Thursday, December 10, 2015

English teacher. Nice to meetcha. Blog post #5: It's been a while by Shannon Norman

It’s been a while…by Shannon Norman

Excuse me while I apologise for this delayed blog post. It’s outrageous, I know. But as with most things, there is one simple reason – “life”.

We all get carried away sometimes, right? It’s not always a bad thing though. So what’s been keeping me busy? Besides teaching General English, preparing students for IELTS and having fun in one-to-one classes, I’ve been training. You know, working out my legs and arms, firming my butt and getting summer-ready.

Pfft, if only I wasn’t such a bad liar. What I actually mean by training is something completely different.  I guess I should explain for the sake of the truth.

About two months ago, the owner of the school and my mentor, Marian, approached me with a rather big, daunting and thought-provoking question:

“Will you take over the TEFL course from me?”

Now as you can imagine the situation was quite intense. Picture me and Marian sitting comfortably on Oprah’s soft sofas. The cameras are rolling; the bright lights are shining on us as we sit in the middle of the stage. Oprah is holding my hand for support and whispers under her breath, “You can do this, Shannon...” The audience, on the other hand, is sitting on the edge of their seat.  There’s a lady who is bouncing her leg up and down as if there was some sort of electrical impulse moving through her body – the wait is killing her. What will I say? A man in the audience gets up. The lights now glaring in his face, making him look all heroic and what not.“Answer us, Shannon! What are you going to say? This experience could change things forever,” he shouts. Oprah calms him down and looks at me and smiles…

So what did I say? I said I would think about it because it was quite an important decision to make. Marian gave me the thumbs up and off I went. The problem I have (and I know a few people who might be nodding their heads furiously right now) is that I struggle to make decisions. Don’t ask me what chocolate I want, and please, don’t ask me to order from a menu when there are a billion things to choose from. Also, don’t ask me, “What do you want to do tonight?” because I DON’T KNOW.

Anyway after copious amounts of brain farts I realised that this was not even something I needed to think about;  I should just say ‘yes’ and grab the bull by its horns. Why would I not want to ride this beast of opportunity? Why would I let someone else take it from me? 

Then it was show time! Marian needed an answer. My heart was racing. Not because I was scared, but because I was excited.

I said, “Yes!”
Marian handing over TEFL student Julita to Shannon (It's official now!)
And with that, the red curtains close. Picture a man trying to find the opening of the curtains. He eventually makes his way through. He feels quite stupid for not realising where the two curtains meet. He stands to the left of the stage and says, “That’s all we have for tonight, folks. If you want to find out more about Shannon’s experiences then keep your eyes peeled for the next show.”

There you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. Catch my next blog where I will share some valuable lessons learnt in and out of the TEFL classroom. Who knows, maybe Oprah lets me down and I find myself talking to Dr Phil next time. 

Shannon is looking forward to some real fans.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #13: This is the End, Beautiful Friend by Georgina Selander

This is the End, Beautiful Friend by Georgina Selander

The time has come to wrap up my ‘Eat, Play, Teach’ series – and I figured the best way to do so was to round up some of the highs and lows of my time so far. I’ll also offer some friendly advice for future teachers and travellers to South Korea.

Driving in Cars with Koreans

I’ve heard of the stereotype, ‘Asians are the worst drivers’ – and, well, – at the risk of being insufferably politically incorrect – it’s not far off the mark.

On Thursdays one of my co-teachers gives me a ride to school. I’m lucky to have good relationships with all of my co-teachers. Unfortunately, the one in question frequently crosses the professional boundary. In the past, I’ve been asked, “whether I’m dating?”; “if I’d like to date [him]?” and even if I’d like to “join for a trip to his hometown.” All this with a wedding ring and a daughter sitting in the back seat. Haaaaaard pass.

In addition to the pervert-y asides, this particular teacher is a noisy eater. And so for the 25-minute journey I cringe to the open-mouth chomping of his breakfast. Apples. It’s always apples.

One morning, after buckling myself in and bracing against the aural buffet to my left (Koreans drive on the right side of the road) things escalated from tepid to, well, traumatic. Driving through the winding country roads, my co-teacher decided that a blind rise was an ideal time to overtake a sluggish delivery vehicle. As we rounded the corner, not only was a car fast approaching in the oncoming lane, but the van we were overtaking started swaying dangerously into us – ultimately clipping my teacher’s side mirror. He swore loudly and pulled onto the shoulder of the road. I couldn’t help gasping, “oh god!”

Dangerous encounters of the foreign kind.

