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Archive for teaching in South Korea

Reflections on My First Month as an EPIK Teacher

Now that my first month as an EPIK teacher has come and gone (actually my first month and a half — I’ve been procrastinating with this post!), I figured I should jot down a few notes about how things have been going so far. Read on to find out how life as a middle school teacher is treating me in Daegu, South Korea.

Firstly, I have to admit that when I found out on the last day of EPIK Orientation that I would be teaching at a middle school, I was a little disappointed. I had been hoping and expecting to be placed in an elementary school, as most EPIK teachers are. However, looking back now, I’m so thankful that I was assigned to middle school instead. I have very little experience working with kids, and I really don’t know how well I would have handled being in charge of a room full of 30+ elementary schoolchildren. Besides, teaching a language to someone completely from scratch seems like an incredibly daunting task. Most middle school students already have basic English skills, so I can communicate with them much more easily than I would be able to do with younger children. I haven’t completely ruled out trying my hand at teaching elementary school one day, but for now I’m perfectly happy in my role as a middle school teacher.

EPIK teacher
The English classroom: what I see
EPIK teacher
The English classroom: what my students see
School lunches are bomb.

In fact, I think I really lucked out with my position. I like my school, I like my students (well, most of them), and I like my co-teachers. I teach students in first and second grade, which is the equivalent of Grade 7 and 8 in Canada. I only teach 18 classes (plus one after-school class) a week, which is less than many other EPIK teachers’ workloads. Moreover, I was quite pleasantly surprised at how quickly I adjusted to my new job. Having had zero previous teaching experience — and not having done any public speaking since graduating university seven years ago — I expected to be super awkward my first time standing in front of a room full of 30-odd teenage faces staring expectantly at me. I assumed it would take me several weeks to find my groove and start feeling comfortable teaching a class. Honestly, I thought I was going to be so nervous on my first day that I wouldn’t even be able to eat breakfast. But the whole experience turned out to be so much less scary than I thought it would be. I was a little nervous on my first day, of course, but the nerves were nowhere near as bad as I thought they would be. (And I ate my breakfast just fine.) It definitely helped that I didn’t start teaching until my third day of work. During my first two days, I simply sat in the 2nd-grade teachers’ lounge working on lesson planning. That was nice because it allowed me to get accustomed to the school, to learn where things were and how things were run there, instead of just being handed a textbook and thrown headfirst into teaching on Day One.

My schedule: only 18 classes a week
The 2nd-grade teachers’ lounge, where you’ll find me whenever I’m not in the English classroom

Of course, as with just about any job, there are certain aspects of being an EPIK teacher that are less than perfect. I think what’s been the most disappointing aspect of the job for me is how much difficulty I have had learning students’ names. I’ve always kind of flattered myself that I’m good with names, but trying to learn my Korean students’ names has proven an impossible task. At this point, I’m pretty sure that the vast majority (as in 99%) of their names will forever remain unknown to me. In my first week, I had the students make nametags for themselves, with the hope that they would bring their nametags to every class and place them on their desks facing me. In my overly ambitious mind, I thought it would be easy for me to pick up their names after glancing a few times at the nametag sitting in front of them. Ohhhh boy, how wrong I was! It’s one thing to remember someone’s name if that name is common in your native language, but quite another thing to learn roughly 540 Korean names that all sound completely foreign to your English-speaking mind. After a month of teaching, I think there are exactly five students in the whole school whose names I know (and two of them are not even the students’ real names but only their English names: Sally and Stella). By the time my third week of teaching began, none of the students were even bringing their nametags to class anymore. I guess they knew as well as I did that my learning their names was a hopelessly lost cause.

Anyways, enough about the job. How have I been adjusting to life in Korea? Swimmingly! In fact, adjusting to life in this country was even easier than adjusting to my new job as a teacher. As far as “culture shock” goes, I can’t say I have really felt it at all. Korea is a modern, wealthy, first-world country, and things run pretty much the same way here as they do in other modern, wealthy, first-world countries. Of course there are little differences, like how students bow to teachers (including me sometimes) in the hallways at school, and how all the teachers are constantly bestowing gifts of rice cakes and oranges on each other. But for the most part, daily life unfolds in Korea in much the same way that it does in Canada. I should probably point out that the exorbitant price of groceries here caught me a little off-guard at first, since nobody had warned me about it beforehand. However, pretty much everything else is cheaper here than in Canada, so things balance out moneywise.

A teacher who gives me oranges all the time brought me a yummy homemade macaron last week. How did she know macarons are my favourite things in the world?

As for Daegu, it’s a great city to live in. There’s so much to see and do here. The job has been keeping me pretty busy from Monday to Friday, but I always have plenty of time on the weekends to get out and explore. I keep telling myself that one of these days I’m going to actually get out of Daegu and explore other parts of Korea, but I still have tons of things to check off my Daegu bucket list first.

