Is It Summer Already?

9 Jun

It’s a Sunday morning here in Paju City, South Korea.  The weather is creeping into summer as the temperatures are tipping into the upper 80s.  That didn’t take long.  Yes, it is June, typically nearly summer weather in some parts of the world.  But it seems that winter just recently… ended.  I could swear it was just a few weeks ago that I confidently tucked away my winter coat for good and took an extra blanket off my bed.  It was not long ago that I finally unplugged and put away my room heater. And here we are greeted with summer weather.  I am told the heat and humidity here will give New Orleans, my former stomping grounds of 13 years, a run for its money.  We will see.  When I lived in New Orleans my last job was working at an outdoor farmers market.  During New Orleans summers the heat and humidity is like a wall.  At the market we would sit there with towels dipped in florida water, a cool refreshing cologne water, hung around our necks and try not to move while the sweat rolled down our foreheads.  Hopefully the summer in Paju is not that bad.

With summer weather comes summer wardrobe.  We have a pretty laid back dress code here at English Village and really we are quite lucky to have such a casual atmosphere.  We can wear shorts and tennis shoes and sandals that are at least a little dressy and have a back strap.  We cannot wear sleeveless shirts or tank tops which seems reasonable for work life.  I am still exploring what is appropriate summer dress in general in South Korea. Wearing tight tank tops that reveals shoulders and skin, a summer staple for me, may not be considered appropriate in regular public life.  I asked a fellow teacher about this and she suggested that some girls in the city wear tank tops but it’s still not all that common just yet.  You often see girls and women wearing a very light almost see through cropped cardigan over sleeveless dresses and shirts.  Still learning the nuances of culture.

It’s been a pretty light teaching week here at English Village, although myself and some other teachers are still busily preparing new lessons for the upcoming “semester”.  This week we have several different programs including a group of young Russian children here for two weeks.  I am not one of their “regular teachers” but did have the opportunity to teach them for one class last week.  They range in age from about 9 to about 13.  They are a great bunch of kids with spunky spirits.  But they can, as other teachers have noticed, push the boundaries.  They are fiestier than the Korean students we have in a way that is both inviting and challenging.  When I arrived in the building to teach them on Friday, four of them were downstairs making a train with rolling desk chairs pushing them around the room.  When I arrived in the classroom upstairs students were drawing pictures on the board during the break, some nice and some… not so nice.  It was quite a first impression.  We spent about an hour together playing a game and while the time did have some ups and downs, generally it went well.  I teach them a few more lessons on Monday and Tuesday.

We had an interesting staff experience on Friday afternoon…. Korean Village.  Yes, all of the English teachers at EV attended a class taught by a Korean teacher using Korean language only. The idea as you can imagine is to give us a sense of how some of our students may feel when in our classes taught only in English.  The question this rose for me was “Don’t our students have years of training in English when they come to us?”  That answer…some, yes, but as it turns out not all.  Undoubtedly we see a range of English-speaking skills here from practically fluent to barely any English at all.  But I had always assumed that their training had tucked away some English somewhere and perhaps they were just shy about speaking it or uninterested.  But apparently this may not be the case.  It seems that economic level does play a part in students English-speaking exposure and participation in quality English lessons outside of the “regular school day”.  Also I was told that some students in public schools take little interest in English and are allowed to slip through the cracks.  So its possible that we get students who really understand and speak almost no English.  This is new to me and certainly puts a slant on trying to teach English in English.

I spent my Saturday in Seoul.  I visited my chiropractor and am happy to report that after a fall in France a year ago, my ankle seems to be getting better.  I went to an area of Seoul called Hongdae, a lively neighborhood near Hongik University.  My favorite taco stand is there, Gusto Taco.  I grabbed two delicious fresh chicken tacos, complete with hand-made corn tortillas and soaked in a little of the international atmosphere.  There were customers from S. Korea and the US, a Spanish-speaking couple, an American owner, and French radio streamed over the internet. It was love.

While in Hongdae I also saught out one of the few thrift stores in Seoul and South Korea called The Beautiful Store.  As noted by other visitors and explorers of South Korea, Koreans aren’t really into buying used clothes.  And so the thift store scene is not too grand.  But The Beautiful Store, a local chain, has locations all over Seoul and their proceeds go to charity.  If it wasn’t for the help of a nearby friendly Korean-American, however, I would have never found the store.

I exited the subway, exit 8, and began to scan through my maps and information on my smart phone.  Seeing my lack of clarity with a friendly voice she introduced herself and asked if I needed any help.  Fortunately for me, she speaks Korean and is able to navigate her ways through the maze of symbols and words known as the Korean language.  With just a little misdirection, some guidance from her smart phone, and her knowledge of Korean we found the store just steps away from the train station.  The store sign is written in Korean so it wasn’t visible to my English reading eyes.

It was a tiny shop but a true thrift shop nonetheless.  My new companion for the moment joined me and we both found just a few clothing treasures for low prices.  If you are in South Korea and would like to go there yourself, here are basic directions:

  • Take the subway to Hongik University Station exit 8.  When you arrive at the top of the stairs, look to your right.  There is a building with a door at the corner of the street.  Enter that door and go downstairs.  The shop is on your right.

Today is a simple Sunday for me.  I intend to enjoy a little luxurious walking in the still fairly mellow summer heat, run a few errands, and do a little cooking for my upcoming work week.  I believe I have another lighter teaching schedule for the work week ahead, much needed after so many crazy weeks and more to come in the future.

Good-bye for now from the slowly becoming balmy land of Paju!

Photo at top a quiet evening at English Village at sunset.

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