First Days in Daejeon as an English Teacher
Orientation: Complete. First days at work…
I successfully finished EPIK orientation, moved into my new apartment and completed the first two days at my school. Orientation was a long, full 9 days (a separate post about this is coming later). It was both relieving and daunting when it was finally time to leave the “English bubble” and go out on my own. So far, though, everything has been going great for these first days.
I am assigned to two different schools. Both schools are vocational high schools. My schedule is still not set-in-stone, but it is most likely that I will be teaching Monday-Wednesday at my main school and Thursday and Friday at my secondary school. However, I won’t begin at my secondary school until the end of March for some reason. During these first three days I have quickly discovered that many things happen at the last-minute or change without much warning here.
I met my co-teachers on Tuesday. Both of them were very welcoming, friendly and helpful! My main co-teacher (the lucky lady in charge of helping me take care of all of my administrative tasks) drove me to the school. She showed me around a little bit, but since school was not in session yet I couldn’t meet very many people. She had to print off a few documents then she drove me straight to the immigration office to apply for my alien registration card. I can’t do anything without that card (no bank account, no phone, nothing) so that was #1 on the list!
She then drove me to my apartment. It’s very tiny, but it has everything that I need. It’s a small, furnished studio apartment about 15 minutes from my main school. The best thing about the place is its location! It’s two minutes away from the subway station, there are restaurants, coffee shops and convenience stores right outside my door and shopping is just down the street. I’m finally living in the downtown area of a metropolitan city! And I’m loving it.
Wednesday was a national holiday (their Independence Day) here so I had the day off. I used it to buy some kitchen supplies I needed, unpack and rest.
The First Day
My first day of school I was nervous because I had no idea what to expect! Every school is different and my co-teacher didn’t give me a lot of information about what to expect the first day. I prepared an introductory lesson on my day off the day before just-in-case.
When I arrived all of the teachers were ushered into a large room for a faculty meeting. The Vice Principal wanted to introduce me so I had to go to the front of the room and introduce myself (in Korean!) to everyone. I said the four sentences I know, smiled and quickly went back to my seat.
After that there was a school assembly with all of the students. We said the Korean equivalent to the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Then, one-by-one, they introduced all of the teachers on the stage. When the Vice Principal came to me I had to step forward while he introduced who I was. The students screamed so loud! Since then, in the hallways, students will say “Hello!” to me, giggle and run off.
When will I teach?!
So far I haven’t started teaching. Unfortunately, I’ve just been desk warming. Things seem to be a little hectic for the teachers right now and I don’t think they’ve received all of their materials yet. Therefore, it’s difficult for them to tell me when I will start, what my class schedule is like, what they want me to teach, etc. However, I’m getting the vibe they don’t expect my class to be too structured. It’s mostly to encourage the students to have fun and be interested in learning English. Students already have to go to their English curriculum class, and mine is the additional conversational component.
While desk warming I’ve been brain storming different lesson ideas for high school students at the beginner level. I’m creating ‘back-up’ lesson plans in case there are days I finish my lesson too early and I need more material to finish out the hour. I’m also researching activities that won’t be too childish for high schoolers yet are appropriate for their language level, fun and interactive.
Lunch with the principal
The first day of school the principal took all of the new teachers out for lunch. We ate at a traditional Korean restaurant. There was a long table full of tiny dishes and seating pads as we ate sitting on the floor. The main dish was a fish then we had the usuals to go along with it (kimchi, rice and soup). There were several other dishes as well, but I have no idea what they were. Everything was great (albeit spicy) though! It was strange because no one talked while at the restaurant. Only the principal, vice principal and one other man spoke. No one else talked unless one of those three men spoke to him or her.
However, they did laugh at my chopstick skills. The girl next to me took pity on my soul when she saw me trying to figure out how to cut fish with chopsticks. She leaned over and did it for me in three quick moves! Eventually, the principal just got me a fork.
My Second Day
Friday I got to see the classroom I will be teaching in. It’s very nice and well-equipped! There’s a large TV that connects to my computer, a stage, student computers, books, games and a large open area for activities. I hope to go tomorrow and set things up if I’m still not teaching yet.
We also went out for lunch again. This time it was just the English teachers (I will actually have five co-teachers I will be teaching with in total at this school). While there I thought, “This is the perfect time to ask my millions of questions!”. However, they spoke in Korean most of the lunch and I couldn’t decide the appropriate time to interject in English with my questions. Hopefully we will have a more formal meeting before I start teaching where I can ask these. They don’t seem too concerned right now so hopefully it’s okay and there is still plenty of time to get organized!
Things are still a little hectic…
Not being told much about what my co-teachers’ expectations of me are, when I’ll begin teaching, the discipline policy of the school and if there are materials I need to use is a little unnerving. I don’t know if I will lesson plan on my own or with them, or if I will be teaching the class alone or in partnership with them. Or even if I have a book I need to follow as a guideline or if I’m just on my own. I feel like I do not know anything yet!
Other than not knowing anything work has been fine. I’m clueless most of the time and I don’t know what’s going on because no one (except for my co-teachers) speaks English in the school. I have my own desk in the teachers’ workroom and everyone has been kind to me, or just leaves me alone because they know we can’t communicate. Which is fine. The school is absolutely freezing though! The rooms are heated but not the hallways nor the bathrooms. So I stay bundled up inside and try my best to not have to pee.
I love that I can walk to the school too. It’s about 15 minutes away if I walk fast, or 20 minutes if I go at a more leisurely pace. I hope to get a bike soon though to cut down that time. Plus, there’s a great bike path along the river! When I start at my other school at the end of March I will have to take the subway though.
Friday night I went out with some of the other EPIK teachers in Daejeon to share stories about our first days, our apartments and anything else we’ve discovered. We went to Dunsan-dong area which is nicknamed, “New Downtown”. This is where all of the nightlife is and a lot of shopping. We went to a couple of bars and ended at a norebang which is huge here. It’s a private room you rent with your friends for an hour or so and sing karaoke. It’s pretty funny!
The rest of the weekend I’ve been shopping for things I’m still needing and resting up. Time to start the first full week of work tomorrow! I’m still nervous just because I still don’t know what is expected of me entirely nor when I’ll finally start. However, I’m trying to suppress the control freak inside of me and be laid-back and easy-going. When it happens, it happens. Roll with the punches.
The Koreans have been so friendly to me though! I haven’t experienced any foreigner distaste while here. People are helpful and mostly just curious. The two times I went grocery shopping I’ve had elderly men try to speak with me in the little English they know. It was cute!
I’m so happy with my placement so far. I know it’s only the beginning and I’m still in the ‘honeymoon phase’, but I have a good feeling about this year. I love where I live, Daejeon is a big city with plenty to do and my school assignments are interesting and will be full-filling. I’m just ready to get started!