Tuesday, July 27, 2010

영어 캠프 - Week One

English camp has improved after the snafu of the first day, thankfully, but it's still been hectic. Since I thought I was only teaching the 3rd & 4th graders last week, I had only planned for the 3rd & 4th grade camps and was going to use my afternoons to plan for the 5th & 6th grade camps. This means that I have to plan and prepare two lessons from scratch every afternoon in addition to finishing prepping for the 3rd and 4th grade classes. It's doable, but it means I'm busy and guys, I'm done. I am out of energy, ready for vacation, ready to see my family and ready to not have to deal with students and lesson plans for a few weeks.

None of this ennui is helped by my normally lovely co-teacher. English camp is my responsibility; she's just around to fill out the paperwork and help with translations, so in the afternoon while I plan for camp the next day, she's taking a nap or watching TV. Not exactly conducive to creating a productive work environment, especially when all I really want to do is go curl up in the backroom with a book. I'm glad there are only three days left.

3rd & 4th Grade Advanced - 7.19.2010
Adorable moppets!

The 3rd and 4th grade classes have been a joy, mostly because the students are undeniably adorable little moppets. Last week, we studied colors and foods, which meant lots of coloring activities. On Tuesday, I gave the students a worksheet with eight line drawings and told them how to color in the pictures. The carrots were orange and green. The dragon was blue, yellow and purple. The flower was green, yellow, orange, pink, blue and purple. "Teacher," my students groaned, "that's an ugly flower."

3rd & 4th Grade Basic - 7.22.2010
북 경률 likes chicken and doesn't like French fries, which I think is ridiculous. They taste so delicious together.

During the food unit, I had the students draw their favorite and least favorite foods, which was an interesting glimpse into their minds. While a few kids still claimed to dislike vegetables, no one claimed a processed food (pizza, french fries) or a desert as their favorite food. I doubt a survey of 20 American 3rd and 4th graders would found the same thing. Meat and fruit were popular favorite foods, while other students chose Korean dishes as their favorite food. I had to explain that in English, kimchi is still called kimchi and that while bulgogi technically translates to "fire meat," foreigners just call it bulgogi.

5th & 6th Grade Basic - 7.20.2010
A truth universally acknowledged amongst 5th graders: big, fuzzy dice are awesome!

The 5th & 6th grade classes have been small - only six boys are regularly coming to the basic class, which is fine by me. Lessons have been a mixture of a review of topics we studied last semester and a preview of topics we will cover next semester. It's a bit of a cop out, but having six kids versus forty kids changes how I can teach a topic, especially difficult concepts such as prepositions. I gave the boys a piece of candy and told them what to do with the treat. "Put the candy on your head. Put the candy in your pencil case. Put the candy next to your eraser. Put the wrapper in my hand. Put the candy in your mouth!"

We studied houses and furniture (Lesson 12: This Is a Bedroom) on Thursday. As an activity, the boys drew and labeled their dream houses. There were the usual rooms - bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms - but the boys quickly grew tired of such plebeian rooms and dreamt up homes with PC방 (a LAN gaming center, a popular place in a country where Starcraft is the national sport and there are such things as professional computer gamers), ski slopes, department stores, subway stations, banks and their friend's house.

5th & 6th Grade Basic - 7.22.2010 5th & 6th Grade Basic - 7.22.2010
Left: Three PC방, two kitchens, one bathroom and one batroom! Right: I like the attention to detail - the ski slope has easy, medium and difficult slopes.

The 5th & 6th grade advanced class has continued reading Aesop's Fables. Last week we read, The Grasshopper and the Ants, The North Wind and the Sun and The Wolf and the Crane, and through the magic of Youtube, I showed the students video clips of the stories. I've had the kids do lots of writing exercises: they drew a cartoon version of The North Wind and the Sun and wrote down what they would have done as the characters in The Wolf and the Crane. Tomorrow, I'm gong to have them argue whether hunting is ethical. I'm not use to having this advanced a class, and it's been fun.

