Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Training and Vietnamese Dinner

Tonight the director of our school (English name, Julia) took us and the three Korean English teachers out for a Vietnamese dinner. The food was very good.  We sat at a floor table with what appeared to be a Bunsen burner underneath and two burners on top.  Our plates were already dressed with sauces and there were cured and spiced vegetable side dishes out (lots of earthy colors represented).  Then a copper bowl was placed on each burner and a thin vegetable broth was poured in as the burner was lit.  The waitress brought us the plates of what we had ordered (vegetables for us and meats, vegetables and seafood for the others).  We were given sets of utensils to place the raw food into the boiling broth and let it sit. 

On each table in the restaurant there were thin plastic-looking circles in what a US citizen would recognize as a napkin holder.  Julia told us that they were made of rice and would serve as wrappers for the vegetables.  Now comes the tricky part.  This is a very do it yourself meal.  And Ian and I discovered that we were taught to use chop sticks incorrectly.  We were to put each piece of rice paper (banh trang cuon) into rose colored watered that was previously poured into a shallow saucer on the the table.  Putting the paper in was no problem, but getting the wilted, glutonous sheet out with chopsticks was a fiasco.  We got a little better with each try, though Ian far out did me in the use of his sticks.  After taking the sheet out and placing it on your plate, you fill it with whatever you'd like, wrap it, dip it in sauce and eat it.

After we were filled to the brim with rice paper rolls (Korean people may be small, but they easily out eat us), Julia ordered a rice dish for us to try.  The waitress scooped out the remaining vegetables from the broth and poured in a rice and veggie mixture.  After letting it simmer for a minute or two, she dropped an egg into the mixture and mixed it until the cooked egg was stringy.  The rice was amazing.  Imagine fried rice with a hearty stew texture and with the soupy flavor added.

It's a good thing that the food was so good, because the conversation was nil.  Nil for Ian and I, at least.  Everyone else chatted away.  In Korean.  You'd think English teachers would want to practice their English or maybe that they'd be interested in the new kids on the block, but no.  Everyone that we work with (Julia and a nineteen year old assistand named Tina being the only exceptions) is so self conscious about their English that they hardly say a word to us.  Everyone is very nice, though, in Korea you'll probably never know what people really think.  So, it was a quiet and lonely meal for Ian and I.  We ate in silence as it is awkward to compete with a conversation you don't understand.  I had wanted to take photos for you all, but it was awkward enough as it was, I can only tell you about the experience.

The adults may be uninterested in us (or maybe they are truly that shy with the language [remember, though, these folks TEACH English and we've heard almost none from them]), but to the kids we are rock stars.  Or animals in a zoo, however you prefer to see it.

The room that we work in at the Sinback Yoon's English School can be closed off by two sliding doors, but is viewable at all times through two windows.  The children excitedly peek in on us and say "Hello!" through the doors.  The younger the kid, the more excited they are to see us.

 Those excited kids have really made a difference for us.  Training has been difficult.  The language barrier has proven to be a steadfast barricade at times.  Julia kept changing the directions for our lesson plans just enough to make us start over.  She didn't intend to, but she had us do our lesson plans three times.  That's hours of work on each go around.  I was ready to have a nervous breakdown when things changed for a third time and Julia handed us teacher's manuals that seemed to eliminate the need for the class designs we had spent hours creating.  In fact, we were so frustrated that we did not want to attend dinner.  However, in a country that holds putting on a good face ("save face") above all else, ducking out just isn't an option.  At least it's not an option if you want to fit in at all.  Luckily, I think we know what we are doing with the lesson plans now.  We get to bring a lot of our own ideas to the table, which is excellent.  If you think of something that would be a good activity, be sure to tell us.

Tomorrow we go in to simulate a class for her.  I think we'll also watch a video of another class in session, which will be very helpful.  Wish us luck, tomorrow is our last day before we're set loose with the students!

I'm hoping to use this blog more for thoughts on certain subjects and less for chronicles of our daily lives, but it will probably be more of the latter for awhile.  When we get settled, I want to use this space for mini essays on concepts or themes regarding life here.

If you made it this far, congratulations!  Thanks for reading the whole piece.  I know it was a bit... prolific? loquatious?  Anyway, welcome to "everybody JECHEON tonight," Ian and Casey's South Korean experience blog.  I hope you stick with us!


  1. I can't wait to read more!
    And I have heard from other friends who have taught abroad that, yes, it is lonely, but at least you have each other. Though it is strange how no one else wants to pull out their English skills.

  2. Yeah!, love your blog. Glad you are going into such detail, it helps paint a picture what life is like in Korea for two english teachers. I am sorry that dinner was so quiet for you guys. Hang in there and we can't wait to read more. Everybody Jecheon Tonight.