Monday, July 30, 2012

Brief highlights from a good day

Mondays are not generally known for being awesome, but mine was fairly so. That's why I want to share what happened! I'll be brief, though.
  • This morning, I went completely nuts in Korean language classes. We're in the middle of a unit on shopping, so we were learning about things like colors, counters, clothes, and fruits. Teacher Kim was drawing fruits on the board, and they were all really cute-looking. But when she drew a watermelon, it looked really... odd. Soon, who was sitting next to me, remarked quietly that it looked like bacon on a plate. And that just struck an unbelievably funny chord in me that I couldn't stop laughing for like ten minutes. I tried everything: focusing on my textbook, thinking sad thoughts, and laughing as quietly as I could into my hand, but to no avail. In the end, I was laughing so uncontrollably that I was tearing up and really embarrassed, and I had to leave the room.
    • Unrelated: apparently, watermelon bacon salad is a thing. (I was Google image searching for a clip art of watermelon that would help make sense of why I went briefly insane this morning, but nothing beats the bacon plate that Teacher Kim drew on the blackboard.
    • Also, my classmates have begun calling me 수박 (subak - watermelon) 씨. Great.
  • I had my second go at practice teaching today! Most of the lesson was spent playing Telephone Pictionary with my students, who were of in the high-advanced level class. The game was a hit! I wish I'd taken some photos of some of their stories: the sentences and drawings were simple, but they loved it. I also taught them how to respond to less-than-fascinating situations by shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Meh." Best of all, I got mostly positive feedback from the students and my CI observer.
  • In an afternoon lull, I decided to kill time by playing guitar with Caden, our RA. He picked up the guitar (기타) recently but learns really fast. Katelyn and I taught him Ingrid Michaelson's "The Way I Am". It was a lovely half-hour.

  • In taekwondo class, we've been learning kicks: low front kick, high front kick, and roundhouse kick. In class today, we learned something called the "axe kick". But after Master Choi first demonstrated it -- we were in awe -- and told us what it was, it sounded a lot like he said this move was called the "ass kick". He also joked that it'd be useful to learn this kick if we wanted to kill someone. I repeat, just a 농담 (nongdam - joke)!
    • We also played dodgeball at the end of class, and my team won! Liam swore we'd rematch.
    • At dinner afterward, Master Choi surprised us by joining us, and I managed some light conversation with him in Korean about the ETAs' placements, his actual job (an administrator of some sort at Jungwon), and his haircut. Yeah, progress!
  • I finished my third lesson plan!
  • Weekly Bible study tonight was a good refresher. We studied John 15 (Vine and the Branches) and talked about how being far from home might feel like a painful pruning, but the cutting away of comforts and spiritual idols is in fact a good thing that will help us, as branches, bear more fruit.
Good Monday! To commemorate it, here is a photo of me with a lighted replica of the Eiffel Tower in one of the weirdest museums in all of South Korea.
Weird, weird museum. We visited during the Donghae weekend. Ask me more about it if you get the chance!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

어디에 가요? Where are you going?

Where am I going? 모라요. I don't know. It's kind of embarrassing when people ask me (again and again) where exactly in Korea I am teaching, and the answer is that I haven't found out yet. However! I'm one step closer to finding out!

A few days ago, all the ETAs had to fill out a very long survey that would help Fulbright determine where we are going to be teaching for the coming school year. It was called a "placement form", but it wasn't as simple as checking boxes next to what city we wanted to live in.

The schools to which Fulbright sends its ETAs change a little bit every year; there is no comprehensive list of schools such that we can simply point to one and go. Most of these schools are average high schools and middle schools in rural or suburban areas. But some ETAs are placed in bigger cities, like Daegu, Busan, or Gwangju (no one is placed in Seoul, excepting special circumstances), and some are placed at advanced high schools (for example, the 과학고등학교 - science high schools).

On the placement form, we had to rank our preferences for all sorts of criteria, including: being in a rural area (which doesn't mean farmland, but more like small town), suburban, or urban; the size and gender makeup of our school; the geographic location, like mountainous or coastal; and access to extracurricular activities. It was long and very thorough; despite not explicitly asking if we wanted any particular cities or schools, it was designed to shape the range of possible environments in which each individual ETA would thrive as a teacher and cultural ambassador.

I might have discussed this before, but I would like to teach students of a higher English level who are already motivated to learn in the classroom. When I visited the Chungnam Science High School in Daejeon, the classroom that I observed seemed perfect for me, even before I had any experience teaching. (After one day of teaching, I guess I could see myself adapting to a lower level, though.)

Thus, in my placement form I indicated that I wanted high-level students in an urban environment. Thinking about Busan, where the weather is supposedly similar to that of San Francisco and where my good friend Hae-in lives, I also wrote that I'd like to be placed in a coastal region. And in the box for listing extracurricular activities to which I'd appreciate easy access, I wrote taking Korean classes, continuing taekwondo, volunteering at a Hana Center (tutoring and English education for North Korean defectors), and attending a church with a service in English.

(When I say the placement form was thorough, I mean it: there was even a section where you could indicate if there were any other ETAs, specifically, near to or far from whom you'd like to be placed. I left that section blank!)

Finally, after all of these preference rankings, there was a section to rank the rankings themselves. For example, I prefer a Protestant-affiliated school over a Buddhist-affiliated school, and I also prefer high school over middle school, but my preference for the age level is much more important to me than my preference for religious affiliation. So, I gave "School Type" a "1" and Religious Affiliation a "9" (out of twelve total criteria).

Before I submitted my placement form, I had a long conversation with Anthony, one of the Orientation Coordinators, to bounce my thoughts and ideas around. I told him about why I wanted higher-level students, students who were on track to actually use English in their futures. I talked about how I didn't want to feel like I was wasting my time teaching tons of kids who had no discernible future with this language aside from memorizing how to do well on the English section of the 수능 (suneung - the infamous college placement exam). Anthony is a cool guy. He understood perfectly what I was feeling, but also helped me put things into perspective and plan more realistically for the year. Anthony taught at a rural high school, relatively far from the cities and relatively lacking in brilliant English prodigies. The advice he gave me was to expect all kinds of students and not limit yourself with my own expectations. With average class sizes of forty, it would be impossible for all of my students to care as much as I want them to. Every class will have its stars and its slackers, and most of the rest will fall scattered in between. And I can't necessarily motivate them to learn English, but I can at least show them that English is more than a grammar book and a section of a test. As for the bright students, there are extracurricular "club classes" at which I can really reach out to them and help them get further in English if they want to.

That was Anthony's goal as a teacher: not to try to defy the structure (or confines) of the Korean education system and blaze his own trail, but to work within it and still introduce a different kind of English education, one that entertains and inspires. I should make it a priority to show my students that I care about them and their education -- even love them, if love can be defined as an inexplicable, deep concern for another's well-being. In the end, that is enough.

