My Kindergarten Job in Korea

When I taught in Korea in 2015, I worked with elementary and middle school students. I figured out almost immediately that middle school was not an age range I enjoyed. So, when I decided to come back last year, I accepted a job teaching kindergarten and elementary.

I work at a private academy (or hagwon), which is different from government-run schools. My working hours are from 9 AM to 6 PM, with 10 days of paid vacation (determined by the school), national holidays off (there are quite a few), health insurance, and a rent-free apartment near school. I am currently the head foreign teacher and make 2,300,000 won/month before taxes. 2,100,000/month is an average starting salary.

My kindergarten classes are between 9:30 AM and 2:30 PM. After that, I teach elementary classes. At my school, I have one homeroom class that I spend the majority of my time with. They are seven years old. I teach them language arts, writing, and project where we do research on a specific topic for two week periods. Additionally, I teach art to my homeroom class as well as the four other kindergarten classes during the week. It completely worked out by accident that I ended up being the art teacher, but I’m really happy about it. It almost feels like I’m using my college degree.

Kindergarteners also get snacks and lunch provided by the school (teachers get lunch, too). It’s usually a well-rounded meal with rice, soup, a protein, and veggies. Most of the time it’s traditional Korean food, but we’ve had things like spaghetti and chicken tenders before, as well. Our cook is freakin’ awesome. I love being able to try different foods at school every day that I might not have been exposed to otherwise.

Fridays are usually special days at school. Sometimes we do cooking classes. Other days, we do field trips (we’ve gone to the whale museum in Ulsan) or have events (we recently did a huge water gun fight). We also have a big birthday party once a month.

After my regular kindergarten classes end, I teach an accelerated reading class to two students twice a week. I also teach two lower level reading classes and a more advanced reading/writing class. For the most part, curriculums and materials are provided. However, I like to supplement with materials I create or find on my own. I’m really grateful that there is a lot of room to do my own thing at work.

This job is so different from the one I held in Korea previously. I am so happy to work here and look forward to coming in every day.

Do you have any questions about teaching in Korea? What’s your job like? Feel free to leave me a comment!

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Return of the Wanderlust

Recently, I’ve had the overwhelming desire to go abroad again. The more I think about it, the more depressed I become about staying in this country. I don’t exactly speak openly about my political beliefs (especially on the internet), but I am truly worried about the future of America; and I feel like I will never have a future here.

I am 26 years old, working hourly as a barista to pay my bills. Overall, I enjoy my job right now, but I don’t feel like it is sustainable even if I pursue a management position. I see that the managers don’t really have lives outside the company. They are always on call, coming in earlier and staying in later than they have to. I don’t want that.

I want to leave work at work and enjoy my life. I want to travel and experience new cultures.

Obviously, I don’t have nearly enough money to make this a reality anytime in the near future. However, it is constantly on my mind. I don’t know where I want to go. Everywhere?

I had a very complicated experience in Korea, but it was mostly due to my particular hagwon. I met so many amazing people and got to see so many amazing things. Compared to what it is right now, my lifestyle was much better in the regard that it felt more financially stable.

Have you been in a similar situation? What have you done/are doing to make your dreams come true?

Eating All The Things in Daegu

Wow, I’ve been really lazy about posting recently! Time to get caught up.

March 1st was Independence Movement Day, which is a national holiday, so everyone had off from work. Hannah and I decided to meet up in Daegu.

I decided to cut down my travel time and take the KTX. We were supposed to meet up at noon, but I got there much earlier than expected (like always because I’m obviously crazy about ever being late).

I took the subway straight to Banwoldang Stating to wait for Hannah. There is a lot of underground shopping there, so I decided to treat myself to some new cosmetics. When Hannah arrived, we did some more shopping before deciding we were starving and went off to find some lunch.

Hannah had heard about an all-you-can-eat barbecue place for 10,000 won per person. That sounded amazing, so we took the subway to find it. After walking around for a while, we found the restaurant, only to discover that it was closed! So disappointing. And this always seems to happen to us. Last time we were in Daegu together, it was the Hello Kitty Cafe that was shut down. A little upset, we went back to downtown Daegu to try and find something else.

Then, we saw it. Another all-you-can-eat barbecue restaurant for 9,900 won per person! It was called Mr. Pig and we rushed in. There was a line practically out the door. When we were finally seated, we were ready to go help ourselves.

Oh. My. God. It was beautiful! There was unlimited rice and noodles, Chinese-style chicken, fried mandu, french fries, soup, and tteokbokki. Then, the good stuff. There was an assortment of both pork and beef to pile onto plates and cook yourself. Also, lots of veggies to wrap your meat in. We had some serious eyes bigger than stomach syndrome going on. I’m not sure how much we ate, but it was a lot. And it was worth every bite.