5th & 6th Grade Advanced - 7.21.2010
Drawing cartoons is srs bsns!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

and then I cut off all my hair

I got my hair cut this weekend! One of the many ways I fail at being an adult is getting regular hair cuts. You're suppose to get a hair cut what, every six weeks? I can probably count on one hand the number of hair cuts I've had since I graduated college three years ago. I've spend half that time in Korea, where hair cuts are made difficult by the language barrier and hair dressers who don't believe me when I tell them I don't have a perm, just naturally curly hair, but I have no excuse for the year and half I spent in the States.

I went to Bucheon for the hair cut.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the southern suburbs of Seoul (so... most of you) here's a map:

I live in Seongnam, the blue check, and went to Bucheon, the red check. It's not a short trip - between the local bus to the Seongnam bus terminal and the express bus to the Bucheon bus terminal, it took about an hour and a half - but it's worth it for a hair dresser who both knows how to cut curly hair and doesn't charge a small fortune to do so. Also my friend Marie, who was also getting her hair cut, lives out that way.

So right, my hair. It's short! It's a little shorter than I wanted, but after that first snip is made, the die has been cast, and now that I'm use to it, I think really like it. It's been a long time since my hair had a proper style. For most of my life, I had very very fine hair. No, whatever you're thinking, it was finer than that. Then, at some point during high school, my hair started to get thicker. Then it started to curl, and one day I woke up and realized I had a completely different head of hair than I had had a few years previous and I had NO IDEA how to style it. I think this is the first hair cut I've had that properly deals with the curls.  I worry a little that this makes me look like a dandelion, but I like it!

Hair Cut!
This was taken at lunch right after the hair cut. The hair dresser blew my hair dry and then went back and curled it. He called it "punk style". Then I walked outside into the pouring rain and my hair immediately went SPROING!

Hair Cut!
This was taken about an hour ago in my bathroom. (You can see the dinner dishes in the kitchen in reflection.) I let my hair air dry and curl as it pleases with just a little product to help combat the dandelion effect. The curls are a bit softer and bouncier than when the hair dresser styled it.

Shabu Shabu
After the hair cuts, Marie and I waded (like I said, pissing rain) to a shabu shabu restaurant for a seriously delicious lunch. Om nom nom.

Monday, July 19, 2010

영어 캠프, Day One - A Bit of a Disaster

Today was the first day of English camp and it was a mild disaster. There are four different camps: 3rd & 4th Grade Basic, 3rd & 4th Grade Advanced, 5th & 6th Grade Basic and 5th & 6th Basic Advanced. I was under the impression that I would teach the two 3rd & 4th grade camps two periods a day this week and the two 5th & 6th grade camps two periods a day next week. I was wrong, and will actually be teaching all four groups one class every day for two weeks. I don't know if I misunderstood the schedule or if the schedule was changed at some point and I just wasn't notified, but I discovered the mix-up fifteen minutes before the 5th and 6th graders showed up. I wasted a few precious moments staring at my co-teacher with wide eyes and whispering that I had nothing prepared for the older students before rushing to my office to swear like a sailor and throw together two lesson plans.

It turned out okay. I taught the 5th & 6th grade basic class a beefed up version of the 3rd & 4th grade lesson and plied them with candy to make up for boring them. The 5th & 6th grade advanced class was saved by an Aesop's Fables easy reader textbook and the magic of Youtube. The girls read an abridged version of The Grasshopper and the Ants, answered the textbook provided listening comprehension questions, wrote their own summery of the story and then watched the 1934 Disney Silly Symphonies retelling of the story. God bless Youtube.

Considering how unprepared I was for the lesson, I'm impressed with how well my 6th grade girls did. This was 엄예솔's summery of the story:
Ants are saving food for winter.
But grasshopper doesn't working. (She struck out the -ing on her own.)
Winter come. Grasshopper was very hungry.
Grasshopper comes to ant house.
Ants and grasshopper eat together.
Pretty awesome, right? She flubs the tenses a bit, but that's a good summery of the story with no major grammatical mistakes, all in her own words. I count it as a win!