I really appreciated Anthony's advice. In my form, I still expressed my strong desire to teach at a higher-level school, and wrote what amounted to a small essay in the "Final Comments" section explaining exactly why. But, I also wrote that I will be flexible and can adapt to any school given to me, which is also true. And I'm realizing more and more how crucial it is to be flexible as a teacher. The chances of my getting what I want most are fairly slim. But in the classroom, when does anything go exactly the way you wanted? (I'm teaching again tomorrow; I hope all goes well, if not according to plan!)

When I find out where I'm placed, I will let you all know, and I'll start getting ready for my future students with plenty of gusto.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

올림픽 대회 - Olympic Games

With neither a working public television nor access to streaming websites, most of us ETAs have found it difficult to watch the 2012 Olympic Games in London (런던). The opening ceremony would have been broadcast live at 5:30am for us, so we definitely missed that regardless.

Fortunately, when I went to the gym this morning, a re-run of the opening ceremony was playing on the one television located right in front of the treadmills. I caught the raising of the Olympic flag (올림픽 기) and the lighting of the torch. Unfortunately, the broadcasting and interpretation on the network was all in Korean, of course, so I couldn't understand any of it. Still, it was quite a spectacle. The fireworks alone were amazing. I can't imagine what it'd have been like to be in the stadium and watch it "blow up" in beautiful colors.

(Oh, and an aside about the broadcast: there was Korean Sign Language interpretation in the corner of the television screen, which I thought was awesome! I would love to learn some KSL, but the chances of that happening are slim to none, as I still don't even know Korean well enough to attempt KSL. I did deduce up how to sign 감사합니다 (kamsahamnida - thank you), though!)

One thing I didn't like was the Olympic torch itself (올림픽 성화). It was comprised of hundreds of smaller torches that were arranged in a circle like hands on a clock. Once they were all lit, they slowly lifted from the center of the circle and came together, like a flower closing up in the evening, or -- as a friend pointed out -- like a giant Venus flytrap. From far away it was one beautiful bonfire. But there was just something about all the individual torches that looked disturbing, especially the view from beneath it.
It looks kind of sinister, doesn't it?
London 2012 hasn't had the greatest track record with its aesthetics, though, so I'm not too surprised. I mean, just look at their cyclops mascots, the Olympic tower, and even the awkward geometry of the 2012 logo. 추하네요!

But all of that aside, I'm still pretty excited for the Olympics. I think I'll be rooting for the US, Taiwan, and South Korea. I hope to be able to watch gymnastics (체조), diving (다이빙), volleyball (배구), and taekwondo, specifically.

This morning, Camp Fulbright had its own mini-Olympics, where each of eleven teams of campers represented different countries, and the sport events included soccer, a basketball shoot-out, badminton, water balloon toss, and relay races. I was on a team of ETAs who represented USA, and we were told to handicap ourselves by using a weaker hand or foot, or simply letting the young campers beat us. Despite the heat and the overall lack of enthusiasm from a hundred tired kids who didn't want to be outside... it was lots of fun! If I get ahold of some photos later, I'll put them up. That's all for now!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My first teaching experience!

Today, I taught a class for the first time. I feel fairly good about it! At least, it was exciting being up in front of the classroom and witnessing my ideas actually taking root in my students' minds. I realized that I could prepare my lesson plan for as long as I wanted, but once class started there was no telling how it would go.

Let me explain a little: the semester hasn't started yet; it doesn't for at least another month. But right now, in the middle of Fulbright Orientation, all of the ETAs are getting three opportunities to practice teaching at Camp Fulbright. This is an English summer camp for gifted or high-level students from around the country; over the past seven years, it has gained a reputation for being one of the best camps of its kind. It runs for two weeks (having begun this past Monday), and there are about 110 students ranging from ten to sixteen years old.

In the class that I student-taught today, there were nine students who had been placed in an Intermediate level. Another ETA, Nina, and I were splitting the afternoon session, forty-five minutes each. Today's theme was Documentary (the theme of the camp is movie genres), so Nina's lesson had the students create their own proposals for documentaries they'd like to film. My lesson deviated a bit from the norm: I planned to show my students the trailer for District 9, talk about "mockumentaries", and then spiral off into a lesson about plot twists.

This morning, during Korean classes, I wasn't feeling that nervous, but as 1:30pm drew closer I got a bit more anxious. It didn't help that some of the other ETAs who were teaching today were beginning to freak out (thanks, Nhu). I gave myself all of ten minutes to bolt down lunch and then went upstairs to prepare the classroom. At 1:30pm, Nina gave her lesson. I was supposed to be writing comments and critiques while she taught, but I was getting too nervous to really pay attention. And finally, it was my turn!

The Class
When I introduced myself to the class, I mentioned that I was from California. Immediately, one of the more active students said something that I thought was, "California... has good girls!" I was totally wrong, though; he was talking about Californian cars. The whole class laughed at my comprehension mistake, but it was a neat way to inadvertently lighten the mood and get me to loosen up a bit.

I had them play Two Truths and a Lie with three "facts" I gave about myself: I can play the cello, I have been to fourteen foreign countries, and I am Korean-American. Most of the class saw right through the race one. I guess I don't like very Korean! I then explained that I am Taiwanese-American.

When it came time to start the actual lesson, that which every modern teacher fears inevitably had to happen: technological difficulties! The YouTube video I wanted to show wouldn't load on the computer. I had to refresh the page, but then YouTube wanted to show an advertisement first. It was unnerving and kind of awkward, but I just stalled until the video finally started. The point of showing the trailer was to have students think about what kind of people would be unwanted in a society. I stopped before the twist and asked them who they thought were the "they" to whom everyone kept referring. I got soldiers, immigrants, and poor people as some suggestions. And then: plot twist! "They" are actually aliens.

At this point, I thought I'd related my lesson to the real teacher's unit theme on appreciating differences well enough, but perhaps the connection wasn't clear enough. However, I wanted to quickly move on from the hook to the main lecture, which was on plot twists. Later, I got comments from my observers that I could have explained the movie a little bit more and explicitly talked about how District 9 deals with the treatment of a minority group. This way I'd have continuity or cohesion with the morning classes.

For the lesson on plot twists, I showed them clips from The Princess and the Frog (the scene where Tiana kisses the frog, only to turn into a frog herself) and Star Wars ("No, I am your father."), trying to give something for the girls as well as the boys. To check for understanding, I asked my students if they could think of any stories they knew that had plot twists. The answer: silence. Oh well!

I then talked about the phrase "As it turns out..." and how it is used to express a reality that is different from the expectation. After some examples, I gave them what I thought would be a great activity: skits! Dividing the class into three groups, I gave them each a short scenario that I had created myself, based on some of the themes from previous days (Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Mystery), telling them to add a plot twist to the story and then act it out in front of the class.

The Skits
Once I reached this point of the lesson, I was feeling good. It was time for the students to do their own work, they were fairly involved in it and not (completely) lost, and I could take a breather from talking so much. In full teacher mode, then, I walked around the classroom and helped the groups move along in their assignment. A part of me feels like I helped maybe a bit too much, because I would complete students' sentences and give them very direct "pointers". But my observers noted that it was good that I took the time to help out students without their having asked, because often they will be too shy to ask for help.

