Some days when I wake up, I forget that I live in Korea. A few weeks ago I was particularly groggy in the morning and It wasn’t until I walked down the hall and found myself brushing my teeth next to a seven-year-old Korean boy that I remembered, “Oh yeah…I live in Korea now.”
That seven-year-old boy was my host brother, Hugh. It has been about a month since I moved to Daegu and started teaching at my middle school. The last month has been full of changes and there are some things about my new life that are hard to put into words. It would be impossible for me to describe everything that I’ve seen, done, eaten, and experienced. So I’ll do my best to give you the rundown…tell you the important stuff.
Meet my Host Family!
Here is a picture of my little brother, “Hugh”, my sister “Cindy” my mother, “Ellie” and my father, “Jessie”. I feel so lucky that I found this wonderful family.
Hugh is passionate and playful. He always has a big smile on his face and he is always being a mischievous, little second-grader. Cindy is extremely bright and ever-curious. She speaks English very well and she always wants to learn more. My host dad, Jessie, is a strong, hard-working man. He works as a marketing executive for one of the major telephone companies here in Korea. My host mother, Ellie, is the heart and center of this family. She is an amazing woman. She has me constantly thinking to myself, “I don’t know how she does it.” She works part-time teaching Chinese characters, takes care of her family, and now she spends some of her time worrying about me too!
What has been so incredible about this family is their openness. They’ve accepted me and included me in their lives without hesitation. What’s funny is that we have daily triumphs and failures just like my family at home. For instance, today we drove all the way to Costco for an “exciting” Sunday afternoon excursion only to find that it was closed. These mundane moments are hilarious with this family.
Last weekend, I was unexpectedly invited to join my host family to celebrate Chusoek – a Korean holiday that is similar to American Thanksgiving. We spent the holiday weekend visitng extended family, visiting the grave sites of deceased relatives, and eating ALOT of food. Here’s a picture with some of my host cousins at Chusoek. You can check out all of my Chusoek pictures on my flickr account.
The Daily Grind – An Average School Day at Jukjun Middle School
Here’s a snapshot I took in front of my school. Jukjun middle school has about 400 students and 30 teachers. I am at school for 40 hours a week and I teach about 22 classes. I see my students once a week. I also help with a 15-minute “English broadcast” three times a week.
My students call me, “Erin Teacher”, “Teacher”, “Erin”, or “Ellen” – take your pick.
The first month of teaching has been exciting, exhausting, rewarding, and frustrating all at the same time. I’ve been progressively learning how to capture the interest of middle school students as I go. My biggest challenge every day is keeping my students engaged and on-task. Most classes feel like a performance in the sense that I have to “sell” my students on each new lesson. I have to show them that it can be fun, interesting, and valuable to learn English. Another obstacle I face is planning my lessons around the textbook I am required to use.
Let me break it down for you…
Most pet owners know that when you have to feed medicine to your pet dog, cat, etc. – you have to disguise it in a spoon full of peanut butter. Now, let me make it clear that I’m certainly not comparing my students to cats and dogs…but sometimes I feel like I have to do something similar for my students. The textbook is a necessary evil that I have to try to disguise with engaging activities. Oy Vey.
Goal List Update
In my last post I shared a list of goals that I set for myself before leaving orientation for my placement city. Here’s an update on how things are coming along…
1. Form strong relationships with students, co-teachers, and host-family
I have made the most progress on this goal. I have spent a lot of the last month building relationships with my host-family in particular. It’s amazing how I’ve already dropped the “host” in host-mom when I refer to Ellie.
2. Find a meaningful volunteer organization to work with
I will start my work with a 1-1 mentorship program in Daegu in a week or two.
3. Get involved with a Korean news/entertainment publication
I really wanted to find a way to keep my writing skills sharp during my grant year. A couple of days ago I reached out to a local, English publication here in Daegu. They cover local food, entertainment, and tourism. I’m hoping to write at least a few articles for them.
4. Study/practice/learn more about Buddhism
I’m still working on this one. I joined a yoga studio close to my apartment and I go a couple times every week. That time serves as a form of mediation for me.
5. Explore the city with my camera
Again, check out my Flickr account!
6. Work on my Korean language skills
I am starting a Korean language course next month. I’m really looking forward to it. I took some time off from studying Korean while I was adjusting to being a new teacher but now I’m ready to start again. It’s funny – my Korean level is similar to my host-brother’s English level. (He is a second-grader…) Hugh and I have sat at the Kitchen table a couple times studying together. Just picture us yelling basic words like “shirt” at each other in English and then in Korean and then again in English. Even if I don’t remember a single new word – it’s still incredibly entertaining.
I am realizing that it can be difficult to communicate with people at home. And as difficult as it is to stay in touch with friends and family from home – It’s even more difficult not being able to communicate with people here in my daily life. All I want for Christmas this year is to learn how to speak Korean. Don’t be afraid to shoot me an email!
Love from Korea,