The End of Week One

Today marked two weeks in South Korea, one week in Gimhae, but most importantly a week through teaching. I did it! It’s just so great!

In this week, I can’t express how much I have learned about Korean children, the education system, the activities my students partake in, the various English names they have, their hopes and dreams along with their negative attitudes at times, but most importantly…I can’t express how much I’ve learned about me.

Since my first day, I’ve received two new students in two different classes. As awkward as this may sound, I named my first Korean child! A young boy joined as a beginner level and hadn’t received an English name. My co-teacher, Kate, said she needed to give him a name. I asked what his Korean name was and it began with a ㅁ or “M”. So I suggested Matt. No? Matthew? No? Michael? Ahh! I like… But he didn’t seem to like it that much. So I just went for the next closest name I could think of – “Nathan?” A few seconds pass… And he vigorously nods his head up and down.
Too. Precious.

My week had several highs and lows. Some kids just have a negative attitude and it’s hard to teach those students who genuinely want to get better when there are disrupters. But, I managed to gain control of the classroom for the most part. Not until Friday (today) did I have to kick my first kid out of class. The thing about today was that it’s the day before a 5 day weekend…so it was understandable that the kids were rambunctious… BUT, only to a certain extent. I love having fun with kids just as much as the kids themselves, but we need to focus when it’s time to focus.

My coworker John asked me who my favorite kid was and I had maybe 6 answers. So many unique characters in such a small class population.
(By the way, my smallest class is 2 and my largest is 8.) Also, no names in case they ever find this, haha.

Today, some of the girls (who happen to be two of my favorites) come in and hand me a box. My first present!!!

The reason there is a five day weekend is due to Chuseok, the Korean version of Thanksgiving. So today I received socks, shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, vitamins, and watermelon! Also, I shared my 김밥 (kimbab or veggie rice roll sometimes with meat or fish) with a student and received jelly beans and wafer in return (Win-Win).

Although today sucked discipline wise, it was a great day to end Week One on. I am going to miss the kids over break, and I hardly know who they are.

If you note the time I am posting this, it is approximately 5:30pm your time or 6:30 A M my time. I got home around 5:20. While I may not be that intoxicated, Koreans definitely know how to make a party last. We met a guy who claimed to be Yakuza tonight, along with several of the other Waegooks (foreigners) or foreign teachers from the other branch – the same branch all my friends are at.

Super successful first week. Unbelievably excited for the next few months and man, right now I could just do this forever. I’ll try and get a picture of my students in action soon, but until then… Know that they are more precious than you can fathom.

Over and out, the sun is up…….

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Nick Teacher – flying solo.

Today was the first day of teaching. 

WOW.

First of all, it was just about as cute as I could have guessed.  Some kids were half my size all the way to one who was only a few inches shorter than me.  Thank goodness none of them were taller – that would have been too much fun for them.  My classroom might be the same size as my apartment, give or take.  There are about 12 desks, a chalk board, projector, and my desk.  During training we were using Smart TVs – basically a gigantic tablet.  Unfortunately, I do not have this luxury here.  But, hey, I faired pretty well without it. 

I met the other English teacher at my school – his name is John.  Really a great guy, and thankfully, he is a bit older than me.  I don’t think I have asked anyone more questions in the past week than what I asked him today.  He is definitely a patient guy and I am very thankful to have someone like that in the classroom next to me.  Within my school (and all the others), an English teacher is paired with a Korean teacher and you split lessons(all you really need to know).  Anyway, my co-teacher is awesome.  Her name is Kate.  Where John has been teaching here for more than three years, she has only been here for three months.  It was really comforting that they knew exactly how I felt and were very compassionate in that manner.  Coming into the school today, I knew hardly anything as far as what classes I would be teaching.  It was stressful not knowing what to prepare for, but they helped out a whole, whole lot.  My manager seems like a swell guy – very, very happy.  The secretaries were also very sweet and even gave me a mug.  (That’s how I know I’m a teacher now, right?)

