Saturday, November 29, 2008

Misconceptions I Had About Teaching In A Korean School

  1. Koreans would but punctual: I thought the students would be on time to class. I remember getting in trough in high school and middle school for taking too long to get to class. We had five minutes to get from one class to another, or you got a lunch detention. I assumed that in Korea, the same importance on punctuality would apply (perhaps detention for elementary schoolers is a bit harsh), but my kids are never on time to class. Never. I don't even plan forty minute lessons anymore. There's no point. Half the time when the bell rings for the start of class, the classroom's still empty. The rest of the time, I'll have ten or fifteen students who are in class when the bell rings while the rest trickle in over the next five or ten minutes, and no one thinks anything of it. My co-teacher just waits until all the students are in class to start, and it's not just here. I've had homeroom teachers regularly bring their classes to the English room as much as ten minutes late. I'm not sure why, but I thought the Koreans would put a much greater emphasis on punctuality.

  2. Korean children would be calm and quiet: Ahahahaha. I should know better than to pay any attention to stereotypes, but given the incredible emphasis on education here, I assumed that my kids would be at least someone serious at school. Ahaha, not so much. That's myth lasted until my first day of work when I saw one boy throw another boy to the ground and punch him in the hall ways. They're violent little buggers. And do they every love to shout! We do a lot of repeating so they can mimic my accent and they don't say the words back at me, they roar them. When we play games, it's usually too loud to hear myself think.

  3. The students wouldn't bring knives to school: Not real knives, but all the kids have little Exacto knives that they whip out in the middle of class so they can cut something or sharpen their pencil or something. I've had students ask me for a knife before, which is a really odd experience. It definitely wouldn't happen back home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Obama Nation

Today's post (and political humor) comes courtesy of one of my sixth graders. Today before class, he asked me where I was from, and I told him America. He conferred with his friend (sixth graders only travel in packs), and asked, "USA?" I told him yes, and he nodded and said, "Oh, you are from Obama!" I explained that yes, Obama was the new president of America. He nodded and said, "Yes, yes, you are from Obama," and left.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Welcome to the English Zone

My Classroom!
My classroom, sans students! This photo was taken standing behind the desk in the front of the classroom. My co-teacher and I need to redecorate the classroom before the open lesson in a few weeks. At the very least, I need to get rid of all the Konglish. Yes, the bulletin board does say My English Boom. I really should change that.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Photos from this Weekend

Seoul at Night

Seoul at night. Taken from the top of the 63 Building. Unfortunately, there wasn't an outdoor observation tower, so I wasn't able to use my flash and the photos suffered as a result. It's actually much brighter and more neon-tastic.

Meet Hello Kitty

There is a Hello Kitty museum on the top floor of the 63 Building. It's one of the most bizarre and vaguely creepy things I've ever seen. This is from an exhibit called Meet Hello Kitty. My friend Siobhain wanted a picture of this panel to send to a professor who told her class that the reason Hello Kitty is so popular is because she has no mouth and is therefore the ideal woman. Other fun facts learned: Hello Kitty weighs 3 apples, love overalls and her first love was Daniel, whoever that is.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's Snowing!

Banwol Elementary in the Snow
A Room With a Snowy View
Views from my classroom and office during Thursday's snow. It wasn't quite cold enough for the snow to stick, but that didn't stop the kids from being crazy excited about the first snow of the season. I start out each class with a brief greeting where I asked the kids how they are, what day is it, what did they do yesterday and other basic conversation bits. On Thursday I asked all my classes what the weather was like and they all roared back, "It's SNOWING!" And then spent the entire class trying to get a peek out the window instead of paying attention to class. :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Solo Teaching

I taught all my classes by myself today and, unlike my last attempt at solo teaching, it went pretty well! Of course, it helped that a) I *knew* I was going to be teaching alone before class started and didn't spend the first ten minutes of the class wondering when the other teacher was going to show up and b) it was fifth and sixth graders, not third graders. I see the older kids twice a week, not twice a month, and they have a much larger vocabulary. Plus, the lessons are a bit formulaic, so it's not like they didn't already know what to do. The classes were a bit rowdier than usual, but that could just as easily be because it was snowing. Actually, since the rowdiest kids were the ones sitting next to the windows, I'm pretty sure it was the snow. What 5th grader isn't excited about the first snow of the season?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Korean Lessons

