Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How music saved my life

I think we can all agree here: music is awesome. It connects you to people, times and places like nothing else. I know I am not the only one who listens to a certain song and is transported right back to a place; the memory so vivid it sometimes brings tears. Shakira's 'Waka waka' never ceases to make my heart fill with pride for the 2010 Soccer World Cup in SA. I remember the feeling of pride and excitement and there have been times where I have shed a tear in the memory of the seeming unity South Africans shared during that time. There are songs which remind me of being with the boys in Europe or road tripping around the Eastern Cape last year. I love the feeling music brings, the memories it holds.

But music took on a whole new meaning when I left home. My iPod literally saved my life. Without the sound of my favourite bands to drown out the silence and isolation I initially felt, I might have gone crazy. Even my dad told me to put my iPod in and try to relax when I was freaking out about being left in my apartment. I spend a LOT of time thinking in the car to and from school and this has struck me on a number of occasions - how music affects every part of my life. I might not be able to sing particularly well or play an instrument; I might not be the most clued up music lover but the appreciation I have for it is vast. And there are times when I think that if someone walked in on me shaking it to some Roxette or belting out to Adele I would want to die but that's what makes me happy on the inside :) So what if you don't like my music - I do!

For anyone thinking of taking on something like this, take your music. Do not leave without something you can put on to drown out the world. Or silence in my case. I play my music every morning (also a defense against getting a song like the 1st grade "I eat apples and bananas every day" stuck in my head) and have now discovered the beauty of live audio streaming to listen to the radio stations back home. I have South African music, accents and adverts blasting through my room now - I love it!

As someone's Facebook status said once: Turn on the music to tune out the world.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Songisan Mountain Weekend

Hi all!

Hope the weekend was great. I thought I would write a quick post about mine...there will even be photos (mostly not mine haha). Above is the Golden Maitreya Statue from Beopjusa temple - a really beautiful and quite famous (according to my co-teacher) temple and National Park. The mountains around us are, I believe, called Songisan. This was a picture taken by my friend Sue during an "Instagram" competition between some of the hikers. How hipster of us, I know. It is a massive statue above a museum in the actual temple part of the park. Unfortunately the weather had decided to not be cooperative and it was cold, rainy and miserable. But that did not deter us! 
The statue in contrast to the surrounding area

David, Nicola, Meabh, Sue, Me, Esti, Estelle and Will

Here the group is (minus Kevin who was off somewhere and Leah who was taking the shot). Although I was initially a little apprehensive about walking in the cold rain, it was a special experience. Was nice to be out in nature and the trees really provided quite a bit of cover and protection from the rain. The path we chose was not too strenuous and we walked beside a river for quite some time which was beautiful. We were low on time so the hike was not what was originally planned but enjoyable none the less. Korea really has a peace and serenity about it which I think comes from the temples etc but it gives it such a special feel. When we reached the top of a hill we came across a small temple and Esti started singing "Don't stop believing" by Journey; Mother Nature was obviously not impressed as the wind started howling every time she started up. Was highly entertaining. We came back into the little town sopping wet and hungry but proud of ourselves for not letting the rain ruin our fun. We went to a local restaurant and had some yummy bulgogi and mushroom stew. We dragged our wet bodies through a Family Mart, collecting cookies, coffee, beer, chips, chocolate and anything else in our paths and headed back to the room where we spend the night talking rubbish and playing a Mafia game - something I highly recommend doing. 

Coming from someone who is not very athletic, the Korean hiking trails have hooked me. I will push myself to try and conquer as many as I can while I'm here. Again, learning new things about myself and trying new things all the time. We were back in time yesterday to chill out and get some dak galbi for dinner (my favourite Korean chicken dish) and although my legs feel tired today, I'm glad I accomplished something this weekend. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A general update

Hi everyone! I know it's getting slowly colder in SA, but right now I'm enjoying looking out at a warmer, greener mountain landscape :)

I started this blog with the intention of keeping everyone updated on my life over here as well as helping other people who might be thinking of taking on an adventure like this. As such, some posts are just me writing my thoughts down, others will be more informative and ones like this are just me telling you all what's up :) I have had an overwhelming response to the blog and I thank you all for reading it and supporting me. Keep reading ;)

