Monday, March 8, 2010

Gina Teacher

My Place
The school provides each native teacher with housing. My neighborhood is on the poorer side, but there are plenty of restaurants and shops around, and the next station over is Seoul National University, full of young people and trendyspots. In my case, I was given a small and pretty old studio a half hour's walk from school and a sub-ten mins jaunt to the subway. I live by myself, I have a washing machine, a fridge, a bed, an armoire, and the odd bit of furniture, the floors are heated (pretty customary here), and I pay 120,000 won (roughly $120) a month for all utilities minus internet. The bathroom is pretty tiny-- a tiled closet, and the shower is a hose/head combo attached to the faucet. There is no sort of partition, so the sink and the toilet and I all shower together. First, though, I need to go out in the hall and turn on my water heater that I share with my neighbor (what if we need to take a shower at the same time?), and then I need to take all the waterproof things out of the bathroom. The head of the shower sits in a little rack in the corner to the upper left of the sink, so in order to take a hands-free shower and place myself under the stream of water, my belly button must make contact with the edge of the sink. You know your bathroom's small when you have to cuddle the porcelain to get clean.

My Co-Teacher
George is the man! His English is great, and actually, so is his Spanish; he studied it in school and in Spain. His English is good enough to where we don't have to resort to Spanish to speak to each other, though it'd be sweet to brag about if we did. He's pretty laidback, and I'm relieved I can be direct with him-- none of this 'noon chi' ish. He's insistent that I think of him as a friend and not a co-teacher, and actually he came out with my friends last night. He loves having foreign friends, he's super helpful, he's got a nice sense of humor, and he's quick to giggle. George also tap dances.

My School
I'm teaching at Kuksabong Middle School in the Donjak district (today's my second day!). Because it's a relatively poor area where parents can't afford to send their kids to hogwans, the level of English here is pretty low, and my lessons need to be really basic. It's a struggle to know what to plan because while the overall level is pretty low, there is a wide range of skill in each class. And, while some of these kids are shouting from their seats and telling me hi every five minutes, some of these kids won't even look at me. I stand by their desks and ask them a question, and their eyes never leave the desk. Apparently I am both loveable and scary. We were warned at orientation that we would be treated like celebrities-- kids excited about you and telling you how good-looking you are all the time-- and across the board I'm hearing from my fellow SMOE teachers across Seoul that this is the case for them; at least for a little while we are all rockstars in Korea.

The kids are SOooooo cute. Today I had a little boy silently get my attention and show me that on his paper he had written "hi" and a smiley face. Adorable! Yesterday in class when I was taking questions after introducing myself (btw, as custom goes they're calling me "Gina Teacher"), everyone wanted to know where I was from, how old I am (in Korea I'm 24 because they consider you 1yr old when you're born), how tall I am (I learned I am a giant and the concept of 'inches' kerflummoxes them), and if I have a boyfriend. I was also asked how much I weighed and was told I was more tan than they expected.

The other English teachers here (all Korean) teach their classes out of the textbook and keep to the grammar rules and repetition. They see my real value as being an authentic source of the language and helping students with their speaking skills, so they don't care if I follow the textbook or not, and they say I don't need to turn in lesson plans ahead of time, and if I want, I can wear jeans and ballcaps (this is way more laidback than the school policies I'm hearing from my fellow SMOE teachers across Seoul). Woohoo! The co-teachers' role (I have four co-teachers, including George) is to help manage the classroom, translate when necessary, and assist me in my lesson. Some of the other English teachers here (I am the only non-Korean in the entire school) are really cute and want me to introduce them to foreigner "wehgook" boys. Teacher/rockstar by day; matchmaker by night am I.

So, things are going really well, and all signs point to this being a solid decision. Yay Korea!

Thank you for all of your support and good wishes! I miss you all. I'll send out an email with my address in case you want to send me bits of home.


  1. The U.S. coverage of the Olympics described the figure skater Kim Yu-Na as an incredibly popular celebrity in Korea. She promotes everything from water filers to high end fashion to cell phones. Have you noticed this? I can only imagine that her celebrity has increased since winning the gold medal.

    I'm surprised that you identify yourself as "non-Korean." Is that because Koreans don't label you as Korean? I know ethnic "purity" is really important to the Japanese; is the culture similar in Korea?

    Don't forget to pay attention to your other household appliances. I've seen Beauty and the Beast, and I know you have too. Remember what a nasty temper the armoire had? I wouldn't want the other furniture and appliances to see all the time you spend cuddling with the sink and get jealous. We all want you to come home in one piece.