Work Hard, Play Hard

So I’ve been keeping you guys waiting a while for this post. But the honest to god truth is that things are really moving here. I mean almost at the speed of light. Sometimes its hard to keep up with my obligations. In fact I might actually be denying myself a good night’s sleep by writing this right now.

I’ll start first by engaging you guys with some pictures from school. Since the last time I wrote my post I’ve started teaching and lets just say I think it would be very easy for me to move into a job as a professional comedian from here. This stuff is really hard and really repetitive but its also fun.

A candid shot of some of the kids getting served lunch in the hallway. There are no hallway rules so it's common to hear screaming and yelling and kids "literally" rolling on the floor.

The hardest part of the whole job is lesson planning and motivation. Not motivation for me…motivation for the students. They’re middle school so they’re just coming into their own. Many of the younger ones fresh out of elementary are easy enough to work with. They’ll talk and get distracted but all you really have to do to get them on task is divert their energy into the work. If I see two of them talking I’ll pick one of them and have them answer a question or two and watch as their friend tries to help them along. I call that a win-win. But oh what a difference even a year or two can make. The third graders (since middle school is three years long we call them first, second and third graders) are sometimes impossible to work work. I have had a few people just fold their arms and put their heads down on the desk. They are so good at zoning out, you can look them directly in the eye and ask them something and you’ll literally have to shake them for them to realize you are really and truly addressing them. Education here is very different from back in the states, the emphasis is on memorization and regurgitation, so creative thought is hard to drag out of them…especially when some just flat out refuse. Give them a multiple choice and they’ll ace it…give them fill in the blanks and they’ll look at you confused.

The only cafeteria in the building is the one just big enough for the teachers to eat in, so the students have to grab their lunch from a trolley in the hallway. They take their trays back into their classrooms and eat lunch at their desks.

The other big problem is the curriculum. It really seems at times to be completely random and inconsistent. Last week I completed a section on “April Fools Day.” Next week I have to give these kids a one week review then a two week evaluation followed up by Midterms…and I’m wasting one of the only three weeks I have to really impart some knowledge, teaching about “April Fools Day?” I converted the lesson and tried to stay as true to the material as I could. I turned the lesson into “Guess What__” Statments followed by evaluations that inferred information or challenging the statement. The lesson went over well…but before I could really get this weeks lesson plan together I had to spend a week creating the evaluation question sheets. Not only do i have lesson plans for two grades (lesson 1 and 3) I also have to tailor the lesson because Grade 3 is split between kids that are practically fluent and kids that can barely understand my instructions.

Some students after my class. Sometimes they stay just moments after class to show off what they know and marvel at my touch board. This was a game I did that all the kids loved.

But the smallest victories feel like the greatest ones when you have that really responsive class of practically fluent English speakers or that “Ah Ha!” moment from that good class of students who don’t know too well but just strung together a sentence more complicated than the one you were just modeling. I have a mentally disabled student in one of my classes who has the biggest grin whenever I approach him in the hallway. I remember the first day he gave me candy and from everyday since then he’s been one of the most active students in my lowest proficiency classes. Sometimes it really is just the eagerness to learn that trumps actually knowing.

The kids are actually a lot smarter than they make themselves out to be too. This afternoon I had an after school class and decided to have the kids get to know one another by making passports with their names and a country I assigned to them. To frame the activity I had them watch the first 15 minutes of the Tom Hanks movie “The terminal.” I hadn’t seen the movie in a while so I knew it involved an airport and a guy who could barely speak English. When I played it to my class I was a little nervous, the language was really high…words like revolutions, revoked, access, deported came flying out at the speed of light. But the kids (much like Tom Hank’s character) were able to understand just enough to remember the main characters name, what was happening to him and even the fictional country where he came from.  Also I taught this without a Korean teacher to help translate or Korean subtitles. Also this was the beginner after school class…Needless to say I was impressed.

It seems as though everyone is the office is in a competition to see who is the nicest. Every single day treats rice cake, cookies, etc are passed out...I mean in RIDICULOUS amounts. I got all this on Friday.

The faculty is pretty nice though. Once every week I teach a teachers class and they seem to be pretty into it even though I have no idea how to teach adults. They always bring a paper and pencil and they always take notes and learn new words…so I guess I’m doing well. I need to buy something to bring in. I think I’m going to get some fruit or a cake as soon as I get paid…oh yeah I forgot to mention that. My school didn’t have enough money to pay me this week so I have to wait until next week. I’ve talked to several people about it already mom, I knew situations like this arose before I came here. I will keep you updated mom as soon as I get paid. I was pretty smart with my money mom so I will be fine.

I was pretty beat after the week and I wanted more than anything to get away and enjoy myself for the weekend. Right now I have a few groups of friends I hang out with and I wanted to get some time to hang out with all of them so I left my apartment afternoon with a bag full of snacks and clean clothes knowing I would not return until Sunday.

This may look like a homeless hovel situated under a subway line...but you are in fact looking at some of the greatest restaurants in Seoul.

