Monthly Archives: September 2008

Everyday living in Korea (Part 1)

I thought it would be great to talk about some of the everyday things that I experience here in Korea. Let’s start off with public transport.

My apartment (here they call these APT – ahhh – peh – teh) is a bit out of town. I have to catch the bus every day to school and back. There are several different kinds of buses in my town, based on colour. The most common (and expensive) is the blue bus. These usually have three numbers, for example 138. They run every ten minutes, but cost 1,500 won minimum. The other bus, the green bus, runs less often (usually every 20 to 25 minutes), but it costs much less, from 900 won. These buses have two numbers, for example 72. I usually take the cheaper green bus.

The bus system in Korea is very efficient. The trick is to find out which bus you should catch. I’m lucky in that all the buses that go past my APT ride along the town’s main road. so I can catch pretty much any bus that goes past. However, if I want to go a bit further, say to the nearest subway station, I need to be more picky and be prepared to take a long ride in a public bus.

It’s very easy to pay for a bus ride. You can pay cash, though this has risks as you can accidentally put the wrong note into the cash box. My wife and I made this error the other day. We dropped a 10,000 won note into the cash box, and the bus driver WAS NOT happy. We had to make all sorts of arrangements to get the rest of the money (8,000 won) paid back to us. The bus drivers don’t have access to the cash boxes.

It’s much easier to buy a transport card. The most common of these is the T-Money card, and another card is eB. I got a transport card that uses both systems.

You can buy these cards at many convenience or stationery stores. The stores normally have a sign outside indicating that they sell these cards. You load the cards with a certain amount of money, for example 10,000 won. Whenever you get on a bus you swipe the card past a cardreader next to the driver.

A typical bus driver in Korea. Note the card reader on his right hand side.

A typical bus driver in Korea. Note the card reader on his right hand side.

The cardreader automatically deducts the bus fare from your card, and then you grab your seat. BUT, when you leave the bus, you need to swipe the card again so that you record that you have gotten off the bus. If you don’t do this then the cardreader will assume you took the longest possible trip on the bus and deduct the maximum fare from your card. This is not cool. So don’t forget to swipe your card twice.

Also, unlike in South Africa, most local buses in South Korea have TWO doors. You enter at the door by the driver, swipe your card, and sit down. When you are near your stop, you press one of the red “stop” buttons placed on the walls of the bus. When the bus stops you go the door in the MIDDLE of the bus, swipe your card, and get off. Don’t try and get out at the driver’s door. He will not be happy with you. Expect to be shouted at.

The T-Money card can also be used for the subway. You simply swipe the card at the turnstiles when you enter and exit the subway, and the fare will automatically be deducted from your card. There are also machines at the subway stations to add more money to your cards.

TB the Humdrum Teacher! Or, A Day in the Life of Teacher TB II

Back in March, I wrote about what an average day at my school was like. This was about two weeks after I arrived. You can read about it here.

For the most part it hasn’t changed all that much. I still catch the bus at 07:30, and get to school before 08:00. I still (officially) teach 22 lessons a week. But the teaching thing is a lot easier. My delusions of grandeur have been refined by the reality of classes of 35 students, many of whom can’t even read English, nevermind understand a word I’m saying. And the excitement of having a new foreign teacher has thankfully subsided. Being the centre of attention wherever you go gets old VERY quickly.

So now my days generally look like this: get into the office at 08:00. Check my emails, do some prep for classes and generally settle in for the day. Depending on the day I’ll teach two to three lessons before lunch. But, depending on the level of the students and the co-teacher, these lessons may range from real language classes, to simple vocabulary lessons, to me playing the much sought after role of walking CD-player.

Lunch happens at 12:20, and afterwards I head back to the office to do whatever admin, prep or websurfing catches my eye. Lunchtime ends at 13:10, and then we have two to three more lessons, depending on the day. I usually don’t teach more than two of these.

The normal school lessons end at 15:10, and then the kids clean the school. I still get a kick out of that, even after six months. Then I spend the rest of the day doing prep or admin or whatever, until 16:30 when I can go home. And that, as humdrum as it sounds, is pretty much an average day. Not too bad, huh?

Getting over the six-month bump

After six months of banging my head against the wall, trying to do my job properly in the face of intense resistance, things at my school have suddenly changed. Suddenly as in whiplash-Flash Gordon-endofyearbonusdisappearing suddenly. The relationship with my co-teachers has totally changed, and their attitude towards me is very different (in a good way). I’m really happy at this unexpected change, and if it keeps up the rest of the year will be really good.

There have also been some more mundane changes. The new semester started last week, and with it came a new teaching schedule. Now, instead of teaching all three grades at my middle school, I now only teach first- and second-grade students. This has made things a lot nicer, since I now see these students once a week (instead of once every two weeks in the case of the second-grade students), and the teachers have all swopped classes as well. So a teacher that formerly taught higher-level second-grade students now teaches lower-level students, and vice-versa.

What does this mean? This means I’m the only teacher that has been teaching the same students throughout the year. The other teachers all have to get to know their new students. Score! I have been able to wangle a lot more freedom with my lesson themes, and my co-teachers seem a lot more willing to let me do my thing without interference. Absolute bliss!

I don’t know how much of this is post-holiday largesse or a genuine change in attitude, but for now it is fantastic. It has coincided with a change in direction for my teaching style. My experiences on the summer camps showed me that the students are lacking some fundamentals, notably English grammar terminology. So they know what nouns and verbs are, but not what you call them in English. This makes it really hard to explain a new language point, or to explain where they are making mistakes without asking the Korean co-teacher to translate. I feel that they need to understand the English terms for parts of speech and grammar, or else they will look like fools if they ever got to an English-speaking country to learn the language.

So to get the ball rolling, I’ve started off with simple vocab building lessons, and I’ll gradually give them more difficult work as the year goes on. They understand the concepts, so it’s just showing them the English terms without making my lessons obviously grammar based.

It’s so funny to see how far my lessons and ideas have come over the past six months. I started out WAY too high, and then went WAY too low, and I’m hoping that now I’ve found a good balance. But I’ve heard from a lot of people that it takes at least six monthe before you settle into teaching. I’m glad to see that it’s true. I almost, almost feel like a real teacher. Maybe in another six months I will be a REAL teacher.