Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dealing with Co-Teacher Conflict

So, like, I totally just sorted out the stuff that's been bugging me lately. I won't go into it on my blog; that would be inappropriate and tedious. Ain't nobody got time for that. So I've been deliberately obscure about it. It's not the point of this post. 

Instead, let's just say it's a classic case of co-teacher/NET miscommunication about many different things that was on the verge of spiralling into something self-destructive. And here's how I neutralised it:

Did I call in the DMOE? No. Did I talk to higher powers within the school? No. Did I pore over my contract or throw my toys in any way? No.

Because that's not how I roll. Instead, I spent the day being above reproach. No facebook. Lots and lots of diligent admin. If I wasn't teaching I was doing epik training, planning, or (briefly over lunch) my Korean homework. Also, following the advice of some very smart people, I kept track of everything I did over the day, which helps me to know which class is where in the syllabus, while covering my ass later if there is some kind of disaster (highly unlikely although I'd like to remind you of the title of this blog).

As for sorting out the drama - I had a conversation with my co-teacher. A gentle, lets-clear-up-this-cultural-confusion conversation, where I expressed where my worries were coming from and how I thought things might have been interpreted differently on either side of the divide based on the bad actions of a foreigner minority who generally make it worse for the rest of us. The kind of people who call in sick because they have hangovers, or complain that they have to deskwarm when others don't, resulting in policy changing so that everyone deskwarms by default. The people who call in the DMOE over anything and everything that they find unsatisfactory or difficult without trying to resolve the situation themselves.

Don't get me wrong; you're perfectly justified in calling in the DMOE if you've tried everything you can to resolve a situation and you've gone through the hierarchical ladder step by step, or if your contract is being obviously flouted and you are being abused. If it's a matter of policy or safety, by all means, call them in. But personal relationship problems are not their problem.

Basically, I spoke to my co-teacher in my gentlest, most easy-going voice. I circled ever so softly towards what was worrying me, and used all the self-help techniques I could think of - starting sentences with "I feel that..." or "It seems to me that...", never making any direct accusations, just explaining to her how it appeared to me that the situation had come about. My main concern was that the situation made me look unprofessional and just like every other Lazy Foreigner who is too hungover to bother going to work on a Monday.

I did this for every conflict we've had over the past couple of weeks, from me querying my schedule (which came across to her as an aggressive refusal to teach beyond the hours stated in my contract) to talking about our different teaching philosophies. I also let her tell me how it looked from her side of the equator. Her concern was that yes, it did appear that way, and that was terribly embarrassing for her and for the students, and everyone was feeling pretty damn awkward about the whole thing.

And by the end of the conversation, we've both put ourselves in each others' shoes, and I've shown her that I'm not the Lazy Foreigner that I was appearing to be, and she realised I take my job a lot more seriously than it may seem when I get sucked into the Facebook abyss, and all is well in Teaching-Land.

Anyway, basically, the point of this post is that 1) don't assume they're out to get you. There's probably a cultural misunderstanding happening causing embarrassment on one side of the barrier and that's making both of you look bad. 2) Try to resolve your problems quietly, internally and completely non-dramatically. It will make things easier for everyone. 3) Keep copies of all documents (doctors notes) and track what you do every day so that if the shit does hit the fan you've got your ass covered, just in case (but don't be a demanding douche about it). That's a professional thing to do, and keeping track of your work hourly can actually make you better at your job.

And finally, when in doubt, call home, have a big cry, and get some clear-headed perspectives on the mountain of a molehill you're struggling to deal with. Do NOT fuel the inferno.

Oh, last thing, I promise: stop bitching about everything on Facebook. I was guilty of this. I've stopped and deleted all my whingeing. No one wants to read it, and if it becomes known to your employers you can be sued for defamation. Just a little heads up. Facebook is not for airing your grievances about your professional life. That's what friends and beer are for. Facebook is for Star Wars jokes and cat pictures.

PS - little shout out of thanks to the people who gave me sage advice this week. You know who you are, and you're awesome.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Why it's difficult to explain idioms in class

Sometimes my more nit-picky students ask difficult questions, particularly with regard to idioms, and I try to explain them, and end up having these kinds of conversations.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Amazing Free Weekend

I mentioned before that I'd made friends with another math teacher at my school. This brings my current count of Korean friends (not including infinite gyopos) up to about 6.

Well, on Friday night I went over to Math Teacher 1's house for dinner and some movie watching. We ordered some jjajangmyeon (spicy black chinese noodles) and some chicken and beer, and pigged out while watching Stander, which, for the American readers, is a good South African movie about a bank-robbing cop. Halfway through the movie, MT1 asked me if they were speaking Afrikaans. No, they're speaking English, mostly... Well, that's why we had subtitles. Next time, she'll choose a Korean movie. When the film finished, Math Teacher 2 arrived with flowers and cake, and we stuffed our faces some more and had typical girl talk - boys, clothes, hair, make-up, art and interior design (MT1's house is amazingly decorated).

They decided that before I went camping with MT2 and her family the next day, I should get my hair done and get a free facial, massage and consultation at her husband's oriental medicine hospital. This all being in Korean, I figured I was getting a hair cut and someone was going to massage my face. Hey, why not?

So, finishing off our beers and our awesome Fire Friday, and promising to do it again soon, I went to bed, excited for the weekend ahead.

