This weekend was the annual Fulbright ETA Fall Conference. The conference was held in Gyeongju, which is about an hour and a half north of Gimhae. Gyeongju served as the seat of the ancient Silla dynasty, and over the weekend I saw some of Korea’s most important historical sites and relics. All ETAs made the journey to this small, historic city for a full four days of discussions, workshops, and reunions.
This was the first time since orientation that I saw all of my Fulbright friends in one place. A few short weeks ago, we were sharing our fears and excitement about teaching and moving to our new homes. Now, we were sharing our stories about our students, our host families, and our first experiences in the classroom!
We spent the first two days doing small group discussions and listening to presentations from foreign service officers, U.S. embassy ambassadors, and each other. We also asked for advice on troubleshooting some of the issues we faced as teachers.
“What happens when my students fall asleep in class?”
“What do I do when the textbook I have to use is too hard for my students?”
“How can I make a two-hour club class interesting?”
“What do I do when my elementary textbook teaches the English alphabet, but then assumes the students can just read English without learning phonics?”
While most of us had adjusted well to teaching and life in Korea, a few of my friends have not been so lucky with their placements and homestays. On blogs and social media, we tend to emphasize the positives–the little presents from students, the cute pictures of homestay siblings, and our most successful lessons. But we all have negative moments too, and for some new teachers the negatives outweigh the positives right now. Hearing some of my friends’ stories underscored how lucky I am overall to have such great support in Gimhae, and also reminded me of the importance of reaching out to the ETAs I do not see very often and who may be struggling more than they show.
Most of all, I was so surprised to see how many Korean mannerisms we have adopted in such a short time. From passing everything with two hands, to bowing, to walking with each other arm in arm, the subtle changes in our behavior and interactions mark the first steps in assimilating to Korean culture and life.
After the workshops were finished on Sunday, we took a tour of the city’s historic sites. The autumn weather and the sunshine were perfect for pictures! Here are some of the places we visited:
I returned to Gimhae on Monday, armed with a bundle full of teaching resources and some new perspectives on teaching and life in Korea. I am excited to resume classes and use what I learned this weekend to become a better teacher.