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Arrival in Imgye

September 15, 2012 1 comment

As the entered Gangwon province, we looked outside the bus at the scenery that greeted us. What we saw was a stunning visual landscape of mountains and trees as far as the eye could see. There had been a typhoon warning, so it was raining moderately, and the landscape was caked in fog and clouds that dipped into the valleys and back out again. As we rose into the mountains we could see the fog below us, and when we descended, we couldn’t see past the closest tree line. I realized then how remote this really was going to be.

The bus arrived in Gangneung, a city of about 220,000. Each of the people on my bus got called to leave one by one. We hugged, said our goodbyes, and they were gone. I was one of the last to be called. I walked off the bus and met SuJin and SeongHee. Sujin was middle aged and SeongHee looked to be in her mid-20’s. Both were smiling and very friendly. Because it was pouring rain, we quickly got into Sujin’s car and we were off to Imgye.

I was told the drive would take about 45 minutes, so I talked with my coteachers and we got to know each other for a bit. Once we got out of Gangneung, I was once again blown away by the environment around us. As the rain subsided, I could see more clearly the jutting mountains, the endless forests, the seas of farmland where I could see rice, cabbage, ginseng, apples, and other vegetables that I could not identify. I was enamored by the beauty of our surroundings, but I was also reminded of the remoteness of where we were going.

We finally arrived in Imgye around 3:30. The town was very small, maybe 6 blocks by 8 blocks, surrounded by mountains on all sides. I was wearing shorts and a tshirt as we were informed that schools were closed because of the typhoon warning, but my coteachers told me that the teachers were still in school and that they wanted to meet me and that it didn’t matter what I wore, so we drove over to the school, which surprisingly, was beautiful and pristine. It was a long brick and glass structure, with a lovely green (fake) grass soccer field as its front yard. As we walked in, we left our shoes in cubbies and I was given my school slippers.  We then walked into the teachers room and I met my coworkers. We were all smiles and they were all quite friendly. I also met my principle as he was on the way out. He wore an open suite with no tie, was very cordial and had an official air about him. He smiled and introduced me to his grandson, who I learned later was in the school’s kindergarten.

After we had our initial introductions, we got back into Sujin’s car and drove over to the apartment that I’d be living in, which was about 3 blocks away. I was greeted to a long 2 bedroom apartment, the 2 rooms separated by the kitchen. I dropped off my luggage, and the 3 of us went next door and they helped me pick up some things  from the supermarket. From there, we went back to the apartment, and Sujin gave me a small packet, made by the previous teacher, Lindsey.

At that point I sat down with my coteachers for a short while and we discussed my responsibilities. Essentially, I’d be teaching 22 hours a week, from kindergarten through 6th grade, which included after school classes. From Tuesday through Thursday during traditional school hours (before 2pm) , I would be teaching 3rd-6th grades with my coteacher, Sujin. She would take the first 20 minutes and introduce the key words and sentences and then I’d take the last 20 minutes to do an activity or game. I would be the only teacher for after school classes. Mondays and Fridays I’d also be on my own, but I would have Kindergarten-2nd grade, and finally, I would be teaching a parent class on Fridays on my own as well. Yikes!!

We then talked about the next couple of days. That evening I’d make an introductory powerpoint. Then tomorrow, I’d be introduced to the school at morning assembly. At that point, we’d have classes as usual. Since it was the first day, Sujin would use her 20 minutes to introduce the upcoming chapters for the term and then I would present my powerpoint, introduce myself to the students, and take questions.

With a plan formed, Sujin and SeongHee left me the key, I gave my deepest thanks and bow I could give, and they were on their way.

I sat down with the packet that Lindsey, the previous teacher, had left me and gave it a good read through. Essentially She explained what to expect from my coteachers, and what my responsibilities were. She also gave me some sample lesson plans to use if I needed ideas. Finally, she said that it was in my best interest to recommend a new apartment as soon as possible. I looked around and didn’t understand, the apartment seemed fine, so I read on. “The apartment is not fine, though it may look so,” she wrote. Because the aparment was in the center of town, and Imgye was a town that big trucks drove through in the middle of the night, bringing all sorts of goods across Gangwan-do, she would get constantly woken up by the din of these massive vehicles. In addition, the insulation was very poor, and she reported paying over 300,000 won to heat just one of her rooms. Finally, she said that the sewage system was very poor, and the bathroom would sometimes emit a terrible odor.

