카일 선생님 (Kyle Teacher)

Seoul Travel Blog

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Unhyeon Elementary School in Angukdong

People who made my travels more enjoyable: Drew (Korea) and all the students and teachers at Unhyeon Elementary School and Reed Academy!

I woke up early (again...), not sure if it was still jet lag, or the excitement of seeing school again. It had been almost a year since I stopped teaching and I wanted to see how all of my students were progressing.

Teaching English in Korea had been a bit of a bittersweet experience. When I quite my finance job in 2008 I wanted a change. I had been interested in Korea since college and teaching English seemed to be the only possible way to live in Korea and make some money in the meantime. Before I even left for Korea, I started to realize this experience might not be as easy as I had anticipated.

Student building at Unhyeon
To start, the visa process was a total nightmare. The government has made the process increasingly difficult after some former English teachers had gotten in legal trouble (namely the man who said he killed Jon Benet Ramsay). I think I could blame the Korean government for racist policies as much as I could blame arrogant and undereducated English teachers for treating Korea as their own personal playground. Both sides are equally at fault.

Anyway, the visa process took about two months. I had to collect a number a number of documents, and send them back and forth between Korea, and the Korean consulate nearest to me. Once I received my visa, and arrived in Korea, I was tested for every illicit drug, STI and communicable disease known to man.
Another shot
I felt like I was donating blood they took so many samples! The infuriating thing about the process is, any ethnic Korea (regardless of citizenship) is exempt from these tests. I think it's important to understand that Koreans define citizenship in a completely different way than Americans. By being ethnically Korean, you basically have a right to citizenship in the Republic of Korea. Therefore, even Korean-Americans, who know almost nothing about their ancestral culture, are still considered to be part of the greater Korean people. This automatically gives them more rights and more freedoms when it comes to working and living in the Republic of Korea. They are treated as citizens, while everyone else is considered a foreigner. Regardless of the reasoning (which I do understand), it still can be frustrating when you are on the outside.
Me and 4th grade teacher


Once I received my alien registration card, I started work at an academy by the name of Reed (located in Hannamdong). Later I joined an elementary school called Unhyeon, in Angukdong. I won't go into all the details, but I find teaching English to be pretty tedious. Coupled with a lack of flexibility, visa restrictions and cultural barriers, I can't say that I'd rush at the chance to teach again. What I did enjoy were the students. I hadn't spent any significant amount of time with students before, but 4th and 5th graders are a real joy. I doubt that I taught them a lot of English, but I hope I gave them confidence and more importantly, instilled a bit of desire. I looked forward to today, because I would get to visit all of them and see how they were doing.
Reed Academy in Hannamdong

The school was about 5 subway stops from my hotel and it took about 30 minutes door-to-door. I had planned to arrive during break-time so I wouldn't interrupt any of the classes. The security guard at the front gate stopped me and assumed I was a tourist looking for Unhyeon Palace. I told him, in broken Korean, that I had been an English teacher the year before. I have always been very good at remembering faces (but terrible at remembering names) and it surprises me when someone can't recognize me while I recognize them. I saw the same security guard almost every day for 6 months and yet he had no idea who I was! 

When I arrived at the school I didn't suffer the same fate. Charlie Teacher (The 6th grade teacher) looked like he was going to have a heart attack when I walked through the front door.

Me and Kwajangnim (My Korean mom)! I bought her flowers :)
"What are you doing here?!" he exclaimed. I told him that I was just visiting and wanted to say hello to everyone at school. He and everyone else were shocked and excited to see me. The students were a little shy at first, but they all came around. It was like I had never left and it felt really wonderful to see everyone again. 

After I said my goodbyes I made my way back to Hannamdong and Reed Academy. Reed Academy had been my primary employer. They were an English language academy that taught students who mainly attended international schools. When I first walked in I announced my presence to the Kwajangnim (office manager). In Korea you're referred to by your title more often than you're name. Kwajangnim is the most wonderful woman. A devout baptist, caring mother and eldest sister, she had been through more hardship than most people can imagine.

I got a tax refund from the Korean government?!
Despite her tough life, she is one of the kindest people I have ever met. Even though we couldn't communicate very well, I felt closer to her than almost anyone in my academy. To show a bit of my appreciation I had bought her flowers! After giving her the flowers, I said hello to everyone else in my office. Some people were about to head out for lunch, so I joined them.

At lunch we were joined by a new Reed teacher (and 2008 Dartmouth grad) Dawn. I had met Dawn in school and it was such a strange turn of events to see her working at the same academy that I had started with! When we finished our bibimbap I said my goodbyes. For a parting gift, Kwajangnim gave me my Korean tax return. I had no idea such a thing existed and I felt a bit guilty taking it (English teachers in Korea are over-paid and pay very little taxes).

Delicious meal
Despite my hesitation I decided to cash it. I would help out the local economy by spending it in Seoul!

After lunch I returned to Myeondong, cashed my refund check at the local post office and took a nap. That night I had planned to meet up with my friend Drew. Drew had been an exchange student in America, and I had met him during my first visit to Korea. When I met him back in 2008 I was amazed at how "American" he was, but after a few years in the Korean business world he had already started to forget his English and the nuances of American culture. 

Prior to our meet-up, I had lunch at my favorite burger place in Korea. Kraze Burger! This place is amazing. Gourmet hamburgers, that are damn delicious. I don't mean delicious for Asia, these burgers could be sold in America.

Me and Drew having drinks
They are that good. One of my other favorite things on the menu is the Idaho Potato fries. They are priced like a luxury item! Since I grew up about 20 miles from the Idaho border, it was especially funny for me to see Idaho anything on a menu in Korea.

After dinner I met up with Drew in Hongdae (a fun area near Hong-guk University). We spent the rest of the evening drinking and eating. We moved from bar to bar for about 3 hours. One establishment had a waterfall that you had to walk through in order to enter the restaurant/bar. Thankfully they had umbrellas so we didn't get wet! We also went to a Japanese place that yelled at you whenever you walked in the door (not angry yelling, but some sort of greeting). It was really comical. After we had drunken our fill, Drew and I went our separate ways. I took a cab back to my hotel while Drew went home via the subway. What a jam-packed, fun and crazy day!

 

 

 

ngan says:
the prospect about asking for visa to Korea scares me :(
But ur blogs are very interesting. Detailed blogs. Im not very good at writing reviews and blogs :)
Posted on: Jun 02, 2011
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Unhyeon Elementary School in Anguk…
Unhyeon Elementary School in Angu…
Student building at Unhyeon
Student building at Unhyeon
Another shot
Another shot
Me and 4th grade teacher
Me and 4th grade teacher
Reed Academy in Hannamdong
Reed Academy in Hannamdong
Me and Kwajangnim (My Korean mom)!…
Me and Kwajangnim (My Korean mom)…
I got a tax refund from the Korean…
I got a tax refund from the Korea…
Delicious meal
Delicious meal
Me and Drew having drinks
Me and Drew having drinks
Well that makes things easy
Well that makes things easy
4th Grade girls (Now 5th grade)
4th Grade girls (Now 5th grade)
Another shot, still blurry :(
Another shot, still blurry :(
The boys
The boys
Another shot
Another shot
View from Reed Academy (Taken Spri…
View from Reed Academy (Taken Spr…
Seong enjoying lunch
Seong enjoying lunch
Post Office in Myeongdong
Post Office in Myeongdong
Kraze burger!
Kraze burger!
My 5th grade class (now 6th grader…
My 5th grade class (now 6th grade…
Seoul
photo by: chiyeh