Each time I sit down and try to type an update I am never quite sure where to begin. I'm on this incredible journey where everything is new and exciting and as such I have no idea what to tell you. School is going really well. I am VERY pleased to inform you that discipline is the bees knees and my classes are running *a little* smoother than they were. Again, most classes are fine and it's really just my rowdy Monday after school class that can be frustrating. I have not had to use my referee cards yet, but one stubborn chap decided last week he just 'didn't want to' participate so bam - made him stand at the back of the class, arms above his head and before you know it he was begging to join in. They still give me grief but are A LOT more respectful. I think a lot of the general improvements I'm seeing in my classes have more to do with the kids feeling comfortable with me more than anything I'm actually doing. I think we all have gotten to the point where we can relax around each other and have found our feet in the relationship a bit more. There's nothing as rewarding as having some students who used to stare at me blankly now participate. I went on a field trip yesterday with my first school and man it was great. Spent a lot of time with the older kids, just trying to chat and make jokes. I'm crazy and silly and they see that now. We can have a lot of fun together and it makes teaching so much easier. I do struggle to always come up with new ideas and games but that is why we have the internet. What did teachers do before this? Make their own stuff? Crazy ;) I even have some girls try to communicate with me over Google Translate but that is a BAD idea - I really don't think they are trying to tell me that Henry the 8th liked ice-cream or something equally as random. Makes us laugh though and at least they are trying. I play Justin Bieber too. They love the Biebs.

I spent the past weekend with Jodie, the girl I originally applied with. Was so amazing being with someone from home; we were able to slip into easy conversation and felt like I got a taste of home for the weekend. She stays in Deajeon, where we had orientation, so was also nice to go back there and party in a bigger city. It was a lot of fun and I found myself feeling a bit like a Korean; surprised by the amount of Westerners around haha. I don't think people living in a big city can truly appreciate the awesomeness of a moment where you realise you are surrounded by English speakers. But that also made me think - why am I here? I didn't come to be surrounded by what I know. If I wanted that, I could have stayed at home. So at the end of the weekend I must admit I was happy to be coming home to my little city. I love being able to walk everywhere and as nice and as necessary as it is to get out often, it feels good to come home. And boy am I happy to say that :) My apartment gets better with time, it feels like me now. Even cooked a meal for two in it the other day and we sat on the floor, ate on a picnic blanket and watched series. Was awesome.

The people are great. Have made some really good friends and I'm out for dinner or something at least 3 times a week, usually more. It's just an illustration of how important company is here and how a tight community develops around the need for conversation and support. My friend Danielle who is from America (yes I mentioned you hehe) comes through most weekends and she feeds the shopper in me. We are not good together - well, actually we are TOO good together so our wallets always hurt a bit after we've hung out! There's such a wide range of people here and I'm still loving being surrounded by people from all over, all with different stories and backgrounds.

I never expected to miss Africa this much. It has cemented in me the fact that I want to stay in South Africa and try as hard as I can to make it work there. Yes, the fact that I feel completely safe here is a feeling I relish. There are other things too which I know I will miss when I leave. My heart is in Africa. I am African and I miss all it holds. So maybe a year here will be long enough? Maybe it's time I start focusing on what I can do on my own continent too :) A PGCE is looking like it's definitely on the cards for me when I get home. Teaching is something I really love and have decided to try and combine that with my Sociology to try and make a difference back home. So I'm learning new things about myself everyday and it's exciting. I'm being stretched beyond my wildest dreams but it's a good feeling - bring on the change baby!!

What else? The food is still great, Seoul is amazing. The people here are generally so helpful and it makes traveling around on your own much less stressful. I had a train conductor follow me to make sure I switched to the right train and a kind passenger help me find out where I had to sit. Turns out I was given a standing ticket, which for a 2 hour train journey is not ideal but hey. It's all part of the adventure. I need to upload pictures, I know this. But I usually blog at school so it's a bit harder. Maybe I'll do a post just of photos...but again, check Facebook out, it's all there :)

I think for now, this is it. Don't want to bore you with an essay for too much longer ;) I'm happy, I'm adjusting, I'm learning. And I've never felt more alive.

So much love to you all.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring is finally here

Spring is in the air! In Korea, that comes with the dreaded yellow dust too, which is not helping anyone's allergies. But there is nothing quite as good for the soul as Spring.

I consider myself to be more of a Winter than a Summer person - extreme heat is not my thing. But Spring is without a doubt my favourite season. It's the blossoms and buds and promises of warmth; it hints at pool parties and lazy Sunday braai's which are sure to follow. It's new hope. And I am particularly excited about Spring in Korea! I've been told that the Summer here is not for the faint hearted and I only caught the back end of the Winter and that was cold enough. So Spring and Fall are both anticipated because of the mild temperatures and beauty they bring. Cherry Blossom festivals are now in full swing and I really hope to be able to catch one next weekend. The way Spring has improved my mood and general outlook on life is also notable. Spring has definitely put a 'spring' in my step (how's that for a cheesy line drop).

