One Week of Teaching Done! (or Whirlwind part 2)

I can’t believe it’s been a week since I wrote part one. In my mind, it still feels like I just got here. I’m both used to and still adjusting to aspects of my life in Gimhae.

My Day

Today I taught four classes, all back-to-back this morning. I woke up a little earlier to try and avoid overlapping with my host sister’s morning schedule; after she started school this week, she’s always taking a shower right when I wake up and really need the bathroom. (I just really needed to go, okay?) On a side note, bathroom jokes are a lot more common in Korea, so they could start slipping into my own writing. Sorry?

Before classes I did some prep work, which included downloading my materials from Google drive, because my school laptop has a virus. It works fine until I need to transfer anything to another computer. I now have three USBs that are infected. :( But someone is coming in on Friday to fix it. This is also seems to be a daily thing, but once again I learned something new about my schedule. It looks like I’ll be staying at school for dinner on Tuesdays.

Mornings aren’t as hectic as they might sound though; my favorite part is having coffee with Ms. Jung, the head of the English department. Since she and I are often the only ones in our office when I arrive, she’s been bringing me good coffee from the main office (drip coffee, not instant!). Instant coffee is super common in Korea, and honestly not bad at all (though most mixes have a lot of sugar).

I’ve really loved getting to know my fellow teachers, and it’s been well worth it. This might sound calculating, but at orientation, we were explicitly taught to work on building relationships, or in Korean, 정 (jung). 정is a central part of Korean culture, similar to rapport, but more important. From my experience, if you don’t have good rapport with people in America, things might be a little awkward or uncomfortable, but it doesn’t matter that much. But in Korea, from my understanding, it’s much more important to build good relationships or정with the people around you. Our orientation leaders stressed the need to build 정 with our coteachers, school administration and host family, so I think many of us went into our placements super conscious of 정-building opportunities. But with the English teachers in my school, it’s come naturally so far. Yesterday morning, Ms. Jung told me that she thinks most of the English teachers at our school are introverted so they might not show it, but they all have good feelings toward me. She added that although she’s quiet, she really cares a lot about me. Aww, Ms Jung! (Building 정 with Ms. 정!)

Here is a typical school lunch. It might not look that different from Jungwon food, but our school has a reputation for having the best food!

Here is a typical school lunch. It might not look that different from Jungwon food, but our school has a reputation for having the best food! This meal was a spicy beef soup, pork cutlet, eggplant, cabbage with a bean paste sauce, radish kimchi, and frozen persimmon for dessert.

After my classes and lunch today, I tried to use my time wisely (since the day before I did not). However it’s common for teachers in Korea to nap in the office during the school day, and it’s not frowned upon. My Fulbright coteacher (main contact for Fulbright) encouraged me to do so last Friday – which is my busiest day – because it’s good for my health. Why aren’t all workplaces like this? The most common practice in my office is to turn your chair away from the door and other teachers, lean back and sleep. Unfortunately I’m in the middle of the room, facing all the other teachers’ desks, so all my teachers have seen me sleep. A small price to pay.

Here is the office. There are five desks including mine.

Here is the office. There are five desks including mine.

Today there was another schedule surprise after school (I found out about it this morning). Once a month, all the teachers in the school get together and exercise/play games together (*cough cough* reluctantly *cough cough*). After 7th period, we gathered in the gym, where there were lots of snacks, pizza and chicken, but I was interrupted mid-pizza slice by the gym teacher, who forced me to participate.

Although she’s really tough and almost intimidating, another teacher told me that the students’ nickname for her is Mom (엄머). The students really love her.

During our teacher get-together, the women played dodgeball – with rule variations that I never fully understood – and the men played volleyball. It was awkward, but in the end I got a prize for being the MVP. (I wasn’t really though. Their expectations were low, and I’m new…so a prize!) I think everyone had a good laugh, even if it was at yourself, and Ms. Yi (one of my coteachers) and I enjoyed chicken together.

Before I ramble on too much, here are the basics…

Homestay Family

I first met my homestay family around 7pm last Tuesday. Yesterday at dinner, we couldn’t believe it’s already been a week. Mr. Hong and I arrived at the apartment complex and were greeted by my host mom and my two host sisters. My Korean greetings were shaky, but my host mom was just surprised and excited that I could speak Korean at all. Mr. Hong had said that the family was waiting anxiously and excitedly for me to come. Immediately they made me feel very, very welcome. Mr. Hong stayed for a little bit to meet the family and translate, and then it was Konglish and translation apps for us! But I’m actually surprised at how well we can communicate. Gestures and body language included.

