Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2009 SMOE Orientation -- SMOE Orientations From The Past . . . taking a look at what's online and trying to get a sense of what is coming soon . . .

Update: A friend of mine sent me this link where the 2009 SMOE August 23-30th Orientation schedule is up.

I've been wondering what the 2009 SMOE orientation will be like so I started doing some research to see if anyone had written about it online . . . and before I get into all the stuff I found I'm going to suggest you watch this video made by Jon Pak, SMOE Program Coordinator, for the 2009 March SMOE Orientation Conference.

The video is posted on a site called Expacked, "This is just the start of Expacked, a brand new (and free) weekly newsletter for native English teachers working in Korea. Expacked is a brief, weekly summary highlighting key news stories, interesting events and hints on how to get the most out of your Korean experience. We are also helping to build a stronger, be informed and connected community of English Teachers. We are also on facebook."

Now I need to preface the rest of this post with this proviso: I put up the good and the bad things I find in my research about topics related to living and teaching in Korea (in this case the SMOE orientation), and then comment on what is said from my own perspective. This perspective is based on having taught for nearly five years in Korea at middle school, high school, and the university level, with experience teaching after school program classes to elementary, middle, and high school level students, and being an instructor in two different 6 month intensive Korean English teacher training programs, one with middle school and high school Korean English teachers, and the second with elementary Korean English teachers. Add to the mix many many many summer and winter English camps and that's the sum total of where I'm coming from.

I began with a Google search for the words, "SMOE Seoul Orientation," and I found Stray Blog's write up, SMOE August Orientation 2008. Now I need to say something about Stray Blog's tag line: "The unspeakable horrors of teaching English in Korea." There's no such thing as a teaching job, anywhere in the world, where you don't have a hard time during your first year of teaching--PERIOD! When you add to the mix culture shock which varies from very little to massive amounts for each person . . . well, for some people who choose to come live and teach/work in Korea it's a nightmare. They don't have an English degree, so they don't have any academic background in the SUBJECT they will be teaching. Many new people don't have a 100 hour TESL or TEFL teaching certificate and that creates a lot of problems especially if they lack any natural talent in varying degrees for teaching. Finally, many people don't read and do research about the culture they're about to live and work in for an entire year . . . all of these things create a cumulative effect that can really knock a person on their ass until they learn what they need to know (and likely should have learned before coming to Korea) and the list goes on and on . . .

BUT HERE'S THE THING: You can learn what you need to know to live and teach in Korea successfully, and also have a good time while you're here. You just have to have an open mind and want to do it. Add in the ingredients hard work and time . . . and things will be pretty good overall.

This is a big part of why I blog about teaching methods, teaching books, and teaching stories specific to Korea. You can learn what you need to know on the fly so to speak, survive, and even thrive . . .

Back to my research . . . I began reading through Stray Blog's post and the links he has on it. This particular post, Part 2: Orientation Week, had a very interesting summary of the orientation--I just wish he had written more . . .

Stray's Blog also put a link here to SMOE's 2008 orientation schedule. I've re-posted it here too.

I don't have much to say about the schedule other than the upcoming SMOE orientation will likely be a little different, and that the 2008 schedule shouldn't be seen as exactly what new teachers will be doing.

The following quotes/comments should be read and digested with GINORMOUS GRAINS OF SALT. Dave's ESL Cafe chat forums tend to be a lode stone for negativity and complaining and one has to very carefully sift through all the bullshit to find little bits of interesting information--and even then you have to consider the source and forum as suspect, and perhaps most importantly realize that each person creates their own interpretive filters through which external events are processed--often times something can be going on that sucks but if you suck it up, support the other people on your team, and just plain choose to get through things without making them harder by complaining and heel dragging things usually work themselves out.

NOTE: I say 'usually' but bear in mind there are some things that cross each person's boundaries and go past their limits. Some things should get a "No, I won't do that." But bear in mind that you're a new employee in a foreign culture that you don't understand, and for the first week it might be a good idea to pretend you're in boot camp if you must, and just say "Yes, sir" to everything as much as it might make you want to scream, yell, cry, and put your first through a wall . . .