After we paid, we walked around some more and hit up ArtBox (one of our favorite stores).

When we had finally digested our amazing lunch, we had to have dessert, of course! We found a cute dessert cafe and each got a caramel macchiato and an order of cinnamon caramel honey bread to share. Delicious. We spent a lot of time just hanging out and talking.

After a slight snafu over train times (Hannah had missed the last one back to Sangju), her boyfriend said he would come pick her up and she came with me to the KTX station. Overall, it was a great day in Daegu!

 

A Sunny Sunday

Yesterday, the weather was better than it had been in a long time: sunny and about 53 degrees. So, Steve and I decided we would have an adventure day!

In the morning, we woke up early and made our way to Dong Gu (another area of Ulsan) to find Saint Dionysus Greek Orthodox Church. My mom had told me it existed a few months ago and I had been meaning to go. After taking the bus to the wrong stop, we got in a taxi and the driver took us right to the front steps. It was beautiful! I took a few pictures before heading inside.

We had arrived just before Holy Communion. It has been a very long time since I’ve attended service on a Sunday. While I don’t consider myself a practitioner, I do feel that it’s still part of my heritage. Steve and I stood in the back. The priest spoke in a combination of Korean and Greek, and I was surprised to see quite a number of Greek people in attendance.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the interior of the church, but it was incredible. You would have never known you were in Korea,  except for the fact that all the lettering that should have been in Greek, was painted in hangeul.

After church, Steve and I instinctively headed toward the water (we’re a Scorpio and a Cancer) and took a nice long walk to Ilsan Beach. We were starving by the time we got there, and found a Korean buffet to try.

Holy. Shit. This place was amazing. There was sushi and other fresh seafood, make your own bibimbap, a salad bar, a cheese station, soups, a steamer overflowing with mandu, and a selection of fried foods. The wait staff even brought us a plate of steak with vegetables and massive bowls of udon. We ate so much! Then, we ate dessert. There was ice cream, bungeoppang (carp-shaped pastry filled with red bean), fresh fruits, and other sweet things to nibble on.

After, we left Ilsan Beach and made our way to the Jangsaengpo Whale Museum, something else I’ve been wanting to do since I’ve been here. The museum is situated right next to the harbor and you can see all he boats coming in and out. What I did not expect, though, was that the majority of the exhibit was on whaling and that made me kind of upset. After walking through the main exhibit hall, we went to a secondary building which serves as a small aquarium and movie theatre. We even got to see dolphins! Overall, it was a lot of fun and I definitely suggest going if you’re visiting Ulsan.

What did you do this weekend?

 

Six Month Update

The week leading up to my six month mark has been excruciatingly stressful. There are three Western teachers (myself included) at my school. Two of us were told that we would have to begin coming in an hour earlier every day to teach a new class (which currently only has one student enrolled). The other teacher is being forced to commute to another school nearly an hour away two days out of the week.

I don’t feel like I can divulge more details, but I’ll say that things are not good.

Everything that I have disliked about being here has culminated into complete and utter disdain.

I can hear the Korean teachers talk about us, though I can not understand what they’re saying. I don’t assume it’s anything positive.

Being in the classroom is so much fun and I genuinely love working with the kids. However, the work environment here is far from healthy. The hours are long, often with little time for breaks. The attitudes are passive aggressive, at best. Standing up for yourself puts you at risk for verbal abuse and belittlement from your superiors.

Furthermore, entire schedules are shifted around with no notice, leaving you with a headache and no time to plan lessons. I do not understand how anything gets done efficiently. When the head teacher gives out a new schedule, I sit with my co-workers and try to solve the cryptic paper before us. It almost always ends with a shrug and a guess, as we’re too nervous to ask anyone else.

Mostly, though, I just feel bad for the kids. The time that students spend taking tests is  incredible. They aren’t official or mandated by the government. I believe they are simply given to promote “diligence” and “education.”

I don’t remember if I’ve written about this before, but most Korean students have at least a twelve hour school day. For high school students, bump that number up a bit. This makes me so sad because kids don’t actually have any time to be kids. Their lives are consumed by studying and taking tests. The contrast between my elementary and middle school students is shocking. While my younger students are full of energy and want to play games, my older students mostly sit at their desks, heads down, completely drained of any life or emotion.

For now, I’ll shut up and do as I’m told. But the lack of autonomy and constant fear of scrutiny is essentially crushing my soul.

