March 25, 2010
It's official, I have been exposed. Within the past 3 days each of the Korean English teachers I work with has, for various reasons, told me, “don't worry, it will be okay.” I have tried so hard since I got here to relax, be patient and take things as they come but at the end of the day I have a certain worrisome nature that can only be hidden for so long. My outing was produced by three main points of stress; an increased class load, social and physical pains and finally the continuing nightmare that is the logistics of trying to live in Korea.
This week my class load began to change. I have been given four new classes that I am responsible for starting this week. Two of them are for students who are more advanced or at least that was what I was told. I have come to discover that they are actually classes for students who want to study harder and learn more. I certainly won't complain about that but many of the students still do not understand most of what I am saying. Last week I had asked Seo and Choi what the focus of the classes was supposed to be and they said speaking and communication. So I spent time brainstorming and working on lesson ideas to help the kids learn to be speak English better. It allowed me to ignore some of the grammar issues they face in their regular English classes. Then about 20 minutes before my first class I was introduced to one of the teachers who teaches the kids Korean (similar to what English class is for us in the US) and was told she was working with the same kids on their writing skills. I was then told that she would be looking at the progress the kids were making on their writing skills in my class. After she left Seo then told me that she had just been informed that they wanted me to focus more on their reading and writing skills but in particular their writing skills. I literally sat on the floor and just looked down. The kids were about to show up and I had nothing. Since it was the first class I just faked it by doing introductions, even though most of the kids were in my normal classes. Then I talked to them to gauge where their speaking skills were at. Seo apologized for the mix-up. I told her I knew it was not her fault but that it was confusing and thereby frustrating for me to have my instructions changed on me. Even the week before last they had first told me that the class was to focus on grammar skills but then changed to speaking skills and now it was back to grammar and writing. The next new class I have been given is a class where I teach the other teachers. I have not actually had that class yet it will be held after school on Fridays. This week it will just be an introduction meeting and I will be able to determine where the other teachers are at with their English skills and what they want to learn about. With the teachers I believe they want to focus more on speaking English. I have also found that they are very interested in American culture so I am going to try and figure out a way to introduce cultural elements into the lessons (TV, movies, music, newspapers, etc). The final class they asked me to be a part of was drama. When they asked me to do drama I think my jaw actually dropped to the floor. I questioned Seo a couple of times to see if I understood her correctly. She told me that this year the play was going to be in English. They tried to assuage my fears by telling me that there is a drama teacher and that he will still be the director. They want me there so I can help the students with their pronunciation but, of course, they quickly tact on the fact that my opinion concerning the students’ acting would be appreciated. Six weeks ago I was working at the Gap folding shirts and now I find myself teaching Korean children (3rd-6th grade) how to act in English. On Wednesday I met with the drama teacher and we held “auditions.” I say “auditions” because the first thing I discovered was that all the kids who came where going to be put into the play. The fact was they just did not have enough kids to cut anyone. The next thing I discovered was that the drama teacher did not speak English. I didn't ask my friend Seo at the time but I am still wondering how this is actually going to work. If he doesn't know what the kids are saying when they are speaking English how is he actually going to be able to direct them? On a pleasant note during the auditions I discovered that this class, the drama class, was the actual advanced class. Some of the third graders spoke as clearly as anyone in the school. It reminded me of the time I first met Jong Woo. So despite my continued apprehension about being responsible for the school's drama production I was glad to be around some of the more advanced students.
