To me the most interesting aspect of this video is how critical the Korean government seems to be of its own education system--Obama's compliments notwithstanding. Thanks to Marisa's dad for passing this on.
There was a bit of a todo last week about my computer. For a long time now I have been bringing my own laptop to school to use instead of the ancient, scary Korean machine that sits on my desk. I of course plug into the school's network so that I can be a part of the hip and happening things online. However, recently the network had a security update and my presence was discovered; at least they (correctly) deduced that "Marisa EEE" was me. I don't think anyone really has a problem with me using my own computer, as I have good reasons for using it, but apparently I had a virus, at least the system update had detected one.
I know that viruses are out there, but I am married to someone who knows at least a thing or two about computers, so I figured I was safe from such an infection. I showed the computer man my virus program, of which he was dubious and decided we needed to run a Korean virus scan. This gave me a little panic because you really have to watch out for Korean programs because they will dig into your computer and become impossible to root out no matter how hard you try. But I had few options, so I said okay. The virus scan scanned and determined that I was virus free. This led to some discussion, and later it was reported to me that another virus program should be run. Double cringe, will my computer ever recover from this? Second scan also declares that my computer is healthy. Another consulation is held and it is determined that you can never really trust a foreign virus scanner (of which only the first, the one that I use, is one), so we'll try yet another virus scan. At this point I have really given up hope on my computer ever working again, and to at least make me feel like it was all worth something, this virus scan also came back with a clean bill of health. Computer man then tells me (through my coteacher) that some sort of reformatting will be necessary to rid my computer of this super stealth virus (which at this point I have decided is a figment of the system update's imagination).
When I relate this story to Jordan he of course says it's ridiculous, especially since he's the one who will have to reformat my computer. But, and this is the point of the story, I reminded him that before we start making big warpath type plans, we should remember that in Korea, whenever someone tells you something bad and/or crazy you are best off ignoring it. Because 10 times out of 10 whatever has just been told to you will never happen. And today, when I tiptoed back to school after the weekend and plugged my computer in it was allowed to connect to the internet (after being banished the previous week due to its "virus"). No mention of anything from anyone about anything, everything was just back to the way it was. And so, once again, "ignore it and it will go away" proves a successful way of life for the foreigner in Korea.
The first lesson in our book this year is about making goals. So, of course, since I always like to stay on topic in class, I had my eighth graders write down their goals for the year. Here are the best ones:
"I want to grow at least 7cm this year. This will make me better at English."
"The first goal is to grow up. The second goal is to score up."
Despite the fact that I never would have thought of it as a goal, about half my student's goals were to grow. A lot of milk will be consumed this year in the middle school.
"I hope to new world children. I hope to grow at least 3cm this year. I hope to rule the world. I hope to become a demon."
And how will they do this?
"I will get up early. I drink milk. I need to be stronger than before."
"My goal is musician. Because of I like listen to music. I am goal very fantastic.
Um...always all day long study music!! many listen and many study!!"
"My first goal will make a battle ship. My second goal is to make a B-25. My third goal is to make a B-17G."
And how will they do this?
"My first goal is to president.
My second goal is to get up early.
My third goal is to get great grades in test."
It's good to have your priorities straight.
Obi met luke. Obi is friend of Luke's father and he was warrier. R2-D2 showed Leia's message to him. Then he has to go Altaran. He suggest Luke to go with him. At first Luke regjected. They went back home. But empire's army ruined Luke's home. And Luke's uncle and aunt were dead. So Luke determined to go with Obi. So they went to city to find pilot.
Luke's uncle and aunt dead because bad people fire Luke house so, Luke want to be like his father, so he went to pilot in the bar he learn art.
Ruke get lightsword and he's uncle and aunt died. He went somewhere because he need a pilot and he get a pilot.
Um... robot cut leg (because sand jock) once day. Obi and Luke father Jack. Obi is Luke.
He is go learn force he mother father uncle die he is angry. He want to go learn to force in Jedie.
