My time in Spain (The Basque Country). The JOB.


I left for Zarautz in September 2015, my aim to stay for three years working at the Academy of English.Travelling from Manchester to Bilbao on a Sunday morning I landed full of positivity and ambition and that was to continue for a several weeks. My reception was efficient and I was introduced to the owners family but they were typically Basque and cold.

The apartment was large, old fashioned and on the face of it ok but at a cost of €650 a month. The next day was chaotic visiting the town hall, estate agents etc and beginning work at 10:30am. I had no timetable and was told it would evolve over the next two weeks. The apartment turned out to be a death trap with sockets that left the walls and a heating system that was archaic and didn’t work.

Eventually i was teaching 29 hours over 5 days when I’d actually agreed to work 4 days when I left the UK. My timetable included teenagers and adults studying for Cambridge exams and 3 corporate clients. Most of the students were great except the ones who’d studied English in summer camps overseas who were intolerable. They (the minority) constantly questioned me when I corrected their mistakes trying to change my language to fit their grammar rules. At this juncture i have to say they are taught in Basque at school and not in Spanish. My adult students were at a variety of levels but mostly lovely but my favourite work was in the engineering companies where everybody was essentially positive.

I worked with 3 colleagues the mother and daughter from the family and a San Sebastian local. The daughter was lovely if a little distant outside work, the mother was an intolerable control freak who cared about money rather than the quality of education, the guy from SS was on the autistic spectrum. I am going to close my comments about work because I want to celebrate the region in which I live. I lasted until mid-January when I resigned to retain my sanity.


New Beginnings

That time has come, the time to say goodbye to Chungwon High School. It’s been quite an emotional period since returning from the CELTA in Chiang Mai. After receiving provisional confirmation that I passed I posted an updated CV on a plethora of ESL job websites. Even though I clearly state on my resume that I don’t want to teach little kids (CELTA Uggh!) I’ve been bombarded by a legion of Chinese spin doctors telling me that their school or academy is the best and they are waiting with open arms for me to arrive and teach their angelic darlings. Well bog off I don’t want them, jumping up and down and imitating a children’s TV presenter ain’t floating my boat!  Whilst I’d prefer a stint in Berlin there are some interesting positions in Dubai, Italy, Vietnam and Thailand which merit further inquiry.

Back to the present, I returned to school for the graduation of my 3rd grade; we’d been through it all together arriving on the same day in 2012. The soul wrenching obsession with rote learning and 16 hour days had taken its toll but I hope I planted the seeds of individualism in the minds of my charges. There is a world beyond the corporate suffocation of Samsung and LG. Needless to say a few tears flowed.

I followed this with a two-day literary & travel inspired extravaganza of a winter camp. Students participated in quizzes, poster making and cooking to a backdrop of “Where the Hell is Matt?”. The scene setting was to divide them into 4 teams whose inspirations were the fictional characters of Philleas Fogg, Captain Nemo, Pi Patel and Doctor Who. The evening entertainment was “Around the World in 80 Days”, the Steve Coogan vehicle.  Whilst the movie flopped at the Western Box Office; the inclusion of Jackie Chan was a pull for Eastern audiences, the kids loved it.

At the camps conclusion I met my replacement teacher Alex and as is the “special friendship” between the USA and the UK we arranged our hand-over of both jobs and the apartment. I was then told my time in school was over but I will return on the 25th for a leaving party.

That evening I went for dinner with my departing third graders and a great time was had by all chomping on unlimited Shabu Shabu. The morning after I headed to Seoul to organise my Chinese Visa the next to last piece of bureaucracy before I depart for my trans-siberian train experience and onwards to Europe. The final piece in the jigsaw will be my Russian Visa which I’ll organise next Monday after the Korean Lunar New Year Celebrations. Michelle and I are heading to Seoul for my leaving party and will catch up with EW and three colleagues from the CELTA in Chiang Mai.

I am so looking forward to my journey home and finding new work post CELTA and I’m hoping to keep the blog active (connections permitting) on my journey home.

