It's Wednesday evening and we're all at home, waiting for a phone call. While we wait, I'm (Bryan) going to write the next installment of our blog, to keep y'all updated on what's going on for us.
(Warning, before you go any further: this is a long post and Judy apologizes for not having photos this time to make it more readable for you! If you know us and want to keep up with our daily lives and responses to living abroad, carry on, or at least skim it. She promises pretty images next time!)
For me, I'm busy. I'm teaching multiple sections of two classes this semester; so I have three sections, each of 20 students, taking my EF class, and two sections, also of 20 students, taking my ERD class. One of the tasks is to keep the sections in step with each other, of course! Multiple sections of the same class reduces the amount of lesson prep that I need to do – and lesson prep is extensive here! The classes are challenging both for the students and the teachers.
EF stands for English Foundations, and it's the entry-level class for the English program here at Handong. Students who enter the uni with a higher level of English can actually avoid the class by scoring high on a placement test! The class is similar to what I've done at Myongji: I do some teaching on different structures (follow-up questions, for example, or comprehension checks) and then provide students with specific tasks in which they can practice those structures. I also have students doing large amounts of homework: reading and grammar activities. The EF classes follow a detailed schedule which is already in place, so I'm not expected to do a lot of curriculum design, but rather implement an exisiting set of resources.
ERD is English Reading & Discussion. Reading and talking, two of my favorite things! The point of the class is to get the students trained in reading textbooks and in higher-level, focused discussions, both integral to their future academic career at Handong, most of which will take place in English. We have a textbook in place (although there is some rumbling about changing it, sooner rather than later) but teachers also choose and use a secondary text as material for discussions. I've picked Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace? for my secondary text; student-led discussions start tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the students use what I've taught them.
I'm working pretty hard to keep ahead of my students and am making progress in that area; my lessons for this week are done and I'm starting to build into next week. As well as the classes themselves, I have weekly departmental meetings to attend, a once-a-week class for new Handong teachers, and students coming to my office to consult about the discussions they'll be leading. And, just to make sure I don't get bored, I'm also picking up my Korean language studies. Handong has a lot of international students – and faculty – and so there's a tutoring program in place. I have, at no expense to me, a tutor who meets with me twice a week. I've picked up a textbook with some audio CDs and I'm working on regaining what I've lost over the past couple of years – and then extending. To infinity, and beyond! Ahem....
. . .
Well, we've just received, not the phone call we were expecting, but our entire shipment of goods from Canada! Back when we were moving out of our house in St. Thomas, we put together a shipment of 27 boxes; they were shipped (like, on a ship) to the South Korean port of Busan, and then loaded on a truck for delivery to Handong. We were expecting a phone call to alert us to delivery, since we live on the 6th floor; instead, a Handong student who works in the admin office for my department and has been helping Judy with this process knocked on our door. “The truck is here!” he announced excitedly, and then helped us with unloading the truck, moving the boxes into and out of the elevator and then stacking them up outside our apartment door. There they will remain while Judy unpacks them in an organized manner; we don't have enough space to be disorganized, actually. Katherine has opened up a box of her toys, and Judy has been stocking her kitchen shelves with spices and powders and other hard-to-acquire necessities that have been making their way to our home for over a month.
I've just unpacked one of my treasures: my Harman Kardon speakers or, as Kath likes to say, my jellyfish. My laptop's onboard speakers are, well, they make sounds, and that's about all that can be said for them. My HK speakers, on the other hand, make nice sounds, with a deep bass resonance that tingles my toes. So, with Judy's help, I've got all the cables sorted and plugged in effectively, and some jazz music playing, and my toes are tingling in a most satisfying manner! My computer is set up in our bedroom, mostly because that's where we have some space, and also so that Judy can shut the door if the music doesn't quite meet her auditory needs of the moment.
So what are Judy and Katherine doing? Home-schooling, of course, and getting acquainted with the campus and the people who live here. There are many expat teachers, some of whom have been here for a decade or more. Handong is looking for teachers able and willing to make long-term commitments! So the level of community and cooperation is very deep, and we've been starting to plug into that community.
