snowy seoul english village korea

Life in Toy-Town – Seoul English Village, Korea

It won’t stop raining … a relentless torrent has flooded subways, streets, and a few of our classrooms here at the Seoul English Village in Korea.

Maybe, the worst has passed.

But this is summer, when Korea gets it’s yearly quota of rain in a few months – or in this case in a few days of raging surging monsoon, preceded by showers with gaps of sun, hot sweaty humidity amid broken umbrellas and trees – ripped by winds as a typhoon passed across the Korean peninsula this week.

It’s Sunday afternoon and I watch the constant rain from my 3rd-floor room out the balcony-sliding door window.

Happy sparrows dart about snatching moths and other insects from sheltered railings and roof overhangs.

In view, rivers of rain rage down the neat brick-work paths to the fountain square beneath the clock-tower.

I wish I had a bottle of red wine handy. But I don’t – and won’t, as I can’t be bothered dressing and going out into the storm.

Autumn colors and mountains behind Seoul English Village
Autumn colors and mountains behind SEV.

I’ve been in Seoul English Village in South Korea around 3.5 weeks now

And yes, it’s okay. But strange to have a conditioned routine and be part of a system again.

The dress code is casual.

I still wear my earrings, have head sides shaven-no.1 and sport my long single dreadlock like a Chinese Manchu.

The kids – this MTV generation – love it and I get a lot of compliments daily.

But I suspect some of the straighter, older Korean staff disapprove of my look (although they would never openly say so).

I think I’ve nearly settled in: Like I’ve gotten functioning agsin with my “English-teaching-straighter-acting-MRP” software installed in my head. And so far, only a few glitches.

There’s been a few parties at SEV

Two company-paid ones that extended into crazed nights on the town with other teachers – Korean & international.

One of the first nights I managed to somehow separate from our group – god knows where but met some strangers and ended up at a huge electronica dance club drinking soju – Korean rice vodka – and then I got a taxi across the city – like London-sized – intending to get home before getting out lost and drunk and wandering into a police station early morning for them to phone my school to get directions from the 24-hour-school-security office so they could then give me a lift home to the English Village.

Wow, the rain is easing … but within seconds of writing it’s gotten heavy again.

Anyway, about this English village: It’s a pet project of the Mayor of Seoul and he’s had the facilities built double-quick-time in 6 months, instead of 12.

Leasing the teaching requirements to YBM, who are Korea’s largest English teaching corporation, and have language institutions across Korea. They are my employer.

The village has only just been completed and there’s still work to be done, like the common laundry room and teacher’s social room to be finished and swimming pool to be filled – although I believe the rains have seen to that.

Basically, the idea of this place is to recreate a campus like the West – complete with Westerners – so the students feel like they’ve gone overseas – and to save parents’ money in sending them overseas, they’ve brought a western world to Korea.

snowy seoul english village korea
Looking from my balcony amid teachers’ apartment area in Seoul English Village in South Korea, 2006-07.

The effect is a little comical, like a toy town.

I’m expecting Noddy & Big Ears to make an appearance one drunken evening.

There’s about 30 foreign teachers living here on campus and about 15 Korean-English speaking teachers who commute, plus lots of Korean admin, security, cleaning, cooking staff.

Accommodation at Seoul English Village

As foreigners – mostly Americans & Canadians – we each get a brand-new studio apartment with bathroom, balcony, and the usual bed, table & chair, wardrobe, drawers, TV, A/C, heating, simple kitchen with sink, cupboards, fridge, cooker.

And a paid cell phone, free broadband Internet in-room and all utility bills paid.

Also within the village and in separate dorm blocks stay students, usually a week – but there are also day groups and so a large café serves all – including us teachers 3 free meals a day.

However while Korean food is tasty, a café serving 400+ students a day means the bulk pulp food ranges from quite okay to seriously fucking bland, depending the daily menu. (Rice & spicy, pickled cabbage – Kimchi – for breakfast is a disaster; fine for lunch or dinner. Luckily, there’s a 7-11 store in the village).

All up SEV or Seoul English Village is a nice, comfortable place surrounded by high trees and real nature on the edge of the Bukhansan National Park in Suyu in northern Seoul, a bus ride or 20 minute walk to the nearest subway into the sprawling monster modern city, surrounded by humped granite peaks.

I’ve made friends mostly with many crazy midwest Americans (and a few Canadians, a Kiwi or two, and an Aussie; it’s like a mad family) who like to party.

