Gangneung, Visiting My Second Hometown




Gyeongpo Beach

October happens to be a month that has a few extra holidays in it. Which one of those days turned out to be my new school’s birthday, so  I had the day off. I was thankful for this as it enabled me to go to Gangneung to see my old students. Logistically, my two schools are very far apart and I debated for a week or two, as to whether I should rent a car or not. I decided that I would leave it up to fate and boarded the bus to Gangneung that Wednesday night. When I arrived in Gangneung it was 8:30 P.M., and I was in luck all of the little rental car shops were open! I must have been blind during the year I lived there as I never noticed there were about 10 rental car shops in front of the bus terminal. I decided to go into the shop that looked like it had the door open. (I later learned it was just a piece of plastic off to the side of the door.

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The Last 회식 at 옥계중학교




My main school during last year was a small middle school in 옥계.  I really enjoyed the school a lot and I was very lucky to get a chance to fully experience the 회식 (Hweshik) also known as a work dinner. Many people do not enjoy these, but I really enjoyed them. Actually it was always really nice food I would never buy for myself and that deserves its own post. But today I am just going to talk about my last dinner at my main school.

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A Fork in the Cake

For the past few months a few of my third grade middle school girls have been asking me to cook for them. I normally go away on the weekends and they study for exams so it has been hard to organize a get together. Well, at the beginning of September we decided on September 28th, to cook. The girls requests included baked spaghetti and coconut cake.


The baked spaghetti cost more to make than the cake just because of the cheese alone. Luckily, the local Homeplus happens to sell ricotta cheese. Two of the girls came shopping with me and were surprised how quickly I go through the store and that I know where everything is, haha. I was surprised by the request for baked spaghetti because baked pasta is actually pretty popular in Korea. Although there is a cheap version which in my opinion tastes like shit or you can go to an italian restaurant and get some baked pasta. They don’t sell anything like lasagna here though.

I’ve never made baked spaghetti, but I figured it was similar to lasagna just different noodles. I found a recipe online but only used it for some ideas and a baking temperature. However, I did notice that the author of the recipe said they use cinnamon as their secret ingredient. I have never had cinnamon in pasta before and I added some and you don’t notice it at all. It might just enhance the sauce. So we put ground beef and sausage in the suace as well as I thought it should be a more authentic baked spaghetti.


I even made them poor man’s garlic bread. You know, a regualr piece of toast with butter and garlic powder on it and you throw it in the oven. They thought it was fantastic.


The girls were eager to help, but I told them they were in charge of the cake. Making pasta alone is much easier. I have to commend them as they did a fantastic job following the instructions in English and trying to use a measuring cup they have never seen. Granted they waited until the end to mix all of the ingredients instead of intermittenantly, but that is okay.  The funniest part was hearing them exclaimin Korean, “How many calories are in this?”


I forget that they have never baked and don’t own ovens, so they have no idea how much butter and sugar goes into most baked goods. Making the frosting was the funniest part as frosting is mostly powdered sugar and butter which scared them but it was yummy. They tried coconut milk for the first time too, the girls didn’t even know Homeplus sold it.

While the cake was baking they somehow managed to lure their homeroom teacher’s 5 year old daughter upstairs with her lego kit. (He is my neighbor that lives downstairs.)While the cake baked they were playing and drawing.


When it was finally done and I was trying to pop it out, it started to break a little which was irritating me. No one wants to look like a bad chef when guests are over. I finally managed to flip the cake out and realized part of the bottom was stuck to the pan. I looked down and saw a baby dessert fork. “Why is there a fork here?” The girls started laughing about the fork. I asked who used it, no one knows how it ended up inside


The cake went down well and everyone took leftovers home, after I had been seranaded for 2 hours with kpop songs.  Thanks for an entertaining day girls.


I learned two lessons:

1. Always watch for forks.

2. Never put a butter based frosting on a hot cake…it melts. (Butter is always fantastic anyways.)


Drawings that they left for me.


3 Schools and Nina Teacher

3 Schools and Nina Teacher

I’m currently teaching at 3 different schools. When I first arrived in Okgye (옥계)  I was told that I would be teaching at the middle school 3 days a week and the elementary school 2 days a week. That sounded like a good schedule to me.  I’m in the door at 8:30 A.M. and I’m out the door at 4:30 P.M. To me, this was heaven. No weekends, no overtime, no fixing problems, I was able to be free as a bird once the clock struck 4:30 P.M.

For those who don’t know, the schooling system in Korea is set up differently than in the states. It is on a 6-3-3-4 track. 6 years of elementary school, first through sixth grade. Middle school is seventh through ninth. High school is tenth through twelfth grade.  And college is four years the same as back home.

After teaching for about a week and many phones call that went back and forth between schools it was finally decided that I was going to also be teaching at another middle school on Mondays in Wangsan (왕산). Wangsan school is a 40 minute bus ride into Gangnueng (강릉) and from there by co-teacher drives me by car to the school which is 20 minutes away.


This is Wangsan middle school, it is the smallest school in the city of Gangneung. There are 19 students in the whole school. They are truly a lovely bunch, each class is really intimate and it is easy to rally their attention. Lots of hello’s when I arrive and good-bye see you next weeks when I leave. Although the school is really far out the children are truly a joy. I also am finding at this school, I spend more of my focus during pair work helping the special education students.  I find it rewarding as they repeat each word after me or they try and speak in front of the class, the other classmates are not rude either. Which I appreciate and I feel they have an understanding as to why I may not circle their way as much. I may start to insert a reward system for the stronger students. Not sure how to implement it without hurting the other students feelings if I have a stronger student help them out.


The Okgye elementary school complete with the English classroom. I have a smartboard that isn’t seen in this photo. I still don’t know how to use it properly and sometimes I hit a button and it goes to the wrong page and I make a fool of myself in the process but it is okay. There are roughly 120 students between first and sixth grade and I only teach third to sixth grade. The kids are cute and their attention spans are quite varied. Some students are pretty good at English and others struggle much more. But there is always a kid or two in class who are able to relay the message on to classmates in Korean.


And last but not least my home base. This is Okgye middle school that I work at during the rest of the week and where my main co-teacher resides. The school only has 85 students and they all approach me differently. Some say, “hello” and shuffle away quickly after I answer back. Others come charging and say hello quickly as they run through the halls. The class dynamics are all different, sometimes I have the blank stares. The I’m listening and still not going to stay on task or do the assignment. The omg teacher I need your help, “What is this word in English?” “What about this?” It’s a wide array of personalities and really fun.

I have two after school English conversation classes that I have yet to set a curriculum too. I feel input from students is always a good starting point. As I teach and interact with each student I feel myself growing. I remember what I was like in school, what I hated about teachers, what I liked. What I refuse to be in the classroom. How I want to shape my classroom and how I want to inspire my kids. You are never too young to think outside the box and have an opinion. And I think I’m going to make it a goal by the end of the year for them to tell me how they feel about certain things. Why not? We are supposed to be conversing in English, not “Hello, nice to meet you.” six months later, maybe you might say, “Teacher, what did you do this weekend?” That would be a reward within itself.


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