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I have survived my first full week of teaching at Bandi. “Survived” may be an overstatement. “Stayed awake” is probably a more accurate description. The amount of energy and attentiveness necessary to be a teacher is amazing and I have immense appreciation for kindergarten and elementary teachers worldwide. To be a foreign English teacher requires a special amount of attentiveness, however. After a whole week of broken English and very strong Korean accents, I realize how important it is for me to be alert to the children’s chatter and questions and interjections because it is work to figure out what they are saying sometimes.

My mornings consist of 4 classes – storytelling (and finding various ways to tell the same story over and over – one story is read for a whole month) and arts & crafts on Fridays (except for my 4 year olds – in American age – who I do arts & crafts with twice a week). Then there is lunch – which, by the way, is provided by the school for all teachers. (Again, I think I lucked out with this position!)

Lunch consists of rice. There is always, always rice – sometimes plain and sometimes with red beans mixed in. There is also always soup – often bits of fish are mixed in, sometimes with bean sprouts or cabbage. Then there is some type of protein. One day we had an omelette type of “entree.” Another day we had fish cooked in some red spice that wasn’t very spicy (everything is pretty bland since it’s for children). There is also some type of side dish. Side dishes, called “banchan” are standard in Korean cuisine. And finally, there is always, always kimchi.¬†Kimchi is a side dish consisting of cabbage fermented in garlic, scallions, ginger, spicy red peppers, and sometimes other ingredients like tiny fish for flavor. You either love or hate kimchi.

After lunch, I teach 2-4 more classes depending on the day. They are considered kindergarten classes even though one of my classes consists of one girl, aged 10 I think. The children in these classes have been learning English for a short period of time so they are learning the basics such as names of places (the library, zoo, park, and museum) and practicing writing in English.

For the most part, the kids are eager to speak (or yell) in English. So far I have found which objects they love by the amount of enthusiasm and they use to repeat words to me and how loudly they say them. When I ask them what the weather is like outside, it is always “sunny” and “windy.” It takes more encouragement for them to say “cold.” (Which, by the way, it is freezing in Korea!! This week has been a steady -4 degrees Celsius which is like 25 degrees Fahrenheit and it is even colder at night.)

Somewhere in between the afternoon classes, all the teachers partake in the afternoon snack, also provided to us by the school. The snacks are chewy rice things that I love because of their super starchiness and pineapple chunks, or dumpling cakes with some sort of vegetable and meat substance in them, or some other Korean snack food.

Watching the children’s behavior has been interesting for me because I can pick up some Korean habits through them. For example, every child finishes all of their lunch without complaint. It doesn’t matter if they don’t like something, they are expected to finish everything they are served that day. It was amazing for me to see them eat every grain of rice from their stainless steel food trays (the foreign teachers eat with one of the classes and then rotate every week or month, I don’t remember which). When I say every grain of rice, I mean every single grain. Their treat when they are finished is a small cup of milk.

One of the few memories I have of being at the orphanage was looking forward to having milk. I remember being given a small carton of milk and relishing its creamy deliciousness. The funny thing is that now that I’m back in Korea, I still find the milk here to be very delicious. I haven’t found too many variations of milk here – not like the skim, 1%, and 2% or ultra-pasteurized, etc. – that you can select from in the U.S. Also, I can’t read what’s on the milk cartons here so whose to know what type of milk it is. Anyway, the milk is delicious. I don’t know if it’s pasteurized differently or if it is customary for Koreans to drink whole milk (that’s what it tastes like because it’s extra creamy and yummy), but yes it is that delicious. So delicious in fact that I have just dedicated a whole paragraph to Korean milk. :o)

I have never realized how much I love ¬†the sound of spoken English, be it broken English or semi-broken English or even single-word English. It can be frustrating to be denied milk in coffee simply because someone can’t understand me and nerve-wracking when a cab driver drives around in circles trying to find the address of the school (which I have written in Korean to make it easier for me to point to rather than try to wrestle with giving instructions to someone who doesn’t know English) and all I can do is sit silently hoping I will make it there and that the driver who is now earnestly talking in Korean isn’t, in fact, cursing me out.

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I have made it to Korea, after 14 hours of being in flight, 5 of which I spent asleep, 2 of which I spent eating (bibimbap at 1 am, half a ham & cheese sandwich 5 or 6 hours later, then pancakes for breakfast at approximately 4 am local Korea time), 6 of which I spent watching movies (Julie & Julia – cute, 500 Days of Summer – very cute, Taking of Pelham 123 – ok but not as good as I hoped), and the remaining 1 hour I spent wide awake eager to land already.

Seoul/Incheon airport is huge, modern and representative of the proud quality that is embedded in Korean culture.

The highway reminded me of home. Funny how a road feels familiar. The only things that reinforced the unknown in my new home were mountains in the distance, the never-ending curves in the road, and distinguishably-funky-but-can’t-tell-from-what smells. My first impression of Korea? Korea stinks. Literally.

There are random smells of sewage, kimchee, gasoline, sulphur, and once I got a whiff of potatoes. You never know what your nose will come across while driving through the Korean country.

After a few hours of rest, I ventured into neighboring towns of Pyeongtaek (where I am living). Songtan (spelling?) is about 20-25 minutes away by car. A mini-NYC, it is filled with neon lights, big Korean signs, restaurants with more pungent smells, shops with music blasting onto the street, and a lot of young Koreans walking around eating seaweed-wrapped rice balls they bought from street vendors.

Michelle and I ate dinner at a Pizza Hut because both a Japanese restaurant and Canadien-style pub were packed. We will never eat at a Pizza Hut in Korea again.

First of all, the place was a mess. The service was a mess and the food was a mess. The waitresses scuttled around, frantic. They would have been fired if they were working in the U.S.

There were people huddled at the salad bar and I figured they must have good stuff, so we ordered the salad bar for 2, too. We only got 1 plate. When we asked for another plate, we were told (through universal hand motion language) that we share 1 plate and can go back and forth for more food. And boy, were the choices enticing! Corn flakes, whole baby bananas, jello mold squares, pickles, yogurt, iceberg lettuce, green salad dressing (we guessed it was kiwi dressing), sunflower seeds, smashed yellow who-the-hell-knows-what-that-is, and jalapeno peppers were our salad options. We piled our sad little salad onto our teeny salad plate.

Our margherita pizza topped off the whole experience. Instead of basil, there was lettuce arranged onto the center of the pizza, in beautiful formation, but IT WAS LETTUCE.

So, I learned a few lessons in my first day. Wear perfume to fight off bad smells. Don’t expect to get what you ordered at an American knock-off restaurant.

Don’t expect what you would expect in the U.S., period, because this is Korea, my friend.

Contact

::kristen.byrne@gmail.com
::skype: minikristen

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