Some schooly things

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It is Wednesday afternoon at school. I am desk-warming, my boss is practicing his golf swing in front of the window with the majestic mountain vista stretching before him, and in classrooms around the building burnt-out staff and students pass out exhausted at their desks, defeated by calculus, transitive verbs, or the cumulative effects of the week’s enforced socialising.

My first week and a half at what feels like the perfect blend of boot camp and an East Asian Chalet School has been equal parts delightful, hilarious and surreal. It began last Sunday with a formal Opening Ceremony during which the entire school enthusiastically supported their classmates in performances ranging from young girls in teeny-tiny Manga-y cheerleader uniforms jumping around a lot, the dance team performing to a track that repeatedly chanted ‘shots, shots, shots’, and  a vocal club made up mainly of lanky 17-year-old boys giving an earnest rendition of a song containing the line ‘so just come to my bed, baby.’ Students then made a formal bow and a promise (hands raised and everything) to their Principal and Seniors to study hard and follow their leaders well, and pictures of all new members of teaching staff were shown on a projector to raucous cheers and applause. 

I was most definitely Not In England Any More.

The evening continued with a teachers’ dinner, during which the Principal and Vice Principal swayed jauntily around the restaurant serving obligatory shots of soju to their employees. It was after this point that I met my co-teachers and some ideas were bandied about regarding what we might teach the next day.

Here are four things I have learned so far:

The bottom does not fall out of your professional world if you have not met your co-teacher until 12 hours in advance of your first lesson, much less selected a set text, designated methods of and criteria for assessment, and have planned, you know, ANYTHING. Turns out, going against my hard-wired Western desire to Plan and Take Control and Be Assertive, and instead giving in and going with the last-minute Korean flow, things do just fall into place. There’ve been a few heart-stopping moments, but on the whole it’s worked out just fine.

There will be moments when the last-minute Korean flow makes you want to stab yourself in the face, or at the very least high-tail it back to a work environment in which Planning, Taking Control and Being Assertive are considered essential skills and one’s capacity for shotting hard liquor with the Head is not considered a KPI.

There are teenagers in existence who follow this schedule for three years of their lives, with an ‘optional’ (haha) extra 2 hours between midnight and 2am during their final year:

In spite of this, there are teenagers in existence who greet you with a bow, fall on their knees and hug you for no discernible reason, and applaud when you enter and leave a room.

Suffice to say I am pretty happy in my new job and home. I’ve started my Korean studies in earnest this week - having evenings and weekends to study is a massive bonus compared to last year when I was frantically picking up bits and bobs of language where I could - and I’m hoping to get my level up to a point where I can navigate Korean life and relationships with a touch more finesse in the near future. I’ll also be writing a guest blog for the Free Word Society about the relationship between Korean language and culture as I get further into my studies, so will post a self-promoting link here when it’s up.
Wanderings and Ramblings of an ESL teacher currently based in a tiny mountain town near the North Korean border.


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