It's been a while since I've shared my thoughts on the pedagogy and implications of my work, having focused so much on my EPIK Experiences "guidebook" sort-of series. But as I prepare for my last six months in EPIK, I've lately felt the need to reevaluate my philosophy as an educator. This need is especially poignant after speaking with other teachers here in Korea--my Korean coteachers, the novice ELT, university professors, slacking soju enthusiasts, and the sincere teacher who wants to do their best. What is my role as an EPIK teacher, and what goals can I put in place to make my work here worthwhile?
Heeeeyyy, been a while, huh?
Or, as my students would say, "Long time no see! Nice to meet you again!"
(For some reason, they avoid saying 'Nice to see you again' no matter how many times I explain it.)
Anyway, it's been so long that the (few) who regularly check this blog have probably wondered if I'd jumped ship on Korea or something. But no, I haven't pulled a Midnight Run. The reality is that, because it was my first Christmas away from home, I made sure to stay busy. I prepared not only for a Christmas Cookie Gathering at my place, but for my brother's visit. He'd arrived in Korea the weekend before Christmas, and I wanted to show him Seoul. Then, just before New Year's, we hopped on a plane to Japan for some snow. (A trip I'll share more about in another post.)
Between Seoul and Japan I had a week of lessons to teach. To be fair--I'd breezed through them. Even if I had to teach Christmas Eve/the day after Christmas, I just played Holiday themed English speaking games with my students for weeks on end. (They had finished their final exams sometime at the end of November, and my co-teachers wanted me to do more cultural lessons anyway.) By the start of New Year's Weekend, I packed my bags and rounded off my brother's Korea trip with my favorite hike in Busan.
Though I'm sure you're wondering how the planning of that all went--after all, I haven't talked about EPIK vacation dates yet.
I've never been a fan of Thanksgiving. Actually, Brooklyn 99's Jake Peralta sum's it up quite nicely:
But hey I guess whoever knows me IRL (and actually cares--hi mom!) is wondering how I'm faring the oncoming holiday season. Thanksgiving actually came early for me this year because I'd--sort of--celebrated Chuseok. Before going on break all the way back in September, I'd made hand-turkeys with my students and made all those comparisons between Korean and American Thanksgiving.
I'd even made my own hand-turkey, went hiking, and thought about how thankful I was for the legs that carried me up the mountain, for the opportunity I've had to see this much of the world already.
So what now? In Korea at least, November 22nd finished with little fanfare. I went to work. I planned a week's worth of lesson's for Winter Camp and calculated the cost of some materials. I didn't wake up to the smell of spanakopita baking, but I'd barely noticed the missing food when I'd crawled out of bed that morning anyway.
"I hate Thanksgiving!"
"I wish we could skip straight to Christmas!"
"Seriously, it's the worst holiday anyway!"
"...but yo we're still gunna get everyone together for like a dinner right?"/"Friendsgiving is going to be a thing, though."/"But like...we're gunna eat."
I've been so lucky to have met the people I have so far, to have built the friendships that made and continue to make my time in Korea all the more wonderful. While bemoaning our shared hatred of Thanksgiving we, of course, planned a Friendsgiving gathering. So yeah...let's talk about what I'm thankful for I guess.
In researching Korea, I'd scoured every blog you could imagine, reading horror stories and nonstop dream-land fantasies about this mountainous, coffee-shop-paradise, Kpop lala land. (Please--for all of Korea's good times--read the sarcasm in that last sentence.)
Most of the horror stories discussed cultural-conflict. The nonstop-dream-land fantasies nearly all about concerts, too-many-nights with too-many-bottles-of-soju, and monthly adventures out of town.
By all means, I've got posts queued up about my second Seoul trip, my traipsing up mountains every Autumn Sunday, my Halloweekend Fireworks Festival, my cringe-y K-pop-loving self at a Busan Music Festival...and there's the things I don't like, too. The things that remind me I'm not from here (and that's okay).
But let's talk about school. Let's talk about the good, the bad, and the make-your-heart-so-full. Let's talk about how you may have stumbled into education, unsure whether you belonged here. Let's talk about how you might still not be sure, but how much you desperately want to give these kids the quality education they deserve.
Let's talk about the way they look at you--the foreign teacher whose class they know they can sleep through . Let's talk about the 사랑합니다s that inexplicably follow you in your girls' school, and all the rowdy middle school boys who bang on your classroom window to wave hello, even if they glare daggers at you during class.
Let's talk about co-teachers you can never feel quite so relaxed around, and co-workers who shyly say a "See you next week!" Let's talk about it all, because it is, after all, why you were brought here in the first place.
"What do your students do if they arrive late in an American classroom?" my co-teacher asks as another gaggle of fourteen year old boys bursts into the room, disrupting the introduction of my lesson that hasn't even gotten off the ground yet.
"Well--I taught adults."
Adults, I might add, who had paid to travel to America, paid to learn English. Even when I taught American middle school, I had a teacher who took over the classroom management portion just so I could focus on the details of my lesson plans instead. My current co-teacher looks again as the door opens for yet another gaggle of fourteen year old boys. He glances between my late students and the trouble-makers who've taken this opportunity to chit-chat chatter all over the place and punch their neighbors.
"Yeah," he says. "You might want to brush up on your rules, then."
…you’ll be knocked out by the end of them.
Obviously I’m not being literal here, but as I sit in my new apartment, arms sore from my week-long housekeeping, I struggle to stay awake past ten.
