Hello all, I’m an American teaching ESL in Incheon, South Korea. I teach in a largish public elementary school, grades 3 through 6, and have about 650 students (30 students per class, 6 classes per grade, with a two-week rotating schedule. Ah!).
First, there is no cafeteria. Lunch in served in the classroom with the homeroom teacher present. Extra teachers, like me, eat lunch in the science room with the principal and vice principal. Each lunch costs W2,180 ($1.95), and is prepared fresh by the kitchen staff. There is usually nothing in plastic (I’ve only seen seaweed and yogurt drinks in plastic).
Each classroom has a cart with metal pots full of food, and metal chopsticks, spoons, and trays. The kitchen staff delivers the carts to each floor and then the students push their cart to the classroom. Everyone eats lunch at the same time for 50 minutes. This is also considered recess. I should mention that classes are 40 minutes long with a 10 minute break between classes. Students can do anything they want in that 10 minutes. They usually run, scream, gossip, and wrestle in the hallways. It’s 10 minutes of chaos.
The menu always consists of some form of rice, soup, meat, vegetable, kimchi, and sometimes fruit. Purified water is available in the hallway (no milk, no knives!). Surprisingly the food rarely gets cold. And if they run out of food (the kimchi was particularly good that day), one student will run to the kitchen and get some more. Leftover soup and food is dumped into a different pot. I believe they use some of it for compost. There is no ‘trash can’, and many times I’ve carried around a napkin all day trying to find a trash can!
Sometimes teachers complain that the food isn’t spicy enough. I asked why and they told me it’s because some students can’t handle spicy food. Personally, I don’t like eating rice and kimchi every day, but nobody seems to complain about that.
Lastly, here is a picture of a student eating across from his homeroom teacher. I know that some other public schools in Korea serve lunch in a cafeteria with each grade eating at a different time. But even then they always have fresh food cooked by the kitchen staff.
If I had a choice I would choose the Korean meals over whatever Mrs. Q is eating. The pizza posts alone make me cringe.
**Thanks so much to our guest blogger from Korea! She can be reached at: almalibre3(AT)gmail(DOT)com**