Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea

Opening Doors

October9

Well. I started off my day by getting locked inside my apartment.

I honestly don’t know how it happened. Two other ETAs who were visiting Gwangju crashed at my apartment and when I left at 6 am to walk them to the bus stop we didn’t have any problems with the lock. However, after going back to sleep, waking up late, and rushing to throw on makeup and change clothes I somehow had locked myself in. My apartment’s pretty old, there’s no keypad lock and we didn’t get CCTV until this past semester, but I have two big intimidating locks. The bottom one I can lock with my key and the top one is a pretty secure deadbolt. The deadbolt was the one that wouldn’t budge.

I rattled the deadbolt back and forth and it was not moving at all. Starting to freak out a little because I teach first period, and thinking that maybe it was jammed, I slammed my shoulder against the door a few times, which did absolutely nothing because I’m really not that strong. I only succeeded in completely waking myself up. I attempted the lock for a few more minutes before calling my rockstar co-teacher and fully aware of how ridiculous a situation this was, told her that I’d probably be late because I was locked in my apartment.

“Wait. Locked inside your apartment?”
“Yeah. I can’t leave. The lock isn’t budging.”
“Um. Let me call someone.”

Of course as soon as I hang up, smooth as butter, the lock clicks open and I’m able to leave. I call my co-teacher, but I don’t get to her in time and she’s already informed Awesome Mr. Kim, who happens to be not only one of my co-teachers but also the second grade 부장 AND one of my neighbors. Upon arriving to school about ten minutes before my first class, we rush off to the second grade office and talk to Mr. Kim who proceeds to discuss the situation with me loudly and publicly. I decide to roll with it, with all of the second grade teachers listening in.

“Emily! You must have been so frightened.”
“Not frightened, just worried I would be late. If I was locked out maybe I’d be frightened, but I have heat and food inside my apartment so I would’ve been fine for a few days.”
“It’s a good thing you had a cellphone so you could call us. What would you have done if you didn’t have a cellphone?”
“I probably would’ve stood on my balcony and yelled for help until someone arrived.”

All-in-all it worked itself out, and it’s nice to know people care about me, but it was pretty embarrassing and I’m a bit concerned about the lock. Some school officials are heading over to look at it today. Thank goodness I just cleaned my apartment!

One thing I’ve been working on is connecting more with other teachers at school, and appearing approachable. I’m rather proud to say that I’ve been able to make pretty solid friends at school both within and outside of the English department. We don’t have very many female teachers, so the female teachers that we do have are very supportive of each other. Last semester three new young female teachers all the same time started working at CPHS, and all of them had pretty good English. One’s a German teacher, one’s a science teacher, and one’s a Korean teacher. I like them all, but the Korean teacher has been especially nice to me. We eat lunch together a lot, and speak half in English and half in Korean and help each other with our respective languages.

The Korean teacher told me in passing that she has a ping pong game against the Music teacher tomorrow. I assumed that she meant they were casually playing in our school’s auditorium/gym. Oh how wrong I was.

Apparently this is a legitimate thing at our school. The Korean teacher was approached by another teacher and told to try playing with the CPHS teacher’s ping pong team. She asked me if I wanted to go with her after lunch to see the ping pong room and I said sure, not really knowing what to expect.

In order to properly picture this, you have to understand the layout of the main school building. If you look at the main building from the soccer field, you’ll notice that the first floor is raised up. In order to get to the first floor hallway, you have to walk up a short set of stairs. The ground behind our school slopes down, which makes the difference between the ground and the first floor even greater. The area under the school, the “basement” (even though it’s not underground) is open except for a few supporting pillars here and there, and the ceiling is high enough that you can easily walk under it. Further towards the center of the building are some offices. Down there is where the printer’s office is, the female teacher’s lounge (which I found out about halfway through last year), the boy’s convenience store, and the ping pong room.

We wandered through the open hallway and opened one of the doors to the sound of plastic balls swishing back and forth. The pingpong room was divided into two by a sheer green curtain, against which ping pong balls were raining. There were two ping pong tables, one on each side of the curtain, and teachers dressed in athletic clothes playing ping pong. They all stopped, looked at us, laughed, and kept playing. Other than the music teacher who was trying but failing to keep the ball on the table, we were the only female teachers, and the only teachers under thirty five. Every single other teacher in there was was an older male teacher.

A teacher, one I’ve never talked to before, came over and asked in Korean if I wanted to play. I looked at him and stammered that I couldn’t play well. He handed me a paddle and showed me how to hold it. Now, I’ve played ping pong before and while I’m not great, I can hit the ball. With the new penhold grip he was teaching me, I could barely hit anything. He was lecturing me in Korean and moving me around while I was standing there laughing and trying to follow as best I could.

The bell that signaled the end of the lunch period rang, and I thanked him and said that I had to run because I had a class. He said goodbye, looked me dead in the eye and told me to come back tomorrow. Never mind the fact that tomorrow I actually don’t have to come to school because I have no classes, I’m coming to school specifically for ping pong. If doing ping pong with older male teachers that don’t speak a lick of English helps me bond with some of the teachers, then I’m going to do it.

It’s all about creating opportunities and opening doors.

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안녕하세요! My name is Emily and when I started this blog I had received a 2010 – 2011 F*lbright grant to teach English in South Korea.  I then decided to apply to renew my grant, so I am now staying in Korea until July 2012. This blog is not an official F*lbright Program blog, and the views expressed are my own and not those of the F*lbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

I graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in Philosophy Pre-Law and Classical Civilizations, and found myself 3 months later teaching English at SGHS. The town that I taught in, SG, is a small town of 12,000 people, an “읍” (eup) rather than a “시” (shi – city), and though it was sometimes hard teaching in such a small town I really enjoyed the unique experience of being the first foreign teacher SGHS had ever had. I lived in the largest part of the county which is significantly bigger (40,000 people) than the town the school is situated in, but is also considered rural by Korean standards.

During my second grant period (2011-2012) I decided to change schools and I currently teach at CPHS which is located in an even smaller town than previously, in Jeollanamdo.

This blog is meant to serve as a reflection not only of being a Native English Speaking teacher in Korea, but also of living as a foreigner in rural Korea.