My homestay family has four members: my host father, a businessman who works for Olleh (a cell phone and internet provider); my host mother, who is a stay-at-home mom; and two host sisters in their first and third years of middle school.

The only photos I have of them are from the first night. With my eyes closed :(

The only photos I have of them are from the first night. With my eyes closed :(

While we were trying to figure out what to call each other, I asked “어머니?” or “mother” in Korean, and my host mom laughed at me. I guess it sounded awkward to have a 20-something call her “mom.” So I call her 이모(aunt) and my host dad 삼촌(uncle). My host sisters call me 언니(older sister), but there’s no special name for younger siblings, so I just use their names.


My host mom and I. She might be upset that I put this photo up…

The first night, my host dad came home a little after I did, and we went out to eat 갈비, in this case, a type of Korean BBQ. I wasn’t very hungry to begin with, but we also had a noodle soup and afterwards, 팥빙수(patbingsu)/shaved ice with red bean (see my earlier food post). All delicious.

This entire time, they’ve been incredibly sweet and generous. My host mom is super outgoing and willing to try communicating with me. Her energy seems contagious, and the rest of the family follows suit. There are a couple things I’m a little uncomfortable with, but maybe not what you’d expect.

First, the Fulbright contract requires homestay families to provide ETAs with their own room. So while I’m here this year, I’m taking my older host sister’s room. She shares with her younger sister and sleeps on the floor. In Korea, sleeping on the floor isn’t uncommon…but I feel bad. If she’s resentful at all, it doesn’t show.

Second, my host mom does SO MUCH work for me. She does all of housework alone, and I’ve only been able to help with dishes once (when she was out of house). It’s a very different dynamic than I want to have in my own house someday, but she’s always cheerful about it. Although we’ve talked about how hard it is on women to have to do all the cooking while the men and children play (specifically referring to holidays), she’s also told me multiple times something like, “this is how Korean women live. It’s good, isn’t it?” This is usually referring to times when she goes out to meet friends, which seems often. I guess she’s made me think a lot more about traditional gender roles, going beyond simply, I don’t like them. (Quick, someone send me feminist literature before I stray too far!)


Crab that we ate for breakfast! There are no differences between breakfast and other meals in Korea.

But that was a tangent. What I’m most uncomfortable with and need to change is that my host mom drives me to school and picks me up every day. Gah. I would sit back and appreciate it, but she doesn’t even drive her own kids to school. (One sister only has to walk one block. The other takes the bus.) That’s not okay with me. It’s inconvenient for her and isn’t the best for me either; I still don’t know exactly how to get to school on my own. From our apartment to my school is supposed to be around 20 minutes walking; there’s a bus too, although it might take just as long, since it doesn’t take a direct route.

Weekend mission: Figure out how to get to school on my own.

Oh! I also got a haircut for free this weekend! My host mom and sister took me to the place they usually go to, and after she finished, the lady decided it was free. Even my host mom doesn’t know exactly why. See the power of 정?


Next topic…


First…I love my coteachers. They have been so, SO kind to me, and although my school keeps piling on the work, there are continuously moments that make me laugh or smile.

My schedule…is still a little in flux. And sometimes it feels like my head is spinning, but eventually I’ll get the hang of it.

The general school schedule. On regular days I leave after 7th period.

The general school schedule. On regular days I leave after 7th period.

I teach 16 regular classes a week, 50 minutes each, with between 25(?) to 42 students apiece.There are three different types of classes: first grade “creative experience” classes, second grade “creative experience” classes, and second grade textbook classes. (A quick reminder: In Korea, 1st grade in high school = 10th grade; 2nd grade = 11th grade.)

Most of my classes are in the room below:



The “creative” classes simply mean that I need to create my own original lesson plans for those students. I have 6 “creative” classes total. The other 10 are all second grade classes in which I have to teach from the textbook. Today was my first time teaching from a textbook. It was pretty dry. I also did my first original lesson (not including Camp Fulbright at orientation). It was a little easy for these students, but I held their interest and was able to adapt. And I have the wonderful Ms. Yi as coteacher in that class.

In all of these classes, I have a coteacher – four different teachers for different types of classes. However I also teach a weekly extracurricular class Monday evenings on my own, without any restrictions (or guidelines). For part of the lunch period (which is 90 minutes long) I’ll hold an “English Cafe” starting next week. Today I also found out that I have a club class that also meets Tuesdays at dinnertime and once a month Wednesday afternoon. There may or may not be an English class I have to hold for teachers. And lastly, a couple times during the semester I’ll also have a 4-hour Saturday class for advanced students. This seems like a rotating responsibility for teachers. In the end I think it comes out to 23-25 teaching hours a week, although I stay at school 8 hours a day.

Head is still spinning.


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