Tattoos, Burritos, and the Bus Ride from Hell

On Saturday, Hannah and I had made plans to go to Busan for a much-needed girls day. There were plenty of things on our to-do list, but I decided to make a spontaneous addition on the bus ride.

I decided to make an appointment to get a tattoo.

I sent a message to Fat Buddha Tattoo, and the owner (KJ) answered me within minutes – he also had an opening at 1 PM. I told him I’d be there. Immediately after, I called Hannah to tell her what I did.

We met up near the Busan Museum of Art. Hannah had arrived a little later than expected, so we grabbed a quick bite at Lotteria and made our way over to Fat Buddha. We were surprised to find out that the studio was in KJ’s (very fabulous) apartment. While we waited for him to finish with another client, we stared longingly out of the living room windows on the 31st floor at views of both the mountains and the sea. We also got to play with a funny little dog who was making some very funny sounds.

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Finally, it was time for me to have my consultation with KJ. I decided on the Scorpio constellation in purple ink on my wrist. This month marks seven years since my grandma passed away and I have been having a really hard week because of it. Our birthdays are six days apart (hers on Halloween and mine on November 6) and we both love purple, so the design seemed quite fitting.

It didn’t take more than a half an hour and it didn’t hurt at all. (I’ve heard that wrists can be quite a sensitive spot.) I was absolutely thrilled with the results!

After, Hannah and I made our way back towards the museum to check out an Andy Warhol exhibit that was showing there. We both discussed how surprised we were that someone who could be considered a controversial artist was being shown in such a conservative country. Regardless, it was an incredible exhibit. I love Warhol and the Pop Art movement and I was very happy to get to go to an art museum. There were three galleries filled with his works as well as some personal items, which were very cool to look at. After exiting the exhibit, the museum had set up a neat little photo area as well as a gift shop.

*Hannah and I have decided that we are dangerous as shopping buddies and had to try very hard to keep ourselves from buying shit we didn’t need. We succeeded. This time.

Then, we realized that we had to get to Hannah’s hostel (she way spending the night) so she could check in. We also realized that both our phones were dying. Panic. Neither of us had any idea where we were going. With the help of Google Maps, however, we made it to the bus stop and Hannah asked a girl if we were going in the right direction. We were.

The bus we needed came and we hopped on. I know I’ve mentioned how much I dislike taking the bus in Korea before, but this was next level. The bus driver was sitting on the horn the entire time, going way too fast, and changing lanes. I could hardly keep my footing (there were no seats). He even screamed at a woman who had asked him a question. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

After nine stops, we got off. Batteries dangerously low, we set out for the hostel. It was nowhere to be found. We asked a girl on the street, she couldn’t help us. It started to rain. We asked a guy at the gas station, he outright said “I don’t know.” We kept on crossing the street and wandering around aimlessly. Finally, after passing the gas station again, we turned around and I looked up. There it was – on the top floor of a building, and the only sign was painted on the window.

After a lot of nonsense, we got in and Hannah was able to charge her phone. Then, we took a lovely walk along Haeundae Beach and decided to go to Sharky’s for dinner. Sharky’s is a Western-style restaurant and they offer a 2 for 20,000 won deal. I got a delicious veggie burrito and Hannah got a spicy beef chimichanga. Yum! We ate our fill and went across the street for a coffee before calling it a night.

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I had a wonderful Saturday and it was so nice to see Hannah. I can’t wait until it starts getting warmer, so I can spend some real time at the beach!

What did you do this weekend?

Valentine’s Day

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. In Korea, it’s traditional for girls to make the day special for their boyfriends. Then, on March 14, boys do something special for their girlfriends.

I decided I would cook dinner for Steve. I planned on making fish ‘n’ chips because he loves it and can’t get it here. So, I went to the store in search of fish fillets. The only fillets I found were frozen and past the sell by date. Disappointment. It looked like I would have to use fresh fish, something I had never cooked before. So, I got a package of white fish and spent the majority of my day removing bones and skin. I probably won’t do that again any time soon. I also made tartar sauce and hand cut chips.

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Then, I went to go pick up the cake my Korean coworker had ordered for my during the week. When I got to the bakery, however, it was not there. Upset and unable to speak Korean, I flailed about and gave the workers my phone number. They literally went through every order they had with me, trying to match it. No luck. One of them even made a phone call (I’m assuming to a boss). After about 40 minutes of madness, I just bought another cake. It wasn’t the one I had wanted, but it was still very nice (and tasty).

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I went home and started cooking. Steve came over around 5 PM and surprised me with a beautiful gift basket full of candy! I loved it. We ate dinner, had the cake, and watched Bones and Keeping Up Appearances for the rest of the evening. It was a really lovely evening.

What did you do for Valentine’s Day?