A Touching Moment

There comes a comes a moment in every teacher’s life when they come to realize that they have had a real and positive impact on the lives of their students:

As of today, whenever they point at a fat kid, they yell ‘He looks like a big pig!’, instead of just yelling ‘Big pig!’.

The spirit of the English language probably just shed a tear of gladness somewhere.

6 fit

My friends teaching elementary school here in Korea are always telling me about all of the adorable pictures that their students have drawn of them.

While cleaning out desks the other day I actually came across a portrait that one of my students had drawn of me – but of a decidedly more sinister nature!

So, apparently this is what I would look like as a skeleton man. Or alternatively, if I had a gaping hole in my stomach?

I know who it was too, because I remember him interrupting class to ask me what my height is – apparently so he accurately label how tall the skeleton version of me would be!

I also love this detail that he’s drawn in the bottom corner!

Waltzing Seung Ho

Seung Ho is one of those kids who’d just absolutely break your heart if he never managed to pass his interview. He is easily one of the sweetest, hardest working kids in the school, and spends every hour of his free time (when he’s not dealing with girl drama – ie. trying to hook up with the his ex girlfriend’s best friend) studying English into the early hours of the night. He even listens to English pop songs on the way to school on the subway.

Seung Ho in his custom made Australian flag bandana!

Unfortunately, though he has been improving, it doesn’t really show as much as it should. Seung Ho once told me, “I work very hard, but my brain – not very good.” It doesn’t help either that he is incapable of coming up with a simple answer for anything. He always has some excessively complicated philosophical response to any question you could ever ask him.

His main reason for wanting to get an internship position in Australia: to make new friends from around the world. He also dreams of one day becoming a carpenter and travelling from country to country. He’s even promised that he will build a house for me in Thailand if I end up moving back to Koh Tao.

Gyeong Mo, my other student to get a job in Australia, helping pin on Seung Ho’s Australian flag.

When he decided that he was going to play his guitar as part of his job interview, I figured why not teach him something specific for the occasion and take it one step further? So, the next week or two of Global Leader class unofficially turned into ukulele and singing lessons, as I prepared Seung Ho for the most important performance of his life!

I convinced him to let me film a video of him after his interview. Although the song was my idea, he and his mother were completely responsible for the outfit that he wore to his interview!

Did he get the job? Well, if you were an Australian, could you really say no to a Korean kid who started his interview with this?

Next month Seung Ho will be moving to Canberra to start his new career in construction!

The Global Leader Team

“Well that went well, didn’t it!”

After weeks of painful struggle, I’d finally managed to hit my stride and take control of a class of unmotivated low level high school boys! Not only did they finally listen, but I think they actually started to enjoy the lesson!

“Yes, that was good,” replies the head of the English department, “But you know your normal classes don’t matter.  You’re only here to make The Global Leader Team pass the interview.”

The Global Leader Team.

Much in the same way that my school had spent a ludicrous amount of money to install a fake grass soccer pitch, my school had hired me exclusively for the purpose of grooming The Global Leader Team for success in an English language interview – because the only measure of a school’s success is clearly how many times it can one up all of the other technical high schools.

Myself, two thirds of The Global Leader Team, and my department head.

Evidently, every scrap of credibility I had at this school rested on the ability of six poor English speakers to pass an English proficiency interview within four months. If they made it through, they’d be in Australia in two months participating in a prestigious internship program.

So, I’ve found myself spending two hours every day after school and fifteen minutes of every lunch break with The Global Leader Team, in a desperate attempt to cram as much of the English language into their heads as one could possibly hope to fit. And, most importantly, bring greatest glory to the mighty Gyeongnam Techincal High School!

What would they ask in the interview? What does the internship program entail? All details clearly far too superfluous for a mere Guest English Teacher to know.

Isn’t it great to be shipped over here to make a difference in the lives of as many students as possible?

Stay tuned next episode for tales of brave Seung Ho and the interview that he was born to conquer!

Foux de Fafa

The word ‘working’ is clearly one than needs to be redefined for anyone who finds themselves teaching in Korea. If you ever end up being employed by a Korean public school, you’ll quickly learn that ‘working’ actually means ‘being physically present at the place where you are employed’ much more than actually doing anything productive.

For instance, I ‘work’ for 48 hours a week.  What that actually means is that I teach for 22 hours a week, but have to be at school, doing whatever I feel like, for another 26 hours a week. So, even if my first class of the day is at 11:30, I’m still getting up at 7:15 to be at school and deskwarming by 8:30.

All by myself for so many hours a day in my palatial English classroom.

So, I’ve been spending a massive amount of my free time here at work improving my French.

Learning a language in a country where no one speaks it is really not the easiest way to do it! I’ve been spending a lot of time learning with the Rosetta Stone program, which has been really useful for finessing my grammar and my accent, but leaves something to be desired in terms of content. At times I feel like the program should probably just be narrated by Dustin Hoffman, as so many of the phrases seem like something that would come in handy if I were having a conversation with the Rainman. Can you imagine needing to go up to someone and say:

“There are six blue plates and four green plates.”

“These are my shoes. Those are my wife’s shoes.”

Quantas n’a jamais s’écrasé.

Not exactly the stuff that stimulating conversation is made of.

On the other hand, I’ve also been learning a lot more by listening to music, watching movies, and reading in French, which is entirely more profitable although so much more exhausting! I am, however, slightly ashamed of the fact that I was way too shy to practice speaking French at all with my last couchsurfer from France. She was so fluent in English, and our conversations were always so interesting, that I couldn’t quite bring myself to start blundering around awkwardly in a foreign language–it would have been like throwing a wrench into a well running conversation.