So last week I had vacation school here at Seoheung. We watched Star Wars and Ratatouille and made posters and played some games. The Koreans love to document things, and so my coteacher took lots of pictures, which you can view. I think this is good since a few of you seem to have the impression that I am just a big slacker who does nothing. These photos I think prove that I do in fact teach some students some of the time.
I would check out the rest of the photos, as my students made some very exciting aliens...with interesting names...
"Yesterday, I watched half of star wars. And I waited watching movie time all day! Today's movie contents were very exciting. Luke and Solo save Princess Leia and Ben died. Finally Princess Leia's team started to attack. Also they won the war. I was little bored about light sword. He didn't use the light sword. But it's okay. He defeat Darth Vader! He is our hero!!!! And R2D2 is very cute ><!!!!"
"The movie was really thrilling. Because, yesterday then computer graphic very natural. And thrill very very good. Tomorrow more thrill more. Do you think so too? Oh! I was so amazing to hear that movie was made in 1977. Very good!! These movie showed teacher thank you ~~ I love teacher!! >_<"
"The movie is interesting, specially gun fight a merry time of it."
I love vacation school because I love to make my students write. Then I get to read the pearls that they've writtten. They use English so differently that everything they write sounds like magical poetry to me.
You can see I've tried to make some corrections to this, but to speak honestly, what can I really say to this? And this student also told me after class that she would pay better attention tomorrow.
Today we watched Star Wars IV. Everyone loved R2D2. They thought he was so cute, so loyal and the star of the movie. C3PO was not so impressive, but "unnatural." Luke was "handsome", Leia was "ugly", Luke's uncle was "wisdom". Everyone said, "this movie is famous" and one student wrote about its effect on America: "for example, American children have had dream that they will grow great scientists after they watched the movie."
To sum up the first half of Star Wars we have this summary:
"I have never seen the movie Star Wars. I saw star wars for the first time first. The Star Wars is very funny movie. R2D2 is apperance the movie so he is character. He has a memory from the princess Leia. Then he is give this memory to Obi won Kenobi. At that time, One man his name Luke Skywalker is help them too. but enemy Darth vader afflict them and will catch the robbot R2D2 and C3PO. indeed they protect the peace or they obey the evil...?? I feel wonder at the result."
I feel wonder too.
So the week has come to a close. I just watched the beginning of High School Musical for the sixth time. Next week I'll get to watch the middle six times and then the end six times. And then I might show it at my other school. I guess it doesn't matter what country you're in, middle schoolers everywhere love it. And why not? There's singing, there's dancing and there's high school romance. And I'm showing it to them during school. What more could they want?
After watching some Wallace and Gromit the past couple of weeks, I'm settling into a nice routine out here in the country of basing all my lessons around movies. Thanks to the fancy new English rooms, I can keep my students blissfully entertained while perhaps learning a little English. But now the questions becomes, what movie should I watch next? What else will the Middle Schoolers love? I'm trying to remember what movies I loved in Middle School. What movies did you love?
A few weeks ago, my country school had its Sports Day. It was very thrilling and I got to go home early.
At least for me, May has been the month of incredible relaxedness (see I even have time to make up words). It started with preparation for midterms, which meant that I didn't have to teach. Then we had midterms, which meant I still didn't have to teach. Then we went on a somewhat wild goose chase in Seoul to get a document from the American Embassy and I missed two days of school. Then we had a day off for Children's Day. This week, my first graders were gone for "training," then my second graders left for a trip. So by Wedensday I had no students to teach. Today was rough, I had to teach four classes. But tomorrow is Teacher's Day, so we have no school, and I don't have school on Monday either. Then my country school is having Sports Day next Friday and Thursday is practice day, so I don't have to teach again. Then the last week of May is the festival for foreigners, for which I get to miss another two days of school.
I will now count all the classes I've taught this month...In the last three weeks I have taught 19 classes. Normally I teach 21 every week. And May isn't even over.
