Monday, 10 November 2014

EPIK Orientation

Timeframe context: Late September.
So this is a story all about how our lives got flip-turned upside-down, because we had about 3 days notice that the orientation week we'd been told we wouldn't have to attend was now happening and mandatory.

I'll be honest, we were pretty stressed, and annoyed. A week or two advanced notice would have been nice. I had my Open Class that week, and Nick was meant to be helping out with his school's sports day, so we were both pretty bummed (and I was scared I'd have to replan my class that I'd been working on for months now.)

Not to mention sharing a dorm when we have our own comfy apartment 45 mins away.
Not to mention orientation is meant to be for newbies. We'd been in Korea for 5 months, we didn't need to learn what a Korean school is like, and how to say "annyeong haseyo".

Not to mention we weren't in the mood to end up as glorified mentors to all the other inevitable newbies that would want to know everything about anything.

Bitterness and sulking aside, we went along, signed in, and...ended up having quite a bit of fun by going to lunch with Nick's roommate and one of their next-door neigbours. We found out they'd been here a while too (first clue).

Photo of some great people. And me. ;p
It turned out that, actually, a lot of the people there had been here at least a month (which made sense, considering the new intake had arrived at least a month or so prior) and the lectures we went to were at the very least vaguely aware of this and adjusted their talks to accommodate for us. Mood lifting.

Dongdaemun at night!
The first night we ended up with a few hours spare in the evening so we went for a walk with some actual newbies, who were very fun to talk to and I hope we managed to get them realistically excited for the coming year, haha.

We sat and talked for quite a few hours before heading back and preparing for the next day.
Did I mention I lucked out with my roommate? Yessss.
Did I mention the showers were very...Korean? Noooooo.

We were in a government dorm building, which was a bit old and...not mosquito-proof, but hey free accomms. The only problem really is that I forgot to pack a towel and Korean towels are...hand-sized. Not great for making a dash to the bathroom. So I would end up getting undressed IN the shower and hanging them strategically.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were provided, and enormous.
We won't talk about certain undesirable people and events, but I will take the time to say it WAS embarrassing, and as native teachers we should not only act with the dignity and composure of a teacher (one deserving of respect), but also that of an ambassador. Your behaviour is what the people you meet will think of people from your country. If they meet one foreigner and they're rude and inconsiderate of local culture and manners, it's easy for them to generalise. Don't give them a reason to hate the foreigners by acting childishly.

Sure, you don't have to love everything, and you can even hate some things, but don't take it out on the people around you and...idk. Don't be a douche.

I say this because I think it was the only idealistic bubble I had after arriving here ("Wow, everyone is so nice and pleased to be here!") and it shattered a bit after this week. I was kind of hoping the stories I'd read online were few and far between, and more of a myth than a reality. I know not a lot of people read my blog but I hope maybe any newbies that (for some reason) might see this will keep that in mind. I guess it's a good thing to keep in mind as a tourist, too. The language barrier may be in place, but a smile and an open mind go a long way.

On a lighter note, we went to Sweetruck an awful lot and I'm okay with that.

A lot of the people we met, although they'd been in Korea a while, were from the further away cities and provinces, so they didn't really know much about Seoul. We didn't have much time in the evenings to chill out and explore due to the curfew and the fact that this was more of a two week course condensed into one, but we were right at the base of Namsan so we took a group up the steep, steep hills to see the Seoul skyline at night. It was pretty fun, even if I did scare everyone into thinking I'd been stolen (I got distracted and led astray by some kittens).

I really liked that we had a lot of fun planned activities as well as just lectures, although the lectures were fantastic and definitely held my attention far better than a lot of the ones I experienced at uni (sorry not sorry).

Storytelling class. "As biiiig as a whale."
Probably the most memorable was the hour or so of taekwondo we had to do...right after breakfast.
Now, I was worried I'd have an unfair advantage, having taken taekwondo classes for a few years when I was younger, but it turns out we play a far softer game back in the UK. While simple and achievable, it really was a case of "go hard or go home" and I'd hazard a guess that most, if not all, of us were sore for at least a couple of days after.
The best part about this was that we actually got to do some breaking, something I was always told was reserved for the red and black belts when I was studying. Seeing as I only ever got to green belt, I didn't get to try, so when we were told we'd all be doing it by the end of the lesson, I was a bit freaked out.

But hey, look! I did it!
We had to write our dreams on our board, then smash it with our hand. I'm sure there's a metaphor in there that got lost in translation, because I feel like we don't want to break our dreams. I guess we want to smash our goals? Oh well, it was cute.

Also, don't learn your Korean counting and orders from English instructors ;) Way to botch the pronunciations, 샘~

We also had to do a demo class in groups of 3, which was a bit weird, considering teaching in a group of 2 is odd enough. We ended up making a video for the motivation section which involved lots of silly things like recreating Gangnam Style.

I was really nervous and quite sure I'd get a bad grade but our feedback was pretty much the opposite. We had barely any negative points, from someone who had been teaching here for about a decade, and I was just really blown away. Go team!

We had classes in Korean culture and language (very useful, now I know how my students feel when they have to speak in class) and were taken to the theater one evening to see Miso. There wasn't much talking, and what little there was was helpfully translated on screens either side of the stage.

Most of it was just dancing and music and theatrics to a soundtrack of traditional Korean instruments and singing, to tell a story. I'm not sure if it's a well-known traditional story or a modern story in an old setting, but it was great and very well-choreographed for the message to come across without much speaking.

There's a better synopsis at the Korea Tourism Board website here if you're more interested. It's so pretty, and hilarious, the clothes are gorgeous and the music even more so. The only thing I'm sad about it that I (understandably) couldn't take photos.

Nick was Class Leader, as usual, so during our farewell ceremony he got to go up on the stage and give a speech and got a fancy certificate and all sorts, oo-er.

Anyway, it was very useful, informative (we're not part of EPIK! Who'd've thunk it.), and fun. We met some great people, and really I just wish we'd had our orientation at the usual point of our teaching careers.

And finally: Here's some fried chicken we bought and ended up having to rush because of curfew.

We ordered one of these drinks each, not realising just how big they'd be. Oops.
The waitress welcomed us and took our order in English to save us from our awful Korean, then turned to Cherie and just babbled away in Korean. She's not Korean. She's just mastered the art of smile and nod.
These are our "oh god we have to eat all of this and run back to dorms within about 30 minutes" faces.

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