Monday, 29 June 2009

The Classroom/Hallway Complex

Often times I face kids who won't listen to me or seem disinterested. I'm not talking about the shy kids, but the small percentage of the class that become a real upset in the effectiveness of my teaching. It feels like a battle some days in the classroom with these students. I've identified three main types:

Oh, were you talking? Some students will simply not pay attention to me. I walk up and ask them "Hello. How are you?" and they will look through me like I didn't speak at all; like they haven't heard that same phrase every day. No response, no words at all.

Endless Repeaters. They still try and repeat every word I say (But I've remedied most of this practice by calling out really big English words that they can't begin to pronounce- that usually gets their attention! "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!").

Alphas. Not only will these students ignore me, but they will talk loudly with their friends. Changing the groups around doesn't seem to help much. Their homeroom teachers rearrange their seating chart in their main classrooms so many times, that they always have someone to chatter away with. In some cases, they will try and talk over me. These kids are why my voice is gone on Friday. If I try to get their attention, often times they will roll their eyes or laugh at me and look at their friends. I'm like a monkey on display, and oh, isn't my language just so funny and foolish?

However, mostly it's these same kids who will wave wildly to me in the hallway between classes, or in the cafeteria and shout "Sara! Hello!" like they haven't seen me for years and can't contain their delight in seeing me again; big smiles on their faces. Sometimes, not twenty minutes after I saw them in class.

When I first came here, I felt like a celebrity. I wondered if that would ever fade, and now I'm not sure it will. I definitely feel like I'm reaching a good number of kids in my English classes, but even if I don't, I feel like I'm some sort of image to the others. I'm the foreigner in their school, and when the rest of the student body is present they want to act like they have a relationship with me; like a status symbol. I don't meant to sound self important or pretentious, but from my own observations about the contradictory behavior of some of my students, well, it's one conclusion I've drawn.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Food I Never Thought I'd Eat

I think this list will probably grow the longer I spend in the country, so I'll keep you posted. These are some of the things that I've had so far, well, that I can conclusively identify anyway (I don't want to talk about the mystery foods I've eaten...):

1. Squid. I'm a disgrace to the name of my blog...but yes, I have tried it. Actually the first time I was deceived, because they were breaded squid rings on a plate of french fries. They looked an awful lot like onion rings. It's chewy and I avoid it the best I maybe it's now "I'll get used to liking anything but the squid."

2. Kimchi. I can't get enough of it now. It's salty and spicy, and oh man...wrapped around a little ball of rice. Delicious. I've even gone back for seconds at lunch.

3. Goat. Yep. The school lunchroom introduces me to so many new meats I never considered...

4. Puffer fish. With my teachers out to dinner on Teacher's Day. They didn't tell me it was once a poisonous fish until after I ate it.

5. Cuttlefish jerky. It looked like the stripped off skin of a human finger with a knuckle in the middle. I can't say that I finished it. Scott did though.

6. Raw beef, raw egg, and pear. I was out with my school for drinks when I encountered this one. It was, I'm not joking, a big heaping plate of chopped up pieces of 100% raw slimy beef. To top it off: a cracked open raw egg, and some strips of pear. The whole thing was then mixed together, and everyone at the table was urged to dig in with their chopsticks. I'm still alive.

Sunday, 21 June 2009


On Sunday, Scott and I went to Bongjeongsa (As Mrs. Im explained to me later: "bong" is a colorful bird, I think a phoenix, "jeong" a place where the bird rests, and "sa" meaning "temple").
(I pulled the above photo from the Internet, to give you an idea of the size and location of the main area)

It is a still-active Buddhist temple that was built in 672 AD. It is said that Ui-sang (a monk and scholar) threw a paper crane into the air and built the temple where it landed. Therefore, like most beautiful and historical places in the country, it is set up on a hill. The climb to this one was only about 10 minutes though, which was great news because Scott and I picked the day of 90-something heat for our venture.
We were welcomed to the sound of a high pitched gong ringing at about 20 second intervals. Between rings, we could hear a man chanting. As we walked around we finally caught a glimpse of him, repeatedly standing and sitting back down to bow low to the ground, through the open door of National Treasure Number 15; The Hall of Paradise. It is the oldest existing structure in Korea (It's only been repaired three times: in 1363, 1972, and 2001).