Besides the obvious joys of riding with a native driver, there are also the pedestrian perks. Forget what you learnt in your driving test. Here, drivers seem to have the right of way; zebra crossings and ‘the little green man’ are suggestions at most.

Eat Your Kimchi (and your rice).

A typical school lunch
Forget Woolies salads. Forget avocados and unprocessed cheese. Forget a decent bottle of wine for 40 bucks. Vok it, just forget it all. You’ll be eating rice with every meal.

Adjusting to Korean food is the only thing that has made me faintly homesick here. It’s not that Korean food isn’t tasty – it’s just that it’s likely going to be completely foreign to anything you’ve tasted before. And when food is memory, culture, familiarity and comfort – it can be a teething problem.

Kimchi is a Korean staple, and is served at every meal. Although the fermented taste takes some adjustment, the dish has a variety of health benefits such as warding off diabetes, cancer and strengthening your immune system. Plus, it may be considered impolite not to try it – at least in the beginning.

My advice? Take one piece. Even if you don’t eat it. That way you won’t get asked, “You don’t like kimchi?” Another tactic is saying “It’s too spicy”. Even if you think otherwise, it’s a good excuse.

Cooking Shabu Shabu 
But hell, be open-minded about it. It’s the only way to figure out the dishes you actually like. Korea has some really soul-warming food – and often dishes are prepared with the health benefits in mind. Take 해장국 (pronounced hey jang guk) for example, a formidable hangover chaser, made from pork or beef bones boiled for several hours in a delicious stock flavoured with ginger and garlic. My other recommendations would be trying out some of the tasty 찌개 (stews – pronounced jigae) or 샤브샤브 (thinly slice meat / seafood and vegetables cooked at your table in a yummy broth – which is later used to cook noodles and then rice – pronounced shabu shabu). Lastly, Korean-style barbeque, called samgyeopsal (삼겹살) where you fill lettuce leaf wraps with grilled pork belly and other side dishes.

As a final note, avoid insulting Korean food – however strange it may seem to you. That’s offensive in any culture.

Next on my list of bizarre foods – live octopus! Nom nom nom. Cough.

Be Courteous – Especially to Your Elders

Korean culture is hierarchical. The older you are the more respect you are (or at least, should be) granted.

The way you address an older person differs to a younger one. Generally this means adding a ‘yo’ when you’re speaking to your senior – but also extends to general etiquette such as bowing (lower shows more respect) or the way you share a meal or a drink.

I recommend familiarizing yourself (or ideally, asking a Korean native) about these subtleties to avoid any embarrassment.

Make Friends. Even if They “Aren’t Your Type”.

When I arrived in Korea, I was fortunate enough to have a close friend living in a neighbouring city. This gave me easy access not only to social invitations, but also a guide through the proverbial dark waters on arrival. Because of this, I neglected to make strong bonds with people in my own city. This left me lonely on weeknights and on the weekends when I was home.

Making friends
I acknowledge that I’m a bit of a ‘people snob’. Possibly even a sapiosexual – someone attracted to intelligence over looks. (If you openly advertise that you “aren’t a reader” goodyeeeeeeee).

That being said, not every person you meet has to be intellectually / emotionally stimulating. There are times when just a bit of company will do.

Lower your expections

I expected to drop 10 kilos on a diet of soup and kimchi.
I gained weight.

I expected to forgo liquor for spiritual pursuits.
Soju. Enough said.

I expected a high(er) level of English proficiency.
Hearing ‘hello’ is an achievement.

You might be surprised, as I was, at how low the level of English is in Korean schools. Unfortunately the school system privileges reading, writing and grammar over listening, speaking and conversationalskills.

Classroom shenanigans
It’s been a constant battle – even seven months in – just to get some students to respond to “how are you?” So don’t be frustrated or disheartened if things aren’t up to standard. Be patient and find other avenues to stimulate yourself if you find your job wanting.

Be open-minded

Koreans may talk, eat, drink, dance – do everything – in a way that’s unusual to you. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s just cultural difference.

You may be shocked at Korean men spitting in the streets, or burping after meals. They might be just as shocked if you blow your nose loudly in public or wear shirts that show your collarbone.

My students’ behaviour also came as a struggle; dealing with 25 – 30 teenage students, some of whom are sleeping, others who are doing their make-up, wasn’t something that I was accustomed to.

So, be open-minded. And most of all, be patient – with yourself and others.

