Category Archives: South Korea

Asian adventures

Whew. The past year has been a whirlwind of travel craziness, even moreso if you stretch it a bit further and count summer 2014. I’ve headed from the US to Norway, to England, Poland, and the Czech Republic, and back to Norway before flying back to the US, whereupon I took a detour to Puerto Rico over the winter, returned to Miami for spring break, and went to New York for the first time. Then, after moving three times since returning from Europe to the US and finishing my Bachelor’s in Computer Science in spring 2015 – along with meeting a whole lot of fun and interesting new people along the way – I sold or gave away most of my possessions, said “Bye” to the country I’ve lived in for ~22 years, and purchased a one-way ticket to Norway, but not before popping over to Colombia to see South America at least once before leaving the western hemisphere.

After spending only a week in Norway, I hopped over to the Netherlands where I had an absolute blast with old and new friends for about a month before going for my first time to Belgium. From Belgium, I bought a ticket to South Korea and commenced my teaching job here, learning a lot of Korean and about the country’s culture from one of its very own, small cities.

And now, in approximately one-and-a-half months, I’ll be on the move again. Where to this time? Well, first I will go around Korea to the places I haven’t seen yet but want to before I leave, such as Jeju Island, Daejeon, more of Seoul, the Demilitarized Zone (between North and South Korea), Gangwon province, Daegu, and more of Busan. After that, I will close out my apartment here in Gochang, say “See ya later!” to the friends I’ve made here, and head to…

Japan!

And I can say I’m quite excited! The destination is not so much of a surprise if you’re somewhat familiar with Asia’s geography, but it will be the first time I’ve set foot in a place where so much of the media I’ve watched and played over the years originates from, and I have to say I’m pretty happy. Both to see Japan, and to leave Korea as Korea has been kind of a drag. More on that in another article, but to sum it up, the job and benefits are great, but the country, people, and largely the food do not suit me. But I’m satisfied: I’ve met plenty of great people here and learned a lot about myself. I’m just happy to be getting to the relative beauty and politeness of Japan, and see some friends that I’ve had there for awhile.

The rest of my plans thus far are pretty tentative, but the current plan goes somewhat like this: I’ll spend three or so months in Japan, going to at least Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo (if not more), then head to Taiwan, Hong Kong, maybe Vietnam (if I bother to get a visa for it, which is a somewhat annoying requirement), maybe Laos or Cambodia, but then definitely Thailand and down to Singapore.

After that, the current plan is to head back to the place where I’ve decided I want to get a residence permit and branch off from there in the future. I’ll espouse more on which country that is in another article! For now, I wonder: can you guess?

Tips for sanely teaching English in Korea

Having moved to Korea several months ago for my job, I’ve made some observations about teaching English in Korea that I feel worth sharing. I teach 3rd through 6th grade at five different elementary schools in Gochang, a small city inside of Jeollabuk-do, and after having a few months of teaching under my belt, I feel I’m in a good spot where I can offer some advice for starting teachers to get their semester off on the right foot. Let’s start off with some tips to keep in mind for planning your lessons with these crazy kids.

Your Lessons

  • English should be fun: Don’t add to everyone’s stress levels by making learning English a daunting task; realize that many students will feel discouraged or uninterested in English through no fault of your own, and simply focus on making lessons fun by incorporating games, songs, or activities where everyone gets to participate and feel like they learned something. Extra points if you can make it engaging by choosing songs the kids are already fond of, or making team competition games a frequent part of your lessons (and who knows, maybe throw a League of Legends reference in there now and then).
  • Use the free and often underutilized textbook materials: Don’t forget about using the activities and flashcards in the back of the textbook if they fit your lesson, even if they’re about a different topic from the one you’re teaching that day. Even if they’re not intensely relevant, you can always use them for review. I found plenty of flashcards, images, and activities there and they were incredibly applicable to my lessons.
  • Be willing to improvise: Because it will probably happen a lot. The coteacher steps out when you need classroom management the most, the projector stops working, or the kids are at way too low a level for your planned lesson. Being willing and able to modify your lesson on a moment’s notice if the need should arise is at the top of the list of useful skills for this job.
  • Learn about your students: You may be the only one who asks these incredibly pressured students about their daily schedule, or sympathizes with them for being so busy (as Korean children and teenagers tend to be). If you combine this with calling them by name, they could very well learn to really respect you. Calling a student by name can also help with classroom management.
  • Don’t take challenging students’ behavior personally: If a student is being challenging (note: not “meddlesome” or “bad”, as these words can often make you feel negatively toward the student), don’t take it personally. They would try to act out with anyone so long as they thought they could get away with it. Korean students are pushed very hard in all aspects of their lives, and are often pressured to pretend things like free time or the opposite sex don’t exist in favor of studying harder. Teachers and adults here regularly forget (or choose to ignore) that they’re growing kids just like we all once were, so these stressed students may try to act out whenever they think they can.