3rd & 4th Grade Advanced - 7.19.2010
3rd & 4th Advanced class playing Go Fish. Assa!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

GEPIK Training

There's an online series about expat social fallacies - erroneous believes that are treated like Gospel among expat communities - and the very first one is the idea that just because we all speak English, we should all get along, as if mutual intelligibility is all it takes to make a friend. That's a steaming load of crap, of course, but I understand why people fall for it. When you can go for days or even weeks without talking to anyone who is fluent in your native language, when you do meet another expat, you tend to latch on them, regardless of how much you actually have in common. This can work fine on an individual basis, but it all comes crashing down when you have to spend the day in a group other expats, which means this is just a long-winded way of saying I had training Wednesday and Lord, are some of my fellow teachers annoying.

The training was held at a local elementary school that had a massive English center. There were a number of themed rooms: the bank room, the grocery store room, two travel rooms - one decorated to look like the inside of a plane and one to look like an airport. There was a "home-stay room" decorated like a typical home that was bigger than my apartment. It certainly had more furniture than my apartment.

The morning sessions consisted of two speeches by local Korean teachers. This is the third GEPIK training session I've been to, and at each one, the lectures are basically the same. They're good speeches, motivational and entertaining, but once they're over, I have no idea what they were actually about. Yay teaching English!? We should not be mean to the students and make them afraid of foreigners? We should make class interesting, for example by starting class with this song that relates to a lesson you should have all already taught? We shouldn't be so wide? I DON'T KNOW. Like the GEPIK training itself, they were vague, ultimately unhelpful and lacking a thesis statement.

The afternoon session was focused on the summer camps, which for most schools start on Monday. First, we were divided into small groups to discuss sample lesson plans from our summer camps. Then we were suppose to spend twenty or so minutes brainstorming as a group on one lesson plan and present the improved lesson to everyone, but my group mostly talked about what a waste of time this was. This part of the training had the potential to be useful and some interesting points were raised, but training was held three days before the camps start. It was way too late for me to implement any new ideas. It would have been helpful several weeks ago, but not on Wednesday.

On the plus side though, I got to sleep in an extra two hours and had Subway for lunch, so it wasn't a completely wasted day.

Friday, July 9, 2010

this is now my new favorite phrase

My school's playground serves as the unofficial community center for the neighborhood, probably because it's the only flat area in the neighborhood. There's a playground, soccer goals and a section cornered off by bushes with a small amphitheater and a few benches shaded by a canopy of ginkgo trees. In the afternoons, mothers bring their young children to play on the playground, my students hang around long after I leave to go home and there are always a half dozen older men sitting under the trees, smoking and talking. All this is very quint and picturesque, but it also means there's a lot of trash piling up around my school. Public trash cans are rare in Korea, and food wrappers, cigarette butts and liquor bottles all get thrown on the ground. Students are responsible for keeping the school clean, and in the mornings, a teacher stands in front of the school with a trash bag and kids pick up the garbage as they walk to school.

This morning, a fifth grade boy holding a not-quite-empty bottle of soju waved hello to me. "Look, Teacher!" he shouted, waving the bottle in the air, the swills swishing about, "I'm drunking!"

Kid, that is the best. Konglish. ever.

Monday, July 5, 2010

[July, July, July // it never seemed so strange]

The spring semester ends on July 16th, which means I have two weeks of class left. Even less actually, since the end of the semester if rife with tests (yay, only one day of actual teaching next week!) and fact that the last period of the day has been canceled due to unknown reasons for the rest of the semester. It would have been nice to know in advance - I could have rushed the axed classes through the last lesson, or at least said goodbye to students I won't see again until September - but that sort of forewarning is asking an awful lot of a Korean school.