My kids took it upon themselves to teach me Korean today. A couple of fifth graders were hanging out in the English classroom, as they are wont to do, and they started pointing to the illustrations of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and telling me the Korean word. We went through the animals in the book (some of which I still remember; monkey is 원숭이 - sounds like won-sung-e), and then a few more fifth graders showed up and they went crazy. I had five little girls running around the room, picking up everything they could find, so they could tell me the Korean word. I kept having to ask them to line up so I could listen to all of them at once. It was precious, though. They were so excited to be able to teach me. I wish I had more opportunities to interact with the students in small groups, instead of just seeing them in class.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Overheard in English Class

[Scene: Going over the new vocabulary for Chapter 13: That's Too Bad. The word is dizzy. To demonstrate the meaning, I spun around in a circle in the front of class and then staggered about. Soju is a rice liquor similar to vodka.]

Me: *staggering about, trying not to fall on the front row of students* I'm dizzy.
Most of the students: I'm dizzy.
Wise-ass student: Oh, too much soju!
Me: Well... yes. That too.

Honest to God, these kids crack me up somethings. Today at English camp, we made salads. The teacher in charge of preparing the ingredients, who didn't really understand the concept of salads, brought both vegetables and fruit. I was just going to have them make a fruit salad and a regular salad, but the kids just tossed everything (cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, persimmons, tangerines, kiwi, apples and bananas), dumped strawberry yogurt and mayonnaise on top, and ate it while I gagged quietly in my soul.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pepero Day

Today is Pepero Day in Korea. Pepero is a type of Korean candy similar to Pocky and Pepero Day is a lot like Valentines Day, only it doesn't even pretend to have un-crass materialistic origin and was dreamed up about fifteen years ago by Lotte, the giant corporation that manufactures Pepero and owns most of Korea, as a way to sell more candy. Pepero Day is November 11, since five sticks of Pepero (a long, thin candy, like a chocolate dipped pretzel stick) looks a lot like 11/11.

On Pepero Day, it's traditional to give friends, co-workers and teachers a package of Pepero. I was stopped twice between my bus stop and the school by students giving me a pack of Pepero. I was pretty confused, since I'd never heard of Pepero Day, but I'm getting use being given random gifts of food (a teacher stopped me as I walked into school on Friday and gave me a whole sweet potato), so I assumed it was something along those lines. Luckily another student gave me a Pepero as I walked into the teacher's lounge and the vice principal, noticing my confusion about the rampant candy giving, explained what was going on.

Since I'm still a novelty to the kids, I made out like a bandit, especially in my third grade class where I got five packs and four individually wrapped Pepero. I ended up with so much candy I couldn't take it all home. I ended giving a lot to my co-teacher and storing the rest in my desk for when I get hungry at work.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Third Graders

Well, my third grade class was a disaster today. The kids are adorable. Oh my God, they are so adorable, all eager and excited, with grins about to split their face. There was this one tiny little girl who wanted hugs. HUGS! Whenever I walked past her chair she stretched her arms out for a hug and my heart just melted.

However, while tiny and precious, they don't actually speak English. According to the national curriculum, they're only suppose to have a vocabulary of about 100 words, and that vocabulary doesn't include directions for how to play bingo. Normally this isn't a problem. Their homeroom teacher is suppose to come with them and provide a Korean translation and make sure they understand the lesson. (I can say "No, you can't" until the cows come home; it doesn't mean they're going to understand me. I can usually pantomime the vocab, but grammatical issues are harder to get across when you don't speak the language.) Their teacher didn't come, however. We limped through the lesson, but when it came time for the game (with twenty minutes still left in class), there was nothing I could do. I finally gave them some paper and told them to color an activity they like to do, and I walked around and helped the kids who were struggling with the lesson.