This is the last blog of the ‘Eat, Play, Teach’ series. I’ll be starting up a new site in the near future – so keep an eye out if you enjoyed these entries!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #12: Means to an end by Georgina Selander

Means to an end by Georgina Selander

“Please face the front.” I breathe out violently, trying my damndest not to lose my cool.

“I don’t want to,” she replies venomously in Korean.

The remark is made doubly rude by the fact that she’s omitted the yo' at the end of the word (an honorific signalling respect). What’s more, I’ve foregone the textbook in lieu of a game – one that everyone else seems to be enjoying – so what’s with the attitude?

She turns around again.

I wonder why my co-teacher hasn’t come to my defence.

It’s a fundamental lie that teachers “don’t have favourites”. It goes without saying that any student who is eager to learn and who participates enthusiastically in class is a pleasure to teach. This has nothing to do with grades or proficiency. Yes, a good mark gives us the pleasure of knowing we’ve done our part adequately. But a committed low-level student certainly outweighs a competent, yet insolent, one.

Summer camp - Advertisement design workshop
An amazing university lecturer once told me, “never let them see you sweat”. It’s an invaluable lesson, and one I constantly need to remind myself of. While it might be necessary to call a student out on bad behaviour, the ‘how’ is everything. Flying into a rage or screaming at the top of your lungs will only expose your vulnerabilities to your students – one they can use to their advantage.

And so I quietly return to front of the class – making a concerted effort not to let the histrionics of one student spoil the class for the rest.

Six months into my Korean adventure, my patience continues to be tested. But at the same time, it’s been an incredible study in not taking things personally.
Moody teenagers come hand-in-hand with teaching middle school-ers – and often times they’re just trying to ‘act cool’ in front of their friends.

But let me not get too negative here. There are moments – as rare as they might be – that make up for any hardships you might face.

Summer camp
A few weeks ago I held a Summer Camp. Every year, during their vacation, students sign up for various extra-curricular classes.

For my English camp, I’d planned what I’d hoped would be an exciting two-week itinerary – full of learning games, competitions and even cooking activities.

On the fifth day of the camp, students were given the chance to make ‘mug cakes’ – a simple microwave recipe that any hopeless baker could perfect (or so I thought).

As an instinctual – rather than methodical – baker, I improvised on the recipe where I saw fit – encouraging students to add a little extra flour or milk where the consistency seemed wrong.

What came out of the microwave ten minutes later was, frankly, poef. The cakes were rubbery and dense. Mine even had a green tint.

Summer camp - making ice cream in a bag! Yum!
As they dipped their spoons into the soggy mess, I felt disappointed at the result. They had been looking forward to this all week and the result was everything short of spectacular.

But at the end of the lesson, as the students shuffled out the classroom, one girl lingered behind. As she packed up her stationery, I approached and asked, “did you enjoy your cake?”

“Umm not so good,” she smiled and shrugged. “But fun!”

This was all I needed to hear. The proof was in the pudding after all; the means outdid the end.

Monday, August 17, 2015

English teacher. Nice to meetcha. Blog post #4: A different sort of juggling by Shannon Norman

A different sort of juggling… by Shannon Norman

Have you ever seen someone juggle six tennis balls? It’s quite grand, yeah? The more you stare, the more the juggler impresses you. Not long after watching him (or her) handle six balls – tennis balls of course – it’s likely that you’ll want to try it too. Has this ever been true for you? I can tell you one thing; it has definitely been true for me. When I saw how marvelous-looking it was to juggle that many objects with only two hands I immediately wanted to give it a go.

Well, let’s just say I spent more time crawling on the floor looking for the damn things than actually juggling them! I thought juggling two balls would be a breeze. It turns out that juggling two balls is as difficult as juggling six. It became quite clear to me that day that juggling is not for me.

So, as you can imagine, my life carried on as normal. What’s a normal life? I guess it’s one where juggling balls isn’t a requirement…until I walked through the doors of The Knowledge Workshop. Okay wait, let me rephrase and leave the ‘balls’ behind this time. When I walked through the doors of The Knowledge Workshop, I was blissfully unaware of the juggling journey I was about to embark on which has been dubbed ‘Shannon’s Gigantic Juggling Journey’. And remember folks, from here on out I’ll be referring to a different sort of juggling. 

Let me explain:  Many women believe that they are great at multi-tasking. Don’t take this the wrong way, it’s not that I don’t believe them (I’m sure many women out there are fantastic at this), it’s just that I cannot lie to myself, and the rest of the world. I struggle with multi-tasking. It has never really been one of my strongest skills. It’s a fact; it’s a thing you can’t deny, like the fact that I will love you till I die.

