Saturday, October 21, 2006

I'm Staying in Korea for 1 More Year

Yes, I know I’ve done a poor job of keeping my blog updated, but we just finished another “busy season” at the end of August. Busy season is the time during which I am away from my apartment from 9am until 8pm, Monday through Friday.

I teach at a hagwon which is not actually a school, but an English academy that kids attend AFTER school. I thought Korean parents were crazy for making their kids attend academies for 3-6 hours after spending 8hours in school during the school year. What’s worse is that during the kids “summer vacation” they are actually enrolled in ADDITIONAL hagwons! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?

I was at the school 11 hours a day during the month of August because parents enrolled their kids for extra classes for the month. The kids are actually happy when summer vacation is over because they have fewer academies to attend, and LESS HOMEWORK DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR THAN DURING SUMMER VACATION! WHAT?!?!?

One of the Older Classes - Seoul Language Institute, Ilsan Posted by Picasa

A (little) Less Reserved Class - SLI, Ilsan Posted by Picasa

All said and done, these kids get 2.5 months of vacation a year. It’s sad that they spend 2 months of it in academies (English, math, social studies, Korean, science, etc.). Instead of enjoying what should be a break from school, Korean kids spend their vacations worrying about the mountain of “vacation homework” they have to complete before school starts again.

One of the Happy Classes, SLI, Ilsan Posted by Picasa

Anyway, instead of the 5 hour days I’m accustomed to, I was at the academy from 9am until 8pm, 5 days a week. There were breaks, so I only taught 8 or 9 hours a day, but the early mornings meant that by time I had finished dinner with friends or coworkers, I was exhausted, and could do nothing but sleep when I got home. As far as I’m concerned, collecting overtime pay is the only benefit to busy season.

And OF COURSE I was offline during the world cup! Because of the time difference, the games were broadcasted live in Korea in the middle of the night (e.g. 10pm, midnight, 2am, 4am, etc). So when I didn't have to get up for Korean classes, I usually ended up sleeping the days away until I had to go to work.

Aside from studying Korean, I did NO work (i.e. writing) in June or July. My expat team is full of foreigners from England, Switzerland, the US, Morocco, etc. I also play with an Argentinean and Koreans, so there was a reason to watch nearly every game. I was up all night most nights. It was a good time despite the fact that Korea, the US, and most of the African teams never made it out of the first round, AND despite the fact that the drama queens from Italy won (see the video and commentary below for more info).

I’ve spent most of my computer time digging myself out from under the 300+ emails that accumulated during my hiatus, and planning my trip to Southeast Asia

And for current news… (drum roll please)


Just before the World Cup began, I evaluated my progress towards my artistic and financial goals. In doing so I realized that my progress was unsatisfactory, and that the only way I could reach my goals would be through severe discipline (read isolation and NO socializing). Now that was the original plan. I was to come here and be a hermit. I wasn't thinking about coming here and trying to make friends or socialize much. I intended to save all of my money, and spend all of my time writing the book whenever I wasn't at work.

In March, I was complaining to yet another friend about how closed off this society is when I realized that part of the problem could be that my Korean communication skills were still nonexistent. Furthermore, I realized I could NOT live here for a year and leave without being able to speak the language. So I enrolled in Korean language classes. The classes were great for establishing a foundation, but after a few months I realized that the only way I could maximize progress was to spend more time with Koreans. Of course the more time I spend studying Korean and socializing with Koreans, the less time I spend on the computer. Add to the mix that I also don't want to kick my expat friends to the curb, and all of a sudden, my social calendar is always packed with engagements. There's no time for book writing, nor was I saving any money. But I'm not worried about it! At least my debt is under control and dwindling.

I finally just gave into it all! After taking stock of my progress toward saving money and finishing the book, I decided I need more time. My contract ended on December 20th. On December 21st I began a 6-week vacation in SE Asia. I’ll be back in Korea on December 3rd to teach for 1 more year.

Korea has grown on me… and tacking on another year means I’ll have a much more focused 2nd year. I'm reminded that my Peace Corps recruiter told me that 2 years were necessary because it takes a year to get acclimated, and that it's during the second year that the most progress is made. I found this to be true of my Peace Corps experience, and I expect it to be true of my personal goals in Korea as well.

I was hoping to spend 2-3 months traveling, but my hagwon’s giving me a raise, and since it is one of the best deals I know of (other teachers have to be at work 8 hours a day, work Saturdays, and have shabby apartments), and keeping my apartment means I don’t have to worry about moving and storing my stuff, I decided to re-sign with them rather than look for a new gig. So… 6 weeks will have to do.

I’ll snowboard through the weekends of December and January, but I intend to become a hermit after January’s busy season. Book writing will be THE primary goal. Traveling has always been good to get my creative juices flowing, so I expect to come back to Korea with a full head of steam ready to finish the book.

My Apartment Building, Ilsan Posted by Picasa


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