“It’s not so much English teachers, it’s the idea of English teachers.”

I came across an interesting article in the Korean Herald the other day.

It was about the Association of Teachers of English in Korea, a group of foreigners trying to better the reputation of us foreign teachers in the eyes of the Korean public. The article described the public’s image of English teachers as “promiscuous party animals.” Ouch.

Of course not every Korean person feels this way about English teachers, but apparently enough do that they’ve made it a law for all English teachers to be tested for HIV before they can get a visa. Interesting indeed…

I just wanted to share a few more quotes…

“National Communications Officer Rob Ouwehand of the Association of Teachers of English in Korea believes that the regulatory testing stems from both the fear of English teachers and HIV, both of which can be cured with knowledge.”

“To reconnect with the public, Ouwehand believes they need to put themselves out there, swapping scary thoughts of English teachers with positive images.

The perceived reputation of foreign English teachers in Korea, fueled by the Anti-English Spectrum group and perpetuated by the media, had long been one of drinking, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and disease.

It is speculated that the efforts of the vigilante group helped push the ministry’s institutionalization of the testing in 2007.

‘It’s not so much English teachers, it’s the idea of English teachers,’ he said.”

“ATEK agrees that teaching is a really intimate relationship. The teacher-student relationship requires a lot of trust and respect, fortunately HIV and AIDS has never been transmitted through trust and respect.

HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva, tears, sweat or casual contact.”

Good thing we’re all going to be replaced by robots soon anyways!
Rolling Eyes Smiley


I’ve been here for nearly two months! Whoa!

The thing about starting my teaching job immediately (about 12 hours after coming to Ulsan) is that I more or less fell into a routine right away. It made the other-side-of-the-world-ness much less apparent, as everything just kind of fell into place and became routine. But adjusting to working a regular 9-to-5 is almost as big a change as adjusting to living in Korea! Almost…

For anyone who may be curious, this is what I do every day:

My Byeongyeong-dong one-room is about a 20 minute walk away from Samil Elementary, up and down some of the craziest hills I’ve ever seen (outside of Istanbul). The final stretch is down a giant hill, which gives me a pretty nice view. And I still find it kind of awesome that this is what I see every morning…

View on my walk to school in the morning

The other day I climbed up the rest of the hill to get a better view. It turns out I’m really close to the airport.

As it gets later and later in November, the trees on those hills have gradually reddened and then become brown. It kind of reminded me of a head of broccoli going bad. It’s mostly brown now.

Once I came across a praying mantis! And was so excited, I took a picture. I don’t think I’ve seen one running around before.
On my way home from school

Anyways, as I round that hill and head down towards Samil, I have to dodge students as they hurl themselves into gravity and go flying downhill. Then there’s a traffic light, which generally adds upwards of 3 minutes to my commute. The traffic lights here take forever! It’s absolutely amazing. I haven’t really timed them enough to get an average, but they are more or less an eternity. Especially compared to New York!

The closer I get to school, the more of my students I come across. They’re pretty easy to spot because a lot of them wear the bright yellow sweats they have for P.E. As I am the only foreign teacher at Samil, and still kind of new and exciting, I get get a lot of overly enthusiastic “Hello!”s. Sometimes I get “Annyeong Haseyos” which are are also of course appreciated, and some “Hellos” accompanied by a bow, which I’m not sure if I should perhaps say something about or not. Whenever I see students in the hall, I generally get an enthusiastic “Hello!” or a “Hello Ann Teacher!” Which is one of the best parts of my day. I’m working on getting them to try a bit more “Hi!” and “Good morning!”s so there’s some variety, but really it’s nothing to complain about.

I work in the English Center (or Engish Center, as this sign says, which explains quite a bit about what you can expect from our school’s program).
**since taking this picture, one of my co-teachers put the ‘L’ back on so it is the English Center.

This is where I teach.
I would say very few, if any students follow these rules.

This is where I teach.
This is one of my classrooms. That thing at the front is a fancy smart board, and it had a touch screen, which is quite fun. The room also has surround sound. Pretty fancy. (My other classroom has none of this, and is quite normal looking, by the way).

This is where I teach.
I have no idea why they chose a ‘dream center’ theme.

This back part of the room is never used at all. I’m trying to work out a way to get some use out of it…
This is where I teach.

…it seems like such a shame that these nice facilities are going to waste.
<img src="http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4104/5093151778_e6b17fbfdb.jpg" width="500"

I have yet to see someone read a book out of the library, either. We’re not really allowed to assign homework, which makes getting them to read books difficult.
This is where I teach.

