A 1,000 hellos everyday…

It happened! Everything went relatively smoothly and I have now moved jobs and cities! On the 24th of June I met my new employers, the Busan Metropolitan City Office of Education, in central Busan. On a steaming hot day in business attire I nervously arrived at the requested location with newly acquired visa extension in hand. I was introduced to the officer in charge of recruitment and anxiously waited for my schools representative to pick me up. Fifteen minutes later I was picked up and taken away to my new home. Slightly disappointingly I found out my new home was to be in Hadan. Hadan is in the South-West of Busan. However, my school was to be even further away in Myeong-Ji. The education authority only inform you of your schools location when you arrive (So new teachers don’t decide to not board the plane in case their school is not somewhere they don’t want to be).

My apartment is in a small villa. My European friends will no doubt be imaging a sun-bathed Spanish residence, but this is not the case. My new pad is quite worn, has mix and match furniture and a temperamental boiler. Thankfully, unlike my previous apartment, it is not bathed in sunlight all day. I like my bedroom pitch black when I’m sleeping and having two snooker table sized windows in my last apartment was torturous. After being dropped off and shown how to work everything by the building manager, (who incidentally has more metal in his mouth than teeth) I took a deep breath, changed and headed back to Changwon to pick up my belongings and taxi them across. As I arrived back in Hadan at my so-so apartment I unpacked, gave the place a good clean, had a shower and got ready to go out……however a monsoon storm stopped me from leaving the house. As I settled down for the night I had mixed feelings, mostly questioning my situation and wondering if I had done the right thing….

Over the weekend I bought a few things to help me settle in, watched some sport and bought myself a new laptop to cheer me up a little. On Sunday night I had the worst possible night of sleep. A combination of unusual noises, a pesky mosquito and nervous anticipation made my rest turbulent and frustrating. I woke up early, too early.

Heading into my new school on Monday was nerve-wracking. Initially I had to meet my fellow guest English teacher (most schools only have one but my school turns out to be big enough for two) and get the bus across to Myeong-Ji.

Myeong-Ji is split up into two distinct areas; a poor dishevelled semi-rural area and a brand new ‘ocean city’. My school (an elementary school) is located in the centre of Myeong-Ji Ocean City. 명호초등학교 (Myeong-ho-cho-deung-hak-gyo) or Myeong-ho elementary school is a modern school. (Click here to see my schools website) Like the apartment buildings, middle and high schools that surround Myeong-ho elementary, everything was constructed in the last three years. The whole area was purpose-built and interestingly was built to be an English-speaking area. The idea is that everyone who lives and works here can, wants or will be able to speak English. Theoretically you could walk into the nearest Family Mart and speak in English to the staff. I’m yet to test this theory.

Myeong-ho elementary has over a thousand students from first grade to sixth grade. Each room has a 50″ plasma screen a computer and room for 30-35 students. The science rooms are equipped with materials that my high school in England never was. There are home-room teachers, English teachers, music teachers, P.E. teachers, special needs teachers, two vice-principals and a principal. This large teaching staff base is supported by administrators, security, cleaners and the dinner ladies who cook me delicious food everyday. The modernity of the whole establishment should be admired. The school has an English library, a Korean library, playgrounds, a sports hall and numerous other facilities. It even has real toilets as opposed to squatters! The whole school has been incredibly welcoming to me. My colleagues in the English department have been fantastic. I am fortunate to have five female Korean-English teachers and they take great interest in my well-being.

Everyday I arrive at school at 8.15am for ‘Morning greeting with James and Phoebe’ (Who is James? I hear you cry. It’s me! James is my middle name and after spending a year in Changwon with barely one person being able to say my name correctly I have remodelled myself as James Teacher!). This daily event involves myself and Phoebe my fellow ‘Guest English Teacher’ standing on the approach to the main school entrance with two A-boards. On the A-boards is a short roleplay that any student who wishes to can act out with us. There is an A-board for the first and second graders and one for grades three to six. It is a good opportunity to meet the students out of the classroom and some of the students really enjoy having a chat. In general the standard of English is outstanding. The funding that has been put into the school programs and the passion of my co-teachers has ensured this. After morning greeting I have between two or four periods of English class which I co-teach with one of the Korean English teachers. After lunch I do storytelling classes twice a week (grades 1-4, this is great fun and the kids choose to do this as an extra class so they all love it), teacher training (once a week I give tuition to the teaching staff at the school…at first this made me nervous but it is turning out to be quite rewarding), CBI class (this is ‘content based instruction’ a pilot program our school is running where we teach science in English – again the kids seem to love this and it appears to have incredible benefit) and finally on Wednesday afternoons I have volleyball or badminton with the other teachers!

The students seem to like me and are amazed by my height and good looks 😉 . (“Teacher so tall”, “Teacher handsome”). In a vain hope of continuing this fascination I am working hard to learn new teaching skills, games and activities. I am even learning Korean with a sense of determination now. I try to say hello to all the students when I see them. This however is not difficult as they all say it as soon as they see me. Waving across the dining hall, following me on my way to fill up my water bottle, escorting me upstairs and waving at me through their classroom windows as I walk the corridors!

Since I have been at the school I have judged a third and fourth grade singing contest and helped with the fourth graders English Golden Bell competition (All the students in fourth grade compete in the main hall in a knockout competition). Hopefully, I will be assisting the P.E. teacher with coaching the school football team in the future, too! It’s an action packed, fun environment in general. The students seem incredibly motivated here.

As I am sure you can tell I love my new school. The facilities, teachers and students are brilliant. As far as landing a job in a progressive environment where I can learn, develop and have fun…well ….. I don’t think I could have done better.

I am becoming quite accustomed to my home environment as well. Hadan is not so bad. It has good amenities. I can go running along the surging Nakdong river (and it is surging at the moment due to monsoon season). I have made a few local friends. I live a five-minute walk from the subway station and bus station. I can play 5-a-side football nearby on Tuesday nights and it is more convenient to get to my 11-a-side games on Sundays. Also, there is a massive supermarket a five-minute bus ride away.

In addition to playing football I have taken up Ultimate Frisbee. I remember my cousin Emma used to play this at University and it seems to be popular amongst the North American ex-pat community over here. I have been to two pick-up/training sessions. It is great for fitness. My throwing skills are not quite that of the more seasoned players, but I will pick it up quickly. The league starts in a few months so I have time to hone my skills. Similarly I’m planning on doing some beach volleyball as I don’t want to look absolutely terrible at school. I played today for the first time with my co-teachers. I was a blocker at the net and made some decent blocks but didn’t do much else. Fortunately, Mr. Gwan the vice president came into watch at the exact moment I leapt like a salmon to execute a point winning block from a spike. At least one person who counts will think I’m good! Lot’s of my co-teachers play badminton so I’m going to get a few games hopefully and rediscover the talents I had in my teens.

I will endeavour to keep you posted on events and my progress at my new school. I have booked some tickets for the World Athletics Championships in Daegu in August. I will be seeing the opening ceremony and Usain Bolt in the 100m!

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