Okay, so if you haven’t guessed it already, I’ve just quoted Katie Melua. You see, even thinking and writing is a challenge for me – I get so distracted by my overly active mind that all I want to do is eat cake and dance in the rain. Anyway, despite my ADHD and my battle with multi-tasking I have become better at it; much better, to be honest. How? I was thrown in the deep end…

Shannon with EFL Students
My journey started with General English. All I was required to do was teach for three hours a day. I ended at 12:30 and by 13:30 I was at home, preparing for my next lesson. Ending as early as I did was a true blessing.

As we all know, nothing great comes easily. If I wanted to reap the benefits and the experience of being a teacher, I needed to accept a few other tasks, literally. So, I was asked to mentor the TEFL trainees doing their practical part of the course. Every six weeks, for a two-week period, I work until 17:00, facilitating the General English classes and conversation classes led by the TEFLers. Besides the after-hour mentoring, I provide the trainees with feedback after their lessons and I assist Marian with their brief for the next day. It’s always such a pleasure observing these classes because I get to witness new ideas unfolding and whether they know it or not, I learn just as much as they do. Also, because I am at school until 17:00, my preparation for the next day starts later. I therefore, have to make sure that I juggle my time and responsibilities wisely.

Then, TOEFL crept in. TOEFL is an American-based English proficiency test, which foreign students who want to study at an English University, need to take. When one of my students completed her General English course, it was time for me to start preparing her for this dreaded test. Before I knew it, we were sitting in a three-hour class preparing for her TOEFL test. Usually, the minimum amount of hours that you should set aside for this sort of preparation is 60 hours. My student wanted to complete her preparation in 30 hours, so you can imagine the pressure we were under. I had to do all of this while teaching General English and facilitating the TEFLERS when need be. It was rough, but the only thing I could do was keep my eye on the prize.

That’s it? Of course not, who are we kidding?

IELTS (which is British-based English proficiency test) was added to my list of ‘things to do’. TKW received a new student who wanted to do the IELTS test as she wanted to study at UCT. My student signed up for 20 hours. So I taught her four hours a week for a period of five weeks. Just to back-track a little; preparing your students for these sorts of tests isn’t as easy as following a guide and that’s that. As the teacher, you actually have to understand each part of the test and do everything you can to make sure that you teach all the essential skills to the best of your ability. What I’m saying is that doing this requires a lot of hard work, homework, and of course (wait for it) more juggling. I say this because more work was added to my list. If I’m starting to sound ridiculous, then you’ve hit the nail on the head.

Part of my responsibility at the school is to teach one-to-one English Improvement classes as well as one-to-one Conversation Classes while doing everything else. For these classes, the students’ needs are very specific and so each lesson is tailored to meet certain expectations. Again, time and effort is required from my side, so naturally, I become a clown and begin my juggling show. :) 

It was tough in the beginning and still is.  Juggle, juggle, juggle all day long. However, it’s more rewarding than anything else on this planet. My schedule has calmed down just a little bit. But trust me, it’s going to pick up again and I’m going to look like an ADHD circus monkey juggling my work like a teacher is supposed to.

I think it’s quite clear now that teaching does things to you – it can even make you good at multi-tasking when you were once shit. :-) 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #11: Stuck in the mud by Georgina Selander

Stuck in the mud by Georgina Selander

She takes a handful of the gloppy muck and throws it. Splat. Right in the centre of my t-shirt.

My feet squelch down calf-deep as I try to run towards her. I lunge, tackling her around the waist and wrestle her to the ground. Mud oozes between my toes, fills my ears. It sucks and belches loudly as I sink my hand into its depths.

A camera man kneels in front of us. He films as we wrestle and roll, giggling as we get dirtier.

“I think I’ve just got bitten by a crab?! Let’s get out!”

The Mud Festival

My group of friends and I have travelled to the annual Boryeong Mud Festival. It’s a week-long excuse to drink way too much soju, party on the beach, meet reckless foreigners and, of course, get covered in mud.

One of our friends had organised for us to join a tour group. So, on Saturday morning we caught a bus to Boryeong and met up with a group of rowdy, mostly-American expats and a Korean guide. 

Not yet 10 o’clock and already the group were passing around shots, yelling and belting out classic rock covers. Trying to avoid throwing shade in their direction, I scrolled through my Facebook feed. 

A sweaty arm draped over my seat. “Why you so boooring? Get off your phooone!” a young first-time-drinker shouted in my ear. I smiled and cussed him out in Afrikaans. 

First stop was a local mudflat where loud music pumped from large speakers. 