Continue reading Tips for sanely teaching English in Korea

My Korean resources

Here’s the Korean equivalent for my Swedish resources and my Norwegian resources, in order from most to least used and helpful:

  • Memrise: Used all the time during any stage of learning Korean, or any other language, for that matter. Using Memrise is like using flashcards, but a lot more beneficial since it utilizes not just repetition, but spaced repetition. That means it checks how long ago you learned a word and reminds you to revisit the word at a time when you’re most likely to be about to forget it. It often has (user-created!) mnemonic devices to help aid the recall process even further. I wholeheartedly recommend Memrise to anyone who’s learning any language. You can even create your own deck to help other users practice! In fact, here’s the deck my friend made to coincide with what you learn from Korean Made Simple, which I’ll talk about in a few bullets.
  • Dongsa: The Android and iOS versions are the equivalent of its website. It’s an incredibly useful site like Verbix (though Verbix has the Romanizations on the main page if that’s important to you, and also has far more languages available), and can be used on the go to type in an unfamiliar infinitive verb and have it conjugated for you, even if it’s irregular! One thing that Dongsa does have over Verbix is that, since it focuses solely on Korean, when you click on a conjugation, it tells you why the verb is conjugated that way! The value of this can’t be underestimated, of course.
  • Talk to Me in Korean podcast: Used from the very beginning. They have beginner and intermediate lessons, and their content is quite good! Their podcast is very helpful but also sometimes 10-20 minutes long, much of which is very fluffed up with lots of English conversation between the teachers. Now, though it is extremely helpful, I must say that, depending on how familiar you are with learning languages, it’s sometimes much faster to download their lesson .pdfs and learn them on your own, or maybe just fast-forward through the podcast past the fluff. Besides this, though, I definitely recommend the TTMIK community, as they’re a lovely and helpful bunch of people and will answer any Korean language or cultural questions you have!
  • Korean Made Simple: Great resource to teach incredibly useful vocabulary and grammar construction. This can be used from the beginning, and was made by a guy who learned Korean himself, so is quite familiar with the process of learning Korean.
  • LingQ: Used to start learning words, though given the occasional irregularities in Korean spacing of words, it can sometimes be less useful than for other languages. However, this can be used from the very beginning! LingQ is a fantastic site that allows you to hover your cursor over words in their different language lessons and stories and see the meaning. When you feel comfortable with a word, you mark it as known and move on. This is also the tool that gives me those nifty, auto-updated language badges on the right sidebar.

Continue reading My Korean resources

Stereotypes of countries around the world

Keep in mind these are tidbits and/or very generalizing and playful stereotypes I’ve come up with by going to these countries and meeting people from them.

Americans:
– Blunt as a knife.
– Describe distances in driving time.
– Describe time in numbers (5:50 is most times “five fifty”, not “ten to six” or “five after quarter to six”).
– Devout (comparatively to other [especially European] countries).
– Friendly.
– Loud.
– Main exports are obesity and friendliness.
– Mediocre drivers due to medium-priced driver’s tests and licenses.
– Notable music genres include rock and jazz.
– Out of shape.
– Patriotic.
– Slogan: Add sugar to everything!
– Tip most everyone.
– Use big adjectives generously (“Wow!” “That’s great!” “That sounds awesome!”).
– Use the imperial measuring system, often leading to confusion with the metric system.

The British:
– Clever.
– Crazy about gardens, just like the Dutch.
– Cynical.
– Pessimistic.
– Sarcastic.
– Sardonic.
– Tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

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Pros and cons of different countries I’ve been to so far

I’ve found a lot of differences between England, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the US in my travels, and I’d like to espouse on those here. Every place has its advantages and disadvantages, some more obvious than the others:

England

England walk

Default grocery stores: Sainsbury’s, Tesco.
Payment:
Visa, MasterCard, and other major debit and credit cards; cash.

Pros

  • Good food selection: There’s a huge selection of food here, much like in the US, and especially when you go to Sainsbury’s.
  • Fair number of places to find cheap things: England has a lot of different shops, but even though they can be quite expensive, you can usually find another shop with a cheaper version of exactly what you were looking for.

Continue reading Pros and cons of different countries I’ve been to so far