Monday, 26 April 2010

Korea - The first orientation

Hello everyone!

There's a famous expression that goes something like this: 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas'. A similar idea exists with certain excursions we make throughout our lives, and this one is no different. What happens at orientation, stays at orientation.

But that wouldn't make for a fun blog, would it? So away we go...(I didn't take any pictures, so you're stuck with other people's facebook pics and my creative Google Image searching)

I want to make clear at this point how I felt before going to orientation. I didn't want to. I've been here for almost five months. I don't need to know how to use Korean money. I don't need to know how to use the subway. I don't need to be told how to make a lesson plan. If I still needed to know these things at this point, I wouldn't be here. I would have been fired long ago. Or swallowed up in a mass of kimchi and funny-looking letters. I didn't need to be whisked away for three days to learn about stuff I already knew.

So why did I go? Well, for one I had to, as part of my contract with GEPIK. Also, three days off school?? I'll take that. Finally, I'd heard stories about what happens at orientation. Drinking. And not much else. So a chance to socialise, and be paid for doing so, was too good to pass up. So Wednesday morning, rather than teaching my first class, I was sitting on a wall outside Bucheon station with an Australian, Dan, and two Americans.

Our bus was supposed to arrive at around 8.40. So we waited. And waited. And waited... Eventually one of the guys called up GEPIK, and we were told that the bus had turned up - and subsequently left. Good start. After pondering if it was worth going (we said yes, as we had to register up there and couldn't go AWOL), we hopped into a taxi to a different subway station, and then got on a subway down to Osan station. That's MILES away from Siheung, by the way.

The bus for Osan people was still around when we got there, so we started chatting to other people and then hopped on. First thing I noticed was that I hadn't yet met another Brit - mostly Americans and Canadians. Secondly, and less surprisingly, it seemed as if everyone was older than me - but the age range was a lot bigger than I anticipated. Lots of middle-aged and upwards men and women. But anyway, we were soon on our way, and after a longer-than-expected bus ride, we were at Anseong to begin our orientation.

After checking-in, the first port of call was the auditorium for a welcoming lecture. Aah yes, not all fun and games at orientation. We had to attend a variety of lectures and group meetings. Was like being in uni all over again, except for this time I was turning up. The first one wasn't too bad (mainly because most of it was us watching traditional Korean dance) but the first afternoon lecture, about the Korean curriculum and school rules and such, was similar to some of the lectures I had to experience in Manchester - excruciatingly dull. We played noughts and crosses for a while, before doodling on our information packs. I unwittingly drew a face that, when modified with a short moustache, was the spitting image of a Mister Hitler. Whoops.

To be honest, the only scheduled activity I paid attention to on the first day was our group meeting, where we were further split into partners and told that we had to give a demo lesson, about 10 minutes in length, in the next group session the following day. Would we get into trouble if we messed up? Of course not. So did we put in much effort? Of course not. Don't get me wrong, it's probably great for people who have just moved to Korea. But I'm not a newbie anymore.

After dinner we had the option of doing some cultural activites. It was merely an option, so most of us didn't bother with it, instead opting to drink, socialise and swap stories. All whilst playing a large game of Ring of Fire, naturally. They told us that they didn't sell soju on site, so we stuck to clearing out their beer fridge. They told us at the start to be sensible, but what did they honestly expect 180 Western teachers to do with their night?

A few of us bumped into some Korean guys who were at the site for a different thing, and we talked and traded soju with them. They may not sell it, but we all knew that, and came prepared. They were all engineers of some sort, and on a course at the same site. Good fun. We persuaded them to buy 10 bottles of soju for us for the following night, then took all their numbers. We were going to hold them to that. Time I got to bed? Best not to ask.

There was only one lecture that I enjoyed, which was the first one on Thursday morning. A Canadian couple who live in Bucheon gave one with some lesson ideas, which was interesting but also quite fun. Especially compared to the next two. The highlight of our co-teaching lecture, taught by a Korean whose English wasn't great, was an activity where each group was given an 'IF' statement and had to make a poster with answers. Our group, consisting of a Welshman, two Canadians and a subdued American, was 'If I was President of the United States I would...' We decided to have some fun with this, and came up with three answers. The reaction to each comes after.
1) Make all school meals serve kimchi - loud cheers
2) Invade Canada (this was my choice) - louder cheers interspersed with boos
3) Bomb North Korea - stunned silence with a couple of nervous laughs
Needless to say, the third choice bombed. Ahem. I'll get my coat...