The acting was pretty funny to watch. In the first skit, two astronauts landed on Mars and met an alien that they thought was going to eat them. But the plot twist was that the alien was a vegetarian. The second group had a whodunit mystery where a woman's jewels were stolen. "But, as it turns out..." the woman's husband stole the jewels! This group went a little out of bounds with the rest of their scene, because the detective, after discovering that the husband was "crime" (he meant guilty), said, "Now you will go to jail with me or I will kill you!" Oops. The last group had the most difficulty completing their script... or really understanding what was going on at all. But at least they got up and read some of their lines. I give them brownie points for that, but next time I will take more time out to make sure they understand what's going on and what's expected of them. (That way, also, their dialogue won't end with the ubiquitous, "Shut up!" and "No, you shut up!")

The Feedback
When class ended, I was feeling positive about how it went. But of course, there is always, always room for improvement. The main critique I got was the Camp Instructors who were observing me was that I stayed too close to my schedule. While my timing was "impeccable", it was also restrictive, because sometimes I would cut off my students while they were speaking or put words into their mouths since I wanted to move on with the lesson. I learned today never to shush my students, but instead to praise every bit of English that comes out of their mouths. If a particularly garrulous student won't be quiet, though, I have to address that issue in a different manner that still acknowledges that their enthusiasm for English is a wonderful thing.

I was also told to check more for students' understanding. Rather than simply ask, "Do you all understand? Do you have any questions?", ask for actual proof that they understand. In fact, I am already aware of this; as a current student of Korean (and a veteran of all kinds of foreign language classes), it's embarrassing to admit you have no idea what's going on when the rest of the class seems to get it. The secret is that most of the class also has no idea what's going on, and it's worth speaking for the rest of them by asking for clarification. But these students won't do that. So, have them say more, write down things more, and explain things back to you more. Play with wrong answers! Don't shut anyone down if they're wrong, but turn everything into an opportunity to speak more English.

In the end, teaching an English conversation class is about getting my students to speak, not to be perfect or to learn every last grammar point. I should also be focusing all of my efforts in building their confidence and comfort level with spoken English.

Looking Forward
Last night, as I interacted with some of my students at a homework help session, I was interviewed by a few of them (their assignment was to interview an American). They asked for my hidden talent (ukulele, hand-whistling), my favorite superhero (Angel), and my goals as a teacher and my goals in life. Before I even taught for the first time, I decided that my goals as a teacher would be to help my students achieve their dreams, especially by giving them the tools to help themselves learn. And that starts by giving them confidence. So, for my next lesson, I'm going to be more lenient with my time and more focused on giving my students a voice!
My goal as a teacher is to help my students fly! Woohoo!
That's it for now. This was a supremely long post! I promise that every time I teach a new lesson plan, I won't post all of my reflections on this blog. It's a good habit to reflect, and I just wanted to get as much down as I could for the first time, especially while it's still fresh. But there are many other things going on during Orientation (still four weeks to go!), and I'll begin to write more about those.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lost in the Cloud (동해, pt. 3)

Katelyn sets off a firework on the beach at night.

Friday evening at Donghae was spent setting off fireworks on the beach. We lit them to celebrate the birthdays of Katelyn and Sara. I also had tons of fun with Sara's blue ukulele ("Blukulele"), playing All Of The Pop Songs and singing loudly with everyone while fairly large waves crashed onto the shore.

Other people went to karaoke bars (노래방, noraebang) to drink and sing some more. Everyone keeps telling me it's tons of fun -- and when I did 卡拉-OK in Taiwan I got a taste of it -- but I still have not been to a noraebang in Korea! I'm putting it on my to-do list for Orientation (four weeks left?!)

Saturday was adventure day! A group of twenty ETAs decided to tackle the monster that is Public Bus Transportation In A Foreign Country and find our way back to 무릉 계곡 (Mureung Valley) for a legit hike. Luckily we had one of our Korean RAs, Rachel, accompanying us. Were it not for her, we would have been completely lost as we took one bus to a run-down looking terminal, waited as the drivers changed, then rode it somewhere into downtown Donghae, waited for half and hour for the next bus, and then stood, cramped and uncomfortable, for the better part of an hour until it finally reached the park entrance. And when we arrived... wow. There were tour buses and cars filling the parking lot to overflowing. We've heard it said that hiking (등산, teungsan) is a major Korean pastime, but none of us was prepared to see the mountain as busy with weekenders as the beach, or even busier!
Public transportation adventurists wondering how long it'll take to get to Mureung Valley, from left to right: the other Andrew, Kaley, Katelyn, Jason, Tracey, and Christina.
Even after we'd arrived, we were still somewhat lost. We weren't sure how much park entrance fare cost, for example, and we had absolutely no idea what the trails were going to be like. We couldn't find anything that told us how long a certain trail would take to hike (from the well-meaning but pretty unhelpful guides, we were told fifty to ninety minutes, and from a loud Korean man who was apparently leading a hiking tour, we were told five hours to the summit. What?), and we weren't sure how we'd split up the group of twenty.

Fortunately, we put on our American caps and simply blazed through -- kind of throwing caution to the wind, I guess, because the more we tried to organize and prepare for whatever would be in store for us, the more frustrated we got with our confused inaction. It was noon when the party really started. The big group naturally split up into four different groups who went in (almost) completely different directions. We found a cool waterfall (폭포, pogpo), another cool waterfall, a cool twin waterfall, and then another cool waterfall. (Those were all of the sight-seeing points in the "beginner" trail areas.)
This is 쌍 폭포 (ssang pogpo), the Twin Waterfalls. It was probably the most beautiful thing I saw on the hike.
My group consisted of a powerhouse quartet of Asian girls, Kristen (also a powerhouse), and myself (not really a powerhouse). After finishing the beginner trails, we were all kind of disappointed at how easy and quick it was (and also, to an extent, at how crowded it was on the trails, what with all the large tours of middle-aged people in really expensive hiking gear). So we decided to take one of the more difficult trails, one that within five minutes was completely devoid of the well-worn paths, slow inclines, and even trail markers and signs that were plentiful before. The red trail made a few switchbacks and then seemed to shoot straight up into the forest. Awesome.
Ammy, Katelyn, and Kristen hanging on for dear life on a portion of the trail that required rope handholds.
I forgot to mention what the weather was like that day, which is important because it was completely overcast, and a cloud enveloped the entire mountain. As we hiked up and up on the red trail, sometimes taking old metal staircases that were erected on the steeper parts or across chasms, the sounds of the forest grew quieter and quieter and the mist grew thicker and thicker. We finally realized that we were hiking straight into the giant cloud. Soon, we couldn't see anything more than thirty yards ahead of us. It was exciting, and we felt quite adventurous. Also, the lack of signs or trail markers of any sort had us also in the dark about the progress we were making.
The team on one of the super-steep, rickety metal staircases.
On the way up, we passed by very few people: one middle-aged couple of which the woman clucked her tongue at us and said something along the lines of, "This trail is so hard! You're so young (and thereby crazy)!"; one middle-aged man who also thought we were reckless for clambering up mossy boulders in t-shirts, shorts, and sneakers (I'll admit that the shoes I was wearing, which literally had holes in them, were pretty inadequate); another man who actually motioned for us to turn around and go back, because the trail was about to get really tough. Well... it never really did! It was just a lot of rocks, some places with ropes strung up as handholds, and mud. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and it wasn't difficult, only slow going.
The team at a signpost that gave us short-lived hope! I misread the sign and thought that we had already made it to the very top, when in reality, whatever it was that the sign indicated we had reached was not even on our map.
Fast-forward nearly two hours and find us fairly hungry (having skipped lunch!) and tired, as well as unsure of our location. So, we decided to take it easier. We stopped at a signpost that I initially thought told us that we had made it to the summit (so we took a photo!), and only went a bit further after that. Our final destination ended up being the 2-3 marker -- a little over three kilometers from the end of the beginner trails -- which was only about one-third of the way up the mountain. What a letdown! But near this signpost, there was a small pool and a large, flat, comfortable-looking slab of boulder in the middle of the river, so we rested there, stretched it out, tried to build a rock bridge, and just chillaxed for a while before heading back down.

