Kian in Korea

Saturday, June 24, 2006

One week down, 51 to go

Well, today marks one week that I've been here in Incheon. It's gone by pretty fast. I've been having a pretty good time despite the fact that I've been sick all week, so I'm looking forward to enjoying Korea when I can actually walk five feet without breaking out into a sweat.

Every day brings about new challenges though. I was under the impression that anywhere you went in the world, you could find people who spoke English- especially in a country like Korea where learning English is such a big deal. But that hasn't been the case- almost nobody I encounter outside of my school speaks so much as a word other than "hello" "sorry." This has led to me being forced to learn basic getting around vocabulary, really quickly. So far this week I had been mostly uttering one word at a time, hoping they would get the gist of what I was saying, but as of yesterday I've graduated to actually conjugating a couple of verbs and being understood. I can also read the alphabet, although I don't know what the words mean.

On Fridays I teach 3rd graders all day. They're really cute- like, really cute, with gigantic cheeks and little tiny eyes. 3rd grade is when the kids at this school first start taking English lessons, so they don't know very much. What they do know, they don't pronounce in a manner that even vaguely resembles English. It's strange, but I was observing the class while the Korean teacher was doing a lesson, and I could not understand anything that was going on. Even the English teachers here speak very, very, very little English. I took two quarters of French in college, five years ago. Imagine me as a French teacher. That's what it's like, and that's why they bring in native speakers, so that the kids can hear what English is actually supposed to sound like. But when the kids (of all grades) hear my accent, it's so foreign to them that they can't understand what I'm saying. Fortunately, with kids this young it's easy to correct most of their errors. Theoretically if any of these kids moved to the USA tomorrow they'd be speaking English without an accent in five years. That won't happen when I start teaching high school kids- they've already moved past the age where they can become native-like in a language.

Next Wednesday I start teaching a two-hour class for the other teachers at my school. I'm really looking forward to that, because I'll be the "Major Teacher," which means I'm in charge of everything, as opposed to the "Minor Teacher" in the rest of the classes, where I don't make the lesson plans, I just provide an authentic voice in class and give my input to the Korean teacher. I think the first thing I will work on is their pronunciation. Koreans typically make the following mistakes: [th] becomes [s], [f] becomes [p], and [z], in some circumstances, becomes [j]. And, of course, the [l] and [r] debacle that is East Asia.

Some other things:
I know it's a Buddhist thing, but it's really weird seeing Swastikas everywhere.

I really like getting free food. Today I treated myself to Pizza Hut, and although I ordered one pizza, for some reason they gave me two. Pizza in Korea is, I'm afraid to say, absolute crap compared to pizza at home. I ate both anyway.

Some places will give you free stuff because you're a foreigner, but other places will completely rip you off because they think you're rich. The other teachers asked me what the average salary was for people in America, and when I answered "35 thousand dollars a year," they were shocked that it was so low. The average income in South Korea is $20,000 dollars a year.

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