. . .
Hullo? Hon? Hullo?
Well, it looks as though Bryan has drifted off into the world of Titan Quest and tingly jazz and forgotten all about his audience. Also, it would seem more appropriate for me (Judy) to actually tell you what Katherine and I are doing, since he's out of the house from 8:30 to past five most days! So without ado, we'll leave him to his orc-slaying and see what other details I can fill in.
'Homeschooling, of course' is actually a rather insouciant code for 'getting emotional new teen to participate in real life and basic household duties'. Our Kitkat, generally a joyful and cooperative child, if not overly self-motivated, is experiencing the tides of adolescence, with the attending physical, emotional, and biochemical changes. Tears come easily at thirteen, as do petulant flare-ups, glowers, and push-backs. So the daily request to, say, set or clear the table for a meal, is now met with enough drama to cover a full evening at the Stratford Festival Theatre, or an entire season's run of The Cherry Orchard. Expectations for following an already-established schedule, or a mutually-agreed-upon list of responsibilities, or simple pleasant cooperation are no longer being met. As I'm trying more to equip her with long-term life tools and positive habits, than to merely get assistance around the house, this is a fatiguing responsibility. And as many mothers are aware, it's actually faster and more efficient to simply continue doing the multiplicity of tasks oneself than to train an unwilling participant....
Then there's the issue of trying to 'school', a word I despise anyhow, with a single internet-accessing laptop which is almost out of usable memory, no printer, no textbooks, no paper, two or three pens, and no English library. I realize people learn and thrive in less salubrious conditions, but that generally requires a strongly motivated learner and less need for meticulous organization and variety on the instructor's part. So we're doing very little that would qualify as academic lessons at the moment: a half-hour on Khan Academy here, a few pages from the Grade 7/8 Summer Sharpen-up there.
But then again, it's my belief that Kath will benefit more in the long run from being able to articulate and identify her goals than from doing a page of fraction exercises, from being able to plan and prepare nutritious and balanced meals than learning the capitals of Europe, from daily habits of hygiene and organization and helpfulness and productivity than writing a book report, from developing compassion and empathy and walking humbly with her God than studying cell division, from discriminating online sources and distinguishing media biases than memorizing the formulas for finding areas...
Life skills, yeah? Yet... all those secondary clauses are important too; the world of academics, research, knowledge....and I want her to have both! How do I intrigue and capture her, how connect her energy and interests into the real world and the vital abilities, how keep alive the same passion for always learning and changing that her father and I have - and still model - to this day?
So what with attempting to nurture my daughter's mind and spirit with a current paucity of tools, plus trying to establish a new household yet again from the ground up, ditto, the days can be tedious if not without interest. There's the challenge of going shopping while on an isolated country campus without a personal vehicle: thankful that the shuttlebuses run regularly into town and that taxis once in town are plentiful and affordable. There's the fun of digging damp laundry out of the bottom of the nice new huge washing machine the uni provided us and trying to fit it along the clothesline I've strung across the enclosed balcony that runs the length of our sixth-floor apartment. There's making meals with an as-yet-unstocked pantry and a choice of exactly five flavouring ingredients: salt, pepper, soy sauce, chopped garlic, and cinnamon powder. I generally wind up using all of them in a meal (no, not all in the same dish!) and try to at least ring the changes on texture, colour, and presentation.
Oh, and that wonderful community that Bryan mentioned? Absolutely true. They are sweet and helpful and outgoing – lending towels, gifting basic furniture and dishes, offering the use of their cars to go into town for the run to the Immigration Centre, and stopping by to make sure I haven't been poisoned by the scent of spray paint they picked up wafting down the hall. They are genuine people and are already a big part of why Bry feels so happy here.
