04 July 2008


Ouch. I think that bad not-quite-even-a-pun might have actually damaged some part of my grey matter in its eagerness to fly out and express itself.

On my first morning in Seoul I woke up at 3am for entirely no reason. I hadn't slept for a long time (36 hours? more?) and had the time difference to adjust to. Maybe my body thought that these things could cancel each other out. I eventually gave up on trying to sleep at around 6am, and decided to go wandering around Gangnam. It was pretty nice, and didn't feel daunting as I had expected it would. There were quite a few people about, although not that much was open. I still managed to get a few necessities, including my bearings and a delicious breakfast from a street vendor that involved him deep frying it and me chili glazing it to my taste. Around 10 I checked out, met M and embarked on the gruelling one minute trip to the head office to begin training with L- a really nice Scottish guy who I got on with pretty well.

The training went fine, although one or two things (which weren't really training based) irked me. It's just a personal thing but I get easily annoyed when people, as L was doing, talk about "us" Brits, and our (apparently) shared experiences. It isn't a big deal but he was assuming things about me, all he knew was that I have a British passport and a nominally English accent and he had decided certain things and imputed them onto his image of me. I'm very glad that he didn't assume that I wanted to hear about churches in Seoul (although maybe this was because he didn't want to either, rather than out of courtesy for me) but he seemed to think that this was because I was a lapsed Christian. I'm white, blonde and English so people seem to make this assumption a fair bit, especially during that day I worked for a church charity (it turns out I will degrade myself if I need the money). I remember during my UCL interview for Ancient History & Social Anthropology the interviewers made some remark that presupposed that I was one of their flock (I think asking if I had been baptised or christened, or maybe it was crucified, I don't recall...some weird tradition at any rate), and when I told them that I was an atheist Jew they gave a rousing cry of "Oh God! Oh God! (double heh) I'm so sorry!". I wasn't offended by it (though perhaps the man upstairs was what with all this taking his name in vain), and it was quite amusing to watch them trip over themselves to apologise. Maybe after all it did contribute in some tiny way to me turning down their offer to take their prestigious fucking little course though. It's not as if I think of myself of a Jewtrodinaire, or even particularly Jewish. OK, Everything is Illuminated does make me weep buckets, I do have unreasonable amounts of love for Aaron Sorkin and Sarah Michelle Gellar and others of the chosen, I'm funny on occasion and I do feel a kinship with Jesus (of Nazareth, not the Mexican Boy), but still I'm not like a 'proper' Jew. I'm just even more definitely not a crappy Christian.

Other than that though it was all puppies and rainbows. It was nice to not have to stop and explain what I was saying every 3 seconds like I did with M, his excuse being that Brits have a completely different melody when speaking to the one Americans (or possibly just Californians) have. He couldn't have just blamed it on the accent, or the fact that I speak at 3000 miles a minute? However, a few hours after lunch when I was back in full training swing I inevitably felt the need to crash out. L was very sympathetic and since we'd been making great time he let me sleep in one of the chairs in the (very swish) boardroom for several hours (although I did actually scream when he very gently attempted to wake me up to sign something, it's a habit I really need to break). The team's attempt to find me a place to stay fell through, so I was sent off back to the hotel to dream as dreamers do, and to receive more free condoms.

Once again I figured that I'd sleep for hours, so when I woke up and the clock told me it was 8 I naturally assumed it was time to get up. I was half way to the shower before I realised it was 8pm and that I'd only slept for a couple of hours. I did manage to get back to sleep, but it was a fairly disjointed night- I didn't manage more than 2 or 3 hours asleep at once, with sizable gaps in between. Luckily I at least had other people's internet connections to abuse and my book to finish reading and sob over.

The idea of not having internet access was actually filling me with something akin to dread. I know that that sounds ridiculous, but it was basically my only way of communicating with friends, family and das boyfriender. I knew that my boyfriend and family would attempt to be rational if I wasn't in contact, but I also knew that they would be worrying about me. I (and they) had just assumed that I would have decent internet access in Seoul. Plus, I had a lot of stuff I wanted to download.

I woke up super early again of course, and managed to lug all my stuff over to HQ for the second, and in fact final, day of training. This time I managed to stay awake for the entire time! I finally visited a branch of the coffee chain that shares my name for a giggle, and found it surprisingly pleasant. I chilled out and read over my extended (almost 2 hour) lunch break. I love places where I really do feel comfortable just hanging out and reading, most coffee chains in London are too busy for that I feel.

When I got back I had to teach a mock lesson. I'd been told that my student would be someone from my 'proper' branch- Shinchon, where I will be teaching for a year, beginning at the end of July or start of August. I, for some reason, had assumed that they meant another teacher would be playing the part of the student, rather than what actually happened- which was that I got an actual student, a complete beginner no less with almost no English. I had to, like, actually teach her...alright, she hadn't paid for the privilege, but in pretty much all other respects it was like a lesson! It didn't go brilliantly but neither was it a disaster, and afterwards I was left to my own devices again. This time instead of catnapping I read a little of Stardust and poured my energies into tapping into a truly excellent wireless connection which got my downloads falling all over each other in their excitement to dance onto my desktop. I also received my battered but functional company phone, which at least potentially gave me another means of communicating with the outside world.

