A Year Ago Today…

A year ago today I boarded a plane at JFK Airport and met new EPIK friends in San Francisco before boarding our plane to Incheon International Airport in South Korea. Thinking back on the past year it is interesting to see how far I have come and how much my life has changed. A year ago, I went through orientation and upon completion was ushered by bus to a city in my province. I remember meeting my co-teacher the first day and  the car ride back to where I was going to live was awkward but friendly.  Fast forward to now and I can say that my co-teacher, 라미, has been my biggest supporter. She has been there every step of the way and  has helped me with anything I had a question about.  I’ve learned about cool new apps to make my life easier, she has helped coordinate camps so I can go on vacation when I wanted, she has given me many rides to places I needed to go, and countless other things. I’m truly going to miss working with her and though it was the first year teaching for both of us, I think we worked well as a team and I will be sad to say goodbye.

My kids. What can I say? I remember waiting to be told when my first class would be held. I felt nervous and uncertain the first day I walked in to see my kids.  I felt nervous three different times, at three different schools. But I overcame that quickly and tried to teach to the best of my ability making mistakes along the way. My kids taught me a lot about myself, especially some of the rowdy ones. My patience wears thin quickly when I’m not being listened to; however, as the year went on I was able to control my patience better. My older apathetic to learning English kids reminded me of myself. They reminded of me of what I was like during classes I hated. They weren’t going to listen to me even if I told them ten times and you know what at the end of the day I came to terms with that. Outside of the classroom those kids were just as lovely as the students who paid attention.

Today we were supposed to have graduation at all of my schools. Because of the snow my main schools graduation was moved to Monday. My other two schools graduation ceremonies are on Tuesday, however, I will not be able to go to them. I already asked to go to the other middle school one , but was denied that request. In many ways, that breaks my heart that I can’t see all of my graduating students receive their diplomas. But, I am glad I took the time and foresight to say goodbye to my other schools in December when I knew classes were winding down.

For the last week I have been debating how to say goodbye to my main school. I love my students and I wondered should I just give them a hand shake, congrats and goodbye. Just wave goodbye to the kids? It didn’t sit well with me to be untrue to myself and my nature. I’m a very affectionate person and I like to say goodbye with a hug, if you are close family or a friend your receive a kiss on the cheek, unless you are one of the few who gets a kiss on the lips. Today while we were practicing congratulating the graduating class I hugged a student. The principal then said that we can shake the kids hands or give them hugs. When we sat back down I turned to two older female teachers and asked them if they thought it would be okay if I gave the kids a kiss on the cheek goodbye. Would it be strange?  They smiled and said nowadays that isn’t seen badly in Korea and to go ahead. I feel glad to know that I can be my authentic self on Monday. The kids might be squeamish and some do not like hugs, like one of my sisters does not. But at least I will feel I have said goodbye to my students that have become like extended family to me the way I want.

A year ago today I would not have imagined that I would get so attached to the teaching staff at all of my schools, nor to all of my students. Especially my middle school students. I bonded with some elementary students, but not as many of them. Of course with all endings there are always new beginnings. I will be moving to a different part of the country to start teaching at a new school and to experience the process all over again. As always a year moves quicker than we think and we learn more about ourselves than we expect.

Now to ponder what the next year will hold. I will keep my eyes open and enjoy the journey.

It’s that time of the year– to resign or not

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( We all hope our reccomendation letters make us out to be fabulous.)

As most people teaching with EPIK know there are two main intakes one in February and one in August.  As I am part of the February intake, my school should approach me soon to ask me if I am staying and resigning with them or not. About three weeks ago I asked my main co-teacher for a letter of recommendation as I have decided not to remain with my current school. I’m sure she has conveyed this on to the vice  principal and principal, but who knows.

My co-teacher actually asked me back in May if I would stay for another year as she really likes working with me and it would be nice to work together for two years. My school actually can only contract me for two years and then I would have to go to a different one. At the time I told her I was unsure but I would think about it. One of the elementary school teachers asked if I would stay next year as well and I said no to them, that I wanted to move to a different place.

Most of the teachers actually understand when I say I want to move to somewhere else. I live in a small town and I am the only foreigner. I can get to the city above and below me but the last bus is at 8 or 9 p.m. which doesn’t leave much room for staying out unless you are close with someone.

To be honest, I love my schools. I think all three of my schools are fabulous. My students are chaotic at times but all of them are loveable, and enjoyable to teach. My co-teachers at the two middle schools are very good. My main co-teacher has been wonderful with helping me with my needs, eating together, working on lesson plans together and just being a friendly person. The other teachers, vice principal’s and principal’s at all three of my schools are very good people. Everyone is friendly and nice to work with. To have my first environment be really diverse and friendly has been a great experience and I am really happy that I started at a rural school.

One of the main reasons to change schools is that it is hard to get out easily and that I am a bit lonely. However, one of the great things about the EPIK orientation is that you meet many great people some of whom are not part of your class in orientation, but are part of the incoming group. I have met quite a few close friends this way and it is one of the reasons I want to move to a bigger city.

Epik only lets you have one choice, so I am picking the Incheon MOE. However, I am also filling out the Seoul supplement form. Many people may say don’t bother with that as you aren’t applying for Seoul. Yes, you are correct, however, I want to be in that direction, so the more I can show I would like to go that way the better it will be. I remember my EPIK interview last October and the person asking me why I chose Gangwon-do. I told them because I thought it would be pretty and I have never seen the countryside of Korea before. They asked about where I lived and what I liked and I told them I grew up in a small town next to the water. I told them I liked the ocean. Well, wouldn’t you know that I am in a small village next to the water.

They try their best to match you and the earlier that you put your request in the better. I figure as long as my interview is before the first week of November is over, I have a good chance of getting what I want or at least close to what I want.  I’m a flexible individual and I can live alone well, but when it comes to interviewing about the place you want to be, you need to know how to say why you should be there. Why it is best for you or what you like. So, hopefully tomorrow I will have two more recommendation letters in hand and I can finally send off this application to get the ball rolling.

images This is how I feel about most required writing.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

My NOA has arrived

On Tuesday,  my NOA (Notice of Appointment) and contract arrived in the mail. I was excited to finally have my paperwork. I
felt like for the first time through this whole process with EPIK, I could say it is official… I am hired. I knew I passed my interview in November and on Christmas Day I found out that I was placed in Gangwon Province (강원도). But the reality is until the contract and NOA were in my hands it meant nothing. So even though I knew that I was going to teach English in Korea, it had not hit me that I was leaving.

Looking around my room at the things that need to be packed, organized, donated, and sorted, I have a lot to do. And unfortunately time is ticking away.  The realization that I am leaving in 4 weeks has not set in. Receiving the NOA and contract has definitely made leaving seem more real.   So the next step in this whole process is to go to the Korean Consulate in Boston to get my visa. I hope that I can obtain a multi-entry visa so that I can travel easy while I am living in South Korea.  I will be going to the consulate on Tuesday with a few other ladies who are also in the EPIK program. So it will be nice to do lunch after getting the visa. I shall let everyone know how it goes~

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