Anaïs, my fifth couchsurfer in Busan, hanging out at the dress rehearsal for our Shakespeare production.

If only my friend David, a 40 year old French Divemaster who lived on Koh Tao when I did, were still around to have rambling bilingual conversations with – that inevitably turn into one sided philosophical discourse and the dispensation of life advice. It feels so much more natural when neither of you are fluent in each other’s language (or sober)!

Leaning on the shoulder of a wide eyed David during my ‘snorkel test’ – an awful ritual that everyone needs complete upon finishing their Divemaster course!

The only problem with talking to David is that since a certain day a couple of years ago, I can’t help cracking up every time he tells me (and he often does), with one of the sincerest expressions I have ever seen on a man’s face, that being my dive buddy on my ‘naked dive’ (a ritual that every aspiring Divemaster must ungergo on their 100th dive) was one of the most memorable experiences he’s ever had.

It’s not as bad as it sounds though – though this never fails to stop everyone else listening to start rolling on the ground with laughter!

My friend Marina managed to snag some photographic evidence that I did complete the dive!

He’s always actually referring to a moment at the end of the dive. By this point he’d run out of air from laughing too hard and was breathing from my alternate air source. We were floating in the middle of nowhere, nothing but blue around us, when a massive silhouette began to emerge from the distance. Excited as all hell, we, being overconfident young dive professionals, obviously started swimming toward it as fast as we possibly could, thinking it was some sort of massive shark or something!

Finally as the silhouette’s form begins to take clearer shape, we realize that it’s a gigantic marlin! It, unfortunately, seemed to notice us at that exact same moment and started swimming right at us. As marlins are open water fish and rarely seen by divers, we’d never heard any stories about whether or not they’re safe to run into. But, the meter long sword on its nose pointed straight toward us and only coming closer, managed to convince us pretty quickly that heading to the surface in a reasonably timely manner might be our best bet!

This isn’t THE marlin. Didn’t have a camera with me. Just found this picture on google.

But really, everyone’s always so far into hysterics by this point over the fact that my naked dive was ‘one of his most memorable experiences’ that no one can really hear him trying to explain that!

Come to think of it, I think I did prefer ‘deckwarming’ between dives at my last job to ‘deskwarming’ between classes at this one.

Ramble On!

One of the hardest things about travelling for (in my case inadvertently) years on end, is that you get to a point where you start to long for home no matter where you are – although it gets exceedingly difficult to say where exactly home actually is. A backpack that you used to live out of as you traveled endlessly from one new place to the next? An oceanside apartment on a tropical island where you taught scuba diving? Dharamsala, where your days were spent in philosophical conversation in various hippie laden cafés and restaurants, with an occasional classroom full of Tibetan refugees thrown in for good measure? Back in Toronto where you and all your friends are continually bouncing around from one creative project to the next? The list could continue…

Every few months I suddenly get hit with an overwhelming longing to be in about 10 different places simultaneously. So many little fragments of my soul that I’ve left scattered behind in so many strange little corners of the globe start to call out to me all at once. So many places where I struck out on a new path, environments that I used to change who I am, modes of existence that seem to have worked their way into the fabric of my being in some way or another.

A Tibetan Buddhist stupa in Kathmandu

I remember the exact moment I first felt this sensation. I was in a wide open area, soon to be a new housing development, in Kathmandu between the central city and a Tibetan district that I was walking towards. It was a quiet spot.  Anywhere would have been a quiet spot after months of the relentless bustle of India though maybe!  I’d sunk into a bit of a reflective mood over the course my afternoon walk, and the sound of an airplane flying overhead called me to question the reality of my situation.

Here I was, wandering around with perfect familiarity, in some well distant spot on the complete other side of the world from where I’d spent the rest of my life. Or was it the rest of my life that was now so far away behind me? If I were on that plane, how many different heartbreakingly familiar places could I find myself in within just a day? Ever since that moment, that feeling has never really been too far away. No matter where I make a home for myself, there’s always another one off in the distance somewhere whose absence I can feel.

For a short while though I thought I had it – somewhere that I did feel like I had roots. I’d found it in the form of a person with whom, no matter where I was and what I was doing, I always seemed to be in the place where I needed to be – even if that wasn’t the easiest place to be at times.  But like every other thing in my life in past years, it was all too soon before I found myself adrift again, leaving yet another destination behind and wondering if somewhere in my future lies somewhere that I can happily settle into.

George Harrison (or was it Lao Tsu) was certainly onto something when he said “The farther one travels, the less one knows”.

The rooftop view from my new apartment in Busan, South Korea

Half a year later, I’m still picking up the pieces, and have been creating a new little home for myself here in Busan, South Korea where I’m teaching English at a high school and looking for the next thing to get off the ground. I’m loving the mountains scattered everywhere throughout the city, the beaches so close by, the great food and drink, the cinema centre, and most recently and particularly the live theatre scene that I’ve become involved with. But more of that soon! And enough of this seriousness! Stay tuned for more tales of creative projects, life in Korea, flashbacks to past travels, and whatever other thoughts decide to rear their ugly head.

If you’re interested in any tales of my past endeavours, check out my previous blog chronicling my early travels after university as part of a bid to become an extra in The Hobbit at: hobbitdoc.blogspot.com.