Life at a Thai English camp, part 2

Day 8

I woke up with my sore throat worse, a mild fever, and stuffed up nose.  Thankfully one of the camp coordinators sympathized with my situation and agreed to let me take the afternoon off if I just taught the 3 hour morning class.  The lessons were activity based.  I taught them about morse code and semaphore flag signals.  I put some codes up on the board and in teams the students worked to decipher the message ‘good morning’ and ‘how are you?’ I was actually really impressed by their ability to figure the messages out and then make their own short messages.  While they did that I decorated the class with all the crafts and worksheets the students have put so much hard work into.  After class I spent the rest of the day sleeping and working on my report cards.

Day 9

camp6

SPORTS DAY! Boy, was it a busy one.  The morning began with me serving breakfast followed by the opening ceremony.  This consisted of each team, of which there were three, each doing their chants. The teams were the Blue Bulldogs, the Yellow Minions, and last but certainly not least, my team, the Red Chilies.  After the pep rally everybody was amped and eager to go.

As the camp student ages range from 6 to 15, these were divided into junior, elementary, and senior brackets.  The initial round of events consisted of a rotation between playing futsal (indoor football), chairball (basically netball with a player holding a basket on a bench), and swimming relay races.  While my assigned age group, elementary, lit the other teams up at chairball and futsal, we could not compete with them at swimming.  The lunch break was a welcome respite.

The second round of events were arguably the most fun as it involved us teachers getting to join in.  The first event for the teachers and TAs was chairball.  Unfortunately while I am a tall guy at 6ft 2in, I prove the old basketball saying that ‘white men can’t jump’.  I was the defender but simply couldn’t block enough baskets for our team to go up the other end to score more and we ended up drawing the first match and losing our other one.  Next up was running.

camp4

The Red Chili students showed the teachers and TAs the way with some surprising victories, but alas us teachers could not follow their example in the relay running and sack races.  For the teacher relay race I would have been the first teacher to pass the baton…if I had slowed down enough to hand it to the other teacher without dropping it, oh well.  The sack race didn’t go so well either, with a couple of our teammates falling over, and me just trying to keep going without falling over.  Thankfully, we then had an hour and a half break to recharge and slam back energy drinks for the grand finale; tug of war.

Again, despite some victories in the tug of war we were outshone by the other teams’ impressive performances.  For me I just liked the look on the faces of the other teachers as they put every ounce of their energy into pulling that rope one way or the other!  The climatic contest was between the Red Chilies and Yellow Minion elementary teams, with a couple teachers on both sides.  Everything looked to be going our way as we inched towards pulling them the last foot over the line when the Minions stood their ground and it appeared to be heading towards a stalemate.  At the last second we crumbled and the tide was turned, the Minions emerged victorious.

To wrap up the day there was the closing ceremony and handing out of awards.  For the ceremony we made a huge circle around the gym, intermingling with the other teams and proceeded to go round the circle shaking hands to recognize the valiant effort everyone had put in on the day.  This was followed by an obligatory dance party and limbo contest.  Handing out the awards after dinner was a much tamer event with everyone involved thoroughly tired out.   Still, the Sports Day and Next Top Model events have been my personal favorite days of the camp.

Day 10

A very chill day.  We had to start making our story presentation for the final day of the camp but with my class being so young and hectic, I took the liberty to write our story and act it out while also drawing pictures on the board to accompany it.  I explained to them that they would be assigned parts the next day and they would make a diorama to go with their scene.  The rest of the class we used to finish off worksheets and for those lucky to finish everything, I took them outside to the playground to play monkey in the middle.

Lunch was amazing, Peppercorn pork steaks and massaman curry were the all round favorites among teachers, TAs, and students alike.  With lunch out of the way, we had the final round of rotation English games for the camp.  I chose to play a simplified version of the game mafia and the kids loved it!

Report cards were due at 7pm so teachers were given the rest of the day to finish them off.  Thankfully I had all but one done which made for an easy afternoon and evening.

Day 11

camp19
The boys making their dioramas for the class presentation

I woke up in the middle of the night stressing over how I was going to get my young kids to make their dioramas in a single morning session.  Then to make matters worse, another student dropped out of the class due to illness leaving a hole in the story and a diorama with no one to make it.  Thankfully, my students continued to surprise me.

Not only did they make some superb dioramas but we also managed to go over their story lines and isolate the words they had trouble with.  It just goes to show you that you shouldn’t underestimate your students.  With the dioramas made, one of the stars of the class stepping in to fill the gap, and we are on course to be ready for the final presentation. Albeit still lots of work to be done on how they read their lines.

camp18

After lunch the camp veterans showed us the dance moves for the talent show song they had done last camp and told us we’d be doing it again this tdone last year and told us we’for the still lots of work to be done on how they read their lines. camp.  Myself and the other teachers had no problem with this as the song and dance they did was really quite impressive.   The song was a mix of top recent pop songs with the teachers bustin’ dance moves and interchanging between the guys and girls.  A half hour practice session was enough for me to know that’d simply look to the guy who looked he knew who to do it.

camp17
The kids have talent!