On the drives to and from school each day, I have been keeping my eye out for hints of the new season. With nothing else to do but take in the scenery for 30 minutes, I started to see the subtle signs of warmer weather. I work out in the sticks, and drive through a lot of agricultural land. So it was the ajimas's who caught my eye first; there are more and more of them in the fields in the mornings, bent over, working their land. The land itself is changing, with rows and rows of soil being turned and prepped for this seasons growth. Slowly the barren land and brown mountains are turning green, blossoms are blooming and it's beautiful. There is a building over the road from me that has some trees beginning to flower and it's so exciting to see them get bigger every day. I come from very green and sunny South Africa, so the lack of colour was depressing me. But it's coming.

It's also a dream not to bundle up every time I step out of the house. The nights are still chilly and there's a sneaky breeze which brings the goosebumps now and then, but in general the coats are slowly being used less and less. Walking home from dinner is more pleasant and the other night a friend and myself sat in the park chatting, just enjoying being out. Hikes are on the agenda - even one with my school next Wednesday which will keep me out the classroom that day (hells yeah). Everyone is coming out of their winter hibernation and we all seem in high spirits. I look forward to my first outdoor drinking session (that's legal here) and picnic. I'll post some pics as soon as I have them.

Is Spring in Korea as beautiful as they say? I will most definitely let you know :)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Becoming a real teacher

It's been a tough week, both mentally and emotionally. But as I write this, I also cannot believe that it is time for another weekend - not that I would ever complain about such things :)

I realized this week that children really CAN sense weakness...and man have they pounced on mine. I came into this teaching thing thinking that I knew what I was doing when it came to discipline and not really thinking much more about it. I stood to be corrected. Monday afternoon saw me standing in front of my 5th and 6th grade after school class who were completely out of control. One boy was 'chair surfing', and the fact that his English name is Ocean can only make me laugh. But I became so completely overwhelmed by the fact that these kids just do not respect or understand me, the combination of which literally drove me to tears.

After making them put their heads on their desks and enjoying 5 minutes of heavenly silence, I sent them out and tried to compose my thoughts. What do I do? They cannot understand me and unfortunately I'm 'too nice' which means they take advantage. It was while I had tears in my eyes and a third grader asked me why my eyes are sweating..."Are you hot?" that I decided I needed to really think about the kind of teacher I want to be. I think my biggest mistake thus far was walking into the classroom thinking that if I smile and make fun lessons, the kids will respond to me and we'll just have this beautiful happy relationship. It's not all butterflies and rainbows and coupled with the communication problem, Mr Nice guy usually loses. I'm lucky that I have the support of the other foreign teachers, and after a good vent and advice session, which included the idea of me raging in the next class and just throwing desks and chairs everywhere (can you just picture this??), I felt a lot more empowered. I can earn their respect; I can make them see that I DO have power and will not be walked over (this is my pep talk, given to myself each morning...don't judge). And so I now have yellow and red cards which I will use like a soccer ref; a warning first, and red means punishment. And I'm going to punish them.

I think I felt like I needed to put this on my blog, not just as it's therapeutic for me, but also to let other teachers out there know that it's never too late to change tactics. I'm hopeful that after implementing the "no more Mr Nice Guy" play, the kids will respect me more and we'll be able to get a lot more done. I'm tired of being mentally and emotionally exhausted after every rowdy class. And don't get me wrong, they aren't all like that and in general I do have okay classes. But I feel that as teachers, we really do need to give the time and effort to thinking about how we will teach and be seen by the kids. It's natural to be nervous and eager to be liked, as I was, but there comes a point when enough is enough. And I've reached that point. I love my kids, and I think it's only fair to both parties that I have a strict set of rules and expectations which they know and understand, to help regulate a relationship which is strained due to the communication barrier.

I never want to lose my cool in front of my kids; never want to end up throwing a desk at someone or having to constantly scream and shout. It's not healthy or fun for anyone. So I'm changing tactics, I'm in search of a new balance. And I'm excited.

So this weekend I'm going to go to Seoul, shop till my heart's content, have a few drinks with friends and walk in on Monday ready to tackle these little people and show them who's boss. I look forward to sharing my progress with you all!