The way back was much shorter. We arrived at the very bottom of the trail, the park entrance, at around 4pm, making it a grand total of four hours of wandering up and down a mountain. Curiously, two of the other groups finished their hikes at around the same time (the fourth finished much earlier and ate lunch). We found out that one group was ahead of us on the red trail and made it a bit farther, while the other went off in an unknown direction; having had no trail maps, they never knew exactly where they were, and still do not know!). Then we all took buses and taxis (taxis are really cheap! -- about $7.50 for four people for a twenty-minute ride) back to the hotel. All in all, a fun morning/afternoon! My shoes are definitely closer to being destroyed than intact as a result, but I'm happy that I got my first taste of the Korean hiking craze in Donghae.
Our team, pointing out on the trail map how far we made it (read: not very far at all!). Still proud of us! Left to right: Tracey, Stephanie, Katelyn, Ammy, Kristen, and me.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Carved in Stone (동해, pt. 2)

Our Donghae weekend vacation continued on Friday afternoon with a visit to the Mureung Valley (무릉 계곡), a region about an hour's drive from our hotel. It's a park with lots of intense hiking trails and some absolutely beautiful landscapes (경치, kyongchi) that were great to photograph (remember, 사진 찍는것을 좋아해요!).

The purpose of our visit was a continuation of a cultural workshop on Buddhism that we'd sat through earlier in the afternoon. But before we arrived at the Samhwasa Buddhist temple (삼화사), everyone was distracted by this gorgeous portion of the river that we happened across first.
You're looking at a giant slab of rock (people in the photo for comparison) sticking out of a river with Chinese characters carved into it. The biggest are in the center of the photo, but beneath it are hundreds more names in a smaller size.
The river grew very shallow around this giant slab of rock, such that most of it was exposed, dry, and walkable. Carved into the rock in many places, in 한자 (hanja, Chinese characters) large and small, were hundreds of Korean names and family names. I never found out why they were there, but it was very cool to walk around and try to read them. I even found my own family name, 鄭, which in Korean is 정 (jeong, or Jeong/Jung/Chung)! It was fairly common, as were 金 (Kim), 李 (Lee), and 朴 (Park).
Zheng Shou... something! Maybe we're very, very, very distantly related.

After the river -- where most of us wanted to stay forever -- we hiked a bit further up the mountain and arrived at Samhwasa Temple. There was a big drum, a big bell, and a wooden fish instrument used for many ritual purposes in the temple. The big drum immediately made me think of taiko back at Swarthmore. The bell made me think -- oddly, but not that oddly considering Sara, Jason and I bonded over a shared love of Pokémon -- of Pokémopolis and the giant bell that awoke a monster Gengar, as well as the ridiculous looking bell thing to the right. And lastly, the wooden fish was based on an interesting folk tale that involved a monk being turned into a fish with a tree growing out of its back...

Some of us got a chance to ring the bell (eastern bells are rung from the outside, no clapper on the inside), play the drum (in the shape of the Chinese character 心, meaning heart of mind), and knock the inside of the wooden fish. According to the Zen Buddhist tradition, playing these instruments were supposed to generate love and empathy for all living things and the Earth.
Jaeyeon and Bridget try their hand at ringing the giant bell. Everyone and their mother had a camera! Behind them you can see the green and red wooden fish that looks like a dragon.
Another very cool part of the temple was found on the upper level. There were rows upon rows of paper lanterns with what I assume are prayers attached to them. I don't know what the Korean on the lanterns means: 락왕생? If you know, please enlighten me! Regardless, it was a very pretty sight.

[edit] Seven months later... My host parents have informed me that the lantern actually says 극락왕생. I didn't notice the top character first. It means a wish for safe passage into heaven or the afterlife. (극락/geungnak is heaven or paradise, and 왕생/wangsaeng means passing into the next world.)
Paper lanterns with prayers attached to them. I wonder how people feel about having their prayers displayed publicly like this, for anyone to read.
So that was the temple. I enjoyed taking a look around and photographing everything aesthetically pleasing, but I was excited about coming back to this park to tackle one of the many trails the spanned the mountains all around. Below on the left is a photo of me with a pretty part of the river behind me. The next day, I saw a lot of the river... photos to come!
Me at Mureung Valley. Photo taken by Katelyn!
Cecile doing some painting at the temple.

And lastly... a dragonfly! Because there were dragonflies everywhere in the temple, and they kept landing on peoples' heads. But I wasn't quick enough to catch that. Instead, here is one resting on top of a lantern.
A dragonfly! 잠자리 (jamjali)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Let's go to the beach, each! (동해, pt. 1)

This past weekend was tons of fun -- followed quickly by tons and tons of work. I'm not joking; we returned from Donghae (동해) this evening to a mediocre dining hall meal and then an hour-long meeting consisting entirely of announcements, reminders, and assignments for the coming week. But I'll expound on that later. For the moment, I'd like to continue reliving a great vacation for as long as I can. Photos! (I took about 400 photos over three days, and lots of videos, too.)