Getting back to reading through some of the posted comments on Dave's ESL Cafe this one caught my eye, "Mandatory exercise starts at 5:30am." I really hope that this was a joke as the other things written in this person's comments were. Looking at the schedule I reassure myself that it must be a joke because there's nothing on there about morning PT . . .

Here's a comment that I think needs to be quoted because it may save some new people from missing a meal due to when they arrive at the orientation location from the airport.
The poster says, "Arrive at Hyundai Learning Center at 12:00. Missed Lunch. Starving." It may be a good idea to grab food/snacks while you're at the airport just in case your arrival time at the orienation location doesn't coincide with meal times and no other alternatives have been arranged for people who miss meals.

Some of the activities will be fantastic for some new foreign teachers, and for other teachers they're going to be feeling pretty unhappy. The poster says, "
A Korean man in Hanbok greets us with a warm smile. He has a helper with him. We spend the next two hours making total asses out of ourselves by chanting and flailing about, toe dancing and twirling, beating drums and crashing cymbals"

I found this video, "Learning to dance during SMOE Orientation," on youtube . . . wow.

I've actually seen Koreans in traditional costume doing this type of dance many times, and know the music well too. If the people doing the dance are happy and having fun it's actually a really awesome thing to participate in.

Adjusting to Korean food culture will be easy for some people and for others a major obstacle that they'll have to spend a lot of time and energy re-programming their expectations and ideas of what is 'normal.' The bizarre thing in my mind about people who rant and rave and complain about Korean food is YOU CHOSE TO COME TO KOREA! " heads...hmmm. Bones? Yuck. Kimchi and rice and a bowl of that fish soup." Do some research online about Korean food culture before you come here so you can be a mature and professional individual who arrives with an OPEN MIND before the whinging drives other people nutbar.

Food is something that you MUST get your head around when you come to Korea. "
Fish Soup again!?!? Give me a break! Ah...stale cornflakes too...phew. I pour the warm one percent milk over my cornflakes and find a seat. Coffee....must have coffee. I find the coffee machine and to my dismay.. the coffee isn't's hazelnut. God, get me outta here." Be prepared for things to NOT be what you are UNCONSCIOUSLY EXPECTING and ASSUMING they will be. That being said, after nearly five years in Korea I still don't warm up to the idea of rice, kimchi, soup, and some of the other traditional Korean breakfast foods . . . but if I'm hungry I'll eat what is available and just soldier on. Complaining about things that cannot be changed is one of the hardest things for some people to not do . . . living and teaching in Korea will teach you how to do this if you can't before you get here; if you don't learn how not to complain about things that cannot be changed you'll slowly drive yourself mad.

One thing every teacher going to orienation should be prepared for is to sit through some education office promotional talks and possibly a video. The general form and content will likely feel 'propaganda-ish' but just take it all in, breathe deeply, and think warm fuzzy thoughts . . . it could be worse. For example, at my first orientation in Korea (2005) I got to sit through speeches in Korean--with no translation into English--and then a lovely 25 minute video about the education system with a nice bit thrown in about 'economic free zones' (which I had never heard about before) . . . oh yeah, and the video was in Korean too.

Now this part I found interesting . . . "
The last night everyone is told that our schools have been assigned and are posted on a wall in a classroom near the SMOE representatives' office." I don't know if this is the standard practice but I imagine it must be due to sheer logistical common sense . . . if you have 500 new teachers you cannot tell them one by one, and then hold their hand if they cry cause they don't like it, or have to deal with yelling red-faced rudeness . . .

If you're working in a job where you get "posted" to a location you have to accept the reality that you're now in a culture that expects obedience once an authority figure has made a decision. Arguing with a supervisor from the education office is a quick way to guarantee he/she doesn't answer your calls or emails when you actually have a real problem in the future. And I know for a fact that if you're rude or any other kind of disrespectful behavior to the coordinators you're shooting yourself in the foot too. Find out where you've been posted to, and then begin learning as much as you can about it--ignorance equals keep yourself from complaining until you know that there's actually something factual and specific to support the freaking out you may be doing. Begin networking with people who will be in the same area and focus on making things work--those are the behaviors that will make your time in Korea good.