I forget it's Easter back home and all you lucky bastards get today off. I've worked...but my beer will taste that much sweeter later ;) Happy Easter weekend beautiful people, be safe.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It's the little things

So I walked into school today to find a brown package with mom's handwriting on it - first care package from home!! It's made me think about what this whole experience is teaching me and I thought I'd share.

It's all about the little things. It seems like an obvious thing to say and so cliched; but maybe it takes moving to a whole new country to fully understand the meaning of this saying. A little package filled with prestick (I cannot find the equivalent here), Five Roses tea, a bath towel and some new pants is something that previously would not make me bat an eyelid. Today, it made my week. I really took so much for granted back home...like conversation!! I find myself talking in my head all day, entertaining myself with anything I can just to feel like I'm communicating. So when a 4th grader says "have a nice day" when they pass me in the corridor or my neighbour says "Hello", I am deeply grateful. Sometimes my co-teacher or whoever is driving that day will put a radio station on with a morning English program. Although I do know what a 'face' is and really don't need to learn what they teach (as the program seems geared towards helping Koreans improve their English), the fact that I can understand what is being said while the teachers speak Korean to each other is a great relief and small joy. And although I really question Korean taste in English music, when Celion Dion or Crowded House 'Always take the weather' comes on the radio, I smile to myself and just enjoy the moment.  When a shop assistant smiles at me, a bus driver tries to make sure I'm going the right way or when a complete stranger tries really hard to speak at least a word of English, I am reminded of just how much the smallest things matter.

The fact that I cannot just walk into a hairdresser and tell her what I want (I am currently sporting a MUCH shorter hairdo, Korean style haha), or tell a chemist that I have a cold and  not a stomach bug, or ask my teacher where I even live - these are things which make you incredibly grateful for the comfort of home, of English. This is not me complaining, please do not get me wrong. I love this bizarre little world I'm living in and knew (kind of) what I was getting myself into when I decided to come here, but I think it is important to remind myself and others that we really do take far too much for granted.

So I'm going to go home this afternoon, open my package and REALLY enjoy using my new towel and prestick :) Because really, it IS the small things in life that matter most.

Email update #3

Ok this is the last post of this type...will start normal blog updates now and pretend to know what I'm doing :)

Hi all

I don't know how often I should send these (I could email every week haha) but thought now would be a good time as a lot has happened and I finally feel settled, which may come across in the mail! Firstly, if anyone can - check this website out:  http://roketship.tumblr.com/. It is SO appropriate to my life here; just keep clicking launch to see new pics :) 

So, where to even begin. It's been a crazy few weeks. I'm heading into my 6th week being here which means I have, according to people who have done it before, survived the critical period. Go me. Trying to remember what I told you all in the last mail. It struck me the other day that I should probably tell you all more about the people and children etc as it really is a fascinating little country this. So let me start there. 

The kids are machines. They are left in the mornings to find their way to school - and they do. No such thing as missing or bunking classes here. Even when you are sick you are expected to come in (goes for staff too, dammit). They are at school from 8.30 till around 4.30, busy with afternoon classes etc. They then go to a hagwon, which is a private school for more intense learning. Then, some go to private tutoring which is actually kind of illegal as the kids aren't supposed to work after 10pm or something. So they go all day everyday, till all hours of the morning, and then do it again the next day. Trying getting them motivated in an English class...aint going to happen. I'm just really struck at the independence of them all; Family Marts are packed with students in the evenings eating noodles and other instant meals between schools. They go off to school alone, even the little ones. And they do it. The students have all really warmed up to me, and I often have little 1st grade boys putting my shoes on for me and fighting to hold my hand. The older ones generally always have big smiles for me. Not if I don't play games though - I think the biggest downfall of the English program here is the expectation from the kids' side that all we must do is play games. No no Lucy, no game now - later. Teacher, game!? NOOOOO! I SAID LATER. (Communication fail.) Ball game? Sigh. But I'm growing very fond of them and beginning to feel less like a total moron in class. Sometimes things fall apart but hey, it happens. I'm REALLY struggling with my HwaDang 5th graders, so much so they almost have me in tears when I walk into class but I'll learn what works for them and get a handle on them eventually. The respect is also crazy - every kid bows and greets a teacher every time they see them. I get constant 'Hello, nice to meet yous" - 3 years in an English program and that's STILL all they know. Gotta love it :) I also have plenty "Teacher, Brown Teacher, English-y - apple. Korean, 로겨." (that's not real Korean so don't Google Translate it haha). So who needs Korean lessons - I have my classes.

