Posted by Jordan
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Today is my last day of teaching English to Korean middle schoolers. At least for the foreseeable future. To be honest, it has been a bit anticlimactic, considering that I ever only teach one class on Fridays, which just so happens to be the most subdued (read "asleep") of all my classes. I wasn't really feeling up to pumping them with energy today, and as they have already finished their textbook for the semester I gave in to their request to be allowed to finish Disney Channel's High School Musical 2, before the chance escaped them forever. So I took a few last pictures, and mainly sat and watched them, as they sat and watched a depiction of the glories that await them in high school. I sat looking into my past, and they into their futures (or at least, into the futures of upper class American middle schoolers who become teen sensations).

The last few weeks have been busy ones for me. On the one hand I have been preparing to leave my schools, saying goodbyes to students and teachers (my co-teachers took Marisa and I out to a nice restaurant for dinner on Wednesday), principals and vice principals, throwing pizza parties for the worthy--and on the other hand I've been attempting to ease into what will be my focus in the coming months: the study and creation of video games. I've also been spending a decent amount of time with my new physical therapist friend at Gunsan hospital, attempting to recover from a golf-related shoulder injury, a sleeping-related back injury, and a history of chronic back pain (which I'm convinced dates back to my years of washing dishes over a too-short counter: for the record, I will only ever make my short children wash the dishes).


The Nam Cup

To understand what I've been up to with my students of late, you will have to get your mind around the intricacies and inner workings of The Nam Cup, which I don't think I've yet mentioned in more than passing on this site. Basically, a couple of months into my teaching career, faced with four hundred students divided between twelve classes at two schools, some rowdy, some lackadaisical in the extreme, none of them relying on me for their grades, I determined that I had to do something: to come up with some sort of system that would give me power and control--ultimate power would be best, but I would settle for, say, a little tiny bit of power.

The wheels in my head spun and chugged, and out came the inspiration for The Nam Cup. Basically, I divided all of my classes into six groups of approximately six students each, and made a giant list of 9 classes and 54 "teams" of six (this is at Nam, where I had 9 of my 11 classes), which I kept track of permanently on one of my four whiteboards. This dividing was made incredibly easy thanks to my ginormous "English Zone" classroom and puzzle-piece tables which I was easily able to arrange as desired. Students had to pick teams and stay with them for the rest of the year.

Then came the fun part, handing out and taking away points. It turns out that middle schoolers (at least the ones I've had the pleasure to teach) are incredibly competitive. Not only this, but the idea of a "point," to my Korean students, seems to signify something enormously important. Even before I declared what the end-of-year prizes would be, my students exuded a kind of religious zeal for earning points, and expressed a deep, deep sadness when they were taken away. Students would come into class before it started to examine the whiteboard, take notes, and whisper sub rosa to each other. Then they would come back up at the end of class to get another look, apparently unsatisfied by the more distant view they got during class, though the whiteboard remained visible the whole time. "Teacher," they would say, "you are so handsome," "Teacher, we love you"--but their intentions were clear.

In any case, I did eventually announce the prizes, to more excitement than I could take without putting a finger in each ear. There would be two prizes at the end of the year: one for the class with the most points accumulated, six teams together, 36 persons--and another for the individual team of six individuals (out of the 54 teams) with the best score. The top class would get a pizza party at the English Zone, and the top team a chance to party at Sweet Home (that's mine and Marisa's house). I though the idea of inviting middle schoolers over unaccompanied to an adult's home might be a bit weird, but my co-teachers assured me that it was a wonderful idea, and the students seemed unable to imagine anything better.


And so the students strove all year for points, and last week I formally announced the winners, after holding a final round of jeopardy for the top five teams. There were a lot of crying sounds to be heard from those who didn't triumph (not real tears, mind you, just crying sounds), and had I to do it over again I would probably give out a prize every quarter, rather than once a year... but the winners were ecstatic, and the parties a good time. (Even if there was a bit of miscommunication regarding the pizza: I had thought that the school was going to pay for it, but it ended up coming out of pocket. Not a big deal. The funny part was that one of my co-teachers, when she realized we had miscommunicated, said that maybe I should cancel the pizza party: after the students had been looking forward to it for a year!) A girl in the pizza party class gave a little speech about how they would "always remember this time" (it wasn't clear if they were speaking mainly about me, or the pizza), and the five students who came over to our house were incredibly cute and polite and happy to be there. We ordered pizza for them as well ("our parents do not like pizza" said one of the girls in a woebegone voice), and they spent most of the afternoon petting Farah and playing Wii. 

Physical Therapy Friend

I've been having back trouble for a long time (upper, lower, muscular, and skeletal, related to scoliosis), as I mentioned above, and after having a lot of pain at golf for several weeks running, and then pulling the muscles in my back one morning so that I couldn't get out of bed, I decided to take action. By asking Marisa to take action . The thing is, her co-teachers are better English speakers, so we thought they might be able to better understand the problem, and explain where to go. Well, it turns out that one of Marisa's co-teachers knows a young teacher at the school that has a boyfriend who "does something" that might help me. What exactly he does wasn't clear, but I figured I'd go see him anyway, and see where things went. 

It turns out that Marisa's co-teacher's co-teacher's boyfriend is a physical therapist in charge of the physical therapy department at a local clinic, and does both chiropractic and deep tissue therapy. Wow. So I have a session with him and get the full treatment: chiropractic, ultrasound, infrared light, massage, and interferential current therapy (the later four treatments being standard issue for deep tissue pain). It feels great, but how much will it cost? I figure health care tends to be pretty cheap here, and I do have an insurance card, so I should be okay for at least one treatment, and hopefully more.

"No pay" says the girlfriend.

"What?" I ask.

"No pay, no pay," repeats the therapist.

"I don't understand."

"NO PAY! And come back tomorrow."

Okay then. We decided to ask Marisa's co-teacher about it, since we have a better time communicating with her. Clearly there must be some kind of misunderstanding here. Well, Marisa's co-teacher tells me that, if I really, really want to pay, I can take the guy out for dinner. Which isn't exactly the clear and transparent explanation of the financial situation that I was hoping for, but what can you do? 

So I go back the next day, and the next, and the next. "Come until better," my therapist friend tells me: "maybe many weeks."

As if this wasn't enough, the guy insisted on driving me home Friday night. I tried futilely to resist, to say that I always take the bus, but in vain. Then I discovered that he was apparently going on a date with his girlfriend that night. And his car is a two-seater. And his girlfriend is already at the clinic. And his girlfriend insisted on riding in the back, without a seat. So there I am in the passenger seat of my physical therapist's car, with his girlfriend in the back, singing along to K-pop, being driven to my house as a pre-Friday-night-date favor, trying desperately to tell myself this is normal.



I mentioned my interest in video games at the start of this post, and I'll expand on that in the future. Essentially, for those of you who don't yet know, I'm interested in the potential of the interactive medium to create art (I've started a website where I review games for meaning and significance at www.necessarygames.com). I don't have time to go into this now, because it's just about time to go home. Another couple of minutes to feed on nostalgia, then off to Slovenia tomorrow morning to visit Marisa's parents for two weeks. Oh--it looks like it's time for me to give a speech and receive a parting gift...


For more related pictures see these albums.