I could not be more ready for semester to be over. The kids are restless and ready for vacation to start. They're also far more preoccupied with their upcoming national exams than they are with Lesson 8: What Will You Do This Summer. (My favorite answers so far come from 6-5 class. One rather rotund little boy plans to eat 100 ice cream bars. Another simple wants some meat.) (That being said, I was super proud of my 5th graders today. They're normally highly unmotivated and well, not very bright, but I was trying to explain why "Let's go baseball" and "Let's play swimming" are incorrect. We ended up doing some brainstorming on the board and a decent number of students realized without being told that "Let's play..." was used when talking about games or musical instruments whereas "Let's go..." was used with locations or the present participle and I actually got examples that hadn't been used in class and just, that's a big deal. It was one of those moments where I could see the students understand the lesson and actually learning, and those moments are few and far between, especially with the 5th graders.)

I also had my last after school class last Thursday, which is probably for the best, since I had completely given up caring. I made the world's weakest attempt to teach comparisons, said "Oh, fuck this," half way through and gave the students a word search. And then we watched part of School of Rock. Between being sick and the classes being a joke in the first place, I just could not bring myself to care last week.

After School Class - 7.1.2010
Not going to miss the classes. Am going to miss play time with 3rd graders.

Once the semester ends, I have two weeks of English camp. Last year I was ~super~ stressed out about the camps. This year, I'm far more confident in my ability to BS a lesson plan in the half an hour before class starts and subsequently way calmer. I will also have one of my regular co-teachers teaching with me, which means I'm not responsible for ever single facet of the camps myself. In fact, I'm so calm, I've yet to even begin planning. My co-teacher and I are going to the bookstore to buy textbooks for the camps tomorrow and I'll spend my days off next week writing up the lesson plans, but in general, I'm not worried.

Then, once the camps are over at the end of the month, my mama and little sister are coming to see me! We're going to spend a few days in Korea, and then hop over to China for ten days - five days in Beijing and five days in Shanghai! I am all sorts of excited about seeing (half) my family for the first time since February and getting to show them around Korea, and also going to China. And, of course, visitors from home means they can bring me things from home! Tell me, does anyone have any thoughts on the best way to transport hummus on an airplane?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Buddha's Birthday

석가탄신일 (Buddha's Birthday)

In Korea, Buddha's birthday is celebrated on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month. This year, it fell on May 21st. (Yes, I know that's over a month ago. This is catch-up blogging from the great blogging void of April and May 2010. ) Buddhism was introduced to Korea in 372 AD, and was the dominate religion on the peninsula until the rise of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392. Despite persecution during the early Joseon period, Buddhism remains one of the major religions in Korea today. (According to a survey by the South Korean National Statistical Office, 22.8% of Koreans are Buddhist, 29.2% are some form of Christian and 46.4% of Koreans are atheist which, as someone who comes from a country where religion is such a pervasive part of the culture, is something I have trouble wrapping my head around.)

Gwanchoksa Temple
Lotus lanterns lining the path up to Gwanchoksa Temple in Nonsan, South Korea in early April. They made a colorful addition to an otherwise gloomy and winter shrouded woods.

In Korea, 석가탄신일, literally the day of Buddha's birthday, is celebrated by lighting lotus lanterns. There is a Buddhist proverb that says, "Please attain Buddhism in your next lifetime by lighting a lantern in this life," and the entire peninsula is decorated with lanterns in the month leading up to the holiday. I visited Gwanchoksa Temple in early April and there were already lanterns lining the path up to the temple. By early May, I was walking home from school under strings of lotus lanterns hanging between the street lamps and electric poles. Then, on Buddha's Birthday, the lanterns are lit during an evening ceremony.