The other 'lecture' was a South African woman who, instead of giving us 'teaching tips' as the title suggested, just talked about her life. In excruciating detail. Ironically, her lesson plan in the info book had this tip: don't lecture too much. Hypocrite.

In the afternoon was our demo lesson, which me and my partner Marvin had planned during the borefest that was the morning. It went fine, I just did the Katy Perry routine. Others in the group were taken aback by my energy levels, at which point I shook the large coffee in their faces. All you need to teach, a solid lesson plan and a large cup of black magic.

After this we had to choose a Korean culture class. Compulsory this time. Our choices were another lecture (boring), mask making (gay), or learning sogo. Simple process of elimination left me with the latter. A sogo is a traditional Korean drum. This was pretty fun, actually. They taught us a traditional Korean drumming and dancing routine. It took us a while to get it, but ultimately we got it and performed it majestically.

We had dinner and then were shunted like cattle into the auditorium for 'recreation'. Compulsory recreation, not something that's ever likely to catch on in our culture. You can't force people to have fun. Sounded like it was imported from the North, that idea. We all had to sit in big circles, six in total. We hadn't even settled when a short Korean man, who I've since found out is called 'Sexy Paul', waltzed onto the stage. He was the attempt of an au pair, MC, whatever you might call him. I'll go for mentalist. One of a kind, this guy.

He starts by trying to enthuse his dormant audience. His struggle with English and the use of a microphone made his voice rather difficult for us to understand. But he wanted to play some warm-up games. 'Turn to the person on your right'. I do this, and am looking at the back of an older, bald Englishman. 'Massage their back'. Erm, what? 'Do this on back (insert massaging mime here)'. Fine. We do this for a bit, until he introduces the wildcard - the 'shock'. The 'shock' is, of course, the motion of jabbing your fingers in the sides of the other person. By the time we had got to the triple, the 'shock-shock-shock', my fellow Brit was not impressed. Is this a key facet of Korean culture? I don't know.

But then the kicker. We played another game, and the winner had to...well, they do say 'say what you see'...wiggle the other person's ears. Sorry Sexy Paul, bridge too far and all that. It was getting a little bit too intense, but luckily he then initiated a giant rock-paper-scissors game to steady the ship. After that there was a dancing contest, during which our team's nominated dancer, an American who looked and seemed for all the world like a geek, chicken-danced and spun his way around our circle. We couldn't actually keep straight faces, it was marvellous.

Once this rather bizarre hour was completed, we got back to doing what we do best - Ring of Fire. About twenty of us. I'm not going to explain the rules and such, but for those who know the game, doing the 'waterfall' with twenty people is tough. Especially as I was near the end. That's a lot of maekchu. My Canadian friend Kristen and I momentarily left this game to find our Korean soju providers from the night before. They had indeed brought soju - only two bottles, but better than none - so we got on that for a bit before resuming play.

I got back to my room at around 6am. Needless to say, my 100% attendance disappeared on the Friday. It was a meeting about contracts, so not really important. I did miss check-out, though. In a rush to get to the farewell lecture, I dropped my key on the desk in the lobby. At the end of the farewell ceremony there were a few loose ends for the GEPIK leaders to tie up, such as missing keys. My name was duly called out at this point, and everyone in the vicinity turned and grinned at me. That's not a good feeling. The key thing also flared up on the bus before leaving, at which point I, with a degree of hostility it must be said, answered her question enquiring if I had returned the key with a harsh 'yes'.

So, an analysis of orientation? It was great fun, I met some great people, I learnt absoutely nothing productive about teaching, and I drunk way too much considering I had a race that weekend. This will sound harsh, but of the 180 or so teachers there, the number I will see in the future can be counted on my two hands. If I had just arrived, that would be different. It proved to me that I have settled. I'm happy to make new friends, I love doing that, but with the distances involved between people, it's not going to be a regular thing. But we all had fun, and no one had to go to school, which is all that matters.

Love you all


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