Sunday, January 10, 2010

2010 Winter English camp

On Friday Jess and I returned from a four and half day English camp. It was intense. We would arrive at the camp shortly before nine in the morning and would leave at about nine in the evening. What is more, the breaks at lunch and dinner were short so there wasn’t even time to recuperate during the day. The only lengthy break that we had were two additional hours off on Wednesday when the students watched Ratatouille.

We had a great time but it was not easy. We attended the same camp last year, so we had an idea what to expect. Unfortunately this year only four foreign teachers attended the camp. Last year there were eight of us and I honestly feel that I had to put in twice as much effort. It’s a pity that there were fewer foreign teachers since the camp was intended as a week of English immersion, and to immerse students in English one needs as many fluent English speakers as possible.

I had a Korean coteacher that was supposed to assist me, but he was more hindrance than help. The kids lacked confidence, and although he meant well, my coteacher’s tone and choice of words knocked their confidence rather than built it up.

Like many Korean teachers he thought it was alright to sit at the back of the class room and read books rather than get involved. I guess I could have made an effort to involve him more, or perhaps I could have spoken to him outside of class, but it is difficult to sum up the energy to micromanage kids as well as an adult when you are working a twelve hour day with precious few breaks.

I’m glad that the camp ended early on Friday as my patience with my coteacher by Friday morning was thread bare. I really don’t understand how this person thinks. I mean for example he would come into class three-quarters of the way through a lesson, see that we were behind schedule, loudly announce that the students have to hurry up, and then sit down to read. It’s not enough to simply announce to students that they have to hurry. They hear the message but they don’t move on with a sense of urgency. As a teacher one has to get involved and help the students.

A real pet peeve that I had regarding this teacher was that he would walk in, make an announcement that the students should speak English and then sit down to read his book as if all of sudden the kids would magically switch to speaking English. The kids spoken English was relatively low and they lacked confidence. What they needed were teachers who would speak English to them and prompt them to reply in English. My coteacher could have filled this role, his English was adequate, but he didn’t take the initiative.

My worst moment with this teacher was during the skit rehearsal only a few hours before the performance. I was in the auditorium helping the students, my coteacher was no where to be seen, and I was watching the kids go through their final skit rehearsal when he entered. The play that my coteacher walked in on was by no means perfect, but it was as good as it was going to get and the kids were really doing their best. I had given the students a motivational talk before the rehearsal and told them that this would be the final run through before the actual performance. As soon as the play ended I leapt up and applauded the students, they were looking nervous and I sensed that they were looking to me for affirmation.

I told the students that they had done an excellent job and then my coteacher stepped in. He lectured them about how they needed to be more confident, that they had to learn their lines and how the play needed to be perfect. He really shook their confidence. I could have strangled the man on the spot. Afterward he told me how he thought the play was good, but that he wanted it to be perfect so that we would win. He had little to no idea how effort how much the students had put in; and that at this late stage the play was as good as it was going to get. I was so angry. Even now, two days later, recalling his absolute lack of finesse with students makes me angry all over again.

The actual skit performance did not go as well as I had hoped. By this point the kids were tired as well as nervous which caused them to forget lines that they had previously recited without effort. We came third out of the four teams which was disappointing. I had hoped that this would be our team's grand moment. Still the kids seemed to have a good time and they were happy enough that they had not come fourth.

When we returned to the classroom after the play the students shared some of their sweets, which they had won, with me which I took as a sign that I had been an effective teacher over the week. The students did not learn a great deal of English, but I feel that their confidence in their spoken English improved over the week. I believe that I played a large role in this.

The first class on Friday morning was set aside as a period to say goodbye to one another. I was supposed to go to class say goodbye to the students and spend the period with them writing messages to one another saying goodbye and wishing each other well. I was really looking forward to the lesson as I felt this was my chance to end the week on a high note. When I got to class the students had already completed the exercise as my coteacher had handed out the sheets of paper, that the students were to write their goodbyes on, before class. Not only was I disappointed, but the students now had nothing to do -- as if to put a cap on a difficult week my coteacher had royally fucked up.

I said goodbye to the students, it wasn’t the grand moment that I hoped it would be.

In terms of my teaching I felt that this years camp went much better for me than last years. Teaching has really brought out a more spontaneous and fun side to me, which I think is very important when teaching a difficult foreign language. I enjoyed playing MC even though it was exhausting. I felt that I ‘managed’ my English well at the camp, this is to say that I spoke English at a level that the students could understand. ‘Managing’ one’s English when teaching is a skill that has to be worked on, it is not something that comes naturally. At one point a student told Jess that I don’t speak English well, in reply she asked why the student thought this; his answer was that I can’t be a very good English speaker since I am easy to understand. I had a good laugh when I heard this. I guess the logic for the student was that his English is poor; that my English was understandable to him must mean my English is poor as well.

My group sung "I Will" by the Beatles for the talent show.

The students had to complete a number of situations. I was a doctor that they had to visit.

My students and myself

Jess and her students at the "party." Each group had to come up with a theme party and do a presentation on it. The activity did not go very well. The kids had already had loads of sweets during the week and we did not have enough time to get our presentations ready.