When it came to the talent show itself, it simply rocked. The students, the TAs, and us teachers.  Myself? Ha.  I followed the most in the know teachers and hoped for the best.  If I can post the video you can see for yourself how it was haha.  Still, another great night of camp, not to mention the rest of the night spent at a pizza party with the TAs and other teachers, followed by the after party with the other farang teachers drinking outside of a bungalow.

Day 12

Wednesday, teacher’s day off. For the the past week I had been nursing a sore throat and so I’d only had a couple drinks and wasn’t totally wrecked.  Myself and two other teachers rented bikes and headed out to Khao Yai National Park. Check out the post.

Day 13

A simple day.  I spent the morning preparing for the final presentation, decorating the classroom, and overseeing the kids completing worksheets.

In the afternoon I made some props for a separate TA presentation, and then drove the bikes back to Pak Chong.

The highlight of the day came after dinner when in free time myself and a few of the other teachers played football with the kids. I played in goal and despite going 3-0 down we came back to win 7-4!

To cap the day off I had a couple of beers with a group of other teachers and then came back to my bungalow to write this post.

Day 14

The last full day and another easy one.  Again, we practiced for the final presentation but this time because we had more time I took them outside to the playground to play with the other classes who also had time to kill from having practiced so much.

After lunch we just had to go through a run through of the final day; a practice of the presentation AGAIN, walking over to the main gym, watching the students do their tributes to the King, and then finally handing out certificates.  Once my class had finished I went back to my bungalow to rest; my sore throat was persisting.

Day 15

camp13

The students ran through their presentation to the best of their ability with their parents watching and I felt proud at how far they had come in two weeks.  It was also clear that some of the students had really enjoyed their time in my classes which made me feel happy at having done a good job.  Once the presentation was over, the students had cleared out their desks, and their crafts stripped from the walls, we proceeded to walk over to the gym for the tribute show to the King and award ceremony.

camp14
My students sitting calmly before their tribute to the King

Everything went swell, the students performed songs and dances written by the late King, I handed out certificates and posed for pictures, and the students said their goodbyes to their new friends, TAs, and teachers.  I will miss those kids.  Best of luck students of Team Galapagos Camp C!

camp15
One last picture with my students before they departed home with their families

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Teaching English in S. Korea

The Good

  • The students: Most Korean students you will meet are fun, well-behaved, smart, and constructive members of the classroom!  While every teacher in Korea will remember a certain naughty student, they will remember countless more students that made their day with their smile and overall good attitude to learning.  I can count on one hand the number of real trouble students I’ve had on one hand and just some many more that I truly miss and wish I could see how they are doing now with their new teachers.  If you can make your classes engaging, the students will enjoy themselves and be more willing to take part in your lessons.  And even if the material you must teach may be dry, the students will for the most part be very well behaved with a few great students who help the others get on track.
  • The food: I had never had Korean food before I came to South Korea, nor had I really done much research on what to expect, besides knowing kimchi is the national dish.  But once I got there I fell in love with the beef and pork BBQ dinners with drinks and close friends before heading out on the town for a Friday night.  Then there is bibimbap, dak galbi, jjim dak, and so much more!  If you haven’t tried Korean food yet but are thinking of going to teach in Korea, go to your local Korean BBQ restaurant and thank me in the comments.  Korean food can be a little spicy, so be warned.  Another thing I love about food in Korea is how affordable it is!  You can quite easily eat out a few nights a week for less than $10 for a decent meal.  It should also be added that I believe Korea has one of the highest rates of restaurants per capita worldwide meaning you will never be far from a place to eat, whether it is a local mom and pop joint, or Michelin star quality restaurants in Gangnam.  I may be spoiled for food here in Thailand, but I definitely get cravings for Korean food.
  • The financial side: Korea is still one of the top places in Asia to make bank.  Wages may have stagnated but are still right up there with the best.  Throw in the relatively low cost of living and it is easy to see how teachers in can quite comfortably save half their salary a month.  Not to mention that all teachers receive a pension and if you complete the contract you will get severance pay which equates to a month’s salary.
  • The quality of life: While still saving as much as half your salary, you can eat out once or twice a week, go out for drinks a couple times, and go on a weekend trip somewhere in Korea each month.  A trip might entail a mountain trek to one of the many peaks in Korea, a weekend sojourn to the bright lights of Seoul or Busan, a tranquil getaway to a Buddhist temple, or shredding it on the slopes in the winter time.  It may take some balancing but it is possible if you’re smart with your money and plan it out.  Korea also has a vibrant and active expat scene so you will never be far from making new friends.  I personally recommend joining a Korean language exchange club, like The Box in Daegu, or a recreational sports league.  I played in the ROK Ultimate Frisbee league for 2 seasons and I loved every moment of it, not just playing but the super people I met, the journeys to the games, the parties, the camaraderie among members of the wider ultimate frisbee community…so much fun, and when I return to Korea eventually I definitely will be getting back on the field again.
  • The location: Korea is an ideal location for vacations across Asia, Japan is a stone throw away and can even be reached by ferry, tons of cheap flights to China and Hong Kong, the Philippines is very close, and Southeast Asia is a very affordable place to spend your vacation time.  If you love to travel, Korea is a real gateway to the rest of Asia and has two three great international airports; two in Seoul and one in Busan making it easy to get out and explore beyond Korea.

