Friday, April 24, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #6: The ride of a lifetime by Georgina Selander

The Ride of a Lifetime - by Georgina Selander

Selfie with my students from Yesan Girls Middle School
I stretch my eyes wide – showing her their yellow-brown irises. Quickly, I open my mouth to reveal a pair of sharp incisors. And just as I lean in for a bite… Snap! I pull back, watching as the bob-haired girl recoils in fear.

Today is the bi-weekly conversation class and the theme is phobias. It just so happens that one of my students, Da-Keong, has a morbid fear of yellow eyes. It also just so happens that I have a pair.

On Monday and Tuesday afternoons, 15-20 of the strongest English speakers join me in the English classroom for a 45-minute conversation lesson. The class is a delight – a reprieve from the repetitive “teacher, hi!” or worse, the sea of blank faces that characterises most of my day. It’s a chance for me to really engage with my students – to bring in interesting topics and to teach them English that extends beyond the parroted “nice to meet you”. And to cap it off, these students are enthusiastic and polite.

But enthused or not, I can’t deny that after any given day I’m thoroughly exhausted. In all my classes, I try my utmost to keep up a smiley disposition – and when the mood is low I try to liven the atmosphere with some innocent tomfoolery – breaking into wild song and dance usually does the trick. (Teaching hack #605: if you are having fun, so are they).

Over the din of chatty teens, it’s often necessary to project my voice – to the extent that by the end of some classes I’m shouting. Luckily I’ve now learnt to say, “Listen, everyone” in Korean. This is usually met with a moment of silence – generally as they’re impressed to have heard me speak Korean. It must also be noted, however, that generally in each class there’s one angel whose god-sent talent is to tell the rest of the kids to put an effing sock in it.

So, to get back to my long-winded point: although I undeniably love my job, I do look forward to the 4:30pm homeward stroll. It gives me time to reflect on the day, get some fresh air and, most importantly, scan the streets for any Korean hotties (sadly, talent is at an all-time low in my area).

Rainy spring day
On Thursday afternoons, (as my school is in a neighbouring town) walking is out of the question. Instead, around 3pm I make my way to the bus stop from Dae Heung Middle School (if you can call a rickety bench a bus stop). When the bus arrives it’s generally full of middle-aged ladies, each of whom give me a thorough dressing down as I slot my 2700 won into the money counter. I glance over the rows of sunhats, gloves and zimmers. Without fail, all ajummas (middle-aged to elderly women) dress like they’re about to do some serious gardening.

I make sure my shoulders are hidden from view (side note: although it’s not uncommon to see Korean girls with shorts so short you can almost spot a v-jay, shoulder-showing is a big no-no! A strange epitome of ultra-conservative-meets-ultra-modern Korean society).

But on this particular Thursday, a few minutes before the bus was due to arrive, a black truck with tinted windows rolls over. Now let me make something clear, the sight of a slowly approaching darkened vehicle in South Africa signals only one of three things. A) You’re about to be shot: run for your life. B) You’re about to be kidnapped: run for your life. C) They just popped a tyre: run for your life.

But being in Korea, all new situations – life-threatening or not – are relatively novel. And so, when the car in question rolled up and the darkened windows rolled down, I was more amused than afraid. Unfortunately the driver, who shouted out a mouthful of Korean, spoke not a word of English. But after some gesticulation, I ascertained that he was simply offering me a lift. Ignoring the don’t-take-sweets-from-a-stranger warnings of my childhood, I opened the door.

A few minutes into the ride, the driver began to pull over to the shoulder of the road. It was at this point that I started to assess the emergency exits and tried to recall the nose-throat-groin self-defence that I learnt from Miss Congeniality. It turns out he simply wanted to adjust the air-con.

The ride continued – and so did the Korean inquisition. Although I had no idea what the man was asking me, I responded with the basic Korean phrases I knew: telling him I was South African, that I was a Middle School English teacher and, essential to all phrasebooks, asking for the train station.

