Sunday, December 23, 2012

PGCE Obtained!

Exam results came out this week, and I've got my PGCE! Hooray! 5 years of 'gruelling' study (and arduous procrastination) have finally come to an end, and from now on the only exams I will write will be the ones I create in order to torment students. I still disagree with the examination process, for most subjects. It makes sense for law as you need to memorise stuff for that as a matter of course, but for more understanding-based subjects like art, language and Maths, I don't see the point in doing it under pressure in silence, without resources. It's hardly the real world.

This exam period was the easiest I've ever had, though. Questions given to us before the exam, open-book exams, being able to do them on a computer, and take-home questions that were so personal that it's almost impossible to get them wrong? Piece of cake.

Anyway, in terms of this blog, my PGCE experience has ended. I've tried to keep this blog up to date about that from start to finish, but now I'm moving into a different phase - going from theory and studying to the working world. I've got a job lined up - teaching through Epik in South Korea - and right now I'm enjoying the last long holiday I think I'll have for a while. Two months on a tropical island, then a couple of weeks skiing in France, and then I'm off on a brand new (and terrifying) adventure. I think I'm pretty lucky. :)

Looking back on the PGCE, it's been a hell of a year. It started with us climbing a mountain (and sliding back down, mostly on our bums, in the mud) only to be told that we should try to hike to 4 different waterfalls that afternoon. We walked on tight-rope across yawning chasms (I may be exaggerating slightly) for some disadvantaged kids, tried to learn to speak isiXhosa, planned lessons, planned lessons, planned lessons. There were some great assignments and some awful ones in which the entire class failed, and I'm pretty sure that my mark for one of the sections was sucked from thin air. We had a short-lived English Teachers' drinking club, and got tipsy on champagne at the end of the year with our wonderful lecturers. Not to mention 3 months of teaching in schools. And that was... interesting.

Anyway, it's been great. From this point on, though, the subject matter of this blog is going to change a bit, focusing more on Korea, and becoming a combination of a travel blog, personal updates for my friends, family and stalkers, and anything I think may be interesting to people who are currently teaching English in Korea or who may be planning to.

Here's to 2012. The world didn't end yesterday, but it's definitely changed a bit, for me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cycles of Anxiety

Daegu has started sending out placement emails. Not to me, yet, though.


*obsessive email checking*


If I get the placement I asked for, in Daegu:
-I will know people there already
-I will know things about the city such as where to drink
-all my research has been focused on it
-travel around Korea will be really easy
-I will know pretty soon where I'm going
plus all the good things that made me choose it in the first place, such as the 'small city' feel despite it being a big city, the hiking, nearby templestays, the general vibe...

If I don't get Daegu and all the research I've done means nothing:

"Where the hell is Naju?"

Start again...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Things to prepare for

My recruiter posted this amusing list on Facebook today:

Now that you're going to Korea, there are some things you need to prepare for.

- Pedestrians share the sidewalk with automobiles and motorcycles...
- Restrooms don't have toilet paper or paper towels...but restaurants often have loo paper at each table
- Every child you pass on the street will say 'hello' to you...
- Children love arm hair...
- Every city bus will have at least 2 teenage boys sitting in each others laps and playing with each others hair & they're straight
- People think you should board the train first before allowing people to get off...
- You leave the house almost every day with the hem of your pants/skirt soaking wet...
- Cell phones are meant to always be turned on...
- People love to know your blood type...
- Growing a beard ages you by 20 years...
- Kids and non-smokers are invincible to second-hand smoke...
- Trash can fires are not just for the homeless anymore...
- You are at risk of being hit by a car the second you walk out of your apartment...
- There are more oscillating-fan-related deaths than shootings...
- Other foreigners fascinate you...
- People think that it is really nice to meet you once again for the 300th time...
- Most laws are merely suggestions...
- All food is "delicious" with no exceptions...
- You never shut your bathroom door for fear of drowning...
- You only hear Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga's names twice a week now...
- The school bell makes you crave ice cream...
- The apocalypse has not arrived... it's just some guy selling fish...
- Naked man is doing unnecessary lunges in front of the mirror in the gym changing rooms...
- You carry your empty coffee cup for a long time after you finished it...
- The smell of kimchi, garlic and soju is an aphrodisiac...
- Every woman under 30 is incredibly good looking...
- Everyone is fascinated by their own face and like to take lots of pictures of themselves...
- You need to start making a schedule of your laundry waiting period...
- Fish and rice belong at any breakfast table...
- Walking backwards in a circle is a great way to exercise...
- It makes sense to remove your face mask if you need to sneeze...
- There are only 2 languages ever spoken - Korean and English...
- Little kids traveling alone on public transit is nothing to be concerned about...
- Loud construction workers are Korea's answer to the alarm clock...
- Any decent man's tie should sparkle...
- Animals love to advertise their own consumption....
- Everyone, including 7 year old's, has a nicer cell phone than you...
- Even if you are fast asleep on the subway or city bus, you won't miss your stop...
- At least once a week you crawl across your apartment floor to get something you forgot after putting your shoes on...A lot of these won't make sense to the first timers but bookmark this list and check back in a few months :-)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Too much information

I've been so excited about going to Korea, for so long, that I am worried that I may have done a bit too much research. Last night over dinner, (sushi, which is similar to Gimbap, a very popular and cheap Korean food... See? There I go again!) a friend asked me if there was anything I didn't know about Korea.

I remember a few years ago, my parents were planning to take me with them for the first time to their favourite ski resort. They had taken my sister with them the year before, and so the three of them spent the whole of December reminiscing and telling me about Champoussin. And I got upset, because I felt like they were ruining all the surprises that I wanted to discover for myself. I wanted that feeling you get when you discover that little restaurant with the best sandwiches in the world. That feeling you get when you've gone off piste, gotten lost, and discovered something incredible.

