Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back to School

So where I last left off, I had detailed my first day off of the campus and started living my life in Seoul. Here is a recap of my first full day at school and first weekend out and about. Here goes!

Friday
I was told to be at school around 8:20. When I actually start teaching, my first class begins at 8:30, so I'm going to try and get to school by 8:00 at the absolute latest, if not earlier than that. So Friday was my trial run for getting to school and seeing how long it would actually take me. I left my apartment around 7:45 and headed to the subway stop. Now the line that I live near, the green line, is one of the most used subway lines in all of Seoul. It makes a complete circle around inner Seoul, so it is very popular. Well the subway was PACKED! So I squeezed my way on, while being pushed and prodded from behind, and kept my hands and bag to myself. Personal space does not exist on the subway.

I ended up making my stop, which was only 3 stops away with no problem and continued on foot for about 10 more minutes to school. I ended up making the commute in just under 30 minutes, which is not that bad. In talking to some other teachers, they have about the same length of commute as well. Once I got to school, I went to the teacher's lounge and was greeted by Mrs. Kim and some of the other English teachers. I met two other teachers who it turns out are around to help make sure that I feel comfortable and taken care of. If I need anything, I can go to them and they will do their best to help me out. For instance, there is a laptop at school that I am able to use. Only problem was that all of the programs are in Korean. With one simple question, I was able to get them all re-installed in English. This set-up is going to work out just fine!

I spent most of the morning desk warming, but was treated to a surprise around 9:30 in the morning. Two students walked into the teacher's lounge with a big brown box. I didn't think anything of it since students are always coming in and out of the office to talk with various teachers. After the students left, I hear one of the teachers say "MICHAEL! MICHAEL! COME! HAMBURGERS!" At first, I thought it was them trying to be accomodating to my American self. When I reached the little table where the box was placed, I found 15 Whoppers from Burger King sitting on a plate with cans of Coca-Cola accompanying them. I ended up eating my first Whopper ever with some of the English staff, one of the vice-principals, and the Dean of Students. We chowed down and chatted for about 20 minutes.

Following my American morning snack, I was finally taken to my classroom by one of the other English teachers! My room is fantastically awesome! It is huge (probably about twice the size of my apartment) and will house 45 students with no problem. BTW...don't remember if I mentioned this in an earlier post, but my Grade 1 classes (aka Sophomores) will have around 45 students in each class. Therefore I will be working with over 700 students per week! There are 23 tables in the room and two chairs at each table. I also have a SmartBoard look alike (it's pretty much a huge touch screen TV!) and two white boards on either side of the SmartBoard. I also have my own office in the classroom and in the closet I found all 10 Season of Friends! You can only imagine my level of joy upon this discovery! I will definitely be working these DVD's into my lessons!

I spent the rest of the day meeting more staff and putting the finishing touches on my introductory lesson. I start teaching on Monday (tomorrow) and am ready to get going for sure! I ran through my lesson with Mrs. Kim and she absolutely loved it! I also started labeling my desks with numbers. It will be pretty much impossible to learn all of my students names. To try and help with that process, I am going to number each desk with the numbers 1-23. Then each seat will be assigned either A or B. So for example, table one has the numbers 1A in front of one seat, 1B in front of the other and 1 in the middle of the table. This allows me to call on students by addressing them by their seat or table number if I am having a hard time getting participation from the students. Obviously, I am going to try my hardest to learn as many names as possible, but this should work until that time comes.

Around 3:30, Mrs. Kim and I headed over to the Seoul Immigration Office so I could apply for my Alien Registration Card (ARC). This card is equivalent to a Social Security card in the US. Once I have this card, I will be able to get a cell phone and set up on-line banking. Plus it also gives me an identification number while I'm living here. We took the subway and then walked for about 20 minutes until we finally stumbled upon the office. We waited about an hour, during which Mrs. Kim gave me an impromtu Korean lesson. I am actually starting to be able to recognize many of the symbols and make out some words. Granted I have no idea what they mean, but this is a start! We applied for my ARC and then headed back home.

Once I left Mrs. Kim on the subway and made it back to my place, I made plans with a friend of mine, Steve, to meet up and try to do some exploring of Seoul. I also was able to get ahold of another friend of mine, Lauralea, and decided to meet up with her near Seoul Station. Unfortunately, Steve and I were never able to meet up, but I was able to see Lauralea. It was great to see a familiar face! We ended up eating at little bakery at the station and catching up on the events of the past few days! I made it back to my apartment around 11:15 and turned in for the night.

Saturday
The next day, Lauralea and I decided to meet up at the Olympic Park to check out the sights and sounds from the 1988 site of the Summer Olympics. The park itself was neat. There are so many sculptures thoroughout the park that are modeled off of various countries that participated in the games that year. We ate at a traditional Korean restaurant for lunch and it was absolutely delicious! I had some dumplings stuffed with pork and green onion.