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Looking Back and Forward


During my time here I’ve met some lovely interesting people and visited some beautiful, peaceful and inspiring places but South Korea is without a doubt the most “foreign” country with a developed infrastructure and economy that I have visited. It has been a challenge to try to comprehend what Koreans are thinking in the majority of situations. When questioned regarding a particularly anomalous or irrational-seeming perspective, a universal answer (outside school) has “Because I am Korean” or “It’s Korean style.” This says everything about having an insular rather than open mind. Koreans give the impression they view culture, nationality, language, and race as one-and-the-same consequentially this manifests itself in an indisputable incapacity to grapple with Western viewpoints regarding multi-cultural societies and equality. Of course there have been exceptions to varying degrees in the interactions that I have experienced with my co-workers and others when I’ve visited Seoul. While in Chungju, even those I like and speak some English, entertain mindsets that I can’t hope to understand or agree with.

The “wisdom” of Confucius prescribes patterns of behaviour apt for interactions among people of different positions in society, age, and social/familial connection. This can manifest itself in any response to a situation that is not “prescribed” being viewed as unsuitable or wrong. For example challenging a colleague who only speaks when he or she wants something means they don’t understand that their behaviour is wrong, in fact you are wrong NOT them.  I generally felt that people responded to given situations in a way which seemed to be ignoring the nature of the problem or perhaps even exacerbating it; however, if the reaction was consistent with the majority-held belief systems, then a Korean generally viewed it as cogent and proper.

In my experience many Koreans are genuinely unable to imagine how you live (alone), think (liberally but with a social conscience), or what motivates you (quality of life rather than status and money). This, obviously, resulted in many misunderstandings and the occasional argument. Generally I learned to become more patient but also quite often lapsed. Many Korean’s (in work and outside) struggled to understand my mindset and an opinion, their instinct was to suspect I might be looking down on them, being that I was from a ‘waygook’ country. They did not respond well to sudden displays of irritation or criticism but hey that’s life and that’s my great failing. I will depart with hope, in my morning classes I’ve challenged the cultural norms and tried to open minds. In work I’ve put forward alternative strategies for intervention that offer carrots and a valid alternative to the stick. My efforts within Chungwon FC have been generally positive giving some kids a more positive view of school and education in general and hopefully a positive interaction with an alternative culture. The hierarchical norms have proved challenging in the world of sport but I hope I left a positive lasting legacy.

Here are my top 10 places to see in Korea (in no particular order) but please note not on public holidays and preferably early morning before they (the Ninja Fashionistas) rise from the interrupted bio-rhythms of the night before.

  1. Seokbulsa Temple (Busan)
  2. HanokGuesthouse (Sarangchai) and Royal Tombs (Gyeongju)
  3. Circumnavigating Seoul Fortress over 2 days (passport required)
  4. Seoraksan Mountain (Taebaek mountain range in the Gangwon Province near the city of Sokcho)
  5. Bukhansan National Park in Seoul and Gyeonggi
  6. Seoul Olympic Park and Mongong Fortress
  7. Seongsan Sunrise Peak (Jeju Island)
  8. Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju (Spring, Autumn, Winter [avoid summer])
  9. Songnisan National Park and Beopjusa Temple
  10. Andong Folk Village

Now as I prepare to depart I’ll take away many fond memories of co-teachers (though not all), students and the sights and sounds I’ve experienced. I endured the lack of planning and disorganisation, the inability to accept fault and lay blame elsewhere and the disillusion that they have the greatest cuisine, education system and culture in the world. I may come to miss it but then again only time will tell.

I still hope to visit Jeolla Province before I leave but that’s looking increasingly unlikely.For now I have the CELTA in Chiang Mai, Thailand to look forward to in January followed by my epic overland journey home via China, Mongolia, Russia and the rest of Europe.

From July 2015 I’ll be seeking out pastures new but I will be teaching English armed with my CELTA and hoping new doors will be flung open because of it.

I have a final pet project to display here before I leave and that will be a photo-diary of my time in SK.