But now I'm going off to Korea on my own, for the first time, and finding out things about it has become almost an obsession for me. It's also made me a boring person, to anyone who isn't interested in Korea, as my brain is full and I don't seem to have anything else to talk about.

So, is there such a thing as too much research? How do you know when to stop?

That said, my brain is now a fountain of useful information about Korea, so please feel free to ask me a question on the Q & A tab.

I do think I need to start rationing myself, though. I think from now until February 16th, I should limit my Korean 'research' to blogs about everyday life in Korea, and my Korean language learning efforts.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trying Soju for the first time.

On Friday night I popped over to Lara's to try some soju. And, well, the best way to drink shots of anything is with a movie drinking game. Low on choice, we decided to watch Brave (drink on every other "Och!") and out came the soju, which she'd brought back with her after her trip.

The brand we had wasn't even anything particularly high quality - it was this stuff, a generic brand from a convenience store:

chummy booze: 참이슬.
As I was the youngest, I poured the shots, holding the bottle in my right hand with my left hand lightly supporting my wrist or elbow. If they hadn't been comfily slouched back in their deep and poofy couches, my friends would have held their classes nicely with both hands. Instead, they hurled mockery at me instead.

I handed out the shots; we lifted them aloft and shouted 건배! I turned away from the oldest male and knocked the soju back. 

I fully expected 소주 to taste like its Chinese counterpart, Baijiu (which we like to call 'Foot Juice' because it smells and tastes like toe jam):

Provided freely by restaurants in China, this will strip away the lining of your intestines before it runs off to beat up your children and set fire to the polar ice caps. 
As the cool liquid flowed smoothly down my throat, leaving a slightly sweet, and slightly vodka-like aftertaste, I was over the moon to discover that Soju is nothing at all like Baijiu. 

Thank God. 

Because I was really worried about that for a second or two. It tastes a bit like if you took some nice vodka and added slightly sweetened water to it. 

The flavour changed as the night went on (and we ate different snacks), becoming tastier and fruitier and more scrumptious as the Ochs rolled in. Our throats and souls warmed, and our vision swimming, we also started to realise how strong soju really is (even though it doesn't taste like it).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Saying Goodbye

Some people just came round to cart off some of my furniture. Well, their furniture, now. With nine days left in the town that's been home to me for the past five years, I think it's time I made a list of the things I will miss about this place. Yeah, I've been here for longer than most students who pass through, and at times I've been so over this place that I've considered packing up and heading to Cape Town, but there have definitely been some highlights that will stick with me.

1. The proximity of friends. Being able to pop over to a friend's for lunch, or just to veg out on their couch. Without my driver's license (let's not go into that - I can hear your eyes rolling, family who read my blog) it's been pretty convenient to be able to walk everywhere in town within 20 minutes.

2. Being friends with my lecturers. This is something that I've heard is quite unique to this town. I've been friends with people who became my lecturers later, or people who used to be my lecturers, and I'm currently dating my flatmate's lecturer. The easy and close relationships that form between staff and students make this town such a welcoming place to live.

3. Open minds. I think if I had lived anywhere else, I probably wouldn't have realised certain things about who I am and what I want from life as easily as I did here. I probably would have kept little things that make me ME secret, hidden away, and maybe even hated myself a bit for it. Being able to be myself and know that I'd find people like me (who like me as me) is a wonderful thing about living here.

4. Psychotic weather. Summer in winter? Winter in summer? What, you think this town is going to play by the rules and have nice, orderly weather that takes its turn and comes at the right time? Here, have some floods. In the time that I've lived here, we've seen snow, a tornado, floods that ripped away a significant artery road into town, drought, and lovely sunny spring days with the scent of freshly mown grass and braais. At least it's interesting.

5. Small businesses. One thing I'm glad we don't have is a gigantic mall. Our biggest shopping center has a 1-screen cinema, a bottle store, a bookshop, and a grocery store. And that pretty much sums it up. Instead of the hulking eyesores that have been cropping up all over the place in Mauritius, here the cafes open up onto the roadside, or have balconies among the trees. Book stores know you by name (and remember your tastes). The health shop gives you a phone call when that one rare thing comes into stock.  And that guy who runs the hubbly shop lets you live in the back for two months when you're at the point of homelessness. Because he's a nice guy. I remember sitting in the rain with a box full of books once, waiting for the second hand store to open. The guy who owned the cafe across the road ran across with a mug of hot chocolate for me, for free, just because he thought it looked like I needed it.

6. Bumping into my students while walking around town, and chatting to them. The warm, friendly vibe of this town makes it so easy to get to know the kids whose minds you tweak each day, and it's always a surprise to have someone say "Hi ma'am" from the other end of the junk food aisle. This can be awkward, of course, on those all too common days when you schlepped to the shops in your pajamas to get some milk after a rough night out.

7. Ninja donkeys. In this town, donkeys roam wild. And if you see one lurking on your doorstep, you can bet your ass (badumdumTSH!) there are another five sneaking up on you. Their only threat are their mortal enemies, the cows, with whom they battle for territory, leaving steaming brown landmines to mark their land. Yum.

8. Flashmobs for birthdays and purple making anything and everything better.

9. Walking into a bar on a lonely night and finding that you know everyone there, including the bar staff, the owner, and the creepy toothless guy by the door. If you've been here long enough and aren't the type to stick to a closed group of friends all the time, this WILL happen. And it is awesome.

10. But even better than that is the way that the annual flow of people in and out of town means there are always new people to meet. And sometimes those people have been around all along, but you just never crossed paths until the very end, only to develop a friendship so strong that it breaks your heart to say goodbye.