The foreign teachers at the camp took turns playing MC. Moments before this picture was taken Jess asked two boys how many pretty girls there are at the camp, they said there were only three pretty girls so Jess called a group of girls to the front of auditorium to confront the boys.

At the outset of the camp the students were asked to choose an English nickname which they then used for the week. Two of my students chose the nicknames A4 and B4. This is B4 taking part in the Golden Bell competition.

Jess playing MC.

My original idea for my 'immersion' lesson was to have the students create and decorate soccer balls as part of learning about the soccer world cup. The exercise proved far too difficult for the students.

We made snow men on the first day. I came from the side and kicked this one over before seeing how nice it was. The students weren't thrilled at the idea of making snow men.

My students and myself on the first day. They were shy, and it took a lot of effort on my part to get them to liven up. Incidentally South Korea had very heavy snowfalls on Monday. The whole country was blanketed and the snow fall was close to the heaviest on record. Traffic ground to a halt, students were late for the camp and we battled to get transport back to our motel on Monday evening.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2010 Goals

At midnight tonight we enter 2010. I’m excited, more so than I am ordinarily on New Years Eve. 2010 promises to be an interesting year - it’s a fresh start and it holds many opportunities, some of which once passed may not present themselves again.

I have a sense that I am going to have to make some important decisions next year. Apart from generally saving money I wonder whether I should aim for a specific target, and if so how much? Should I opt for a third contract in Korea? I have already suggested to several friends that we travel from Beijing to Moscow in October, and I remain committed to this. If I am to spend a third year in Korea it would mean returning with the February 2011 intake, or trying to arrange a similar deal to the one I had in summer this year and not returning to SA during the weeks that I have off between contracts. Jess leans toward returning home permanently after this contract and I appreciate that I must also take into account her thoughts before making any of these decisions.

Should I choose not to sign on for a third year in Korea I will need to begin a masters degree in 2011. Despite having put in a lot of thought and having done some research I am far from making any decisions regarding masters. In the interim between leaving Korea and returning to SA I am thinking of applying to be an ‘Ecumenical Accompanier’ in Palestine and Israel. I would like to bear witness to what is going on in the region.

Now it’s not often that I share information about my goals, but on this occasion I would like to make them public. I know that some friends and family follow my blog, and I am happy share my goals. I have held most these goals for some time, some longer than a year, which I feel is both positive and negative. On the one hand I have a clear vision of what I would like to achieve, on the other the fact that these goals remain on the list of things that I would like to achieve indicates that I am making less progress in meeting goals than I would like.

Here they are, in no particular order, my 2010 goals:

1. Take as many opportunities to explore South Korea as possible - Korea is not as beautiful as South Africa and there are very few places that remain relatively unspoiled. There are nevertheless beautiful places to see and I am well aware that I am highly unlikely to return to Korea as a tourist. Jess and I recently discovered that it is relatively economical to hire vans, so I am looking forward to some fun adventures come spring time.

2. Cut costs by spending money carefully - I’m not a huge fan of setting exact goals of how much to save, and then being glum when I do not reach the goals for any number of reasons, some of which may have been beyond my control. Instead I aim to live relatively frugally and be aware that saving even small amounts here can amount to large amounts at home. Principally I aim to cut down on the foreign drinks - Baileys, Cockburn’s port and foreign beers - that I enjoy so much. I also aim to use fewer taxis.

3. Improve my photography and familiarise myself with Photoshop

4. Continue to search for opportunities to write for newspapers, especially South African newspapers, and refine my writing - I submitted three pieces in 2009. Two were published. Unfortunately my first article only made it as far as a Grahamstown rag - I was very disappointed in the news agency that I sent it to; it clearly made no effort to place the piece in the appropriate paper. My second published piece received a number of comments online, and was picked up by several blogs. A few people wrote to me to thank me for my well balanced article. 2010 has started well in terms of my writing goals. The Korea Times published an article by me last week. It didn’t generate as much discussion as my first article but it was picked up Expacked; a blog that aims to gather and disseminate news that is of interest to foreign teachers in South Korea. [See: "Equal Pay for Equal Work"]

At present I have several articles in mind and hope to have another one published in a South Korean paper before the end of the month. Following this I hope to do some travel writing for an SA paper or magazine. As a step toward this goal I intend submitting an article to a travel website. My final goal in terms of my writing is to have the M&G publish a piece of my writing. Having failed to get the first piece that I submitted to the M&G published, I’m not going to approach the M&G until I have had a good number of articles published in a variety of newspapers and / or magazines.

5. Put less time into preparing classes - Some of the teachers that I know need to spend less time drinking, others need to spend more time preparing classes. I on the other hand need to spend less time preparing classes, and perhaps a little more time partying it up -- well maybe. I often get what I feel what is a good idea for class and launch into preparing the lesson without any consideration for how long it will take to prepare. I enjoy preparing lessons, but I have spent many hours outside of school time preparing for lessons when I could have been doing other things.