Flying solo for the first time was every single feeling I have ever had all wrapped into one.  It was exhilarating, felt fairly death-defying, quite scary, and yet so comforting all at once.  There was a moment between classes where I was just cashed out and said to myself, “And I signed up through a whole year of this?”  Only to later bite my tongue when I got to work with my largest class of the day. 
-Sidenote: I had 5 classes today, ranging from ages 6/7 up to probably 10/11.  I didn’t ever ask their ages, but maybe down the road.

All the classes were nearly the exact same in two ways.  They each had at least one kid who needed to overcompensate.  Or they were completely silent and didn’t want to talk or interact.  The smaller the class the faster we could get though material, and in one of them I almost finished WAY too early.  With the larger classes, I had trouble getting through everything.  Surprisingly, the larger classes were more eager to participate, mostly to out do their classmates.  They also were notorious for tattle-tailing.

At the beginning of each block, the first class takes a quiz.  The moment they finish – “Done!” “Finished!”  It was amazing to me how these kids wanted to learn – maybe not learn English, but just flat out want to learn.  They just want you to know they are on their stuff.
At the beginning of each class, I introduced myself and showed them Kentucky on a map, then the skyline of Louisville.  For a few of the older classes, I asked them if they knew about baseball and showed them the giant Slugger bat downtown.  The look on their faces was too freaking cute.

The funniest moment of the day had to belong to my first class.  In the reading passage, we were talking about pajamas.  Cotton pajamas.  Flannel pajamas.  Silk pajamas.  So, to make sure they knew what flannel was I go to google and type in flannel pajamas.  As I point to a picture in the middle, the problem child of that class, gets up and points off to the side saying, “OOoOOOOH!!!”  Click the link and oogle at the hot babe yourself.
Flannel Pajamas
The class lost it, laughing so hard. 
Future note: Always pull up any possible examples before class.

Throughout the next several classes, I seriously thought my head might fall off.  Switching between lesson books/plans, making sure all the right papers were out, and trying to remember their names – it was nuts.  (If you were wondering, they all have English names – Emily, Jay, William, Billy, Tom, Rose, etc.)  And yeah, I had my first moment of, “Nick, what have you gotten yourself into!?”  Then I had the complete 180. 
For a writing passage, there was a story about a boy named Tom who went to a flea market.  Their job was to write Tom’s letter to his Dad telling him about the experience.  “In the conclusion, or end of your letter, what’s something you would say to your dad if you were writing to him?  ‘I miss you’ ‘See you soon’? Things like that, right?”  I noticed one girl reacted to these questions a lot more than anyone else.  So they get to work on their letters and I go around to make sure they are staying on task.  I get to the girl and start to read over her letter and nearly teared up!  In her conclusion it said something to the effect of, “Well, the flea market has been really fun, but, dad, I really miss you! I can’t wait to see you soon! Bye! ~”  It also helped she draws a little heart of her name.  TOO CUTE.  It was just one of the most genuine things I had ever read – mind you, this is an eight year old, early level, English class.  It’s one thing for a kid to copy the exact blueprint of an activity and call it a day – which is totally acceptable.  But, it’s a special thing when a kid goes above and beyond to put themselves into what they do.  Maybe I overreacted to it, but hey, it was the best part of my day. 

If I have one cute moment a week or a month, then I’ll be lucky.  Good thing I’m about to be one of the luckiest gentlemen in South Korea.

Finished off the first day with a nice steak dinner with John as I just replayed the afternoon – Momo’s; if you ever come to visit, we’re going.

And one final note… I’ve been working hard to figure out bypassing the Korean proxy stuff.  With the suggestion from Yuri (teacher in Seoul from my training group), found an add-on called “Hola” which allowed me to fall asleep to It’s Always Sunny last night.  With this same app, I have queued up not one, not two, but THREE possible ways of watching the football game tomorrow morning/tonight.  I swear if one of these doesn’t work…. I will be heartbroken.  At the very least, I can refresh Twitter and ESPN.com tickers and at least “hear” the big plays. 