Eventually we approached my town. Although I tried to request that he drop me at the bus station, he insisted that he drop me at my home. (I can already hear my mother’s voice: GEORGINA! You showed him where you live?? I will smack you). As I got out of the car, I thanked him for his kindness and bowed deeply as a sign of respect.

Walking to my door, I smiled at the benevolence of the gesture. Call me naïve, but there’s a culture of good-heartedness in Korea that brings me happiness daily. From the simple gifts of fruit occasionally placed on my school desk, to the genuine concern from my co-teachers should I appear down, to the excited faces of my students when they spot me in the grocery store or at the train station.

It feels like to be happy in Korea is a simple recipe – although I’m still figuring out the ingredients. And for some reason, this makes me recall an exchange with one of my students earlier this week.

“Jisu, did you have a good weekend?” I ask.
“No, teacher.”
“Oh no! What happened?”
She bows her head. I prepare for the worst.
“My mother did not cook rice this weekend,” she replies.

**The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of The Knowledge Workshop but we find them hilarious anyway.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

English teacher. Nice to meetcha. Blog post #1: Who am I? by Shannon Norman

Who am I? - by Shannon Norman

Who am I?
If you’ve never asked yourself this question, you’re either lucky or naïve. So, who am I? As clichéd as this might sound, I’m not sure. But I’m getting there. What I’m meant to be discovering right now is not all that clear, but I’m certainly learning more than I anticipated.

I do have a few details to share with you though. Before I get started – take off your shoes, feel amused for I’m about to take you on a quick cruise. I’ll start with the usual – my name is Shannon Norman, I’m corny and almost 23 years old. I can’t draw, but I like to think that I’m creative. I hate peas, but I love my cat, Jeffrey, even though I’m allergic to him and every other cat.  I’m as Capetonian as can be, except I care about being late. I did, however, live in Johannesburg for a year and a bit – so at least I’ve managed to experience life outside of Cape Town. If you think that you haven’t travelled enough and feel slightly embarrassed about it, meet me and you’ll feel a whole lot better. I’ve been almost nowhere.  And yes, you guessed it. I haven’t been overseas – not even to Robben Island! :)

Anyway! I started the TEFL course at The Knowledge Workshop (TKW) on the 24th of November 2014 and graduated on the 19th of December 2014. I used to be a Content Marketer and Social Media Community Manager, but resigned a month before I started the course at TKW. I knew deep down that letting go of the known and embracing the unknown was what I needed. A ‘TEFL adventure’ sounded perfect to me. Older, wiser people in my life always suggested this “teaching English” thing, but never did I think that they knew exactly what I needed to be doing. Perhaps there are a few people out there who know you better than yourself…

As soon I stepped into the wooden-floored classroom and met the people that I would be surrounding myself with for the next three weeks, I knew that I was doing the right thing. And the more exposure I got to the course content, alarms started setting off in my head; a voice spoke to me: “Shannon – this is totally the right thing, girlfriend. You’ve just made the best decision of your life. High-five!” After that, everything felt right. 

English Teacher. Nice to meetcha.
So, what happened after I completed the TEFL course? Well, besides the fact that it opened my mind and forced me to think differently about the English language and life in general (I’m serious); I became a teacher at TKW. Escalate quickly much?  But thanks to this escalation of fabulous events, my learning and discovering is increasing by the second. So, a big thank you goes out to TKW

Now, it’s been almost two months and I haven’t looked back. If you want to find out what it’s like teaching English in South Africa and what my travel plans are for the near future, stay tuned for there are more of these to follow!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #5: Classroom Jitters by Georgina Selander

Classroom Jitters - by Georgina Selander

“Do you like the stew today?” May asks.

I take another mouthful of the sweet and spicy dish. Today’s lunch is surprisingly good.

“Sure. It’s really tasty!”

My co-teacher giggles. 

“What’s in it?”

“It’s dog”.

Holy f**k – how did this happen? How do I spit this out without looking like an uncultured moron?

“No, May…I…can’t…” I blubber with my hand in front of my mouth.

Let’s be real here. I’ve been waiting for this moment. And considering today is my one-month anniversary in Korea, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner to be honest.

