Jenn in Korea.

This is all about my EPIK teaching adventures in Korea!

Sangjin Elementary School

I am extremely fortunate to have only a 5 minute walk to my school.  Many teachers don’t have that luxury.  My school is fairly mid-sized and has a student population of about 650. The school is 5 floors and of course, I’m on the 5th floor.  My English classroom and office is a looooong 5 flights of stairs… that is, unless I take the elevator!  The elevators are reserved for the old, the handicapped, and… any teacher who doesn’t want to work their calf muscles.

The heating (or lack there of) has been such a pain in the you-know-what. The schools here keep the windows open all year round. If you look at the Weather Network, it does say around 12 or so… but because of the “wet” climate here, it feels MUCH colder. It’s actually so cold that the entire staff and students wear their winter jackets all day long in school.  The frigid wind blows into the classrooms and halls all day and night.  I asked my Korean Co-teacher why they do that and her response was, “We like fresh air”.  Clearly a solid reason to freeze all day long. On a regular day I wear leggings underneath my dress pants, as well as 3 layers and a winter jacket.  I really can’t wait for summer… I’m sure back home isn’t opposed either.

This is my name badge. Reading Hangul is actually pretty easy to learn. The alphabet consists of 24 consonants and vowels. Instead of being written sequentially like our alphabet, they are grouped into blocks.  Each block of symbols translates into a syllable. My name is pronounced “Jeh-nee-puh”.  The “f” sound doesn’t exist in the Korean language. If you’re interested in seeing the general idea of how to read hangul, I’ll be posting a really great comic about how to read it.

These picture are from the “English Zone”.  It’s absolutely stacked with resources and we have a ton of space. At the front of the classroom, we have a massive TV screen, where we display Power point presentations for our lessons, and a nice white board. Not to mention the stage.  I actually try to avoid standing on the stage; it makes me feel like I’m looking down on the kids. I hate being the centre of attention- great career I chose, huh.

There is a wall separating the small group work area and the “story zone”.  This is also where my desk is! I’m moving up in the world… I have my own desk.  English computer and all.


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The kids are really quite cute.  They poke their head our from their classrooms, say “Hello teacher”, then erupt in laughter and run away. Apparently English is hilarious.  Either way, its entertaining for both of us.  The kids either call me “Jennifer seon-saeng-nim” or “Jennifer teacher”, which is what it translates to.  They talk to me in Korean a lot in class… I just smile, laugh then nod my head.  I think they’re catching on that I don’t know Korean.  My classes at City Hall are gonna have to teach me something to say, and quick..

This is the bathroom.
Yes, that is a paper towel roll. The only paper towel roll for the entire bathroom. There are also four more stalls on the other side of the bathroom, which aren’t in camera view. How the heck and I suppose to judge the situation before hand?!!  The toilet paper also doubles as the paper towel dispenser.  My first time in the school bathroom was interesting for more than just the toilet paper situation. Half the stalls have… how should I put this… squatters. Take a guess and you’re probably right.  In my mind, it was like being on a really shitty game show. (Get it?)
“All right Jennifer, you can choose any door… what will it be?”
“Door number 1!”… “I’m sorry, it’s just a hole in the ground. Care to guess again?”
“Ok… let’s try door number 2! …3?….6!?”

I give up… I’ll pee when I get home.

Now I can proudly say I’m a seasoned veteran of the mysterious bathroom. I know just how much toilet paper to take. Which stalls are safe. And that the soap dispencer is actually just a pawn. The real soap is a blue bar on a metal rod overhanging the sinks.

I dont do bar soap.


These are typical lunches from the cafeteria.  They don’t look like anything familiar (and they aren’t), but they are fantastic. Scott wasn’t so lucky with his lunches. I can’t tell you exactly what they are, but I can describe what they’re like.

