Mar 29, 2013

A Day in the Life of an English Teacher


Classes taught: 4

Fights broken up: 3

Weepy little boys comforted: 1

Times I was poked in the ribs while eating my lunch: 3

Times brushed my teeth at school: 2

Unnecessary staff meetings I was forced to attend: 1

Times students informed me that my glasses make my eyes small: 2

Number of favorite websites now blocked on my school computer: 5 (and counting)

After-school program curricula written: 1

Number of times I looked up the plural for "curriculum": 1

Times my class schedule was rearranged: 2

Lessons planned: 0 (it's Friday, after all)

Number of TV episodes viewed incognito at my desk: 2.5

Number of butterscotch candies eaten: would rather not say

Mar 23, 2013

Yay, Korea! McDonalds

Oh, Korea. You never cease to amaze me with your ability to come up with things that make me say "I didn't even know I needed that until I saw it."

Korea specializes in having delivery service for anything and everything you can imagine. Grocery stores will deliver the food to your house if you buy more than a certain amount. Same with big stores like E-Mart.

But the crowning jewel in all of this is the food delivery. Specifically, McDonalds. That's right, America. I hope you're listening. In Korea, McDonalds delivers. Want proof? Check out the website.

I'd heard of this great miracle, but had never tested it for myself until tonight.  Picture if you will: I've spent the day ordering new lenses for my glasses and passing a solid hour and a half in the hilariously named "What The Book?" english bookstore. It's been a big day. Now, I'm preparing for a wildly exciting Saturday night in Seoul, which this week consists of doing laundry and watching Doctor Who (season 4 Christmas special, for those of you keeping track. Oh, the feelings...). As is always the case, I don't want to eat any of the food in my house. As I watch David Tennant fight to save planet Earth from the evil timelords, my eyes wander to the little golden arch icon on my bookmarks bar (yes, I have it bookmarked. Don't look at me in that tone of voice.) Why not? I thought.

McDonalds delivery (or McDelivery, as the website is called) is even better than normal Korean delivery because you can do it all on the internet! Normally, you have to use a good, old-fashioned phone call. Not a problem if you're fluent, but it's a lot harder to mime what you want over the phone. There's a 7,000won delivery minimum, which is easily met with a value meal and a Mcflurry.

I placed my order, typed in my address, and boom! Half an hour later, right on the dot, this arrived at my door: One cheeseburger, fries, carton of milk, and a Mcflurry. Grand total? About $6.50. No delivery fee, no tip, no tax.

This country is fantastic.

Mar 18, 2013

Just Keep Swimming

I know. I'm sorry. I haven't been around lately.

I have a number of excuses I could throw at you. The new school year is in full swing, and it's proving itself to be considerably more stressful than last year. I have more work, more responsibility, and the weight of a brand new coteacher who is still finding her feet and learning how to do things like use a hole puncher.

On top of that, I've been fighting a cold for about two weeks now. I can't seem to shake it. I'm not getting any worse, but I'm also not getting any better. I just have a really foul cough that makes me tired.

But the truth is, there just hasn't been much to write about lately. I go to school, come home, maybe go for a run or go to the climbing gym, and then curl up in bed to read, watch tv, or generally cease interacting with the real world. I've been steadily plowing my way through Doctor Who.

(For my fellow Whovians, I just finished season 3 and am hoping Martha is finally out of my life forever. Am also nursing my new-found terror of weeping angels statues. Holy sh*t.)

In other news, I'm supposed to sing a few songs on the ukulele at an open mic night tomorrow, but due to the way my cold seems to be progressing, that might not happen after all. Also, I'm turning a quarter-century old this week, which may or may not be causing a minor existential crisis and/or some vague homesickness.

Peet out.

Mar 11, 2013


Strexercise (n): stress-induced exercise. Stress exercise.

I would like this go to on the public record: The word strexercise appeared here first. Google says so.

New Workout Routine

It's been a rough week... and it's only Monday. Today I taught (in this order): 3rd grade, 2nd grade, 1st grade, 2nd grade, (lunch), 4th grade, after school beginners (1st, 2nd and 3rd) and after school intermediates (4th, 5th, and 6th).

 New Coteacher is stressing me out. I don't want this to be a negative place where I go to rant, so I'm simply going to say that we're still ironing out the kinks of her new work environment.

That being said, I came home and went on a "stress run" today, then went to a rock climbing gym with some friends. Its all part of my new workout routine called "Have A Stressful Coteacher." If things keep up at school like this, I'll be running tough mudders by the end of term.

Also, definitely not going to be able to move tomorrow.