The whole place is quite large, and has several smaller temples on the grounds as well as a large drum, a large bell, and an intricately wired speaker system hiding in the trees so that chanting or daily messages can be heard everywhere you go. This took us quite awhile to figure out- Scott and I were convinced the trees themselves were calling us to meditation. Even walking away, the temple no longer in sight, we could hear the low soothing tones of a man speaking with gentle recorded chimes and flute tones in the background.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing to us was that the temple is still active. We didn't know this at first, because up front it appears to be any other historical site of interest: ticket booth at the base, informational signs outside of every building, travelers walking around with their families taking pictures. Yet it also felt very much like a place where people lived: shoes outside of the doors, farming tools worn from constant use, a mat airing on a fence outside of sleeping quarters, incense wafting from a door just barely cracked open, an outdoor dining area with hanging bananas and tomatoes waiting for mealtime.

And of course, the kimchi jars (traditionally, kimchi is created and stored in large jars buried underground- except for the covered top of it for easy access).

But these monks don't live like the American Amish, as I was inclined to consider at first. They may live in a traditional setting, with traditional vocations and rituals, but they are not without modern amenities. In addition to the speaker system, the first clue was the freshly paved street that lead up up to the temple (and the monk driving the fancy black car that passed us). They also have electric lighting, and at least three flat screen computers that I saw turned on through a screen door. So although they live very naturally and harmoniously in the traditional path of Buddhist life, they seem to have a nice balance with the modern world.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Priceless Language Moments 4

Mrs Shim: Sara, do you know "pile"?
Me: Yes I do, like a pile of papers? a stack?
Shim: *points to butt* pile. Women have pile. Do you?
Me: Oh? I don't know. Maybe?
Shim: Number one for patients here.

*I type "pile" in a google search and scroll down*

Me: Oh...right. We usually call that "hemorrhoids" in America.
Shim: Hem-er-oids? Can you make a sentence?

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Images of Guns

Two stories here, but for the second I have to credit our foreign friend Peter for sharing at the bar the other day.

1. Plainly Stated in School

For the last day of the "what will you do this summer?" lesson, as part of the plan I had students write three sentences with accompanying illustration on a paper to show what they will do this summer (or this weekend, or after school). In one of my classes, I looked down on my usual rounds and saw a boy had written "Kill a person" on his paper, and was in the process of drawing a nicely detailed M16 underneath it. I asked him "Oh, in computer games?" and he responded with "No. Real life."

I told Taebun, but nothing came of it; the kid was probably just being funny. I, however, have been conditioned to feel horrified. I can only imagine how that would be handled differently in America (Interesting too, considering Scott's recent air soft gun incident). I'm glad nobody can own guns in this country.

2. Peter at the Airport

Peter was at an airport not long ago and shared this observation: Two military men dressed in army fatigues, each walking around with a large gun in each hand. I was shocked just to hear that, because I've not yet seen a real gun in this country although I have seen many military men. He then told us that their free hands were clasped together and "swinging back and forth like school girls." It's very common for men or boys to hold hands here, as friends or otherwise, but in uniform with their guns? that one's new. I think that image will stick with me for a long time.

Monday, 15 June 2009

My Open Class

Last Wednesday was my grand debut to the teachers of Andong. I opened a 6th grade class up to about 25 other English teachers (and some from my school that wanted to watch), as a part of the TEE program ("Teaching English in English"). We had a banner and everything! Scott, Katie, and our other foreign friend Jin were there with their co-teachers among the spectators, so I did have a supportive cheering section.

The lesson was "What will you do this summer?" with an emphasis on the world "will" to express future planning. I actually wasn't worried about it at first. I love to teach these kids, and I always have a million ideas for making changes. Taebun suggested that we dismiss the book and completely revise the lesson, just keeping the same objectives.

The real worry came when Taebun showed up with a complete set of new materials that I suddenly had to fit in and keep track of for the lesson: puppets to use in demonstrations of speech, magnetic white boards for the students, 5 picture cards, and around 9 word cards and magnetic word cut-outs to make sentences with. All of these things were to have a specific order of placement. On top of these, and the fact that I'd only taught in my new English room a few times so far, I had to think up a game that would use more materials.

It's funny, I felt so over encumbered by so many new things, that I couldn't keep my head straight. They were great new resources, but to use all of them for the first time during an open class made me worry that my students would be struck clueless by sudden over stimulation. Taebun and I rehearsed the entire class about 4 times, so by then I felt a little more comfortable. That and I taped my scripts and direction cues to the back of my puppets' heads.

