Monday, 25 October 2010

GEPIK Orientation October 2010

So almost 6 months into our year in Korea and it was time to go do some training. GEPIK (Gyeongi Education Program in Korea) Orientation is mandatory for all Native Speaker English Teachers in Gyeongi Province. It would have been more useful when we first arrived but we came at a weird time due to the teachers before us leaving early. The training was at a residential course for 3 days in some far flung corner of Gyeonggi province. We got paid our usual wage (i.e for working 8.30am to 4.30pm) for the time we were there and they put on a bus to get us down there which was nice because the training centre was miles from any kind of civilisation. We had an early start to go and catch our bus and made it to the bus with exactly one minute to spare before the advertised departure time. It turned out we needn't have bothered running though because the bus waited around for another ten minutes while the driver had a fag.

Before we arrived at the training we had contacted them to ask if we could be put in a room together since the rooms we were staying in were for two people and we came to Korea as a couple, applied for our jobs, as a couple and live together in the same apartment as a couple. However, we were told this wasn't possible as sleeping arrangements had to be split up by gender, no exceptions - who knows what we might get up to! No-one was able to give us a straight answer as to why this was the case. We were given at least 3 different reasons why we couldn't share a room including that it was against GEPIK rules, it was against the rules of the company that managed the facilities and also the classic 'it's against Confucianism'! It was only for a couple of nights but it was pretty annoying and we did kind of feel like they were treating us like children. Also, we only have one set of basic toiletries as we usually share accommodation so it made having a shower and brushing our teeth a bit of a pain in the neck! Our same gender room mates were cool though and we did our best not to be too pissed off about it despite the GEPIK staff being really pretty unhelpful about it all.

We arrived at the training facility and were immediately made to line up by gender to get our name badges and room keys. After dumping our stuff in our rooms we went to the rather chilly main hall to attend the opening ceremony. This started with us all being made to stand up and pay homage to the Korean flag whilst having the Korean national anthem blasted at us which was quite surreal. Then we were treated to a performance of Samul Nori, a traditional form of Korean percussion music that originated form farmers' folk music. The performance was really interesting and even included a bit of plate spinning!

Samul Nori performers at the opening ceremony of GEPIK Orientation.

Sanul Nori means "four objects" (samul) "play" (nori) because it is performed with four traditional Korean instruments including 2 drums and 2 gongs.

Plate spinning skillz!

After the long opening ceremony, we had lunch which was really not very appetising. They attempted to cook Western style food but failed miserably and it didn't help that the food was all cold as well. This was a real shame as the whole training facility was freezing and we'd really been looking forward to some hot food. The only decent meal we had at the training was bibimbap presumably because it is a Korean dish.

Our delicious welcome dinner. It consisted of cold spaghetti with tomato sauce (the only warm thing on the plate) freezing cold, lumpy, mashed potato and a cold burger in some kind of brown sauce. Mmmmmm!

Then we started on the first round of lectures on GEPIK, Korean culture, co-teaching and the Korean education system. Some of these lectures were useful but I have to say that most were not, partly because we had been here for 4 months already I guess. There was lots of talk about the differences between Western and Korean culture and their different styles of education. This would probably have been quite useful for the first time teacher fresh off the plane but for us and the majority of teachers who had been there for a month or more these lectures were a bit pointless. The bottom line seemed to be that whatever was asked of you, no matter how ridiculous, you should just accept it and do it because it was due to cultural differences and/or Confucianism! Also, some of the lectures didn't seem very well informed and some of the more experienced Native English teachers in attendance were actually correcting the information that lecturers were giving us which was a bit worrying. We did get shown a funny and informative video though about a (fictional?) English teacher called Mario and his experiences of cultural differences in Korea including the classic one where he tries to phone in sick with a heavy cold and his Korean co-teachers come to his house to take him to hospital. This point was used to explain to us that Koreans go to the hospital for much more minor things than people in the West do and that Koreans also don't really take time off sick unless they're completely incapacitated, things that we have already found to be true.

By far the best lecture we attended was one called classroom management by a guy called Tim Thompson. Unlike mots of the other lectures it was actually packed with really useful information and tips for teaching and he didn't feel the need to bellow at us in a patronising manner like some of the other speakers had. The points he made were really insightful and his teaching and discipline tips were really helpful. In fact, we have both started implementing some of his ideas in our classrooms now, particularly Rowan who has now split all his classes into teams to try to use competition and student's loyalty to one another as aids to discipline. I think he is having mixed success with this at the moment but he says that discipline is better than it had been before so that must be a good thing.

The Orientation schedule was actually quite long and demanding. They obviously didn't want us to have too much time to ourselves in case we got up to trouble (apparently in previous years GEPIK Orientation had been treated as a non stop drinking party by the English teachers so now we were paying the price with a midnight curfew, a no soju rule and with not being allowed off the training centre premises without a pass which no-one seemed able to get!) The training was for 3 days but we only really had lectures for the first 2days. The lectures went on until 6 pm on both days followed by dinner until 7pm and then on the first day there was an optional Korean language class for beginners or an optional lecture on how to jazz up PowerPoint presentations until 8.30pm. After all that, we had to prepare a demo lesson presentation with the person who had been assigned to us as our partner earlier in the day. Most of us met up with our partners in the computer room and had to fight to get a computer as there weren't enough computers for everybody to work on. Some people spent ages working on their presentation, making pretty PowerPoints and props and were still beavering away until 10.30pm. We were still working on ours until about 10pm so we were pretty knackered when we were finally able to enjoy some 'free time'. We had a pretty quiet night that first day and after just one beer we said goodbye to each other and went to our separate rooms on our separate floors. It was a very misty morning on day 2 so Rowan went for a wander and got some photos of the training centre's grounds in the mist, including the extremely high, vertigo inducing assault course.