I made a mental note to recommend a new apartment as soon as I could. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to live out of my bags until then, so I did a little unpacking, and was surprised to find that the internet still worked in the apartment, a blessing which I expected to last for the final days of Lindsey’s last payment to the internet company. I took stock of the furniture and the items in the apartment. The cabinets were stocked with dishes, there was a great desk and shelves, a large dresser with cubby hoels for clothes, and a queen sized bed. I did notice how loud it got when trucks passed and I tried to tune it out as I completed my powerpoint and went to sleep.

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The first 8 days…

September 15, 2012 Leave a comment

OK, so it’s been a long time since I’ve written, so here is an abbreviated update:

The orientation was amazing. It was 8 days packed full of classes, eating meals, going out once or twice, and sleeping. Basically we would get up every morning, eat breakfast, and go to teaching classes until 12:30. Then it’s lunch and then back to class until dinner. Then it’s dinner, survival Korean class and then a couple of hours before sleep. The facility in which we were in locked its gates at 10, so we didn’t have much time to see the nightlife around Daejeon, but we managed to get see a very chilled out underground hookah bar, a noreibang, and a patio bar down the road that we celebrated our last night in.

The orientation was very intense. The staff that ran it were all Korean post-grads, though the EPIK leaders were all English speakers. EPIK has members from the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand (though no one was there from New Zealand). The teachers of our classes were all people who have been here for many years and had honed their skills and now they were going to pass them onto us. We had classes in “edutainment” in which the teacher taught us fun group activities. We had a class on PowerPoint, in which we learned that PowerPoint video games were going to be our best friend (3 weeks in, they’re definitely mine.) We had a class on classroom discipline, on the Korean curriculum, on how to deal with co-teachers, on classroom management, and my personal favorite – what life will be like in Korea – where our teachers, the guy who actually interviewed me when I applied actually – told us the real deal, how to treat our coworkers, how to expect to be treated, and what life would probably be like.

When we first began orientation, we were all split up into groups. I was in group 3, a class of about 50 who were all going to Gangwon province. What I didn’t realize was how large Gangwon was. One person could be in Sokcho, which is at the far eastern shore, while another could be in Yeongwol, 1.5 hours from seoul, and probably 2 hours from Sokcho. This meant that we had no idea how close we’d be to each other. There could feasibly be people closer to you in Gyeonggi-do or Seoul than people in your own province. this all stemmed from Epik’s inability to tell us what town or school we’d be placed in. When I talked with one of the EPIK instructors, they said the reason for this was that when they told the teachers ahead of time where they’d be placed, their call centers got inundated with complaints. He even added that some teachers went back home. To respond to this, the Provisional office of Education withholds the placement of all teachers until the last day of orientation.

The format of orientation goes the following way: Arrive, go to orientation, opening ceremony, medical check, classes for 6 days with one bus tour day, on the last day, the director of the POE of your province pays a visit and you receive your school placement along with your final contract which you sign on the spot. That night, you have the closing ceremony and the next day you get bussed to central locations around your province where your co-teachers pick you up and drive you to your new home for a year.

I was placed in Imgye elementary school which is in Jeongseon district. I guess you could call it a county. I was placed with 2 other people. I was the only one in my program in my town. That made me a little nervous. A million questions floated through my brain and I kind of understood why they didn’t tell us until the last day. I wondered how small the town was that I was going to, if there would be other Americans there, what my apartment would be like, how difficult it would be to reach major cities, and so on and so forth, all answers which I would only be privy to only once I’d gotten there.

Surprisingly, the whole ordeal went quite smoothly. The only part that really sucked was sitting on that bus in Gangeung hugging each friend as they got called to leave the bus and meet their co-teacher, saying goodbye and good luck, wondering, after 8 days of living in a bubble, when I’d see them again.

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