephant show, the restaurant inspired by the world-famous Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng Bunker. It was a tornado of hospitality.

The week in Thailand is the happiest I’ve ever seen Doug in our 10 years together. I fell so deeply in love with the Land of Smiles that we are now planning to move there this fall.

Kin, our friend who has been at the Hopyeong branch as long as we have, has finished his contract. After spending a few weeks traveling, he will go back to Colorado on Tuesday. It’s a pretty big bummer.

The crew one last time

Saying goodbye to Kin

The teacher who was hired to replace Kin bailed on us leaving us one teacher short at the very last-minute. This means that we’ve all had to pick up the slack. At the same time, our school opened a new kindergarten. So in addition to teaching 40 hours a week (to those of you who don’t teach, that’s a lot of classroom hours) I’m also teaching 3 and 4 year olds who don’t speak a word of English how to stand in a line, how to sit still, and how to sneeze into a tissue.

The good news is this, I prefer being over worked to under-worked. I like just a little stress in my life. It keeps me on my toes, makes me feel accomplished. I’m making good money. I’ve worked 60 hour weeks back home and still only brought home about $600 for that week. Not the case here. I’m working hard and getting paid what I’m worth. That’s a really good feeling. I’m so busy, I don’t have any time to spend any of that money. I only have one more week of this run ragged schedule before a new teacher arrives and takes a few classes off of my hands.


Also, when I do extend myself too far, get sick and miss a class, my students concern is adorable. I received the following note, “to teacher Hellow teacher!! I’m a Jenny. How are you? Are your sick? I’m very worry for you. I’m very sad. Teacher thank you! Beacause you teach me. good bey!” Worth it!

I’ve learned by working with the kindergarten students that while I enjoy and plan to get a degree in early childhood education, I don’t want to teach kindergarten as a career. I don’t want to be the one who has to break them in. I’m also learning that I’m ready to go back to school. I’m on the hunt for programs that will allow me to take some classes on-line, so when my schedule opens up, I can start chipping away at my goal of becoming a really honest to goodness teacher.

If that wasn’t enough to keep a girl’s head spinning, I’ve also joined the Republic of Korea Derby. We practice all the way south in Dague, which means I’m getting a chance to see more of this country that I’m living in. The girls are great and diverse from all over the United States and the U.K. with different reasons for coming to Korea and share a common love of derby. Most of the girls have never skated before but always wanted to join a league back home. My skates are ordered and I am anxiously waiting for them to arrive. I’ll be once again skating as Pippi Longshocking due to the Korean’s insistence that I look an awful lot like “Bibbi.”

My darling husband, who is working really hard to get the most he can out of his own Korea experience, has joined a band in Seoul. He practices every Sunday and is a much happier camper now that he’s a rock star writer once again.

I’m packing as much life as I can into the time that I have. I only get one chance at this and I want to make it a good one.


Long Time No See March 4, 2011

I’ve not written in over a month! I’m the worst blogger in all the blogosphere. I’ve been crazy busy traveling to Thailand, joining a derby league, teaching kindergarten for the first time, having a new teacher ditch us and drop all his classes on us and leave some of us working 13 hour days. I promise to update on everything just as soon as I get a moment to breath again. But this is not that moment. I’ve got to put on my teacher dress, grab a cup of coffee, and try to convey the concept of right and left to 4 year olds who don’t speak English and are really curious about what is in their pants.


State of the Union January 26, 2011

I just finished watching President Obama’s second State of the Union address in which he mentioned South Korea four times. The only other country he mentioned as many times was China. This says to me that Mr. Obama takes South Korea very seriously. And why shouldn’t he? Not only are they a freshly minted economic powerhouse, but they got themselves to this point in just 60 years.

Seoul 1953

At the end of the Korean War, South Korea didn’t look terribly different from modern day Afghanistan. It was a mountainous, war torn place. Not just the Korean War’s effects but the recent Japanese occupancy left the country burnt, bombed, depopulated and undereducated.

