Saturday, June 2, 2012

School Life

Sorry about the recent lack of updates - it's been a busy few weeks! Not to worry though, until recently, there wasn't much travel material to blog about.

As I am teaching English over here and it's (alongside related activities) what's been taking up the majority of my time, I thought I'd finally get around to doing a post about life in the Korean public school system.

The Korean school term runs from March to February, with three to four weeks off for summer in August (approximately two weeks of which will be consumed by an educational summer camp) and approximately 1.5 months (a portion of which will also be dedicated to educational camps) off in winter. The school day usually starts sometime around 8:15 and runs for 8 hours, with one hour allotted for lunch. Everyone, teachers and students, eats lunch together in the cafeteria. Fortunately for me, the cafeteria lunches at my school are delicious and cost only approximately $60 for a month's worth of all you can eat food :). Classes at the elementary level are 40 minutes, classes in middle school are 45 minutes and classes in high school are 50 minutes long. Students have approximately 10 minutes between classes to run errands and prepare themselves. Interestingly, the custom in Korea is for the students to already be seated and prepared when the teacher enters the class (usually about 3-5 minutes after the bell has rung). The fact that I time my arrival to coincide with the ringing of the bell and often leave my classroom locked is a great source of consternation for my students. While many will come grab the key from me beforehand, a number have tried all sorts of ploys (including crawling in my 4th floor windows) to get the door unlocked and get into class before I get there - mostly I think they just enjoy the excuse to try and break in ;).

In spite of this seeming eagerness, Korean students will often talk over top of their teachers in class or, as they get older, sleep straight through the day - this starts about halfway through middle school. This is because, after having spent 8 hours in school, the majority of Korean students will then head to various Hagwon (study halls or private academies) for after school programs, after which they will head to after after school programs and after after after school programs, from which they will not return until 11pm at night. I often find myself on the way back from the climbing gym at nearly midnight will a whole bus full of Hagwon students on their way home. Some also go to before school programs. Once home, a number of the students will do homework or play video games in order to wind down before bed - leaving me with even more sleep deprived students the following morning. While, in truth their sleep schedules aren't too far off mine, or indeed, what mine was in middle and high school, my sleep schedule was not such because I was forced into never ending classes by my parents. One of the things I love most about my school is the fact that it's located in an area that's not particularly rich and it doesn't have a reputation for high-level accademics, this means that many of my students have time to go outside and play sports or just be kids after school.

The students themselves are adorable and hilarious - they make me laugh on a daily basis. While many were initially too shy to speak to me in English outside of class, most will now do their best to strike up a conversation if they run into me out on the street. Many will actually come cluster around my desk in my office to speak to me (or to try to teach me Korean) during their breaks - some will also just peak around the door to wave at me periodically as one of the shier boys is currently doing. While I've tried to learn all their names, I have upwards of 630 students (each of whom I see only once a week) with very very similar names.

The best icebreaker thus far was the three days I recently spent on field trip with (all 280) second years. While second year middle schoolers (the equivilent of grade 8 in North America) are notoriously poorly behaved in Korea, mine have been remarkably pliant since spending 3 days chatting with me (or running from doing so) while we toured Seoul and got to ride on Asia's largest wooden rollercoaster (Sooo Much Fun!).

My co-teachers and fellow office mates have also been lovely and very welcoming. While their co-teaching styles range from not doing anything to fully integrating themselves in the lesson, I actually quite enjoy the variety as it makes me feel a little less like I'm teaching the exact same lesson 6 to 8 times.  There is quite an emphasis on communal activities in Korea, so there are regularly food-(and drink)-based events which all teachers are expected to attend. The most recent of these was an after-school staff meeting held on the top of a mountain (which we first had to hike of course ^_^ ). The meeting was great in that it consisted primarily of eating copious amounts of fried chicken (a favourite here in Korea) and Samgyeopsal (삼겹살, or three layered pork) while drinking more alcohol than I thought humanly possible. We also regularly share snacks in the office  which I enjoy a great deal (though I do occasionally have the sneaking suspicion that they're trying to fatten me up for some nefarious purpose).

The front view of my (very typical looking) school.
All of the students gathered on the field for our (still fairly) recent Sports Day.
Each homeroom class got to choose their own outfits, and some were just brilliant (pink shirts with little tie on floral hats for the boys, superman suits, tiger ears, amazing.)

One of my favourite Korean sports day activities - the Running on Backs Race.

The (now-banned in North American schools) traditional summer game of Tug-o-war :).

Lining up for another favourite Korean sports day activity of mine - The Trouser Relay.

The pant-off.

Travelling with students, Seoul's Gyeongbuk Palace in the summer.

The lovely pavilion and pagoda there.
More reasons to love my students.
The view from the entrance to Everland (pronounced Ebber-lande), one of the two major theme parks located in the Seoul area. I'm not sure if this was meant to be Sienna, Piaza San Marco in Venice or the park outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul!
Our temporary shelter for the rain. Look to the left for the dome on top to the Oriental Express terminus located in Sofia Bulgaria. Nestled up in the mountains, Everland does it's best to give you the world in a valley!

My new favourite treat - yes, this place does sell peanut-buttered squid legs :D.
Best amusement park ride pre-boarding sign ever.

Best for last- Asia's largest wooden roller coaster, the T-express. Not only is it a great ride, it lasts a full 3 minutes!

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