Monthly Archives: July 2008

Off to China!

The blog has been a bit quiet for the past week or so, and it’ll be even quieter for the next two weeks. I’m going to be in China until early August, being an uber-tourist and spending some serious amounts of hard-earned cash.

I’ll post something interesting as soon as I get back!


Everyday living

I’ve been working on a new page for the website: Living in Korea. Here I’ll be putting all sorts of everyday stuff. For the moment it has some info about groceries and electrical plugs. I’ll be adding more and more as the year goes along. If you have any suggestions for things you’d like to see, let me know and I’ll try and put it on.


Vacation and summer camp

It’s been a long week. The students finished writing exams last week, and the vacation starts tomorrow. As you can imagine, the kids have not been that keen to do any work, so the past week or so has been a balancing act of trying to keep their attention while still doing some work. I managed to work Spongebob episodes into my lessons this week, and this was a winner. The kids enjoyed watching the show, and I was still able to teach the work I wanted by being creative with worksheets and activities. But I’m glad that’s all over!

My semester ends today (Friday), but the rest of the teachers and the students have to return tomorrow (Saturday) for some closing ceremony. I cannot begin to say how grateful I am that I don’t work Saturdays. It means I miss a two-hour long ceremony, and another obligatory school trip (also known as a piss-up). These things are ok in the beginning of the year, but to be honest I really need a break from my co-workers. I really get along with them, but I treasure my weekends and evenings. They are like gold to me! The people here really don’t understand that I’m an introvert so I really like my alone time (with my wife, of course). Here if you tell someone that you’d like to do something on your own, they ask you if you are feeling ok and if you need someone to keep you company. AARRGGHH!

The flipside of not working Saturdays, though, is that I will be spending the majority of the summer vacation at the school. Most of the other teachers will not be coming in. I have three weeks of summer camps scheduled, and then a week of preparation for next semester. I’m a little disappointed that I’ll be spending most of the summer vacation at the school, but at least I have a ten-day trip to China to break up the monotony a little. That should be amazing!

The prep for the summer camp is a little stressful. I’ll have 12 kids to look after for 4 hours a day, which is going to be pretty taxing. I have a sneaking suspicion that the kids are not going to be that keen to do anything that even looks like schoolwork. So I’ve planned several activities to keep things interesting, including our very own “English Olympics”, which is essentially a range of word games with the Olympics as the theme. I’ve also decided to teach them how to make sandwiches and coke floats. That is being reserved for the LAST lesson of one of the days. I’ll send them home all hyped up on sugar. That should be fun.

So for the next week I’ll be chanting a little rhyme to myself: “On Saturday I go to China. On Saturday I go to China…”

GEPIK Orientation June/July 2008: Part 3

Continued from Part 2

Day 4: Thursday 3 July 2008

The last two days of the Orientation went by very quickly. The Thursday was a half-day, and we only had two lectures. The first was “Native English Teachers 101” by Dini Turner. I believe she is married to James Turner, who gave the less-than-successful talk on classroom management the day before. Well, Dini wasn’t much of an improvement. To be honest, her talk wasn’t that good. However, the information included in her section of the Orientation booklet should come in handy, as it has all sorts of information about what you should expect from your school and what Korean co-teachers need to know about native speakers. It also has some examples of what your pay slip should look like, as well as leave forms and other odds and ends.

After a short break we had the second (and last) lecture for the day. This was “The Role of Teachers in Co-Writing Class – English Writing” by Won Jangho. Actually, it was more of a talk on how to use videos to structure a writing lesson, and how to get students to write more. Speaking and writing (the productive skills) are sorely neglected in the Korean school system, so this really caught my attention.

Won Jango's talk on "The Role of Teachers in Co-teaching Class - English Writing"

Won Jango's talk on "The Role of Teachers in Co-teaching Class - English Writing"

This was a great lecture. The speaker, a Korean English teacher, clearly outlined how he uses videos, many pulled from YouTube, to structure his lessons and to practice specific grammar points. I stole loads of ideas from his talk, and I’ll be implementing these in my lessons from next semester. I struggle to get my students to speak in class, and I’ve found that they are much more comfortable writing as they aren’t under the spotlight if they make mistakes. BUT, I can use the writing to get the students to speak a little more. I’ve already used some of these ideas in my lessons this week. So far it has worked well, with the students writing short descriptions of monsters they have drawn, and then reading these aloud to the rest of the class. Great stuff!

The afternoon was set aside for an outing to Hwasung Fortress in Suwon, but the weather wasn’t playing along so we ended up going to the Gyeonggi provincial museum instead. This was relatively interesting, but after a long week it was a wee bit difficult to appreciate it. The museum showcases a lot of artifacts from Korean history, with the focus on items and events linked to Gyeonggi province.