Beyond just my class load increasing I found that my social activities (often more like duties) were also increasing. On Wednesday after I met with the drama students I had to run off to the gym of another designated volleyball game. When I got to the gym I discovered that, unlike last time, all the teachers of the school were coming and we would not just be playing volleyball. They split all the teachers up into two teams with the odd grades (1st, 3rd and 5th) on one team and the even grades (2nd, 4th and 6th) on the other team. They decided to put Choi and I on the odd numbered team even though we teach 5th and 6th graders. Then before I knew it bases were being set up and I figured out that we were about to play some form of kick ball. I say some form because so far every game we had played had different rules then I was used to from the US. I found myself on the team kicking first. But as I looked out at the “field” (a basic size school gym) I saw 15 to 20 teachers filling the entire space. There was simply nowhere to kick the ball where it wouldn't fall right into someone's hands. They made us alternate boy girl, boy girl. I was at the front of the line far too quickly for as of yet none of the six people ahead of me had made it to first base. (I discovered that they were not playing with three outs but simply letting everyone on the team kick once and then switching) Now as I came up my heart rate was needlessly high as I wanted to impress the other teachers because as everyone knows besides actually talking to a person the best way to make friends is to help them win games. And since talking was not an option all I had to give them was my amazing athletic prowess. As I approached home plate I noticed two things. First I saw all the guys started moving backwards for my kick preparing for some sort of big hit and then I saw that there was no catcher behind the plate. So I did what I thought was smart and “bunted.” The ball came racing at me and I absorbed most of it into the side of my foot basically stopping the ball right in front of the plate and started running. As I got to first base there was all sorts of shouting and laughing. Soon Choi came over to the base and told me to kick again. I asked why and he really did not have a clear answer but told me to just kick it for real. Besides not knowing what anyone was saying the most difficult part of playing any game has been the fact that I never understand what the rules are until it is too late. As I walked back to the plate I felt a mixture of embarrassment and irritation. But it was the irritation that was the force behind my next kick. I simply kicked the ball as hard as I could. It smashed into one of the walls behind everyone and bounced back hard and fast. It came almost half the way back to home plate and hit the ground before anyone could get there. By the time someone got to the ball they pinned it right by home plate and I made it to second base. My first thought was, “you should have let me bunted” but quickly that thought vanished as almost everyone on both teams cheered and clapped for me. Several of the guys playing defense came over and gave me a high fives. So at that moment embarrassment once again took over my mind as I could help but feel silly for my sarcastic thought and needless frustration at what was clearly just meant to be a fun time. Next we played dodgeball…sort of. When Choi told me we were going to play dodgeball I said, “Really?” I then explained what I understood dodgeball to be and he said yeah that is the same game. But I soon found out that Korean dodgeball was not quite the same. They created boundaries (boxes) in which they placed half of each team and then they took the other half of each team and placed them around the outside of the boundaries of the opposing team. I had been chosen to be inside of my team’s box. So inside the box I was looking at the people I was throwing at and ignoring the half of them that was behind me. They only used one ball and when the game started the other side got it and immediately threw it to a person on their team behind me and all of a sudden as I looked they threw the ball and hit me. I was the first one out. I had tried to ask but no one told me why those people where behind us. I knew now. I left and went and sat down but soon they grabbed me and put me behind the other team’s side. Similarly each person who was hit came and lined up behind the other team. So as the game progressed the number of the people inside the boxes decreased while the number of people behind the boxes increased. It actually was a pretty fun way to play I just wish I had understood it before we started. I also found out that when you catch a ball thrown at you the person who threw it is not out it just means you are not out. Finally it was time. They rolled out the volleyball nets and all I could think was how are we going to play volleyball with this many people? But before I knew it most of the teachers were sitting down and seven people were chosen to play for each side. I was chosen to play and was placed in the exact same spot as last time. In my head I thought maybe this time it would be different and the ball will get to me a little more. Well it was different but only in that the ball got to me even less. During two full matches I touched the ball twice and both times were because it was my turn to serve and my team lost possession on both of my serves. I almost sat down at one point but knew that would be wrong so I stayed standing trying to look like I was “ready” for the ball to come at any time. My team won. So the odd grade teachers had won kickball and volleyball while the even number teachers had won dodgeball.
Like all school functions we all soon headed off for dinner. Before we left I asked where we were going and Choi told me “not to worry” and that it was a good place to eat. I tried to explain to him that I was not asking because I was worried about the food but rather I wanted to know how far away it was to see if I could get home on my own. I told him I did not want to be out late. Ever since I got to Korea I have been battling a cold. It seems to come in waves. About a week ago I thought it was gone and then Sunday morning I woke up and was as plugged up as I had ever been and was coughing again. In three weeks I have gone through three and a half boxes of Kleenex. The night before I had only got 4 or 5 hours of sleep and woke up constantly suffocating in my own mucous. I told him that I was tired and not feeling good so I wanted to make sure I could get home early. He told me it was too far away for me to walk home so he called Seo who had already left and found out that I would be able to get a ride back with one of the teachers. The meal progressed like all the others. I got there and all the people around me focused on me for a bit with Choi interpreting for them and then fairly quickly they moved on to other conversations and I sat there eating by myself in a large crowd. But the meal moved quickly compared to the other ones I had been to and soon one of my fellow English teachers was leaving and ready to take me home. I said good-bye to Choi and told him I would see him tomorrow. I got home around 7:30pm and as I walked in I felt like I was going to fall over. Multiple times during dinner I had the bad feeling that I was going to have a seizure. Now while I cannot know for sure if I had one I don’t think I did because I continued to feel those sensations all night. When I got home I actually felt like my head was spinning and I almost lost my balance. I made it to my bed and sat for a minute. I undressed quickly and drank a big glass of water. As I continued blowing my nose I soon found my stomach did not feel great and before I knew it I was in the bathroom for a looooong time. I think everything in my body came out one way or another. I laid down and tried to sleep but kept getting back up and running to the bathroom. Finally I feel asleep. I did sleep better than the night before but I still woke up in the morning with a headache. I genuinely did not want to go to school today. But I did. When I talked to Choi he told me that he and a lot of the other teachers stayed out till midnight. Apparently after staying at the restaurant for a few more hours they went to a karaoke bar. Needless to say I was not sorry I missed it.
