Winter Break in Korea; Communication, Camps and Tiny Snowmen

by Christopher Kwarciany, Greenheart Travel Teach Abroad Participant in Korea

The first semester teaching at my school is finished.  It ended on a very confusing note.

As I posted previously, I felt that my opinions on things were very unwanted, thus I just went along with whatever the teachers said.  My head co-teacher finally revealed that this was in fact very frustrating to the teachers, who were supposedly lost without my opinion.  Thus she came to the conclusion that I wanted the co-teachers to do everything, which is the opposite of how I actually felt languishing in sense of worthlessness.

I think this brings up an interesting point in cross-cultural communication.  Just because someone speaks your language, doesn’t mean they can really communicate.  Every language comes with an unspoken code-book.  While my teachers know English, they don’t know the code-book, just as I’m sure I wouldn’t know the Korean-code book even if I could speak Korean well.  I am sure we were all sending clues of how we felt, and we just had know idea how to correctly interpret them.  This makes co-operation very trying. I don’t quite know how to remedy this, or what suggestions to make to others.  I guess just be prepared to not understand all the time.

The good thing is, while working cross-culturally can be challenging, I think making friends is much easier.  I have a handful of Korean friends that I can communicate with, not just speak, quite well.  I think this is because friendship operates on much more basic human level than work relationships do.  Even when there’s virtually no common language, it’s still easy to do things like enjoy sharing a meal just because everyone likes eating.  Plus there are the other foreign teachers who understand how it all feels.  So at least for me, my social experience outside of school has been very rewarding.

Next semester, which starts the new school year in Korea, is a big unknown.  Actually I am not even sure when it begins!  My head co-teacher is going to a different school (Korean teachers transfer schools every 5 years for some reason, and her 5 years is up).  I don’t know who will replace her and who will be my main contact teacher.  Luckily you get used to not know what’s going on in Korea.  Another issue is a foreign teacher friend of mine teaches the students I will have next year, and warns they’re really hellcats.  Great.  So next semester might be an adventure.

In the meantime, I have winter-break.  So far I did one English camp at my school.  That was fun since it was just me and kids that actually wanted to be there.  Then I will work at another English camp on some campgrounds with mostly rural kids from around the province.  That should be interesting.  Then, for my contract vacation time, I’m visiting a friend from high school who is teaching in Taiwan.  In between all the excitement, there is a lot of sitting in the English office with not much to do since I still need to “work” 40 hours a week even though there is no school.  I am trying to prepare for next semesters classes, but that’s hard to do since I don’t know what’s happening yet.

On a side note, winter in Andong is a little crazy.  You have a streak of a few relatively warm days (maybe 30’s and 40’s F), then a few days in the 20’sF with blustering winds.  Since I have electric heat, my electric bill has doubled from about $40/month to about $80.  But utilities are still a very manageable $120/month.  There is not a lot of snow.  What snow does falls completely freaks out the drivers and road traffic comes to a halt.  The cute thing is Koreans love making little snowmen all over the place.  Overall I think the weather is manageable if you dress warmly enough.


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