God speed to my alma mater.  I wish I could be there for a brief second to see the kicker’s (UofL or Miami) foot collide with that ball and send our hopes, dreams and wishes into the Atlantic Coast Conference, but alas, I will not.  So please, PLEASE enjoy the game a few decibels louder for me, here on the other side of your world.  Because if you all scream just a little louder it will fill my void – and hey, maybe I’ll hear you 13 hours away.

Go Cards!
Until next time, friends!

Week One

A full week in South Korea.  Literally feels like the blink of an eye and an eternity at the same time.
Why don’t I know Korean yet?

I guess the more I write these posts the more I’ll get used to what I want to talk about.  I’ll give a recap of this first week abroad.

After leaving Chicago I loaded onto the plane and was seated next to a girl around my age, definitely not Korean.  As everyone gets comfortable, turns out Lisa is going to teach as well – just with a different company, on the opposite coast as me.  Basically, I couldn’t have asked for a better travel buddy.  It was great being able to share the same emotions as we left our homes. On her right was a lovely Korean woman named Bertie(Birdy?), who ended up helping us get our luggage and made sure we caught the correct bus to each of our destinations.

So I head to Seoul.  The bus ride is a lot longer when you don’t have thirty friends equally as excited as you are.  It’s also WAY harder to know if you are getting off on the right stop when you don’t have your best Korean pals there to tell you.  Eventually I make it to the hotel and as I get out of the taxi, Wonjoo’s brother is right there waiting.  AJ, his wife, and Wonjoo’s mom take me out to dinner in Gangam – where my hotel was.  Gangam was a completely new experience from our other trips to Seoul.  Not exactly sure why, but it might have had to do with the amount of bars and giant LED tvs.

Spent the next day pretty much relaxing and talked to the family.  Wandered around for lunch and after a while realized, “Nick, no one else is here to have an input.  No one else is going to make this decision.”  And so I walked into a random place, ordered a random dish and was content.

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Around 7 or so the door opened and I met my first roommate for the week.  Nadeem was from England and had previously been in China teaching for a while.  Later on Schuyler and Conor joined us.

Training was a blur.  I wish I could explain it, but 1) I can’t per contract, and 2) it wouldn’t make sense anyway.  Basically, it was everyday from 9:30-12:30 with some special hour sessions after.  There were about eleven or twelve trainees staying in my hotel, several of which are teaching in the same city I am – just in a different school.

In particular, Monday we had our medical exams.  Talk about an experience.  We were told it would be similar to a conveyor belt and it sure was.  Into one room for X-rays.  Met a doctor who asked me basic questions, one of which, “Have you ever been to Korea?” “Yes, this is my third time.” “So you must have a Korean girlfriend by now, right?” he laughs.  Onto an audiology test, which unfortunately was so easy.  I love having my hearing checked because every time I do the tester person is blown away by how well I do.  Not in Korea.  Blood pressure test times three.  Blood drawn.  Urine sample.  Eyes checked.  EKG – which was freaky, first time I had ever done that.  And a dental check.  Took the better part of nearly two hours or so (maybe longer?).  We went to grab food after and didn’t get back to the hotel until almost 6 and still had a lot of work to study.  Each night was filled with online prepping and lesson preps as well.  The best partner for those things you ask? Milkis, of course.

In my small group for training I had three others.  Two from Boston and one from New York.  Yuri and Morgan, and Lauren.  I could not have asked for a better group. Our trainer was from Canada and definitely helped facilitate good vibes all week.