Disengaged Youth in the Korean Education System

After 2 full years treading the boards at my Korean High School I thought it the right time to summarise what SK needs to do to engage its disengaged or disenfranchised kids. It’s really about teacher training and an acceptance that subjecting them to the “rote” learning system advocated by the UK’s Gove, amongst others, truly does not work. Initially rote learning has a place, particularly in relation to vocabulary building but even the vocabulary lists in SK are crammed with words that they do not need to and will probably never encounter again.

The single biggest factor in engaging kids is to build strong relationships and that is most likely to happen if they are taken out of mainstream classes where they fight for recognition and placed in a different but supportive environment.
Relationships are built outside the classroom, each student is different, and the moments spent chatting at lunchtime or between classes are invaluable in getting to know them as individuals. I found it’s important to accept that their behaviour will at times border on unacceptable but my humour that is the most productive tool in changing their attitude. Bad behaviour has been exacerbated by an inability to engage with the traditional Korean teaching methods. This may be due to an unidentified learning difficulty, bad experiences in their early school years or an outdated teaching methodology. These students are often socially deprived and may have missed school or even work to contribute to their family economic situation.

Inside the class let them laugh with you and at you; engage with their popular culture and give more praise than you could ever contemplate being necessary. Use positive body language particularly eye contact and make sure they understand you have trust in their ability to succeed. Once that trust is in place issues like “no pens” disappear. If you set achievable targets whilst giving praise and support you will see the goalposts move; they will want to observe you and challenge themselves more.

It’s also important to let them talk about things they are interested in, if they like K-pop, why do they like it? Who do they like? Forget about making an issue about grammar; let them expand their vocabulary learning single words. Once they’re engaged and not worried about making mistakes the other stuff will improve with practice. If they start to look drained change the topic as they essentially have a 15 minute attention span and typically you only have 50 minutes a week with each group. In an open letter to the SK government I would have specially trained teachers engaging with them full-time and if they react particularly well to the Guest English Teacher then give them more hours with that teacher.

Treats work as rewards, the carrot not the stick; everything takes time but things will improve as joint-trust becomes embedded. No activity should last longer than the sacred 15 minutes and the kids should be encouraged to move around, sitting them in rows is restrictive and demoralising. It’s fine to challenge inappropriate behaviour and they’ll respect you for having fair rules. I have a 5 minute rule for loo breaks and some I know are going to puff on a fag but if the engage for the previous 20 minutes and the next after the fag, I’m not going to challenge that. After a while as their ability to concentrate improves the fag breaks disappear. Be the adult, show them positive social norms and they’ll respond.

The most important thing is to praise, praise, and praise and to celebrate success. Engage them in team activities and promote healthy competition; recognise the leaders and praise them for showing leadership qualities but give equal encouragement to those workers in the team or those making a significant step forward in improving their own learning and performance.

Enough said!



Ice Cream and Ketchup! Yes…. plus Kiwi Fruit and Cheese!

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson

Before completing my second academic year in SK and venturing off for Winter vacation my last task was to lead the second Chungwon High School Winter Camp. The camps title was “Around the World with 4 Fictional Explorers” but quickly shortened to “Around the World in Two Days” as that was the camps duration. The focus was actually the movie “Around the World in 80 days” and 4 countries; Egypt, Spain, Brazil and Myanmar to which I fly off next Thursday. My ambition was to open the kids minds to the possibilities of travel enhancing their lives and liberating their views on the world outside SK.

The teams were allocated to the four countries and introduced to four fictional travelling characters and the books and movies in which they appear; they were Philleas Fogg, Captain Nemo, Pi Patel and 🙂 Dr. Who. Each student had a work book which included a range of activities from quizzes to art; all of which included speaking and listening. There would be individual and team prizes at the end based upon the number of “heart” stickers they had won.

Day One

Opening ceremony with the Principal

Activity 1: Introduction & Team Formation. I presented the four characters profiles and showed clips of the movies in which they appeared as well as videos showing why the students should visit the four countries nominated above


Activity 2: “Travel Quiz” board game. I used an existing ESL board game called “Word-up” but created new question and answer booklets relating to travel with spelling, missing word, crossword clue and multiple choose questions. We had heats and finals to fins the top team.

