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.
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.