In just three generations, they have picked themselves up and built what is arguably the best education system in the world. They have started companies like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG. They’ve taught an entire generation of students the English language. All this, while the North looms above making progress difficult.

The key to this success is South Korea’s diligent investment in education. The best educated students in the world are here in South Korea. These kids wake up, go to school, go to hagwons and then go home and do homework and then go to bed to repeat. They go to school every other Saturday and their summer vacation is one month long, a vacation that they spend at English or science camp. This is a people who do not mess around when it comes to school.

What a difference 57 years makes

If they can do all this, we can build a better America. South Korea is an example to the world for self improvement. They have a successful blue print of how to build a vibrant nation. America prides itself on a can do attitude. There is not a more can do nation on Earth than South Korea.


Hold on. Wait a minute Mr. Postman January 25, 2011

When I went to camp, my mommy sent me Cheez Ballz and Twizzlers. Now I live in South Korea and my mother sends me Pine Club salad dressing, Esther Price chocolates, and Twizzlers. I must be the camp counselor in charge of sophistication.

P.S. Mom, I sure would like some more Twizzlers. I’ll be sure not to share them with my students who, “just don’t know how to eat this.”


Butterflies are free, and also kind of assholes January 19, 2011

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 1:16 pm
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The sentence: Subject + verb + from + noun + to + noun

The example: The butterfly flew from flower to flower.

The question, “Oh teacher, you like butterflies?” The response, “Uh… yeah? Who doesn’t like butterflies? They’re butterflies.” My students then informed me that butterflies are gross, dirty, and frightening. Apparently, they are still bugs and bugs are gross. Even though they have wings, they still have scary, ugly faces. This is too much because these same students make a regular habit of eating bugs. While beondegi, roasted silkworm larva, is a healthy and delicious snack, butterflies are creepy. When presented with the argument that beondegi is bugs, they rebut with the infallible, “Yes, but delicious.”

I’ve narrowed this conversation down to two possible conclusions: #1 Butterflies are not universally delightful and whimsical. #2 My students have the ability to telepathically communicate with one another so that they can collectively fuck with me.


What to pack when you are moving to South Korea January 15, 2011

1) Home stuff

Little things to fight the inevitable homesickness you are bound to face. Make room for pictures of family, holiday decorations, your favorite cup, anything that makes your little slice of ROK feel like home.

2) Pants

Pack pants that fit you now and pants that are one size smaller than you currently wear. You are going to loose weight, but not so much that you’ll be able to fit into impossibly small Korean sizes.

3) Underwear and bras

If you’re anything like me, you are already packing your own biological stadium cushion. Unless you’re prepared to get your delicates from the ajumma section of E-Mart, then best stock up on your unmentionables state side.

4) A gift for the new boss and a yummy local treat for the staff

A nice gift makes a good first impression, which is important everywhere, but is year long contract defining in Korea. We brought our boss a gold ornament in the shape of the Wright B Flyer since we are from Dayton, Ohio. A nice, non-political local history gift. For the staff we brought a box of Esther Price chocolates, a Daytonian delicacy. You don’t have to spend a heap of cash. Something local and edible will do just fine.

5) Two sets of sheets

Chances are you will have a washer in your Korean apartment, but no dryer. You can buy sheets here but they either won’t be what you’re used to or very expensive. They don’t take up much room in the brand new suitcase your mom bought for you. Toss in the extra set. When you aren’t sleeping on dry enough sheets, you’ll be glad you did.

6) Over the counter medications

Cold and headache remedies aren’t universal. I could sell NyQuil tablets for $20 a pop on the street in Ieteawon to red nosed, sleep deprived Americans. When you get sick, and your students will get you sick, you will crave nothing as much as a NyQuil endused unconscious state. If you need a little extra help dozing off at night or need to sleep off a headache the extra large bottle of Tylenol PM you brought will come in quite handy. Go over board here. If you end up with extra at the end of the year, you can always pass the extra along to your co-workers who weren’t smart enough to take my sage like advice.