Everybody, myself included, will always find something to complain about how things are done. "
Why couldn't the SMOE representatives cut the information into strips and hand them to us?" Sometimes criticisms are valid but the problem is that new teachers often are GROSSLY LACKING in the knowledge and experience to assess whether or not what they're thinking, and what they're saying "should" have been done in another way, is actually valid in a Korean cultural work context. If there are FIVE HUNDRED new teachers . . . I wonder if this person thought about how long it would take to individually cut up each strip with the teacher's name and school info on it, and how those strips would be handed out . . .

Here's a positive comment, surprise surprise, about SMOE events, orientations, etc. "
I've been to a few workshops, orientations and SMOE's is hands down the most organized, professional, and helpful." I'd have to agree with this too from all the stories I've heard from foreign teachers attending presentations and orientations all over Korea, and from foreign teachers involved as presenters and organizers of those events too. The same person goes on to say, "You get out of it what you put in. You have to leave your perceptions, expectations, and fears at the door. A lot of newcomers show up to orientation and they expect to be teaching English like they learned it growing up." I cannot stress enough that this is TRUE. Teaching English as a foreign language is NOT the same as what you experienced growing up and going through your home country's ed system. The problem with this is that people with no EFL/ESL training do what every human being does--they do what they have seen and experienced; they imitate what they remember and thought was good teaching. The bugger with that is that Korea is NOT a place where these ideas and methods can be used without a lot of modifying, imagination, and experience-based tweaking. Becoming a good EFL teachier in Korea TAKES TIME, hard work, and a passion for teaching--well, at least a little bit of interest would be nice for some individuals, sigh.

Another quote from the same person, "
A last bit of advice for your SMOE newbies. Every school is different. Questions like, "Will my school ....." or "Can i expect ..... at my school" can NOT be answered. Please don't ask the presenters a question like "Will my coteacher be a man or a woman". How the hell are they suppose to know that?" A lot of new teachers feel like a human being in outer space with no oxygen, space suit, or guidance system. They begin reaching for any and every small detail that they think might help them begin to create a map in their heads and begin establishing a sense of where the hell they are . . . EXPECTATIONS WILL GENERALLY NOT BE FULFILLED.

Let me say that again,
EXPECTATIONS WILL GENERALLY NOT BE FULFILLED. This is probably one of the biggest problems for new foreign teachers, myself included when I arrived, and I really wish orientations would have special sessions where the newbies write out their expectations, with some prompting and leading questions from the experienced expat presenter, so that a lot of wasted time and frustration can be pre-empted a little. I have no delusions that hearing the presenter say that some Korean English teachers will have low levels of English will actually sink in until the new foreign teacher is actually in a classroom and teaching Korean students and they experience that sinking realization of "Oh my god, she/he doesn't know the meaning of 'X'--how can they be teaching English?" Some preconceived expectations cannot be dispelled by anything other than the hard learned lessons of personal experience. With that being said it's still nice to know about some things ahead of time . . .

Here's an interesting comment from a SMOE orientation presenter, ". . .
they let all sorts of teachers lecture at the orientation and other workshops. I've been demanding that they have at least 7 years EFL/ESL experience. Master teachers. No matter what, at least after being in the trenches, something invisible translates and can be "taught". Otherwise you get a lot of spasmic energy or just drudgery or academic nonsense.... Still, banging my head on this one with the powers that be. Frustrating..." This is something that new teachers don't want to hear but the sad truth is that it's hard to find trained, experienced, talented EFL/ESL teachers who are free, willing, and able to produce good presentations on the basics of EFL methodology, and other teaching issues relevant to newbies just arriving in Korea for the first time. Often the priority is just filling in the boxes on the schedule so that one can show it to their boss--failure is not an option, and saying, "Oh, excuse me sir/ma'am, we just can't find enough experienced teachers to do presentations at the orientation. We'll just have them do blah blah instead." Imagine how that conversation would go over in a culture where superiors give orders/tasks and assume they'll be done no matter what, and the subordinates generally do whatever it takes to accomplish the task without complaining or even having the slightest glimmer of resistance . . .

