Thursday, March 12, 2009

HUFS graduation

well, it's already been about a month since i started working at hankuk university. we're in the middle of our 5th week, and that means the term is about a quarter over. even though ive had a lot of training and teaching experience over the last couple of years, im not ashamed to admit that it's been a daily challenge for me working in this new environment. teaching at HUFS is a whole new ballgame...

first of all, the classes are bigger.
i teach 5 classes, each with 16 students. in the past, the classes ive taught have had no more than 8 students at a time, often fewer. a larger class forces you to stretch you presence a little farther, and sometimes i find myself feeling too spread out and overwhelmed. it's getting better, but that was one of my first difficulties.

secondly, the expectations (from the students and also from my boss and coworkers) are higher. this is no run-into-class-and-teach-out-of-the-book program. although most classes have a textbook, i have to be on top of my game the whole time, with explanations, alternate-activities, and extra practice at my fingertips. even so, it's easy to get caught off guard by a sly student's request or the anal one's need for yet another precise explanation (this especially can be really frustrating - koreans are brought up in an education system that has a 'perfect route'. everything is taught from the book. if a teacher tests them on anything that isn't explicitly stated in thier text, they throw a fit, as well as their parents. even in high school, students dont get chances to do much writing and certainly no presentation work. of course their are exceptions, but in general, memorization and facts win out over interpretation and fluency).

also, working at HUFS is a team effort. most of the students are part of a 20-week program consisting of 6 daily classes, each of which is taught by a different teacher. so coordination is a must (i've already once been caught, by my students of course, trying to do an activity that another teacher has already touched upon - ouch). so ive gotta make sure im not stepping on anyone's toes when i introduce an extra activity in class, and i bring supplementary material to class at least twice a day.
the other teachers have been a huge support regarding helping me adjust to the system. we all share one big office (which is pretty f$%&ing cramped sometimes), and most of the teachers live in the same floor of my apartment building. even so, liaisons outside of work are surprisingly rare. i was expecting (rather reluctantly) the living situation to be more dorm-like, but it's actually far from that. despite the nearly paper-thin walls, the whole floor is pretty silent. it turns out that all the guys have serious relationships with korean girls and a number of them are married. i hardly ever see them im the hallway even. of course there are times when it would be nice to be able to chill with each other, but for the most part, i heartily welcome the solitude - it was something i was hardly ever able to experience in my shit-hole in suwon.

back to my work... the students themselves are mostly university age, but each class has an ajossi or two (middle aged man) thrown in there to mix up things. they usually are sent to our program by their companies. some of them even live in the dorms, which i imagine feels like prison to them. actually, these guys really make or break the class, often enough. if the ajossi is a real hardball, partially because of the respect culture in korea, the rest of the class can feel the rod up his ass, but if mr. suitandtie is an easy-going what-the-hell kind of guy, the class totally jives. i have examples of both. it's kind of amazing actually how much these geezers changes class dynamics.

one of the biggest challenges right at the beginning of working here was the fact that i have two classes for which i had to make the textbook. this was a major undertaking for me, as i had no experience teaching these kind of classes before, little knowledge of the students' level, and no beforehand familiarity with the resources available to us teachers. i tried to organize materials during the week i had before class started, but eventually i gave that up due to a lack of information; i didnt want to be trapped later down the road by a book i had made from miss-anticipating the students' level and needs. so it was about two weeks into the term when i finally had a template completed. i didn't have to write everything out by hand, of course. but hunting through stacks and stacks of materials for the right stuff can be just as hard, and i often opted to write portions of it myself. anyway, they're done, and it's a huge load off.

so i teach about 25 hours a week. this is quite a bit less than the 35 i was doing in january at gukje in suwon. but i have to spend at least 10 hours or more planning and preparing, so the total work load is probably about the same. satisfaction, however, is priceless, and that is something i certainly have more of here. id say the worst part about the job right now is the schedule. each day is different, and the hours are spread out between 9:30am to 9:30pm. in the beginning, however, it was nice to have spread out teaching hours because it gave me enough time to prepare for each class.