Later on I was picked up by my new manager H in his shiny, shiny car. He took me to Yeouido (which I kept mispronouncing terribly, rather ironic since this company's English teaching policy is based mainly on pronunciation which I incidentally think is pretty stupid, but will probably rant about later) where I shall be teaching temporarily until the 17th or 18th. He then dropped me off at my apartment in Yeoungdeoungpu, which is three stops away from Yeouido. I was shown around extremely hastily, it's a fairly nice, compact place. The shower is literally just a shower head over the basin, but since there's at least a bracket for it to rest on (something I lack at home) and a bathroom door that closes properly (and indeed locks, another thing my London home lacks) that's not a problem. I think it's actually quite cute. The previous occupant(s) had left a lot of stuff, including vodka and USB cables. Sadly there was no bin, cutlery, pots and pans or even a pillow- all of which would have been greatly appreciated. I was grumping so much about the lack of a decent unsecured wireless network to mooch off of that it took me a good long while to realise that there was actually an internet cable looking at me, that worked fine. I'm not sure if the building comes with internet or if the previous occupant had forked out for it, and I have no reason to really care. I set about unpacking and then realised that I was utterly and completely famished. A ridicuously buff dinner followed, I'm glad to relate.

My only cooking options are one hotplate which is kind of rubbish. Foraging for food isn't too bad though, since the food is generally great and cheap, as well as incredibly filling since it always comes with a billion and one side dishes. This often means that a meal takes a long time!

My first and second days of work went pretty well. I'm working insane hours (early morning and late evening, with the middle of the day off in between) and am clearly going to die from sleep deprivation since not only does this schedule not allow enough time for sleep, I wake up before my alarm anyway. The other staff are all really friendly and nice, and have been incredibly helpful. There's another grumpy Brit, R, who I get on with very well, and another girl, J, who only recently started and is a total bibliophile too. My Korean partner, A, is really great and so easy to get on with. My first couple of lessons were a little intimidating, but it was completely true that very quickly I was into the swing of it and couldn't imagine what I'd been worrying about. I'm already finding it really fun, and not really sticking to the proper format at all- because it's stupid. I find that it's pretty hard to stretch the material out for the full 25 minutes most of the time, and the company's method tells us to spend as much time as possible getting the students to mimic our pronunciation which I think is far less important for them to do then to engage with us and practice speaking until they are confident. Even if someone is pronouncing a word somewhat incorrectly they're likely to still be comprehensible, and at the end of the day they can always spell the word out if they must. I also think that asking someone to repeat a word over and over can be very detrimental to their confidence.

I got thrust into teaching the Business English course very quickly which I was dreading since I know nothing about business and wasn't trained on it, but it turned out to be fine. The only problem is that there isn't much content so it's pretty hard to stretch it out for 25 minutes, but you can always wing it. There's only one weird business text book that I haven't had to use yet, but I'm sure that day (or even hour) will come soon. I really, really want to get a chance to teach the Advanced English course, although I'm told that that course is taught very rarely. The content seems so interesting, the first lesson involves a table of what is and isn't acceptable small talk (number of children is deemed fine, whereas your favourite sexual position is apparently inappropriate). There's a week on gangs and gangsters which begins with a couple of white guys rehearsing a play where they threaten each other lamely and quickly moves on to definitions of slang, including "dawg". I kind of want to marry this course and have its babies. It even has the 'pretty hot and tempting' definition of phat! Then later on there's all manor of completely random topics, such as the construction of gender, which includes womyn and grrls in the list of words that need to be understood. Several of the exercises I'm sure would confound plenty of native English speakers. I can completely understand why it's so uncommonly taught- no one who can comprehend this needs to be taught English. It looks like the most fun ever!

It's weird, I feel like I've been doing this for a lot longer than I have. I can't believe I get to wear a lab coat! And that I get to spend a good part of my day emulating the characters of Teachers; hanging around in a staff room complaining about the coffee and mocking the students, our employers and anything else we can think of! I do really enjoy the job. I'm finding the actual living situation a bit annoying, partly because I'll be moving out so soon that there doesn't seem to be that much point to organising everything, and also because I feel that the company should have put more effort into making things smooth. For example, I had no idea what my address was, or even what my building's called, nor did I know what network my phone was so had no idea what to do if I need to put credit on my phone. I should have asked initially of course, but I didn't think of it. Luckily my colleagues have been really helpful with everything, but M's reply to my email with these queries was basically to ask people in my branch. I took great delight in pointing out to him that they only had my address in Korean and noone had a clue what my building is called, and that they would have no bloody idea about my phone since they had nothing to do with it. He replied with a grovelly, apologising email which made me feel much better about the world. Of course by that point someone had transliterated my address for me, I'd sent off my address in Korean to my parents so they could address the envelope with it and someone had worked out what my phone network was. But he didn't need to know that. I do enoy being a pissy bitch.

I still have no idea about rubbish collection here, and no idea how to use the washing machine (which is thankfully next to my room) since all the instructions are in Korean. I think I'll try and work it out tomorrow, and hopefully stumble across an English speaking angel who'll explain it for me. And make me dinner!


Alex said...

Hi there!

Great article! I'm a similarly misanthropic Brit and threw myself into the ESL deep-end in China a few years ago. I'm considering Seoul now - I remember that when I was looking at jobs there before I came across the company that you appear to be working for. All I remembered was that lab coats were involved, and when trying to find out the name of the company, doing a google search yielded your blog! Please tell me the name of this company that you work for! I will be eternally grateful!



Miss Anne Throp'ist said...

Hey there!

The company is called English Channel, but right now I really wouldn't recommend them to anyone as they seem to be going bankrupt! However the Yeoido branch has now gone completely independent and seems to be doing well well as having retained the lab coats!

Good luck with the job hunt anyway :)

Alex said...

Hi again!

Thank you very much! Right now I'm not sure what my plans are but if I do decide to do more ESL teaching it will either be in Korea or Japan. I imagine lots of places around Seoul will start to suffer with the credit crunch now so Japan, although it will no doubt also be affected, may be a better bet. Anyway, good luck with the remainder of your contract, and thanks again!

Miss Anne Throp'ist said...

You're welcome :)

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