And our 3rd-floor porch landing on building “Arctic” – teachers blocks are named after oceans; student blocks after continents – has become the location of “Club Arctic”.

Within the first week, a warning was issued to us about “the rules”.

Breaching of contract regarding visible alcohol and partying.

But it was more about an overzealous, dumb-ass manager than any rules broken and the issue soon blew away. Especially so when I pointed out in a teacher’s meeting that we were far away from the students and that “we were drinking from nondescript vessels” – mugs, with no alcohol bottles exposed – and that only with the benefit of adult psychology – not kids – would anyone perceive what were were actually doing.

Our spot – the shared covered area outside my room – is the ‘keen’ teachers meeting point before hitting a night on the town.

David, 32, from Utah, ex-TV News cameraman turned teacher-having-too-much-fun-in-Thailand.

He lives behind me in the Arctic block and is keen on partying. Even thou he broke his foot the first weekend before starting work here when he was climbing the mountains behind us – read steep monster hiking trails.

He twisted his foot, slid off – nearly to his death. But didn’t. And was lifted out by helicopter cradle and is now on crutches in plaster.

This is the kind of dedicated characters we have drinking here at Club Arctic.

My fellow international teachers are a mixed crew of pleasant straights and chancing crazies all looking for a new direction in life. Most are mid-20s to early 30s and have a degree, while a few have some ESL experience.

foreign teachers seoul english village 2006
Teachers – party animals … LEFT: Teacher MRP at SEV 2006-07 leading the Digital Photography Class outside for photo shot: RIGHT: MRP & Kane Sole – Kiwi guitar singer songwriter – whose music I used on a couple of early videos. BOTTOM RIGHT: “Club Artic” with Mitch and Dave (+ Margaret and Ann).

I am among the oldest and one of the few that are experienced.

However, experience isn’t necessary.

But it makes the job much easier.

This school is not about formalities of dress, grammar or conventional English teaching but about using situational English in role-plays, conversations, fun and games in purpose-built classrooms that are kitted out in societal themes.

But truly, it’s largely about kiddie chaos and a corporation making money – yet the village is novel and the kids enjoy it.

What 13 year old wouldn’t want a week away from their parents hanging out with their mates?

And as for us, we get paid to fool around at crowd control.

There’s been a lot of craziness.

A girl decks a boy with a punch to the nuts.

You’re poised to teach English-speaking 13 year-olds and suddenly find you have a class of twelve 4-year-old non-speaking kindie kids; so I drop the lesson and get out the crayons and paper and start speaking Arabic.

It rains so much it floods out the office block and the Korean administer becomes a shrieking headless chicken, with a bucket and shovel.

The opening ceremony with the mayor and officials and TV coverage, with teams of 100s of workmen the night before going 24 hours to complete the project for the opening, then after the dignitaries have gone they spent 2 weeks – day & night noise – deconstructing – ripping up asphalt roads and brick pavements and laying drains that were never done.

It’s all about face here. Even if the face is false.

Teachers are contracted to teach 23.5 hours per week.

This includes game classes, orientation, sports, and other muck-around activities.

There’s no prep needed – often the lesson plan is modified by myself on the fly – for the 45 minute lessons.

But it can be tiring – as you would expect from kids. But fun, easy work.

sev student canteen korea
Student canteen where teachers could also eat free meals.

There are 53 – mostly situational – classrooms on campus:

A large airport Immigration Hall – complete with passports stamped and teachers dressed as officials.

Restaurant. Clothes Store. Grocery. Bank. Hair Salon. Post Office.
Police Station. Medical Center.

Transportation Station – catching a bus, taxi, the subway.

Fire Station (crazy with kids crawling thru flaming house; giant computer game).

Airplane Cabin Interior.

TV Talk Show Studio & Weather Forecast Studio.

Hotel. Library. Newspaper Room.

Dance class. Art class. Computer Class – Digital Photography Class. Science Lab; Cooking Class (making chocolate cakes); Music Class.

Magic Class. Movie Theater (with popcorn eating in class!).

Mini-Olympics Gym. Mini Golf. Nature Trail Hiking.

Family Home-Stay (with sofas & TV & board games).

Pool Classes – both Swimming and Snooker.

Sony PlayStation and Chess Classes.

I did Art Class last week – numerous spilled paint pots and chaos, but fun.

This week is Telephone Class: calls practiced in bold-red English boxes with students dialing each other on 911 emergency calls.

I understand that I’m in a giant play school, and that SEV is surrealism without drugs

Travels in Korea – 2006


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