At school, I wear ‘indoor shoes,’ or ‘slippers.’ Everyone does. What exactly qualifies as a slipper is a bit confusing to me, because some people wear tennis shoes and some people wear their slippers outside as well as inside and no one seems to think anything of it. However, there is a specific slipper section in most shoe departments, which is where I found these my first week in Ulsan. My feet were too wide to fit comfortably into any of the women’s shoes at Homeplus, and I wasn’t really keen on adding any heel-height to my already tall-for-Korea-stature, so I had to buy these Adidas-ripoff types.
My indoor shoes

The interesting thing about walking around in these all day is how noisy they are. Not only do they squeak, but they also wheeze. And, the wooden floors in the hallways at school squeak on top of all of that. So you can imagine how loud it is when I walk around anywhere. This would probably be worse if I wasn’t already the foreigner, and exceptionally tall, both of which probably draw more attention to me than my awkwardly squeaky shoes.

The best thing about wearing these shoes is that they are smooth enough to slide across the wooden floors. Which makes everything more fun.

Every day I eat lunch in the cafeteria, with several of the other staff, as well as all of the 1st – 3rd graders.
School Lunch
Today’s lunch: dried squid, tofu, kimchi, rice, and chicken soup
This is a rather exciting menu. Every day has some kind of rice and kimchi. But typically, the soup is filled with mussels and shrimp with eyes and extra-long feelers, and is almost always fishy-tasting. I’m not a fan of the fishiness, but try to motivate myself by thinking that it could have some of the benefits of fish oils in it…which are quite good for you, right?

As everyone finishes their lunch, they empty their food waste into two giant vats at the front of the cafeterias, to be composted. The lunch ladies put on rubber aprons and big rubber galoshes and hose the entire kitchen down – lunch trays, serving dishes, counters, floor, everything.

From there, I generally head to the fifth grade teachers’ lounge for some after-lunch coffee. Coffee in Korea is never drip coffee, unfortunately for me. Usually it’s instant coffee in a little package pre-mixed with powder creamer and sugar, which is mixed with a little hot water in a small paper cup.

I can’t say I’m really into it. I prefer the strong, unsweetened stuff, and I kind of like enjoying it for a while. Which is difficult to do when you just have a small shot.

When I first arrived, I was told to use whatever bathroom I wanted – student or teacher. The only bathroom on the fourth floor, where the English Center is, is a student bathroom. The bathroom doesn’t have any toilet paper, instead I was given my own roll and just have to take what I need with me when I go. I think it’s kind of awkward, because then everyone knows where you’re headed, but I guess everyone (else) is used to it, so it doesn’t really matter. I could use one of the staff bathrooms, but they only have squat toilets, which I’d prefer not to use. So for now I’m sticking with the student ones.

I try to avoid the bathrooms as much as I can after they’re cleaned in the afternoon, because they smell absolutely awful. It kind of makes me wonder if they just slop the same water over everything every day, but I’d rather not think about it.

My afternoons are class-free, which gives me time to lesson plan. I do at least 4 different lesson plans a week (one per grade), although these have to be varied a bit for some of the classes. A lot of lesson planning has to do with making power point presentations and seeing how I can make vocabulary and grammar practice into a competitive game. Some afternoons I get Korean lessons from one of my co-teachers. Sometimes I do small English lessons with a few of the teachers that want to improve their English. Sometimes I play volleyball (Wednesdays and Fridays). But generally the afternoons are pretty low-key.

These afternoons are spent in my office, which I share with my co-teacher. The office is freezing! It got cold a few weeks ago, and most of the school isn’t heated. Classrooms are, but hallways and apparently my office are not. And although all of the windows have two panes of glass on them, they still seem to be letting in quite a bit of air. So that should be interesting as it gets into winter..

As for my weekends…that will have to be another post.

Culture Shock of the Week: Hallelujah! It’s Rainin’ Men!

After lunch today, I was just sitting down to coffee with my three co-teachers when I heard some distinctive disco beats thumping through our office windows.

“Is that ‘It’s Raining Men’?”

We opened the window. It most definitely was.

After a brief discussion in Korean, my one co-teacher turned to me and said, “Ooh, it must be coming from the church across the street.”

The church across the street from this elementary school is blasting “It’s Raining Men” in the middle of the afternoon?


An epic post about EPIK teaching

The first thing I ever heard about the EPIK program (from a couple of Australians who had just completed three years of EPIK teaching) was how easy it was to be an EPIK teacher – you hardly had to do any teaching, they told me, and the students were little English-loving angels, who couldn’t wait to come to your class every day. Ha! Boy were they wrong! It’s not like I was actually expecting to find classrooms full of angels when I got here, but I also didn’t expect to find the exact opposite…

Asian discipline? What discipline?

