One of my readers reminded me that I hadn’t posted the new drug test results. All clean! That was a relief; I think a second positive would have been difficult to explain. Now I even have my insurance paperwork. If I get run over by a cab driver, the Korean government will actually help pay for my medical bills! Pretty sweet. Sure beats my (mostly) uninsured status back in the US.
Erin and I have started taking the free Korean class offered in town. It seems like it will be helpful, but the textbook and handouts are printed completely in the Korean alphabet, Hangul. This is forcing us to actually learn the alphabet, something we’ve both been putting off. I don’t have to teach today (standardized test day), so I’m studying. It’s actually a very simple alphabet, with an interesting history.
Hangul was invented in the mid-1400s by King Sejong, who seems to be pretty darn famous here (considering that he’d dead). Prior to it’s invention, Koreans used Chinese characters (hanja), and only the elites knew how to read and write.
Sejong sat down and planned out a written language that the commoner could use. One of the ancient texts says: “A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.” I must be stupid, because it’s taking me more than one morning. Still pretty darn easy, though. Hangul is fairly unique in that it was invented at a specific time, by one party. It didn’t evolve over time. Because of this, it’s very logical. Unlike Chinese, it’s very easy to type on a keyboard or cellphone. My students certainly have no problems text-messaging under their desks in class.
There are 14 basic consonants, 5 double consonants, 10 vowels (or semi-vowels) and 11 diphthongs (combined vowels). These letters, or jamo, are combined into syllable blocks. Each block contains two or three jamo. It seems pretty strange at first, but it’s really quite logical.
Here is a sample word. (I’ve made the text larger so the letters are easier to see. Note: Some users may have trouble seeing this. You might need a language pack of some sort. I don’t know for sure.)
컴퓨터 = Computer
The Korean pronounciation is slightly different, sort of like “come pew taw”
1. The first character block consists of three jamo.
The first is ㅋ (hard “K” sound) — in the upper-left.
The second is ㅓ (sounds halfway between the “O” in “come” and “aw”) — in the upper right.
The third is ㅁ (“M” sound) — on the bottom.
2. The second block consists of 2 jamo.
ㅍ (“P”) — on top.
ㅠ (a semi-vowel, “yew”) — on the bottom.
3. The third block has 2 jamo.
ㅌ (“T”) — on the left.
ㅓ (sounds halfway between the “O” in “come” and “aw”) — on the right.
It’s really not as complicated as it seems, and once you know it, the rules are constant. Not like English, with hundreds of difficult exceptions.
(Note: I pulled the quote and some of the information from the wikipedia page on Hangul.)
As promised, here are some photos of the apartment. There’s an entire room I don’t show, because it’s currently empty (except for recycling). As soon as we find a use for it, I’ll take a picture.
This is a typical day of teaching in Korea:
- 8:20am: Arrive at school.
- 8:30-9:55am: Free time. First period is 9:00-9:45, but I only teach that on Tuesdays. Usually I’m preparing a lesson in the mornings (printing worksheets, etc).
- 9:55-10:40am: Second period. Teach second grade (8th grade in US) for 45 minutes.
- 10:50-11:35am: Third period. Teach first grade (7th) for 45 minutes.
- 11:35am-1:35pm: Free time. Work on lesson plans, write blog posts, eat lunch, etc.
- 1:35-2:20pm: Fifth period. Teach first grade for 45 minutes.
- 2:20-3:45pm: Free time. The internet is a good time-waster.
- 3:45-4:30pm: Seventh period. Teach “English Club”. Today we’re watching an episode of the Simpsons, because I can’t think of a better lesson plan.
- 4:40-5:25pm: Eighth period. Teach the “Teacher’s Class”. This is a conversation class with 7 or 8 Korean teachers. I find this quite stressful, but I only do it on Thursdays.
I’ll be home and drinking a beer by 5:40pm. Actually, this is one of my longer/busier days; most days I’m actually home by 4:40. Unfortunately, Korean beer is officially The Worst Beer in the World®. I’m working on a brewing operation, but it will take time.
I was just told by my co-teacher that today was exam training, so I don’t have to teach. A decent time to relate a recent experience that Erin and I had.
Our contract here required us to take a drug test, specifically a urine-sample based test. We were driven to the hospital last Wednesday, pissed in cups, and had blood drawn for HIV/AIDS. We weren’t concerned about passing either test.
Last Friday, a nurse came to school to get another urine sample from us. There was some problem with the previous test, but we were told not to worry. Maybe it was too diluted, I don’t know. We gave them another sample and didn’t think twice about it.
On Monday, our co-teacher pulled us aside and told us that we had failed the drug test, specifically the heroin/methadone test. She was shocked, and believed us when we said it must be a false positive.