After class, I talked to my usual co-teacher and she said the third grade teachers had told her they had told me they weren't coming to class anymore. Er, one of them did come by, but I thought she was saying that I should take charge of preparing the lesson. Now I'm going to have to swing by the third grade hall and try to explain that I really need them to come to class so they can translate for me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Turn on the Bright Lights

Turn on the Bright Lights
The view from my balcony; also known as the reason why I no longer remember what this "dark" thing looks like. At night, my apartment is bathed in neon light and glows red if I'm in my loft or blue if I'm in the downstairs. Koreans love their neon lights (here's a picture of my neighborhood at night) and everywhere I look after dark there is a neon glow. Sometimes I miss the pitch black of my parent's house out in the country. Whenever that happens, I shut myself in my bathroom with the lights off until the feelings pass. :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Did

Scenes from an Election:

I voted back in September, before I left. North Carolina started mailing absentee ballots the week before I left, but due to snafu with my application, I didn't get my ballot until the day before I left. The only reason I *got* my ballot was because I marched down to the Board of Elections and raised some hell. Sorry, but this election is too damn important not to vote.

The first polls closed a few minutes before my first class ended. I managed to be fairly sanguine up until that point (I only checked CNN TWICE before work), but once the results started to roll in, I had trouble tearing myself away from CNN long enough to teach class. The second class ended, I was back on the computer. Sorry kids, but Teacher was a bit preoccupied today.

I missed being home more these past few days than I have since my first weekend here. I was *so* invested and emotionally involved in this election, and I was the only one who cared. I was a nervous, jittery wreck today and at school, it was all business as normal. I desperately wanted someone, anyone, who was going through this too. One of the great things about the training conference a few weeks ago is that I was surrounded by Americans again and we could gather and talk about the election with great hope and joy. (After we talked about cheese.)

We sang ABBA's "I Have a Dream" during English camp today and today an ABBA song damn near undid me. I know, I know, but if you pay attention to the lyrics, which one does when giving a spoken word rendition of the song so small Asian children can mimic your pronunciation, they were eerily appropriate for that moment.

I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail

The words "I have a dream" and all that connotes, America in the process of electing it's first black president, a song about hope - I had to turn away from the class in the middle of the song until I was sure I could get through the song without crying. It's okay kids, Teacher's just REALLY invested in the outcome of this election.

At 1:50 pm, Wednesday November 5th, I logged onto CNN to read that John McCain had just conceded, and I started crying, because God, we did it America. We did it. I also bit my hand to keep from screaming out loud and I can still see the teeth marks on my thumb.

For all that I miss the election mania back home, people here have been following the election closely. (Just look at the Asian stock markets today.) I was asked all day if I was able to vote, and about details of the election and the American political system. (Try miming Electoral College. Here's a hint: you can't.) When my co-teacher during English camp asked why I was crying and I waved at the computer screen in explanation, she cheered and as soon as the kids heard Obama's name, they flocked to the front of the classroom to hear more. Shin Young told me the kids through the election was more interesting that popular TV shows and, well, so do I, but I'm a 23 year old American, not a 12 year old Korean, so kudos to them.

I haven't been able to wipe this damn smile off my face since two o'clock this afternoon. We did good, America. We did good.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sick Daze

Fan Dance
Kindergartners performing the traditional fan dance at the school festival. It was super impressive, especially considering they were like, six. I'd love to see professional dancers perform it. Of course, I spent the entire dance contemplating how many tiny Korean children I could fit in my bag and take home with me. They were precious.

Here is my advice to thee: don't ever call in sick to a Korean school. IT'S NOT WORTH IT. Even if you're dying of the bird flue and leprosy, just so to school and cough/drop decaying body parts of the children. IT WILL BE SO MUCH EASIER.

Last night I posted my entry, said, "Oh, I don't feel so good," went downstairs and threw up. A lot. I spent the next eight or so hours alternating between throwing up, severe abdominal pain, crying from said pain, curling up on the shower floor (hot water helped) and fever dreams about the election (Obama lost in all of them and I woke up gasping in terror at least twice. In one, Nicolas Sarkozy endorsed McCain and the Hamburgler was campaigning for him.) Then, around three in the morning, I feel asleep for real and slept until my alarm went off. I woke up feeling much better, but also like I'd gotten three hours of sleep and spent the night puking, which I imagine feels similar to being hit by a truck, only with less broken bones and internal damage. There was no way I could handle teaching class today.

