Thursday, November 25, 2010

House Cleaning/CELTA, Week 2: Electric Boogaloo

Tidied up the links bar, over there on the right. Teachers, if you have any blogs or resources you think I should link to, drop a comment.

Second week of CELTA went by just as blazingly fast as the first—so fast, in fact, that I didn't sit down to write about it until Wednesday of the third week! The upshot is that there's not much more I need to expound upon as it's all the same, only more of it.

The one notable thing is that I have new students now; you switch from an Intermediate class to an Elementary class about halfway through, so you can get practice at both levels. While my new students are total sweethearts and generally quite nice, I do miss my chatty, funny, Intermediate class.

The last day of week two (which was actually their first day with their new teachers), they bought us soda and cake and we had a little snack party after the day was over. IT'S SO SWEET THAT I CAN BARELY STAND IT AHH. ;-;

Bonus game: play "find the teacher" with that photo. There are three!

Afterwards was "conversation club," which is more like "go to the bar down the street and relax with a few glasses of Imperial."

A few cocktails in, and a few of us (two other teachers and one student) decided to go to "Monster Pizza."

And if it seems like all I'm doing here is basking in the sun and drinking, it's because that's the only thing I'm doing that's actually interesting to write about. Going on about language analysis and all the self-evaluations and essays I'm writing and the classes I'm taking isn't exactly riveting material. Suffice it to say, it's not all peaches and cream. It's actually mostly the mushy vegetables you have to eat before you can have your dessert.

Fortunately, this Friday we have a brief respite from all of this; afternoon classes are canceled and so myself and two other teachers are going to Arenal Park, home to an active volcano, hot springs, horseback riding, and the cherry on top: The Venado Caves.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

All We Are Saying...

Facebook is probably my number one source for news, not going to lie. I woke up to find no less than a bajillion links to this story: North Korea takes aim at South Korea with hour-long shelling.

When I was getting ready to leave for South Korea, one of the topics people brought up the most was their wacky neighbor to the north. "Are you going to North or South Korea?" "Isn't it dangerous?" (Runner-up: "Don't they eat dog there?") After all, in the US we're under a constant barrage of "oh, that wacky Kim Jeong-il!" updates. Far more so than in South Korea, actually—when they launched that torpedo/failed nuclear device/failed satellite or whatever last year, I actually found out from an American. South Koreans, we reason, should live under more or less a constant cloud of fear, given their location next to one of the so-called Axis of Evil countries.

And yet, they don't. Stories that made the front page back home, or headlined the international section of the paper, barely got a second glance in SK. Why? One argument that a lot of my fellow teachers put out was simply head-in-the-sand thinking, that South Koreans simply refused (for whatever reason) to acknowledge how dangerous their nothern counterpart was.

Personally, I didn't buy that, and I still don't. Jong-min, currently doing his compulsory patriotic duty, assured me that on a scale of 1 - 10, with 1 being flatly impossible and 10 being altogether certain, that high brass in the ROK army rates an invasion by North Korea as "a 2 or 3." (This even after the infmaous Cheonan sinking.) I don't think armies typically have their heads in the sand. I think after fifty-odd years of unease, tension, and sabre-rattling, you just adjust to a new normal. You have to, in order to survive. Extended periods of stress are just unmanageable in terms of psychological well-being.

Even with this, most reports aren't linking this new shelling to a potential full-scale assault. The BBC (referenced earlier) suggests that it's an attempt at power consolidation, as an ailing Kim Jeong-Il prepares to hand things over to Kim Jeong-un. In addition to power consolidation, The Daily NK theorizes that the attack could be an attempt at forcing dialogue with the United States. An anonymous claim within the article even suggests that the dialogue attempt isn't with the US but with the ROK—striving for "an appeasement policy by raising inter-Korean and military conflict." You know how when you were little, you got your way by repeatedly annoying your older sibling/cousin/friend/whatever? Now imagine instead of poking them or repeating everything they say, you have military shells. Of course, I'm always skeptical of claims that come from anonymous sources. Nonetheless, at the moment I'll entertain it for seeming reasonable.

Does this change my decision to go back to Korea? No. I tend to agree with the ROK army's stance on "a 2 or 3." I think Kim Jeong-il is perfectly aware of the fact that anything approaching a full-scale assault would end with his ass being handed to him on a platter. He may have one of the largest standing armies in the world, but as Napoleon taught us, "an army marches on its stomach." The food situation in North Korea is, and has been, so dire that the average North Korean is now 6 inches shorter than their democratic counterpart. Likewise, the DPRK's strongest ally has been tepid at best in their support of the Kim dynasty as of late—it seems they don't want a repeat performance of their involvement in the Korean war.

Not to mention all of these incidents are taking place relatively far north of where I would be in Korea, along disputed borders and waters. Here is a map:

(Admittedly the action is slowly creeping southwards! Maybe I should be worried. :O )

(An armchair international studies student is me!)

