The last day of lectures includes a quite enjoyable class on Storytelling and, after lunch, a whole long set time to work with our lesson demo groups on our lesson. I honestly can’t even remember the specifics of what we do during this time besides clarifying the roles that we will each perform in the demo and we run out of time so we will have to go back to the classroom after dinner and practice again.
But before that and after dinner there’s the SMOE meeting. Seoul teachers sign their contracts at this meeting and find out their exact placement (school name, level, and location). Seoul teachers all know that we’ll have an elementary school placement and have known that for several months. We’ve been told to dress very nicely; in other words, I can wear what I’ve been wearing all day but pyjama boy should change.
I don’t know what to expect at this meeting; who I’ll meet or how nervous I should be, so I settle on a level of nervous that causes me to forget to bring a pen. To a contract signing meeting. So… a not-lethal but still definitely damaging level of nervousness.
When we get there it’s set up just like a classroom with the contracts all piled neatly at individual spaces; imaginings I’d had of being led into a small room by myself and forced to read the contract together fizzled away into a whispy nothing. The SMOE people are less scary than I had imagined they would be and the whole ordeal was less formal and…um…less Korean than I had imagined and feared. We sign our contracts on the assumption that we’d read them before signing them in the past (which we had done as part of the application process) and then are instructed to make two lines in order to hand in one of the three copies we’d just signed.
This is a slightly disorganized affair, and we stand in line for what must be ten minutes before we start moving toward the destination: desks at the back of the classroom. During this waiting time some people decide to check the posted lists on the wall to see what their school assignment is. A girl in line next to me offers to hold my spot while I go to check but the squeeze through others and tables to see the closest list does not appeal to me so I thank her anyway and stay in line. I already know where I’m going to be placed, so unless that is actually a mistake like I feared upon learning it, there’s really no surprises waiting for me over there.
I make my way through the line and ask the SMOE guy what the second and third contracts are for. He exclaims “I knew I forgot to say something!” and then “you know, sometimes when you’re getting all prepped to leave a place you do your best but…” (His last day is the next day.) I commiserate with him and he tells me one is for immigration and the other is just for me (which he has already mentioned, but his last day is tomorrow). He gives me an envelope to hold everything together. I move to the end of the table where two EPIK staff members (one of whom is my kind Class 1 teacher, Ellie) give me my certificate of completion and my sealed medical exam results, which I should give to my school.
Now I’m free to check my assignment. Sure enough, in a list of dozens and dozens of people assigned to elementary schools, there I am smack in the middle of the list, “middle” listed under the level section. I stand in shock for a moment. Middle school… I read the school name. Seoul-yeo-jung. Seoul Girls Middle School.
I vaguely recall someone asking me how it went and my own soft-spoken reply… “I got placed at a middle school…” which draws the attention of the male EPIK staff member who’d just a moment earlier been telling someone higher up in line that she would be teaching at his school, so I think for a split second–could it be? But it turns out my school isn’t his and he was just overhearing.
The rest of the night I feel a strange sense of elation to know my placement and to see that it’s not been a mistake, that I am in Mapo-gu. I don’t have experience teaching Middle School, but I do have a lot of knowledge in my subject and perhaps this is an opportunity for me to work at a slightly higher level than I’ve been able to so far. I’m hopeful on the whole, and a bit intimidated, but overall, pleased.
We move our luggage down to the room where we completed registration. Now all that’s left with me in the room are my carryon and backpack and the clothes I’ll wear the next day.
My lesson demo team meets up again in the classroom to practice. Two EPIK teachers sit in on the class before we’ve practiced at all, so we tell them and they come back later and participate in our class as if they’re students. We run past 10.00PM and move to the conference room in the dorm building to practice again. It might be 10.30 or 11.00PM by the time we go back to our rooms. I know I should be sleeping but I stay up reading articles on the NY Times to ease my nerves and go to bed after midnight.
Breakfast starts at 6.30. Because lesson demos start at 8.00 sharp I shower before breakfast for the first time all week and run to the cafeteria with wet hair.
Lesson demonstrations go okay. Our group is fourth to present. Some members forget when it’s their turn or what to do. Overall we have a successful demonstration with some necessary tweaks. I’m just relieved it’s over and I’ve done all that I could do bar doing it all by myself.
After our lesson demos Seoul teachers have to take the bus up to the “meeting point” at a Seoul High School where our co-teachers will meet us and take us first to our schools to meet our principals and vice principals and then to our new homes. I drag my luggage to the bus and as the driver catches sight of me from a slight distance he does a double take and exclaims 오! 한국인거같네. (Oh! [It appears] You look like a Korean.) I laugh, surprised, and shake my head no, boarding the bus and wondering if I heard him wrong.