GEPIK in the mist.

Part of the assault course in the mist.

An important message that everyone should pay attention to - this was pasted up on the wall outside the training centre.

We had another packed morning of Korean culture lectures and then in the afternoon it was time for us to do our demo lesson presentations. I did my presentation about the present and past tense and it seemed to go ok. Rowan and his partner Jeanette did a presentation called Costumes and Cultures and it was an absolute scream! It was an outrageous collection of bizarre national stereotypes including unlikely claims about how all Scottish people wear kilts, eat haggis and toss the caber and how Canadians wear lumberjack shirts and only eat maple syrup and pancakes. It included some ridiculous accents, impressions and various other silliness. Other people in our group said it reminded them of something out of Monty Python. They ended up being voted the best presentation which evidently irked the coordinators a bit as it possibly wasn't the most serious of the contributions so they decided to award a second prize to a team who hadn't taken such a comedic approach. Rowan was very proud of the GEPIK branded mug he won as a prize and used it to drink from for the rest of the training.

The training centre was surrounded by really pretty, peaceful countryside and was set in nice grounds too.

After dinner on the second day we were all amide to take part in some kind of bizarre mass games in the main auditorium. This hour of enforced fun was called Movin' and Groovin' and it was compulsory. We were all split into large random groups of which ours was the most unenthusiastic and each group was assigned a GEPIK coordinator. Our leader seemed to be as unenthusiastic as were were. We then had to make up some kind of cheerleading chant for our team using our coordinator's name. Ours was pretty lacklustre but some of the other teams really went to town and made a huge amount of noise. I think it didn't help that our group was right at the back of the auditorium so we couldn't really hear what was going on and what we were supposed to be doing. Then we played some team building games and had to do some silly dancing. This was quite amusing but seemed a little pointless seeing as we were all going home the next day. Team building games are surely better used as an ice breaker on the first day. I'm sure it would have been more fun if we had been allowed to have some beer whilst doing the games as well! One of the weirdest moments was when the GEPIK coordinators all had to get up on stage and have a dance off for points for their teams. Some of them seemed to really enjoy it and went for it but some just looked really embarrassed and I felt quite sorry for them.

Me and a couple of crazy girls we met on orientation amused ourselves in the auditorium by racing each other on our wheeled chairs. It was fun!

Everyone gathered for thye Movin' and Groovin' mass games.

After the mass games we were finally free to drink and make merry, though we were under strict instructions that if we wanted to take photos we shoiuld not put them up on Facebook etc. and tag them as GEPIK Orientation as the anti-English contingent in Korea would seize on it as proof that we hadn't actually been doing training but had just spent the 3 days partying at the Korean tax payers expense. This despite the long hours we put in and the fact that most of the people on the training did treat it seriously and did work hard and attend all the required lectures. It seems that there is a small but vocal section of Korean society who don't want us here and think that English education is a waste of money. They're welcome to their opinions of course but I'm not sure that GEPIK should be kow-towing to them really. Therefore, the following pictures do not contain any alcohol in them and merely demonstrate the fun we had that night making new friends and playing table tennis whilst of course remaining completely sober! (No we didn't buy and drink any of the beer on sale in the training facility's on-site shop - that would have been wrong.)

One of the many games of table tennis that we played on our last night at training. We played it using our hands instead of rackets and loads of us played at once. Once you took your turn you had to run to the side and the next person took their turn and so on until there were two left then they played a normal game.

I won a game of table tennis eventually so was allowed to wear the ping pong crown for one round. Notice that I'm holding a bottle of water in my hand as I'm a true sporting professional.

Some people got together at the end of the night for a bit of a sing-a-long but this was soon broken up and we were herded to our rooms - it was midnight after all and there was a risk we could all have turned into pumpkins.

It was a good way to end the Orientation and we had a really good night. I think we deserved it as well after all those lectures. On the third and last day, we handed our keys back in and had a meeting in the morning to go through the terms of our contract. This was actually pretty useful and allowed people the chance to ask questions about their contracts and get advice for any problems they were having. Then it was all back on the buses and we were back in Moran by midday, effectively giving us a half day off which was a nice bonus.

People are smiling because they're leaving and it's Friday and we have a half day off. Nice-uh!

Overall, I thought the training had it's good and bad points. I made some comments on the feedback form about how I thought the Orientation could be improved, such as by having more practical info for first time English teachers (e.g. how to set up a bank account and transfer money home, how the recycling and household rubbish rules work in Korea, how to pay bills etc.) as many people struggle with those things, less repetition on Korean culture as we kept getting told the same things over and over and more lesson planning help, maybe with some demonstrations of good lessons by experienced teachers. After all, most of us at the Orientation were first time teachers with little or no teaching experience and the things most people were worried about were things like classroom management, good English games and effective lesson planning. Still, we met some cool people who we have since met up with and the ping pong was fun!

1 comment:

  1. "It was only for a couple of nights but it was pretty annoying and we did kind of feel like they were treating us like children."

    Welcome to Korea! Ha, ha.