EPIK teacher
Daytime view over Daegu from Apsan Observatory…
…and the nighttime view from the same spot!
Yours truly, admiring the cherry blossoms at Suseong Lake
Cherry blossoms at the Jijeo-dong Cherry Blossom Tunnel
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A sunny Saturday stroll through the Daegu Arboretum
EPIK teacher
Another pic taken at the lovely Daegu Arboretum
EPIK teacher
Cherry blossoms lit with LED lights at E-World’s annual Starlight Cherry Blossom Festival
EPIK teacher
A tranquil scene at Duryu Park

On the whole, my transition to life in Korea has gone just about as smoothly as I could have hoped. I enjoy teaching middle school, I love living in Daegu, and I can’t wait for all the adventures I expect to have in the next 10.5 months. Stay tuned!

Hiking Mt. Apsan in Daegu, South Korea

Once again, I have allowed a considerable stretch of time to pass since my last appearance in the blogosphere. So many travel-related things have happened in the past few weeks that I could have written about, but I’ve been too busy (and too lacking in motivation) to bother. Long story short, I moved to South Korea on Feb. 20 to teach English with EPIK. After landing at Incheon Airport near Seoul, I was whisked away to Konkuk University in the city of Chungju, where I spent a week listening to lectures and participating in seminars at EPIK Orientation. After that I was put on a bus and carted off to Daegu, where I started teaching at a middle school on March 6. I like the job so far, but lesson planning has been taking up a lot of my free time, and blogging — as so often happens — has been put on the back burner.

Anyways, last Saturday I decided to reward myself for completing my first week at the new job without any incidents. (Well, without any major incidents…On my first day of teaching, I accidentally said “shit” in front of an entire class of second-grade middle-schoolers, resulting in the biggest eruption of laughter the school probably heard all week. OK, maybe that does count as a “major incident,” but it could have been worse, right??) Since Daegu is surrounded by mountains and is known for its fantastic hiking opportunities, I decided to climb up one of the city’s most heavily-hiked mountains: Mt. Apsan.

I found Mt. Apsan fairly easy to get to via public transportation. The night before I planned to set out on my hike, I consulted a few other blogs and websites to figure out how to get there. All of them said that I would need to catch a bus in order to get to the beginning of the trail. This bummed me out a little, as I was worried about having to go through the hassle of figuring out where and when to board the bus. Luckily, however, when I looked at a map I found that Mt. Apsan is only about a 20-minute walk from Hyeonchungno subway station (on the red line). No bus required! Hassle averted (this time).

I arrived at the base of Mt. Apsan at 11:00 a.m., and began my long hike to the top. There are several different trails of varying lengths and difficulties that you can take to get there. Since I didn’t have a map with me, and didn’t know where to get one, I stuck to one rule: Whenever I came to a fork in the trail, I took the path that led the steepest way UP. I mean, when climbing a mountain, one cannot go wrong as long as one keeps heading in the general direction of “up,” right?

Finally, at about 12:30, I arrived at the top of the mountain. I still had a short way to go before I reached my main objective — Apsan Observatory — but my efforts were rewarded here with a little peek over the city as it stretched off into the distance.

hiking Mt. Apsan in Daegu

hiking Mt. Apsan in Daegu hiking Mt. Apsan in Daegu

After walking along the trail a little longer, I came to a café that looked like this:

hiking Mt. Apsan in Daegu

On top of the café was a viewing platform called Sopra Observatory. No purchase from the café was necessary to visit the observatory, so I walked right on up. On reaching the top of the stairs, I was met with the most spectacular view over Daegu.

hiking Mt. Apsan in Daegu

hiking Mt. Apsan in Daegu hiking Mt. Apsan in Daeguhiking Mt. Apsan in Daegu

Apsan Observatory on Mt. Apsan in Daegu

Apsan Observatory

After staring at the magnificent scene before me for several minutes, trying to make note of all the tiny details, I continued on my way along the trail. Finally, at about 1:00 — two hours after I began my ascent up the mountain — I arrived at Apsan Observatory. A rather sizeable crowd was gathered on the viewing platform, but there was still plenty of space for all of us to admire the amazing vista spread out before us. As is always the case when hiking a mountain, the view more than made up for the arduous trek to the summit.

I must have accidentally taken one of the longer trails up Mt. Apsan, because I went back down by a different path and it seemed to only take a matter of minutes. (Obviously I know that walking DOWN a mountain is much easier than walking UP. But even when taking that into consideration, I’m sure the path I took back down was a lot shorter than the one I took up.)

On the way back down, I passed by the beautiful Anilsa Temple. My phone’s battery was almost dead by this point, but I couldn’t resist stopping for a bit to snap some photos of the colourful, intricately-detailed architecture of the temple.

By the time I arrived back on level ground, I had just enough charge left on my phone to navigate my way back to Hyeonchungno station via GPS. Next time I go hiking, I will remember to bring my portable charger!

My day on Mt. Apsan was definitely a day well spent, and just the release I needed after a week of being cooped up inside, slaving over lesson plans. If you’re looking for a great way to while away a sunny afternoon in Daegu, you can’t go wrong with a hike up Mt. Apsan!