Day 5: Friday 4 July 2008

The last day of the Orientation was a bit of a write-off. It started with a review of a short survey we had to fill in on the first day of the Orientation. The survey asked some simple questions on our awareness of Korean culture, as well as some basic info on our own nationalities, ages and length of time in Korea. The review of the survey wasn’t that exciting, though it was interesting to see that about 25% of the people at the Orientation were from South Africa. That’s about 44 out of the 180-odd people there. Not bad.

One of the group posters

One of the group posters

After the survey review we broke up into groups and had to come up with some ideas for improving the teaching of English and cultural awareness at our schools, and then put these ideas on some posters that would be displayed for everyone to see. We had about 40 minutes or so for this whole exercise, and I was pretty impressed by what the different groups came up with in such a limited time-frame. Not that many of the ideas were particularly practical, but they were nice nonetheless. After all the posters were put up for display, everyone walked around and put stickers on the posters we liked. I think the idea was to select the posters with the most stickers as the best, but I don’t think many people took this seriously (including yours truly). I entertained myself by looking for any posters that Africa on them, and then putting a sticker on where SA should be.

After the sticker session we filed back into the hall for a review of the posters, and this was the last little bit of nastiness for the Orientation. Each group had about a minute to talk about their poster, but some people in the audience started clapping as soon as they were bored to indicate that the speaker should stop. I felt this was really rude, especially when one guy, who was a bit of an odd character, didn’t even get a chance to start before people started clapping. This really lowered my opinion of certain people in the crowd.

But thankfully this session didn’t last long. Afterwards it was all just goodbyes and thankyous and the like, and then a final performance by traditional dancers and drummers.

Rachel Cameron giving her speech

Rachel Cameron giving her speech

One of the last speeches was by Rachel Cameron, one of the attendees. She spoke about how she had lost enthusiasm for her job, and before the Orientation had considered quitting and going back home to Austalia. I think she articulated how many of the people at the Orientation felt when she spoke of how the Orientation had made her re-evaluate her role as a teacher in Korea, and how, even though things often aren’t that great, that things can improve and we can still enjoy our time here. It was good to hear that other people felt the same as me. All in all a pleasant, and very Korean, way of ending the Orientation.

Then it was grabbing bags, catching the bus back to Migeum station, and home. Thank goodness!

Overall the Orientation was worthwhile. Not everything was great, and some lectures were terrible. But on the whole I feel like I’ve returned to work a little better prepared and with a lot more ideas for making good lessons. I’m also going to try my damndest to improve relations with my co-workers. I think both sides are guilty of making mistakes here, so it’s up to me to try and make it better. So far it has worked well, so let’s hope I can keep it up!

Gepik Orientation 2008: Part 1

Gepik Orientation 2008: Part 2

GEPIK Orientation June/July 2008: Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Day 2: Tuesday 1 July 2008

Day two of the Orientation started with a Q&A session with Dain Bae, the GEPIK co-ordinator for secondary schools. I was a bit worried that this session would deteriorate into a series of gripes, and that Dain Bae would spend the entire time in defensive mode. I’d heard stories of previous orientations that became little more than an opportunity to complain about GEPIK.

Dain Bae did a really good job of defusing any potential tension in the room, and it was as simple as not treating the crowd as unruly schoolchildren. So we all settled down a little and heard about common concerns in the GEPIK contract and working conditions. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty about issues like pension fund and tax payments. For those South Africans who are still not sure: we are exempt from making pension fund payments in Korea, and for the first two years that you work for public schools in Korea you don’t pay income tax.

After this rather fruitful session we had further discussions about life in GEPIK, but this time in smaller groups. I’m not a fan of group discussions, and this session was a bit of a waste of time. The only good thing that came out of this was some cool lesson ideas, though this was a bit off topic from what we were actually meant to be doing. But this ended soon enough and off we went to lunch.

The first session after lunch was a talk by Mark Merzweiler on “My life as a GEPIK teacher.” The title of the session was a little boring, but the talk wasn’t. This was the first of the really useful lectures we had during the orientation week, though lecture probably isn’t the right word. The image that comes to mind is a guy talking about his experiences while sharing a beer in a bar somewhere. It was a really interesting to hear about this guy’s ups and downs in Korea, and why he is still here even though he first arrived in 1993. This guy has seen some really dodgy stuff in Korea, and seems to have had a really raw deal with some of the hagwons he taught at. It was good to put my experiences in Korea so far into this context, and to remember that things could be a lot worse. Not that things are all sunshine and roses, but oh boy, it could be a LOT worse.

I picked up a couple of good tips for lesson plans and classroom management from Mark. But I think the most important thing was to hear how, even after all these years teaching in Korea, he still struggles with many of the same problems I do, in terms of ensuring discipline and keeping the kids interested. So I’m not a shoddy teacher, and my kids aren’t especially naughty – this is just something you need to learn to handle.