The Bad

  • North Korea:  I should get this one out of the way first because I think it scares off some teachers from coming to South Korea.  Yes, the North is a rogue nuclear armed nation ruled by the Kim family dynasty that likes to make big, bombastic threats against Korea, the US, and their allies.  And that although the Korean War ended with a armistice, not a peace treaty, this technically means these two countries are still at war…But the fact is the North has been making these threats for years and while it may be stressful for people considering to come teach in Korea, if you ask S. Koreans and foreign teachers they will tell you they pay little heed to what the North says and carry on with their daily lives.  So while the threat of North Korea remains, it is held in check by the guarantee that any kind of attack would be met in kind by overwhelming power from the combined ROK-US forces. Nevertheless, having a noisy neighbor is never a good thing.
  • Visa paperwork:  Of course it is understandable that the Korean government wants to be careful about who is coming to teach their children but it doesn’t change the fact that it is a time consuming process that may take months.  You need a nation wide criminal record check (clean), transcripts, your degree, and all of these need to be notarized/apostilled attached and sent to the Korean consulate for their stamps of approval.  Then you must gather more documents, along with a sealed copy of your school contract, passport pics, visa confirmation number, and processing fee, and submit this to the consulate and hope they approve it.  If this process was streamlined I think it would be a big help to potential and current teacher in Korea.
  • How and what things are taught:  This one is controversial I think.  I think alot of the English taught to Korean students is purely rote repetition and often in hagwons teachers must follow strict lesson plans following pages from the books that are often outdated and boring.  Depending on your school, teachers have little say on how they’d like to teach the class and thus it often means the classes are dry, boring, and repetitive.  Alot of what is taught in class is designed purely to help them do well on the TOEIC tests and university entrance exams.
  • Increasingly competitive job market, poor economic climate, declining working conditions: with the government seemingly winding down the EPIK program, teachers who worked in public schools are now entering the private hagwon sector.  EPIK teachers are higly regarded by hagwon owners because of the competitive process to teach in a public school so this adds to the pressure on teachers who have only worked for hagwons.  Wages have stagnated and even started to lower in some classes.  Return flight packages in contracts are becoming rare.  Teachers are seemingly being asked to work longer hours with more classes and fewer breaks for less money.  The ‘golden era’ of teaching English in Korea has truly finished.

The Ugly

  • Management:  A big reason hagwons get a bad rap is because of the management and owners who run these schools.  Their primary concern is maximizing profits and keeping parents happy; business first, education second.  Then of course you have the types of directors who are massively unqualified to do their jobs and just do so, so, much wrong.  I had a terrible experience with a director at my last school was a contributing factor to me deciding to take a break from Korea for awhile.  The horror stories usually relate to the breaking of contractual agreements, physical, emotional, and sexual harassment, firing teachers before the last month to avoid paying severance, making teachers do additional unpaid work, treating the children appallingly, etc.  You have to be careful when picking a school, and EXTRA careful to find a decent boss.  The director will make or break your experience at a school.
  • Xenophobia, racism, and other prejudices:  Although it is not as much of an issue as it once was, it still rears its ugly  head.  It is harder for African-American or black South African teachers to find jobs here, and the ones that do can be made uncomfortable by their treatment from the more elderly Koreans.  If you’re a member of the LGBT community, although progress is being made, it is not advisable to make this known to a potential employer or make public displays of affection (this goes for straight people as well).  ‘Attractive’ teachers are preferred also.  This may merely mean they prefer their teachers to not be overweight, to not grow beards, no piercings, no visible tattoos, dress well, and not keep your hair respectable.  I even had a friend turned away from a job, after coming to Korea and going to the school, because they thought he was too short…..he then landed a job teaching adults so it ended well for him, but still, that was ridiculous.

Don’t let the Bad and the Ugly deter you from teaching in Korea, I still think the good far outweighs the negatives, it is just better to hear a balanced view of what it is like to teach in Korea.  Teaching in any country has its good, bad, and ugly sides and Korea is no different.  These are just some things that came to mind from my own experiences and talking friends from my time teaching there.  Let me know what you think! What other good, bad, and ugly sides do you think are worth mention?  I will also be writing the good, the bad, and the ugly about teaching in Thailand once I have been here long enough to make a more informed opinion of things.  I do not have anything against Korea and again stress that I fully intend to return there.