Progress Report

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It’s been a shade over two months since I got to Korea and it’s high time that I give everybody back home (and around the world) an update on how life in Korea has been treating me this time around. Despite having near two years of experience with this confusing and sometimes frustrating corner of the world, Korea has managed to dish up plenty of fresh challenges for me in my third stint in the land of the morning calm.

The School

My new school has been vastly different to anything I experienced during my two years in Gwangju. The hogwan (private academy) gig has often been a lauded as the ‘lazier’ of the two options, with less attention paid to what you’re teaching and how you’re teaching it. While it’s true I dealt with nosy co-teachers at my first job and a more rigorous documentation of my lesson plans at the second, I’ve never been under the same level of intense security I ‘enjoy’ at my current gig. Teachers peering through windows to be sure I’m teaching, constant harassment over whether I’ve assigned the correct homework, and an anal level of reliance on poorly written and worded teacher’s manuals have dogged my every day. I arrive for work two hours early for preparation time and, with no sign of the fifty minute break I am promised in my contract, I’ve started just disappearing for fifty minutes of this time to soak up free WiFi at Tom & Toms while eating a deliciously unhealthy stuffed pretzel.

Farewelling one of my favorite classes from my old school in late 2009

Class wise – I teach six fifty minute classes a day with a five minute break between each. My youngest students are a foursome of eight and nine year olds with little to no experience with English, and my oldest class is a pair of sixteen year old girls who spend the majority of our class together alternating between texting friends on their phones and asking me about my romantic life and my travels. It’s actually a fun class when I can get them to put their phones aside for a few minutes. My worst classes are comprised of bratty early teen boys who think they’re hilarious and who I can’t really discipline due to my school being populated entirely by women who are marginally more intimidating than the prospect of being made to write fifty lines for homework.

My experience here has largely been one of miscommunication and frustration. Little things that never came up at previous jobs seem to have gone from molehills to mountains in record time here. Having been left in charge of organizing my alien card (necessary for things such as insurance, having a phone in my name, and internet connection) – I decided to do it at my leisure. I already had a phone and an active internet connection, and so when my boss started to nag me about it I assured her it was ‘under control’ and assumed she’d leave it. Cue a dozen frantic texts and missed calls one Monday morning that forced me out of bed and off to immigration. When my boss found out I was only now handing in my paperwork she was furious – accused me of deliberately deceiving her and the like. Maybe I did – but when you hand all of your responsibilities off to somebody to do in their free time – you accept that they will do it when they are ready. If she had wanted it done by a certain time – she could have organized it herself or she could have allowed me to do it in my excess preparation time.

Other little things have caused issue. I toy with my iPhone during quiet moments of prep time and that has been frowned upon. I am charged with marking reams of homework in subjects I am not employed to teach (Math being a particular qualm of mine) and then dragged over coals if there are any mistakes at all. I’ve taken to keeping homework for an inordinate amount of time, marking it over the course of a fortnight, and handing it back to them when I am 100% sure it’s done).

All told – I dislike my work environment. The kids are great and the majority of them love me, but being the sole male and the sole Westerner in my workplace basically means I get to spend my days either in silence or engaging in conversations with students. Attempting to make small talk with the trio of women I share an office with varies from attempting to pull teeth to halting conversations that never really satisfy. I prefer to just work in quiet now.

The City

Work might suck, but I love Busan. Gwangju will always hold a very special place in my heart – but there’s a lot to be loved about Korea’s second largest city. My last entry was about the spectacular Gwangalli Beach region and with spring finally hitting us here on the peninsula, my visits to areas like Gwangalli and Haeundae are only going to increase in frequency. There’s the promise of camping trips on islands such as Bigeumdo and Oaedaldo on the horizon as well. I live for the beach.

Byron (from Byron and His Backpacks) and I rocking the Velvet Underground

The night life here is something else. Where Gwangju has a half dozen night spots, most of which are crammed together in the downtown area, Busan has four distinct night life regions that are worthy of merit. The nearest to me is Seomyeon which boasts bars such as Thursday Party and Metal City; PNU boasts a more Korean night life due to its promimity to the university; Haeundae has the beach and foreigner haunts such as The Wolfhound, Sharkies, Geckos, and Rock & Roll Bar; and KSU (my personal favorite) boasts Eva’s, Ol’ 55, Vinyl Underground, Thursday Party, HQ, and the always sleazy Kino Eye. I’ll do a more in depth on Busan’s bar scene in the not too distant future.

Being idiots at Metal City. Not very metal.

I’ve managed to get a casual game of Dungeons & Dragons going on a fortnightly basis; gotten in touch with some theatrically minded people about doing some productions; joined a book club that inexplicably doubles as a knitting club; gotten back into work on my novel; and met a swathe of cool new people and groovy characters that I’m sure will grace these pages again sometime soon.

The Girl

And there’s a girl! My old friends Liz and CJ (who tied the knot in Vegas last year) messaged me shortly after I returned to Korea to inform me they were ‘sending me a girl’ – the best friend of CJ’s sister. I agreed to help her settle in and things kind of went from there. This isn’t the venue for a blow by blow of our relationship or how it came to be, but suffice to say I got to play knight in shining armor a few times for a damsel in distress and now we’re as official as two people can get – Facebook official.

Pretty girl. Ugly suit.

We’re off to a Cherry Blossom Festival in Jinhae this weekend and two weeks later we’ll be doing some sight-seeing in Seoul as my parents are in the country as a part of a cultural scholarship they won. Beyond that there’s a 10k I’ll be running in May; the infamous Mud Festival in July; the Jeju half marathon around the same time; and a whole swag of other exciting trips in the future.

I’m contemplating visiting Beijing in my summer vacation, and a Japanese junket is not out of the question for when Korean Thanksgiving rolls around. Here’s hoping Tokyo Disney is still in one piece after the recent tragic events in the region.

My Philippines scuba trip is still on the cards for the New Year and there’s day-dreaming about a six week tour of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Bali sometime next year if money allows. Exciting times and hopefully that will make for exciting reading!

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