I am learning not to be sensitive here. The people come across as very rude and abrasive but that's just their way. If you leave even an inch of space between you and the person in front of you, someone will stand there. No one waits for anything, doorways are a free for all and a car will not stop for you. Feels like you take your life in your hands every time you walk around. You never get used to the stares, but you do get over it. And the spitting is disgusting. It's weird to be in a country where people can still smoke in restaurants and that, and by people I mean men as women are looked down at for smoking. I have my eyes pointed to often, and sometimes random strangers will give you a smile that warms the bottom of your heart. But other times you feel completely unwanted and unwelcome, which is hard. 

Food wise - oh my goodness the food. Very spicy, and I tend to only really be eating chicken as I never know what else to order. But it really is amazing and mouth watering. I am yet to cook a proper meal in my place because there is usually always someone going for dinner and it's just nicer to eat with people. Went to a seafood place last week and ate 'Seafood Bokkeum' which was interesting - whole octopus (octipi??), crabs, chicken, muscles and prawns with veggies and spices enough to make my dad's eyes water. Needless to say after the kind man had cut the octopus up in front of me, I wasn't overly excited about what I was about to eat. But it was good :) You cannot come to Korea, or any adventure for that matter, with a closed mind. They serve this instant coffee everywhere, it looks like the Nescafe cappuccinos? But they only pour a little water in and drink it piping hot. I've bought some for my apartment as man, Korean tea SUCKS. Their pastries for the most part are amazing, and I found a place down the road from me that sells waffles with cream cheese. I am their new favorite customer!! We were in Seoul for St Patrick's day (an experience in and of itself) and although I do love Korean food, I have never been so happy to see Western type take out places in my life. Seoul is the city where I will shop and go for tastes of home. It's amazing.

I've met some pretty incredible people here, and am slowly being welcomed into their little family. Just like Grahamstown last year, your friends when you are away from home become your second family, and I can see I will be happy here. We might be going hiking this weekend on a temple stay which I'm super excited about! Oooh and going to see Lady Gaga at the end of the month, more for the experience than for her. Should be epic. 

I finally have a bank account and yes that's right - I am officially a mirrionaire. Not too shabby a feeling ;) haha. Juju you would be proud - have become quite the Korean beer drinker as everything else is far too expensive (an soju kills). It may not be Millers or Castle but it's pretty good anyway :) Spring is in the air which means cherry blossoms, days in the sun and wardrobe changes which I am very excited for!!! Still got caught in a snow storm on Saturday though - seems Korean weather is as moody as they come. 
I feel like this has been a bit of a boring update, but I hope you've enjoyed it anyway :) I know some people have asked for pictures but that's why we have Facebook, it's just easier that way ;) And I'm thinking of starting a blog, which will replace the emails but that's a major work in progress so stay tuned :) If anyone wants my postal address or wants anything sent to them from here (no Jase, I DON'T mean an ipad) then just shout :) 

There are a hundred things I could still say and my tired brain is probably forgetting some really funny stories which I could share...but there will be more where this comes from. I still love hearing from you all, so keep the emails, whatsapp and Facebook messages coming! 

Love and miss you all dearly.
Brown Teacher

Monday, April 2, 2012

Email update #2

The second email home was a lot more positive :) 

Hello all!

So I've decided that this is actually so much easier, and although therate of emails will decrease thoughout the year, there is so much totell at the moment that a bulk email is easier. If you don't want toget these emails (and I won't be offended) then just tell me and I'lltake your name off :) OK, admin, done.
Saw this on Facebook today and thought it was super appropriate:"There is no oil if olives are not squeezed; no wine if grapes are notpressed; no perfume if flowers are not crushed. So if you feel underpressure, don't worry, beacuse God is just bringing out the BEST inyou".

Hearing back from some of you has been amazing, and I have enjoyed afew Skype sessions with friends and family - yes I got my internetworking. BOOYA! So please, keep the emails coming, I want to knowwhat's happening in the very sunny and warm SA.