Getting my Hair Done Sans Anglais

MT2 took me to her usual stylist, in Beomeo. Less than 100m from a geocache I found there last weekend. So I will definitely be able to find the place again, which is good because I don't remember what it was called. If it helps, it looks like this:

I had no idea what to get, but I knew one thing: I did not want a trim and a blow dry. Other than getting a bob, or shaving my head, or a fringe now and then, the only haircut I've ever gotten is a trim and a blowdry. No, I felt it was time to veer away from a haircut. I wanted a hairstyle. So I put my fate in my new unni's hands and she made all the major decisions.

She chose a bob.

I made her choose something else. So there I was, with chemicals in my hair, getting my first perm. I had asked them if they had worked with foreigner hair before but they had no idea what I was saying and gave me delicious herbal(?) coffee to shut me up. They left the chemicals in too long, resulting in something close to an ajumma perm, so the stylist, muttering "I've made a terrible mistake" in Korean, suggested something else. Something that would take another 2 hours.

I sat like this for an hour or so
The coffee was delicious, but 3 hours in a hair salon is a bit much for me. Still, I love the end result:

Straight on top with a 'natural wave' perm on the bottom. 
Then my unni took me to her husband's hospital, in Changwon. I walked in and discovered he was a bigger deal than I thought he was. He's worked with dozens of beauty queens, specifically dozens of Miss Koreas and one Miss Universe. The main nurse is a flight attendant student and she's pretty good at English and didn't want to miss a chance to practice on me, so we chatted away while I was weighed, measured, squeezed, poked, prodded, and had my bone density checked. Turns out the scale I bought at e-mart isn't very accurate; I'd put on 3 kilos over lunch. Then she took me in to see the doctor, and asked me some questions about my diet. The most awkward moment was when she had to look up the english words for 'Bowel Movements' on her smartphone. I rolled with it. 

The doc handed me a diet plan (completely in Korean) and sent me in for my 'facial massage'. That's when I discovered it was a facial AND a massage. While I was lying there with the mask on, he prodded my stomach and suggested some acupuncture. Well, I'm all about new experiences so why not? Stab me with needles, my friend. Well, they did something... My stomach did feel better afterwards. A girl came in and was chatting with her mom, who was getting the same treatment as me. She came in cheering; she was down 3 kilos from last time she'd checked, which made it a loss of 5kg in one week... without exercise. Wow. Maybe I should take this diet seriously and give it a try. 

The nurse asked me if I wanted some 'cupping' and again, I'm all about the new experiences, so she stuck some cups on my back with fire and gusto, and I had the bejesus sucked out of me. Pop, pop, pop they were removed and I was sent on my way. The doc and I got into his HUGE 11-seater hybrid and drove off to his apartment, to pick up the wife and kids. While we were driving, we had an incredibly intense chat about religion, philosophy, medicine, genetics and legacies, in broken English and Korean. Like a boss. 

Jirisan and Namwon
Unni, Doc, the kids (aged 7 and 9 by western standards) and I drove to Jirisan, a huge mountain near Jeonju. I taught the kids to play "I spy with my little eye" and immediately regretted the decision. 3 hours of "I spy a tree" later, we arrived at an absolutely stunning resort. My camera and phone batteries were both dead, so here's a photo from the hotel's website:

It's pretty new and there's a lovely camper van area you can stay in that looks good for a romantic getaway. We stayed in one of the normal bedless sleep-on-the-floor rooms. After dinner and putting the kids to bed, unni, doc and I headed out for an evening walk and a couple of beers. 

The next day we were up bright and early to tackle Jirisan, a huge mountain that I have to return to at some point soon. Unni doesn't like hiking very much and the kids were very young so we just did the easy walk up to nogodong peak. We stopped at a temple along the way.

Misty morning view from the resort

Kid 2 at the gate to Hwaomsa 

The main temple building

You can do templestays here and it looks like a lovely, peaceful, secluded place to do it. Just right, I think.

Then we headed up the mountain. 

Exhausted, we had some ramyeon next to a mountain spring and then headed to Namwon, a small town near Jeonju, for a walk in a famous park and a proper lunch. The park is named after Chunhyang, a love story similar to that of Romeo and Juliet, except that in this one, 'Juliet's' death was an ordered execution and 'Romeo' saved her just in the nick of time. I think I prefer this ending.

Outer wall of the park, which is part of the original city center

The biggest swing I've ever been on. 

Golden Koi

Then we headed into the hanok village, where we had a feast. A hanok village is where people live in traditional houses, quite closely to the old way of life, and I think they get a grant from the government to do so.

Remove your shoes and eat in a private room. We shared a room with a guy who looked like Korean Elvis. 

The food was pretty good; standard traditional fare with lots of side dishes. I was absolutely stuffed. We all were. We rolled ourselves back to the car and set off for home.

Kid 2 fell asleep before the food was served, snored loudly and hilariously through the meal and woke up when we were in the car on our way home. He murmured, "Heeeey... I didn't get any food." We gave him some chips and he went back to sleep. By the end of the trip, everyone was asleep except for myself and my new unni. Hanok villages rolled by, we sipped iced Americanos, and kpop popped quietly over the radio.

It was a fantastic weekend and I have been racking my brain to find out how I managed to get it all for free. I think they wanted their daughter to practise her english, and boy did we. Also, the doc asked me to translate the meal plan and send him a copy of it in English for his foreign patients. And I'm perfectly happy to do that since I have to translate it for myself anyway. It was nice to have a change from the drinking-with-foreigners routine I have gotten into. Not that that's so bad either.

Life is good. Next weekend I'll hike Gayasan with a bunch of waygooks, visit Haeinsa temple and take the kids geocaching in Duryu park, as we weren't able to do it in Jirisan because they'd been muggled or had bad coordinates.