Friday, March 9, 2012


Thank God It's Saturday.

My first week of classes went really well but I'm still happy for the weekend. My hours are from 2:30 to 8:45 Monday through Friday (though I get to leave an hour earlier on fridays!) and I teach anywhere from five to seven classes a day for 40 minutes each. Time thankfully goes by really quickly when teaching so the work days feel short.

The most challenging part is probably getting control of the kids -- some are better than others. This is a really wealthy area so some of the students can be a little spoiled. You'll see some of the kids running around in Armani or Ralph Lauren (brand name clothing here is probably 50% more than what it is in the states) while still acting how kids act. But there is a part of me that feels bad for how much they have to do.

Parents take their kids' education very seriously in Korea. It's estimated that they spend 20% of their salary just on their kid's education. The type of school (or Hogwan as it's called here) that I work at is an English institution where the students spend roughly an hour and a half at three days a week after their normal school day. Their day also most likely consists of piano/violin lessons, taekwondo, math tutoring, and speech class. So they wake up at 6 or 7am and don't get home until around 9pm. And then they still have to do homework.

Subsequently education is also very competitive and puts a lot of stress on the students. To make things worse the test to get into university occurs once a year and is taken very seriously. If a student is running late for the test, they can call the police who will come pick them up, divert traffic, and drop the kid off at the test. Airplanes are diverted around Seoul so the noise doesn't affect the test takers. This is viewed as being the test that these kids have been working towards their whole lives.

Most of the subway stations here have a protective casing between the train and the platform. It was marketed to be for safety for accidents but most people refer to them as the "suicide doors" because there is a spike in suicides right after the test and then another spike after the results are received. Someone was telling me a story of how someone was giving one-on-one tutoring for a young girl, maybe around 7 years old, in their classroom on the 8th floor. The guy looked out the window and saw a teenage girl sitting on the edge of a window in the building opposite to him, looking down and sobbing with a mass of papers in her hand. He covered the students's eyes so she wouldn't see the girl jump. Thankfully a friend of the girl's pulled her back into the building, as papers flew everywhere, so she didn't commit suicide, but the teacher asked his student why she thought the girl in the building wanted to kill herself.

She simply said "Oh I understand. She probably got a bad grade."

Education in the United States is certainly sub par and it's amazing how much the kids I teach really know about the world -- they're more intelligent than a lot of college students I've met -- but the intensity is unbelievable. There are some kids who do enjoy the business though and now a lot of schools got rid of having to go to class on Saturdays.

I'm just thankful I don't have to teach on Saturdays too.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Thursday was a national holiday so the co-workers invited me to show me around Seoul in a kind of tourist way. Bundang, where we live, is very new and Western so it's almost as if living in any American city. Very easy to get around and convenient amenities. They had decided to show me a palace within the city as well as some more traditional areas. The palace was from the very last royal family in Korea which was the Joseon Dynasty.
 This is the main palace area. You first walk into a huge courtyard and then make your way here.
 Every building was painted in very bright vivid colors. I'm assuming it was redone but I'm not quite sure when or why.
 The king's throne.
 I believe this was inside the queen's and princess' house. Nice living space.
 I really liked the roofs and how everything was decorated. I visited one other palace and it was pretty much identical. Someone told me that once you see one you've kind of seen them all. But they're all still unique in their own ways.
 This passage way door was tiny! I could walk through it just fine but the guys had to duck down quite a bit.
 We weren't quite sure what this building's purpose was but we figured it must have been important since we couldn't even go inside.
 A little pagoda and boat on the same water.
 I love this picture. This is what I imagined when I thought about going to South Korea.
 A shrine in the same complex. The area spanned quite a distance. Mainly consisted of the buildings and lots of garden areas.
 This building was turned into a history museum which we walked around.

The neighborhood around the palace is called Insadong which has been kept to look more traditional than other parts of Seoul. Lots of street vendors, pottery shops, calligraphy stores, lots and lots of cafes. It's a really cute place to walk around.
Starbucks are everywhere here (surprise surprise) but this one is the only one which is written out in the Korean letters so as to stay with the traditional theme.

After walking around we got some food at a Korean BBQ place back in Bundang and it was the cutest little restaurant ever. I wish I could have taken some pictures but I thought it might be a little rude. They have these round tables everywhere with holes to put hot coals inside of. They then place a grate over the coals so you can cook your meat on it. And they have vents coming down from the ceiling to the middle of the table to get rid of most of the smoke. It was so good. I would highly recommend going.

I also tried Soju for the first time which is a Korean rice or corn alcohol. It's about as strong as wine and doesn't have a whole lot of flavor, but it's dirt cheap so a lot of people drink it. I didn't have much though as I'm still on antibiotics.

The Apartment!

A few more things that I forgot to mention. It took me forever to figure out how to get the kitchen sink to work. But apparently here there's a bar under sinks that you kick to turn on and kick to turn off. Then you can turn the water on.

I also have a keyless entry.
And here's a better picture of the nighttime view I have.

Yay apartment! :)