Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

Christ is risen!

Happy Easter, everyone. I have not been able to find an equivalent for that English, phrase. However, 부활절 (Buhwal-jeol), or Resurrection Day, is the Korean word for Easter.

I just returned from a fantastic weekend in Daegu, where I celebrated Passover with some Jewish friends, attended the annual concert of a Korean choir featuring a fellow Fulbrighter, made new friends, went shopping, and celebrated Easter at an international church.

It's late now, and while I'd like to write about the entire weekend, I actually have a bit of lesson planning to do. So, I'll be updating with photos and stories over the next few days.

In the meantime, please enjoy this photo of some cherry blossoms (벚꽃/beotggot). Easter is a celebration of resurrection and of life being renewed. All over Korea, the flowers are now in full bloom and spring is definitely here.
Cherry blossoms (벚꽃) in Changwon.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What is taekgyeon, exactly?

Taekgyeon Day 1: Drills, drills, and more drills. I have no idea what I'm doing at all. I leave impressed.

Taekgyeon Day 2: Weight training and stretching. My muscles feel like they are going to fall off, and I regret being a twig with toothpicks for arms. On the plus side, when we do jumping drills, I manage to impress everyone else in the dojang. I tell them I used to play volleyball. I leave tired.

Taekgyeon Day 3: A crash course in traditional wrestling and more general confusion. This time, plus lots of sweat. I leave sore.

Taekgyeon Day 4: Indoor soccer with some of the thirteen-year-old boys who are in the class before mine but stayed behind just to chill. And play soccer. I leave a bit confused.

Taekgyeon Day 5: Kick practice, plus archery. I leave really confused.

So, uh... what is taekgyeon, exactly? By the end of my first week, I think I could've been forgiven for not having the slightest idea as to what kind of martial art I was learning. It seemed like a random amalgamation of sports, like I was starting a new class every day. Archery? Wrestling? Soccer? What next, gymnastics?

Well, as it turns out, taekgyeon is comprised of at least nine different disciplines, and I've been learning bits and pieces of each every day on a steady rotation. So on Day 6 (this past Monday), I went back to wrestling, and on Day 7 (yesterday) reviewed basic footwork and kicks.

Today would have been a weight training day, but two members of the dojang received their black belts today, and we went out to celebrate with drinks instead. I enjoy the company of the dojang director and master, since they're much more cheerful and amicable than they seemed at first. The humorless sixth-degree black belt is, as it turns out, a new dad who likes to show off photos of his son and is also really into Enneagrams. I'd never have guessed. Anyway, I enjoyed this evening of 정-building, even though I could understand less than 50% of what everyone was saying. I caught bits and pieces of conversation about Hangul, the history of taekgyeon, the dangers of traveling alone in rural India (?), and foreign languages.

Another surprise for this class came in the form of the teenagers who sometimes stick around after their class to drill with us adults. The first one I met calls himself Sam. He's short and round, on the chubby side. He doesn't speak much English, but what he knows he uses loudly and enthusiastically. I had to wrestle him on the first day I learned how to wrestle, and he was sweating profusely; it was difficult to get a hold on him, let alone trip him in any way. He seemed not to mind getting tossed into the ground again and again, as long as he could do the same to me. The dojang director told us both to take off our glasses to protect them. So Sam took his glasses off, then walked right up to my face, peered into it, and declared, "Handsome." Hee.

Two of the other two kids who sit in on the class sometimes, with whom I played soccer last week, turned out to be friends of my host brother. Apparently, they told him at school that a foreigner had begun attending their taekgyeon class, and when my host brother asked them for that foreigner's name... haha, well, he got a kick out of that.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

TED Talk: My Escape from North Korea

The video I'm sharing here is a TED Talk given by Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector. She escaped her destitute, totalitarian country when she was a teenager, lived in China for ten years, and finally made it to South Korea, where she struggled to keep up with fast-paced life in Seoul while making ends meet. Even more amazing is how she returned to North Korea secretly to help her family escape years later. Her story is one of perseverance and extreme courage. You should listen to her TED Talk.