And now I'm a little weepy. I'm going to miss this place, and its rhythms, the sound of the homeless guy strumming away at his guitar on the street corner outside, the rain drumming down on my tin roof, cicadas clicking in the garden, fresh bread at the farmer's market outside the old gaol, barefoot hippies fire-poiing just because they can, sprinting wildly through campus and climbing the statues and trees, treasure hunting in the hills around town, the last phyllo pastry parcels saved for us by the owner of the restaurant, chatting to the ladies at the Kaif, befriending the neighbour's cat, and lazy afternoons lying on the grass in front of the campus buildings.

But I'm also looking forward to all the new memories I'm going to make, and falling in love with somewhere strange, different and new. It's also a good thing that a lot of my friends are insomniacs, so there's always skype. And visits.

Here are some photos:

Writing novels as a group activity

Finding friends in strange places

Living in a National Monument

Being a ninja.

Crazy games

Befriending other people's pets

Taking costume parties too seriously

Rooftop drum circles

Abandoning any sense of dignity in the name of team-building

Flashmob birthday surprise parties

Waiting for a tortoise to cross the road

Being a ninja again

Doing insane things for charity

Purple Thursdays

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Notarizing and Apostilling: SA jumps on the red-tape bandwagon

My recruiter sent all their applicants an email today explaining that the SA high court has changed its laws, making us align more with the rest of the world in terms of the apostilling process. While for the last 6 years all we had to do was send certified copies of documents to Teach Korea, and they'd get stuff apostilled for us, as of last Thursday the bureaucrazies require you to get the documents notarized by a Notary Public before they can be apostilled. From the TK email:

For the past 6 years TeachKorea has provided free Apostilles to our clients as a value added service.

Last week we were informed that the apostille procedure has been changed at the High Court and that they are: 

• no longer permitted to attach an apostille to certified copies of degree certificates.
• no longer permitted to attach an apostille to the original SAPS Police Clearance Certificate.

The new procedure now requires that both these documents first be NOTARIZED by a NOTARY PUBLIC.

This can be done at most law firms or attorneys offices, just phone ahead to check that they do have a partner who is a registered Notary Public.
 For those of us who jumped the gun and sent in documents before we knew if we'd passed the interview (risking having to apply for all-new ones if we failed the interview), we're the lucky ones. Cliff says that they're going to get the Criminal Background Checks (Police Clearance Certificates) that they already have in the office notarised and apostilled for us. If your degree was sent in weeks ago, like mine, then it's probably been apostilled too, although it might be worth your while emailing them to check. However, their poor local Notary Public can't handle hundreds of new submissions on top of the ones they already have, so if you haven't sent your documents in yet, you MUST get them notarized yourself.

Once again, I'm blown away by the awesomeness of Teach Korea, although I did panic and throw a million hyperventilatey questions at Cliff the moment I saw the email. I'm in the clear, but applicants who have not yet sent in their documents MUST get their stuff notarized. From some brief googling, I think you probably need to take Photo ID with you. I don't know if it costs anything, so take money just in case.

Bureaucratic red tape: Not as fun as it looks.
Note: this only applies if you need to get things apostilled at a High Court; if you're going through Foreign Affairs, check the docs4expats guidelines as the procedures may be different.

Learning Korean from Scratch

There are few things scarier than moving to the other side of the world by yourself. Oh, wait - what if you moved to the other side of the world, to a country where you are completely illiterate?

 Luggage lost at the airport? No idea how to get out of the terminal building? Don't know how to pronounce the address of wherever you're supposed to go to the taxi driver? How about using that washing machine, or turning on the underfloor heating (especially when you come from a hot country where thermostats are completely unknown)? Need to get to work? Need to go to the bathroom? Need... to communicate at all?

Screw this; at least the beer place has a picture on it. BEER TIME!

I'm all about being overprepared, so for the past few months I've been teaching myself Korean. I started very slowly but since I passed my interview I've taken it up a few notches and I'm taking it a lot more seriously. And suddenly it doesn't seem as hard as it was at first.

How hard can it be?

Some resources

When I told her I was interested in going to Korea, one of the first things my friend Lara did was loan me a book called 'Survival Korean' (reviewed thoroughly here). One of its strong points is the section in which you learn to read Hangul in only four hours. It's fantastic for people who have no knowledge of the language, and no linguistic background.

I have also been spending time looking through the interwebs for some good, free (and not so free) resources, so here are a few that I've found:

TalkToMeInKorean - A fantastic website through which you can learn Korean in whichever method suits you, be it vocabulary from labelled photographs, or through the lyrics to K-pop songs, or from realistic and amusing dialogues, as well as the standard podcast lessons with pdf supplements. This one has been the most effective (for me) for learning everyday spoken Korean.

LearnKoreanOnline (with Rob Julien) - This guy is a fantastic teacher, and has videotaped classes in which he teaches real people the language. I love the fact that he's taped real classes, as the students make comments and questions that are totally in line with what I was thinking at the time. It also means the pace is nice and slow. These videos helped me to finally get the hang of the vowels (ㅗ,ㅓ,ㅏ,ㅣ,etc), as they were confusing me a lot. He's also great at replying to emails if you have other questions.

Memrise - This website allows you to make your own flashcards or learn from lists that other people have made. There are a lot of flashcard programs out there, but this one is definitely my favourite. What makes it special is that how well you remember words and how much time you spend learning them affects 'flowers' in your 'garden' - if you don't practise, they wilt. If you do practise, they grow. It also forces you to become familiar with reading and writing Korean as you sometimes have to type the answers, and it does not necessarily provide romanized forms of the words. Some words even let you listen to a recording of someone pronouncing them.

Heather linked to some awesome syllable charts, available here, which I'll probably print out and stick on my wall for practise during desk-warming.