This is what we came up with, and how it panned out:

1. Warm-up/Greeting. Taebun asked the weather/day/date (on this he surprised me by turning to me and asking "is it right?" and I laughed and said "actually I don't know"...a good strong first words for all of the teachers. I did get some satisfaction though when he accidentally wrote "2008." We're a good team.)

2. Storytelling. Taebun and I put on a small puppet performance about "Mike" and his English teacher "Sara" discussing the upcoming summer vacation (to prep for the lesson theme). Although Sara said she would study Korean, Mike ran off when she asked if he would study English.

3. Statement of Objective. This was written down in briefly in Korean, so I'm not sure what it said. It was meant to help along those who might tune out because their English is low, so they need to know what it is they are meant to pay attention to in a completely English lesson.

I think the best part was when Taebun grabbed the magnetic sentence for the lesson title and read it aloud: "I will visit my uncle in London." I did my best not to giggle, but it didn't take long for him to realize that it was supposed to be the sentence that read "What will you do this summer?"

4. Look and Speak/ Listen and Repeat. We finally hit our stride after the few hiccups, and put on our second puppet performance with "Jinho" and "Peter" with the more direct summer planning dialogue. I questioned the class about what they heard, and we did it again. We then did a few repeat-after-me phrases for practice: "What will you do this summer?" "I will go hiking" "I will visit my grandmother"

5. Reading. Taebun asked me "What will you do this summer?" and I showed a picture card with a boy camping to the class, had them guess it, then had them guess each word in the sentence "[I] [will] [go] [camping]" and stuck it on the board.

6. Magnet board activity. Each group (tables of 4-5) had a magnetic white board and an envelope full of magnetic words. Taebun showed the students a picture card for a summer plan, stuck it to the board, and had them race to find the right words for the sentence. They had to hold it up and shout it out. They were "I will go swimming," "I will play soccer," "I will study English," and "I will visit my uncle in London." Taebun was very clever in his preparation on this one for the words, because he through in tricks like "visiting" and "playing." Many students got it pretty fast, but we did make sure all the groups had it before moving on.

7. KABOOM! I found a similar game for vocabulary review online awhile back, and decided to fit it for this lesson. I prepared cans (1 for each table) with sentences in it with about 12 different summer plans ("I will go to academy," "I will play the piano," etc). Mixed into the can were also papers that read "KABOOM!!!". I think I had it worked out to be 36 sentences and 10 Kabooms per can. I spoke, and we demonstrated (two times for clarity) that one at a time, each student would take a paper, read it, then hold on to it. If they pulled out a "Kaboom" everyone would have to shout it, and that person would have to put all of their papers back in the can. The first student to have 6 papers was the winner. It was great, because the more papers every student had the greater the chance it was of pulling out a Kaboom. Many groups started chanting "Kaboom! Kaboom!" when a person who was close to winner had their turn come up. Awesome.

8. Review. A Listen/Repeat exercise reviewing the sentences stuck to the board. Also a brief demonstration in substitution: "play soccer" can become "play tennis, " "study English" can be "study math," etc.

9. Short test. We passed out test papers for review of basics. First I said few sentences and they had to mark the right picture, and second they were shown pictures and had to choose the right sentence. After collecting them, we said thank you and goodbye, and sent our students home.

There was a TEE meeting afterward with all the teachers to discuss the class, but it was all in Korean so I'm not 100% sure exactly how it went. They did point at Taebun who stood up to speak after about 10 minutes, then pointed to me and said "Sara?" I looked at Taebun who said "say something," so I laughed and asked "what did you say?" It maybe seemed obvious to them, but I couldn't tell if they wanted me to explain my ideas for the lesson, gratitude for everyone being there, how I felt the lesson went, or if I like ponies (I do.). At the end, they did open it up to the foreigners who generated some English discussion about our teaching experiences.

The biggest thing I took away from the open class was that my students actually can understand a whole class run in English. We even finished 10 minutes ahead of schedule because they picked it up so fast. Usually I'm faced with students with discipline or listening issues, who fight us and demand "Korean!" as they tune out when I speak and find themselves not understanding the game until someone says something to them in Korean. This time, the students were great listeners because they were surrounded by so many strangers watching them. Even the most obstinate students were like angels speaking English as a beautiful and natural chorus, and the more shy among them spoke up. A frightful sight to behold, indeed, because I didn't know how to act with such a well behaved assembly. It was an eye opener for me. Now, if only every class could be an open class.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

A Few Thoughts After Seoul

Me, Scott, Andrew, Katie, and Peter were in Seoul this past weekend. These are just a few things that captured my notice (though the more specific chain of events are covered on Scott's blog, since it was his birthday weekend).

