Friday, March 26, 2010

A typical work day.... Finally!

So by now you might be wondering about our job… the actual reason that we are in Busan.  This is long overdue, but we have been busy settling in and getting into our daily routine.  I know excuses, excuses.  Here goes…

There are two types of English schools in South Korea, public and private.  Private schools are called hagwons.  We are teaching at a hagwon located in a central area of Busan.  Our apartment is about three blocks from the school, a chain of hogwons called COREM (Culture Oriented Real English Mentors).  It’s very convenient that our walk to and from school is less than five minutes.

Disguised well amongst the large buildings, here is the entrance. 

Inside, the school is very new and clean.  Each classroom is stocked with brand new books, furniture and supplies.  There are nine classrooms over two floors. A small gym downstairs, and an open area upstairs allow the kids to play during recess (shown here). 

At our school, there are three other foreign teachers.  Two are Canadian and one is from the US.  There are also five native Korean teachers.  All the teachers share the same students, teaching them different classes at different times throughout the day.  We have our desks, books and supplies in an office with the other teachers.  We shuffle around to our scheduled classes so the kids remain in one room.  Here are our desks in the break/prep area.

Ryan and I each have kindergarten classes in the morning.  The kinder classes are named based on the students’ ages and years taking English.  For example, I have three first year classes, 5-1, 6-1 and 7-1.  The first number is the children’s age and this being their first year taking English classes, they are called 1’s.  I also have a 7-3 class.  In this class the children are seven, and in their third year taking English classes.  Ryan has the same 7-3 students (class picture below) that I have, but we teach them different things at different times.  

Rather than the 7-1 class I have, Ryan has a class of 7-2’s.  These students are seven years old and in their second year of taking English.  Confused yet?  It gets even more complicated. 

In Korea, when a child is born, they are pronounced one year old.  No matter when they were born, on the following January 1st they are two.   People do still celebrate their individual birthdays the way we do.  The school also has a monthly birthday party to honor all the students born that month.

To put this into perspective here is an example using Ryan and me.   In Ryan’s case, being born in January, he turned one on his actual birthday, then two on January first the following year.  Not really a change, but technically he is one year older than he would be in the US (27 rather than 26).  For me on the other hand, being born in August, I turned one the day I was born, then turned two on January first, a mere four months later.  So in Korea I am 27 too!
One of my classes asked me how old I was and I had to say 27, Korean age.  It hurt gaining two years in two weeks.

So basically the children we teach are all one or two years younger than their Korean age.  Teaching four and five year olds who are in school for the first time has its challenges.  Throw in the fact that they can’t understand you and it gets even harder.  But look how cute they are!  (5-1 class).
That makes it easier.  Also for all the first year classes, there is a native Korean teacher in the classroom to help with translating and management if necessary. Our 6-1 students have already gained a lot of new vocabulary and information.  I have to admit, they are my favorite class :)  Here they are.
 The 5-1 children have more room to grow but they will get there.  It’s only been a month!

After the kinder classes, we teach elementary students in the afternoon.  These students have already gone to a Korean school in the morning, and then go on to English.  It’s a long day for them!  The classes and ages vary.  Most students are between eight and thirteen Korean age.  Ryan and I each have a PK (post-kindergarten) class, made up of students who have completed the kinder program at Corem.  Their English is very good, but they do have trouble with more unusual vocabulary.  Here is my class.

We also have “Hop”, “Skip” and/or “Jump” classes, for students who are a bit older and are just now learning English.  Their material is listening and speaking based.  Finally, we teach “Elite” classes which are more discussion based. Most students speak English very well and have been studying it for at least five years.  Right now my class is reading and analyzing Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

We have a busy day with between seven and ten classes that are forty minutes each. However we do have many breaks built in.  For most classes, we are told what we should be teaching the students and when.  We have to make some supplemental work for them and our other classes, but a good portion of it is pretty laid out.  Much easier than most teachers have it!  Plus our classes can have no more than twelve students.   Ryan has one class of twelve.  The largest one I have has nine and my others are five or fewer students.  It’s really nice to have small groups to get to know the kids’ personalities and where they are in the process of learning English.  All in all we are really enjoying the kids, co-workers and school.


  1. I love hearing about your classes and seeing the children. They are beautiful! What a great experience for you and a great way to touch peoples lives.
    I love you both.


  2. Wait a second...are those really your desks? They are too clean!
    American flag: nice touch. OMG. The kids (especially the 5s)
    are beyond cute. Again, GREAT PHOTOS!

  3. you really need to point out Snow White and Wolverine! BTW, LOVE that you are finally OLDER than me! HAHA! :)

  4. Hi, I enjoyed reading your post very much. I am currently applying for a job in Busan at COREM, and was wondering if I could ask you some questions about your work and life there. Is there a way I can get in touch with you? thanks.