Today was the last day of the school academic year and I’m at the start of two weeks off before I spend the remainder of the school vacation teaching special vacation classes. It took a long time to get settled here since there were so many things to sort out and so many things I didn’t know. Though of course my life here both inside and outside of school will change from month to month as I meet different people and spend my time doing different things, as of maybe two weeks ago I have felt properly settled and able to spend all of my free time on things that I am interested in rather than things that I have to do (with one exception to be described below). So now seems like a good time to write about my everyday life here. I won’t write much about Korea more generally.

My ordinary lessons during the school term have become very routine in two ways. Firstly, we have lots of classroom routines: lots of activities that we have done with each class lots of times, of course with different target language to learn and practice. This is sensible practice when teaching with minimal use of one’s students’ native language because it reduces the amount of misunderstanding of classroom instructions, and since we still give instructions it’s another opportunity for our students to process the language we’re using to give them, since they already know what we’re trying to get across. But it does mean that I rarely put any thought into the educational value of the activities I prepare, instead thinking in terms of filling the time in which the class is supposed to study English with something similar to that which has filled that time in previous weeks. I do try out new activities once or twice a week, but in choosing these I’m usually thinking about variety and fun rather than education.

Secondly, I care a lot less than I did, and I think at this point a lot less than my co-teacher, about how the classes actually go. When I started I was frequently worked up about activities and indeed whole classes falling apart, as often happens, both for my sake in trying to pull the lesson together and my students’ sake. But now the only thing that genuinely annoys me in lessons is when the class won’t shut up and listen to our instructions for an activity that I think they’re going to really enjoy (often because they’re already excited after having completed the first stage of that activity). When things fall apart I don’t mind that much. I reflect on when this happens and my co-teacher and I discuss it and what we should do different for the next class—we teach almost all of our lesson plans more than once—but I don’t feel that I care all that much, which I find sad.

I don’t have enough experience in education to say whether the above two observations about my attitudes towards my lesson planning and teaching are signs of becoming a complacent teacher, or just the results of settling into the job that should not be seen as negative.

How much I enjoy teaching classes varies a lot, depending most strongly on the attitude that a class of pupils brings to a particular lesson. I guess the class they have had immediately before we see them has a big effect. Sometimes they’re just not interested and sometimes they come up with fun contributions and sentences, expressing their personalities.

Aside from a ten minute session once per week I teach third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade. Most of my time is with the older two grades and I am happy about this fact, since I enjoy teaching them significantly more than the younger ones. The young ones are incredibly smiley and very willing to listen to my voice and loudly chant back to me, but they’re just a bit too young to be interesting: their language level is very low and also they don’t have much to say for themselves. Of course there are plenty of boring older students too but the 5th and 6th grade classes have enough interesting characters for me to enjoy myself.

My relationship with my immediate co-workers, the two Koreans whom I co-teach with, and my relationship with the wider school staff, are very good. It’s clear to them that I’m making a serious effort to learn some Korean since I frequently try out new things I’ve learnt and, of my immediate co-workers, as plenty of questions. I think this is probably the foundation of the general goodwill that exists between me and the other staff.

With my immediate co-workers I do worry that I am making them uncomfortable and perhaps occasionally being rude, as a result of my feeling close enough to them that I’m being much less careful about cultural differences. That is, I’m being myself, and there are aspects of my personality that are very very western (more specifically, very Oxford philosophy student…) that are hard for Koreans to deal with. Various mental barriers to certain behaviours have melted away. In the first few weeks I frequently caught myself and didn’t criticise things or make complaints, or do things like correct my co-teacher’s English. But now I’ve realised that I’m doing these things unthinkingly.

Here’s an example. I’m generally pretty chatty and I tend to complain about things that I don’t actually mind very much about. But my co-teachers frequently interpret this as me asking them to do something about the issue, and very often it is something out of their control so they just feel bad about it. If I want them to help me out with something I’ll ask them directly, but they don’t always see it this way. My cultural insensitivity here creates unnecessary stress for them.

Another example is making comments about Korean culture. This is philosophy student territory: my style is to make harsh critical remarks about things to provoke a defence of them and therefore come to understand them. A man’s true nature is revealed in war etc.etc. For the first month or so I caught myself and avoided this, but now I realise that I’m not being so careful. And Koreans aren’t keen on confrontation. Hopefully I can learn to be more careful again with all these things around my co-teachers.

My Korean is coming along okay. I can express a lot more than I could when I arrived because attending classes has got me a bunch of new grammar that I try out at school. But my level is still very low and it’s essentially just a way to break the ice with Koreans, and get by a little easier in shops, services etc., rather than a way of communicating very much. I wish I could put more time into studying, but I find it hard to fully commit when there is also philosophy to study, and on the grounds that I could well not be here for any longer than a year (see below).

I have met and continue to meet various people without really trying that hard to meet new people, which is nice. Generally I meet foreigners rather than Koreans, but I have met some Koreans too. I want to put the effort into finding Korean friends by doing language exchanges; there are websites to meet people who want to meet foreigners and have enough English to do so under the assumption that you’ll teach each other your native language. A lot these devolve into hookups, and a super-serious language exchange is beyond my current level since I’m not conversational. Something in between would be good: some more Korean friends to teach me some language and also show me some cool stuff to do in Incheon and Seoul would be great.

I consider myself to have missed Christmas this year since aside from serious Christians it is not celebrated here. It is a national holiday, though, and in the morning I headed out to a coffee shop to study some philosophy. This turned out to be a really great idea because by starting my logic textbook, I broke my mental block to sitting down and studying that was built on the assumption that it would be unpleasantly hard and serious. It is hard and serious, and I need to figure out what attitude to take towards it while not being at university. But now that I’ve started the textbook it’s much easier to continue. Not putting off doing this should allow me to spend my free time better than I have been doing; fear of effort has kept me procrastinating a lot lately.

I try not to think too much about the future, but recently I completed my applications to graduate philosophy master’s and doctoral courses and so this makes me consider how long I’ll stay in Korea. Some days I think I should restrict myself to a year even if my applications are unsuccessful, on the grounds that this isn’t a job that I can really progress in. Other days I think that I should just continue figuring out to live a life without huge looming priorities like I had while at university. I don’t know what to think or what my priorities should be, but I do know that I want to work on living life healthily, and that’s something that involves focusing on now rather than the future.

The biggest thing in this area, as mentioned above, is figuring out my attitude towards study. I sometimes find it hard to see how it can be worthwhile if I’m doing it outside of universities; it’s so easy to go wrong and get the wrong ideas in a subject like philosophy, and I find myself being rather utilitarian and perfectionist about getting on with doing it.

I’m pleased to have got my grad school applications sent in at last. I missed the deadlines of two places I wanted to apply to: I thought all the deadlines were around 31st December, and I didn’t note down that two of them were earlier in the month. Since I prepared notes and documents for the appplication process before I left for Korea, it was frustrating to find that I’d missed this aspect of the process. One thing that’s nice right now is that my self-esteem is not really tied to the outcome of the process since I know how random is it. I know I’m good enough to get into the places I’ve applied, and if I don’t it’s just a case of not having done well in the lottery: there are just so many applications.