Mar 6, 2013

A Word (or Several) About North Korea

North Korea has been in the news a lot lately. Most of it is the usual blustering and saber-rattling, the sheer ridiculousness of which makes it difficult to take Kim Jong Un seriously as a leader. He's this portly 20-something guy with a goofy haircut who makes frequent, absurd-sounding threats towards South Korea and the Western world. Visits to North Korea are closely guarded by the state and portray an anachronistic slice of Stalinist paradise. As most of America (hopefully) knows, Dennis Rodman recently took a trip to the Hermit Kingdom and came away spouting about how great a guy Kim is.

But dig a little deeper, and your stomach will quickly start to turn.

It's easy to dismiss Kim Jong Un's threats to the western world as the empty gestures of a man who has been backed into a corner. But while we may question the validity of his promises to strike Seoul, one thing we cannot question is the reality of the atrocious human rights violations happening in his country. He may seem ridiculous on the outside, but his control over the country, inherited from his father, is anything but.

As I write this, human rights groups estimate that as many as 250,000 North Koreans are being worked to death in prison camps. This isn't a rumor or an urban legend. Anyone with access to Google Earth can see them for themselves-- enormous sprawling compounds that stretch on and on through narrow valleys in the middle of the country.  A quarter of a million people. And that's just right now. These camps have existed for years. Entire generations have lived and died inside of these camps. If there are a quarter of a million people imprisoned at this moment, how many more have died before them?

We don't even have to look down from above anymore. The trickle of information that used to come out of the hermit kingdom is turning into a small stream. One book in particular, Escape from Camp 14, is gaining popularity and, in my opinion, is a must-read for anyone who... no, actually I think it's a must-read for everyone. It's not very long.

 Remember those books about the Holocaust you read in high school and college? Remember how shocked you were that these things actually happened, and wondered how people could sit back and watch? This book is right up there with those, only these things are still happening. We're the ones who are sitting back and allowing it to happen, the ones who chuckle at websites dedicated to pictures of Kim Jong Il looking at things and at the thought of Kim Jong Un having a conversation with Dennis Rodman.

This all became very real for me when Very Special Visitor and I took a day trip to the DMZ. It's an incredibly sobering experience. Sure, it's amusing to look at the empty propaganda village and hear the stories about American soldiers blowing kisses at North Korean guards standing just a few feet away. At the same time, as I peered past the world's tallest flagpole and saw the outlines of one of the country's biggest cities, as I looked at the rows of barbed wire marking the line between freedom and oppression and saw tiny figures toiling in fields on the other side, it hit me. Suddenly I felt unclean. Here I was, standing on the most heavily-fortified border in the world with my fancy smartphone in my pocket and a box of chocopies in my backpack, and within less than 3 miles were people who, at any moment, lived in fear of being sent to a prison camp for the rest of their life. It felt like the worst kind of safari.

In my AP US History class, we had a debate about why FDR didn't bomb the train tracks leading to Hitler's death camps. We talked about how the world could allow human beings to be systematically worked to death in prison camps run by an evil, oppressive regime. History does not look kindly upon the bystanders of that era.

I'm not saying there's any easy solution-- or one that won't cost lives. All I'm saying is: Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. How will history look back on the bystanders of our time?

Update: For more information, check out a recent CNN piece about Rodman's trip to North Korea.
You can also read the Human Rights Watch report.

Mar 3, 2013

Welcome back!


Tis I. I'm back. My two month pseudo-vacation has come to a close, and it's back to the grindstone for your friendly neighborhood blogger/ESL teacher. The first day of school has already wrought many changes. I have a new coteacher, for one thing. Coteacher (henceforth known as Old Coteacher) had to take extended leave for family reasons. So now, I have a brand new teacher to show around. This is shenanigans because I barely know what's going on anyway, so having to show the ropes to a new person is like the blind leading the blind, if you'll pardon the used-to-death simile. As I've mentioned, I only have one coteacher, unlike most public schools in Seoul. It's because my school is teeny tiny. Also, New Coteacher will be at another school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, effectively making me the head English teacher and de facto head of the English department. Check out how cool I am.

Anyway, things that only my teacher friends will understand/care about: At the moment, I'm down for 25 teaching hours. My contract tops me off at 22, so anything more is considered overtime. SO... either I'll be making mad dough this semester, or I won't have to teach after-school class. That would be the best news of my life an unfortunate loss to the after-school program. It would also cut my hours down to 21, thereby sneaking me under the wire and eliminating the need for my  poor, stingy school to have to pay me overtime.

In other news,  my school has decided to further deviate from the norm and have me teach first grade this year. To clarify: the national curriculum stipulates that English education starts in 3rd grade. However, my school apparently wants the kiddos to get a head start, so we start at first grade. Last semester, you may recall that I also taught 2nd grade.  New Coteacher (henceforth known as Coteacher) and I have decided that we're just going to teach the same lessons to 1st and 2nd grade. They can't even read Korean, let alone English.

Again, I apologize for my rather extended leave of absence, but I promise I will begin posting with the regularity and brevity to which you have been accustomed.