I manage to get a seat by myself in the bus and spread out my many things onto the seat next to me. I zone out until we reach the rest stop where I buy a bagel and coffee and help one of the other teachers placed at a middle school make his order. We sit in the sunlight outside the food court until we have to board our busses again. It’s about two hours left until we reach the meeting point from the rest stop. I think I may even fall asleep on the bus for a while, but as we were told to dress formally because we’d be meeting the principal, my clothes aren’t comfortable enough to conk out completely.
We’ve been told that our co-teachers may be quite late to the meeting point, but that they know which bus we’re on and will be holding signs with our names and the names of our schools. Only about five or ten minutes after we’ve pulled into the lot I spot two women walking towards our bus with a sign with my name on it, so I wave to them and exchange greetings in Korean, though I quickly figure out that’s not necessary as they’re speaking English to me. As they deliberate in Korean about which luggage to help me with, I hear them wondering about the biggest one and offer to take it myself. They’re shocked that I’ve understood them and responded, but later quickly become relieved when they realize that this will make communication a bit easier between us.
They take me to their car where the head language teacher’s husband is waiting. He says “nice to meet you” in English and loads my (very heavy) luggage into the car by himself. They drive me to the school–our meeting point is in Gangnam so we have to cross the river and head west to Mapo-gu. It takes about half an hour. During that time we chat about my background and the principal, who has worked zealously to get a native speaker to his school, which hasn’t had a native English speaking teacher for four years now. His major was English in college so he speaks English. In addition to working hard to bring me to his school, he also went out himself to find a good apartment for the new teacher, walking in the cold on his own time. I begin to feel like I have fallen into a lucky situation; the co-teachers are friendly and the school is glad to have me.
When we arrive at the school, we go to the principal’s office and are joined by the VP. The principal’s English is good, excellent, even, as expected. He tells me my co-teacher prepared a lot for me and the co-teachers counter that he also did a lot. I do my best to show my appreciation and to appear friendly. The co-teachers tell the principal and vice principal that I can speak a bit of Korean and can listen to it well and some other things about me. They tell the principal that I studied Korean by myself and with the help of friends. She has Korean friends, they say. The principal says “any girlfriend or boyfriend?” I smile. No, just friends, I say, and the VP says 사람친구 (“person” friend as opposed to “girl” friend or “boy” friend).
We take a brief tour of some facilities and I meet some others. The other male English teacher who introduces himself as “Dean. You know James Dean? Well, I’m Dean, Kim Dean” and the administration ladies and a very young, shy looking male maths teacher. Until now I’ve spoken with most teachers in Korean but the math teacher pipes up, “nice to meet you!”
After loading a school chair into the front seat of the car to take to the apartment, they drive me to my new home. The neighborhood is residential with smaller, older-style apartment buildings that cap off at seven or eight stories, most shorter than that. My building has five floors and I’m on the third. We struggle to get the luggage into the elevator but when we land on the third floor, the landlady is there waiting and takes us on a short tour of the house, explaining how to use appliances and how to take out the trash, etc. The school has provided me brand new almost everything down to house and shower shoes and the first toilet paper roll. The apartment is big, two rooms, and spacious, with clean white walls, large tinted windows, and light wood floors. The furniture is white and clean. All in all, it’s definitely my style and I feel more than lucky to have been placed here.
After they help me move the luggage in and make sure I know how to use everything, the head teacher and her husband leave and my contact teacher Carrie walks me back to the school so I can know how to get there the next morning. The school is almost a straight shot from my home, so I remember the way back with no trouble. We chat along the way and get to know each other a bit. She says I like you because you speak Korean and English.
She drops me off at home and we say goodnight and see you later.
I’m exhausted by now, but I have to wait up for the previous tenant to come and collect his luggage. While I wait I use google maps to find out where exactly I am in relation to areas I know. I’m extremely close to the Han River, about a five or ten minute walk from the park–I’m about a ten minute bus ride from Sinchon Station (and Sinchon is one stop away from Hongdae)–I’m a ten minute walk from Mapo Station–and there are plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, hair salons, pharmacies, etc, in my immediate neighborhood. I’m feeling quite relieved and a little high on my luck.
After the previous tenant comes to collect his things, I have little to no recollection of what I did. I believe I made a run to the nearby HomePlus Express to buy some groceries, ate dinner, and went to bed. In any case, I had the next day, March 1st, off, so I didn’t need to worry about getting up early the next morning to go to work.