A lot has happened since we last spoke and I didn't want to leave youall with the image of me stuck in a shabby little apartment getting myfeet wet every time I brush my teeth for too long. Yes, my apartmentstill sucks. But, I'm making it feel like home and am adjusting. I'myet to find out where exactly I live (address wise) but am hoping thatby the end of the week I will be able to send and recieve post (andcare packages, hint hint ;)) Yes Nanna, this means you will begettting a hand-written letter from me soon! My city is lovely - Ifeel it is the perfect size. Big enough to explore and not get toobored in but not too big that I can't find anything. I walkeverywhere, and on a few occassions I have found myself withsnowflakes in my hair, as it has been VERY cold here lately. There aremore foreigners here than I expected and have met a lot of new peoplewho don't live far from me which is amazing. It's a tight, very closecommunity of 'waygooks' (foreigners) who live here so it's great.There are only 1 or 2 pub places to go to but plenty of restaurants.Things defiitely are NOT as cheap as I was hoping...but maybe once Iget paid that will change. Fruit especially is such a luxury here, andKorean pears are amazing!

I've overcome some pretty big challenges: I was sent to get my 'AlienRegistration Card' on my own (usually a co-teacher comes with) and itwas a 2 hour bus ride to the immigration department and a whole dayspent trying to figure out what on earth I needed to do. I'vecommunicated via my charade skills that I have a cold and needmedication, and it seems I was given the right stuff cos I can breatheagain (go me). I have caught a train and multiple busses. I haveconnected my internet. I have taken out the trash (yes, an easy thingin SA but here there is such a process and 'wrongful recycling' is acriminal offence - recycling is not something I ever thought I'd bescared of the cops for). I have sung 'Lemon Tree' and 'Hey Jude" withmy staff, had soju with my Vice Principle, eaten 'cow stomach' andpretended to like it and most of all, I have survived my first weekteaching. This is not to blow my own horn, but to show just how farI've come in the 3 weeks since arriving. The one teacher at schoolcalls me "Brave Girl" which I quite like. I think I'm either brave orstupid, and I'm going with brave here.

So let me tell you about the teaching. HwaDang, my main schol, is tiny(as I have mentioned) and my biggest class is 6th grade - 10 students.My smallest is my 5th graders with 5. My after school classes combine1s and 2s, 3s and 4s and 5s and 6s so there I have more but also havethe freedom to do what I please. I feel like I'm settling in there,and although I often sit and can see that everyone is talking aboutme, I feel like the staff and children have warmed up to me. My VPgoogle mapped my house the other day and I was told I live in a'palace' (nice work, dad). My co-teacher is lovely but not much help,and my principle hardly acknowledges my existance - but I think thisis normal. My 5th graders are verry difficult as their english levelsare low and I do not have a teacher in the class to help control them.The only words they know are game and bingo. One kid in particularmight cause premmature aging but I'll find something that works. Myother classes are great and I'm given the freedom to run the lessonshowever I want. The little ones are adorable and watching them dotheir ABCs is too cute. At both schools I only start work at 8.30 andfinish at 16.30, so the mornings aren't too early.
Today is my first day at my new school - Paegun Elementary (they havea website if you feel like reading some hangul). I'll be here onTuesdays and Thursdays. It's bigger and a lot more equipped. Here Ihave bigger classes, a relief for group work activites, and the staffare younger. I have massive touch screens to work off of, whichprovided the 5th grade with much amusement as I couldn't get the damthing to work. The kids are also very different - I was bombarded withlittle hands and curious faces, tons of hello's and nice to meetyou's. They speak a bit better and don't seem as cautious around me. Ihave already been asked twice why I'm not black but from SA, and toldI'm beautiful (no wonder I like it here more haha) and one 5th gradergave me a sucker. However, here I am going to be taking an afterschoolclass once a week for teachers. This scares me half to death, but I'msure I'll find something to do with them. Lesson planning keeps mevery busy, but I'm loving the teaching. It's hard to prepare yourselffor the language barrier and I expect the kids to know more than theydo but I'll get there.

Still really enjoying the food - had strawberries for dessert today!!!School lunches are usually great and eating out is delicious. I'vebeen to two neighbouring cities - Chungju and Danyang to do somesightseeing and am always struck by the beauty of the area. I cannotwait for summer and all the cherry blossoms and apple trees to startblooming. Am going to Seoul this weekend for St Paddy's which is goingto be very different - I expect lots of English and waygooks whichwill be a nice change.

I'm starting Korean lessons this week as they offer free lessons atthe community centre so am excited for that. My kids ask what Korean Iknow and they often try to get me to say things but no Ming-ju, I'mnot going to stand up and say "I'm an idiot" in front of the entireclass. The teachers are always impressed when I whip out a'gahmsamnida' or 'annyongheseyo' and am told I speak Korean well. Somaybe by the end of the year I'll find navigating around this land alittle easier. My kids' english names are disappointingly normal -have heard there are some 'internet explorers' 'transformers' and'lord voldemorts' out there. I just have Lucy and John haha.