1. Foreigners.

Foreigners are everywhere in Seoul. At least in the areas with the most nightlife and shopping. As a result, it's not necessary to speak Korean. We tried a few times at restaurants, but with us trying to speak Korean and them responding in English, it started to feel a little bit silly. You would be hard pressed to find difficulty in getting around, as there is English everywhere.

The restaurant options are also more diverse, and many bars are Western styled with most of the space for standing or dancing. Where we went in Shincheon, it was very strange to see that most of the people in the bars we went to were not Korean. And the Koreans I did encounter at these bars were very outgoing and spoke at a high level of English.

Another interesting thing I found was that the foreigners in Seoul act very differently to each other than they do in Andong. In Andong, if we see another foreigner we usually are very neighborly, because A) they probably also live here, or B) they are a tourist and might be disoriented in a more traditional town. In Seoul, foreigners are more like strangers on the street. the anonymity is almost unsettling after two months in my smaller city.

2. The Chair District

Apparently Seoul has large districts devoted to single items. Not knowing this at first, I was starting to grow suspicious after five blocks of chairs. As if that weren't strange enough, almost none of the thousands of chairs seemed to have a matching mate. There wasn't a single era, function, or style of chair missing representation. They were stacked and pushed together, sprawling from the inside of small shops to the street. It was almost impossible to tell where one shop stops and another starts; it all blends together.

There are so many different angles poking out amidst this giant mass of chairs. It would be impossible to choose one among the number of them, and almost a little wrong; like taking a distinct color or shape out of a cubist painting.

3. Dongdaemun's Clothing Market

While the guys (Scott, Andrew, and Peter) were at sauna, Katie and I took off for some shopping. We did actually find a popular shopping district near a women's college, but on a tip from Katie's co-teacher we set off for the Dongdaemun subway stop to find some sort of amazing shopping building. It took about an hour and a half to find the place, where we got lost in the sea of chairs and found a gigantic food market that almost turned me full blood vegetarian, but we finally found the place. It was right across from the old Dongdaemun gate, which is striking against its modern day backdrop.

What we discovered was the longest building possibly ever constructed. Standing at one end, it's impossible to see the end of it, as it runs parallel to a small section of river. Inside, what we found what was probably the wholesale shopping heaven for older women in Korea (pictured below is the one place I found a gap in people to take a picture, which was the most youthful of the sections). The clothes were mostly a little too petite and outside of our age group, but the place itself was remarkable.

It was divided into small booths in one endlessly long, windowless, hallway that stretched the entire length of the building. After 40 minutes of walking without getting a glimpse of an end, we did finally bail out. To walk the whole thing would end only in fatigue for those not fortified with an iron will for shopping. Perhaps with time and practice, I will be ready to try again.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Happy Birthday Scott!

A happy birthday to Scott, who I would be lost without in my life.

Our birthdays are like milestones to mark our adventures, and I'm glad you came with me to Korea to celerate this one.

My English Room!

It's finally finished and I can use it. The only thing missing is the books that will go in the "mini library." I'm so happy!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Four Cakes, Four Bars, One Birthday

You might say that my party started on Thursday with an impromptu run-in with the foreigners downtown, but I was so tired from the week that after a pitcher of fruit Soju at IDA I feel asleep on Scott. So I really think it started with:

Cake #1

Scott bought me cake #1 on Saturday to share with the foreigners at Candy (our most frequented bar), but after a brief talk with Katie he was a little concerned. What we didn't realize is that it's customary in South Korea to share your cake with the rest of the restaurant or bar on your birthday. The cake was the perfect size for me, Scott, Katie, Alice, Andrew, and Danielle, but perhaps not up to the task of feeding our normally-crowded local haunt.

Luckily when we arrived at Candy there were only 3 other filled booths, so it was a success. The employees brought us some marinated chicken on a hot plate, some chocolate peanuts (M&M style with an extra crispy layer ), and a bowl of cornflakes and fruit mixed with slushy-style milk for "service," which is what they say when they mean it's free.

