Friday, 5 August 2011


Here I am in Seoul. It's been quite a journey these past few days. I've made it to the weekend and now I've got a little bit of spare time.

A few tid bits about what my life entailed up to this point.
-Met an awesome young couple with 2 kids on the plane to Korea who were on their way to Hong Kong to teach. They had been to Korea several years ago and they said that they really enjoyed their experience. They were also teachers from Sherwood Park (what are the chances that I'd sit right next to them??) and they explained that it was a great experience to save money and live in a new culture, but the teaching was 100% different. I kind of knew that, but obviously not to the extent that I would learn it.

-I arrived on Wednesday night around 8pm. A man was at the arrivals gate with my name on a big piece of paper. I felt so important. ha. We jumped in this luxury van cab, and we lugged my three huge suitcases for about 45 minutes into the heart of Seoul, to my school, in Apgujeong (A very rich and well to do area of Seoul). The side streets are winding, skinny, and all look the same and different all at the same time. My director was waiting at the school for me, along with who I would learn to be the guy who runs around like a chicken with his head cut off fixing, doing things, setting things up, for everyone. Koreans work very hard at what they do, but it's very difficult to communicate things between. I tried making small talk with the cab driver, and with John (the hard working set up guy) as he hustled me to my apartment at 9pm, but no small talk is needed. I noted this pretty quickly. They don't really understand and they just say yes or nod to everything you say, as if to just appease you. They seem very concerned with appearing very agreeable when faced with anyone speaking english to them, even though they are not even answering the question with a "yes". So, I figured quickly I need to be careful about how I suspect people are understanding me. Just because they nod "yes" or "no", doesn't mean I'm being understood. Something I'm not accustomed to, until I experience it first hand. I read about this before I left, but it's something else when faced many things you need attended to with your apartment, and the person on the other end can't understand what you're saying.
-My apartment is not that bad (not as bad as I've seen from one of the other foreign teachers...) But it was quite filthy. Just like mama taught me, First thing I did that night was find a grocery store, bought a mop and cleaning supplies, and went to work. I'm not that picky about tidiness, as most people could attest to whom know me... but cleanliness? standards of clean? caked on food on the grill, hair all over the floor, fruit flies everywhere? Nope. Not going to fly. (ha, pun!) so I spent my jet lagged hours rockin' the mop for a few hours. I'm glad that I did it then. I went to bed around 11 or 12 (15 hours ahead of home, so whatever that would be) and was up around 5 (I was off to the school for 9 for an 'orientation')

-Got up, and got lost trying to get to the school in the morning. I was so jet lagged and disoriented the night before, and the streets all look the same but different, and lead to totally different areas. I stopped at some corner store and showed the people there the business card that my director oh-so-wisely gave me before I left her presence. He called a menangerie of back up. They were all so helpful in trying to figure out where my school was, but really could only point me literally in a direction, because they couldn't communicate with me. So, luckly, with my innate sense of direction and intuition, I found my school the very long way. Every day since then it's been getting easier and easier, but I still get semi-lost on the way to and from school. It's amazing how landmarks with English words stick in the mind much better than miles and miles of foreign symbols. Who would have thought? ha.
-My room at the school had absolutely nothing done. It was a pile of boxes. and they expected me to decorate the thing with amazing felt displays, a calander, time table, reward system, vocabulary board, colours, numbers, letters, orgainzation, everything, in a day. Talk about overwhelming.  I don't want to come across like I am complaining, but I am genuinely just reflecting my sense of confusion, slight frustration, and awe about how this culture functions. Again, everyone works to the bone here. This school charges about 3,000 a month tuition for each child, so they expect us to bend over backward to portray an amazing beautiful surface experience for the parents. It's all about image. Smoke and mirrors, as another foreign teacher explained it to me. I feel really disillusioned trying my concept within this situation. It's not what they want from me. It's just.... there are no words for it right now.

