The long awaited move has now come. Orientation is over and I’m settling into my new home for the next six months at DongSeoul. It is on the east side of Seoul just about 20 minutes from the main institute. I’m excited, but slightly intimidated by my responsibilities here. DongSeoul is a very small school with only 2 other foreign teachers. One is my coordinator, Marvin Yordan, a Pilipino from Texas. And the other is an older woman, Joy Hank, from Cape Town South Africa.
Between the three of us, we will be planning and facilitating all the activities of the institute. Teaching classes is the main duty of a foreign teacher at SDA, but not the only one. We are in charge of organizing all the weekend programs: vespers, afterglow, Sabbath school, worship service, the sermon and any bible studies, meetings or outreach activities in the afternoon. I just got the Weekend Service Schedule a few days ago and I’m giving my first Sabbath School presentation next week. The following weekend I’ll be giving both the children’s vespers on Friday night and the sermon on Sabbath—I think preparation for these will keep me busy for the next couple of weeks.
In between busy days at work, I stay in very nice apartment about 5 minutes walk from the institute. I was happy to find out that there are two other girls living with me. Their names are Nicole and Aileen who are both Korean teachers at the school. Nicole, however, graduated from PUC, so she is able to teach Level 1 of the 6 Levels of adult English classes. Aileen is one of 4 Korean teachers that are responsible for teaching Junior classes—kids ages 7-16 placed into around 15 different levels. The way these classes work is quite different from the adult classes. They start at 2:30 after most kids are out of school, yet they go until about 9:30pm depending on the level. I swear, never have I been to a country where everyone works so hard! I’m still getting use to seeing middle school kids out on the streets when I leave work around 10pm. Most of them are just leaving their around that time Hogwarts.
“Hogwarts?!” you may ask. “Isn’t that the name of a school one attends to learn about wizardry?” Well, not really. It’s actually just the name of any private institute that focuses on teaching one particular area of study. For example, SDA Samyook—the official name of our institutes here in Korea—is a Hogwarts for English. There are many different types, however. Some teach piano, some teach math, while others concentrate on sports or acting. The reason for these institutions is to ensure that every child has more than enough opportunity to be the best in their class. It’s also very common for a child to attend several Hogwarts in one day. For parents, it’s like a competition; the child next door can’t be smarter than theirs.
Interestingly enough, Korean culture can pretty much be summarized in two words: education and appearance. These two things seem to drive everything they do here. It’s sort of this way in the states, but nowhere close to the extreme it is here. I mean 13 year olds out from 8am-10pm everyday attending classes and then going home to do several hours of homework or instrument practice? It’s absurd! Yet, it’s just part of life here.
Appearance is an equally important aspect of Korean culture. Many people, including my house mates, have very nice wardrobes, cell phones and computers. Yet most of them make hardly any money compared to what they spend on their expensive trinkets. They charge up credit cards and go into debt to get $1,000 phones just so they can look the part of a rich person. Oh, and the technology here…don’t even get me started. It‘s around 2 years ahead of the US. When you get on the subway, everyone is either watching TV or surfing the Internet on their cell phones. There’s a cable network for cell phones called DMB and if you’re Korean, you probably have an app for it. Also, many phones have projector capabilities. So, if you want to show your friends a picture or a video, or if you want to watch TV on a larger screen, just point and shoot at the nearest white wall. A clear large image will instantly appear—but it works best in lower lit areas. So ya…Koreans are tech junkies.
Ok, enough about Korean culture. Let me talk about my schedule for a bit. I just finished my first week of classes at DongSeoul, and it wasn’t until today that I realized just how tired I’ve been. I usually leave my apartment with Nicole around 6:45 as we both have our first class at 7am. After my morning classes, I have a 3 hour break for lunch. My Junior classes run from 3-6:30pm followed by a break before my evening class at 8. I am all finished by about 9:30 and then stay to answer any questions from my students or chat with Marvin about my own questions.
Overall, my classes this week went well, but I still have a lot of learning to do. Orientation was great and I learned so much, but I’m discovering there are still so many more things I don’t know. For instance, I was trained to teach my Junior classes in a very specific way. Yet, when I was given the schedules for them this week, I discovered quite a few things have been altered. Luckily, Joy was able to help me get accustomed to the new methodologies. Apparently they decided some of the things I was taught in Orientation are “the old way” of doing things, so they changed the schedule. My pearl of wisdom for the week: open mindedness and flexibility is a necessity :)
ps. Sorry about no pictures of my place in this post. As soon as my camera gets back from being fixed in the states, I’ll post a bunch of DongSeoul for ya!