Unfortunately, though these skirmishes are minor when compared with the Beowulf clusterfuck that is full-scale war, they still take their toll. Two South Korean Marines are dead as a result of this latest incident; three civilians and fourteen more Marines are injured, though how badly the BBC doesn't say. This is in addition to the forty-six sailors killed in the sinking of the Cheonan last March, and however many North Koreans suffered through the ROK's returned fire. My thoughts and well-wishes are with all of them, South and North, especially as we approach the winter holidays—Christmas as well as Lunar New Year. I don't see how a reconciliation would be possible any time soon, but at the least we can hope that Kim Jeong-il/Kim Jeong-un will move away from a strategy that punishes people who have nothing to do with political policy.

And since the title of this entry is a not-so-subtle nod to John Lennon, I leave you with this spectacular rendition of another Lennon classic:

(The sound quality is awful, but Pavarotti is still Pavarotti.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The KSATs are coming!

And in honor of probably the most important day of the year, here is a manhwa (comic), in English, about the Korean hagwon/education mentality:

The Successful Life, by "bpbp0709". Here's a teaser:

The Successful Life

(NB That "nowgah" is just "hagwon" spelled backwards.)

There's a whole extended scene where the protagonist is actually in the hagwon that's probably my favorite part of the whole thing. Imagine "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" playing in the background:

The Successful Life

We don't need no education...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Week 1: Round-Up

This first week has been a blitz of assessed teaching (nerve-wracking) and semi-intense pedagogical instruction (classroom management, learning styles, "CCQs", etc). Each assessed teaching segment is followed by a written self-evaluation and a group evaluation by your other teacher-trainees as well as the tutor. In addition to the written self-evaluation I have to do for Monday, I also have a "language awareness" (read as: grammar blitz) task and a general sort of "week in review" self-evaluation to get ready as well. Oh man, I missed homework!

But I took a well-deserved break today and had my first San Jose walkabout with Jaime, another CELTee. I arrived in San Jose the day before the course started, so I didn't have any time to nose around the area and get acquainted with it.

My digs! Not pictured is my own private bathroom to the left of the nightstand, and my little tiny desk. It's a small room, but the price is right and I have an amazing living room and balcony for when I want to do my work. (I am a introverted anti-social weirdo, though, so I do spend a lot of time working in here.)

My walk to school every day.

Mostly, Jaime and I spent today shopping in the downtown area, combing the little tourist-y stalls as well as the nicer shops.

This little guy was just hanging out behind his grandma's stall (I ended up buying too expensive pants from her, but they are awesome pants that need a photo unto themselves), being adorable.

Of course after a long day shopping, we deserved some dessert.


Next Saturday I have to observe a class, so weekend meanderings will again be limited to San Jose. Hopefully, I'll be able to get out and about the area a little bit more after that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CELTA, ce-riously.

Day 2 of CELTA involves the first (of many) assessed lessons. My lesson segment yesterday went well enough; today felt overwhelming and scattered, mostly because I am rubbish at dealing with handouts and papers and keeping things consistently organized.

I immediately flashed on teacher training at Sherlock and being observed and generally wanting to vomit. Some things never change! You'd think years of piano recitals and school concerts and tour guiding would have cured me of performance anxiety, but no.

Bonus points for the power going out midway through the day and not coming back on until half an hour before the lesson.

"Oh, there it goes," our tutor said nonchalantly. "If it's not on in time for the lesson, we'll just skip the break and go straight through so we finish before it gets too dark."

As if this stuff happened all the time. Which, apparently, it does. Pura vida!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I have arrived safely in Costa Rica! Pictures of my digs and the surroundings forthcoming, as soon as I get a chance to do a San Jose walkabout (this weekend, if the rainy season doesn't have other plans).

The CELTA course is working out well so far (but doesn't everything work out well on the first day!). I think most of my buddies still in Korea and still reading this (right? right?) are TEFL-cert'd otherwise, but just in case I'll probably be writing/freaking out about it in here.

CELTA seems like a lot of work on the face of it (and it probably will be!), and I spent much of my flight over—when I wasn't sleeping—freaking out about the first day and having to teach a lesson on my first day. The tutors here (and presumably elsewhere, but I can only speak for Costa Rica) do a good job of easing you into the group and into the teaching: doing ice-breakers, giving you suggestions for class activities. By the time lunch was over, I was ready to start teaching. First, though, was a lesson in Bahasa Indonesia, wherein we all remembered how much it sucks to not understand the language you're being taught.

(Apparently that sample lesson is usually in Swedish, but yours truly and probably also the Dutch woman in the course would have had an unfair advantage.)

The practice courses are, from the volunteer students' perspective, two-hour long English blitzes with four different teachers. From our perspective, they are miniature twenty-minute lessons with the rest of the time devoted to observing and evaluating the other three teachers. Fortunately, the other people in my group are very nice (and multinational! A Dutch woman, an English gentleman, and another woman from Costa Rica), and everyone has less teaching experience than I do so I don't feel like a total bumbling fool.

The students are all adults (the "A" in CELTA stands for "Adults"; teaching children is "CELTYL," for "Young Learners"), some my age, some with children, some might even have grand children. They all speak much better English than any of my students in Korea, which was a pleasant surprise. (Not that I didn't enjoy teaching my students because of their low skill level. If I didn't like them, it was for other, unrelated reasons.)

All in all, this looks to be a solid experience so far. Bring on the workload. ;)