Activity 3: “University Challenge”. Question master Gary put the students through their paces on the 4 countries plus world questions. Stusents chose home questions for 2 points, away questions for 3 points or more difficult lucky dip “world” questions for 4 points.

Activity 4: “Our Country: Poster”. To make sure the students with lower level English could make a significant team contribution I introduced some creative activities. The students had to make a promotional poster relating to their country using literature and pictures garnered from the various Tourism Boards of their countries.  They were given a head “tag line” to use as a poster title and the teachers voted on the best oater.  I also gave a special bonus award for the most creative idea.

Activity 5: “Scavenger Hunt, Follow the Clues?”. To close day one the scavenger hunt. I gave the students twelve clues relating to 12 images e.g. A Sioux Indian. The pictures were hidden around the school and grounds. This operated as an individual activity so again academic ability counted for nowt!

After dinner around 7 was the evening movie: Around the World in 80 Days which despite its panning by the critics and flopping at the box office (as I predicted) was well received; Korean kids love slapstick humour. Finally there was a diary writing activity which again was linked to a prize.

Day Two

Activity 6: Breakfast Activity “French Toast”. This activity was awesome, full of engagement and laughter. It was a simple task with two simple savoury and sweet toppings for the toast but of course the kids “creativity” took over.  Many eccentric concoctions hit the plates including a sandwich with Eggy bread, ice cream, kiwi fruit and tomato ketchup! Eccentric to what?

Activity 7: “Costume Design and Music Quiz”. The students used their artistic skills to decorate a male or female mannequin with a national dress of their choice.  We allowed them to use their cell phones to find the dress of their choice.  Most Korean kids have  better than average artistic skills which I’d like to see used more in their education system. Art is not valued enough!

Activity 8: “Movie Quiz”. I’d handed them quite difficult questions prior to the movie to see if they could extract the answers; of course many used their cell phones to enhance the research :-). To some of the teachers surprise all groups generated 12 correct answers.

Activity 9: “Charades and Celebration”. Finally we played charades, not specifically travel related but a lot of fun. I explained that western people often play charades when on holiday or at party’s.  The students had to guess what the actors was doing or what animal they were.  A correct answer in English was rewarded by 2 points; if they didn’t know the English word but answered in Korean they gained one point.

Finally we completed an evaluation of the camp, cleaned up and prepared for a well-earned winter vacation. The principal kindly gave me the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off desk warming so I can prepare for my trip. 6:30pm Thursday I fly to Myanmar. I’m hoping to blog as I travel around but I’m not too confident about the internet over there so if its not too good I’ll write up on returning home. My itinerary is as follows:

Yangon (9-14 January), overnight train to Bagan (15-16 January),

Ferry to Mandalay (17-19 January), drive to Kalaw (20 January),

drive to Inle Lake ( 21-23 January), fly back to Yangon and drive to Kyaiktiyo and Bago (24-25 january), fly back to Yangon

Fly to Bangkok (26 January) meeting FOBY and returning to SK on the 1st February.

Time to do the ironing!

Its Always Someone Else’s Fault!

“We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”
Katharine Hepburn 

“There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel no one else has a right to blame us.”
Oscar Wilde

“When you cease to exist, then who will you blame?”
Bob Dylan 

“Every man is the architect of his own life. He builds it just the way he wants it. However, after he has built what he wants, he sometimes decides that he doesn’t like what he has built and looks for someone or something to blame instead of changing himself.”
Sydney Madwed 

When people are lame, they love to blame”.
Robert Kiyosaki 

“An excuse becomes an obstacle in your journey to success when it is made in place of your best effort or when it is used as the object of the blame.”
Bo Bennett 

“When you blame yourself, you learn from it. If you blame someone else, you don’t learn nothing, cause hey, it’s not your fault, it’s his fault, over there.”
Joe Strummer 


My books published!

My book was back from the printers last Monday and so will be the focus of my teaching for this academic year in Korea. I was sooooo busy with the new term and soccer trials in school that I haven’t updated my blog this week.  I went to Seoul for a ” Military frisk and a dead Dong” last weekend and so I’ll be updating tonight!IMG_6061

Understanding the Status Quo

The impact of the globalisation of culture varies in Korea both by location and demographic group. In saying this, the following cultural values and norms are fundamental to Korean culture.