What’s worse is that you might not have a lot to show for your exhaustion. Take my suitcase, for example. It’s still propped open with clothes exploding from the inside. Or how about my apartment’s lack of internet? Or the recycling I still haven’t quite mastered, or my banking still not finished, or my total lack of bedsheets—thank goodness I brought tapestries.
Despite all my lugging and heaving of household products through the whole of Busan, everything’s only half settled. I’ve made my kitchen my own—but my fridge is woefully equipped with the bare necessities to stave off hunger. My books are all organized...in neat piles on the table that serves as a temporary desk.
Oh? Did you want to hear about the teaching now? Those first few wonderful days meeting my middle school girls and boys? Or how about the real start of it all?
From Orientation till now…
"How long are you staying?" my friend asks. We shuffle forward in line at the bakery and place our orders: two mini-eliopita and a tea for me, iced coffee and a fruit tart for her. Once we pay and sit down, I answer as honestly as I can.
"I don't want to say any definite answer since I still haven't spent a week there--let alone a year," I respond, holding out an eliopita for her to try, "but I think my minimum ideal would be two-years."
She breaks her tart between her fingers and picks at an strawberry that escaped. "Damn that's a long time." Then, "Do you speak any Korean?"
I wince. "A little. Not enough. I should practice more, actually."
Most guides don't really mention this other than to say that learning Korean isn't a requirement for EPIK. Of course, they say, it's nice to learn, but it won't affect your chances of teaching abroad. In fact, most guides kind of gloss over at least learning Hangul. Hangul seems to be the consensus, and that's why I want to talk about my decision to learn Korean.
A little disclaimer: I've yet to land in Korea myself.
Another disclaimer: I'm pretty shit at learning languages.
There's a million things I need to be doing right now--finishing my edTPA portfolio, reading my novel draft, putting my laundry away, working out, studying Korean...
But I also just received my placement for EPIK, so my excitement takes precedence. With everything all official, I'm happy to announce I'll be teaching in Busan, South Korea! When I originally began applying to EPIK, Busan had been my top choice but I'd heard a lot of rumors about Busan's mid-year intake being quite difficult to guarantee, as they had wanted to phase out of the mid-year pool completely. I was anxious about being placed in a city, so I switched to Daejeon to play it safe. Lo and behold! I got an email a few weeks ago asking if I would be okay with Busan--hypothetically--and then last night was given the official congratulations!
Even if this trip is still two months away, I'm making a packing list now--I'm just REALLY excited, okay?! And besides, some of you might find this list helpful. I've divided my packing notes into warm weather, cold weather, personal care, hobbies, house, and miscellaneous. Between now and my date of departure, I'll routinely update with any changes. Also keep in mind there might be specific items on this list that may not apply to you. For example, I'm putting things under "house" because I know myself: I know I need a few little pieces of home and enjoy decoration. Finally, I know I over-pack at the beginning only to take away items as I get nearer and nearer to my departure, so this list is....er....extensive...and in definitely need of modification.
**Also! Once I'm settled in Korea I'll post a "wish I brought/left-behind" bit, too!
I don't mean to, but I wake up early. Either the rush of nerves or a decision I've yet to make urges my eyes open. Mulling around the kitchen, I piece together breakfast. Toast. Eggs. A small piece of feta. Eventually, I bring myself to my laptop and stare at the ridiculous PowerPoint I'd made last week. It lists all the pros and cons between the two programs in Korea for which I've been interviewing. I need the same documents for both, so either way I begin piecing together papers. Apostilles and diploma copies, background checks and transcripts. When it's just turned light enough outside, I take a break and go for a bike ride by the water.
Eventually it's late afternoon and I've made a decision. I bring my folder of documents to a local FedEx shipping location. My over-dramatic English Major brain is already building up a short story of metaphors as I pass rows of houses with their neatly mowed lawns and children playing in gardens. From down the block I hear students being let out from my old Greek-American elementary school and I smell a mix of souvlaki with dukbokki and even crepes from at least three different restaurants.
Sometimes the world builds symbolism for you.
I walk into the FedEx office, thinking that at 8 years old--when I would have been the one racing out of school--I would have never imagined making this move. The man behind the counter waves me over since I'd just gotten off the phone with him, and he knows I need help.
"Korea?" he says when he looks over my documents then nods his head at all the posters written in Hangul along the walls. "I came about sixteen years ago."
"Have you gone back since then?"
"A summer here and there." He glances at the address I hand him. "What are you going for?"
"Teaching," I say. "I'm a little nervous, to be honest."
"Don't be. Everyone will want to feed you, though, so watch out."
I laugh. "At least my Greek grandma trained me for that."
The man finishes printing out the label in both Korean and English. "Greek!"
"Giassas? Ti kaneis?" he says.
Hello, how are you?
"Kala?" he asks.
Are you well?
Despite the nervous bubbles in my stomach, the nerves at seeing my documents placed on a tray marked for international express, I answer ''yes' in both Greek and Korean:
Compared to my usual EPIK Guide, today's post is a bit different. While the last two had been more focused on the pros and cons of each program as well as the details concerning EPIK's initial application, this is more of an....update, I guess.
So I made it to the interview, passed, and mailed everything to my coordinator. According to my FedEx tracking number, the package has been signed off and is currently in EPIK's offices. The only thing left for me is to wait for a placement, which can be nerve-wracking at best. I'm a bit of a control-freak (to absolutely no one's surprise), and waiting around to be told where exactly in Korea I'll be is a...challenge.
So let's talk about the interview then. It'll keep my mind off the thousand what-ifs I'd otherwise create just by sitting around.
Pedagogy and Reflection
We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience