What have I been doing?


Things went dark around here after week 3.5 in orientation.
Turns out Fulbright Korea Orientation gets pretty busy.

Perhaps, around April, I will post about that. Just in time for the new crop of grantees to become notified of their status and frantically Google to discover just what they got themselves into.

For the rest of the semester, I don’t really have an excuse. Uh. Sorry?
The past has passed. I have a whole semester to re-cap on. This may take several posts. For this one: let me give you a picture of a week in the life of a Fulbright ETA (Uiseong, Gyeonsangbukdo, fall semester edition).


Roll out of bed at 7 am looking fresh. Or, you know, dreadfully tired.
It’s a toss up, really.

Shower, dress, eat breakfast (anything from last night’s dinner again, to cereal, maybe an apple, or the staple: rice).

Uiseong boys middle school.jpg

Early in the semester Mr. Lee (a co-teacher) drove me to school. Later, I rode a bike. It’s Samchon’s bike; (“uncle” 삼촌). Oh, I live with a host family. There’s also 이모 (Imo, “aunt”) and their twin boys—who are just out of 6th grade and will be joining me at the boys middle school this semester.

This day I have 3 classes. One in each grade. The 3rd grade class in the afternoon is rowdy. The rest or relatively uneventful. Usually, my lesson has hiccups and Thursday definitely
gets the best lessons. Monday gets the “beta test version.” I wish that wasn’t the case.

Monday nights I have ENGLISH DINNER CONVERSATION GROUP. What is that, you ask because I put the question in your mouth (metaphorically)?

Essentially this: four nice teachers, all women in their 30s, with already very competent English abilities decided they wanted to practice English.
They asked me to help.

English conversation dinner group
Three of the four teachers in my English conversation group. By profession, they include a high school special education and a high school history teacher, a middle school art teacher, and a middle school special education teacher.

Bad news: I cannot accept payment, contractually.
Bad news (unrelated): I am a picky eater.
Good news (now related): They offer to buy me dinner at a restaurant I like each week in exchange for a short lesson from an EBS (English Broadcasting channel) lesson book and general English conversation.

Hi, I’m Jonathan Balmer. And I will teach English for food palatable to a picky American.

They have taught me much about Korea. It’s been one of the highlights of my week.


Three classes again! Around 20-30% of the time I may have changed one of my lessons completely. Lunch is not always good. Mr. Lee sometimes gives me some of his meat at lunch because of what a depressingly poor eater I am. I always tell him not to. He is too nice.  (Lately, I have finished food I don’t like by keeping fruit on hand. One bite, suck on an apple. Another bite, eat a piece of the apple. Repeat until finished).

In the evenings, I used to do English activities with the twins in my host family. These fell out of favor. They were fun while they lasted: we had a whole fake restaurant and store to practice English going on for one activity!

Tuesday is the most common day I video chat my parents.


I go to the (soon to be closed!) Anpyeong middle school on Wednesdays. It is 20 minutes by bus. There are more faculty than students (of which there are 14) at this school. It is a easy-going day and the students are generally joys to have in class. I typically used a modified version of my big-class lesson. Often, I removed team activities because I had classes of two or three.

Sometimes, I would have the whole class play the team game, but draw a monster on a board with an RPG style health bar. Instead of competing against one another, their points depleted the “health” of the monster. This created a more collaborate, rather than competitive, environment without seeming too “kumbaya”fluffy.

As I left, grade 2—consisting of two girls—was in gym class. How do you have gym class with two middle school girls? Mostly, they seemed to each have a Frisbee, throw it, then walk across the field to retrieve and repeat. It was strange. And comical. And strangely comical.

Anpyeong middle
My co-teacher, Mr. Go, and the 1st grade class plays an English game. The boys and girls self-segregated in this class. Anpyeong, a very small school, was co-ed unlike my middle school in Uiseong.


Four classes on this day, hands-down my busiest day. I have two first grade (7th grade) classes. The class captain in one sometimes has the whole class bow to me at the end. Generally, the first graders are polite students. I feel the worst when one of my classes do not go well with them.
In some classes, students de-rail or do everything in their power to stare out the window at other boys playing soccer pining (after soccer) or just refuse to participate.
In the first grade classes, they are slightly more attentive and I feel it is more my fault if things do not go well.

As well, for whatever reason, that I have never figured out, I go to the students classrooms on this day. Usually, they go to one of two English classrooms.
This can complicate my lessons.

On Thursday evening, I go with Rebecca (Fulbright teacher, Uiseong elementary) and Kevin (EPIK teacher, in Uiseong for 3 years) to the Uiseong orphanage. We play with the younger children. The orphanage feeds us dinner.
The social worker is always VERY glad to see us: (“HELLO! NICE TO MEET YOU AGAIN!” is his refrain). One week we made kimchi, another cookies, another abract ink art, another we played games, another they made Christmas cards. They’re really adorable.

{I don’t have much storage space on WordPress, so here’s a only a few pics: more from my semester on flickr. Game for pedants: there’s 1 historical inaccuracy in the slide show. Find it, and you get bragging rights. But nothing else.}

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Back to three classes. These classes seem most likely to get cancelled. My lowest level and most non-participatory classes are on this day. I feel so bad for the three students who try in my Friday class last period. Their fellow students give them a poor learning environment, and I often seem ineffective at improving it.

But it is not all bad. In fact, Fridays can have some good moments even in those classes. Not to mention, when it is warmer, I can sometimes go outside with students after lunch. Students get an hour for lunch here.

Finally, If I haven’t video chatted Kendall by this day, I start whining to her in Google Hangouts messenger about what a sorry state of affairs it is.
That is how I end my weekdays.

The weekend

Sometimes I visit my friend Victoria in Andong. Sometimes, I go work on Infusion literary magazine at which I’m managing editor. Other times, I stay in Uiseong.

Saturday and Sunday
Call me boring but, if I spend the weekend in my favorite garlic farming town, I typically relax, read, and go to church.

Then, I go to a “young persons'” service on Saturday. Or church on Sunday at Uiseong Presbyterian Church. Probably both, because the Elder’s wife texts me in Korean wondering where I am on Sundays if I just to go the Saturday service.

A kind guy named Kibu often translates for me (double major in Chinese and Engineering, y’all). And, if not him, Jake does. Jake is a Korean soldier who grew up since middle school in America. Sometimes I am startled to hear “Hey Jon” in an American accent. Then, I realize, it is him. Despite my (nearly non-existent) Korean, it’s a very hospitable place.

-“Learn more Korean. Then, after seminary, come back and you can do an English language service and work at a Korean church. Are you Presbyterian?”

I have heard this phrase more than once at the church, after they find out my post-Korea plans of persuing an M.Div.

Saturday night is one of the few times I see people anywhere near my age. Korean urban flight is so real.

By Saturday, I should have e-mailed my lesson plans to my co-teacher, Ms. Kang as well.

Ah, I’ve referenced many topics. More detail later.
For now, that’s a typical week last semester.

Post ideas/ questions below so I have direction for further posts! 


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