On Friday morning, I got up early for a short run, and by 7:15am all of us were boarding the buses to go to Donghae, a coastal city about three hours northeast of Goesan. On the way up, I had a great chat with Sara C., one of the peppiest and most positive people I've ever met. I introduced her to Pentatonix and we talked about the environment, college experiences, and our ideas for making the most of our grant year.
This is Sara. She has more spirit and charisma than you do. Her birthday was over the weekend, and it was quite an adventure, to say the least!
When we arrived at our hotel, it was very apparent that, as we'd been told, the establishment was owned by the same people who own Jungwon University. The hotel had the exact same architectural style as our school: the same long white marble halls, strange displays, and somewhat arbitrary organization. (I haven't yet written the post about how bizarre this school is, but you'll soon see what I'm talking about.)
Here's a glimpse of the Mang Sang Grand Hotel (The 망상 area is a bit north of 동해 proper), with May doing an impressive star jump in front of it! The bridge we're on connected the hotel to the beach boardwalk.
After lunch, many people hit the beach! It was a beautiful sunny day, about 85 degrees out and not a smidgen of humidity anywhere. It was literally the first time I'd seen and felt the sun in a week and a half, and the air was incredibly refreshing. I felt so alive! And I would've run straight into the ocean were it not for two things: I had my camera, and we didn't have too much time before a mandatory cultural workshop on Buddhism. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself simply taking photos of everyone else.
We were so happy to see blue skies and seas that we had to take a jumping photo! From left to right: party poopers Kelly and Monica, then Kaley, Lauren, Jason, and Kristen, with headless Neal way up in the front.
There are plenty of things to do on the Donghae beach and boardwalk -- lots of bars and places to get patbingsu and smoothies (Cecile even bought a coconut with a straw stuck in it!). There were banana boats, too! I had an unforgettable time riding banana boats in 墾丁 (Kenting, Taiwan), and I really wanted to do it here, but unfortunately I didn't get the chance to. Some other time, hopefully! Also, in the evenings, they sell small fireworks (roman candles, sparklers, and the like, just as we had had on "July 4th") to set off on the beach. But the best part by far is simply the water.
Looking longingly towards the Pacific. This photo was unposed! :)
Nobody was allowed to swim very far out into the ocean (supposedly because of a strong riptide, as well as the speedboats). As I stood sinking my toes into the sand, just watching the line where water met sky, I was reminded that I was looking across the Pacific... homeward, in fact. I didn't feel very homesick, but it made me think for a bit. Two and a half weeks ago, I was home, and nobody here, none of my new friends and colleagues, existed in reality. They were just names and faces, but we will be each others' allies and cheerleaders for the next year. It was a good thing they gave us this weekend vacation. Mrs. Shim, the head of the Korean American Educational Commission, told us specifically that this vacation was, more than anything, time for us to bond as a group, because we'd need the support throughout the year. So now, names and faces have become friends, and doing silly things now like posing with seaweed will become the basis for relationships that will help us all do the best teaching and ambassadorship we can manage, together.
Jason grew a seaweed moustache. Now it kind of reminds me of the red weed from The War of the Worlds, which I'm currently reading.

That's all for the beach! Coming soon: Mureung Valley (무릉계곡) with its hikes and beautiful waterfalls, a Buddhist temple, a bizarre museum, and more!

In other news, Camp Fulbright begins tomorrow! I won't say a lot about it here, but during this two-week English camp for Korean youth, run in conjunction with our Orientation, all of us ETAs will have three opportunities to practice teaching. So, I have to finish my first lesson plan by -- and consequently teach my first-ever class -- this Thursday! That, plus, several other upcoming deadlines, are what's keeping me very busy this week. I'll try to keep updating every day, though! Leave a comment to motivate me! ;)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

갈비 - MEAT

The other Andrew in front of the bbq place.
Another restaurant outing! I was just a little bit put off when we decided to go to a barbecue place, because I didn't want to gorge myself on meat so soon after going off of vegetarianism. But... I was all right in the end, and the food was fantastic, so it's all good!

This restaurant, 맛소 식당 (not sure what it means, but it sounds like it could mean "delicious restaurant"), seems to be a more popular one in tiny little Goesan. I went with Liam, Stephanie, Monica, Thomas, my roommate Jet, the other Andrew, and Ryan. We were accompanied by two very considerate Korean students, the other other Andrew and his girlfriend Olivia, who probably didn't plan on joining us but ended up coming along to help us order and pay and all of that. They really didn't have to, but the gesture was very sweet.

Like I mentioned, the place is a barbecue-style restaurant, which doesn't mean the same thing as bbq in the US, but means that you get plates of raw meat and cook them yourself on table-top grills. There was also the usual 반찬, or side dishes, and other, more interesting things, like some sort of 순두부 (sundubu - tofu stew), giant jalapenos, and eggplant (nom nom nom!). We ordered 삼겹살 (samgyeobsal - Korean bacon) and pork galbi (short ribs). It was a lot of food... Good thing we had Monica with us, who sat in the middle of the three grills and freely took from all of them. I don't think we could've done it without her (kidding).
Liam, Stephanie, and Monica. There are two Taiwanese-Americans in this photo!
Liam, the one on the left in the photo above, had been looking forward to going to a Korean restaurant where the tables were really low to the ground, so patrons would sit cross-legged. But poor Liam has a lot of trouble sitting cross-legged, so after a while (that is, after his feet went numb), he gave up and made use of all the space at the far end of the table.

The restaurant owners were a bit overwhelmed when a bunch of loud Americans walked through the doors, but the service was great. They even gave us some Korean Fantas (환타) on the house. They have pineapple-flavored Fanta! I didn't try any, though. I'm eating meat, but I'm still not drinking soda.
Andrew and Olivia, the two Korean students who helped us out in ordering and paying. They were also my campus tour guides on the first day! Also, look at all this food. Seriously.
On that note, I guess I can safely say that I've gotten used to being an omnivore again. I don't miss vegetarianism that much; it's not any different from when I quit meat and didn't miss it at all. It seems that my body is pretty flexible when it comes to diet. I think that a part of me used to use vegetarianism as leverage against others whom I'd characterize as being ignorant of where their food came from or the impact of the "American" diet on one's body. But that's a fairly patronizing and unfriendly thing to do. So I'm trying not to comment on how much meat I'm eating ("compared to when I was in college; oh btw I was a vegetarian", etc.), even though it is a lot... it's just so delicious! And I'm surprising myself daily with how much I eat.

Oh yeah, and when I Skyped with my mother the other day, I mentioned that I was eating meat again, and her response was essentially, "You look fatter! Go exercise!"
Me handling meat. Until now, unheard of. (photo taken by Monica)
And last, but not least, pictures of food. I hope I don't one day end up on this blog. But I might. All in all, dinner here was delicious, and I'll probably go back again. But there are plenty other places to check out first. Goesan may be small and "rural", but there are still restaurants on every corner.
My bowl of galbi, eggplant, onions, lettuce, and more! 맛있어요!
Tomorrow morning, we are all leaving for a weekend beach trip in Donghae (동해)! The Fulbright program is paying for us, plain and simple, to take a vacation, sight-see, and also undergo a bit of cultural education. I promise to take tons of photos and tell you all about it when I get back on Sunday. Bye for now!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Unfortunately, it's not "Glee Club", but "GLEE: Global Language Educational Exchange". It's the name they gave to the twice-weekly meeting for Fulbrighters and Korean students that allows them to hang out together, practice conversational skills, and learn new things.
My roommate, Jet. He dances extremely well.

All of the participants have been divided into "families" (complete with an 엄마 and an 아빠) that plan each week's activity. Yesterday, my roommate Jet teamed up with Elaine and taught us all a little bit of Latin dance! We did the basics of merengue, salsa, and cha-cha. The lesson was a total hit! (But a lot of the Korean students seem to have no concept of dance beyond hip-hop and traditional Korean dances, so this was completely new to them.)

Thanks to years of experience with swing and a memorable semester learning Umfundalai, I found the steps to be pretty natural, and it was fun to see how well I could shake my hips. ;) Salsa is fun! And it definitely works up a sweat quicker than lindy hop and blues do.

