Monday, November 19, 2012

Ground Control to Major Sean

So, it's been a long while since my last update. Heck, last I posted, I was wearing a t-shirt and today we had our first solid precipitation (hail, unfortunately).
Anyway, I live in Andong (안동) now, a mid-sized city about the size of Saint Cloud, MN. I started my third year with the English program in Korea (EPIK), teaching at a middle school. This is my first time teaching middle school at it is seriously a different ball game. I thought I would be able to re-use a lot of my lesson plans from my four years of teaching high school. Wrong! I have had to make new lesson plans on a weekly basis for three different grade levels. They have a lot of energy, maybe too much.
Disclaimer: I am not meaning to diss my school, which I very much like, or put down my students, whom, for the most part, are great kids on an individual basis.
Let's start with the school itself. My school is about a ten minutes' walk from my apartment which might be the only flat stretch in the whole country. Granted it's not the three minute commute I had in Yecheon but it's not bad at all and it gives me space and time to clear my head both to and from work. The school is bigger (six stories) and has more students than my last school, which means more classes. I have five co-teachers, four of whom have been to the United States at one point or other for varying periods of time for English-study.

I have approximately 800 kids and it sounds like it. Standing outside, my school sounds like it is filled with howler monkeys. Honestly, in my four, going on five years of experience, I have never faced such a challenge with discipline. Disobedient students are often met with either what is referred to as the "love stick" (think historical usage of the "rule of thumb") or chuckles. After a few months of losing my voice every Friday and breaking up fist fights (which the students assure me are not real but sound real), I have resorted to a working combination that is serving me well. I call my two methods of discipline "patience" and "understanding". Patience is my referee-grade football whistle that is always around my neck and understanding is a spray bottle, a method I learned from my mom while she trained her cat not to climb on counters. Unfortunately that is what it takes to get through a lesson. Fortunately, all I have to do now is raise the whistle to my lips t get quiet. They are just now starting to catch on to understanding as it's getting pretty chilly these days and they don't want a fine mist sprayed toward them.
This week, I am administering speaking tests and working with the students on an individual basis. I am loving this experience; the kids are bright, have LOTS of energy and are genuinely fun to work with. Some students still cannot respond to the question "how are you?" but that is beyond both my control and responsibilities. These students have been learning English since the second grade and I should expect that all of them can respond to that most basic of questions. It is a failing of someone but it's not up to me to place blame. Needless to say, it's difficult to work with students who can talk about racism in America and students whom cannot respond to basic questions in the same class. It's unfair to play to the lowest or highest denominators. Which brings me to why I have had to redo all my lesson plans. Not that I didn't face the same situations at my last school. Heck, every English teacher in Korea faces this juxtaposition. But as with middle schoolers all over the world, they have lots of energy and I try to make games which focus on memory and recall and reinforcement games. If all students focus on nearly universally new material and must play a cooperative and/or competitive game, it sorta, kinda, almost levels the playing field.

I'm enjoying living in Andong. I live very close to the Korean equivalent of Walmart, which means cheese, clothing that actually fits me and God willing, a pet gerbil, possibly in February. Andong has a lot to offer. It has a couple different movie theaters and there is always some English language movie playing at some time or other. There is a bowling alley, a downtown with bars and restaurants, boutique shops and cafes and an uptown (where I live) populated with bars, Korean and Western-style restaurants and cafes, such as the one I am sitting in now. It's been an adjustment, living in the city. I have lived in rural Asia for nearly four years and now I am confronted with what seems like a Blade Runner street scene: flashing neon signs, city smells, loud sounds and middle-aged men constantly hacking up their lungs. We're three hours from Seoul, three and half hours form Busan and pretty well situated about an hour from Daegu. Andong is the birthplace of the father of Korean-style Confucianism and so is correspondingly conservative, though less so now than it used to be. For example, I can actually walk down the street holding my girlfriend's hand without getting grimaced at like I did in Yecheon. There are plenty of young people here (though now I, at 27, may not exactly be one of them) and they bring a life and a vibrancy to the city that I haven't experienced in years.

I'm getting more into photography and have recently bought a new lens for my camera, a Canon 40mm f/2.8. Hayoung (Haley as some of you may know her) took me to Gu-in-sa (구인사) for my birthday. It's a giant compound of Buddhist temples nestled away in the mountains and the perfect place to catch the height of the changing of the leaves. I'll post pictures in my photographs section some time soon after I can sort through and edit them.

Some of you may remember that I wrote a novel last November. Well, I don't have the gumption this year but have gone through and edited the sucker twice. As a matter of fact, my brother Colin is doing the final edit while my good friend Kyle Raum is creating a book cover. Indeed, I plan on publishing the thing to the Amazon Kindle store first for two or three dollars and, if can sell more than a handful of copies, I'll put it on on the B&N Nook store and iTunes iBook store. As I promised last year, the novel will be available for free download on my website in PDF format.

Winter vacation is fast-approaching and I have decided to take Hayoung to Minnesota to meet friends and family. We'll be staying in St. Cloud with my mom but hopefully spending time in Minneapolis so she can see where I went to college and the meaningful places I miss so very much now. This will be my first time back in an officially English-speaking country in two and a half years and her first time to an English-speaking country. We're both ecstatic that we'll get to spend one week, over the New Years holiday, in the States.

Enough for now. Of course there is more much, much more but that will leave me plenty to blog about in the very near future. I'm BACK, baby!