Other small May benefits have been cropping up too, like getting grape soda for Sports Day and a pile of rice cakes for Teacher's Day. I have also started digital scrapbooking since I spend hours sitting at my desk staring at my screen. This, it turns out, is quite fun, so I'm hoping that May turns into a never ending month of happiness. In fact, I've been having such a good time being a slacker at school I haven't started celebrating the month of my birthday, which I could start celebrating anytime, but I've just been busy celebrating May Slacker Days.
To celebrate Teacher's Day tomorrow we are going "camping" with some friends. We're going to barbeque and hope it doesn't rain. We're going to bring the Wii in case. This is camping Korean style.
Today's title comes from this morning's "English Possible" on the radio.
I'm at school finishing up the end of a busy week. I spent almost the entire week at my desk uploading an organizing old pictures on flickr. Yesterday offered a brief change of scenery when I had to go into the classroom to help monitor exams. The Koreans have a big cheating problem. Mostly because when they catch cheaters, they don't do anything. This becomes a problem for me in class because I acutally want the students to do their own crossword puzzle, not wait for the one smart kid to do it and then have 35 students copy the answers down. I want to explain to them how this makes the whole thing pointless, as I've only made the crossword puzzle for their own enjoyment, so if they're going to copy it they might as well just sit there. However, I think that doing things for enjoyment in school is completely beyond the comprehension of my middle school students.
So anyway, I caught a cheater in my first exam period, although then I didn't know what to do because the other teacher in the class didn't speak English and I didn't want to disturb the students taking the exam by making a big hubub. What to do? I eventually had to go have a big point and say, "this student is looking at this student's answer card." All the students laughed, the teacher gave the boys a stern talking to, and all went back to normal. With this kind of reaction I don't know why all the students aren't cheating.
Luckily the three exam periods kept getting shorter, the first was 45 minutes, then 40 minutes, then 35 minutes, because it really was one of the most dull things I've ever done.
In the evening we had a meeting at the City Hall with the other English teachers. When word comes down about these kind of meetings, it's always shrouded in mystery. First we hear about it from one of our friends, who somehow found out because someone has a very organized co-teacher. Then word will slowly come to you from your own coteacher. Although, what the meeting entails is never disclosed. Yesterday my co-teacher found out she had to go too, at the last minute, and was quite unenthused about the prospect. She had no idea what was going on either.
When we finally arrived at the City Hall, we found a big, fancy meeting with all the foreign English teachers and the mayor. How thrilling! We watched the most fantastic movie about Gunsan, in which the used the most words I've ever heard to say absolutely nothing. It was really quite a feat. I'm going to have to see if they've put the movie online because it really as stellar. Then we watched a movie which demonstrated the skills of the foreign teachers; Jordan and I were big stars in this one. I'm not sure about using this as a example though because the lesson of me they taped was the first lesson I ever made and thus not particularily good. After some question and answer with the mayor, we all trooped off for a fancy Korean dinner where we got gift bags with rice (grown in Gunsan) and a fancy Gunsan pin (and something in a box I haven't opened yet). Dinners like these are always amusing as the alcohol is free flowing and everyone gets rather "relaxed" as they say.
An activity that I sometimes do with my students involves showing them a cartoonish picture of someone sobbing or smiling or looking angry, and asking them what emotion is being portrayed. I then ask them to complete the sentence "I am [feeling emotion x] because..." on a piece of paper, along with a drawing to help me understand what they are trying to express. A few of the more interesting and/or unexpected answers:
- "I am sad because my lover left me." Oh the heart wrenching drama.
- "I am happy because my poop came out." There was no doubt about this one, thanks to the detailed drawing accompanying it -- this was a girl by the way. Only in middle school, or only in Korea? Or both?
- "I am upset because my mother catch me on 19 website." Actually, all the boys at a certain table had some variation of this one. Remember that everyone is a year older in Korea, so a "19 website" is... well, I think you can figure it out. I can't say I was surprised by the actual occurrence--it was just the level of candidness that threw me; I wanted to tell them "I'm just your teacher! Don't tell me this stuff!"
- And one that needed a bit of correction: "I am in love with my sister because she is cute."