Friday i headed pretty far North East of the city (I live in the South East) and met up with a good group of friends. We went to some tent restaurants near the subway where we left. They looked small but each one could seat about twenty people comfortably around a table with a heater built inside. I don’t know how these guys get electronics in the middle of a street underneath a subway but somehow they do. They have full refrigerators and big screen televisions with giant cooker kitchens and everything. They’re cozy and comfortable…and oh yeah they cooked a whole chicken for us in this delicious soup broth and served us everything on the side.

Some friends from a Nori Bang. Believe it or not this is not a picture from that same night. Nori Bang is something that just happens often here. I can walk out of my house and find at least five of them within a five min walk.

We talked for a while, shot some pool and went to a Nori Bang (aka karaoke parlor). It seems this is a common event in Korea. If you come here expect to sing to weird remixes of your favorite songs in a private rented room. Someone will pick up the tambourine and everyone will join in. Its unavoidable. I crashed on my friends floor with everyone else and we woke up the next morning to head over to a sort of flea market downtown.

The view from outside my friends apartment. I was very very jealous. But it's a good picture of northeast Seoul.

I broke off from that group of friends and met up with some others. It was a fairly large group at first, I knew most of the people but we all splintered off and saw different things. I wanted to take more photos of the market…but to be honest it was so similar to an american flea market there wasn’t that much really to point out. Random junk pushed into a building…most of it used and of poor quality…and the other half of the stuff was brand new fodder for tourists. I was able to buy a compass for my teaching partner and even haggle for it across language lines.

There was one thing I was able to take a picture of...Shortly afterwards someone informed me that Whiskey is South Korea's number one American Import. I can see why...

The day was relatively light, consisting of food friends and fun. I stayed over at another friend’s house and crashed on their sofa. We made it a point to head to bed early because we got up the next morning around 10 and hiked all over Bukhansan National Park. It was a really rough hike. I mean exhausting. But the view was amazing. I think I’ll let some of the photos I took speak for themselves.

Well thats all I have for right now. Next week a friend’s birthday is coming up so so the pictures might be a little slow to come, but I’m hoping the week after that the cherry blossom festival starts. So fingers crossed. Right now it’s dreary rainy and cold. Also I’m tired and I have classes tomorrow so that will be it for now. I hope these pictures keep you going until I have something else good to write about. Until then. Keep in touch family/friends!


I’m realizing I can’t post up every single photo I take on the blog so I’m putting a lot of things on Flicker. I drop pictures there before I make a blog post and there are some pictures there that I (for one reason or another didn’t put on the blog. So go check it out.

15 Responses to Work Hard, Play Hard

  1. Marty says:

    Echo, it’s about time. That was another fantastic post. I really enjoy reading your blog. You need to somehow let everyone know that you submitted a new post. I try to check your blog everyday, but I thought you were busy living life in the S.K. Continue to explore and love and live.

  2. B says:

    So, you want your next adventure is to be a comedian. Can’t wait to see that. Love the post!

  3. B says:

    Was the touch board a game something you created? if so, very creative.

  4. Deloris Hunter says:

    Wow, Ryan, you are having a grand experience. Thanks for all the visuals and details. Its like being there. Dwight is still in the hospital but he may be coming home today, Thursday if his heart rate does not drop like it did yesterday. He has been in the hospital for nearly 4 weeks now (all of March). I was in Wegman’s shopping the other day and gress who I ran into. Your sister, Sharonda. She was with her husband and we got a chance to catch up again and exchange telephone numbers. She said she had been searching for you on Facebook. I gave her your name change information, so look for a correspondence from her either on your blob or facebook. Take care of yourself and try to get some rest. We love and miss you. Mom

  5. Jeanell says:

    Thanks for sharing, Ryan. Glad things are going well!! 🙂 Looking forward to your next post.

  6. TFree says:

    “Sometimes it really is just the eagerness to learn that trumps actually knowing,” huge statement says a great deal about your philosophy as an educator.

  7. Marty says:

    Liquor companies have the best packaging in the world. Surprised to read is our number 1 import. Echo, hope your not consuming too much of that.

  8. KiofNC says:

    Love hearing your stories and seeing the pics! Continue to be open and stay alert!

  9. Mary says:

    Hi Ryan!!!! I enjoyed hearing all of the exciting things you are experiencing and seeing the great pictures!!!!! I agree with your mother, it is like being there. I am glad you are doing good. I look forward to your next post. Take care!!!!!

  10. Sharonda says:

    Hello Ryan, it’s your sister. I am enjoying your blog and also happy to see you are doing so well. I will be purchasing a computer camera in the next couple of days so hopefully we can communicate by way of Skype sometimes. U can also reach me on facebook so sent me a friend request and I can give you all of my contact information. Love always, Sharonda

  11. Rajean (Your Niece) says:

    You look like your having alot of fun. lol.

  12. Marty says:

    Checking in to see if you have any new post. Hope you’re doing well

  13. Celeste says:

    It looks like you’re have a wonderful experience. I’ve read through most of your entries and love the photos. This Blog is a great idea. Thanks for sharing this experience with those of us back home.

    Adia, wants me to tell you that she love’s you url “koreaorbust”!

    Take care. I look forward to your next entry.

  14. Sharonda says:

    Hi Marty. So good to hear from you!!!!!!!

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