After the lesson, the class sort of devolved into a dance party. Brittany managed to get nearly everyone to do the "Wobble", a simple but awesome line dance. Yeah, all the hip isolations that were pure torture in Kemal's class really came in handy here. Brittany took a video of it; if I get ahold of it somehow I'm definitely going to show you all. (In fact, I've been taking lots of short videos here on my camera, but I just haven't been uploading them onto this blog. I will soon, I promise!)

A nice shot of our salsa-ing class, taken by Leslie. I'm especially amused by all the heads looking down!
Well, GLEE has been fun for the past three meetings. When it comes turn for my family to host the activity, I'm thinking about teaching Swing dance. Or maybe I'll teach everybody how to play Contact... Until then, I also hope to grow closer to some of the Korean students and work on my conversational Korean.

P.S. After GLEE last night, all of the Fulbrighters (plus our Orientation Coordinating Team and some other friends, totaling nearly 100 people), threw a surprise birthday for Rachel, a Jungwon University student who is serving as our RA for these six weeks. She's such a sweetheart, and she was quite surprised when we all shouted at her and took a million photos and threw balloons and sang.
Rachel is the one on the left, covering her mouth lest all her teeth fall out in excitement over the cakes, presented by Tracey and Ammy, which were bought from Tous Les Jours (pronounced something like "to di joo di" in Korean -- it's hilarious)
 Oh, yes, and then this happened:
Caden, our other RA, cakes Rachel. Happy birthday! 생일 춧하해요!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Die, Candle, Die!

 Today... I snuffed out a candle by punching at it!
Me in my taekwondo dobok. Photo by Ammy.

Taekwondo, baby.

During this six-week orientation, we ETAs are given the opportunity to take some extracurricular "cultural" classes on things like Korean calligraphy, archery, and 태권도 (taekwondo). TKD is the increasingly popular Korean martial art that uses just the body and powerful, focused movement. Its name roughly translates into "the way of punching and kicking".

When I was younger, I really wanted to get into martial arts. In junior high and high school, a lot of my friends were doing karate, Shaolin kung fu, wushu, and taekwondo. The latter two of these were especially popular and also made for great performances during school assemblies. I was really jealous of people who could do flips and kicks and look so cool and graceful while doing it.

My parents, however, bought into the whole "in America, do as the Americans do" sort of thing and made me do Boy Scouts. Ironically (on several levels), the Boy Scouts' unofficial stance on martial arts is a general discouragement of them, due to their inherent violence. Uh-huh. And I learned how to shoot a rifle at weekend camp-outs.

Don't get me wrong; I'm glad that I did Boy Scouts and am proud of my ranks and badges. But I've been wanting to take martial arts lessons since forever ago, so when the chance arose, I jumped at it. It's about $100 for a month-long course (four days a week), which includes our very own 도복 (dobok, TKD uniform)!

After three classes, we have all learned the basics of stance, punching, and kicking. It's not easy stuff, especially for people who aren't as flexible as Gumby. In fact, our daily warm-up exercises and stretches make me sweat more than the kicking practice!

So, the candle story. Last Thursday, our instructor had us practice our punching style by placing candles in front of us for us to punch at. Then, he demonstrated. Get ready, punch! And the candle goes out. He didn't touch it, he didn't blow, or anything. Just the fist. It was mighty impressive... and I couldn't do it. I tried so many times, and lots of other people in the class also managed it, but I grew increasingly frustrated because no matter how hard I punched, the candle would hardly flicker. I was very angry at the candle. (Hence, this post's title.)
A nice shot of Stephanie and me in perfect coordination. Also, it took both of us forever to get the candle to go out. So I appreciate this photo. (taken by Julia)
I was told later that it wasn't about force or tenseness, it was all about focus and mentality. "Look past the candle, not at it," they said. "Punch straight, as if there's no candle there at all." "Don't think too hard about it." "Tell yourself you can do it, and you will!" were the various bits of advice I got from my more successful peers.

Today (Monday), at the end of class, we had the opportunity to keep practicing it. After nearly one hundred failed punches (with more flickering this time!)... I finally did it! I'm not sure what was different. It was probably an accident, actually. But after the first time, I got loads more confidence, and did it two more times in the next few minutes.
Watch out... future black belts right here. I'm on the very right, and our sabomnim (master) is on the very left. He is quiet and very nice, but also kind of scary because he's a 5th-degree black belt and when he does a high kick, his knee reaches his face. (Taken by Rachel, our RA!)

As Principal Figgins would say... "Achieve-ment!"

Sunday, July 15, 2012

교회 - Church

Happy Sabbath! I've gone to church here twice so far. In tiny little 괴산, there are no churches with services in English. But some local students helped us find a friendly (and non-cultish*) place to worship. It's called 괴산중앙교회 (Goesan Central Church), and it's apparently Methodist. Like most Asian churches, it's somewhat charismatic, with loud prayer and lots of singing.

The first week I went, I understand only a few words here and there in the hour-long service, including 아버지 (aboji, Father), 기도 (kido, pray), and 피 (pi, blood... yeah, I promise it's not a cult). I also heard the Apostle's Creed and the Lord's Prayer in Korean, but I couldn't understand much of either. One thing I did pick up on, however, was that every time the pastor (목사, moksa) said 축하합니다 -- which I had learned meant "congratulations" -- the whole congregation replied, "아멘! (Amen!)" My guess is that the phrase could also be translated as "praise".

Anyway, I meant to write about a small adventure I had this morning on the way to church. Tracey and I were the only ones who intended to go this week (down from about a dozen curious Americans last week), as many people were asleep or on weekend excursions out of town. But, we missed the shuttle that goes into town from campus, and the next one wouldn't leave for another hour. So, we got our friend (and RA, actually), a Korean guy named Caden, to call us a taxi before he rushed off to his part-time job. As soon as the taxi arrived, Tracey and I realized that we couldn't remember what the name of the church was. Neither of us is fluent in Korean. Here is the ensuing conversation with our 댁시 운전사 (taxi driver), roughly translated from Korean:
Taxi Driver: Where do you want to go?
Tracey and me: Uh...
Me: Goesan... Church?
Tracey: Church!
Taxi Driver: What?
Me: Church! (in English, to Tracey: Oh no, what was it called? How do you say Methodist?)
Taxi Driver: ... What?
Tracey: Chur-ch. Church! Church? (in English: Does he not know what church is?)
Taxi Driver: ...
Tracey: Um, (mimes holding a Bible) Jesus! Amen! Hallelujah!
Taxi Driver: ...
Me: (in English: Okay, wait, what's somewhere near the church?)
Taxi Driver: Are you going into town? Into Goesan?
Tracey: Yes!
Taxi Driver: Okay, you just give me directions, then, okay? Right, left...
Tracey and me: Okay!
And so we got to the church, and the driver charged us about fifty cents extra (3,500 won total, which is about $3.50) for the trip, probably because we were stupid and unintelligible. (But in all seriousness, it seemed less like he didn't know where we wanted to go and more like he didn't know what a church was. Which is weird. When we ran into some of our Korean teachers later -- also on their way back to campus from church, albeit a different one -- one of them said that taxi ahjussis don't ever go to church, so it was slightly more reasonable that he didn't understand. But still...)