So last Friday one of my classes was not wanting to participate: my thoughtful and creative attempts at discussion and activity were being met with nothing but yawns by the energetic students, and snores by the less motivated.
The lesson was on health and fitness (From the textbook: ... Mike: "It really shows. You look so healthy." / Mina: "How about you? You look like you gained some weight over the vacation." ...). Anyway, I will often search YouTube for an entertaining video touching on our topic just to get the kids laughing or what have you; on Friday I found one that was somewhat disturbing (okay, very disturbing, but that's what middle schoolers love) to go along with our fitness theme. I had not shown it to the students yet, and suddenly I was struck by a brilliant idea.
"Everyone up. Out of your seats. Yes, you too. Stand up."
Gradually everyone wakes up and stands, most of them looking somewhat confused and disoriented.
I then started the video:
They start laughing. I tell them that this is serious business.
"We are now going to exercise with the video."
The students look at each other in disbelief. I can't be serious.
Some of the students start to move their arms and legs feebly.
"Pump your arms now! Let's go!"
More feeble movements.
I let them continue in this fashion until the video finishes. Everyone sighs with relief and begins to take their seats.
"No. Keep standing."
Confusion and suspicion radiate from the lethargic mob.
I then proceeded to give an impassioned speech on class participation, lethargy, and education in general: "... and if you are not going to interact with my lesson, then we are going to exercise with the poodles. And if you do not exercise with the poodles--energetically--you will leave the classroom. The poodles, you see, are a metaphor for life: just as you must exercise energetically with them, so you must participate energetically in class..."
It was clear by the horrified looks I was receiving that the students understood my message. And so I started the video again, from the beginning, and this time everyone pumped their arms.
The end result of all this is that when we returned to our lesson, and I repeated the question to which I had previously gotten no response, multiple hands went into the air. The students had decided that this was better than the poodle video. And I had decided that the poodle video was better than anything. It now resides permanently on my jump drive, in my pocket.
People always get nervous when they hear someone else is doing more than they are. And I guess our new President is no different. The following is from the Korean Herald:
U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday called for the United States to look to South Korea in adopting longer school days and after-school programs for American children to help them survive in an era of keen global competition, according to Yonhap News Agency.
"Our children -- listen to this -- our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea every year," Obama told a gathering at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce here. "That's no way to prepare them for a 21st-century economy."
Obama made his remarks while emphasizing the need for sweeping reform of the U.S. education system for which he earmarked US$41 billion out of the $787 billion stimulus package to cope with the worst recession in decades.
"We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed for when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day," he said. "That calendar may have once made sense, but today it puts us at a competitive disadvantage."
Let's see what I did in the Korean public schools this week.
I amazed myself by coming up with an exercise that got more than 2 people to participate, and had at least a little educational value. The fact that I got the entire class to do the exercise has not ceased to stun me. However, that was only one lesson. Yesterday I was trying to get my students to fill in a sheet about their favorite things. When I tried to get two boys to participate, they went and hid in the back of the classroom, so I had to kick them out into the hallway. Once, I tried an activity where the students had to get out of their seats. I did that only once since the students destroyed the activity in about two minutes. I was so shocked I just stared at them for another two minutes. I had never seen such chaos. I haven't let my students out of their seats since. So the Koreans may have more school, but they certainly don't have better.
Our actual school day is longer here in Korea than any I ever experienced, but I think that's mostly because we have an hour and twenty minutes for lunch and another thirty minutes for cleaning time. The school year may be longer, but I've never seen people waste time like we do at school. I remember fondly the couple weeks of school we had after exams in which we taught our students nothing, and were expected to teach our students nothing.
All the teachers teach straight from textbooks, often to classes of 40 (unless you're lucky enough to be one of the "country bumpkins" Obama mentions from days gone by and are in a class of 7). The teaching is for the most part so ineffective that any student who cares about their future then has to go to the hogwon all night (many students, middle school students, don't get home until 10pm). And who knows if the hogwons are more effective than the schools. At least the class sizes should be smaller.