Fast-fast word a couple of minutes and it turns out – to my great relief – that the meal was duck. My co-teacher had simply mispronounced the word. That or my selective hearing needs some serious evaluation.

Cherry blossoms
A month in and it strangely hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m living in a foreign country. I’m still waiting for that ‘a-ha’ moment when everything becomes incredibly real. That moment when I’m walking through a busy intersection and suddenly it hits me that I’m 6000 miles from home…. Or is that a car hitting me?
That all Koreans eat dog is a common misconception (in the ranks of the misbelief that they all listen to K-Pop). In fact, most Koreans I’ve encountered are shocked at the mere idea of it. Needless to say, there is a restaurant opposite my school whose plat-du-jour is in fact man’s tastiest – ahem – best friend.

Anyway, let’s move on shall we? I did promise to get to the teaching part in the last post…

Although my training certainly prepared me well, teaching here is incredibly different to the time I spent teaching in South Africa at The Knowledge Workshop. 

For starters, the level of the students is far lower than I anticipated. During my time at The Knowledge Workshop, I was lucky enough to encounter students of a fairly competent level – to the extent that I was able to bring in complex, but stimulating topics such as world conspiracy theories or the works of great philosophers, writers and artists. 

Lunch time
Here, I consider myself lucky to have a student tell me “Nice to meet you” (despite having had weeks of classes together). 

Classroom behaviour came as another surprise. During one of my first lessons, I asked my students “What are the class rules?” The expected response was, “No eating” or “No talking when the teacher is talking”.  Instead, I got “No perms”. Well that’s certainly a first!

Although I am yet to witness this illusive perm, I have been privy to some other greats, such as sleeping in class (to be fair this is because Korean students spend an ungodly amount of time at school) and spending 90% of the lesson applying make-up, neither of which would go down well in a South African classroom.

Let’s regress to childhood quickly, shall we? I’m sure you all remember that teacher(s) who told you – with a smile on her face – that there’s “No such thing as favourites”. I’m gonna break it down real quick. She lied. 

Occasionally, a teacher is lucky enough to come across that rare gem of a student whose knowledge, enthusiasm and willingness surpasses that of their peers. And though they may be shy, they tend to know most of the answers (I’m not talking about the know-it-all Hermione Grangers of the world). And although we will never admit as much (teaching rule #325) they tend to put a smile on our faces.

That being said, there is unfortunately the flipside – the students who really couldn’t give a damn and who tend to ruin the experience for everyone else. They will have you questioning your ability and reciting “I’ve got this” mantras pre-class. 

So, when one such student walked in to my Tuesday class, I already had my back up. Needless to say, my spidey skills weren’t off – she immediately removed a hand mirror and spent the following 20 minutes applying heavy make-up. Eventually the spectacle moved me to approach the student and seize her mirror. “This is very rude I said,” quite calmly (teaching rule #267: never lose your composure). 

Immediately one of her friends exclaimed, “Teacher! You bad girl!”. I wasn’t sure whether I was more surprised by three consecutive English words or by the rudeness of the remark. A stream of unrepeatable Korean swearwords by the student in question followed. 

There’s a saying along the lines of “Maybe all a monster really needs is a hug”. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not calling this particular student a monster. In fact, I give them all props for handling life as a pubescent teen with raging hormones. 

But, given this thought, I had a change of heart. Ignoring my gut instinct to completely snub her, I instead welcomed her into the game of 30 seconds. And to my surprise, her attitude completely changed. (I was told by my co-teacher after class that most of my students had given up on her – to the extent that she was being considered for suspension).

The moral of the story? Don’t let it get you down. You will likely find that the majority of your students are absolute angels. Most days their excitement significantly perks me up. And most days they will unashamedly tell you how pretty you are (or in my case: “You have such a high nose, Gina teacher. Wow!”)

And if all else fails, type “kittens playing with babies” into Youtube. It never fails to impress. 

Pajeon (green onion Korean pancake)
But anyway, I must sign off. My pajeon (green onion Korean pancake) is starting to burn on the stove. And my glass of red has reached a dangerously low level…

Until we meet again!