Ornament from a museum, Ho Chi Minh City
This is going to be the first of a few posts detailing some of my adventures on this vacation. Marta and I set off yesterday afternoon for Incheon Airport. Several hours later, we were on our flight to Manila. On arrival, we immediately lived up to the foreigner name and got ripped off for a cab ride. But it was 3am and we were exhausted, so it didn’t bother us too much. 9 hours later (and after a delicious breakfast) we were on our way to the airport again.
Ricky’s Pro Travel Tip #1 – 24 hours is too long for a layover (especially if you have no money to spend).
As we wittled away the hours occupying ourselves with the food section of the airport, it finally came time to bid Manila a farewell and head off to Vietnam!
So, this week I have not really posted anything on here. That is because in two days, I fly out for two weeks of sun, sand and great food. Yes I am away on vacation. As such, I have spent the last week preparing to go. This is a post to let you all know I won’t be posting for the next few weeks (well, not regularly anyway).
Have a great two weeks, folks!
Being a teacher is a strange thing. You see the same kids week-in and week-out for most of the year. You know there are far too many for you to remember their names. In the case of Korea, I feel like it is hard to build a relationship between myself and my students (language being an obvious barrier). And then, their graduation arrives. Those boys you have seen grow into young men are finally leaving to go make a mark in the world. And you feel sad.
Drama! Thrills! Anger! Confusion! These and more are what many of my friends seem to be going through at the moment. I think I wrote a blog post back in late 2014 talking about budget cuts and the teachers here working in the public school system. Well, a few good friends of mine have lost their jobs (including my companion-in-arms TJ, who I will miss greatly) and other friends today found out that, from March, they will be teaching in multiple schools. Naturally, this seems to have gone down about as well as expected – that is to say, mostly badly. Many people are confused as to why the decision was made. Annette, our regional coordinator, sent out a response to this which I shan’t bore you with here. Needless to say, she is under great stress as a result of these budget cuts and is doing a fantastic job in keeping us informed when she can.
But this is part of a trend across Korea, which is more worrying for GETs in general – a cutback on native English teachers working in the public school system. In Seoul, they are only hiring for elementary level now. Across many regions this Spring, there will be many teachers losing their jobs. In such an environment, uncertainty flourishes and spreads a seed consisting of fear, doubt and anger. We don’t know (yet) how the budget cuts are going to impact on GETs hired through EPIK for the August intake. For all I know, I could be out of a job. In Korea, on a wider level, and a definite conversation amongst friends of mine, is a big question – how much are we needed here?
In my opinion, GETs are not really utilised in the most effective way. I currently see my First and Second Grade boys (I teach middle school) for an hour every week and my Third Grade boys for an hour every two weeks. Their classes with me are conducted entirely in English (my Korean ability being as useful as a chocolate fireguard). But the other however many hours of English they have a week are done in Korean, with little emphasis on spoken English. Yes, their grasp of grammar is good and is in fact what Korea seems to concentrate most on teaching. But this comes at a price – the ability to communicate effectively in English. Students here learn English from Third Grade at elementary school. Yet, I will have students who can barely communicate beyond “hello”. Naturally, the government is looking for reasons why and the blame seems to fall at the door of GETs. I would, however, argue that the system here is at fault. To genuinely improve English, there needs to be less of a focus on perfect grammar and more of a focus on speaking the language. It is a bit like trying to put a flat-pack wardrobe together using only a saw – you can follow the instructions as much as you like; learn them even. But it won’t get you anywhere. The sooner this is realised here in Korea, the better for everyone involved in teaching English in public schools.
This is the first part of what I hope will be a new feature on this blog – me visiting, photographing and reviewing some cafés, restaurants and other things. The first café that I would like to review is Café Oro, in my hometown of Cheongju. I had been wanting to try out this place since the summer. Last Saturday I finally had the chance to go there and I was not disappointed. Located on a small side road. near the downtown area of Shinae, it is hidden away from the main streets most people see in Cheongju. With only a small sign to locate it by, the café does not seem to be frequented by the foreign community all that much.