Am still getting used to the stares; when we travel in groups it's notunusual that people stop traffic to take pictures of us. The ajimas(old woman) are crazy and scare me a bit. Oooh and they say here'aiboo' or something that sounds just like 'haebo' back home (myspelling of all these things probably sucks, sorry) and I love it whenthey say it. "Ag Henry, I love it when you speak foreign" hahaha sorryrandom thought. What else can I tell you....need to get used to notsaying 'bless you' when someone sneezes.

So all in all, Korea has opened her arms to me and I'm feeling a lotbetter than when I typed that last email. Yes, I miss home and holyheck I miss being a student - on Monday I wasn't feeling well and it'sa tough life when a cold can't keep you in bed ;) Heads up mom anddad, I'm coming home to start studying again haha. Eternal studentlife for me thanks. The real world is a big scary place but man is itexciting. I feel teaching may be where I eventually end up, and on thedays when a year sounds like forever and I just want to come home, Iremind myself that it's already been a month and come next yearJanuary, the experiences I'll be coming home with are going to be outof this world.

So keep in touch everyone, hit me up for a skype coffee date and neverforget how much I miss you all.
Sending all my love from a very cold Korea,Bronxxxxxxxxx

PS: Please do not judge my English teaching ability on any errors inthis email :)

Email home #1

Here is the first email I sent home. Interesting to see how things have changed in just a month...

Hi friends and family

 From the beginning I must apologise for sending a general message, and please know that it isn't because I don't think you're all special enough to get a personalised email, it's just that for this first general update, I didn't have time to email everyone seperately haha. Also, forgive any spelling mistakes...these Korean computers don't like to correct English ;) I also couldn't find some email adresses so feel free to pass on! 

So, let me tell you allllll about this weird and wonderful rice land I am now living in. Firstly, there is no logic here and as a foreigner, it's even more scary. We seem to go through red lights, drive on the wrong side of the road and eat things that I never imagined.But let me get there :) 

Orientation was amazing. We were kept busy in clases from 9 to 9 every day, with a curfew of 10.30, meaning we had very little time to explore the surrounding area. But we did venture out now and then, including a (few) trips to the local 'pubs' and twice into Daejeon proper, where I felt like I was in a movie with all the lights and music and shops. The people are so friendly. The EPIK staff were so well prepared, and they really gave us more than we could've asked for. I was surrounded by people from all over the world which was amazing, and English was spoken so we felt secure. I have learned how to hail cabs and ignore stares - man but they stare at you like you are an alien. So although we were constantly tired, I loved it. I was sung to in Korean for my birthday which was very special, and we went out and drank some beer and soju (a sweeter, lighter vodka type drink which is dangerously cheap) as those are the only affordable things when drinking out. A coke is 4 times the price of a BOTTLE of soju haha. I've met some really great people from all over: America, the UK, Korea and Australia. Lots of South Africans too which is great! Nothing like an Afrikaans accent to make you feel at home. But the bubble didn't last and on Tuesday, we were whisked away to meet co-teachers and see our new cities.

I have been placed in Jecheon (jeh-john kinda sounding), the smallest city in the Chungbuk Province, famous for their lake and mountains. I am teaching at 2 elementary schools - HwaDang is my main school and I haven't found out anything about the second one yet. I'm quickly learning that Koreans are as bad as South Africans when it comes to organisation - going to have to think on my feet, be flexible and expect the unexpected this year. So to cut a long story short, I was dropped in my apartment without having met my co-teacher, been told ANYTHING about the place or where I actually was. Needless to say I had a total freak out and wanted to be on the next plane home. Welcome challenge one. Thank heavens for my cell phone. You cannot just call me, and I can't call home without a call card. So if you all invest in one, you'll be able to call me, that's other than Skype of course. I have whatsapp though so whoevers numbers I had I added you, so chat me up yo haha. I know I haven't had time to add everyone so if I'm not there - add me! So with that, my dad and Jin could both call me that dreadful day and make me feel a lot better. I have finally been able to find an adapter for my laptop, so as soon as I can figure out the internet, we can skype. Yay! 