Here are some quotes from I'm in Seoul but I'm not a Solider from this post, "We then learned that our days would start with breakfast at 7 am, and class would end at 9 pm. A little grueling, maybe, but Korean ideas about sleep and leisure time differ from our lazy Western attitudes. They actually told us so in a segment of the program that taught us the generalizations that Koreans make about us. Lazy, inflexible, and overly legalistic were some of the highlights." This is something that I find hard to accept when one has to consider that the foreign teachers are jet lagged and fresh off the plane. But the fact of the matter is that Koreans go through their public school careers with very little sleep (like 4-6 hours for most), and then all able-bodied men do mandatory military service . . . so go figure, the culture here sees sleep as a luxury, and not as a necessity . . . yeah.

"As boring, disorganized, and hilarious as the orientation was at times, it was actually quite good overall." This gives me a degree of comfort, lol.

Lastly, he says, ". . . somewhere in those 14 hour days they did manage to give us some good teaching tools, as well as useful tips on adjusting and surviving in Korea. I just wished they had been able to tell us which school we would be teaching at and where we'd be living a little sooner than the night before we were leaving to go there...." The reason for this is most likely to pre-emptively avoid the groaning and gnashing of teeth by those foreign teachers upset by their posting locations . . . Koreans generally do not like open confrontation, and especially when the person arguing has a low social rank in the Korean cultural hierarchy, and yet doesn't know that or understand it and they're going 1000km an hour with their mouths at a Korean with a higher rank. Yeah, I think I get why they don't let you know till the last minute, lol.

I'm going to finish with these two quotes. The first one is big.

"Coming from GEPIK to SMOE I'll put in my 2 cents.

The orientation is good. The organization and setup is very professional and better than the GEPIK orientation. Experienced PS teachers will still learn something new. At the very least, you have valuable experience you can share with other people. I spent my time at orientation sharing my experience with others. A lot of people thanked me after orientation for helping them.

Honestly, the orientation period is too long. Its good that they have 2 separate orientations, but like ddeubel said, it would've been better if they separated the experienced and newbie groups. People with experience in Korea don't need to go to museums or attend lectures on Korean culture (well, some people might).

All in all, it is a positive experience. It gives you time to meet people and network. It is better than to just be thrown into your school, start teaching from day 1, and have no idea who the other NSETs are in your district.

It would be nice if SMOE could implement a "mentor" program at orientation. They bring in a group of teachers, and then break up the orientation into small groups so that people can get all of their questions out of the way. I don't do anything at school the first week after break, and neither do a lot of others. I wouldn't mind going down to help new teachers get on their feet.

And the second,

"From the involvement I have had with the SMOE orientation I have to say it was and is very well organized. The sessions are productive because they give newbies and those with experience an opportunity to put things into a Korean educational perspective.

I thoroughly enjoyed helping out and will look forward to helping in the future if I am asked to participate. The people who put any of these orientations together are not perfect, and they do the best they can be expected to do with the resources they have available to them. Some of the features of any orientation are bound to disappoint, but that is what happens in any major event. My advice is to take things with an open mind. Learn what you can, change what you can, network with those you meet, and create a better professional atmosphere for the collective whole. People don't often think about this aspect, but we are all hired to be professionals regardless of what you might believe.

The orientations I have been to for GEPIK and SMOE all had something for me, even if it had nothing directly to do with the scheduled events. These things are a great way to interact with people and bounce ideas off of each other. That is something that pays in experience dividends which you will not get by yourself IMHO.

Hats off to people like ddeubel and others who perform their duties at the orientations. It is a thankless job, and too often those who attend don't understand the enormous amount of planning that must go into the development and presentation of a large scale activity."