And I'm a self-contained introvert, an INFJ who just wants to get settled in her little nest and feel more confident of her place here before she's ready to reach out and make connections with others... preferably slowly, genuinely, and one person at a time.... so as far as I'm concerned it's one more 'responsibility' on my plate and one more thing to check off the daily to-do list. “Socialize with R”, “write thank-you note to C”, “drop off banana bread to J”. Don't get me wrong, I like individual people, as I get to know them, and I'm neither anti-social nor shy. But the essence of introversion is that interacting with other human beings is draining rather than energizing, and for someone with limited 'spoons' and with a chronic nerve dysfunction, it can be overwhelming – a rising of the water closer to one's neck rather than a lifeline.
One of the aspects of living here that will be very healing, though, is where we are. Yes, it's isolated, but the only bad part about that from my perspective is temporary – once we have a vehicle I'll have the access to food and household supplies that's necessary to keep the home running. We are up in pine-covered sandy hills, five minutes from the coast of south-east Korea, the ocean in view from our balcony. To step out the door of the faculty residence and walk twenty meters past the community gardens is to find oneself on a network of trails through balmy-scented pine forests, sun glowing through the live green and the ground carpeted with springy rust-coloured fallen needles. Bliss, and so recharging for my spirit! And, again, once we have a car, access to the beach on a regular basis.
Right now there are so many elements that seem challenging – even the joy of having our boxes come in is mitigated by the hours I need to spend unpacking, sorting, creating new systems and storage and areas to make sure everything has a place and will function optimally in that place. Is this where the baking items should go, or will I need more regular access to jams and spreads? How about this drawer for bags and food wraps? Cutlery on the counter, or table? This bookcase here, or there?
It's less about décor than about the need for everything to flow in the small space we have with minimal frustration, and that requires a lot of decisions and planning. In fact, putting the unpacked clothing away required me to first pile it all on the bed until I had enough empty packing boxes to binder-clip and packing-tape together into a cardboard storage unit for the capacious (six feet of unshelved space and hence useless) built-in wardrobes in our master bedroom. Ditto with Katherine's. As for my arts and crafts supplies, I am proud to say that I scavenged a stack of matching rough flooring boards from the recycling pile, dug out my hammer and nails from the tiny essential tool kit I packed along, and created a storage unit that neatly fits along the back wall of the balcony... then sliced off the bottom half of every large water bottle we've bought so far (tap water is not considered potable in South Korea, though it's perfectly fine to brush teeth with or cook in, and probably a whole lot safer than Flint's, say...) to create multiple modular transparent storage 'bins' to organize the items in. Thrifty as anything you'd see on Pinterest, if perhaps not as pretty for the moment! (yes, home pics later!)
Bry keeps reassuring me that it'll be easier in a week or so: we'll have our ARCs, our alien residency cards that give us ID numbers, on Monday. That allows us to do things like sign up for a phone contract and get SIM cards for our existing cell phones. Which means we can communicate with each other when separated, use Google Earth as our personal GPS, get Korean translated at the click of a button, and of course, the rest of the powers of the Internet at our fingertips. We'll be able to collect points when we're shopping, get our Western driver's licences changed over to Korean ones without taking a driving test, and, very shortly, get a vehicle. And that will definitely make our lives easier.
I can't wait to be able to get out to the beach with Kath, get groceries without it taking half the day, visit the local mogyoktang (bathhouse/spa/onsen), buy some bookcases, go down to the port and photograph the squid-fishing boats, get a Costco membership for real cheese, Western ham and bacon, grain bread. Little things, but little things that improve our quality of life, and our focus of serenity and organization. Katherine and I have also decided that one thing we both want more of in this year is CALM. Finding the patterns and habits that will help us towards that goal is not easy at the moment, but one step at a time, one box at a time, one piece of red-tape-paperwork filled in at a time, and the pilgrimage goes forward.
We're safe. These momentary frustrations will pass
and Bryan and I will keep on working together to create a home out of this space.
We're reasonably healthy and well-fed, warm, dry, earning a paycheque,
free to worship as we will, and most importantly, together as a family.
Amor vincit omnia.
Bryan & Judy Alkema are educators, travellers, pilgrims, wordsmiths, and global learners. They are returning to Asia for the third time in their 25-year marriage and look forward to sharing their travel writing, cross-cultural experiences, wisdom perspectives, and beautiful images with you.