So lemme tell you about my room (please note that I might sound very sorry for myself, and I did get the shortest end of the dam stick, but this too shall pass and take what I say in a lighter tone). So I will be living in a groundfloor 'apartment' very close to downtown (aka shopping and food central) Jecheon. I can walk to the main bus terminal in 2 minutes and have started to figure out my way around town to avoid awkward, hand- gesture-hoping-i-get-to-the-right-place-taxi-rides. So those are good things - I really am central. My room is just that - a small room with a section dedicated to the kitchen, the fridge pretty much next to my bed, a little desk with my only window (looking into the ugly street) some cupboards and plastic drawers. Then my bathroom. I have to laugh, else I will cry. It is tiny and contains a washing machine, a toilet, and a shower thing that I need to hold up myself and wet myself with when I shower. No basin. Hard to picture? I brush my teeth in the kitchen sink. Koreans also don't believe in seperated toilets and showers so when I shower, my whole bathroom gets wet. When I wash clothes, the dirty water is released straight onto the floor. So everytime I go into my bathroom, my feet get wet. My whole lower body gets wet when I try wash my face. I make it sound terrible, and it is going to take some adjusting to, but I'll get there. My fridge's thermostat kept me awake the whole first night but getting used to that now! I plan on using my room as a sleeping area only, traveling lots so it's not the end of he world, just feel sad when I hear and see the other people's beautiful apartments with separate rooms and couches!!!! But I have hot water, an aircon and underfloor heating so I am happy about that! Plus, there is a rumour that I might not pay utility bills, because they realise I have a crap apartment haha. 

I've met some cool people in the area; there are lots of saffas and they were all super stoked to meet me and are really very warm and helpful. Found a few right up the road from me so I no longer feel so isolated. The Korean people are also very friendly, but they do stare; the men spit horrifically; and the language barrier is very difficult. We were taught some survival Korean which has been slightly helpful (I went blank when I met the staff though, idiot) and I'm sure it won't be long before I pick up some more. Like "I don't speak Korean" "How much is that" and "Help". The school is lovely, and the teachers all very sweet but none (including my co teacher) speak much English. The one teacher who does is very helpful, but am still in the dark about a lot because of my co teacher - not only is her English average, she is also new to the school. But she smiles a lot and seems lovely. I am what they call 'desk-warming' today, but was introduced to the children and staff and new parents, and am constantly trying to help them say my name. I have accepted the fact that I will be 'Brownie" from here on out haha. The kids either need to touch me or avoid making eye contact in case I ask them to speak - and I'm pretty sure my pink socks and Western appearance got some stares. All the Koreans dress alike, there is no individuality here. The school is tiny (about 40 students from grades 1 through 6) so my classes will be small and intimate. There was an opening ceremony today, so there are balloons in the shapes of flowers EVERYWHERE. Brings me to another point. Everything in Korea is cute. They use little animation characters for everything, it is very sweet but quite bizarre too. Natually I love it. 

I'm learning to nod my head and smile a lot, bow, receive and accept things with both hands and accept the fact that around school, I will never understand anything haha. We are going for dinner tonight as a welcoming,and apparently I must be ready for soju shots with my Principle and VP lol. Interesting culture this. The night life is great, plenty of bars and restaurants and am really looking forward to experiencing the other cities. I have friends all over now, so will be traveling a lot. Thinking of going to Chonju tomorrow for a night - should be fun. I am about 2 hours from Jodie and Nats...I might as well have come on my own the way it's worked out but I do look forward to seeing them in Daejeon soon! 

The food is generally good. No, we are not eating dog. Lunch at school was VERY spicey but nice. I'm getting over the rice, can't believe it, but in general their food is very tastey. But...yesterday in town we walked past a few stalls selling fish, and I struggled not to throw up. There was every kind of fish under the sun; skinned, chopped, whole, inside out, insides for sale, alive. My goodness but that I struggle with. It isn't everywhere, but there's something, uhm, unique, about walking through your local supermarket passed giant crabs trying to escape their tanks. I thought you only saw those at the zoo. The weather has been mild, but today is rainy and freezing. Chungbuk is generally colder than the other provinves and here was some snow when I arrived, but spring is on the way. My schools are in beautiful areas and when the apple trees begin to blossom, expect lots of amazing photos. 

So in general, I am settling in well and adjusting to my new life here. I am missing home and everyone immensely, but I know the pain eases with time. This country is amazing - filled with all sorts to entice the senses and I can't wait to go for my first hike, my first sight seeing tour or temple stay over. I'm happy I've been able to sit and give you all an update, even if you didn't want one quite so comprehensive haha. I am surving and am very excited to actually meet my kids and start teaching.  

Sending lots of love to you all and look forward to regular Sypke dates, and getting mails back with all your news (yes I expect replies people haha).  

All my love, Bronnin, Brownie, Bron or Bronwyn-song-saen-nim