School Life. Welcome to Waryong Elementary.
For most of us, our first few days in our new schools were the most memorable. From principles making you take shots, to awkward bowing ceremonies, to scaring the living daylights out of students in the halls… the first few weeks is why hand motions like ‘awkward turtle’ exist.
In a society where your appearance says a lot about who you are and being attractive can either make or break you in a job interview…I was a little nervous about the first impression I left my new school. As I had mentioned in An EPIK Orientation, I was picked up at the DMOE office like a newly purchased, prized pig and delivered straight to my school. That wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t 95 degrees plus humidity for the whole 4-hour bus ride down to Deagu. I was dripping sweat, my hair was nearing an afro state and my makeup started to bleed. Apparently, I looked so bad that after months of working at my school my head teacher finally admitted to me that she thought Mr. Sam pick up the wrong teacher, cause I was not up to par with my photos on Facebook. She followed that comment by congratulating me on looking better now…thanks?
So there I was. My first day as the new NAT (Native Teacher) with sweat stains all down my back, being introduced to everyone within a 20ft radius of our school. After I mumbled 교감 선생님 안녕하세요…. 만나서 반갑습니다 (Hello, nice to meet you Principle/ Vice Principle), did a few awkward bows, it was finally time to see my new home. I was only home long enough for us to load up all my bags into my tiny space before Hyun Suk (Sam..one of my favorite co-teachers) took me to my apartment to drop off my stuff and join him and two other English teachers in my office for dinner.
Dinner was Jokpal, Korean boiled pork that you mix with various spicy veggie sides in a thin slice of tofu. It was 맛있는, delicious! Thank goodness for that, cause the conversation end of things was a bit awkward. Three of my new co-teachers, Sam, Hyejin (my hello kitty Asian) and Ok Sook (Susan) and me, I didn’t know any Korean and some of them were too nervous to speak English to me. The conversation consisted of your usual small talk… where are you from, do you speak Korean, do you have a boyfriend, is he handsome, are you married, when will you get married, what’s your blood type. Women. Coming to Korea, your relationship status is so important. I actually believe that my school liked me more in the beginning because they knew I had a boyfriend and they thought he was SO HANDSOME. If you are moving to Korea and your single, there is no judgment placed on you, your school will love you all the same, but I have noticed people in relationships do get some brownie points. And yes, they do ask you what your blood type is, it’s like asking what your horoscope is. Most Koreans realize this is weird to ask us, because we are not familiar with a blood type horoscope, however, I found it quite entertaining to find out. If you want to find out your blood type horoscope is clicked here.
After dinner, I was finally sent home to start unpacking and move into my new apartment. My apartment was tiny, but it had new appliances and was in a fairly nice building. It was by far the tiniest of all my friends but it was home, close to Kevin’s and fully furnished. Most apartments given to NAT teachers are small and older. You are given basic furniture, like a bed, fridge, TV, table, and chair. I actually feel quite blessed that they offer a western style bed because most Koreans sleep on the floor with a thin mat. I was also thankful that the wallpaper in my room/apt was bamboo, not massive pink flowers, like Kevin’s.
So what to expect when you arrive? Your first day you will meet everyone in the school, attend a school dinner that may or may not involve you getting wasted with the principle (a friend of mines’ first day), being sent home to finally unpack/movie in at 9 o’clock at night or later. But don’t stay up too late, you have your first day of school tomorrow morning! For most people you will spend the first day observing all your co-teachers classes and getting time to settle in at the school. However, I have heard of some unfortunate NATs getting thrown into teaching the second they arrive at school. Luckily, EPIK warned us this might happen and told us to all prepare a small intro PPT to help you waste the first 10-20min of class. For me it was just observing and I was so grateful for that until….2nd period when a little 5th Grader stands up, points at me and yells “teecha, you pig nose!”, while pushing his fingers up his nose and running out of the room. For those of you that know me… you know exactly why I couldn’t decide to start laughing or get upset. Nothing could of brought me back to elementary school in Grass Range, Montana then a comment like that. Students in good ole GR called me Snortney for the majority of elementary school. Now it is a hilarious story. Then? I was a little too emo to find the humor in it. So there I was, two days into my new career and I was brought back down to Courtney, Snortney. haha
My fondest memories of these first few weeks was coming around the corner as students would be running to class and watch them nearly biff it as they would mid stride bow and mumble, ‘안녕하…ah good morning teecha’. I am just waiting for the day to watch one of them do a front flip from bowing to hard core to a teacher. Fingers crossed. haha Another evil pleasure of mine was scaring the little 2nd and 1st graders in the halls. Now I am not as evil as you would think, no I wasn’t hiding behind corners or making scary faces. I’m innocent! I was simply being a non-Korean in a strictly Korean atmosphere. For these little ones I might of been the first white person they have seen up close. My only evidence in that theory is seeing, literally children scream bloody murder, sometimes running into each other and falling down, then running away when I would walk into the west wing every morning. It was hilarious. My favorite was when two 2nd Grade boys started to scream and run away from me, but ran smack into each other. They went silent long enough to gather their composure, then looked at me and take off running into the safety of their classroom. A part of me thinks its just kids being kids and loving to be scared, and that they will find any reason to run and yell in the halls, but another (small) part of me thinks I was their first scary, white monster.
My first week or so of living and teaching in Korea was a total blur, even though the 10 day orientation gives a lot of helpful hints and preparation you still feel like you hit the ground running. It was a stressful first month of getting the hang of teaching, preparing for classes, making my new place feel like home, figuring out how to get food, where to go and how to live in a foreign land. My saving grace in this situation was the detailed packet the teacher before me left. He included post-it notes all over the apartment explaining how to use the laundry machine, and heating, where to buy groceries, and what transportation to take where. He made my life so much easier and helped me feel right at home….well kinda.
So welcome Snortney, to Waryong Elementary. You may terrify our little ones and we may give you a few backhanded compliments, and sometimes drive you insane…..but little do you know this place is going to feel more like home to you then any other.
If you want more tips and tricks to surviving your first few months teaching in Korea, click Waygook Survival.