And lastly I just cannot escape the painful logistical nightmares that seem to be never ending. I did finally get my ARC (Alien Residency Card), which is supposed to allow me to get a bank account, cell phone, Internet and other services. After I got the card Choi wanted to take me to the bank to open an account. I said okay and asked him which bank we were going to. He did not have a quick answer but rather named multiple banks asking me which one I wanted. I told him I have no clue what banks were good or not. I tried to explain what I wanted as far as services go specifically a bank that can do currency exchanges and transfer money to US banks. As we drove he pointed out a few banks and told me about them but even as he told me I became more and more aware that he did not really have any clear idea of the actually difference between the banks. Finally we picked a bank and we pulled in and tried to find parking. Choi is an odd driver who cannot seem to do any turn that is less than 7 points and Korean parking is chaotic at best. So there was no place to park. Now I just assumed we were going to go over one more street and walk. But he was clearly frustrated and pulled out of the parking lot and said forget it we will just go to another bank. I did not hold back very well as I asked why. He told me it did not matter where I put my money. I snapped back that it mattered a lot to me and that I did not want to be picking my bank based on parking. I finally told him to just go back to the school and that I would get a banking account later. Based on what had happened I wanted to do my own research on banks online since it had become clear that Choi had no real information about each bank. He was confused as to why I did not still want to get my bank account and when I tried to explain to him that I wanted to know more information about the banks he thought I was just worried about the banks being safe. I know that because the next day Seo and a few other teachers told me how safe Korean banks are. So with each new person I had to try and explain that I understood that the banks were safe and was not worried about that. Half of the “do not worries” I received this week were connected to that misunderstanding. So maybe I should not count those “don’t worries” against myself since that (bank safety) was truly something I was not worried about.
So, today Seo and I went to open my bank account. I had done research and read various websites about Korean banks and which ones work best for foreigners. I picked a bank and talked to Seo about it. She told me that was the bank she used and has been using for the past 15 years. That fact made me feel good about my choice. Once we got to the bank the process of getting the bank account took almost an hour. It took so long because Seo had to try and explain things to me that she didn't really know how to say in English. Banking can be hard enough to understand when it is in English so once they turned all the fine print into Korean I really had to just trust that this was a good decision despite the limited information I was being given. Now there are many parts about Korean banking that I do not understand yet and I can't even really elaborate since I just got exposed to it today, so maybe later I can get more into that. Then we went cell phone shopping and it did not take long before I wanted to stop. It was clear that my questions were just not making sense. I still do not know how much of the confusion was due to the language barrier and how much of it was due to the fact that cell phone companies don't operate the same way in Korea as they do in the US. Seo could see my frustration. I tried to make sure to tell her more than once that I was not upset with her but just upset about the situation and not being able to understand what was going on. Seo decided to call a friend of hers named Grace. Grace is a Korean-American who had lived in San Jose. Grace worked at a near-by school and when Seo called she was still there so Seo and I grabbed a taxi and went over. Seo had other friends at the school and she went to go talk to them so that Grace and I could talk. Grace and I chatted about school and Korea. She has been in Korea for three years and is married to a Korean man. See just signed a new contract for another year but admitted that she does not think she wants to live in Korea the rest of her life. I finally decided to ask her about the phone situation and internet. She was immediately surprised to find out that I did not have a phone or internet yet. She explained that the school was supposed to provide those things. I told her that was what I had thought before I came but when I got here the school had told me it does not work that way. She then explained how the school is supposed to have the phone and internet placed in its own name and then I am only responsible for paying the school whatever the bill is each month. I couldn't help but laugh. I explained to Grace that Seo and Choi were new to the school just like I was so all of these things were new for them too. Grace talked to Seo about it and Seo explained what the school had told her. By this time I admit I was just tired; tired of not having internet, tired of not having a phone, tired of not having banking services (or as of now no idea of to use them) and most of all tired of having no one who really understood how to change any of it. Despite my frustrations I know I am lucky to have Seo here, she works very hard on my behalf. She has talked to different cell phone people, called internet companies and is constantly talking to the school about me and my needs.
So as the day comes to a close it is clear that I have exposed myself fully to my co-workers as one who is not particularly social and is far too worrisome about things, justifiably or not.
I wrote this blog yesterday. Today is my birthday and yet I can't help but think that if I was at home it wouldn't be my birthday. I would still be 28 in the US, weird. As far as my plans I might get to go out tonight with Grace and some of her friends so we'll see how that goes otherwise it is head home maybe buy some ice cream and watch a movie.