DAUM - From what I can tell, this is a bilingual dictionary aimed at Koreans learning English and Westerners learning Korean. I use it when I learn a new word in order to get the most thorough idea of all the different nuances of the word. It's pretty awesome, although a bit tricky to get the hang of in the beginning. It does provide example sentences so you know how to use the word in context, which makes it awesome to me. You need to know how to type in Korean in order to search for Korean words.

(KLEAR) Integrated Korean - This textbook series is not free but for someone who has a background in Linguistics like me, and who is used to learning other languages, it's amazing. It can be a bit too technical for people who aren't linguistically fabulous, but I really like using it for the grammar and spelling rules. It explains things really, really well, and the practise exercises are very good for cementing your understanding. So far I haven't found the answers to the questions I've been answering, and a memo would be nice. I'm hoping to get a native Korean speaker to help me out with that once I get there.

So, how am I teaching myself Korean?

1. Alphabet: I think the 한글 writing system is the most logical and reasonable in the world, and it's actually quite easy to get the hang of. I learned it initially from the Survival Korean book, and then cemented that and clarified things with Rob Julien's videos. Now I use it to take notes in my Korean notebook. Which brings me to...

2. Notebook (Grammar and vocab): I keep a notebook that I use to practise reading and writing Korean. I also use it to make notes about how the language works, with examples and colour coding and vocabulary things. So, depending on what I feel like doing on a given day, I write things like a list of classroom Korean that I got from the KLEAR book, or I do some grammar exercises, or write out some vocab with example sentences. As I get better at Korean I'll start writing short sentences, paragraphs, and so on. For now I'm just keeping things simple. Because I'm messier than the Tasmanian devil, I use a qued notebook (with vertical lines as well as horizontal) so that I can practise writing Korean syllables within square blocks.

3. Vocabulary: I use Memrise to learn vocabulary, starting with lists of the most commonly used words. If you're looking for good lists like that, look for lists that mention the TOPIK exam.

4. Pronounciation: If, like me, you've never really been exposed to people speaking Korean around you, then when you do hear it, it kind of sounds like pebbles rolling down a hill and landing in a pond. It sounds pretty, to me, but it's a bit hard to even begin to understand a language when you can't tell where words start and end, or if people are expressing something good or bad, or asking a question. I don't have any Korean friends nearby, so to get my ear tuned in to the sounds, rhythms and speed of Korean, I watch Korean soap operas. It especially helps build my confidence as the words that I've learned from Memrise pop up, such as 그리고 (and, and then, and also, as well as...) and I recognise them. Because that means I actually understand what people are saying! Plus, the soap operas (dramas) are AWESOME - funny, sweet, and a bit crazy. You also start to get an idea of how social interactions take place, especially with regard to bowing, and face-saving. If you're too butch to watch shows in which the heroine seduces the hero by puking on him, watch films like Old Boy instead. They have a massive entertainment industry, so you WILL find something you like.

To sum it all up: if you're an absolute beginner who wants to learn Korean while you wait for it to be February, I think I'd break it down like this:

Learn the alphabet from Rob Julien. Learn some basic phrases from TalkToMeInKorean. Build up your vocab with Memrise and tune your ear with Korean movies and series (not all of them are cheesy romances!) and then if you want to get serious, get yourself a good textbook - the kind used by university courses in learning Korean, rather than ones aimed at tourists - and knuckle down. It's supposedly one of the five hardest languages for westerners to learn.

There's another great list of resources here. The resources listed above are just the ones that I personally use regularly

Saturday, November 10, 2012

PCC: The End.

Nine days after the Police told me they'd posted my PCC to me (just minutes before they received my email asking them not to) I still hadn't seen a sign of it. They also neglected to give me a tracking number, so there's that too. Damn those evil wizards!

BEHOLD! An army of civil servants.

I had some errands to run in town so I decided to pop into the post office to see if there was any way I could find out where the letter was. The lady I spoke to said that without a tracking number I'd have to go to the depot and ask. It happened to be on my way so off I trotted.

Unlike the High Street Post Office, the Post Depot has no shiny lobby, demarcated queuing points, or signs pointing you to various tellers. There were bags of post lying around everywhere, lots of people running around stuffing things into more bags; sheer chaos to my eyes.

I stood awkwardly in the middle of the not-a-lobby and asked the nearest human where I could make inquiries. She directed me to a tiny cupboard, inside which sat a Postal Gnome.

He smiled, stood, and asked how he could help me. He actually spoke to me like a human being. Well, like I was a human being. After being shunted around by police and post people who get a million inquiries a day, it was refreshing to have someone actually SEE me.

I explained that I was waiting for some urgent mail, and he asked me for my address.

"30 Notmyaddress Lane," I whispered nervously.
"FRIKKIE!" bellowed my gnome friend, "POST FOR 30 Notmyaddress Lane?!" Everybody froze and stared at me....

And then they went back to their business.

I had my PCC in my hands within a minute, and the friendliest post-gnome in the world was waving me off and telling me to come back any time, if there was ever another problem.

So, in the end, I was helped by one of the few civil servants in this country who is not an evil wizard. And with my documents ready and off to my recruiter, a great weight has lifted off my back. All is well in Kath-land.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

As PGCE comes to an end... Nauseating reflective post.

A take-home exam question for today's paper was to reflect on what we've learned during PGCE, and TP in particular.