And you know -- so long as the kids are entertained, they couldn’t give a toss how much preparation I put in.

6. Get fit - This is my eternal goal. I am going to spend more time swimming in 2010 and I have arranged to try out Taekwando for a week in January. I only swam once in 2009, and this was on the 31st of December.

7. Restart my search for masters opportunities, and activities that might increase my chance of being accepted into a masters program.

8. Do my bit for looking after our household in terms of cooking (I’ve already got the cleaning bit nailed)

Christmas 2009

Christmas has come and gone. It was so much better than last year’s Christmas, and I feel that our effort to make the most of the long weekend really paid off. It was jam packed with goodness, fun, friendship and a sprinkling of booze.

I got off early on Thursday. I asked to leave early when I heard there was going to be an afternoon meeting from 4:00pm. I hate late afternoon meetings, I never know how long they will go on and am effectively consigned to my desk for their duration. Anyway I was given permission to leave early, so I squeezed some last minute shopping in before rushing home. There was a definite sense of urgency to the afternoon as Jess and I needed to pack various gifts and cooking utensils that we intended taking to Thomas’ house before the arrival of our single Christmas guest.

Last year Emily a Brit on a global backpacking adventure joined us for Christmas, this year Bianca who we met on Ulleungdo, played the role of Christmas guest. Ulleungdo is a small and remote island that is only accessible by a ferry that takes three hours to reach the island. Bianca had had, earlier in the day, arrived on the mainland for the first time in months and was thrilled to be offered a gin and tonic as soon as she entered our house. Ulleungdo’s remoteness, and relative inaccessibility, ensure that very few western products make it to the island. Bianca was incredulous that we have gin and tonic water here. While we drank, toasted and packed Bianca regaled us with tales of the many creative ways she had to devised to cook squid while on Ulleungdo; and of times when fresh fruit, vegetables and milk disappeared from the shops shelves during periods of bad weather which prevented resupply from the mainland.

The story telling did not last long and soon we were on a bus to Gumi. Unfortunately for us the seats on the bus to Gumi were all full by the time we arrived at the bus station, so Jessica and Bianca stood for the forty minute trip while I perched next to the bus driver. Once in Gumi we took a taxi over to Thomas’ large and very comfortable apartment where we met several friends from across the province. There was much drinking and laughter. Jess and Bianca, along with one or two others, cooked us roast chicken and vegetables; before which we played ‘secret santa.’ Secret santa is a very simple game. Each of us had brought a wrapped gift along, that cost under W10 000, placed them in a pile and then took turns choosing a single gift to unwrap and keep. The gifts were anonymous and afterwards we all said ‘thank you secret Santa’ together.

I’m told the drinking went on till late, but exhaustion and beer saw me pass out before midnight. On Saturday we took a cable car up Gumi san where we saw a frozen waterfall and a cave containing a Buddha figure. When we returned to the base of the mountain we ate ‘pajeon’, best described as a cross between a pancake and omelet with loads of vegetables, and drank ‘makoli’, an alcoholic drink made from rice.

In the evening we watched Sherlock Holmes, on the big screen, before catching a bus home.

On Saturday we caught the 8:30am bus to Suanbo, which is in the mountains north of us, from where we took a taxi to Woraksan national park. We had hoped to make a snow man, and although it had clearly snowed the previous night there wasn’t enough snow to roll into balls. None of us it to be so bitterly cold and we were unprepared to stay outdoors for long, besides the port that we had brought along barely touched sides, so we caught the first bus back into Suanbo where we sought out a restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet for it’s pheasant dishes. Pheasant meals are a specialty of the Suanbo area. The meal was superb and consisted of seven courses. Once again much makoli was consumed, and once again I fell asleep.

Sunday was pretty quiet. Bianca, Jess and I visited a small persimmon festival on the banks of the Nakdong that runs through town. There were a number food tents, and many of them were clearly selling whale meat. Whale meat can only be sold if the whale was caught us bycatch. Since the legalisation of the sale of whale bycatch, reported bycatch of whales, in Japan, has increased dramatically raising serious questions.

On Sunday evening Simon, Dan and Melissa joined us for dinner at our home. It was a three course affair, eaten under candle light.

This morning I went to school for the last time this semester. Bianca had left for Seoul by the time I arrived home. I now have a few days off as the camps only start in the New Year. The last couple of days have been great, Jess and I enjoyed Bianca’s company. It’s always refreshing to meet like minded people. Looking back this year has, for the most part, gone well. I’m especially glad that Jess and I have made many new friends over the last couple of months. Having an extensive group of friends really makes a difference.

Having a little nap after the pheasant lunch.

Jess and Mark on our walk in Geumosan

Jess and Bianca

Simon and myself on the back of bakkie / pick up truck. We hitched a lift into a town when it looked like we mike miss our bus. I'm a big fan of Simon, he's always game for a good time.

The four of us in Woraksan National Park

Gathering snow during the failed snow man attempt.

Jess on Christmas eve.


About to take the cable car up Geumosan

Scott and Sarah at our place for an early Christmas dinner.

Simon and Jess in Woraksan National Park