The students I've met are mostly incapable of thinking beyond the textbook, unless you sit on them or twist their arm. Most students stare out the window during class, or take a nap because they're so tired from studying the night before, or work on homework for another class. In a class of 40, you'll have about three, if you're lucky, who will participate. It's quite common to get "the stare" when you ask a question. Do they understand, you wonder. Are they confused, you wonder. Are they even alive, you eventually ask.
I think the clear answer to the education dilemma, by observing the Korean schools, or any school, is better education, not more. Have we still not realized that more isn't always better? My students said it best when I asked them if Korea was the best place to live and they said, "No. We have to go to school all the time. In America they are free to do things that are interesting*."
*The interesting things being dancing and singing like in High School Musical
**Thanks to my Dad for sending me the article.
My new semester started out similarly to Marisa's, in that on the first day of school I was picked up by my co-teacher as usual, and was naive enough to think that the day would be without "incident." A few minutes into the drive, however, Mr. Song says, "oh, do you know about new workplace?"
Me: "No." (do I have a new office? I wonder to myself).
Mr. Song: "You are teaching at new school."
Mr. Song then proceeds to explain to me that he had been notified of this school change just a couple hours earlier. "We will see," he says. That day I sit around at Jayang doing nothing, because my co-teacher at my new school (where I am supposed to be Monday through Wednesday now) is too busy to come pick me up. Things get somewhat sorted out by Tuesday though, and I make my way to the new school, a downtown juggernaut of 1000 students, not unlike Marisa's Seoheung... my days of teaching 6 students per class at Napo are gone forever.
My schedule at the new school is haphazard and full to overflowing... they tell me that this schedule is "temporary" though (no surprise there), and that I will be getting my "real" schedule in two weeks... we shall see. In the meantime I've been introducing myself like a broken record to class after class of hollering 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders (that is 7th, 8th, and 9th graders).
I've been around to some of the classes twice now, but wasn't much prepared for the second encounters, since my "temporary" schedule is actually not a schedule at all, and the classes I end up teaching are rarely the ones shown there; this together with the fact that I have not been given a textbook or any materials, leads to what we in Korea call "flying by the seat of one's pants" (i.e. living). The classes themselves do have textbooks though, and sometimes I improvise from there. In one class the lesson centered around a nature photographer, with the topic being protecting nature. This particular class was what I sometimes call a "dud." Meaning that the students look at you sometimes, but rarely do anything else.
"What is this lesson about?" Nothing.
"Protecting Nature, right?" One student nods.
"Do you like nature?" Nothing.
"Do you want to protect nature?" Nothing.
"Just raise your hand if you like nature/want to protect nature." Nothing.
At this point I go a bit off the deep end, and start wildly drawing a grim Armageddon on the chalkboard: giraffes being blown up with bazookas, bulldozers flattening snowy mountains, and people with flamethrowers torching down forests. This gets the students chuckling. Pretty soon the chalkboard is nothing but smoke and flames, and a bunch of X-ed out giraffes. "Is this what you want to happen to the world?" Nothing.
Which brings me to my haircut: for $10 in Korea you don't get Great Clips--you get fanciness. I get my hair cut at Lotte Mart, because there is no reason to do anything outside of Lotte Mart--actually, it is my theory that nothing exists outside of Lotte Mart. So anyway, when you go in a woman takes your coat; next you get a glass of orange juice, which you can sip as you surf the web with one of the provided computers as you wait. When your wait is up a man with a towering hairdo of craziness invites you to sit down and be "prepared" with multiple aprons and perhaps some spray. A lady brings you The Book so you can pick out a do if you want something fancy. I just point to a man with a buzz. "Short Cut?" they ask. "Yea, short cut." This is not enough confirmation, though, so they (lady and crazy hairdo man together) flip the book and find two or three more men with "short cuts," and verify the idea with me each time. Finally we are ready to begin. I figure that the man will take the clippers, run them over my scalp, and be done with it... this is always how I've gotten buzz cuts before. But no. Instead, Hairdo starts to meticulously cut and trim. Cut and trim. A little bit of clippers now. Now back to the scissors. Now a new pair of scissors. Now cut cut. Now trim trim. And so after 20 minutes I emerge with my finely sculptured buzz. Of course then I get the hair wash and scalp massage treatment that is just part of the regular haircut here. Great Clips is kind of lame.
