Journey to English

Dear Reader: 

Greetings, from our first week of teaching. I am teacher: Alyssa 알리싸, Eric 에릭.

The lead-up to teaching on Wednesday was nerve-wracking for me. It was like a really important birthday party; or maybe that I set up a surprise event, and I have everything ready, but now I just have to wait until the day arrives to see what happens. Or maybe it was just the feeling of starting a new job? We had Monday off which was a positive, as all I would have been doing was drumming over what Wednesday through Friday would look like. How do you all prepare for a new job? Research, preparation, worry, daydream what it’s going to be like? Don’t think about it and go? Tuesday Eric and I went and did more practicing - role playing - up in a classroom to go over our material and how we would structure the class. We mostly discussed the flow of the class, what should come first, how we might go over the material, and mostly what was important or the goal. 

Then all that was left was just to teach. 

A fun thing that the English Village does here is: greet the students every time they arrive with a tunnel of teachers waving and saying “Hello!” as they arrive and walk to their classes. They are accompanied by their first-class teacher who holds the class folder as they march off to their classroom. We do this as they leave as well - waving as the students are bussed off the campus. 

So there Eric and I are waiting Wednesday afternoon for the two buses of students to arrive holding our yellow folders, giddy and nervous, and dressed to impress. They arrive and we walk them through the campus, temperatures checked, and then walk through a disinfectant gate. I was sweating profusely, which I haven’t experienced in a while, as I’ve been working from home for the greater part of two years. It didn’t help that it was 90 degrees out with high humidity. 

The first class of the week is always Orientation for the students. We run them through the rules here at DGEV along with what is all provided and expected during their three days.

Provided: a fake passport and a Journey to English workbook.

We use our yellow books Journey to English as our class material, the classes are easy and simple, teachers have to cover a minimum of two pages in each class.

We have the students fill out their passports with the subject title and the teacher’s name. Once orientation is covered it’s up to you to keep the student’s attention by covering anything and everything English that you want. Which ends up being language games or just plain games.

The second class we taught was Self Introduction, which is introducing yourself and any vocab that goes along with that. “Good morning, my name is __________ ” “My favorite subject is ________ ” “My favorite food is _________. ” Eric and I discussed what possible supplemental content/exercises would be good to go with this class. I suggested since our yellow book has a drawing exercise to the right of the first exercise, we could make an interactive game = have each student stand up, move to the next student’s book, draw one part of the body: eyes, nose, ears, mouth, hair, etc. (the monster game as we called it), then keep moving to the next desk until we get around the room or have a full portrait drawn in each book. This was such a hit, I was thrilled, I drew on the whiteboard along with the students and wrote each word I wanted them to draw, much giggling was had. 

The third class we were assigned was a regular ‘situational’ class that we would teach. At DGEV in normal years, you would only teach Orientation and Self Introduction for the first week or two to really get those down. Because we are so low on teachers they are speeding up the process. Eric was assigned Family Center and I was assigned Grocery. 

Grocery ended up being a very easy class, you go over vocab - say out loud, write in the book, and finish your exercise. I created a guessing game from lots of food vocabulary as a game - split the class into two teams and battle to answer the most questions. I created a whole slideshow of pictures of food for the game - look at the picture, raise your hand when you know, earn points. I played this game with my first class, but there were a few obvious issues that arose - the foods were too easy, they knew English very well, along with the hand-raising ended up being very hard as most kids raised their hand in anticipation, which was hard for me to determine who raised it first. I started to do a countdown 1, 2, 3, go! but then still had to try to evenly call on each team. All great lessons in game playing with kids. (If you have any school/student game ideas send them my way!)

My favorite moment of the week was at lunch. We have a 40-minute break for “free time” after lunch, some of my students wanted to go visit the giant airplane on campus - so we went on an excursion. It was a lot of fun to walk around and interact with them more, rather than just standing at the front of a classroom. I did start to worry if Korean staff saw: is this “out of line”? Keep track of kids, count your students, no one goes missing. Kind of hard to do, but I wouldn’t put it past myself. And of course, the airplane became a selfie moment:

The week went so smoothly, the classes were great, the kids were so happy and friendly, I had a lot of fun, and all our planning was helpful. But really the best thing was standing in front of the students and going through it all with them. I’m so glad the first week is done and now we can perfect being goofy, awesome teachers to these wonderful kids from now on. 

We had a fabulous send off of the kids on Friday afternoon, there was a lull waiting for the last classes to come to the bus line. So a few of the tween girls I taught jumped off the bus and came over saying “Teacher, teacher! Photo!” this created a cascade of almost all of our students from both classes rushing off the bus taking photos of Eric and I together and many of the other teachers standing around. It was our training week so Eric and I spent the most time with them and it felt really good that they had so much fun and enjoyed us. (Along with many of the girls saying I was “so pretty” which I’m not sure how I will navigate in the future, or if it’s constant.) Last surprise was, in their post office class they write postcards to their favorite teachers and we receive them the following day, these are the ones I received: 

Friday bank run adventure!