This is what I wrote (a bit unpolished and quite long, but bear with me):

Before I started PGCE, a friend of mine who had completed the course before told me that a PGCE is not only about learning theories and methods to be used to teach, but also a journey of self-development. Having survived a rather tumultuous year, and looking backwards on the teaching practice in particular, I am in complete agreement. I chose to work at a non-English school in order to prepare myself for my future years teaching ESL overseas, and so it was no surprise when I encountered severe language barriers at my school. As a result of this decision, however, my Home Language English class were not technically mother-tongue English speakers but rather a collection of incredibly bright, advanced English First Additional Language students. As such, it became more and more evident that I needed to keep this in mind when preparing lessons and giving instructions. Furthermore, they were grade 11s, and our closeness in age put me at risk of being too friendly with them and losing an element of authority in the classroom.

The first thing I learned, on the first day, is that no matter how much planning you have done, your plans will always require on-the-job tweaking, or it may be necessary to toss the plan out the window and go with perceived strengths in the lesson, or address suddenly apparent weaknesses. In my case, I had prepared my first three Animal Farm lessons, introducing key terms such as Communism, Socialism and Animalism, as well as a brief overview of the parallels with the USSR in the text book. In the very first lesson, my mentor teacher dictated definitions of all these terms – the entirety of the 'meat' of my first three lessons – to the class, and they diligently copied them down without understanding a thing. While initially I was terrified that my content 'had already been covered', as the term went on, these definitions or concepts needed to be revisited again and again, as the learners grappled with complicated ideas as well as vocabulary that was foreign to them. While my initial reaction was focused on the content that needed to be learned, as the term went on, this paradigm shifted to an understanding of the process by which learners begin to understand concepts. We had discussed this at length in Education Studies and Method lectures, but the truth of it only became evident in practice.

Understanding that the purpose of the lesson is to facilitate learning, and not pump information into spongy young minds, was the most important lesson I learned. Factored into that was learning how to let learning happen – the actual practical side of the theory. In my first crit lesson I had developed a good relationship with the learners through the use of dingbats, which were fun, challenging and sparked their creative minds, as well as by getting to know the individual personalities of a very diverse, if small, class. However, I was also still trying to get them to get the answers right, rather than to let them explore the questions I was asking, and I tended not to give learners enough time to experiment. While the content and structure of my lessons was great from the start in terms of resource preparation and planning, my actual teaching needed a lot of work. With particular regard to a class of additional language speakers, I learned the incredibly important value of giving the learners time to respond to the best of their abilities, rather than rushing them to churn out an answer that I had expected or predicted.

That is not to say, however, that I learned to underestimate my learners. While these learners were not completely fluent in English, their difficulties with work stemmed not from a lack of ability but from a lack of vocabulary necessary to put the ideas they had into English words. Many times, learners would know the Afrikaans term for the correct answer, and they assisted each other in finding the correct English form of the word. I think that a similar process would happen in a mother-tongue classroom in which learners, for example, say, 'What's the word for that thing that does xyz... Oh, it's on the tip of my tongue!' It was therefore important for me to provide vocabulary and clear explanations of new terms. Something that took me a while to learn was to provide learners with opportunities to practice the new vocabulary.

Another method that I learned to use and applied in my lessons was scaffolding. In order to elevate a learner to a particular level of understanding it is vital that you provide support. It also requires you to understand where they are now, before trying to take them to where you want them to be. Through continuous assessment and by gradually increasing the complexity of tasks or questions, I tried to scaffold learners towards the objectives of the lessons. Sometimes this was successful, but in other cases it failed miserably, as I may have misjudged the abilities of individuals by assuming that as a group all the learners were of the same or similar level.

Where I misjudged the abilities of individuals, this was often a case of being pulled by the stronger personalities while quieter learners kept their heads down, making it more difficult to judge their understanding or ability. In my crits, I was warned not to let myself be pulled to one side of the class to the expense of other learners, and this was something I worked on throughout the term. One strategy I used to combat this was to walk around the classroom in a more-or-less set pattern, approaching each cluster of learners in turn. However, when introducing concepts or explaining something, I continued to be pulled toward the stronger personalities as they asked questions or made comments on the explanation. Sometimes these comments were inappropriate, which brings me to the next lesson I learned – discipline.

The grade 11s at my TP school had been labelled almost universally by their teachers as a very poorly disciplined, rowdy, disrespectful and lazy class. I found that my small group of over-achievers were significantly better behaved than others in the year. My learners had chosen to take English as a Home Language even though it was more difficult and they needed to pay extra. Discipline in my class tended to fail instead when learners were distracted from their tasks, either by myself or because they were tired or focusing too much on the dingbats.

In my second crit I discovered that a major problem in my classroom was that I was a distraction for the learners. I would set a task, but I would not let them get into it or work through it, instead apparently I was afraid that learning wouldn't happen if I was not talking, and by the time they got tired of listening to me, and I got tired of talking, they had lost any interest in the work as well or, more often, we had run out of time. Learning to be quiet and let the learners get to work was the biggest challenge for me.

Discovering that I needed to shift roles from performing monkey to textbook to parent to friend and to quiet supervisor was an eye-opening experience. As a job, teaching requires you to constantly think on your feet and adapt to the various situations, but it also requires you to take on many roles as you both instruct learners in your subject and you provide an element of guidance in their social development. It is also important to make learning fun and to keep them engaged, in which case you become a performer, putting on silly accents, emphasising sound effects, manipulating volume and physical space to keep the space of the classroom dynamic rather than static. You also need to know the ins and outs of your subject backwards, as learners may view you as a sort of encyclopedia (particularly if they are not allowed to use their cellphones to google things).

One way in which to combat the expectation of the teacher to be an infinitely wise encyclopedia is to deliberately withhold information, pretending you don't know, and suggesting that you work towards and answer together. Another option is to bring in a specialist who can discuss the subject. I discovered the flexibility of the classroom and resources when I brought in my friend, a lawyer, to explain how the South African Court processes worked in preparation for a debate exercise which was supposed to run as a trial. Having a fresh face in the classroom immediately grabbed learners' attention, as well as the fact that he provided them with access to difficult language in a realistic context.

