Monday, June 20, 2011

Korea 2011 - My Adventure Book

For the past 8 weeks I have worked with 12-14 year olds in South Korea, and it has been one crazy ride. Monday through Friday I get home around 6pm just exhausted, wondering if it is worth it to wake up in the morning. These kids amaze me and test my patient for 8 hours a day. This is a great learning opportunity for me, and I've documented what I've learned in a little black notebook that I carry around with me all the time. 

I call it My Adventure Book (yes, from the Disney/Pixar movie Up), and everything from life-changing realizations to funny things I saw on the bus are recorded in its pages. Here's some excerpts from that book…a collection of what I've learned in the past two months:
  • Creativity is a replenishable resource, but does burn out quickly. During the school day, I apply most of my creativity to the lesson and to ensuring that my lessons go smoothly. It mentally drains you, and by the time I get home writing a status update on Facebook is hard. I've never been that creatively tired before. Thank goodness for television: I can veg out on the couch, recuperate, and wake up the next day to do it all over again.
  • Half of teaching is conducting social experiments on your students. I know some teacher is going to read this and cringe, but hear me out. Learning, and especially learning a new language, requires a deep understanding between the teacher and student. I have over 500 students…so learning about each and every one of them in 2 months is impossible. Conducting social experiments like changing seating arrangements or shaking up how a lesson flows keeps them on their toes, and I can get a better idea of what classes respond to. Plus, it's just a lot of fun watching them try to bargain with me so they can sit with their friends. One kid offered me money.
  • Coffee is my friend, but only in the morning. My first week here I was downing 3 cups of coffee a day, just to get through. The weekends would be so tiring, and I often had headaches and just general fatigue. Now I'm down to one in the morning, just to get my head in the game.
  • Koreans spell based on sounds they hear in popular culture. This creates some truly ridiculous titles and signs in English. I've begun collecting pictures of these places as a hobby of mine. The best one so far is a bar called the "Ho Bar". Yes…the Ho Bar. Best part is there's more than one: there's 6 of them, and they're all numbered. So if you're not feeling like Ho Bar II is happening, there's always Ho Bar IV or Ho Bar VI. Don't go to Ho Bar III though, it's full of dudes.
  • Koreans get a lot of things right. Their public transit system is phenomenal. Everything is easy to find and makes sense. Busses are easy to navigate. Taxes are integrated into prices. The things that should be cheap are cheap, like soap and milk and eggs. All their utilities and telecom prices are based on how much you use, and internet is a solid 30mb/s or faster. Oh, and they have escalators that work with your shopping carts. They're awesome.
  • At the same time, Koreans get a lot of simple stuff wrong. Not like "Oh, we do this in America, so you're wrong" wrong…more like "This makes no logical sense" wrong. For example, public transit is open till 2am on the weekdays but closes at midnight on the weekends. Because of this, many people stay out at the bars till 5:30am (when they all open up again), and by that time many people are passed out in gutters. Roads don't go in any specific order, and addresses are all mixed up. Some of their products just don't work, and it's frustrating when the knife you bought breaks or a door won't open unless you do it a certain way.
  • Routine is critical Monday thru Friday. It makes the work week go by faster, and you get more things done. Come Saturday, however, that routine goes out the window. Spontaneous trips to Seoul or seeing how long a certain subway line goes is a great break in the monotony and lets you really see a country.
  • You have Burger Kings and KFC and McDonald's, and on every street corner there is a Dunkin Donuts and a Baskin Robbins. And yes, all of them are pretty darn delicious. However, for the same price of your donut and coffee ($5 or so), you can go to a Galbi restaurant and order a feast that's not only healthy for you but fills you up. People spend top dollar in the states for Korean BBQ. I have one in my basement that feeds me for $3 a day. Take advantage of the local cuisine.
  • Screw octopus. They fry it like pork, and they sneak that crap into everything. I've accidentally eaten the vile creature more times than I can count. I've tried it willingly too. It sucks. Literally and figuratively.
  • Worth noting again. Screw octopus. 
  • Kids are kids no matter what culture, and people are people no matter where you go. We all share the same wants and needs, and once you break through the craziness of different cultures you realize how awesome humanity really is
  • Never….ever…..ever go get a hair cut at the double barber poles. Ever.
This is a short collection of observations I’ve been collecting, and there will be plenty more by the time that the year is up. Next week, I go to a Buddhist temple for a templestay. It’s not often that one can say “I’ve stayed a night at a Buddhist temple”. I’ll let you know how that one goes. Life is seriously awesome.


  1. I LOVE your blog! It makes me so excited to go to Korea.

    Btw... This teacher does not cringe... Teaching is largely about trial and error and social experiments. You hit the nail on the head!

  2. Definitely let me know when you're here! I'll show you around. Korea is truly an awesome country...just crazy sometimes.

  3. No octopus? :( I dunno how this can be....