Anyway, during the service they sang two songs I recognized: 'Tis to Sweet to Trust in Jesus and Joyful, Joyful, translated into Korean. The sermon was delivered on the story of Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14. That's about all I understood. Oh, and after the service, some of the ahjummas insisted that Tracey and I eat lunch with them, so we joined them for a lunch of kimchi onions and chicken soup that had half of an entire chicken in every bowl. Score!

Next week we'll see if I can keep up with the sermon a bit more. Perhaps this is a good way to track my progress in listening comprehension!

*I was warned by one of the Orientation Coordinators to be careful of what churches I went to, as some of them were actually branches of Korean cults, which are fairly common and not at all like the American stereotype of a cult.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

버섯 찌개! A Korean Korean Restaurant

Bosot jjigae is mushroom stew. It's spicy and delicious and I had lots of it at my first Korean restaurant in Korea. I've been told that Korean cuisine in the US is pretty different from the real deal, kind of like a lot of Chinese places you'll find in the States are not 地道 (authentic) Chinese, just tons of MSG and pandas and stereotyped names and all. So when my American friends think "Korean restaurant", they think bulgogi (bbq beef), bibimbap (rice + everything), and kimchi, but not much else.
This is 묵 (muk, acorn jelly). Definitely something I've never seen in an American Korean restaurant before. But it was good!
I have to say that the Korean food I've been eating at the dining hall here isn't nearly Korean restaurant-standard fare, but we did have bulgogi once -- for breakfast -- and I'm getting used to the spiciness. Yet after a few days I was pretty ready to see what actual Korean food places had to offer.

So when Jeewon and Se Eun came to visit (Yay! Swatties! Friends! Bilingual friends!) tiny little Goesan, they took me to a small little place that, according to some locals, had some great mushroom stew. We took the shuttle into town and walked for a bit, asked a few people for directions, and then arrived at what I thought initially was a house. I would hardly call it a restaurant.
The restaurant was called Pyeol-mi ("Gourmet") Restaurant (식당 shikdang means "restaurant" or, according to Google translate, "noshery"). A local referred us to it when Se Eun asked for 버섯 찌개.
As is custom in many Korean households, we took off our shoes before entering, and then sat down cross-legged at a very low table, on cushions on a hardwood floor. Jeewon and Se Eun did all the ordering, and before long (we were the only patrons in the entire house) the ahjumma came out with 반찬 (banchan, side dishes) and a giant hot pot-like thing filled with a red stew and mushrooms. The pot was on a burner at our table, so soon the whole stew was boiling and smelled delicious. Definitely 맛있어요 (delicious)! 
Se Eun lifts the top off our 버섯 찌래 (mushroom stew). It was very red and very spicy, and all of the side dishes were red and spicy, too. Typical Korean cuisine!
A close-up of the jjigae. Okay, maybe it doesn't look that appetizing, but whatever, I like mushrooms.
During our meal, we talked about some of my expectations for Korea, learning Korean, Korean linguistics, and -- of course -- Swarthmore things. It was such a nice evening being away from campus and with old friends. It's a lot like the feeling I get when I get away from Swarthmore and go into Philly for an evening, but of course, it was much less glamorous than Philly (which itself isn't... okay, you get the picture). So that was my very first Korean restaurant experience. Next time, I'll see if I can order and do it all by myself in Korean!
Three Swatties in South Korea! Thanks for coming to visit!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I've been in Korea for almost one week now.

Prior to departure, I was curious as to how things might change for me while I'm here for one year, besides the obvious changes of occupation, location, and community. For example, I had an interesting conversation with Andrew and Sharon about Myers-Briggs personality types. From what I remember, I'm an INTJ. What we wondered aloud was, could a drastic change of environment and lifestyle cause a sort of shift in one's MBTI letters? Supposedly, the way you test is supposed to remain constant throughout your entire life.

Usually, when I enter new social situations and meet lots of new people at once, I spend a little time thinking about how I'll portray myself, what kind of first impression I want to make, and how much I will tell my new friends or acquaintances about myself. Although I'm an introvert, I've learned over the years how to be outgoing and how to seek out the less predictable friendships. I have to remind myself constantly not to judge but to look for the most awesome aspects of everyone as I create new social circles. Maybe I could become more E (extroverted) than I (introverted) if I tried really hard and had the right motivations. How badly do I want to become bffs with the people I meet here?

As it is, I still haven't added any of my fellow ETAs on Facebook. I'd prefer that they get to know me purely in person, without being able to flip through all of my photos and scroll down my wall to get any other (extra-contextual) ideas of who I am. (I wonder if any of them are reading this right now?)

Because what if I change? What if I can actually be a totally different person while I'm here? Do I even want to be? Or am I supposed to "stay true to who I am"... even if I don't like every part of who I am?

In the past week, I don't think I've tried (at least consciously) to be different from the norm. I mean, as an introvert, that sort of thing is mentally taxing and our orientation schedule is keeping my nose to the grindstone already. But some things have changed. Two things specifically: I'm not a vegetarian anymore. I was an on-and-off meat-o-phobe for two years, capitulating only to my mother and to sushi when it came to eating anything that used to be alive. But 삼겹살 (Korean bacon) and 불고기 (Korean marinated beef) are too good -- and I don't want to 麻煩 my homestay family (because vegetarianism is rare and not well understood in Korea), so I'm eating everything on my plate these days. Another change is that I've been going to the gym every morning at seven, which means going to bed around eleven in the evening. This one's a weird change for me, but I want to work on my self-discipline, and working out in the morning is a good way to start the day, as it wakes me up and makes me feel accomplished before I've even eaten breakfast.

So, those are some changes. As for other things, well, only time will tell if my personality will shift or if my new peers rub off on me in any way. I'll check myself again at the end of the summer. Until then, I'll try not to try too hard...! Because goodness knows I don't have the time or energy to do much more than be myself.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

한국어 수업: Korean class

Classes began today, and they were fairly overwhelming. As I said before, I was placed in an intermediate level (out of four levels: absolute beginner, advanced beginner, beginner-intermediate, and advanced). But I was worried that I would struggle a little bit because I only have one semester of formal Korean training under my belt, and that was two years ago.

Well, I ate a super-rushed breakfast this morning at 8:45am, went up to the sixth floor of the main building, and found my classroom. At 9:00am, the "horror" began and all that I dreaded came true: 김선생님 (Teacher Kim), a petite Korean lady with a gentle persona, began to speak, and I understand not a single word that came out of her mouth. Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration, I guess. I understood about 10% of the words that she spoke. Words like "hello", "name", and "America". I was slightly terrified for the first half hour of class.

But after a bit, I started to catch on. Parts of the lecture that dealt with grammar I could follow by what she wrote on the blackboard, and she also was very helpful in explaining in detail what activities we were going to do. There was also lots of reading, which I'm more comfortable with. Lastly, there are four Korean-Americans in my class (who probably belong in a higher-level class), and the other six 학생 (haksaeng, or students) have a bit more Korean classroom skills than I do, so, following their lead, I could stumble along fairly well.

