Last week I went to the EPIK additional in-service training program, held in an education convention center in the Bo-moon lake area of Gyeon-Ju. I'll address the in-service day by day. I don't think that it would be fair to completely blast the event, which is my initial instinct, being a married man who was forced to leave his wife for a week to go learn about Korean culture, but there will be a few barbs in the following commentary.
Day One Sunday:
The bus left the Jinju education office at ten o'clock in the morning. Other teachers on the bus seemed to have come from Hadong. I was expecting a direct route to Gyeong-ju from Jinju, but we stopped off in Geo-chang first. Gyeong-ju is northeast of Jinju, and Geo-chang is to the northwest. A two and a half hour bus ride, suddenly turned into a four hour bus ride. I really felt sorry for the people from Hadong.
It was nice to finally arrive at the hotel when we did, but there was no, going to the room to freshen up a bit before the festivities began, there was a nice cliche ridden opening ceremony about being professional and having wine glasses be half full. After that there was a nice PowerPoint presentation about modern Korean history.
The modern Korean history presentation was given after a speech about professionalism, by a guy in a purple sweatshirt who helped us answer the question on everybody's lips at the time, "Why do Koreans hate Japan so much, but are nice to Japanese tourists?" After that, we were permitted to go to our rooms, but we had only about twenty minutes to get back for another lecture about classroom management.
Unfortunately the classroom management lecture wasn't very helpful, but in the days to come I picked up some good classroom management tips from other teachers who were giving presentations. One highlight of the classroom management lecture, was the the near mental break down in front of 150 people by a guy who was alleging that he had been slandered on the Internet by people he worked with in Japan. I suppose that made everyone uncomfortable, but after that, all participants were supposed to compose and perform a song about classroom management in front of the a fore mentioned 150 people.
Dinner - Bulgogi
7:00-8:30 Korean language class -
Seriously? A Korean language class in two sessions? I enrolled in the highest level possible Korean language class. Part of the class was practicing easy use full stuff that everyone in the class already knew, and the other part was practicing a Korean song that was to be performed at a talent show on the last day of classes. (I'm starting to notice a disturbing trend that Korean seminars feature a talent show.)
After the Korean class I found out from students in the lower level classes, that their classes were actually much harder than the one that was supposed to be advanced. The first level students were given some half page of paper song about a guy in love with someone all in Korean, which I am sure most of the low level Korean proficiency English teachers couldn't even read. Korean educational management at its best.
8:30-9:00 A meeting with a Korean college student whose job it is to inform us of things.
This didn't go well. There was a failure of communication somewhere, and the girl had to tell a room of thirty or forty adults that we couldn't leave the hotel. Now knowing that South Koreans are close relatives to North Koreans, I checked the front and back doors of the hotel afterwards to see that they weren't chained closed. I understand that chaining 300 people in a hotel sounds crazy, but I used to work for a university, that did just that in its dormitories. Luckily the doors weren't chained shut so I concluded that what was said at the meeting was either a miscommunication or a bluff. Nevertheless, I frequently used the fire escape staircases, and tried to scope out all of the exits to the building. I also checked to see if there were security cameras. I think that checking security in a place is wise when living in Korea. Koreans still have a dictatorial streak in them, and lets not forget that North Korea, has in the past, kidnapped people. Checking the security of places, and using the big dipper to find the north star, is a habit that people should get into when in Korea, in case they are kidnapped by north Koreans, or forced into some kind of bondage by South Korean education officials.
Day Two Monday
This day was actually pretty good. Breakfast was pretty nice. Breakfast was followed by two two-hour lectures about education things, and then came lunch, and then came another two, two hour lectures about education things. I actually learned a lot of good ideas, and got some good advice. I learned about something called the online-stopwatch and how it can be used to make students calm down. There were many, many good things from this day.
After dinner we had another lecture and workshop about making lesson plans. Then around nine when everything was all done, I bolted across the street to the Hilton hotel lounge for some martinis and French fries. Also called the wife a good end to a good day.
Day Three Tuesday
Tuesday was a lot like Monday. It was actually pretty difficult to pay attention on this day. A lot of the lectures were pretty good and like Monday, but for fuck's sake, we just had a twelve hour study day. I am so glad that I did not go to school in Korea because Korean elementary, middle, high, and college students put themselves through this kind of bullshit everyday.