Accord in personal relationships is a over-riding force in a Korean’s life. Facts, logic and conclusions are habitually not nearly as significant as how one is looked upon by others. Friendships are tight-knit and precious. It is an insult to repudiate a friend’s request. It is even less justifiable to fail a superior. Everyone does his or her best to safeguard and cultivate agreement and good feelings. The possessor of bad news may smile to lessen the blow. They may evade giving the news, even if they are purely the messenger and in no way accountable for it.

It is very hard for Koreans to admit failure and it is distressing to lose face in Korean culture. The straightforwardness of Westerners is thoroughly indigestible to many Koreans (especially older and/or more traditional people), whose self-esteem is often on the line. In Korea, it is of incomparable significance to maintain kibun or the mood or feeling of being in a contented state of mind.

The word kibun has no literal translation in English. On the other hand, as a notion that permeates every aspect of Korean life, it can be described in terms of pride, face, mood, or state of mind. In order to preserve a Korean’s sense of Kibun, particularly in a business context, one must show the appropriate respect and eschew causing loss of face.

As a teacher, my students generally treat me with great courtesy, bowing to me when leaving or entering the class or even when meeting me on the street downtown. Nevertheless, these same students may answer their mobile in my class, arrive late and unprepared or even with clearly plagiarised work, which are all signs of disrespect. to many non-Korean teachers.

Nunchi refers to a perception in Korean culture that involves listening and gauging the other person’s frame of mind, often without the help of lucid (to foreign nationals) signals. It is of vital significance to the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. The literal translation of nunchi is “eye-measure”. With nunchi, Koreans are using non-verbal cues to express feeling and connotation through various means, including voice pitch and volume as well as intonation. Nunchi also relies profoundly on a consideration of one’s status relative to the person with whom one is interacting. Korea, as with other high-context cultures caters toward in-groups that have comparable experiences and outlook and from which inferences are drawn; many things are left unsaid here. In effect, the culture does the explaining.

Both Kibun and Nunchi are very tricky concepts for non-Koreans to assimilate and we are commonly forgiven for our ignorance of these concepts and subsequent discourteous behaviour, particularly if we are high on the status hierarchy. Nonetheless, one gains more than one loses by trying to understand and, as much as possible, behaving according to these rules of behaviour. Clearly this has been my downfall thus far as my “black and white ” approach sometimes misfires!

Drawing from Confucian beliefs, the term inhwa signifies the Korean approach to harmony. As a collectivist culture, consensus is a central factor in promoting and maintaining harmony in Korea. To avoid disturbing inhwa, Koreans will frequently respond with a affirmative answer and demonstrate unwillingness to give direct refusals. “Should we introduce a new topic teacher”? “Yes” or “maybe we press ahead with the speaking assessments”? “Yes”.  In Korean business culture, this manifests itself in an inherent sense of allegiance, employee compliance and polite and formal behaviour.

Confucianism continues to permeate the consciousness of many Koreans, determining Korean ethics, its laws, and general way of life, including business culture. The Korean values of responsibility towards others, respect for family, elders and authority, loyalty, honour, and filial piety are all part of its Confucian tradition. Confucian ideas and ideals such as chung/loyalty; hyo/ofilial piety; in/benevolence, and sin/trust are still part of the cultural fabric and strong elements of Confucianist thought and still exist in day-to-day administrative and organisational hierarchies.

One of the emergent ways of developing shared trust and cementing a personnel relationship is the practice of getting closer through alcohol (not too close of course). However, there is mounting appreciation in Korean society that getting drunk for business reasons may not really be good for business and younger, health conscious workers are opting for alternative ways of bonding. A traditional practice of ‘gift-giving’ is also being addressed in many sectors as anti-corruptions practices and policies are increasingly being implemented.

