Notes From Korea - June 1st - Korean Schools, Korean Gangs, Korean Age (aka funny math)

Once upon a time a thousand years ago (in 2002), I took a year long teaching job in South Korea. I packed up my 9 yr son, his little white cat and 4 huge bags of "stuff" and we got on a plane and flew from Washington state to South Korea. We lived there for a year, came home for Xmas and then my son stayed in the states for 8 weeks while I flew back over the big pond to finish my contract(the first time I've ever been away from him for more than 2 weeks). We lived in a small town, with no native English speakers, no familiar food, and no real clue of what we were going to do. It was a great adventure!

I wrote long, sometimes boring, letters home. These are them, unedited except for the removal of the whining and begging to my parents to please send this or that. You can click on the pictures to enlarge.

June 1st, 2002
Andrew and I are doing well. It's hard to believe we've been here five and a half months already!! Andrew commented the other day on how it feels like we've only been here a short while, but it's been almost half the year! We have learned a lot of Korean since I last wrote. We have taken to each learning a word or phrase a day and then teaching each other our word(s). My director is wonderful at teaching us things throughout the day, but I have the memory of a goldfish and tend to forget things if I don't write them down. Andrew picks up a lot from the kids, as expected, and his vocabulary is far beyond mine.

It's been getting quite hot here lately. I hear that the temperature will be getting near 100 degrees in August! It's been pretty humid during the day and then raining in early evening. I LOVE when it starts to rain - it's still quite warm out so the rain is good to cool you off. Most Koreans will not walk two feet in the rain without an umbrella and they get very nervous/disturbed when they see us just walk and not sprint in the rain. My director said he just "doesn't like water."

We made another trip to Seoul last weekend. It was a short trip-mainly for books. We went through the Namdaemun market again - a wonderful place to buy a present for my friends b-day, then went to a used book store and a park. It was the most perfect day outside for it, as if we ordered the weather!

We sat down to consult the subway map at one point and met two Koreans from the southern region. It turned out that they were bonafide Korean gangsters! Whatever that means...guns are not legal in Korea and there are very few of them out there. I don't know much of anything about Korean gangs, except the word and that they LOVE tattoos. The man we were talking to refused to take his coat off (it was sweltering!!) because of his tattoos, but his wife told us about them and they apparently cover his body. It's the first time we've even heard of a tattoo here-it's just not accepted.

They were fun to talk to, and as usual, couldn't keep their hands off Andrew. Everyone is always touching his face or his leg or his arm...he's just so cute you have to reach out and touch him! Ha! As we were leaving, the woman came over and gave Andrew her name brand sunglasses! He was excited, though they are adult size and fit me better (which means I have a new pair of sunglasses!!).

We have made some new friends in our town this past moth. A few Korean women who are fairly fluent in English and a few children who don't know much at all. Speaking of friends, our friend Brian, from Oregon, is now here in our area. Unfortunately, we have drifted apart and don't speak much at all. It's strange and sad that someone who spent a good portion of last year in our home/lives is now fifteen minutes away and we don't speak anymore. Such is life, I guess...

My classes are all going well. I teach children from 3:00-7:00pm and then on Mon, Wed & Friday, I have an adult class from 7:00-8:00pm. My favorite class by far is the kindergarten class. They are so much fun and you can see that they really want to learn English. My middle school students are a bit difficult to deal with most days and it's obvious that they don't really want to be in an English class.

But you can hardly blame them. Most days, they go to school from 8:30am - 3:00pm and then go to a private class until 5:00pm. (TaeKwonDo or a music lesson). Then they come to my English school  for an hour. After that, most of them go home to eat, but then have to go to another hogwan (Korean for private school) for another hour from 7:00-8:00pm!

And all Korean schools are open for half a day on Saturday!! So their weekends are only a day and a half...and I won't even get into how much homework they have!! No wonder they aren't excited to sit in class each day with me. I don't take it personally and I feel bad for them. I usually bring snacks in once a week and we have a game day on Fridays. I found that they are much happier students if they have that Friday to look forward to.

Andrew and I haven't tried very many new foods lately-we're totally slacking! We had set out to try one new thing a week, a reasonable goal for a picky young boy...but we've fallen behind. I'm going to have one of my Korean friends teach me a few recipes next week so I can actually make our own Korean food. I don't really eat much of anything myself and have found that my once-too-tight khakis are now perfectly fitting-yay! We both eat more fruit and the chocolate here just isn't "right"-thankfully! Koreans aren't big on desserts, so we've cut way back too. Also, there are no fast food places around (though we do order pizza every other week), so I think our general diet is so much better here. Part of my goal in coming was to shed some weight and I now feel like I'm getting it done!

Another goal was to pay off bills, which would be done a lot faster if we didn't travel so much. I didn't realize how many places we've visited, until a man in Seoul asked us what cities we've been to since we've been here and our list was quite long for five months. I think we'll cut back from two trips a month to one for a bit so I can get rid of a little extra debt. We have fun just hanging out in our little town anyway. Andrew knows quite a few of the kids now and can usually find someone to play with fairly easy. My students like to come over so he makes plans with them. The ages of the kids vary so much-this morning he played with some of the youngest students-about 7 yrs old each-at our house and now he is at the home of the 14-yr old students.

Ages are a little confusing here...Koreans go by the year you were born, not the month & day of your birthday, and also, when you are born you are considered age one. SO-if you were born on Dec 31st, 2001, on Jan 1, 2002, you are now two years old! Very Andrew was pleased to learn that he is actually considered 11 years old!

Homeschooling is going well. Andrew and I have had our ups and downs, but for the most part we have settled into a schedule. He really loves to learn new things and loves the one-on-one attention. I thought he would miss being part of a classroom the most, but earlier this week, he said that if we go back to the states next year, he still wants to be home schooled!

I think that's all for now. It looks like I might be buying a laptop next week-a fairly old one from a teacher in a neighboring town. I am only buying it because it's so cheap and it will be a good tool for Andrew to use in his schooling.

That's all for now...


  1. carma said...:

    could you hear the whining if the kids in the U.S. had to go to school for that long a day and on Sat???? when would they find time for playstation (or whatever else kids who have that kind of stuff do ;-) )..


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