Day Four Wednesday
This is our day off kind of. Not a real day off where we can go home and do whatever they hell we want, this is a day where we were entreated to the riches of the ancient Silla kingdom that are all over Gyeonju. We went to Seokgaram, Bulgoksa, Cheomseomdae, and the national museum in Gyeon-ju. There was also a period where we had to make some ink imprints. This all would have been very fun if it were broken up and done on the lecture days, but instead all of Gyung-ju was seen at once, and participation was mandatory. I had already seen Seokgaram, Bulgoksa, and Cheomseomdae, so I was happy to see the museum. Before we left though, there was a girl who was sick and couldn't join us. We had to sit in the hotel parking lot for about a half hour waiting for her. She had to write a letter and sign it as to why she couldn't participate. Then later in the parking lot of the place where we had to make imprints, there was some other reason why we couldn't move so we had to stand around for another half hour in the cold Gyung-ju December. After all of that, we were given a buffet style dinner, after which as the talent show where people sang Korean songs, and some people performed things that they had volunteered to do.
I never had any intention of being in, or watching a talent show, so I just went to a dunkin donuts in downtown Gyeong-ju. I enjoyed a nice coffee. After that I hit up a P.C. room to get acquainted with the week's news and to check my e-mail facebook. My absence was very much needed for me to retain my own sense of freedom. I seriously was on the verge, and I really couldn't take a talent show. When I got back to the bomoon lake area I checked to see that attendance wasn't taken and went back out for a bomoon lake hotel lounge bar crawl. I wouldn't exactly call it a full on bar crawl, I had a Manhattan in the commodore hotel, and a martini again at the Hilton. I was just happy that the whole thing was over....kind of.
Day Five Thursday
Woke up on Thursday to realize that there was still another two hour lecture to go, and a time when we had to fill out some forms. The last lecturer was pretty good, but the topic was just about places to go in Korea. He had a power point of places he went and did a good job over all, but it was also a lot like seeing slides of someone's vacation photos. The night before, I found a place that served pancakes. I slipped out during the break time. I took a taxi to the dae myung resort where the pancakes were. The damn taxi driver didn't turn on his fee register and over charged me, bastard. (It was only a few hundred won though, but still, bastard.) Then I got into the pancake place, and learned that they didn't serve pancakes until 11. I pleaded with the lady that they should serve pancakes for breakfast, but she had none of that. I ended up getting a coffee, and going back to the lecture.
After the lecture was lunch, and then a bus ride home. Before the bus left, though, we sat on it for an hour in the parking lot for no particular reason.
Even though I learned a lot the first two days, overall, the training session was incredibly painful and if the English program in Korea is going to keep existing, there are many things that need to change. My roommate for the week, made the astute comment that these training programs should count for something outside of Korea. Perhaps university professors could be brought in to give the lectures and the training programs can accumulate into an accredited TESOL or TEFL certificate.
Most importantly though, is that the goddamn people in charge of the who deal should get together and make a curriculum. I learned that the EPIK program has been in existence for 14 years and the people in charge of the whole thing still don't know what they want their guest English teachers to do. The Korean government spent a lot of money to house, feed, instruct, transport, and entertain 300 people for five days, but they still can't find the time to sit down and think about what should be taught to the students. Anything, please, just tell me, just put it in a book:
Middle school first grade: Yes no questions, past tense,
Middle school second grade: Modal verbs.
Just make some guidelines like that so that we the NETs can figure out what to do when we get here. Don't tell us about Korean culture, we'll figure it out. Or if you want someone to teach about Korean culture, get an anthropologist, or some kind of scholar to do it, don't give me anymore cross cultural communication bullshit. That stuff breeds racism. And lastly, don't tell people that they are hostages in a hotel, get it through your brains that you can't take people from free societies and tell them that they can't leave a place. The biggest reason why Korea doesn't get any tourism is because they are afraid of becoming North Korean cannon fodder. A tourist in Korea doesn't want to be reminded of North Korea and civil war, if you hold a seminar somewhere for training professionals, don't act like North Koreans and tell them that they can't leave. Don't make a big deal out of giving everyone a gift bag with thermometers for checking temperatures in the morning to check for swine flu, and then make a person who is actually sick write a letter as to why they can't attend a bus trip and then sign the damn thing in blood.