Which brings me back to my school: Nam Middle School, like almost every other school in Korea, as far as we can tell, has been outfitted over the winter break with a shnazzy new English room; "Welcome to Global Zone" is printed over the door in large letters. The room is large and very well outfitted, with a ginormous touch screen television, large sliding whiteboards, new computers, and clusters of tables arranged in a "we're here to be casual and have fun but also to learn about Global Zone" sort of way. Light is good, and posters around the perimeter sport catchy slogans and photos of English-speaking places, like Australia, Britain... and France. My office is actually in this room, where I sit alone and ponder my life. The provided computer, unlike my 10-year-old one at Jayang, is new and fast, and sports a 22-inch LCD monitor. So while the move from Napo is painful for the most part, my new school is not entirely without its upside.
Which brings me to the conversation class I had with the English teachers (5 of them here, all women) yesterday. We started out by discussing London's Tower Bridge (pictured on one of the posters), and I tried to explain how it was not London bridge, and how London bridge is quite drab looking, and how the previous London Bridge is currently in Arizona. Then they naturally wanted to know why "London Bridge is falling down." I had a quick pop into Wikipedia to verify what I thought I knew... anyway, things progress like this, and eventually we are onto America. Then eating. Then beef, which is thought to be to Americans what Kimchi is to Koreans.
"American's eat hamburgers every day?" asks one of the ladies.
"Not really. And no, not generally for breakfast."
They then go on to explain to me how American beef is diseased. All of it. This is why Korean beef is expensive and American beef is cheap. Koreans tried to get the government to stop importing it a while back with massive protests, but to no avail. Luckily, the Korean people know enough to stay away.
"Hm..." I said. "I don't think all American beef is diseased, actually."
"But you will get sick if you eat it," they insist.
Eventually I figured out that this "disease" they were talking about was Mad Cow. My thought was that perhaps not all American beef was infected, as that would mean most if not all of the US population would have already been eradicated, but this theory did not fly with the Koreans. In all fairness I do remember when nobody in Minnesota would touch beef due to the Mad Cow scare, even though to date only 3 BSE cases have ever been identified in the United States (as opposed to say 183,841 in the UK).
That about sums up my week.
"Why are you so happy?"
"Because it's Friday."
This is the conversation some of students learned this week, with a little modification by me to fit the current context (unlike my students, since I can speak English, I am able to actually use the conversation, instead of only using the examples in the book, in which case I would only be able to say, "Why are you so worried?" "Because my mom is sick."). It has been a long week. I honestly haven't done that much teaching, but with the crazy flip flopping of schools, and the craziest jet lag I've ever had, the weekend couldn't come soon enough. Here at my new school I only have two classes on Friday, but today that seems like two classes too many.
My new school, Okgu Middle School, is a nice place. Unlike many of the country schools, it is big enough that it got one of the new English Rooms that Korea must have used it's entire Education budget on, but small enough that I only have 20 kids in a class (which after teaching 37, is something like a miracle). So I feel like this is the best of both worlds, fancy-pants technology and small classes. Mostly I like the new English rooms because it means I use the same computer for all my classes, which means I can count on it working, and don't have to plan back up lessons for if the computer is on the fritz in some classroom.
My reception at the new school was quite shocking. Unlike my city school, where they still treat me as a mix between a celebrity and an infant, the people here have treated me more or less like a normal person. It was quite unnerving. None of the students had huge screaming fits upon first seeing me (just small, reasonable ones). No one asked if I needed a fork at lunch, or oohed and ahhed at my ability to say 'hello' in Korean (despite the fact that I have said 'anyehaseo' to the vice principal at my other school about 100 times, he still claps and pats my head when I do it. I don't even think parents behave this way when their children start speaking.) Basically I was just like a normal, new person: there was interest, but no craziness, which made it all the more crazy.