The mudflap

After ignoring the refs encouraging everybody to join the mud race (nooo thanks) we scampered over the rocks and into the mud. Although at first tentative, we were soon covered head-to-toe in the cool grey slop.

Afterwards we hit the showers, and then sat on the rocks drinking cold beer.

Once everyone was clean, we piled back into the bus and headed to the parade. On arrival we were handed water guns, and took pleasure in taking sneaky squirts at the rest of the group and some of the disapproving locals.

I spotted a douchey guy from a previous trip (“uggghh I only wipe my bum with wet wipes”) and chased him down with my gun. 

We camped on the grass and watched as groups of colourful singers, dancers and musicians took turns making grand entrances onto the stage. A group of feathered and bejewelled showgirl dancers even got the crowd romping with a cheesy rendition of Psy’s Gangnam Style.

An African contingent appeared in the form of five or six Congolese and Ivory Coast expats. Unfortunately their soulful drumming was drowned out by the “Oppa Gangnam Style!”

As the afternoon reached its peak, we loaded onto the bus once more and headed to our accommodation. It was time to de-mud, (after four of us had showered, the bathroom was nothing short of a crime scene) make ourselves over and head to the street scene.

Hungry after the day’s activities, we found a rooftop restaurant serving western-style food. Toasting the day’s adventures, we charged our shot glasses with soju. The smell of delicious pork belly (samgyeopsal) wafted over from the table of locals opposite us. We invited them to share in our soju drinking - they offered us crispy, pork-filled lettuce wraps. 

As it started to drizzle, our barely-eaten plate of fried chicken soon became soggy. This was no deterrent to our fun - and we managed to pass some of it off to some tipsy, bikini-clad tourists. We even managed to get a naive young American to eat a lemon wedge, skin-and-all, under the pretence that it was a “special Korean lime that can help…ahem…improve your manhood”.

Next stop was a bar across the street. Bartenders served small buckets of suspect cocktails and we danced, chatted up Koreans and took tequilas late into the night. When the music died down and some of our crew started to fade, it was time to go home. 

We rose late next morning, and headed to Daecheon beach. After getting sufficiently hot and sweaty, we dunked our bodies into the cool sea, which was gloriously refreshing, and laughed as countless vendors passed yelling “chiccccken!”.

A man floated past us on a rubber ring. As he spun over a small wave we saw he was playing on his phone. On a tube. In the sea. #classickorea.

Later that afternoon we returned home - sunburnt, sated and thoroughly spent. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #10: Getting wet by Georgina Selander

Getting Wet by Georgina Selander

We all know that movie scene. It goes something like this:

a)     A shaggy-haired teenager hops over the neighbour’s fence to visit his girlfriend and….
b)    A dumb robber (think Home Alone) attempts a stealthy break-in and….

…out dashes a snapping yap-dog – breaking the silence and incriminating the intruder.


Last Sunday, after spending most of the day in bed, I decided it was time to venture outside. It so happens that the highlight of social entertainment in my town boils down to a few cramped bars and a handful of supermarkets. Being a Sunday, my boozing options were limited – so shopping it was!

So off I went, trekking up the hill, over the intersection, past the elementary school and towards the local GS25 supermarket.

Being the highpoint of the day’s enjoyment, I wanted to take my time – spend a leisurely hour or so roaming the aisles, consulting ramyeon packets, trying to decipher the Korean wording on packages, or pretending to be planning a recipe for a well-to-do husband waiting at home.

No such luck. Korean store attendants have a habit of following you around – a most overly helpful habit. (Beauty stores are a nightmare when you just want to try on all the free samples and a teller follows your every move. In these cases, I end up feeling obliged to buy something useless and cheap that I don’t really want – like a tacky lip icekey chain.).

Fish counter
The first interesting sight – a repeat source of amusement in these instances – was the fish counter. If you can get over the smell and the eyeballs, there’s always an interesting creature or two. A common sight is live octopus (eating squirmy raw octopus is in fact a Korean delicacy). There are usually also some phallic-looking sea cucumbers or an aquarium of crabs. 
On this particular trip I discovered a group of squids, bobbing up and down in the cold water. I watched them for ages, until my front-row seat was taken over by an equally interested 4-year old.

Next stop: the meat counter. I’ve recently located chicken breasts in Korean supermarkets – a versatile ingredient to have in the fridge (and a regular meal back home). Just moments after locating said chicken, a handsome Korean man strolls over.

“Can I help you? What are you looking to buy?”

Considering there are only whole chickens, breasts and beef strips on the shelf, this conversation is really unnecessary.