By setting the learners in a context-embedded lesson, they see the value of the work that they are being asked to do. I also believe it is incredibly motivating to use difficult language in a real environment and have that environment respond appropriately to your input. In this sense, to write a business letter or letter to the editor and actually post it and have a response to it makes learners view English less as an extra subject and more as a useful, even vital, life skill. It may be enough to choose texts that are real, or that are relevant to their context, but I think it is even more effective to take the learners out of their own context and confront them with a context in which they have the skills to deal with the difference. The important thing is to ensure that they are capable of coping with the new context, as inability might severely damage their confidence, which is a terrible de-motivator. An example in which I threw learners into an alien context was my last lesson with them.

With all the marks in, even the ones that had gone missing (I learned a lot about organisation as well), learners still had to come to school and so I decided to have a fun, not-for-marks filler lesson. I also decided to apply some of the techniques I had learned through doing my research project into gamification, which explores how key elements of games can be used as a motivating tool in the classroom. I created the environment by writing an 'emergency news report' on the board, in which the municipality warned that tap water in Grahamstown is contaminated and is causing terrible symptoms among residents, namely people were stiff-limbed, unable to communicate, incredibly hungry and while physically responsive to stimuli, their brain activity showed severe brain damage. In a word: zombies.
Some learners actually believed that this report was real. I explained that as the school was at the top of a steep hill, the contagion had not yet reached us, and some of our water was safe for now. However, they needed to consider themselves to be the last survivors, and to make a plan to leave. At this point learners had cottoned on to the fact that I was trying to get them to work, albeit on something fun, and they started to whinge. As it was the last lesson and there was not much time, I decided to write a list of possible things they could do on the board and they voted on the activity that appealed the most to them. By giving them this autonomy, they were somewhat more motivated, and they chose to split into two groups of news teams, covering the story. 
Learners greatly enjoyed the activity, and their creativity made the level of the work very high. Additionally, by putting them in an unfamiliar context, they got to use unfamiliar language, practising their vocabulary. The environment responded to them, and made demands of them. And almost all of the talking in the lesson was from learners; once I had explained the activity, I sat back and watched it evolve, prompting them with regards to time constraints and to use English to discuss their ideasm but otherwise moving around and eavesdropping on their brilliant ideas. Another great motivator was peer feedback; with two groups competing for the best report, each group worked hard, and quietly (so as not to give their ideas away). 
My last lesson, while a bit more relaxed and not for marks, shows the development of my teaching when contrasted with my first. The lesson was largely unplanned, and the plan changed to suit the interests of the learners, while still maintaining high standards and requiring them to participate. Our relationship was strong enough that they were willing to participate, and all the learners took part, so the lesson was not just focused on those with strong personalities. Most importantly, I kept my mouth shut and let learning happen.

I have learned that the teacher plays many roles in the classroom: planner, facilitator, performer, policeman, and parent are just a few of them. Most of all I learned that it is important to know your learners, to cater to their interests and to challenge them to push themselves to new levels, while providing them with the skills and support to make it possible for them to do so. It is also important to know when to be in the foreground, explaining, or when to withdraw into the background so that learners can focus on a task. Keeping the many forces of the classroom in mind, from the strong personalities, to potential barriers, to the power relationship between teacher and learner, is key to classroom management, as you are responsible for keeping those forces balanced, in order to create the best teaching environment.

 And now I can't get this bloody song out of my head:

Lookin' back on the things I've done
I was tryin' to be someone
I played my part
And kept you in the dark
Now let me show you the shape of my heart

Here endeth the nausea.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Epik Interview Results

Not only did this morning's Ed Studs exam go a lot better than I thought it would, but despite my nightmare about it this morning, my recruiter did not receive an email listing all my flaws and explaining why Korea didn't want me.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

I'm going to Korea!!!!!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Epik Interview

Well, I just had my interview, and it went better than I expected! Despite my housemate KILLING the internet WHILE the interviewer was trying to phone me. For pete's sake.

Anyway, here's how it went:

5:30am I had set my alarm for 7am, but of course I woke up hours before that, full of jittery nerves. Fantastic. Only 3 and a half hours to kill before the long-dreaded moment of the skype call. I passed the time by watching some apartment tour videos, and suddenly it was 8:00 and I needed to get up and get ready. Preparation yesterday helped a lot, as I had an outfit laid out and my skin was looking good. Hair... uncooperative. I put it in a bun.

8:30am By now I was pretty sure my department was open so I sprinted to the only labs on campus that I can get into without my magical student card (it's magic in that it always disappears just when I need it the most). My diet is working (yay) but that means my pants are too loose, so sprinting while holding them up made for some early entertainment for innocent bystanders.

8:40am I arrived at the department, sprinted (gasping for air) up three flights of stairs only to discover a big shiny padlock on the door to the computer labs. I didn't have time to try any other labs on campus, so I found someone in an office in the department and begged a favour. Application form in hand, I sprinted home to get changed, set my laptop up in the right place (with a view of the wall rather than my messy room) and test my audio settings.

8:50am Home, set up, and having a huge asthma attack thanks to all the sprinting. Puff puff goes the ventolin and, as usual, it made me coughy and phlegmy which isn't ideal. I coughed as much as I could so that my voice would be clear for the interview, and settled in to wait for the interview.

8:55am SOMEONE IS KILLING THE INTERNET. WHY? I asked people three times to stay the hell off the internet for just that hour or so, and yet my connection was bouncing up and down like a bunny on a pogo stick. My kind flatmate ran across the garden to crap on the digsmate, and the connection seemed to stabilise.