It is because of people like Hyeonseo that I want to volunteer with North Korean defectors to teach them English. She herself admitted that it was difficult to gain a foothold in Korean society without any knowledge of English. (My opinion is that the prejudice toward English-speakers is mostly limited to Seoul and the largest cities. Plenty of Koreans I've met can't string an English sentence together but get along fine. But who knows for sure?) I often joke about how I'm having a great time vacationing in South Korea on the government's tab; and it's true to some extent: the Fulbright grant helps me live comfortably and also travel. But I have to remind myself daily that it's also a privilege for me to be able to share my knowledge of a globally-important language to those who need it the most. I could be so much more than just another foreigner English teacher. I just want to do my part to help.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

종려주일 - Palm Sunday

Hosanna! It's Palm Sunday, but I could easily have missed it. I woke up a little bit late this morning and considered not going to church on account of my tardiness. In addition, I knew that today would be a special joint service for Communion with the main church which hosts the international para-church that I go to. This meant the entire service would be in Korean, with interpretation provided. I didn't know what to expect from this, and I wasn't 100% willing to go. But I went anyway, and I even enjoyed it, so there I go again, proving myself wrong.

Here in Changwon, I've been attending Hanbit International Christian Fellowship, which is not a church, but a para-church that is maintained by Hanbit Presbyterian Church. Services are conducted entirely in English and take place on Sunday mornings at the same time as one of the main branch's services.

This is why I've never had the opportunity to see what the big church itself is like for the past six months (since I arrived in this city) until today.

It's legit: they have a choir, big screens, over a dozen people in their worship band, and three floors to accommodate all their congregants. They also serve sponge cake as the bread for Communion (heh). Most importantly, they had a simultaneous interpreter for the entirety of the service, narrating the order of worship and translating all of the pastor's words through a headset given to every somewhat-confused foreigner. She did very well, considering the demanding nature of an interpreter's job.

I had a hard time following the songs, though, since they were being sung too fast for me to understand the lyrics, and too loud for me to hear the interpreter explaining the meaning. But the sermon was good. The pastor showed a clip from the recent Les Mis movie and talked about how it is difficult for some people to accept grace when it is given to them. Jean Valjean accepted grace (and mercy) from Monseigneur Bienvenu and dramatically turned his life around as a result. Javert, on the other hand, was granted his freedom by Jean Valjean, and it caused him such deep internal conflict that he committed suicide.

The pastor compared the two characters to Peter and Judas in the Gospels, where Peter disowns Jesus (Matthew 26) but is later forgiven and goes on to become the founder of the Church, but Judas, who was "seized with remorse" after betraying Jesus (Matthew 27), tried to undo his actions, was refused by the high priests, and then hanged himself. ...

Hm, actually, I'm beginning to question the parallel being drawn here, especially because Judas wasn't shown grace by anyone. He's always painted as a pure villain who deserved what he got. Javert, on the other hand, is Valjean's antagonist but he's not a villain. He's not evil. He's just fanatically devoted to an impossible ideal of justice.

Okay, well, this is beside the point. The point is we must be able to accept grace even when we know we don't deserve a shred of forgiveness, otherwise our lives will never change. Christians can go around saying they love God all day, but you know they haven't really accepted the reality if their actions don't reflect God's grace at work in them. If you can receive grace, like Valjean, you can live with peace and love and do great things. If you can't receive grace, like Javert, then... it may be difficult to live at all.

... Oof. And I was expecting a typical Palm Sunday sermon about joy and rescue and donkeys and kids with big leaves dancing around, but hey.

So that is how church went today. I tried very hard to use the simultaneous interpretation to pick up some new words or phrases, but it was difficult because of the delay. Instead, I flipped through the program and listened closely to the songs to pick up new vocabulary:

십자가 (shipjaga) means "cross", like the shape or Jesus' cross.
귀하고 귀하다 (kwihago kwihada) means "scarce and precious", and it seems to be used most often in reference to the idea of "amazing grace", especially in the Korean translation of the famous hymn.
예수의 피 밖에 없네 (yesuye pi bakke eomne) means "nothing but the blood of Jesus", again taken from a line in a hymn. It seems rather unfortunate that the Korean word for "blood" sounds like the English word for "urine", doesn't it? :\
종려주일 (jongryeo ju-il) means "Palm Sunday"!

Have a blessed Holy Week (성주간/Sungjugan)!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

꽃샘추위 - The Winter is Jealous of Flowers, and Other Korean Expressions

This past week in Korea has been characterized by a sudden drop in temperature and an unwelcome haze over every city courtesy of China's Yellow Dust. And I was beginning to think that spring was on its way; the cherry blossoms are actually beginning to bloom all around Changwon.

In fact, this kind of early-spring cold snap is very familiar to Koreans, who have come up with a very poetic expression to identify the phenomenon: 꽃샘추위. Let's break this down:

꽃 (ggot) means "flower".
샘 (saem) means "jealousy". It's also how you pronounce the name "Sam" in Korean.
추위 (sounds like "chewy") means "extreme cold".