“Umm I just want to make something for dinner…Maybe bulgogi?” I reply.

I spy another glance. He really is very handsome. Why of all possible days, was today the day I decided to venture out sans make-up and sans bra. I suck my stomach in a little.

“For how many?” he enquires.

“Two,” I respond.

What a joke. It’s literally just me. Eating for two. Again.

“This should be enough then,” he says, lifting up a packet of beef strips.

I had no intention of buying this. I lower it into my basket with a cheesy grin. I linger a second longer.

“Are you American,” he asks? (This is such a common question here you’d think white people only lived in the big ol' US of A).

“No, I’m from South Africa,” I reply.

“Oh okay! I was in Chicago last year!”


“Umm cool…”

He looks at me like I should mention something about the place– like my favourite Chicago deep-dish pizza restaurant (poef). All I can think of is a Sopranos accent. And I’m pretty sure that’s not even right. I take it as my cue to leave, wondering if I should circle aisle 7 until I can safely put the meat back.
Anyway, as most shopping trips go – where I plan to buy just one or two ingredients to complement my household supplies – I come back with 400 000 won worth of goodies.  Including the meat I didn’t want.

Laden with two overflowing shopping bags, I decide to explore the other side of town and take a detour home.

15 minutes in, I realise I’m walking through a residential area and the usual landmarks are nowhere in sight.

Realising I should double back and head towards more familiar surroundings, I take a narrow lane in the direction of the supermarket.

Cursing the ghastly humidity, I carry on. It starts to rain. Soon I am drenched in both rain and sweat. 

As I round the corner, a prophetic sign rushes towards me in the form of two stricken teenage boys. They duck into an alley. I quickly see why they are running – a golden-haired yap-dog is speeding towards me, teeth gnashing and nails clipping the tarmac.

I turn on my heels and run. My two shopping bags bob awkwardly at my sides.

When the sound of the tiny yapper dies away, I drop my bags of sodden groceries and laugh. Who cares if I get wet?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

English teacher. Nice to meetcha. Blog post #3: “I am going to make things simple for my teacher,” said no one, ever. by Shannon Norman

“I am going to make things simple for my teacher,” said no one, ever. - by Shannon Norman

There is no need for me to point out the obvious. We all know that everyone is different. But I AM going to point out the obvious – EVERYONE is different! 

Since working at The Knowledge Workshop, I’ve had to juggle many different student personalities. I’ve also come to realise that students won’t necessarily always agree with the way the teacher does things. Yes, I said it. Sometimes, your students want to be the teacher because they have their own idea as to how English should be taught and this mindset is like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Is there a specific way you should handle this sort of situation? I don’t know if there is ONE way, but I think, as a teacher, you’ve got to go with your gut, a lot of the time. 

What happened, you may be thinking. I’ll tell you. 

Learning is not limited to the classroom. If it was, then I’d be quite disappointed. So, every now and again (typically on a Friday), I absolutely love to remove my students from the classroom and plonk them in a situation they can’t experience in class. But this is where shit hit the fan – luckily not literally. 

I planned to take my students on an “Obs walkabout” seeing as our theme for the week was “experiences”. After hearing my plan, one of my students said that he thought the class would benefit more from conversations in class as opposed to ones out on the streets. Basically, he just hated on my outing idea and hinted at it being rubbish. I could feel myself getting defensive and that’s when that gut feeling I was telling you about kicked in. I can’t describe it, but I knew what to say…

Students on the Obs walk-about
“There is nothing more valuable, in my eyes, than placing you guys in an authentic English situation, where you will not only speak to your classmates and hear my accent, but you’ll speak to other people with different accents. Yes, this can happen on your way home, or while you’re shopping, but at least we can experience it together and I can guide you and you can ask me questions.”

Thankfully, one of my other students had my back and tried convincing that particular student, and another student (bloody pressure) that it was going to be great.

Anyway, after a successful outing, the students in doubt walked away with a smile on their faces and realised how beneficial it was to expose themselves to the beautiful, but annoying language we all call, English. 

But, the dark days didn’t end there. Another little something happened…. I started to notice just how distracting devices were becoming in the classroom. There were two students who were very quick to rely on their device for translation. I let it slide once or twice in the beginning, but I quickly realised that this was a no-go. I then spoke to Marian and we agreed on a rule: no devices in the classroom. So, the next day I politely informed the class of the new rule. I explained to them that using a device every other second was only going to destroy their confidence and it would ruin their strategic ability in the language. I also told them that they were not always going to have this “magic wand” with them and that they should rather concentrate on developing their competency from the get-go. 