The first has a bowl of plain white rice with two sweet peppers. The peppers are extremely flavourful and fresh, with a hint of spicy if you eat the seeds. The soup is a combination of different vegetables, seaweed and tofu.  In the top left corner is something very close to spaghetti, but the sauce tastes a little different and very spicy. In the middle is a typical salad with a citrus vinaigrette salad dressing. On the right is an interesting type of root marinated in some kind of sauce.  No joke, it tastes exactly like crunchy peanut butter. Even the texture is similar.  The second meal has a bowl of white rice with another sweet green pepper.  There is a seaweed soup in some kind of chicken broth. From left to right, there are strips of very tender beef with a tangy red sauce called Ssamjang, greens mixed with a sweet and spicy sauce, and Perilla leaves (Korean name is “kkaenip”). Let me tell you, these leaves are the most flavourful thing. What you do is take a leave and put it in the palm of your hand. Then you place a small ball of rice and/or meat with the sauce, and wrap it all up. It’s probably one of my favourite foods I’ve tried here.

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School has been an interesting place to learn some Korean culture. I learned very quickly that bowing is the standard hello.  Just bow to every teacher you see, and you’re good. It’s very polite.  Another thing I learned is that you do not bow to the children. I got quite a few laughs after a misunderstanding that you do not bow to just anyone.  When you see a teacher/ the principal/ administration, the polite way to say hello is “annyeonghaseyo” (and bow, of course). This is another thing you don’t want to misunderstand.  Children will say it to you, but you use the informal way to say “hello” back, “annyeong”. You use the polite way when you’re talking to someone older or of a higher status than you. In the school, everyone is of higher status that me, so I say it a lot.

I met the Vice Principal on the first day, who asked me what my favourite sport was. I got the feeling he had a few sentences memorized to make conversation with me.  As soon as the word “volleyball” left my mouth, his eyes it up and said “OOOOOooo!” (Not to stereotype, but Korean’s say this a lot when they’re impressed by something).  So I have been recruited to play with the staff every Wednesday after school. The first of which was not what I was expecting at all. I was told the first hour of volleyball is for the women and the second is for the men. What I later found out is the first half is for the non-athletic types. The net touches the ground while they swat the ball with their hands, using up to 3 attempts to get it back over. The ball is also allowed to bounce twice. The second half is for the athletic people to play real volleyball. They have as many as 10 people on each side of the court and there is no rotating. What ever spot you start in, is where you’ll be for the next hour. I was put at the very back and touched a couple passes.  I was a little disappointed in this and wasn’t very interested in going back again.  That being said, the Vice Principal talked to my Co- teacher and insisted that we both come back to play.

This past Wednesday we went back, and my mind is changed.  There was no “women’s first half” and this time everyone got a chance to change positions.  I finally was able to be at the net, and somehow I am now a rockstar with the staff.  Every time I spiked the ball, there was an eruption of “OOOOooo”‘s, laughter, gasps and congratulatory high fives.  After spiking the ball though one guy’s block and another’s failed attempt to keep the ball in play, I actually had two full grown Korean men on the floor howling.  Apparently I’ve been selected to play on their future tournament team.  I’m just glad I have some way of connecting with the staff, since I speak zero Korean, and they speak very little English.  I call that a win.


4 comments on “Sangjin Elementary School

  1. Paul
    March 21, 2014

    Amazing! My first experience with the ‘squatter’ did not go so well. I don’t want to go into details but let’s just say I ‘missed’.

    Our Japanese equivalent of “OooooOooo” was more of a guttural “EhhhhhhHHH”. It pretty much stays hilarious for the entire year.

    Also, your classroom looks amazing (heating issues aside)!


    • jennwignall
      March 21, 2014

      hahah.. I was pretty close to stepping into it. I was in thinking, “where’s the toilet?” and just about took a dive.


  2. Amie M
    March 21, 2014

    You are going to have to learn to cook some of that awesome food! I would love to try it all out. Any crazy pickled things yet?


    • jennwignall
      March 21, 2014

      Pickled everything. Any kind of greenery or vegetable, they pickle it. Not one of my favourite things… but yes, I’ll definitely have to learn to cook some of my favourite meals that I’ve tried. Actually my school cafeteria has some amazing food, oddly enough.


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