The school is about a 20 minute drive from our apartment. I get picked up by a Korean language teacher, whose route must come near our house since he's the one who picks me up. His English is quite limited, but he's very friendly and seems to be a reasonabe driver (which in Korea is important, since most people aren't quite reasonable about it. They've put a new stop light on our corner, but since it didn't use to be there, everyone has decided it's optional and drives through it). There must be about 200 students in the school, with about 20 teachers, half of whom come to the "chit chat class" that I have in the afternoons with them. I find this quite impressive, since at my big school, with about 70 teachers, there are only 3 who come to practice with me. As usual, everyone is very friendly and thinks my pig tails are cute. I've decided the Koreans like me best when I'm wearing pig tails, so it's my new hairstyle of choice.
I was just admiring the picture from Antalya, those days when we were on vacation. It now seems like 5 billion years ago. Those days when I was "working hard." Not much has changed in that respect, I'm currently sitting at my desk (still in the giant office, no private office for me it turns out) with nothing to do because no one has made a schedule for me. It is I guess "the busiest day of the year" or so Ms Park tells me. And Jordan and I have already exchanged comments that we sure were naive to believe we could just walk into this year with no surprises. As if there has ever been a day with no surprises, and I think that even if we stayed in Korea forever, it would never stop surprising us.
So first I walk into school, where I think my new office is, to find Ms Park and she tells me that someone (she actually said "my friend" but I don't know who that is) has decided it's back to the giant office for us. Actually, just for me, since Ms Park used to be in a smaller office. Surprise Number 1. I start to wonder if we'll have class in there or if they'll just use it as a fancy showpiece, when she starts to answer my question, "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday you have class here" (she points to the room and I assume this means the classroom) "Thursday, Friday you go to new school." Wait, what was that? A new school? Surprise Number 2. No more is said about this issue as Ms Park now starts telling me about how this is the busiest day and I have to pass out papers. So we have a teacher meeting and about 10 new teachers have arrived (at this point I realize both Miss Kim and Miss Doo, my favorite, are missing, likely gone to different schools and replaced by these newcomers, Surprise Number 3). Then we go to a school meeting, where one of my conversation ladies whispers to me that she's heard that I'm going to a school in the country. Surprise Number 4. I try and express that this is all news to me, but this just confuses her (perhaps she thinks I should know where I'm going, this thought has occurred to me, but only briefly, when since I've gotten to Korea have I known what's going on?) At the school meeting the new seventh graders bow to the older students and they all whoop and holler for the new teachers. Ms Park confides to me that since today is so busy, no one has yet made me a schedule, so I can "prepare." (No surprise here) What, however, should I prepare for I wonder. What grades am I teaching, who am I teaching with, what do they want me to do, and perhaps the greatest question, where am I teaching? This feels rather philosophic since I've only been at school for two hours and already I'm questioning the nature of the universe (the Korean school universe that is).
I think you know you've arrived, or perhaps that you've been here too long, when a day like this seems pretty normal. After all, I say to myself, this is Korea, what else do you expect?
Here is video proof of the madness we experienced.
Monday morning we left bright and early for the "2009 Winter Guest English Teacher Teaching Improvement Workshop." This means that all the foreign teachers in our province met at a youth hostel for a two day workshop about teaching English in Korean public schools. It was, to say the least, intense. A more accurate description would involve me pulling out my hair and the hair of the person next to me out of boredom that led to madness. The schedule went something like this: We woke up at 7:30 and left for the local bus station to catch a bus to Jeonju (the capital, about an hour away). Despite the fact that we have gone to this bus station many times, it's always a bit of a miracle when we convince the taxi drivers to take us their because despite the fact that the word 'bus' is the same in English and Korean, they can never understand where we want to go. However, we persevered and arrived in time to catch the bus to Jeonju. After the hour long bus ride and a short taxi ride to the Department of Education we got on another bus for an hour and a half ride to the beach and youth hostel where the group was staying. We later found out that this trip was rather redundant since we drove most of the way back to Gunsan and then further south down the coast.