Let’s put it this way, I wasn’t their best person, especially when I said that they were only to use a paper-based dictionary. “It’s the 21st century,” so I was told. Nevertheless, I stuck to my decision and I made it explicit that they were more than welcome to use their “best friends” outside of the classroom, but while they were in my classroom, this rule was going to stay. Tough love, right? 

Shannon in the classroom
Would you believe it, a few weeks later, I caught one of my students using his phone in the middle of the lesson. I proceeded to ask what he was doing, and before I knew it a metaphorical cloud of smoke appeared in front of me – something had exploded. And that, my friends, was my student. He got so mad, an army tank might as well have been in the classroom, destroying everything in its path. That old saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen,” needed to be applied. After my student and I exchanged some words, I casually left the classroom and had a slight meltdown. Don’t worry, if this happens to you it’s not a sign of weakness – everything but. However, this battle was a long time coming. I gathered my thoughts while in the comfort of my mentor and then stepped back inside as if nothing was wrong. This was difficult…this was so difficult! But it needed to be done. Immediately my student’s attitude changed. I then realised that stepping out the classroom was the best thing I could possibly have done. I had time to think, he had time to think and most of all, he realised that how he had spoken to me was no way to speak to a teacher; or ANYONE for that matter. 

Despite these turn of events, our teacher-student relationship improved to the point where we were able to laugh about the “no device rule”.  We developed a really good bond and that’s what teaching is all about I guess – learning through discovery. Building rapport with your students can come in many different forms and I’ve come to realise that the hard way. Therefore, my advice to you: pick a fight with your students, it’s what you need. 

(I’m joking. Don’t do this, but if it happens – it’ll be for the best). 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #9: The Butterfly effect by Georgina Selander

The Butterfly Effect - by Georgina Selander

When I left for South Korea, I was under the mistaken impression that I would naturally lose weight. The extra kilos that I’d gained during my varsity years – and sustained thereafter – would miraculously drop off, and I’d return to my boep-less existence. I pictured plates piled high with kimchi, bland broths and loads of steamed greens. I woke sweaty from dreams where I’d transformed from crusty pupa to velvety butterfly.

But let’s get one thing straight – the sum-total of my ‘steamed’ experience has been from watching Korean girly-boys with earrings and pink hair dance to K-pop music. Sigh. (Suga if you’re reading this, I’m single. Super single).

And when it comes to kimchi, most school days 3-4 mouthfuls is all I can stomach (depending on who’s serving it, kimchi swings between delicious and off-the-charts revolting).

So, in an effort to rectify this situation, I joined the local gym.

School lunch: fried rice, soup, kimchi, tomatoes, almond cake and a 'rice juice'. 

The gym in my area is less than spectacular. There are three rickety treadmills and a smattering of muscle-toning machines that I’m definitely not going to use.

It’s mostly frequented by two types of Koreans:

a) Skinny Korean girls with swishy ponytails. Why are you here if you’re skinny? You’re done.
b) Older men doing bendy floor work. I can’t look. It’s just so…anatomical.

But on the upside, there is a table of sweat towels, t-shirts and shorts at the disposal of the members. It’s nothing more than a pleasure to scrounge the pile for a large tee and ponder, “I wonder who sweated in this last?” But the draw card that really sealed the sign-up-deal: they offer yoga classes on Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays. This, I can do. A sequence of heaving breathing disguised as exercise? Definitely my kind of workout.

But boy oh effing boy was I wrong. In fact, the tri-weekly ‘yogarobics’ is two sit-ups short of torture. Okay so I’m obviously exaggerating. But still, if you were there you’d also be sweating out your body weight. The class is full of ajummas. I am the only foreigner. I’m the only one under 50. The lady leading the class has a svelte little body. I can see her thong through her spangly tights. She doesn’t speak any English.

Each class begins innocently enough: some dancing progresses into bicep curls, (haha bicep curls! I feel smart for saying that but I have absolutely no idea what it means) into squatting, then situps…

But guaranteed there’s a point that it gets weird.

Georgina Selander 
On my first trip (where I was still expecting yoga), the instructor produced a bag of golf balls mid-way. Cupping the balls in the palm of our hand, we rubbed them vigorously across our backs, necks, shoulders and face. Unable to understand the language, I had no idea why we were doing this.

On my second trip, we were given teethed Pilates balls and had to contort ourselves around them. A most painful experience. And when I asked for the smooth ball instead, the teacher looked at me and said, “massage ball?”. No. Definitely not a massage ball.