7) Prizes

Bring some goodies for the kids. Some holiday or American flag themed pencils, stickers or erasers will do. The students are aware of the mass marketed American holidays but they are still exotic and new. Pencils topped with erasers in the shape of ghosts, hearts, or snowmen will be a big hit come flash card game time.

8.) Shoes, but only if you have big feet

If your walking on an average size 8 like I am, then don’t over pack shoes. You can buy them here. There’s a Converse store on every corner in Seoul and there’s even a Doc Martin’s store at the Coex Mall. The high heel selections are endless. However, if you are above a women’s size 9, pack shoes. You will be able to find shoes that fit if you look, but you’ll have to look and the selection won’t be stellar. Remember, your shoes should be easy to kick on and off. I highly recommend packing a pair of winter boots that zip up and go with everything.

9) Money

You need enough cash to float you until your first paycheck. Clearly this varies from person to person depending on lifestyle, region, and the generosity of your school. You can get by on $1000. Even if your in a couple, you’ll never spend more than $3000 unless you go wild in one of the foreigner only casinos.

10) DVD’s

While you can watch Hulu and Netflix with the use of a proxy server, they may not have the selection that you wish they did. Stock up on TV shows you haven’t seen but have been meaning to get around to, movies that you haven’t seen yet or could watch again and again. Don’t bring the boxes. Just put them in a CD folder. Nothing will ease the soul of a homesick American quite like an episode of King of the Hill.

What not to pack:

1) Toiletries

Believe it or not, people bathe in Korea. You don’t need to pack shampoo, conditioner, soap or hair spray. There are two things you may want to consider packing though they aren’t totally necessary: toothpaste and deodorant. The toothpaste here is slightly different. If you have picky dental needs, stock up. Aside from finding a taste you can stand you won’t be able to read the box to learn it the tube will whiten or protect. I’ve been using Korean toothpaste and have no complaints, but it took a couple of thrown out tubes to get there. I packed my deodorant, because, dainty flower that I am, I needed a particular brand, which it turns out you can buy here. It’s more expensive, but not ungodly so.

2) Half the clothes you think you need

You don’t know what to pack so you’ve packed everything just in case. Don’t do that. They have clothes here that you can buy. You’ll find out what your school expects you to wear and you can pull together work wear here. Remember, it will be hard to find pants that fit, but I haven’t had a problem finding dresses, tops or shoes. Do bring at least one weeks worth of business appropriate attire to make a good first impression. You’ll be making enough money that you can fill in the wardrobe gaps with your first paycheck via a shopping trip to Seoul.

3) Electronics

If you need a camera or a laptop. You don’t necessarily need to stock up before you leave the states. You can get electronics cheaply here. I’ve bought a laptop and a camera for myself. It just means that I’ll need to buy adjusters when I head home and I can type in Hangul. On the other hand, Korean men don’t grow beards, but expats notoriously do. Bring a beard trimmer.

4) More than one or two books for the plane

You can find English books here, especially if you are close to Soul. I’ve always found everything my literary heart could desire at What the Book in Ietaewon. If you are too far from Seoul to make the trip, What the Book will ship to you. Not to mention the fact that foreign teachers have come before you. Most likely, the teacher whom you replace, you’ll also fill their empty apartment and inherit all the crap they’re left behind, including their books. If you are such a book-worm that you won’t be able to survive without constant access to your very own Barnes and Noble, then make the investment in a Nook or Kindle.

5) Socks and tights

Trust me. Korean women love their stockings. There will be enough knee highs, ankle socks, and funky tights to even keep a retired roller girl happy. Make room for more underwear and bras by leaving the socks at home.

Happy packing. Enjoy that last southern style sweet tea and get ready. You’re going to love it here.


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