mostly, it's just nice to live more comfortably.
i usually say that seeking comfort is not a way i want to live, but at least getting away from noisy, stinky streets is a relief. i have a two-room apartment on the 7th floor now. and a bed! not just a mattress! furniture is sparse, but it's not so bad. at least i have plenty of space to paint now.
now i wake up to a nice, sunny view of the campus below - not in the middle of the night to sounds of shouting youngsters walking by or people coming home late or someone vomiting on the street (yes, this happened more than once to me in suwon... right outside my window... i mean, what can i say? 'hey you! shuttup!' ...???...). when i walk outside, it is to students going to class and not to the garbage man pissing on my fence just feet away (he splashed on my leg once). nobody stamps out their cigarettes or spits in front of my door anymore either. peace at last...

a few weeks ago was the university's graduation ceremony. school years begin in march in korea (our program is separate from the school's schedule and we started in february). students get out of school in december, have a 2-month winter break, and then graduate. as it turned out, several of my friends were graduating this year, and as you may remember, many of the friends i met in hawaii came from HUFS. so it was a great opportunity to meet my buddies and support them as well. the only hiccup was the fact that i still had to teach that day, friday the 27th of Feb. as a result, i was running around all afternoon, trying to see everyone i knew and not miss a class. it was exciting, but also tiring as hell.

[a view of campus from my window. the crowds are already gathering for the graduation]

[a sea of black]

[there were many ajossi toting around little signs, offering to take portraits. i wondered how many pictures were taken that day... everywhere i turned...]

[me and my friend sojin - she came to portland a year or so ago, and met up with ginny and me when ginny came to visit this christmas; i wasn't able to see her graduation ceremony because different schools had different ceremonies, and they all happened simultaneously... sojin studied iranian language and culture - ps: that's how i normally dress for class in my attempt to look professorish]

sojin took me around campus a bit. we got her photo album of the class and visited her media club-mates, chatting about our new jobs. she recently started working at KEB bank - korean exchange bank. after hanging out with sojin for a couple hours, i headed over to the english department's graduation gathering. my friends miri, sieun, and summer were all graduating today too. miri was actually salutatorian and sieun valedictorian, and both of them were giving speeches! i had looked over miri's speech the night before to help iron out a few english wrinkles. i was also able to finally meet miri's parents who had come up from their home in pusan and of whom i had heard a lot about before. i sat with her family during the ceremony.

[miri, me, sieun, and her bf - he wasn't graduating, but we give him some flowers to hold anyway]

[the delightful snack of these graduates' generation - 뻔데기 ('bbeondegi') - literally means 'chrysalis' in korean; it's boiled silkworm pupae - not too appetizing to me, sort of a dirty, soily taste, but there were tons of stands set up everywhere featuring these little guys]

[speech time]

[at one point, i was talking to the dean who had noticed me as the only white person present and began asking me questions, when i heard my name shouted out and turned around to see summer standing behind me! for some reason, i had thought she had graduated already and hadn't expected to see her, but i was wrong and there she was! we hadn't met since being in hilo, so it was a nice, surprise reunion. summer and i were practical english teaching partners when we were in the TESOL program at UHH - this is miri, me, and summer on the right]

[the graduates file in - somewhere around this time a woman walked up to where i was sitting and asked me if i was this afternoon's speaker. lol. i said no, but afterwards imagined if i had played along and given a promp-to farewell speech to these random students]

[miri giving her salutatorian speech - the dude front-left is the dean who chatted with me]

right after her speech, i had to head back to class, so i missed sieun's speech and the rest of the graduation festivities. it ended up being a really afternoon for me. i had earlier prepared for my classes in anticipation of all the running around i would be doing in the afternoon, but i was still a little frazzled as i ran into the classroom at the bell. one of my bosses shadowed me inside saying quickly, 'im going to sit in today, okay?' although i normally didnt have much of a problem with this in the past, today was not a good day for it, and i sort of lost my nerve. it didn't help that i left my audio tapes downstairs in the office and that my main boss happened to be down there and in a bad mood. she snapped at me for being unprepared or something. classes after that were a lot better, but i was pooped by the end of the day.

No comments:

Post a Comment