All in all training week was a test. The past few days in 김해 (Gimhae) have been awesome. Night one consisted of a sex motel, coffee, making an awesome Korean friend and discovering the Korean PC cafe. Until I get a phone I can’t compete with Koreans, but oh…I shall play games with them.
Day two I got my apartment and walked around the blocks of my apartment. I’m in a very fun area filled with dozens of restaurants, bars and the like. Last night (Saturday) I went out for a few beers solo. Sat down at a bar and several Korean girls try talking to me in broken English. We made our way through topics. I ended up learning the days of the week, how to count through the twenties, and how to piece together the date or birthdays. The most important thing I learned was, “8 out of 10 Korean girls NO like that,” as she points to my beard. Also, more than three tattoos are “terrible”.

My Sunday consisted of lunch with my fellow Gimhae teachers – Baylee, Elaine, and Schulyer. We ran into my friend 수미 (Sumi) from the first night and she helped us find an delicious and cheap place to eat. We followed that up with an excursion to Homeplus. I don’t know how to explain it other than thousands of Koreans and foreigners in a store the size and quality of Walmart. So. Many. People. It was unreal. On the second floor, yes, two floors, were nearly a dozen restaurants, a kid’s play area, bookstore and small thrill rides. The electronic department was jaw dropping. Needless to say, I will be going back.

I am currently sitting in an outdoor garden, sipping Rosemary tea among my new friends – my new family. Tomorrow I begin teaching and a whole new experience. I don’t think my mind has fully wrapped around the vast amount of change that has come at me the past few days, but when it hits, you’ll probably know.

Scattered story telling, but I hope you get the point. Definitely in love with this place and the people. Until next post, friends!

And so we begin…

Good tidings friends,

This is the first of what I hope to be many posts.  As many new bloggers tend to state, I plan on keeping up with this about as often as I can.

As this is my first post I guess I will talk about a few things I hope to accomplish with this blog.

First and foremost, this will be about the adventures of a beard and a boy, my beard and I, in South Korea.  If you didn’t know, which I would assume anyone reading this SHOULD already know… otherwise why are you creeping… Anyway, if you didn’t know I am moving to teach English in South Korea.  I hope to blog and Facebook photos, foods, and experiences I have abroad to share with my friends and family.

Secondly, this blog will help to educate gentlemen on my beard growing stratagem.  While some may fail to fully accept my long held beliefs in the growing of beards, I hope to provide a subtle amusement to reading my blog.

Lastly, I hope that I can progress in my writing style and voice.  It has crossed my mind to compose some sort of work over the course of my life to be a “final testament” as it were.  But, who knows when that would ever occur.

So why am I writing this first post before I depart, let alone a whole month and a half beforehand.  Good question.  Over the past few weeks, the clock ticks closer and closer to me being on my own, solo dolo, me, myself and I, lone wolf, stag, alone, by myself.  With each passing moment it becomes more and more evident that I am going to miss my friends and Louisville terribly so.

Tonight I went to a choral concert for a group called the Kentucky Ambassadors of Music.  This choir is made up of high school students from around the state who depart tomorrow morning for a sixteen-ish day trip to Europe.  I was a member of this ensemble exactly six years ago.  As I walked up to Comstock Hall prior to the concert, there were dozens of parents hugging their kids, embracing those final moments before they would let their little bird fly solo for, most likely, the first time.

This touched me because six years ago, I was that kid.  Knowing the wonders of Europe, but never thinking I would go.  I mean, what would give me or any of the other kid that opportunity.  Not many things other than music.  Duh.

Choir has given me my life up to this point.  From the friends in high school, to the friends I hope to see every day for the rest of summer, choir has given me that.  It has also introduced me to Korea, the country I hope to call home for a few years.  Hearing some of the same music I sang on that trip SIX years ago was just a WOW moment.  I don’t know a life without choir and hopefully I find that in Korea.

Before I fly solo, let’s hang out, let’s go eat, see a movie, walk the Waterfront, do anything!  I want to enjoy the Louisville that I will miss so much, but the people who make it Louisville, that’s what I will miss the most.

 

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