It certainly doesn’t exist in my school in Korea! Although apparently my sixth graders are renowned in Ulsan for being especially loud, rude, and low-level. It’s pretty much a constant struggle to try to get them to pay attention, stop throwing things, and stop punching/kicking/slapping/strangling their desk partner. They also curse (in Korean and English), and make each other cry. Little angels, indeed. A lot of the time, when they do actually pay attention, they tend to be incredibly whiny, and can find no shortage of things to complain about – even when I’m giving them specially imported candy corn for Halloween.

But before I sound too whiny (too late?), I should probably say that I do really like my students. A lot of them are absolutely wonderful! And adorable! And the “bad” ones aren’t all bad, obviously. Some of my classes are totally great! It’s just been surprising how much of this job is just disciplining and classroom control. Really, I should have known better. But my view of how classes should behave is certainly skewed, as the only schools I know are the ones I went through growing up, which were very good public schools in some of the nicest suburbs in one of the nicest areas of Michigan. So I wasn’t really prepared through prior experience or anything.

Interesting fact about disciplining in Korea: corporal punishment isn’t illegal! It’s illegal in Seoul, but not here in Ulsan, according to my co-teachers. One of the fifth grade homeroom teachers walks around with a cracked bamboo rod! I haven’t seen him use it, but I think I can probably assume what he uses it for…One of my co-teacher’s frequently has the students hold their hands over their heads for uncomfortable periods of time, but that’s (thankfully) the worst I’ve seen.

So I don’t know what kind of Utopian Korea these Australians had been teaching in, but it’s hard to believe they were in the same place I am!

Lucky for me, the severest disciplining is usually left up to my co-teachers.

What’s a co-teacher?

As an EPIK native-teacher, I’m legally required to work with a Korean co-teacher. I guess I lucked out, because I ended up with three of the nicest co-teachers possible! They were extremely helpful in getting me set-up in the country when I first arrived, and helped me set up a bank account, internet, a cell phone, go through the immigration process, etc. It would probably be impossible to do all of that without the help of a native Korean speaker,

I’m pretty sure this country has a shortage of English teachers. Two of my co-teachers told me they were randomly assigned to teach English by the principal when they transferred to Samil (teachers switch schools ever four years in Korea). I don’t think they had any previous English training or education, beyond what they studied in school. Their English is good enough that we can communicate most of our ideas about lessons, although I don’t think either of us comes across as clear as we’d like. So there’s a bit of a communication barrier, but nothing too bad.

Working with a Korean co-teacher means I’m never entirely in charge of the classes I teach, although I am mostly responsible for lesson planning and running the classes. My co-teachers are relatively open to my ideas for classroom activities, but seem to feel really bound to teaching from the government-mandated textbook. This textbook is very unfortunately lacking (the students’ books have probably 3-7 English words in them per unit, for starters). Any students that don’t study English privately and have been learning solely in these classes, out of this book, have essentially no English skills.

Many of the students do study English privately after school, at “hagwons”. A lot of parents start sending their students to hagwons as early as kindergarten or first grade! My students that study at hagwons know most everything I teach in class already, while the other students seem to hardly know the alphabet! It’s pretty difficult to try to teach to both levels.
I think a lot of my students would benefit from going back and studying phonics and extremely basic reading, but there isn’t really time for that when they’re racing to finish the books.

Another interesting thing about Korean education: Parents have a huuuuuuuge say in what goes on. Much more so than in the US. At our orientation, it was described to us like this: in the US, the parents are on the side of the teachers in getting their kids to do the work the teachers assign. In Korea, the parents are on their kid’s side, and if their kid isn’t learning it’s the teachers fault. Last week I got in trouble because parents had been complaining that we weren’t doing every activity out of the book in class. As if their students would learn anything working just out of the text book! sigh…

Anyways, a lot of my lessons present new information using PowerPoint presentations. This is what those look like:

Teaching weather and clothing

Teaching weather and clothing

This was my accidentally too-graphic Halloween game for 5th grade.
Zombie game that was too scary for my fifth graders

Sorry, kiddies.
Zombie game that was too scary for my fifth graders
There’s a head in/on/under/above the sink.

I taught 5th grade Thanksgiving to tie-in with Chuseok, a Korean holiday that happened at the end of September.
Teaching Thanksgiving

I need to get more acquainted with Korean culture. My cartoon references are a bit dated…
Teching with Pinky and the Brain

I like that this job involves drawing pictures and being creative. I get to play a version of pictionary at least once a week! Last week I even made a tiny animation for third grade.