Because I've been drinking only light Korean beer since I've been here (Hite and Cass), we moved on to possibly the most expensive bar in in Andong: Wabar. The atmosphere is unmatched, and it has a ton of imported beers and mixed drinks (which are actually hard to come by here)...provided you're willing to pay the equivalent of $13 for a White Russian or $10 for the bottle of Guinness that, yes, Scott bought me. Oh Guinness.

Akdong (the "new downtown" district of Andong) was the next stop for the evening, which is about a 10 minute cab ride from the city center.

On my birthday the cab prices were set to rise from the starting rate of 1800 won to 2200 won so it was a last hurrah of sorts. We stopped at Indys, an American-western-style bar (although still with the Korean layout of booths).

Indys also specializes in the tower of beer.

Everyone wanted Indys to play the birthday song for me, but they wanted to know where our cake was. Worried that only cake + birthday = song, Scott and Katie dashed off to find a new one (luckily, there are bakeries everywhere). While they were gone, we learned that Indys wasn't playing the song not because we didn't have a cake, but because they were busy preparing:

Cake #2.

Followed several minutes later by Scott and Katie's return with:

Cake #3 (and a sparkly party hat that I wore around for most of the night)

With two cakes before me, Indy's switched on the birthday song- which was in English. So far I've heard this song at three different bars since I've been here, and it's always in English. The lights turned off, crazy flashing lights turned on, and I stood up to dance around to the "Happy Birsday!" techno remix of the classic chant. Amazing.

Cake #3 was cut, and I was intent on passing out a piece to every booth in the bar. I made sure that a large piece went to the man responsible for the construction and thoughtfulness of my cake made of fruit. Unfortunately, I only made it to three booths before we decided it was too dangerous for me to make the deliveries. The first booth gave me a slice of pineapple and a glass of beer to "One shot!!" (and I have my pride), the second poured me a shot of soju, and the third poured a shot of soju into a glass of beer and again "happy birthday! one shot!" but after one small sip, Katie stepped in to save me from certain collapse. I one-shotted a slice of their watermelon instead.

Our final stop was a restaurant/bar that we discovered several weeks ago has the most amazing food (alas, I have no idea on the name). They also bring you a complimentary large serving bowl of broth that is so spicy that it will knock you out like a shot of soju if you don't sip it carefully.

Here I met 4-6 new friends, none of whom made Scott feel very happy. Two tables of Korean men wanted to take pictures of me with them, which I didn't know when I was tricked into going over there. When one found out Scott was my boyfriend, they sent him some Coca-cola as a peace offering.

And then, well, it wouldn't be a night out without...Nore Bang!

We decided to be finished at 2am after Aerosmith's "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing", which was really 4am because Andrew's watch was broken.

Sunday was relaxing, and took no recovery on my part- thank goodness. One of Scott's co-teachers, Mrs. Lee, invited us to her husband's art studio in a converted old school (Scott has already been there, on the day of my English camp at the middle school). I could curl up in a corner of this place and be happy forever.

She arranged for a pottery instructor from a local artist community to come and show me how to make a traditional-style doll out of clay. I made the male version, to compliment the female doll that Scott made on his previous visit.

Finally, Monday came; the day of my actual birthday. While in America I would be turning 24, in Korea I'm still 25 (until the new year when I will be become 26). entering my mid-twenties won't seem so bad in a year when I return to America and can shed the extra years I'm carrying around.

On my way to work, I picked up:

Cake #4
It was a good way to reconnect with some of the teachers in my school- I wandered around the halls passing out cake. I recommend it, communal birthday cake really lifts the spirits.
Mrs. Shim was worried when I showed her the cake, because I didn't "cut it with Scott this morning." She thought perhaps he would feel left out from my birthday if I ate my birthday cake without him. I told her he was probably OK missing out on this one. If she only knew.
When I came home, Scott had this waiting for me:

I was so excited. After Mrs Lee's husband's studio, I really had an itch to paint again- but lacked the means. He couldn't have found me a more perfect gift. It also seemed to be a fitting end to the birthday journey. An empty canvas.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


I am very tired. I'm not sure if work is getting more difficult or if I'm just getting more involved- probably both. I have most of my birthday blog written, for those who inquired, and I promise to have it up tomorrow. For now, I need to do as so many of my co workers say: "take a rest"

Oh! My English room is finished too! So expect more about that in the near future. I'm pumped.