Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Always Think Twice (17 November)

The filmed lesson went rather well considering that the class that I ended up using had received no warning that they would be filmed.  Thankfully, my students rose to the occasion and really went all out to put on a good show for the camera. 

While the GETs have been worrying about their filmed lessons, the final year students have been stressing over tomorrow’s CSAT (Korean SAT): In Korea, this exam is literally the make or break as it determines which university you attend; the name of the university is more important that the actual qualification or your grades it seems and most students aim for the SKY universities (Seoul, Korea and Yonsei) as these are the top three universities in the country.  Of course, realistically, only so many students can be accepted into each of these institutions so there are always going to be several thousand very disappointed graduates who feel that they’ve failed for not being accepted by their school of choice.  The pressure on these kids is unbelievable and what follows seems even more ridiculous.

Apparently, plastic surgery is THE graduation gift to give – if one can afford it of course.  In a country obsessed with appearance, many high school graduates have plastic surgery within days of writing the CSAT.  The most popular procedures seem to be: nose jobs, acne removal and making the skin smooth, creating double eyelids like Westerners have and ear jobs.  Apparently these appointments are made months in advance – motivation to get the kids to study even harder? – so that they have at least two months to fully recover from the procedure before starting university in the new year.

As a result of the CSAT, most high schools have given the rest of the grades the afternoon off and we’ll have the whole of tomorrow off since there’ll be no students at school.  Although the students could leave at 13:00 today, the teachers had to work a full day which wasn’t too bad considering I actually had things to do today.  The best part of the day was that my boxes that were shipped from South Africa finally arrived despite all the customs hassles last Friday when there were no English speaking staff at school who could help me.  I’m relieved to finally have my boxes as my wardrobe has effectively doubled!  It takes me three trips to carry all of the boxes back to my apartment since they were delivered to my school instead of my apartment which is across the road.  On the final trip, I’m surprised to see my vice-principal waving at me in a rather friendly manner – he’s been a bit cold to me since last Friday and I wasn’t really sure what I had done wrong.  As I’m walking back to my apartment, it hits me…

Lesson 4: Never assume anything

Last Friday, I was supposed to go to Seoul with my first graders (grade 10) to look at Seoul and Korea Universities.  I really wanted to make the trip but ended up having to have a CT done instead at the hospital and that was the perfect day for such a long procedure since it didn’t affect any of my classes.  As a result of the trip, there were few teachers at school that day and no English speaking teachers at all.  I was trying to sort out documentation that was needed for the agent to process my things through customs – this included a copy of two pages in my passport and, in my case, one page from each passport since I left SA and entered Korea on two different passports.  My passports were in my apartment and my vice-principal was out so I didn’t think it would be a problem for me to go home and collect them. 

My mistake was in only bringing the EU passport since that was the one that had my Korean visa in it.  In true Korean style, I only receive small quantities of pertinent information at a time and didn’t think that I would need both passports.  By the time I return to my desk, my vice-principal is back in the office where he watches me enter with my passport, sit at my desk and frantically enter information from the passport on my computer.  He then watches me photocopy a page from it and fax it.  I think nothing of it.  When this is later repeated with my South African passport, I still think nothing of it.

Today, it hit me: How must that have looked to him?  Here I am, trying to convince my colleagues that I’m happy at school and enjoy living in Korea and all they see is me suddenly appearing with my passports and frantically entering information on my computer – he probably thought that I was buying a plane ticket home!  Fortunately, the arrival of three boxes of personal belongings from home seems to have convinced him – and everyone else I work with – that I intend staying for a while!

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