Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Korea, Round 2!

Hello friends and family!

As most of you know, I have arrived back in Korea for this, my second year of teaching English! However, my job and my situation are considerably different this time around. For one, my partner and I are living in Seoul, which is absolutely crazy. With over 10 million people living here, Seoul is the "largest city proper in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) world," according to wikipedia. A pretty drastic change from little ole' Pohang and it's population of 500,000! And believe me, it is huge. Greater Seoul is actually over 25 million people, meaning that more than a fourth of the entire population of Korea lives here. Nuts-o. Not only that, but the population density is greater than almost anywhere. At some point I will take some pictures on the subway during my morning commute so you can have some small idea of the implications of that. One word: sardines. Here's some fun demographic information for those of you interested, clipped right off wikipedia's article. Feel free to skip this paragraph if you feel your eyes glazing over.

"Seoul proper is noted for its population density, which is almost twice that of New York and eight times greater than Rome, though slightly less than Paris. Its metropolitan area is the densest in the OECD.[26] Nearly all of Seoul's residents are Korean, with some small Chinese and Japanese minorities. As of 2009, the city’s population is 10,208,302.[27] The number of foreigners living in Seoul is 255,501 in 2010 according to Seoul officials.[28] As of the end of June 2011, 10.29 million Republic of Korea citizens lived in the city. This was a .24% decrease from the end of 2010. As of June 2011, 281,780 foreigners were located in Seoul. Of them, 186,631 foreigners (66%) were Chinese citizens of Korean nationality. This was a 8.84% increase from the end of 2010 and a 12.85% increase from June 2010. The next largest group was Chinese citizens who are not of Korean nationality; 29,901 of them resided in Seoul. The next highest group consisted of the 9,999 United States citizens who were not of Korean nationality. The next highest group were the Republic of China (Taiwan) citizens, at 8,717.[29] The two major religions in Seoul are Christianity and Buddhism. Other religions include Shamanism and Confucianism, the latter seen more as a pervasive social philosophy rather than a religion."

So a lot of you want to know what's going on with me here! Since I've gotten back to Korea, it of course has been a whirlwind, but things are going really well. Hoopie and I have found a great apartment in a relatively quiet and safe neighborhood. It is pretty spacious for Seoul, and Hoopie was able to haggle with them, so we got an awesome price for rent! It's also a minute walk to the subway, and only 6 stops away from my school, no transfers! My commute is about 30 minutes, because I have a 10 minute walk after getting off the train. The apartment is awesome, but was not furnished at all, which is pretty standard actually. So, we've been spending the past two weeks visiting second hand stores and calling foreigners on craigslist for their old items. We're pretty much moved in at last, and it's starting to feel like home.

The first week at school was training, and let me tell you, I'm starting off PUMPED! This school is so much different than my last one, but in some really awesome ways. It's called S.O.T. which stands for School of Tomorrow, and it is a preschool/kindergarten/elementary school which follows American private school curriculum. It's a pretty large building, but it actually has the look and feel of a real school, complete with a playground outside! It's not one of those multi-leveled city buildings like what Moon Kkang (my old school) was in. There are 14 foreign teachers, and we each have a korean assistant. There are also a number of supervisors... I think 6, who are korean. There is a principal as well and a few secretaries, a librarian (we have a library!) and a nurse. And get this--all of the staff are women! So cool. Ok not all, the general manager (deals with our housing and business stuff), the CEO/owner (not around much), and the bus drivers are men.

