Yesterday we had an obligatory xmas party, in association with the local campuses of the "Blue" Academy which is another branch of the hagwon corporation that has acquired my place of work (our school becomes part of a new branch of this corporation, and will be called LinguaForum <- they have a website).
Actually, it wasn't completely obligatory – Danny and Diana and Grace all managed to get out of it, pleading previous obligations elsewhere. But Ryan and I went, along with the new manager guy, Kurt, and the new incoming teacher Pete (everyone goes by English names around the academy, and I'll stick to naming them that way in part to allow them – and myself – anonymity, vis-a-vis google et al.).
Kurt picked me up around 4, and I met his wife and daughter and we drove to Hwajeong, where the party was. There were about 500 people there, in a big rented hall, including important boss types, regional VP types, lots of teachers and staff and families. And I swear, I was the only foreigner there.
You see, this LinguaForum thing is a new venture – at least for the Ilsan / Goyang region where we are. Most of the Pureun schools are math/science prep places, and thus much less likely to have foreign staff. The company is trying to grow their "English hagwon" biz rapidly, and thus are going around acquiring small independent schools such as ours was, and converting them over.
This is the first large social event I've attended in Korea. Unlike my colleagues, I hardly resented it – I actually thought it was nice to have something to do for xmas day – even if it was nothing more than schmooze with people in a language I barely understand.
Some things I had been led to expect, however, based on reading, conversations, and just some degree of understanding of the nature of Korean society. There were interminable awards ceremonies. There was much silly raising and lowering of hands, clapping, and waving about, in unison. There were karaoke contests, including some major company bigwig belting out some charming almost bluegrassy Korean ballad. There were prizes for children, and an endless buffet with a nearly infinite variety of almost entirely unidentifiable foods. There was soju and beer on every table, but much less drinking than I'd expected.
I had a few humorous misunderstandings: at one point, I couldn't figure out why everyone was talking about Santa Cruz (as in the city in California, or maybe a Spanish religious concept). It should have been obvious: they were talking about Santa Claus, but the "L" changes to "R" and the vowel was definitely off, and the consequence was that it didn't even occur to me until had to ask someone, despite what day it was.
Finally I got a ride home with Pete and his wife and daughter, and I told them some of my tales about travels around Latin America. I tried to go to sleep early.
This morning I had to wake up early and go to work by 9 am (considering I normally get off at 10 pm, this is indeed quite early). We had to drive into Seoul and go to a training for the new RingGuAPoReom curriculum. Which ended up being not terribly enlightening. The first session was OK, but I had been hoping something like a mock lesson or something dynamic, but it was really just a little lecture about the contents of the books, which was really fairly self-evident to us, having had the chance to look through them on our own. The second session was about the same, with the added factor of being in Korean, which meant I understood my standard 3-5%, which is hardly enough to get me to any kind of appreciation of what's being said.
And then we drove back to Ilsan. Ryan and Pete and I had lunch at the hole-in-wall place in the basement of the next-door building, and they were very sociable with me for a change (well, not for a change, as Pete's completely new… so, I mean Ryan, I guess). They started teaching me some "restaurant survival Korean" and then made me make all the requests to the serving staff: more rice, check please, etc.
I was thinking to myself, "damn, I've learned more Korean in the last two days than in the last two months!" So… maybe working for a big company will be good for me, here. Now, if I can only shake this goddawful flu virus.