Ultimately, I find teaching to be infinitely challenging and infinitely interesting. I hope that I’m an effective teacher, although sometimes it’s hard to know for sure. I get absolutely no feedback from my co-teachers, which I think is rather unfortunate, and perhaps partly tied into cultural differences. I’m learning quite a bit just by teaching and messing up, seeing what works and what doesn’t. As the year progresses, I hope that I find new ways to be creative and continuously challenge what I think I know. Some of the teachers I’ve met that have been here for a while seem pretty bored with teaching, and are just here to fulfill their contracts or because they’re not sure of what they want to do next. It’s almost like they’re stuck.

I’d really like to avoid this stuckiness, and so far, I think I’m doing a pretty good job. When we first got here, a fellow new teacher told me that the more you put into your job, the “more they expect from you.” She said it like it was a warning – don’t try too hard! I thought that was an interesting take on things, because I feel like the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. But to each their own.

And finally…

The day I realized I would be really unhappy if my job were just being a human tape-recorder:

The first weekend I was here, I worked at an English Festival put on by the school district. Please note the impressive balloon art.
'English Together' festival

My school’s booth was a ‘Food Market,’ lovingly decorated by myself and my two co-teachers. That’s 400,000 won (almost $400) worth of decorations and cookies/candy!
My School's Food Market booth

Ballin’ student volunteers:
My School's Food Market Booth

And this is how I spent most of that Saturday, running hundreds of kids through the silly ‘food market’ dialogue so they could get their cookie. It was pretty draining, and made me realize that despite the difficulties, I’m really glad I’m not just a human tape recorder in my classes.
My School's Food Market Booth

My Byeongyeong-dong one-room

Welcome to my apartment.

This is where I live.

When I first came to Ulsan, my co-teachers kept talking about when I’d be able to move into my ‘one-room.’ It took me a second to realize what they were talking about. But I think ‘one-room’ has a much better ring to it than ‘studio,’ really.

This is where I live.

This is my square of wallpaper.
This is where I live.

How do you like my shower?
This is where I live.

This is the other part of my one-room, the kitchen:

This is where I live.

The kitchen is lit by a green fluorescent light. Which makes everything I cook look incredibly appetizing, as I’m sure you can imagine.

This is where I live.
Hope to add some pretty places from this side of the world soon!

I even have a mini laundry room! When I run the washer, the water runs across that tile floor to a drain on the other side of the room. This was quite a surprise the first time I did laundry.
This is where I live.

Also, please note the sliding glass doors. I like them quite a bit.

The view from my room isn’t half bad:
The view from my room during the day

The view from my room during the day
I think those are chili peppers drying on the roof next door.

The best part is probably that I can get a decent view of the sunset…

…and at night the lack of stars from light pollution is almost made up for by the twinkling/flashing city lights below.
The view from my 'one room' in the evening

So, this is where I live. It’s my first place all to myself, and I like it quite a bit. As you can see, there is plenty of floor space. Should you ever find yourself in Ulsan and in need a place to crash, you’re more than welcome.

Byeongyeong-dong (병영) is my neighborhood. It’s a bit of a hike from the city center, but the neighborhood has more than enough character to make up for its less-than-stellar location. I live allllllllll the way down this market street that is packed with a motley mix of street food vendors, little old women selling little plastic buckets of vegetables and crabs/assorted seafood, trendy clothing stores, trendy-looking bars and restaurants, sterile-looking cell phone shops, and fish tanks full of squids and octopi and eels. It’s probably one of my favorite places I’ve come across in the city. But! I have yet to photograph it. So more to come on Byeongyeong-dong later.

Things I have found interesting about living in Korea:
– This country composts its food waste. Both individual households and bigger places – like the university where we had our orientation and my school’s cafeteria. I find this pretty awesome.
– The lock on my door and the door to my building are electronic! I don’t have to carry keys! Instead, I just put a code into the keypad. This is also very excellent.
– I also have a video intercom. If someone rings my doorbell, I can check to see who it is! Very fancy.
– Something I find less than excellent is that you’re not supposed to flush toilet paper here. For some reason, the toilets or the sewage system can’t handle it. I don’t know if this is an environmental thing, or some technological oversight in the construction of the sewage system, but I’m still not entirely comfortable with this.

The only differences I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get used to are the sounds of dogs crying/fighting that occasionally drift in through the window, and the slightly sewage-y smell that occasionally drifts up out of my bathroom drain.

Other than that, life in my apartment in Ulsan is mostly like life was in my apartment back in NYC. Except this place is 3 times bigger than anything I’d ever be able to afford in NYC. And it’s missing some awesome roommates. And everything that looks like it’s made of that cheap Ikea-type-wood is actually plastic, including the floor. Other than those things, I’d have to say I’ve found apartment-dwelling to be pretty much the same over here on the other side of the world.