And stumble along I did, for the duration of four fifty-minute class periods that morning. By 1:00pm, I was worn out from the non-stop Korean, and I nearly ran to lunch.

The interesting thing is that because of my difficulties, I feel like I can better grasp what my future English students will feel in class. Like Korean students of English, I've studied from the book, and I've watched Korean media, so the extent of my language skills is good conjugation and limited vocabulary, as well as some useful conversational phrases. But it's nowhere near conversational level, and I'm not used to using it regularly at all. My students will come to my class having studied English grammar and reading comprehension only, and my goal is to get them to be conversational (among other things). But they might feel completely lost and overwhelmed even on the first day. They'll be intimidated by some of their peers and frustrated at their own lack of understanding. I was! So I'll just have to be as gentle as 김선생님 and as exuberant and funny as 홍선생님, our other teacher. I want my classroom to be a safe space in every way possible.

Okay... So, some other reasons why I feel like I'm going to pass out as soon as I finish typing this: following lunch, we had two workshops lasting 3.5 hours total on classroom management and important things to do on the first day of class. Again, I'm incredibly grateful and relieved that Fulbright's orientation is training us the way they are. While it's not fun to have tons of information thrown at you in big chunks like this, the fact that they are spending the time and effort to bring outside people in (our workshop leaders were current ETAs with one or two years' experience in Korean classrooms) and give us as many resources as possible is really, really good.

After the long but informative (but looooong) workshop, I went to the first meeting of my taekwondo class! I was very excited about this one, for reasons which I'll explain in a later post, but in all honesty, everyone was completely drained by 5:30pm and we could hardly pay attention to our 사범님 (sabeomnim, or master) as he gave us a brief history and description of taekwondo. More on this later. After taekwondo, dinner. After dinner, Global Language Education Exchange meeting, where we played Charades and my team ("Bigger Bang") pwned everyone else in the first round and eventually got second place. After GLEE (hehe), one-on-one conferences with an Orientation Coordinator to see if we're adjusting all right. Which I am, and am thankful for. After that, I was very ready to go to bed, but I played a few rounds of Bananagrams first...

Today: breakfast, four hours class, lunch, three point five hours workshops, one hour lecture, dinner, one hour game, half hour meeting, Bananagrams, and now I need to sleep. Tomorrow's another big day. Oh, but first: a cute puppy (귀여운 강아지!) that I met on my way to my first Korean restaurant.

Monday, July 9, 2012

School site visits

I woke up at 6:30am this morning! Willingly! Weird, huh? The reason is that we had school site visits today, and we had to meet at 7:15am, but I wanted to go to the gym beforehand (trying to make it a habit). So, I ran and lifted for a short half-hour, tore back to my room to shower and change, and was only a little bit late to the bus, catching it before it left for Daejeon (대전), which is about one hour south of Goesan (괴산)

School site visits are an important part of our teaching and cultural preparation. I'm really glad that Fulbright puts us through such thorough training. It really shows that they're not just aiming to throw native English speakers into classrooms and hoping for the best, but that they're committed to creating a crop of competent teachers as well as cultural ambassadors. They want us to understand as best we can what our year is going to be like before we even begin.
The classroom I visited at Chungnam Science HS. For a lesson on how a bill becomes a law, the students are watching Schoolhouse Rock! :)
We were allowed to choose to visit one school from a variety of combinations: elementary, middle, or high × all-boys, all-girls, or co-ed × urban, suburban, or rural = 27 possible choices of school (actually 25, I think, because all elementary schools are co-ed, and, well, actually 24 for me, because some ETAs are here specifically to teach elementary, and I'm not one of them, so I could not choose any of the elementary schools). I decided to visit a very advanced-level science high school (co-ed and urban, but also a boarding school because it was on the very edge of Daejeon). It was called 충남과학고등학교 (Chungnam Science High School), I believe.

Chungnam turned out to be a very unique school among those at which ETAs are normally placed. It is a very rich school with excellent teaching facilities, including laboratory classrooms, geology exhibits in the halls, and an observatory. Although it is public, admission is by test results only (and you'll soon hear me talk about how everything in the Korean educational system is based on test scores and rankings), so the students here are already top-tier. Also, it's a small school of only 120 students total, and class sizes are around twenty, which is half of what is normal for public schools.
This high school has its own observatory classroom! Talk about good government funding. But I doubt the students have any time to actually take their astronomy courses seriously, because they study all afternoon and evening after school.
The current ETA we were visiting was named Brian. He graduated from Grinnell three years ago and taught in Macau for one year and Korea for two. His class was really interactive, and he emphasized teaching his students how to express themselves more than simply how to conjugate verbs or use big words.

His unit was on political science, and his first-year students (who were roughly equivalent to our high school sophomores) were having a test on American government. But rather than having a sit-down test or even an oral exam, their test consisted of all the students playing the roles of State Department secretaries, Congresspeople, and even a President and Vice President as they wrote bill proposals, defended them in front of a Senate and House of Representatives, and passed them into law. The better the laws helped their country's health, happiness, economy, and security, the more points the class got as a whole.
A particularly good-at-English student, Chloe, proposes her bill on increasing subsidies for university tuition before the House of Representatives. Brian, the ETA, is the cute guy to the left of her, and Amy and Amber, other visiting ETAs, look on.
The whole setup was very creative, fun, and interesting. At least, it was for me. I hope the students had fun, too! Some of them were very much into it, and others seemed much less engaged. Also, their skill levels in spoken English varied greatly. Most of them were good at spelling and writing, but when I asked specific students to explain why they voted for or against a specific bill, for example, one said it in Korean first and then translated herself, and another refused to say anything at all.

Besides looking in on the class, we also took a short tour of the campus and ate lunch in the cafeteria with students, where I met Danielle, Sheldon -- who named himself after the character on Big Bang Theory -- and a kid who named himself Oppenheimer. Nerds. Brian also gave us a short lecture on some advice for getting ready for our classrooms and curricula. Some points I'll share:
  • Plan on spending more time doing cultural ambassadorship than actual teaching.
  • Technology is not very reliable.
  • Teach students to be creative and independent thinkers, not just English-speaking robots.
  • But also hold them to high standards and be strict about your classroom rules.
  • Routine and creative warm-ups and games are good. Notebooks (journals) are good. Reward systems are good. Organization and continuity between lessons is good.
  • Give constant feedback, even if it takes a long time! And... always smile!
Dear readers: any more advice for a future teacher? :)
Vika chats with the Department of State.
So from this school site visit, I can say now that I would like to teach in a high school, not a middle school. I would prefer my students to have as high a level of English as possible, as well as the (slightly) higher maturity level that comes with fourteen- and fifteen-year olds. The chances aren't terribly high that I'll get the placement I want, but I'm glad that I at least have some sort of opinion of what I want to do. Quite a change from the norm of having no idea what I want to do (with regard to my future, for example).

Also, Korean classes and taekwondo classes begin tomorrow! I'm very excited for both!