9:00am Stable-ish. I asked my recruiter to give me a quick test call just in case. But when the call came through, I was greeted by the friendly face of a fellow applicant who had just had his own interview. He calmed me down and gave me some tips and before I knew it...

9:10am interview time! But the friendly applicant was still talking to me. Oh god oh god what if I miss the call? He said it's all right; they usually don't phone on the dot.

9:14am No call yet and my internet has dipped AGAIN. I will murder someone. With a rusty spoon, slowly gouging out their

ring ring... Or, in Skype's case, bloop bloopedy bloop.
And there she was - an adorably cute lady with awesome hair and a big smile on her face. Completely non-threatening looking. And surprisingly close to my little doodled picture that I stuck above my webcam for improved eye contact. How 'bout that.

Some people have shared common questions that come up, and my recruiter had sent us a list as well, so I had thought about answers to those questions. My friend had her interview yesterday and she said those were the exact questions asked.

Not so for me. So even if I was unethical enough to share the questions with you, I doubt it would help. I think the best thing to prepare is to think long and hard about why you want this, what you want out of it, what makes you an awesome teacher and what you know about Korean culture. My having read up on Confucian hierarchies and the idea of 'face' definitely helped my interview.

Some questions were curveballs  as a result, but I think I did well - I just took a deep breath, and answered the questions as honestly as I could. Some of my answers made her laugh and smile.

9:45am Interview over, and I think it went pretty well. Lots of smiling, laughing, and nodding. I think that's a good sign. She did ask me how motivated I was to come to Korea, as many applicants have dropped out during the application process itself, and I might have come on a bit too strong. I may have mentioned the fact that I don't have a back up plan, and have put everything into this, so if I don't get the job, not only will I be utterly heartbroken, but I'll be homeless and jobless too. So... Yeah. On a scale of 1 to 10, my motivation is 10 000 000 000 000. At least I didn't outright say "PLEASE PLEASE OH GOD PLEASE GIVE ME THE JOB." But I came pretty close.

So now I wait for the results.

So frikking excited and jittery right now.


Pre-interview jitters and preparation

My interview is set for 9:10am tomorrow morning, and I've spent much of the day bouncing between getting ready for it and trying not to think about it. See, I'm one of those people who gets nervous when they phone to order pizza. I even get nervous when I phone the machine at vodacom to check my airtime - thank goodness for the wonders of *100#. Of course, this leads to tension when my mom asks me to make calls for her when she's driving... I digress.

Preparing for your Epik Interview
The night before last I sat up looking at pictures on pinterest of amazing studio apartments, and daydreaming (at night) of having piles of money and decorating my Korean apartment in a creative, whimsical and yet classy way. I think I ended up getting about an hour's sleep. So yesterday I was a bit of a nervous wreck. And then the email came in, telling me when my interview was. I decided to make sure to get a good night's sleep last night, and got as much as possible, waking up round 10ish.

Since the interview is on camera, I decided to spend a little time giving my skin some TLC:

I recommend washing the face mask off BEFORE the interview. Otherwise your interviewer might have a heart attack.
I also picked out an outfit for my upper half (black blouse, black pin-striped blazer) and found a location for my interview. My room is a mess and with only one window, my desk wasn't an option as the window would cause me to be silhouetted. So I have opted for the floor, with my laptop on my trunk at eye-level, angled so that all that is visible is the wall and a bit of book shelf - the same view as in the image above. I tried out some different hairstyles but apparently my hair isn't cooperating today. I'll straighten it tomorrow and probably stick it in a bun or something. Fancy. Not.

I also test-drove skype for the bazillionth time by calling my recruiter to test my settings. I'm working on speaking more slowly, and she said my current speed is perfect. Although our internet has been bouncing up and down for the last two days, she said the quality was perfect, so that's another worry sorted. If my internet is crap tomorrow then I cannot vouch for the continued safety of my housemates, who tend to kill all bandwidth with whatever it is they do.

During the call, I realised that I struggle to maintain eye-contact while talking, so I have MADE A PLAN. It's pretty hard for me to make eye contact with a tiny built-in webcam so I have drawn a picture of my interviewer (based on her Skype profile picture) and am sticking it to my laptop's lid. I have tried to make her as friendly and non-threatening as possible. Ain't she cute?

I'm currently going through the questions that my recruiter said might pop up and thinking up clever answers for them. I'm also practicing my Korean pronunciation on 'Annyeonghaseyo' (hello), 'gamsahapnida' (thank you) and 'hanguk mal eul jal mora yo' (I don't speak Korean very well).

Now all I need to do is print out my application form, which I'll have to do tomorrow because I've lost my student card AGAIN and can't get into labs, and that's it. I'm all set. And still terrified.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A list of listy lists. And the PCC Debacle is far from resolved.

First things first: The email address given on the SAPS website for police clearance certificate queries is WRONG.

The correct address is Yes, I'm publishing it. No, I don't care if they get spammed. They publish it on their website, or, at least, they think they do. This address is the correct one. Use this one, unlike a certain red-penned moron who emailed them weeks ago to ask them to change the method of dispatch so my friendly but expensive document assistance lady could pick it up and get it apostilled. Basically, I paid R500 for her to:

1. Check on my PCC and speed up the process.
2. Pick it up.
3. Get it apostilled.
4. Send it on to my recruiter. 

But of course, our wonderful civil services have thwarted my attempt to save time and money by spending money:

1. Nationwide delivery strikes led to my PCC getting lost in the mail.
2. When they did eventually find it, weeks later, the backlog from the strikes meant that my PCC took longer to appear on the database than it should have,
3. Their website provides the wrong contact information, so weeks after I emailed this wrong address about wanting them to NOT POST IT, but rather give it to my document lady, I still had not received even the slightest acknowledgment of receipt. My documents lady gave me the correct email address, which I have reposted above. But I was too late...
4. After I emailed the correct address, I received an email from them saying that I had just missed it; the processed PCC was posted to me this morning.