So much to say about this school. The feeling in there is really that it is a place that cares about not only education, but the well-being and emotional development of the kids--helping them become caring, model little people. It has really seemed to me all of these past two weeks that every staff person genuinely cares about kids. There has been no "business" feeling that often occurs at korean hagwons which are only concerned with test scores, numbers, and dollar signs. It feels great! So what am I doing here? This is the best part! I teach only 3 main groups of students. My first group are 14 Korean 6 year olds (western 4-5 years old), which I will have every single day from 9:30am-2:30 pm. Beyond excited about this. I get them all year! AND, I am their first English teacher! This means I get to really see them change and grow, and man, are they ever cute. I also get to teach them such a variety of subjects. We do songs and games, science and art projects, phonics and reading, writing and math--the full gambit! And though the school provides my books and materials, art supplies and science projects, it is up to me how and in what time I execute lessons, as long as I get through all of the material on time. I am allowed to use my creativity to enhance lessons, change and add or omit as I see fit. I also get to decorate my classroom however I want, which is really fun. There are cubbies and baskets for their supplies, posters I get to make or get from the teacher supply closet, birthday decorations (we get to have birthday parties!) and so on. The school even has a field trip every month or so that we get to take the kids on, as well as regular fun assemblies and occasional academic competitions like spelling bees. I get planning time while the kids are at music class, P.E. or Korean traditional class. I also get to take them to recess! This school has so much freedom and control for me as their teacher, and so much variety! It's so refreshing and exciting. Of course, it will have it's challenges, but I'm so up for it.

My other two groups of students are elementary schoolers. One group is 12 students (Korean age 7) on MWF from 2:30-4:30, and another group of 5 (also age 7) MWF from 4:30-6:30. The first group are beginners as well, though they are older than my morning kids, and the second group are advanced learners. The curriculum is a little more focused, but again has a lot of variety and flexibility, and I am allowed the same freedom in my class of doing things my way, as long as we get through the materials.

On Tuesday I am allowed to leave right when I finish with my kindergarteners at 2:30, and on Thursday I have one more class until 4:30, which are 7 year old beginners, at the same level as my kindy kids.

Things are going so well! The first full week of classes was definitely draining and challenging, but not without some excitement. It's been a little rocky of a start, but with time, I am confident that I can do this and do it well. I'm so looking forward to doing this job, I think it's going to be a great fit. Also, I should say that my co-teachers are great. There are a lot of new teachers, and we all went through our training together. Everyone is really friendly and outgoing, positive and kind. We have gone out together a few times already, and I imagine we will all hang out a fair bit outside of work in the future. Most all of the teachers are right around my age; mid to late 20s, which also sets a nice level of maturity, I think. Everyone feels pretty even-keeled and fairly grounded; not a lot of party-girls from what I can tell. That feels pretty great as well. :)

Other than that, Seoul is working out pretty good! It's not as crazy as I thought it would be, probably since I'm not here as a tourist this time around. :) Hoopie and I are trying to settle in and get a feel for things, and it's not too hard since I've lived in Korea before, and he has lived in Seoul specifically in the past. Hoopie's friends and family have been extremely helpful when we need things (apartment hunting, furniture hunting, helping to ship my stuff from Pohang, etc.). And of course, it's nice to see them, as well as my friends from last year. We had a nice few days in Pohang, staying at his mother's house after I first arrived. And man, it's been awesome to do all of the things we need to do here with the benefit of him speaking Korean. I never knew how hard it was last year, comparatively! I also watched all of my co-teachers apartment hunt and attempt to orchestrate furniture delivery on their own, and it was a bit of an ordeal. Hoopie does it all so patiently and obligingly--I wish I could help him more, but he is so happy to do it. I'm really grateful to have him.

I will take pictures of everything soon and try to post them so that people can get a better idea of my apartment and my school. My schedule this year will make it a lot harder to skype during the week, but I want to keep up with everyone! Please utilize email when you can, and we can definitely do some weekend skype dates. Other than that, I will have to make appointments to skype you guys in my mornings, because by the time I get home, it will usually be 10pm your time on my early days, 2am on my late ones. I am ok to get up early occasionally--it's worth it to catch up! We will just have to plan that out. I leave my house for work by 8:10am my time, which is 4:10pm your time. I could do a 7:30 or 8:00 call sometimes, if we make a date. My hours for work one more time are:

Korean Time:
MWF: 9:15am-6:30pm
Tu: 9:15am-2:30pm
Th: 4:30pm

Oregon Time:
MWF: 5:15pm-2:30am
Tu: 5:15pm-10:30pm
Th: 12:30am

I leave and get home about 45 minutes before and after these times.

I hope everything is going well with everyone, I'd love to hear what's been going on this past week and how everyone is doing. Send me an email!

I love you and miss you all,

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