Saturday, November 20, 2010

Week 7: Flashback Advice

Since I should write something for Week 7:


IT'S BEEN almost two months now that I've been in Korea. I vividly remember that first week I arrived, back when I was scared to enter a grocery store. My tongue fumbled at the thought of speaking Korean to the cashier, and it was uncomfortable constantly being gawked at and whispered about. I remember the first day I entered my elementary school, and saw the sea of black-haired kids scampering around like wildly screaming banshees. Not just the language barrier, but being a new teacher, was challenging.

But I can't live without challenges. It's like when you're waiting backstage for a play. Behind the curtain, you're nervous, but once you get out there, it's your show. Sometimes in the grocery store, I fail speaking Korean and feel like a complete idiot. It's okay. I've grown used to feeling like an idiot. I've grown used to feeling like a baby, who has to relearn everything all over again. How to eat with chopsticks, how to cut food with chopsticks, cultural mannerisms- don't write names in red ink; it means you wish them death, how to pay bills, how to charge bus cards.

Yet the thing is, no one leaves you hanging. People jump in when they see you having trouble (and sometimes prematurely assume there'll be a problem). In the classroom, the co-teachers have my back. They constantly teach me new tricks. The kids make my job easy. I've only had to give the "I'm disappointed in you," talk to one class for acting up. I think 5th grade is my favorite. 4th and 5th are just at that level where their English is starting to take off, and they're still really enthusiastic to learn. The 3rd graders have the enthusiasm, but their English vocabulary is limited, and most of them can't read. The 6th graders (who graduate this semester) are settling into their pre-middle school "I'm too cool for studying" attitudes. I'm only assisting in that class (I'm not the main teacher) and from what I've seen, teaching by the book doesn't reach them. The interactive tasks do. The co-teacher lets me take over more of the lesson, as I learn his plans and routines, so I'm positive we can get a good balance of both.

Advice to Future Teachers

To anyone considering Korea for the future: there are tons of free Korean language classes available. The one I'm currently going to is an hour and a half on Saturdays. It costs 1,000 won (1 dollar) a day for printing costs, but besides that, you pay nada. They give you the packets, so you don't have to pay for a book. There are also so many hiking/adventure groups to meet up with. I'd advise Adventure Korea. They have an upcoming ski trip that costs 100,000 won (100 dollars) for the transportation, lift ticket, all rental equipment, and insurance. Not bad.

When considering jobs in Korea, think carefully before you accept a position at a hagwon. These after school programs are paid for by parents, and they definitely except results. There is a lot of pressure put on foreign teachers. From stories I've heard, the first month they treat you decently, but in the next they turn into harpies. Also, paychecks can be an issue. At public schools, you never worried about not being paid on time; the school's run by the state, so you know the state has the money to pay you. Hagwons can't pay you until the parents pay up. I'm sure there's good experiences along with the bad, but definitely know what you're getting into!

Also, to all new teachers in the Korean public school system: use It's a website where all the public school teachers share their lesson plans, presentations, and materials for the book. It makes the job a hell of a lot easier. You'll be amazed at the games these people create in power point! Thank you to all you waygookers!

Phones: these can be a hassle because of the language barrier. I can't tell you about any of these hassles, though. My recruiting agency, Adventure Teaching, offers what's called the Arrival Store. It has all sorts of goodies you might need upon landing, as well as a cell phone contract. They offer you a slider cell phone with a buy now, pay later option. You rent the phone. This means you must follow the phone contract for 6 months, but after that, you can end your contract and return the phone at any time. So keep it in good condition! You receive free incoming calls and texts. Outgoing they charge. Due to international fluctuations in price, you have to buy an international calling card to make international calls. I just use Skype for all that jazz (free!). Best thing: all your bills and transactions with the Arrival Store are in English. Service has been good so far, and your phone has a Korean-English dictionary and a Subway map.

Last thing: when you're getting documents together for your visa, do not neglect the Residence Certificate. This is needed to prove you're a United States citizen, so you do not have to pay taxes in Korea and in the USA. Fill out form 8802 on the IRS website to only pay taxes in the USA. Thing is, the IRS can take their sweet time getting the Residence Certificate to you, and you'll need to present it to your school before your first paycheck. So plan at least 2 months for it!

Good luck, miss you all, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Disclaimer: the above is presented as opinion, not fact.

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