So, who's willing to bet this will a) get stolen, b) go missing, c) spontaneously combust?

While it isn't my document lady's fault, considering that the Civil Services have successfully thwarted any chance she might have had of doing anything remotely useful (not for want of trying), I am trying to see if I can be refunded at least some of the money.

And I'm trying not to cry, and trying not to murder someome.

But you know me - I'm an optimist. So, final list in this rather listy post:

1. At least it's been processed.
2.  At least it's on its way.
3. At least my house isn't flooded.
4. At least I'm not living in a bathroom (true story, it happened, maybe I'll mention it someday - probably in the same breath as 'WOW this Korean apartment is TINY' or something. Stay tuned for that).
5. At least I'm alive.
6. At least the internet is working (albeit intermittently).
7. At least my interview has been scheduled!!!!!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Great PCC Debacle of 2012

Crikey, what a mission. I suppose it serves me right for ignoring warnings and leaving it so late to apply for my Police Clearance Certificate, the very last document that I need. Well, in early September, I went to get fingerprinted. R59 and some very dirty hands later, I was ready to send it on to be processed at the Criminal Records Centre in Pretoria.

Mistake number 1: I didn't send it immediately; I was waiting until the new EPIK application form came out so I could do all my posting at once. Get this sorted out ASAP.

So eventually I speed-serviced it over to Pretoria. Getting a tracking number reassured me, as this one envelope contains everything an identity thief could ever dream of. I sent it off the day after my EPIK stuff was sent to my recruiter for the simple reason that I'd forgotten to bring it with me on my first visit to the post office.

Mistake number 2: Wrapped in the bubble of news-silence that is Grahamstown, I was unaware that there was looming strike action. And, whaddaya know? The very week I send my most important document off, the delivery truck drivers go on strike. Story of my life. The post office outsourced to private drivers. However, this inevitably led to chaos as these guys really are not trained to do post. For example, one guy gave the entire bag of post - parcels, snail mail and speed services - to the nearest human being, a security guard, when he arrived before the post office opened. Luckily that security guard was an honest person, and he brought it into the post office branch where my flatmate works (which is why I know this happened).

As a result of this fiasco, my PCC went missing. And I only discovered this when Noma, the nice lady at Docs4Expats who I'd paid to speed things up and to monitor it, emailed me to tell me that it hadn't arrived. Even though I'd sent it over a week before that.

I spent an entire day phoning the post office and police station (and intermittently crying in between) trying to find my missing documents, and Noma suggested I get re-fingerprinted and send them via courier as soon as possible. The wonderful lady at the Post Office went out of her way to track my parcel down, and finally managed to confirm that it had been delivered to the CRC in Pretoria. When the young cop on the phone at the CRC told me about how they were barely dealing with the backlog, and sounded like she was going to cry from being shouted at by an entire country all day, I decided to give it a week. I also didn't want to go back to the dodgiest part of town to get fingerprinted. Again.

So I waited, and waited, and waited. The strike ended and Noma said she'd see if she could pick up the documents from the post office. And that was the last I heard about it - which is understandable as nearly every person and their aunt is using Noma to get things apostilled and so on in Pretoria this time of year, so she is beyond busy.

On Friday I asked my nice boyfriend if he could give me a lift to the police station to get re-fingerprinted this Monday, as rain has been putting me off the walk. Well, it has not stopped raining since Wednesday. And not the usual half-hearted drizzle; this is 5 days of solid torrential downpour, 24/7 (except for a brief sunny respite which coincided with our usual Ultimate Frisbee practice time, luckily enough). Nearby towns are flooded, and a couple of hours ago the only road to the nearest city was washed away by a flooded river.

Here are some photos of the devastation in Grahamstown:

The main road to Port Elizabeth

So... if I did try to post anything, it would go via Port Elizabeth. But only if the van is driven by Sandra Bullock.

In a fit of optimism I decided to see if anything had progressed on Pretoria's end, by checking the status of my application here.

And lo and behold, my PCC application has appeared on their database, which means it is being processed. Additionally, the other day my original copy of my TEFL certificate arrived in Mauritius, so I'm just that much closer to being in Korea. My recruiter says I'm on the waiting list for an interview, so I should hear about that any day now.

In the end, after all this chaos, things are looking up. Well, except for the destruction of the main supply lines to town. Farms have lost their crops because of flooding, and anything they did manage to harvest is stuck on the other side of impassable roads, so (of course) Pick n Pay have doubled their prices and it looks like I'll have to start rationing the cookies. Students have been seen bum-surfing on local schools' fields, some businesses are closed, and it is quite likely that no one will show up to class on Monday, as students in this town are known to dissolve if they get wet. Something to do with the alcohol content in their blood streams.

Time to break out the rubber duckie.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Korean Ultimate Players Association

Looking at the title of this post, you may think I am going to write about dating practices, cheating, and people who look like this weirdo:

ye standarde tinfoil pimpe cup.
No, no, silly people. I'm going to talk to you about sports. Or not. Maybe I'll just post a video of what I found today that makes me ridiculously happy. It's a way to stay fit AND make friends and, well, I'm not very good at it but if this weather ever lets up and we get to have more games, I'll improve.

And now, our feature presentation, courtesy of KUPA:

Watch the bonus footage at the end to see an incredibly cute demonstration of bringing your interests into your school, and lessons.

They have teams all over Korea! I've never played in a competitive team before, aside from a few months of hockey in high school. So exciting! And Ultimate Frisbee is ridiculously fun. 

I think this is another thing to look forward to in Korea. :D