Getting away from the Dave's ESL Cafe comments . . . Stray Blog has a link here to pictures from the 2008 SMOE orientation. Problem is that the 2009 orientation will be held at Sungkyunkwan University in Suwon so looking at the pics might mislead some new teachers to form EXPECTATIONS--don't do that!--about the 2009 location.

AH! One thing you should expect at any orientation in Korea . . . getting your picture taken at any and all times. There are 111 pics of foreign teachers at the orientation here. Yeah . . .

Eureka! I found some writing here about the March 2009 SMOE orientation.

"To be quite honest, orientation is super AWKWARD. There's a lot of super structured time -- lecture here at this time, MANDATORY FUN HERE NOW, dinner at this time, lunch at this time, etc. But your free time is completely... unorganized. Like I wish there were not mandatory activities to try to meet people, like movies in a lounge or something like that, but all the activities are mandatory and free time is just totally yours to do whatever with."

"The other thing people are going to ask about: the food. It's all Korean all the time. Well, they have some Western stuff for breakfast, but it's mostly just nonstop rice with various toppings and endless kinds of kimchi. Lunch on the first day sucked; the next three meals were awesome. Then, of course, dinner sucked tonight. At least there's a convenience store to go to."

I'd also suggest reading the First Day entry, it's a good read.

And here's a series of posts written by Moments she'll wants to remember,

Orientation @ Hyundai Learning Centre- Day 1

Orientation @ Hyundai Learning Centre- Day 2

Some new friends.

Orientation @ Hyundai Learning Centre- Day 4

Orientation @ Hyundai Learning Centre- Day 4 Part 2

Orientation @ Hyundai Learning Centre- Day 5

Here's another blog posting about the 2008 SMOE orientation, Taryn's Korean Adventure, SMOE Orientation

I came across this while doing my Google search on "SMOE orientation,"

"A folder of materials for the workshops for new teachers joining the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education and the ETIS program."

I don't have much energy left to peruse the different files at this link but it looks like it's got some interesting materials . . . Update: I tried to open a few of the files to see what is in them and nothing worked. I'll leave the link up as someone might know how to get it working and can leave a comment.

The last thing I'll put here is this link to, Smoe Teaching Techniques Presentation Orientation, a presentation put together by D. Deubelbeis, an instructor at SETI (Seoul Education Training Institute). It looks like it has a lot of ideas and EFL techniques . . . check it out.

If you didn't watch the video made by Jon Pak, SMOE Program Coordinator, for the 2009 March SMOE Orientation Conference . . . here's another chance to do so.

At the end of the video a website address for English Teachers In Seoul (ETIS) is given: There is an orientation section here. Also, check out the photo album section, and the movie section. Jon Pak has a video up on the movie section about how to get to SMOE. (It's too bad recruiters don't know about this video cause they could put the link in their emails to new teachers to SMOE who have to go to the office.) I'm going to suggest to Jon that he upload this video on youtube cause I imagine it would get a lot more hits there.

Well, I think this is a pretty decent compilation of different views and opinions about the SMOE orientations of the past. I hope it gives people who will be attending an idea of what is coming up soon.

See you there,


stray said...

Thanks for the links to my blog - although I've been holding off on blogging for a while, I check in from time to time. You've done quite a good job with this write-up Hopefully my orientation synopsis is/was a bit helpful, although I will agree that detailed writing is not my strong point.
Oh and as for my tag line .. it's mostly tongue in cheek as I'm sure you know. There were no actual "unspeakable horrors" but it was quite the year.

Jason said...

Hi Stray,

Thanks for writing. I wasn't sure how tongue in cheek your tagline is and pretty much just put up a few comments so that newbies wouldn't freak out . .. lol.

I'm going to try and finish 6 blog posts about each day of the orientation where I write in detail about everything we had to do ... we'll see how that goes with all the chaos that is the first week at school in Korea.


Stellaface said...

this blog post is incredibly helpful! im going to teach this fall for smoe and i was looking for orientation information as well ... thanks!