But for the past two days (thursday and friday, I got here wednesday night at 9pm jetlagged to the nines) I worked hard to decorate this room to the best of my ability. A few of the korean co-teachers helped me one evening, and did 10 things for the 1 that I did. But this is just their nature, and what they've been doing for their whole work lives. Their productivity with perfection and grace is astounding. Each foreign teacher has a korean co-teacher who acts as a communication board between parents, other korean staff at the school, and is supossed to help with decoration, print outs, etc. My korean co-teacher is just as new as I am, so she doesn't yet know how to do the things that need to be done to start a class. I'm basically starting a brand new year (in the middle of a semester) with brand new 5's (meaning "5 year old students"... but that only means their "intelligence level" is at a 5 year old level, but some of these kids are 3 years old or 4 years old. Babies still... Babies that need to learn math, and phonics and do reports and not pee themselves in class. )

These kids know nothing about routine, about school, about cleanliness, about manners, about being social, and their parents spoil them to the brim, so often they are already "entitled". Watching and seeing how some of the other teachers work with their children is amazing, confusing, disorienting, everything to watch. (The kids, though, have these amazing, graceful moments of cuteness that I can see growing on me very quickly) I am starting my new class with an orientation with the parents on Monday. I made a weekly lesson plan, a monthly news letter, a power point for orientation, and I need to write a letter of introduction about myself to go to these parents who kind of speak english, but are mostly just going to be judging the way I look, the way my room looks, and what I'm about. In my power point I put pictures of me doing the things that I love (ringette, ukulele, art, a picture of my family) and really, my vice principal, and the other foreign teachers say that basically, that's all that they're interested in. They just want to see what I'm about. They don't care about the curriculum, they don't care about the books (although I'm getting some mixed messages about this, because I've been asked to catch up with the rest of the 5's somehow, whom are half way done all of their books). I really just need to let go of trying to figure things out, and just go with the flow. I notice the innate drive inside myself to work my hardest to do the best job that I can do. I would stay late into the night to work on these walls if I had to, I would work all weekend on my powerpoint and lessons to make them wonderful. But everyone, even the director of the school, keeps telling me to leave it all behind at 530pm. Just leave. Don't take anything home. Just come in monday. But these are mixed messages, with the importance they are placing on the way everything looks, and how perfect everything needs to be for these parents and kids! I must admit, I burst into tears in Jennifer's class next to mine (a really amazing and wonderful foreign teacher that helped me do my weekly lesson plan and monthly letter. She basically did it for me. I am so grateful). She said that after the first week, once everything is settled, I'll be laughing, and it'll be cake. But she said she totally knows where I'm coming from, because she started in the middle of the year with 5's too, last year. She said it's not fair how they load all of this responsibility onto the teacher's shoulders within just a few days (she said she had a whole week of prep time before thte kids came, though). Honestly, without the support from all the rest of the foreign teachers, I would be on a plane home right now. It was like planning to go on an adventure walk up a mountain (with a path, that you thought you knew) and coming up to a completely verticle, unclimbable wall with no climbing gear at all, and you have to climb it to find a way out.  I know this sounds all so negative, but really, in my mind, it's not negative. It's just noticing the frustration, confusion, and acknowledging it. Acknowledging what I've been going through, for what it is. I'm trying very hard not to internalize negativity. I'm trying very hard to keep a piece of my self alive and well through all of this. I can see how easy it is to be sucked away from that. This is what I came here for, I think... to find situations to be true to myself, while bending and swaying with the circumstances that I find myself in. Flexibility, but stability. Yin and Yang. Everything is a balance.