Erin and I have both been taking a few different over-the-counter and prescription drugs. I’ve been using pepto-bismal for stomach problems, ibuprofen and acetaminophen for headaches, and diphenhydramine (benadryl, Sominex) for trouble sleeping. Erin has also been taking Sominex occasionally, and both of us had taken it Thursday night (before giving the second sample) We knew of another EPIK teacher that also failed his drug test after taking Tylenol PM (also diphenhydramine).
I decided it was time for some research. After an hour of searching medical journals, I had a few articles that mentioned false positives on the EMIT immunoassay test from diphenhydramine. I printed them out, showed them to our co-teacher, and arranged to take another test.
Our test is tomorrow (Friday) morning. I last took Sominex on Sunday night, so I should be in the clear. But needless to say, this entire escapade has been embarrassing. So here is some advice for anyone taking a drug test for employment:
- Do your homework! Find out what type of test they will be using, and study potential cross-reacting compounds (substances that could cause false-positives)
- Find out the next step after a positive test. For federal jobs in the US, the law mandates that positive EMIT tests be followed by a gas chromatography test, to rule out false-positives. This is obviously not the case in Korea, and could have caused serious problems for us. Insist on follow-up testing, if possible.
- Prepare your personal information. Make a list of everything you’ve taken in the past month. This should include prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and any vitamins or supplements. Google-search for potential cross-reacting compounds. Bring the medications and prescriptions to the test with you. Print and bring any information relating to false-positives.
- Consider speaking to an attorney. I don’t have one and can’t afford one, so this was out of the question. Thankfully, our employer is willing to work with us. This won’t be the case everywhere, and a false-positive can cause serious professional and financial damage. It never hurts to know the law.
I didn’t have a strong opinion about workplace drug testing before this, but that has changed. I grant that it is necessary in certain situations, but policy needs to be crafted carefully. The real problem is that accurate tests like gas chromatography are expensive. Businesses are much more likely to spend a few dollars on something like EMIT than a couple hundred on a GC test. More likely than not, it will be on YOU to protect yourself.
A final note, watch for faulty information. A Google-search on these topics turns up thousands of shady pages written by stoners looking to pass a test. Most of the info is either hopeful or paranoid. Look for scholarly sources.
I’ll let you know how the next test turns out.
No time to write a long post, so here are a few brief updates:
- EPIK is going to bat for us about the settlement allowance and hotel payment. The coordinator for our city said not to worry about it. It was completely up to the school to cover the bill, and he would take care of it on Monday. Hooray for EPIK!
- The field trip was a success. It was a surprisingly tough climb for 7th graders, but I enjoyed it. Pictures at the end of this post.
- The apartment is looking great. Erin and I did more cleaning today. Look for pictures later.
- The first week of teaching is over. Thank God. I think I can handle it, though. There will be a bit of a learning curve, but when a lesson works out, it’s surprisingly rewarding.
- We’re going hiking with another teacher and his girlfriend tomorrow. We met them briefly when we moved into the apartment. Don’t really know anything about them, but I’m looking forward to the hike.
Enjoy some hiking pictures: (The pictures of tree species are mostly for my parents.)
The national EPIK orientation ended last Friday, and we boarded a bus for Gangwon province. When we got there, we learned that our city placement had changed. Instead of Donghae, we were placed in Gangneung, a larger city 30-40 minutes north (but still on the coast). We sat through another graduation ceremony, and were immediately whisked away by our Korean co-teachers, Mr. Kim and Mrs. Lee. We learned that we will both be teaching at Gangneung middle school, an all-boys school.
We spent two nights in a hotel while the current EPIK teacher vacated the apartment. We moved in on Sunday, and the place was still trashed. The former teacher, Paul, was gross. We managed to get things cleaned up a bit, and we got (mostly) moved in. The apartment is pretty nice. 3 bedrooms, with a screened-in balcony. More than enough space for us.
We started teaching on Monday. We were supposed to observe for a day, but both Erin and I just got thrown into the mix. I’ll write more about teaching later. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think I can manage.
The immigration requirements are still a hassle. We went to the hospital for HIV and drug testing today. They’ll be ready on Friday, but we’re supposed to leave early Friday morning and go to the immigration office in another city. Except the immigration office needs the medical test results. Pain in the ass. Once we get to the immigration office, we’ll have to apply for an Alien Registration Card (ARC), which will tie up our passports for 1-2 weeks. We can’t open a bank account until will the get the ARC. And we can’t get paid until we open a bank account.
Also frustrating: We learned today that the cost of the hotel will be deducted from the $300 settlement allowance coming to each of us. Hopefully it won’t be too expensive. They asked if we wanted to stay by the beach or in the city. I sure wouldn’t have said by the beach if I knew I was paying for it.
On a more positive note, we’re going on a class hiking trip tomorrow. I would have done it for nothing, but we actually get paid extra for it. I’m also getting paid extra for teaching at the elementary school once a week, and for an extra credit class that I’m teaching by myself.