Over and above, culturally specific concepts such as kibun and nunchi, following are a few other non-verbal indicators you may want to keep in mind:

When a Korean smiles – Smiling can be an expression of happiness, but it can also express shame or embarrassment. If your assistant has made a serious mistake, s/he may smile or even laugh. Don’t get upset by this reaction. It’s not because s/he find the situation amusing, on the contrary. Let the context help you interpret the smile and/or laugh.

Koreans often speak very loudly – This frequently occurs when talking on the telephone. Should you be having a business conversation over the phone with someone who sounds as though s/he is shouting, don’t take it to be an expression of anger or frustration on the caller’s part.  Telephone conversations sometimes end – In what might appear to a Westerner as an abrupt manner, Koreans (those not used to communicating with ‘foreigners’) often hang up when they have finished saying what they wanted to say. The practice of saying “goodbye” does not always apply in Korea.

In conclusion its not enough to be dedicated, organised, funny, caring and committed.  Actually the traits that make up a good teacher in the West can be swallowed up and forgotten in the chaotic environment that I’m experiencing in Chungju.  I realise now my environment is unlikely to change I have to adapt and embrace the three virtues listed above Kibun, Nunchi and Inhwa rule OK!

Entering Hades!

Most South Korean students consider their last year in high school “the year of hell.” It is when all students are put to the ultimate test and were some arrive (particularly in country schools) at the pinnacle of terminal decline. The élite succeed supported by endless hours of school supplemented by academy or hagwon additional study.  Unfortunately for many it is the end of eight years of purgatory, they have been told they are serial failures, they have passed zero exams, why? Because it is the élite who are celebrated in school and the “fodder” are generally redundant. Remind you of anywhere else? The UK perhaps? I believe that building self-esteem is the catalyst for the devlopment of a kids education. I also agree with Robert Brooks, faculty psychologist at Harvard Medical School, that “Self-esteem is based on real accomplishments,” but kids need the basic building blocks to succeed.  Good basic math’s teaching; language and science teaching; social skills development, vocational skills, play and entertainment are they not those building blocks?

In the face of high expectations and over-testing, many South Korean teenagers don’t enjoy what many would consider a healthy balance of school, play, and sleep. So-called enrichments such as sports and arts are at a low premium. Supporting student social life is also a low priority and involves expeditions to iron foundries and naval bases, sooooooooooooooo stimulating. Middle class South Korean high school kids often sleep only four hours per night for several months leading up to the college (university) entrance exams, thereby adhering to the popular maxim “Sleep five hours and fail, sleep four hours and pass.”For those in country schools, low incomes mean extra lessons are replaced by evening work into the early hours making them even more disadvantaged. The ranks of the working poor are swelling; many Koreans are unable to escape from poverty no matter how hard they work.  They walk a tightrope, getting by from day-to-day, endangered by the strong possibility of falling directly into the poverty class when they experience a sudden illness or unemployment.

In 2011, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) announced that South Korea had the highest rate of low-wage employment among all its member nations, with its 25.6 percent rate.  According to 2010 figures from Statistics Korea, a full 2.11 million workers in the country had earnings falling below the legal minimum wage of just 858,990 Won ($767) per month, or 4,110 Won ($3.67) per hour. Six years have passed since the 2006 creation of the Irregular Workers Protection Act, yet around 12.7 percent of workers are living below even the minimum wage. For many of my students this may be their future, fuelling the economic miracle but with no tangible benefits.

My mindset is  that US/UK/Korean modus operandi of incorrigible ‘training’ is not education, and stifles creativity.  This learning by incessant rote has a real cost to the kids personally and to society as a whole. Still far too many kids ebb through the school system without learning anything. Schools spend time ‘teaching the test’, but their students are still failing the test even when they are teaching to it!  May I be bold enough to theorise that something is very, very wrong? Sadly, the education establishment globally bleats that they need to teach ‘creativity and skills’ but then follow a delusional test mantra. It may suit the middle classes but what about the rest?