So, 꽃샘추위 describes the yearly late-March cold snap as the bitter vengeance of a dying Winter who is jealous of the coming flowers of spring. Perhaps she does not like colorful flowers, baby birds, and allergies. Perhaps she is just incredibly spiteful. Either way, she's holding out as long as she can before spring (봄/pom) finally arrives.

I learned this expression from my host parents but asked my co-teachers at school to explain it. They did, and then wondered if there's any sort of English equivalent. I don't think there is... Actually, my co-teachers have been asking me for a lot of American English idioms recently, mostly because they've realized that they use a lot of Korean idioms and want to express these interesting ideas in English when they speak with me. I'm not quite as well-versed in colorful English expressions as my friend Adam Gann ("Carter's little liver pills", anyone?), but I'm trying to keep up. It's more difficult than I imagined to come up with idioms that fit a specific circumstance!

On the other hand, I've learned many great expressions from my co-teachers, and here are a few of them:

반짝반짝하다 (banjjak banjjak hada): This is an ideophone (kind of like onomatopoeia, but not for sounds) that describes objects that shine, sparkle, and glitter. Pretty things that are 반짝반짝 but not necessarily physically light-reflecting are said to be cleansing to the eyes (I think this is a separate expression, but I can't remember it).

째려보다 (jjaeryeoboda): To look at someone with scorn or anger.

눈 흘기다 (noon heulgida): Either to look at someone reproachfully or to give someone the side eye. I love this one. I also love side eyes. I now present three Gifs of the Side Eye:
Lucille Bluth is judging you.
Oprah Winfrey does not believe you.
Zachary Quinto can't even.
불똥이 튀기다 (bul ddongi twigida): This idiom describes the situation when one event "sparks" (불똥이) a bad consequence or reaction from something else. This can apply to someone "caught in the crossfire" between two friends fighting, but it could also apply to someone who's been left cleaning up another's mess.

꾸어다 놓은 보릿자루 (gguwoda noheun bolitjalu): I described this one in a previous post, and it means a person who feels out of place, like a fish out of water or a "cat in a strange garret" (that one I'd never heard before, but it's what the dictionary gave me...). They would feel or look like a random bag of barley sitting in a corner that someone else mistook for an actual person. Awkward.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Three Conversations with My Host Brother (HB)

HB: Do you know... hetch tock?
Me: What?
HB: Uh... hetch tock?
Me: Who's that?
HB: It has a needle on the back.
Me: Is this a person???
HB: No, an animal.
Me: Hetch tock... hetch tock... Oh! Hedgehog!
HB: Hedgehog? H-O-G?
Me: Yeah, hedgehog.
HB: I think it was D-O-G.
Me: Hedgedog? Haha, no, hedgehog. They're cute. Why?
HB: I want to breed a hedgehog.

HB: I was young...
Me: When I was young.
HB: When I was young, I walked this road.
Me: Every day?
HB: Every day. Go home... academy.
Me: Mhm.
HB: It was difficult... so I think, "Accio Firebolt."

Me: If I said, "I will give you one ice cream now, or I will give you two ice creams in thirty minutes," which would you choose? One ice cream now, or two ice creams later?
HB: Marshmallow.*
Me: What?
HB: Um... Two ice creams.
Me: Why?
HB: ... Of course.

*He was actually alluding to the Stanford marshmallow experiment, and successfully described it to me later. Smart kid.

Also, the aforementioned smart kid is currently reading the Harry Potter series in Korean, and I have found a new game. I pick up one of the books, flip to a random page, and begin reading. The goal is to see how quickly I can figure out where in the story I am. It usually takes three or four pages, given that I can only understand about half of the dialogue and almost none of the expository bits.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Blog Post about Blogging

I have admitted in the past that I am a "pathological blogger". I just can't help but write what I'm thinking and put it on the Internet for everyone to see! I do use the term a bit facetiously, but to be honest, I sometimes think it's an unhealthy obsession. Not only do I willfully spend hours upon hours each week writing about minute details in my boring life, I also harp on my friends who blog and constantly tell them to update, update, update! I mean, I love keeping up with my friends by reading what they have to say about their own lives, but I acknowledge that it just isn't my place to tell them what to write and when. Sometimes, I feel like I've replaced my actual friendships with the blogger-to-blogger relationship -- like I've communicated more with a real-life friend online than in real life.

Over the years, dozens of my friends have begun blogs and ended them. Most were blogs about semesters abroad or random travels. A few were personal journals about daily life that went from the ambitious picture-a-day style to sporadic, one-sentence updates. More than a few simply stopped writing without saying goodbye.