We arrived at the hostel around 12:30 and received our room assignments. I stayed with Carol, a woman from Gunsan who we met through Winter Camp, and another woman from somewhere else who is originally from England. Carol is from New Zealand, so our room had a good representation of the English speaking countries of the world. The hostel was very nice, I would hardly consider it to be a hostel, although it was Korean style, so we slept on the floor with blankets. We were surprised that they didn't even have mats (I believe most Koreans who do sleep on the floor normally have mats of some sort), just thick blankets. It was still pretty comfortable, although at one point in the night I got rather hot since they had the floor heat turned up pretty high.
After we got settled, we had an exciting lunch of fish soup (when you're on the coast, you eat seafood, for dinner we had octopus) and then the excitement began. We started with a two hour lecture by a man from a Korean University and continued for the rest of the day (until 10:30pm) with two hour, or slightly shorter lectures. By the end of the first lecture I was ready to go to bed, by the end of the evening I was ready to pull out my hair. The next morning when we had another three hours of lectures I almost slipped into the realm of craziness from which there is no return. There were some good moments, but they were few and far between and could have filled maybe about two hours, instead of the 12 hours that we had to sit through. By the time we left the hostel everyone was in a sleep-deprived, zombie-like haze.
After the lectures they bused us to a nearby temple for some sightseeing. It was nice to get out and have a walk in the pine trees and remind yourself that there is life beyond the lecture room. We left early since our friend Matt drove to the workshop and offered to give us a ride home. The trip home took about an hour, as opposed to the three hour trip we had getting there.
Today we are still recovering from the two day madness, and we have to keep reminding ourselves that we were only gone for one night, as it feels like we were gone for years. Tonight we are looking forward to some social time. Jordan was invited to go golfing, and since apparently girls aren't allowed in this club, I invited Carol over for a little scrapbooking. Tomorrow we are very excited to leave for a longish trip to Seoul, to shop, eat food not from Korea (do I see hamburgers? is that Mexican food over there?!!!!) and do some sightseeing. The Lunar New Year (a big holiday in Korea) starts on Sunday and lasts for three days, the year of the Ox is upon us, so perhaps we will witness some festivities. Apparently you should start the new year with new clothes, so that will be our first stop. Our hostel has internet, so you can expect to hear from us while we're there.
For more pictures see our album.
This week we had a little change of pace with our English camp. We worked with the 60 best English speaking fifth graders of Gunsan. The kids' English was quite spectacular, they were well behaved and younger than we are used to working with, so it was a fun experience. There were twenty kids to a class with two native English speakers and one Korean teacher, so even if they had wanted to misbehave, they wouldn't have gotten far. Jordan and I were able to work together, and since the Korean teacher we worked with was uber-prepared, We didn't have to do much but read sentences for the kids to practice their pronunciation and listening skills. We did have some time to teach them Heads Up, Seven Up, which was a huge hit, depsite Jordan's doubt that it was a fun game. In fact once we taught them the game, they never wanted to do anything else. Heads Up, Seven Up is apparently a universally loved game by fifth graders. I've never played with my middle schoolers because I figured they would cheat, but the fifth graders are young enough to do what they're told. And they never ceased to be surprised by who put their thumb down. Jordan and I even played a few games, and I must admit that it's still as fun now as when I was in fifth grade.
We also got to have some good bonding time with the other native English speakers since they were also working at the camp. Jordan now has a virtual golf date with some of the guys who apparently play every week and I met a woman who scrapbooks. So we are planning to have a scrapbook party soon, probably when the men are out golfing.
There were two highlights of the camp. The first was when we discovered that the school was right across the street from our apartment. The first day we got into a taxi and showed him the name of the place we wanted to go, and after much gesturing we discovered that the school was back around the corner. So we had a pleasant 5 minute walk to school each morning which was extra nice because there was lots of snow and the roads were icy. The second highlight was that we got free lunch everyday at the nearby Italian restaurant. If only everyday could be a pleasant half day with the smart students and free lunch...