Following lunch, we continued our way through the park and came across the Olympic Hall. Outside, there was a group of people setting things up for a K-Pop concert. Now K-Pop stands for Korean Pop and it equates to the craze that swept America during the 1990's with groups such as Backstreet Boys, N'Sync, and 98 Degrees. The group performing later in the day was 2NE1 and the scene was maddness! There were girls milling around wearing masks of their favorite singer. Venders were handing out free juice, lollipops, and cotton candy. Lauralea and I ended up getting our pictures taken with some cutouts of the band members. It was quite a scene and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!



Overwhelmed by all of the excitement at the Olympic Hall, we decided to  go check out Myeong-dong, one of the most popular shopping districts in all of Seoul. It was crawling with people and had pretty much any store that you could ever want. There were street venders everywhere and other random people trying to push their products on the shoppers. It was quite the scene, and I'll be heading back in the near future to do some more investigating.

Around 4:15 I headed back to my place to get ready for dinner. I was planning on meeting up with Steve (try #2), Amy (a girl from my orientation class and lesson group), and Belva (a girl that I went to college with at UNI). I once again failed to find Steve, so Amy, Belva, and I all headed to a small restaurant near the Daerim subway line, where I had bibmibap, and Amy and Belva had kimbap. Both meals were delicious and very filling. So far, I have been very impressed by the Korean food. Even though some of it has been spicy, I have been able to adjust. My spice level has increased, which has been a pleasant surprise. After dinner, we headed to Hongdae to meet up with some other people that we met at orientation.

We arrived at the Hongik University subway station and met up with about 25 other SMOE teachers. It was so great to see so many familiar faces and find out how everyone's set up was. We shared stories about our apartments, co-teachers, and schools and headed out into the craziness that is Hongdae. There were so many people and so many things to do. We ended up splitting up into two groups, with one group heading to go find food and the other group heading to go have a drink or two. I joined the latter group. We ended up at a bar called 6.9% Plaza and had an enjoyable time continuing to share stories and each other's company.

A couple of hours later, we headed back out onto the streets to try and meet up with the rest of our group. In the process, not only did we find the rest of our group, we also ran into about 15-20 other people from orientation. It was a large cluster of Westerners just standing in the middle of the street, trying to figure out what to do. We eventually split up and the group I was with ended up at a Belgian bar. Sadly, the metro in Seoul stops running around midnight and I really didn't want to take a taxi back to my place, which was on the other side of the river. So I headed out with a couple other people around 11:15 to make sure that I got home in time. I have since found other people that live near me, so I will be able to stay out later as long as I am with them and able to split a cab with them.

Sunday
Today started out with me being able to really sleep in for the first time since I got here. It was glorious! I just lounged around my apartment for a while. I met up with Steve (finally!), Julia (from Australia) and Farhan (from London) for some food. It was very good. We ended up eating at a restaurant that was very exotic and meant for romantic couples. Obviously we weren't on a group date, but we had a great time just talking and sharing stories about our schools as well. Following dinner, Steve and I took the subway back to his place. He apartment is roughly the same size as mine, just slightly bigger. We watched CNN and got caught up on the latest regarding Hurricane Irene on the east coast, then headed out, looking to get a drink somewhere. Here's where the real fun begins...

We found a place that we thought was a bar, but it actually ended up being a Korean BBQ place. Not just any Korean BBQ place, but a traditional Korean BBQ, where you take off your shoes and sit on the ground. It was more than we were looking for, but ended up staying to for the experience. We had to order food and neither of us were really hungry, so we got the smallest plate of food that we could. The staff at the restaurant were so nice and came up (since we were sitting upstairs) quite frequently to make sure that we were doing ok and just to chat with us. We found out that the restaurant was owned by a family and had just opened 10 days ago.

The food that we ordered ended up being eel and it was very good. The waitress that was helping us out actually cut the eel up for us and coated it in the sauce. She did this for all 10 pieces that were included on the plate. It was surprisingly good. Even the tails. Steve and I ended up just sitting around for a while and chatting. Bad move. Our waitress ended up bringing us a bowl of free soup. Only problem was that we didn't really want to soup because neither of us were still hungry. We tried a little bit and then decided that we needed to make it look like we had tried it since they had brought it to us. So we started dishing the broth out into various bowls on the table and sticking the seaweed and onions inside some bigger pieces of seaweed that had been given to us earlier in the meal. Some may see this as rude...we saw it as being a necessity. We then made our way back to the subway, where we parted ways.

Tomorrow, I start teaching. My lesson is all ready to go and I am ready to hit the ground running. I plan on keeping a list of the interesting things that my students say and posting them frequently. here's to hoping that they keep me entertained and on my feet!