The last session for the day was “How to do a lesson plan” by Darlene Delorme (or Darlence Delorme, as she is listed in the programme). The title suggested a snoozefest. I’ve done lesson plans to death, in my TEFL course and at my school, so I wasn’t too sure what I was going to learn here. But, to my surprise, Darlene was able to give me some ideas on how to approach my lesson planning.

The highlight of this session? When Darlene found out that, no, we don’t see our students several times a week. Try once a week. Or even once every two weeks. When she had taught at public schools she had seen the kids a couple of times a week, so her lesson plans were structured around this. And no-one had ever bothered to tell her that things aren’t exactly like that at the public schools where we all teach. The look on her face was priceless.

After this was more Korean food for dinner, and then we watched “The King and the Clown”, a Korean movie about a crossdressing minstrel and his troupe that get involved in the intrigues at the kings court. It was a bit odd, but interesting to watch.

Day 3: Wednesday 02 July 2008

The first two sessions of day three of the orientation were just disaster heaped upon incompetence. They sucked. No, really. That’s three hours of my life I’ll never be able to claim back. The first session was “Using Interactive Activities” with Nick Mitchelmore. I don’t know what this was intended to be, but it ended up being torture. The speaker tried to demonstrate how to use various activities in the classroom to get the students to participate and to speak. Now, almost every single activity he demonstrated I have come across on any number of forums and books on ESL teaching. Nothing new here. But the worst part was when he started getting irritated that we weren’t going along with this bizarre lecture. His mistake was treating adults, native English speakers at that, like a bunch of non-English-speaking schoolkids. Of course your demonstration is going to fail. We aren’t kids, you know, and we speak the language just fine.

His annoyance and frustration were very apparent. That’s the only thing I learnt from this session – that I must hide these emotions while giving a class, no matter what. He lost the crowd as soon as he looked irritated. No turning back from there. Maybe some people picked up a couple of tricks from this session, but I personally feel that he could have approached it differently. He might have shown videos of students using these activities, for example, and illustrated where this was well-managed or not by the teacher in question. I felt that we were all well aware of activities to use in class, but not necessarily in how best to implement or run these activities.

The next session was “Classroom Management” by James Turner. Actually this should have been titled “Classroom Management: How not to do it”. I can’t write much about this session because for the life of me I can’t recall much of what this guy said. He sort of waffled for about 45 minutes, and then opened the floor to questions, most of which he couldn’t answer. Not that he’d admit it. He’d give an answer, though it didn’t necessarily correspond to the question. He thought he only had an hour to speak, but he actually had 90 minutes, so the torture got extended for what seemed like eons. Oh, and what this had to do with “classroom management” I still don’t know.

Thankfully we were saved by lunchtime.

The first session after lunch was a team-teaching demonstration by Koo Yeon Jin & Candice Sue Bolton, from Suwon Foreign Language High School.

Candice Boulton as a culture fairy

Candice Boulton as a culture fairy

I was worried that they’d act as if were students and try and teach us.

I was really relieved to see that they were merely going to illustrate to us how they did their recent demo lesson, with commentary on how they approached the lesson, with some videos showing them in action.I found this session really informative, especially with their discussions on how they deal with the whole co-teaching thing, which is problematic for most of the people attending the orientation. I did have a pang of jealousy when we saw what level their students are at, as they teach at a foreign language high school. These kids could string whole sentences together and everything! But I found their general approach to co-teaching interesting, and I’ll try to apply some of these lessons in the relationships with my own co-teachers.

Darren Ng giving his great talk

Darren Ng giving his great talk

The last session of the day was the by far the best of the entire orientation. This was “Why don’t they just get it?” by Darren Ng. His topic looked at the many differences andproblems native English teachers encounter when they teach in public schools in Korea. He basically spoke about how to improve your living and teaching experience in Korea, starting with yourself – your approaches to your fellow teachers, your students and your teaching philosophy. I was expecting a preachy 90 minutes, but instead I was thoroughly entertained by Darren, who definitely has a gift for public speaking. The important bit was that he is actually a teacher in GEPIK, and he was able to draw on his own experiences to illustrate how we might go about improving our situations, and how to stop complaining. Some experiences at the schools in Korea seem universal, and it was good to see this. This lecture definitely lifted my mood, and gave me a lot of impetus to try and improve things at my school. I hope this enthusiasm lasts past the first week back, though…

I’m not going to do Darren’s talk any real justice here, but you can read some of what he spoke about at his blog here:

That was pretty much that for day three. There was a “Korean Traditional Music Performance and Workshop” that evening, but I’d been dealing with TMP (Too Many People) all day, so I hid in my bedroom and read a book.

Day four and five will be covered in Part 3.