-Last night I went to Jennier's apartment for some wine with the girls from the school. It was so nice to be with these people, even though I didn't say much. It was just so nice to be supported and invited and understood in this vulnerable state. They must 100% understand. I don't think I've been in a situation where, even though I'm being an overwhelmed baby at times, and ask questions 4 or 5 times, and repeat myself 10 times because I just can't find any other words to explain myself, they continually give unlimited reassurance and support, and have shown no sign of frustration or annoyance with me. God, I am so thankful for this. I have this idea of myself as this strong, independent person who can pull it together, who has a sense of perspective, who knows that whatever is right now, is not all that there is, but there are moments where I have totally just given into that, just because of the lack of control I have with my surroundings, and just went with it. I feel embarrased about it, but I know that I am a human after all, and there is no reason to be embarrassed about being emotionally tumultous and flawed at this time. In all actuality, it's really a place of bonding, a sign that I am a real person, to myself and to others.

This lesson I've been learning for a while, but I'm humbled by how it's been spatula-ed out of me in such a short container of time. Such a high concentration of it, too.

It is what it is.

-So here I am, Saturday morning. haven't yet explored the subway by myself (went to Itaewon with another Canadian teacher and an American teacher to the Rocky Mountain Bar on Thursday night (the Canadian bar). Need to find groceries (I haven't ate much in the past 4 or 5 days... I bought some overpriced bananas at a grocery store on thursday, and have been eating those slowly. Luckily my school provides lunches for students and staff every day . How amazing is that? Usually very korean lunches too. I've been able to try some food that I might try to emulate.) Need to find plates and forks and maybe a power transformer. There are a lot of things I need to get and do today. It will also be nice to just explore and get lost. I'll take my apartment address with me and cab it home if need be.
I am excited and nervous for Monday. I don't want to place a bunch of importance on a small amount of time, but I'm really banking on how this next week will go. If the support isn't coming from the school, and the expectation is unrealistic, I'm not sure what I'll do. I don't want to lose myself, and burn myself out over this. That wasn't the point of doing this. But I guess, each trial is a stepping stone. A stepping stone I can look around from. Don't need to run away from it, but can't linger for too long on it.

I want to clarify again that I am not complaining about anything. I am so lucky and grateful to have the opportunity to be here, to interrupt my Canadian life, into a new culture, in an amazing school that has high standards. But I am definitely venting. I want that to be clear. I haven't yet had a chance to really delve into the culture, the world around me, even travel beyond my area. I've been thrown a whole bunch of curve balls all at once, and I'm just now starting to pick up the bat and swing. It's not in my personality profile to up and leave in an overwhelming and difficult circumstance. I know I've got to try this thing. I am finding that I need to find a way to let go of this slightly "perfectionistic" attitiude I have hidden within myself.

I also really really want to do my yoga here. I haven't felt like I have had a chance to do much of anything. But I need to take care of myself. I talked with the director about offering some Hatha classes to the staff. Perhaps in the next couple of weeks, if and when things settle in, I will organize that. I really want to use these skills, I don't want to lose them.

I love you all so much, and thanks for reading. I have some videos that I'll maybe try to post tonight of my apartment and some of the things to see around the city.

Love Love Love.
This is a part of it, this is a part of it, this is a part of it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lachelle, WoW this in intense and I am not sure if you have breathed out the whole YYT thing yet. One thing that I have learned in Waldorf Ed. is the importance of a consistent rhthym and routine for the little ones. Just ignore if you have heard all of this before... Having a song or a rhyme to go with every transition and keeping it the same is very helpful to establish a basis for all the other things that you are going to teach the children. It helps to reduce "herding " time and gives security to the little ones. Even things like "Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the others gold" From girl guide days. Any nursry rhymes will also give them a trigger as to what comes next. Ring around the rosey etc. And keeping it totally the same every day really helps. Same time same activity. I thought of establishing routines as my curriculum for the first month. The other big thing is the belief in the etheric or energy body- In Waldorf we believe that the children are connected to their mother's and significant others ( especially their teacher's) etheric body until around 6 years old. This means that they will be drawing energy from you and it is important that you get enough sleep!! Time in nature ( restores your etheric body) and things like yoga help.
    Other big deal about that- they can really "read" your energy: so that warm smiling way of yours will communicate on many levels. Hope this helps. Debora