The week ended and on our “to-do” list was to go back to the Daegu Bank and pick up Eric’s vaccine card! Haaa :/ … apparently his vaccine card was dropped as he was pulling out his passport at the bank, thank goodness Don Young Park received a text from the bank after and they said they would hold it for us until we were able to come back. 

Plan was we would have to bus there ourselves, which was very easy AND once we arrived at the bank the ticket we pulled landed us with the same bank attendant who recognized us immediately - do we look that memorable? 

Then we made a stop at our now favorite shop Daiso 다이소 and waited for the bus to take us back to DGEV. While we waited we discussed the events that transpired that Friday morning/afternoon at the school: 


Steam-Up! is a new kind of class here at DGEV, it started during covid probably around August 2020, they started offering it to schools in the region that DGEV would send teachers to their school to teach a STEAM program in English to supplement students not being able to come to the campus or if the school did not feel comfortable sending students here. This program has been running for a year and teachers have not been tested for covid as cases in Korea have largely been REALLY well managed. This last month in South Korea, cases have risen to about 2,100 new cases a day, the highest it’s ever been in the country. So … restrictions have been implemented, the greater area of Seoul has been put on Level 4 restrictions, other areas have been subjected to curfews, limitations of large gatherings, testing, etc. 

This week’s Steam-Up! the schedule was to certain schools that required our DGEV teachers to get PCR tested before they come. This meant on Friday afternoon the teachers had to be quickly bussed to a location to be tested, so they would not miss the opportunity or worse have to do it on the weekend. 

Buuutt some teachers were fairly upset, as the consensus was that our teachers were being scapegoated as the “foreigners” spreading the virus, and questions became who is fighting for them against this rhetoric? And are other Korean teachers having to be tested? Are the standards fair? They (DGEV teachers) did not think it was. 

Our Korean staff (who run the school) are very separate from us, they have an office that is in the front part of the building walled off by glass (our offices are too), they don’t say hello or interact with the English speaking teachers often at all. Many don’t make eye contact with you as you’re passing by. Don Young Park, Tina, and Dr. J are really the only Koreans that have spoken or interacted with us. So, it’s fair to say, there are real resentments of exclusion and lack of understanding or empathy for the teacher role here at DGEV. 

This is all to say:

Friday with the announcement of testing created a ripple effect of feeling tossed overboard shall we say. And everyone was clearly and loudly upset, somewhat protesting the testing, but resigned that they had to. We eventually found out all Korean teachers at these schools were being tested as well, so fairness was achieved, and to be monitored for future moments. The teachers have faced bias here and that’s nothing to brush off.

The thing that bothered us the most is since we got out of quarantine we’ve started to see morale issues in the group when we heard our first few grumbles. We were also made aware that quite a few teachers will be leaving in the months to come. That’s been a bit hard as there has been a lot of complaining in general. Lunches, dinners, in the office teachers wishing things were back to normal but lamenting the way things are now. Telling us about how amazing it used to be and telling us they really hope we get to experience it … we hope so too. But protesting simple things many people complain about the food in the cafeteria served 3 times a day - stunned we are when we have greatly enjoyed most meals as they give plenty of options - rice, meat, side dishes, salad, soup, white bread with jelly, butter, Nutella, whatever you want. Complaints about the new “cyber” program which is trying to bring in money so that they can keep this place open. Complaining about certain staff, the schedule, screwdrivers being missing. Many things - we’ve only been here for two weeks teaching - we have had quite a few conversations by ourselves wondering how to battle this, usually us saying how thankful we are to be in a country that takes this virus seriously (that’s me) and Eric’s just happy to be here doing all of this, throughly enjoying learning Korean.

The teachers have all been through covid here together, we don’t know what their experience was like, and like many people we know back home, are also sick of this pandemic and the many ripple effects we’ve all had to endure because of it. But we are definitely the odd people out, which is we are THRILLED to be here, we’ve been trying to get here for three years, and now here we are having meals served to us every day, no dishes, no cooking, a full gym to use, a beautiful campus to work on, a dorm we don’t have to pay for, public transportation into town completely free, and working with children who are so wonderful and excited (for the most part, I’m still aware this is week two for us.)

—This is what we discussed at the bus stop. Feeling the odd man out, feeling like everyone is complaining around us and all we want to say “isn’t this place the best place you’ve ever been?” We’re here to turn the morale around. And here to see this place through covid and hoping we get to a better, happier atmosphere. I know everyone’s beat, so I hope our fresh eyes and views can bring back a little of that sparkle that they keep talking about and pinning for.

We took a walk around campus, I photographed in 35mm film photos, 120mm film, and iPhone photos of the place. I hope to get my film developed here, but that will be at a to be determined date in the future.

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