석가탄신일 (Buddha's Birthday)

I watched the lighting ceremony at Jogyesa Temple in Seoul, the chief temple of the Jogye Order in Korean Buddhism.  I met up with some friends outside of Jogyesa at 5:30, an hour and a half before the ceremony was suppose to start, and were given plastic bags for our shoes before shuffling into the temple. It's a small temple, with three golden Buddha statues sitting in the lotus position and a ceiling absolutely covered in red lotus lanterns. The decorations and painting were very similar to every other Korean temple I've visited. I'm always unsure how to behave in temples. To the people praying around me, the temple was a place of worship and this was a holy day, but all I was doing was sight-seeing and enjoying the scene. I never know the protocol on taking pictures - at least when sight-seeing at churches or cathedrals, it's my own religion that I'm disrespecting - but the temple was full of Koreans taking photos on their cell phones, so I pulled out my camera and no one rushed in to reprimand me. We stood in front of the Buddhas for a bit, and then left the temple. The temple is built on top of a stone platform a couple of feet high, and the stairs off the platform were flanked by stone ramps. Someone at the temple had attached a metal slide to one of the ramps, and a group of children were entertaining themselves by sliding down and shrieking with joy. I tried to stealthily take pictures of the cute, but taking pictures of other peoples' children is even trickier than figuring out if you're allowed to take pictures inside a temple.

석가탄신일 (Buddha's Birthday)

석가탄신일 (Buddha's Birthday)

In front of temple is a large open courtyard which was covered with a canopy of lanterns. Even though we showed up early, the courtyard was packed with people. We eventually found a free spot amongst some bushes, and we sat down to wait. Marie, Omega and I are all knitters, so we pulled out knitting to entertain ourselves. This immediately made us a spectacle to the Koreans surrounding us, and one man started taking photos of the crazy 외국인, but considering I had just attempted to take pictures of young Korean children playing, I don't feel like I have the right to be annoyed. The ceremony itself started at seven and lasted for about forty five minutes. It mostly involved chanting and droning and throat-singing, all in Korean. It was dull, since I couldn't understand what was being said and I don't know enough about Buddhism to understand the significance of the ceremony. I did catch the occasional word in the mantra - teacher! student! fifty seven! - but other than that, I feel into a bit of a trance. My favorite part was at the very beginning, when the acolytes (or as I called them Tiny Baby Monklets!) scampered across the stage to take their place kneeling behind the monks.

석가탄신일 (Buddha's Birthday)

The ceremony ended around 7:45 and we had a fifteen minute wait until it was dark enough for the lantern lighting ceremony. Everyone stood up and chanted the four elements. (I only understood water and fire, but I assume the other two words were wind and earth.) The first few rows of lanterns were lit. We chanted the elements again and the second tier of lanterns were lit. We chanted a third time and the rest of the lanterns were lit. It only took twenty or thirty seconds, but it was absolutely amazing. Standing in the dark, watching the lanterns light up overhead, being surrounded by a huge crowd of devout people and actually being able to participate in someway, even if it was only four words, was extremely cool and it's something I'll remember for a long time. I'm so glad I went!

석가탄신일 (Buddha's Birthday)
My favorite part of this picture is the bottom right corner, where you can see people taking pictures with their camera phones. It's such a very very typical Korean response and it makes me grin.

석가탄신일 (Buddha's Birthday)

Full set of pictures are here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Futher Adventures in Eastern Medicine

I really wasn't going to post about being sick anymore, and then I woke up on Tuesday morning and couldn't hear out of my right ear. WHAT THE HELL?! Okay, so I can hear out my right ear a little bit, but it's significantly worse than my left ear. There's this horrible pressure in my right ear, which is undoubtedly causing the hearing problems and also the dizzy spells, and the whole thing is FREAKING ME OUT. Sick I can deal with, but I haven't had ear problems since I was tiny and turns out, they really distress me.

I went to an ENT doctor yesterday and the verdict was dunno what this is, but here, have some more pills. The doctor ran a bunch of tests, including one where I wore blind goggles and was shaken about like I was in a centrifuge, and something involving the compressed air pistol the dentist uses when cleaning your teeth and a six inch long metal stick being stuck so far up my nose, I could feel it in the back of my throat. The only thing I could think the entire time was during mummification, the Egyptians removed the brain via the nose. ONE WRONG MOVE AND HE'S GOING TO POKE ME IN THE BRAIN!

So, my week in review: still sick, partially deaf and cranky as hell. Fun times! I full expect to develop a vestigial tail by next week. And trust me, if I do, I will definitely complain about it.