Thankfully, I had four full days to combat the omnipresent cockroaches before I had to go to school. I will admit to a few tears, a little tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth, and a full-on pity-party over those four days but eventually I managed to kill the cockroaches without a panic-filled freak out first. It helped that I bought the biggest bottle of roach spray in the entire store.
I had been told to present myself at school at 9 am Wednesday morning, when I would be introduced to the principal. The other staff might be there, it was unclear. Just in case, I scribbled a few polite Korean sentences on a scrap of paper and tucked it in my pocket.
At 8:45, I left my apartment, crossed over a stream on a rickety yet charming footbridge and made my way down the street that I hoped lead to my school. At 8:50, I arrived at school. It took a lot less time to walk there than I thought it would! Thank goodness because I tend to be a little chronologically challenged and it was good to know I could get to school quickly should the need arise.
I was wearing a “teacher skirt” and had ironed a new white blouse in honour of the occasion. I had busted out my pearls and heels, and looked every inch the professional, capable teacher (if I do say so myself!). Sadly, I had forgotten about the heat and humidity, so by the time I arrived at school, my crisp blouse was wilted and my skirt stuck to me in rather inappropriate places. My hair had also reached rather epic proportions in the front while sweaty bits stuck to my neck in the back. Perhaps my charming personality would win them over.
As it turns out, my principal is a big fan of plants. Rice, water lilies and a variety of other aquatic plants grow in large water-filled pots outside the school. The front steps are covered in multitudes of geraniums, impatients and petunias. In the middle of the front lobby is a water feature with a fountain, a small water wheel and more plants.
When I went to meet the principal, I discovered that his other hobby is raising fish. His office looks like the fish section at Wal-Mart. The walls outside of his office are lined with large exotic fish tanks all the way to the cafeteria.
I gather that when you are principal, you must represent the school by attending occsional meetings, and by welcoming visitors to your school. Other than that, Korean principals seem to have a lot of time to indulge in their hobbies.
My school is HUGE.
Here’s the other half:
After meeting the principal, we made our way into the cafeteria where the entire staff (all 110 of them) was gathered for the first meeting of the semester. Good thing I jotted a few things down!
There is another foreign teacher, an American called Rachel who comes to my school twice a week to teach Grade 4. She was there as well that day. We both got up in front of everyone to introduce ourselves. I have to admit the microphone trembled a bit in my hand when I saw all those eyes looking at me!
“Anyonghaseyo! [hello!]” I said, giving a little wave.
“Ooh!” the audience declared delightedly, and burst into applause. Gosh.
“Cho nun Carrie imnida! [I am Carrie!]” I announced a little more confidently.
Same reaction. It had been the same with Rachel. Rapturous applause met our every attempt at Korean. It didn’t seem to matter what we said. Flattering but it left me wondering what I should do for an encore.
The staff meeting ended and we went to our staffroom. There are quite a few staff rooms. I suspect they might be divided by Grade but I’m not sure. My staff room is populated by the “extra” teachers- English, Art, music and the one female PE teacher (not sure where the male PE teachers have their desks).
There are 16 of us in our staff room and the afternoons are long and hot. I have discovered that it is totally acceptable to sleep at work. This is a common sight in my staff room.
There are 1600 students at my school, from Grade 1 to Grade 6. I will be teaching Grade 3, Grade 5 and one Grade 4 class. I have 10 Grade 3 classes, 11 Grade 5 class and 1 Grade 4. Each class contains 30-35 students. It’s a little disheartening. How on earth will I even begin to remember anyone’s name?
I also teach 2 teachers’ classes – one beginner class and one intermediate, as well as something called a Role Play class. I have no idea what it is but I teach it every Friday afternoon for 2 hours.
Once schedules had been established and co-teachers met (I have 5 altogether), co-T #2 (whose name I have finally learned is Mercy) and I went out to apply for my alien registration card. Can’t have unregistered aliens running around Korea getting into mischief! The main advantage for me is that by having an ARC, I can get internet at my apartment instead of poaching on my neighbours’. (Yes, I’m still “borrowing” internet access!)
Applying for my ARC was a little alarming. Part of the process involved scanning my fingerprints and mine wouldn’t scan. I have no idea why. At first they thought my fingers were sweaty so I went and washed my hands. Then they cleaned the machine. Then made me put some sort of special powder on my hands. Nothing. I think eventually they just gave up. There were 4 customs people trying to get my fingerprints to scan and none of them seemed to be able to do it. Strange.
We then went to the bank, the grocery store, the dollar store, and ran a few errands for Mercy. At the end of all this, Mercy asked if I wanted to go to her Buddhist temple with her. Why not? thought I. I am so glad I did. I didn’t take any pictures, I didn’t think it would be appropriate but I wish I had!!! It was stunning.
When we arrived, the monks were getting ready for their evening service. Mercy wanted to participate so I sat at the back on a fluffy red cushion. It was the perfect ending to a rather crazy day. The temple sat on the top of a hill so I sat and looked out over Ulsan as the sun set. The smell of incense was thick and gorgeous, and the monks chanting softly behind me made me think that perhaps coming back to Korea had been a good idea after all.