As a result, I've accumulated many "dead" blogs on Google Reader. I didn't realize just how many I had until I decided to move to feedly (since Google Reader is going to be shut down in July), a web reader that can integrate perfectly with Reader. In Reader, I had the option of hiding from view any blog feed that wasn't updated, so I never knew how large my reading list actually was.

When I imported my reading list into feedly, I was a bit surprised to see that I was subscribed to over one hundred blogs and newsfeeds. Less than a third of them were being updated with any sort of regularity. So, I had to make the difficult choice of removing all the "dead" blogs from my feed.

With Reader and its "hide" function, I could always hold out hope that a friend would log in and write a blurb about whatever after years of no news, and I wouldn't miss this blast from the past, since it would pop up in my feed. But... I've decided that now is as good a time as any to start fresh. So, goodbye, (50+) dead blogs! If you are ever resurrected, I probably won't know. But to my friends, the writers of said blogs, well, if you keep in touch in other ways (e.g. Facebook, or, I don't know, real life maybe), be sure to let me know if you've begun to write again.

I myself will continue to write here for at least another year, and I have a handful of entries left in mind for my old Swarthmore blog, so you know where to find me.

Oh, and I guess this is probably a good place to plug my "Friends and Links" page, found in the navigation bar up at the top of the blog, which has links to the blogs of friends, fellow Fulbrighters, and more -- but only those that are 1) updated regularly and 2) I actually read.

Monday, March 18, 2013

택견 - Taekgyeon

In other news, I went to a taekgyeon* class this evening and made a fool of myself for an hour.

(No, not Taecyeon (택연), but taekgyeon (택견/태껸). The other Taecyeon is a K-pop star and one of the good-looking, bad-acting stars of Dream High.)

You see, this semester I was determined to pick up some kind of martial art. I needed a way to stay fit that was more interesting than running on a treadmill, and I also thought it would be logical to take advantage of living in Korea to learn a bit of Korean culture; I mean, everyone knows about taekwondo (태권도) and hapkido (합기도), right? If I'm going to live here for a year, I should pick up something new (besides the language), right?

I asked on the expat Facebook group if anyone knew of any 도장 (dojang/martial arts gyms) in my neighborhood, and someone gave me directions to a hapkido gym. I went to check it out last Saturday, but it was closed. I also wandered around my neighborhood to look for taekwondo gyms, but the three I found were either closed or only offered classes for children. The last place I tried was a taekkyeon gym, and while I had no idea what taekgyeon was, the gym's sign had an anime-style drawing of a guy doing a crazy high kick, so I thought that whatever this was might suffice.

So, I went into the gym, awkwardly asked the first person I saw (who turned out to be the gym director/관장/gwanjang) if there were adult classes offered here, and he responded in the affirmative and gave me his card. I then awkwardly left. When I got home, my host mother called the gym and asked for some more information, like class times, fees, and whether or not a foreigner who can barely understand Korean and has done next to no martial arts previously (하나도 해본 적이 없다) would gain anything from the class. All stuff I could have/should have asked myself, but I am awkward and have no confidence so there.

Tonight, then, was the first class that I attended, and I purposely went in without any idea of what taekgyeon looks like. I mean, I saw a thirty-second video that looked like intense kick boxing, but that's it. And when I told my friends and fellow teachers at school that I was going to take up this martial art, they all said, "Oh, taekgyeon is like dancing." From that, I gathered that it was probably a Korean capoeira.

It's actually not...

Well, I can't make any grand conclusions after one hour of practice, but it was one hour of drills very similar to the taekwondo class I took during Orientation last July. Lots of kicking, punching, stretching, and push-ups. Lots of push-ups. I was just expected to dive right into all the apchagi and whatever else vaguely reminiscent of what I'd learned several months ago but never mastered, so "rusty" does not even begin to describe my weak kicks and overall lack of coordination. Also, wrestling is incorporated into taekgyeon, so for a hilarious five minutes the kind but intense sabom (사범/instructor) told me to try to take him down and I just stood there like, "What are you talking about, I have no idea how to do this, I am utterly helpless here?!" until he took me down. There didn't seem to be much dancing, but only time will tell, I suppose.

I'm the only foreigner in a class with three adults total, one of whom has been learning for a year and the other for many, many years, it seems. So I'm a total noob, but I still enjoyed the workout, and I think I'll continue to go and see if I can actually glean something from this experience. Who knows, I might become a badass yet. Check up on me in July?