South Korea’s idée fixe with education and academic attainment is ingrained in it’s Confucianism. The long practice of assimilating social status with academic achievement has left a tradition of investing everything into studying. From a distance, South Korea’s results look covetable. Its students consistently outperform their doppelgangers in almost every nation, particularly in reading and math’s. In the U.S., Saint Obama and his Education guru speak blithely of the ardor South Korean parents have for educating their children, and they deplore how far U.S. students are falling behind. In the U.K. NUT general secretary Christine Blower suggests, “An obsession with league tables and unnecessary testing is stifling education from the reception class onwards. The Education Secretary can’t just decide to have a hands-off approach in one part of the education system yet want to take total control over the rest.” Back in Korea, Education Minister Lee Ju-ho says, “Americans see a bright side to the Korean system, but Koreans are not happy with it.”

Neither am I! So why do they carry on testing? Sounds like a very funny film in there somewhere!

It’s a normal test day today 🙂 Roll on Suwon, Friday!

Danyang Gosu Cave & Surprising School Holidays

“According to the legend there lived a couple who loved each other, but had no child. They found a mistress because they wanted to have a baby, but once she had the baby, she began to mistreat and taunt the wife. The heavens saw them, and turned all of them into stones.”

And they all lived happily after in Gosu cave!

After a lazy Saturday updating my blog header photos, Sunday saw a long-awaited visit to the Danyang Gosu Cave. Located along the upper reaches of the Namhan River (the major feeder of Chungju Lake), this resort town at the foot of Sobaek-san National Park is a reincarnation of the original town that was partly flooded from the completion of Chungju Dam in 1986. In addition to the Namhan River, Sobaek-san National Park, and many caves, the area has 8 wonders of historical and cultural significance. Providing you have the resolve of a Salmon and the navigational skills of Sir Francis Chichester, then I am sure you will find them all.

On the way to Gusu we stopped off at the main ferry terminal which inconveniently is around 10 km from Danyang proper. You can take a ferry from Chungju Dam, which takes around 2 hours, to here. I think the best time to take this trip would be in the Autumn as the scenery (I am told) is at its best.  It seems bizarre but I did not notice any taxis or buses to shuttle people downtown and hence the cave. After watching a parade of proud parents engaged in the real reason Apple invented the iPhone (baby snaps), we settled down in the well trodden terminal cafeteria.

The lunch was excellent and the view of the mountains and Chungju Lake would on most occasions be beautiful, but the flotsam that had gathered around the boat landing was of both a turds consistency and colour! I suspect much of this was due to last weeks fake tornado’s but it was an eyesore all the same. As the masses disembarked we made great haste to exit the terminal to protect ourselves from the threat of mass meltdown, lack of spatial awareness style. Some 10 minutes later we arrived at the Gosu Cave area.

Gosu Cave (Gosudonggul in Korean), National Monument No 256, is named after the tall thickets of grass that grow in the area.  The Spleological Society of Korea initially investigated this grotto in October 1973 and it’s exploration is ongoing. The cave is within walking distance of Danyang (10 minutes from the bus station) and a great place to escape the heat if visiting the area in the summer time because the cave stays at around a cool 15 degree Celsius all year long. On arriving at the car-park their are a multitude of eateries and souvenir stalls, the short 50m ascent to the ticket office (5000 won entry) and 30 meter stone staircase to the cave entrance offer no access to the infirm or disabled visitor.

Gosu is one of Korea’s most famous limestone caves, generally it gets large brigades of tourists that can make seeing the cave a proverbial pain but not on this occasion is was busy but comfortably so. This limestone cave started to form 450 million years ago and features a variety of monumental stalactites and stalagmites throughout. We viewed the 1,300 meter cave along an extensive combination of narrow steel stairwells and cat-walks, which at times were slippery and almost all badly lit. This cave is definitely not for those who are claustrophobic and the walkway which guides you through to the other side of the mountain has steep ascents and descents and is a no-go for the disabled or unfit visitor. Much of the time, I found myself forced to duck down to navigate the narrow and low passageways. This did not inhibit our ancestors, crude stone implements have been excavated at the cave entrance, revealing that this area was home to prehistoric humans. It’s documented that around 25 kinds of animal species inhabit the cave. Some of the rocks resemble animals or human figures, like Lion Rock, Octopus Rock, Eagle Rock, and even the Virgin Mary Rock. About 120 various shapes of stalactites and stalagmites are found within the cave and are valuable resources for researchers and geological scholars.