GEPIK Orientation June/July 2008: Part 1

I’ve just spent the past week at the GEPIK orientation for new secondary school teachers, held at the Hyundai Learning Center in Yong-in. If you’ve read my previous post you’ll know that I was not particularly looking forward to this trip. I’d been having some negative feelings towards my job and Korea in general, and I was in a fighting mood as my wife and I had been told that we couldn’t have shared accommodation. Let’s just say that when I left home on Monday morning I was not in the best of moods.

As I write this I feel completely different. This orientation week was a lot more useful than I expected. Most of the people we met were pretty cool, and most of the lectures were interesting. Now, not everything was good, but on the whole I was happy with what I learnt and experienced. Here’s a quick rundown of the week:

The good: The lectures by Mark Merzweiler, Darlence Delorme, and Jangho Won were great. They really helped give me some ideas for my lessons. The best talk of the week was by Darren Ng, who really made me think about why I’m teaching and how to approach my Korean co-teachers to improve my working environment. Three cheers for Darren! The co-teaching demo lesson by Koo Yeon Jin and Candice Boulton was also good.

The bad: The lectures by Unkyoung Maeng, Nick Mitchelmore, James Turner, and Dini Turner were a waste of time. Also, the number of typos and odd English phrasing in the orientation booklet were scary, and the three-people-to-a-room thing was no fun for anyone involved, I think.

The ugly: I have to say that the way some of the people attending the orientation behaved during the lectures was terrible. As was the coffee. I think we’d all have behaved a little better if the venue had provided better coffee. Those sticks of mild coffee just won’t keep a bunch of Westerners in a good mood.

Below I’ve put together a day by day account of what we did at the orientation.

Day 1: Monday 30 June 2008

We left home at 06:40 to catch an express bus to Dongseoul station in Seoul. From there we were able to take the subway (after several line changes) to Migeum station where GEPIK had arranged buses to take us to the orientation venue – Hyundai Learning Center in Yong-in. This trip to Migeum went off without a hitch, despite it being REALLY early in a Monday morning, and we boarded the buses to the venue at about 10:00.

After a short ride we got off at the Hyundai Learning Center, and got in line to check-in. Now the arrangement was to share a room between three people. I was not happy about this, since I couldn’t share with my wife and I said as much to the person checking everyone in. I got a very curt non-committal response, which didn’t help. In the meantime I had to put my bags in a room with two older men who I didn’t know, while my wife ended up in another room, though thankfully with people we did know. This whole situation didn’t make us any happier about being at the orientation.

Asan Hall at the Hyundai Learning Center

Asan Hall at the Hyundai Learning Center

After a decent lunch, we filed into the main venue for the orientation – Asan Hall. Here we had the opening ceremony, which included some speeches and traditional dancing and singing. We were introduced to the people behind the orientation, as well as Dain Bae, the GEPIK co-ordinator for secondary schools. Dain Bae said that after the session she would be available to speak to people who had any concerns. So my wife and I headed to her office to speak about our sleeping arrangements.

This is where the week reached a turning point for me. We went to her office prepared for one hell of a fight. Instead, we met another young couple with the same problem, and Dain Bae sat us down and asked how she might be able to help. This took us a little by surprise, because up until this point everyone had been ignoring us. So we told her our about our unhappiness with sleeping in separate rooms, and she said she couldn’t promise anything, but she’d try and sort out our problem. She explained that the venue had limited space, and that was why they couldn’t promise us our own rooms prior to the start of the orientation. Fair enough. So she said to come back after the next session and she’d hopefully sort us out.

The second session of the day was a talk on “The Framework of English Curriculum at the Secondary Level”. This was a bit of torture. The speaker, Unkyoung Maeng, from Ajou University, attempted to talk about the changes that will be coming in with the new curriculum that the Korean government wants to implement. Unfortunately she tried to do so in front of a crowd of unhappy teachers who weren’t interested in upcoming changes and improvements to the curriculum. The result was a ton of heckling. I felt a little sorry for the speaker. This whole episode made me a little worried what the rest of the week would be like.

However, things took a turn for the better when we went to follow up on our accommodation issue with Dain Bae. We walked in and she simply passed us a key to our own room. This was the best moment at the orientation. It certainly perked me up! The week was looking better already! I’ll say that I was impressed with Dain Bae. Yes, married accommodation should have been sorted out before we arrived, but the quick solution to the problem once we brought it to her attention deserves praise. We were very grateful to have our own room, especially after all the horror stories of odd roommates we heard later in the week.

Dinner was great, and that evening we got to watch a Korean movie I’d been keen to see for a while: Welcome to Dongmakgol. Definitely worth a watch, especially for the boar scene and for the oh-so-subtle anti-American themes.

I’ll cover Day 2 and Day 3 next in Part 2.