Halfway through each class, there’s that point when I think I’ve reached my limit. I start to get really angry. With the teacher? With myself and my own limitations? I don’t know. But I do know that by the end of the hour and a half, I’ve worked through some of it. Or at least the rice I ate for lunch.

So, maybe I’m not a butterfly. Yet. Maybe my transformation is taking its time. Maybe I can’t see it.

But I can feel it.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #8: Coming up for air by Georgina Selander

Coming up for air by Georgina Selander

At first I don’t notice the sound because I have my earphones in. But there’s a lull in the music and I realise that the thud thud yelp that follow aren’t meant to be backing up Kurt Cobain.

I turn in my swivel chair and, unexpectedly, there’s a student being beaten.
One of the teachers, armed with a wooden rod, is hitting the calves of a third-grade boy.
Another teacher is filming the scene and stifling a giggle.  I cast the student a sympathetic glance and wait until, head bowed, he leaves the teacher’s room.

Then I turn to the teacher wielding the weapon and say, in my best attempt to be assertive, “I find that upsetting. Do you realise that this is illegal in my country?” “It’s illegal here too,” the teacher responds with a slight chuckle. Unimpressed by the remark I wait for some further explanation.  “This student ran away from home and so his father requested that we beat him. It’s to teach him a lesson.”

I turn my grimace back to my desk. I’m not a parent – nor am I in any position to question the authority of a senior teacher; I am both younger and, shockingly, a woman.
It wasn’t until my baby cousin was born that I began to develop maternal feelings. I always swore that I’d remain unwed and childless – revenge against divorced parents who had me questioning whether love really existed.

But in Korea, more than ever, the maternal instinct grows stronger. My students are like my babies – and when I see them choking back tears from the stress of a 12-hour school day, I feel for them. And when one runs away from home because he’d rather play video games than do his homework, I tend to side with the student.

Cheonan streets at night 
There are times like these when I question my role – and limits – as a teacherIn need of a break from these kinds of ruminations, I boarded an early-morning train to Cheonan last Saturday. (Cheonan is a neighbouring city and, as the second-largest in Chugnam province, promises the kinds of luxuries – MacDonalds, Emart, manicurists – that lowly Yesan does not).

I’d decided on the solo adventure a few days before – and in my excitement I made myself a colour-coded itinerary (I’m no ditzy Clueless character, but I find anticipation brings 60% of the enjoyment in most cases).

On arrival at Cheonan station, I heaved my heavy backpack and took the East exit. I needed to find a nearby place – the Landmark Tower. After walking up and down the main street several times, I realized, given my garb and pack, that I looked homeless. So I asked one of the safari shirt-donning attendants for help.

After some broken Korean and rudimentary sign language, I located the building and took the elevator up to the 9th floor. After a moment’s hesitation, I found the room I was looking for: Thai Healing House. The heady smell of incense and dimmed lights set the scene: this massage was going to be legit.

And it was. For just 50000Won, I was rubbed, oiled, twisted and clicked for close on two hours.  With a new lease on life, I left in search of a second-hand English bookshop I’d seen online. Conveniently it was just across the road and manned by two chatty, but friendly, Canadians who’d just sat down to lunch. Given my insatiable reading habits, the place was a gem, and I left with my pack significantly heavier.

Next stop: Shinsegae Department Store. The place where shopping dreams are made of. After an unsuccessful stint at H&M, I reasoned that the ultra-small sizes were only going to depress me, and so did what any reasonable girl would do: eat.

On the fourth floor, I stumbled upon a wine-serving Italian restaurant. What a treat! That first sip of Chardonnay was life-changing. And the steak and mushroom pasta that followed even more so.

An enormous Korean flag near the entrace of the Independence Hall
Skip a few hours and it was time for something cultural. So I took a taxi to the outskirts of town to visit the Independence Hall – an architectural marvel beautifully showcasing Korean culture from the country’s early origins, (Korean civilization is 5000 years old) to the torturous decades spent under Japanese imperialism, to the incredible advancement in the last 50 years (just a few decades ago, Korea was one of the world’s poorest countries. 

Today, the country’s economy ranks number 10 in the world).

Alone and comforted by the fact that I’d didn’t have to make small talk, or worry about a two-day hangover, I roamed the halls for over three hours. And afterwards, I walked into the sunlight, and stood watching the tourists.

That evening, returning to my hotel room, I took a long and leisurely bath and reflected on just how lucky I am to be here. To be young and free and possessed by a heart yearning for adventure