Koreans don't really understand the concept of sick days. They will honestly go to work until they can physically not make it out of bed. However, sick days are part of my contract and at the training/orientation a few weeks ago, we were told to use them if we needed to. Just because the Koreans are sometimes crazy doesn't meant we need to be, and going to work when you're sick is only going to make you worse. I gave my co-teacher a call and told her I was too sick to make it to work today. I tried to describe my symptoms, but Ji-Won didn't understand me over the phone, so she came over to my apartment (she lives nearby) and told me we needed to go to the hospital. I said no, don't think that's necessary, all I need is to rehydrate and sleep. She disagreed. I refused some more, telling her that it's just a 48 hour bug and all I needed was to rest. She called the school nurse and they spoke rapidly in Korean. She hung up and tried to convince me to go to the hospital again, and again I refused. Finally, an hour later, after she talked to several more people, she agreed that I should sleep. Of course, by this point I'd been awake for two hours and arguing half that and was too keyed up to fall back asleep, so I spent the day watching Numb3rs and Pushing Daisies and knitting.

It's back to work tomorrow and dealing with being fussed over. The most frustrating part about this whole day, apart from the whole having to argue for an hour when all I wanted was go back to sleep, was the insistence that I do everything the Korean way and that anything else was unthinkable wrong. It's just that I spend so much time reminding myself that this a different culture and those differences aren't necessarily wrong, they're just different and I need to respect those differences, even when I personally have a problem with them. (For example, corporal punishment in the schools, eating dog or spitting all over the place.) It would be nice to occasionally get the same consideration back and, as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to my health and my finances, I get to call the shots.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Adventures in Eastern Medicine

Front Gates of Hwaseong Haenggung
Another picture from my trip to Suwon this weekend.  This time, it's the main gates to Hwaseong Haenggung.

I'm sick. Again. I woke up with a cold last week (the second one since I got here) and now my stomach has been upset since yesterday night. I mentioned this at lunch to explain why I wasn't eating and, immediately, the school nurse went into a tizzy and started questioning me about my symptoms. I kept insisting I was fine, I just needed some sleep and maybe some chicken soup, I'll feel fine tomorrow, but she rushed off to the infirmary and came back with a handful of pills for me to take. ... Dude, I don't like taking medicine even when I'm convinced I need it, much less when I don't know what I'm taking and I doubt my symptoms have properly been translated. I adore the school nurse though; the one time I was legitimately sick kept me in the infirmary until the end of school, shooed away anyone who wanted to talk to me and then drove me home at the end of the day.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The City of Filial Piety

Along the Wall
Hwaseong Fortress, near Hwaseomun, the West Gate

I went to Suwon yesterday. Suwon is the capital of Gyeonggi-do, the province I live in, and is home to Hwaseong Fortress and Hwaseong Haenggung, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites dating to the Joseon Dynasty. The trip there was a bit of an adventure. It was an hour on subway, which was easy, and then ten minutes by bus, which was not. The subways in Korea are very user friendly. All the signs at the stations are in English as well as Korean and most trains have a digital display announcing the name of the coming station. The buses, on the other hand, are all in Korean. I've yet to see a map of the bus system, or even a single bus route, and sometimes the bus driver won't let westerners off the bus. The only time I use to the bus is to get to school, and only because my co-teacher showed me which bus to use. Luckily there was a tourist information station near the subway station and they were able to point me in the direction of the right bus.

The palace was nice, if a bit too focused on a popular TV show that had been filmed there. The fortress, however, was very impressive. The wall, which was built in 1794, stretches 5.7km and at the time it was built, completely surrounded the city. It's huge and the views are impressive. There are four gates along the wall, but I only made it to the West Gate, one of the smaller gates. I always forget how early it gets dark here, but it's completely dark by six. (And by completely dark, I mean glowing with neon lights. Come on, this is Korea. It doesn't actually get dark here.) I'll have to go back another time and see the rest of the wall.

The rest of my photos from the trip are here.