Maybe when I leave Korea the sign at the cave exit will remind me of the perfect English used by the Korean Tourist Board and it’s many regional offshoots!

 “For a moment look back, and then goodbye”

Say goodbye, Say hello wave goodbye, Gudbye to Jane, Goodbye girl, Goodbye to love, who knows?

There is plenty of garlic around outside so maybe love does not enter the equation. On a hot day partake of Ice cream and then take the journey home, we skirted Woraksan National Park and made a minor detour to Sujupalbong Peak. Later that day a  spicy spaghetti with salami cooked in red pepper sauce, a couple of glasses of Bordeux finished an excellent day. Next the realisation that another 48 hours of weekend freedom was over, the Monday morning 8am class awaits. As it turned out Monday was a good day!

More head meanderings!

I was under the misapprehension that public schools in SK have less holidays than the UK, but that is not the case, many school teachers have less holidays but the kids do not.  If you are an Art teacher, Sports teacher or Music teacher which are now NOT funded by the SK government then you apparently get the same holidays as the kids (I’m not sure whether you’re paid less!). For GETs as we are appropriately named (as that’s often how I feel), in your “off teaching” periods it is expected that you attend school as normal, this is commonly known as “desk warming” within the EFL community.  On a positive note it is a good time to build up your portfolio of teaching materials for future job opportunities. Unfortunately, if you among the small army of EFL mercenaries who do not see teaching as a career, but an opportunity to build a bank account (or to travel and party) then this “desk warming” time can be particularly miserable if not engaged in Summer and Winter Camps.  I am so far ahead with my prep I have no doubt it will become torturous for me particularly if the attendance at Winter Camp mirrors that of Summer Camp when only 2 kids attended! There is something soul-destroying about desk-warming as there is no good reason for you to be there, I see it is a complete lack of trust and ultimately de-motivating. Korean teachers, who have a different contract to ourselves, are not there, and therefore it starts to feel punitive. Resentment understandably sets in, you work hard all year, helping co-teachers, essentially doing all the prep and then you are put into jail and not allowed to pass Go!

The School Year in South Korea

Most schools operate year-round, but their peak hiring months tend to be February and March. Universities make most of their final hiring decisions in early August and spend a few months prior to this gathering resumes and doing interviews.

The dates listed here are the major holidays. Expect to be given time off on these days. Be sure to make plans in advance if you plan to travel on summer vacation. The usual contractual holidays are 8/10 in summer and 8-10 in winter plus public holidays.  There are anomalies, such as the day between Ch’usok and National Foundation Day is a holiday for most schools but at mine it’s Sport’s Day.

  • Late August: School begins
  • September 29 – October 1: Ch’usok (also called “Korean Thanksgiving Day”)*
  • October 3: National Foundation Day
  • Mid-December – end of January: Winter vacation (for middle and high school)
  • December 25: Christmas
  • January 1 – 2: New Year’s Day
  • January 22 – 24: Lunar New Year*
  • One week in late February: Spring vacation (for middle and high school)
  • March 1: Independence Movement Day
  • April 5: Arbor Day
  • May 5: Children’s Day
  • May 8: Fathers and Mothers’ Day
  • May 28: Buddha’s Birthday (also called “Feast of the Lanterns Day”)*
  • June 6: Memorial Day
  • Mid-July – mid-August: Summer vacation
  • July 17: Constitution Day
  • August 15: Liberation Day

My school does have an extra day for School Foundation Day i.e. the schools birthday. In addition my school is a charitable foundation and is run privately though under the watchful eye of the Provincial Office of Education.

* Dates of these holidays vary with the lunar calendar.

Today sees the start of my morning conversation classes, one student has left through school related stress and the other removed by her parents for her particular interest in sampling Soju, they obviously want to keep a careful eye on her.  This semester I am encouraging them to contribute to a school blog and newsletter, I’ll put them into three teams of “reporters” to cover various school, and personal events that affect their day-to-day lives.

Next weekend Suwon Fortress and Cheonan……………………..