*Wikipedia's transliteration is taekkyeon, but at my gym, they use taekgyeon, so I'll stick with that variant of the spelling.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Princess and the Fool

I like to watch TV with my host family because it exposes me to Korean culture and language while giving me an easy way to hang out with them. My host brother is very into Running Man, Rule of the Jungle, and Gag Concert, so those are the three that I watch the most often.

Running Man is a really entertaining program. I don't watch a lot of TV so I don't know what kind of American game show or variety show I could compare it to. The gist is that a core group of contestants -- various actors, singers, and entertainers -- along with a few celebrity guest contests compete each week to complete a series of themed missions that move them through interesting landmarks in different locations. For example, I've seen episodes taking place in traditional villages, empty shopping malls, the entire city of Cheongju, and last week they were in Vietnam for some reason. It's part scavenger hunt, part relay race, and part silly game show; I guess it's kind of like The Amazing Race, but definitely a carefree iteration, nowhere near as high-stakes or dramatic.

General Ondal and Princess Pyeonggang (from Wikipedia)
Anyway, tonight's theme was a parody of an old Korean folktale about Princess Pyeonggang and the fool Ondal (평강공주와 바보온달). I was heartily confused at the costumes and the storyline bits of the show, but my host brother managed to explain what was going on.

Princess Pyeonggang used to cry all the time when she was little (either all the time or continuously on one New Year's Day), so her father the King threatened that if she continued to cry, he would make her marry the village idiot (바보/pabo), who was a commoner named Ondal.

When the princess grew up, she refused to marry the man her father arranged for her to marry, citing her father's threat-slash-promise of marrying Ondal. The King tried to explain to his daughter that his threat was just a joke, but when Princess Pyeonggang continued to resist her father's wishes, he grew angry and banished her from the kingdom. Princess Pyeonggang ran away and found Ondal living in the mountains. She then spent many years educating and training the fool in archery and horsemanship, and he ended up "like Napoleon", according to my host brother: in other words, he became a general. They went back to the palace after many years, impressed the King, and lived happily ever after (until Ondal was killed in battle against the Silla).

It's a cool story. I like how the princess stands up to her father's patriarchal expectations of her and does her own thing, also managing to help another outcast and marginalized person overcome the barriers that prevent him from living successfully and with respect. I wish this were the kind of story I saw played out again and again in Korean dramas today.

As it were, the story of Princess Pyeonggang and Pabo Ondal was introduced to me via parody on Running Man, where three female contestants played the role of the princess and had to find their respective Ondals, "educate" them (in a hilarious trivia game where every wrong answer resulted in a huge spray of water to the face of contestants balanced precariously on a small platform in a swimming pool), and eventually win the favor of the king.

Running Man looks like tons of fun. I don't think I'll ever be on a reality TV show or game show of any kind, but if I could just play silly games and light-heartedly mock American culture for months, be filmed, and be paid for it, I think I totally would.

Parody: 패러디 (Konglish)
King: 왕/wang
Princess: 공주/gongju
Fool, or stupid person: 바보/pabo (Incidentally, this was one of the first Korean words I ever learned, from a youth game where screwing up resulted in everyone calling you "pabo". It can refer to a low-class, mentally-challenged person, but today it's used more as a light insult, much like the English "idiot".)
General: 장군/janggun
Patriarchy: 가부장제/kabujangje
Outcast: 왕따/wangdda (Refers mostly to social pariahs in an institution such as a school, and comes up often in references to bullying, a growing problem in Korea. There are many other words for outcasts, including 낙오자 "loser", 이단자 "heretic/excommunicate", and the interesting 꾸어다 놓은 보릿자루 "borrowed barley bag", which is an idiom for feeling like a fish out of water. Full example: 그녀는 꾸어다 놓은 보릿자루처럼 앉아 있었다. "She was sitting like an outcast." My co-teacher explained the story behind this idiom to me: a person once mistook a random bag of barley sitting in a corner for an actual person and suspected it of being a spy keeping quiet. Awkward!)

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Brain

A human brain and a half. 우웩! (oowek/yuck!)
I poked a human brain! That's something I never thought I'd do, especially after I finally decided that I wasn't going to pursue a career in medicine. But yesterday I had the good fortune of viewing a brain specimen in all its wrinkly, formaldehyde-y glory and touching its slimy gray matter (with a gloved finger, of course).

This brain (뇌/nwe) was put on display for the science high school students who visited the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute for Science and Technology yesterday for their open house-slash-lecture series for Brain Awareness Week. Second- and third-year students at CSHS went on an afternoon field trip to attend three lectures by professors at DGIST and also get some information about applying to the school, which will be opening its doors to undergraduate applications starting this year.

I accompanied my students on their field trip, although in retrospect I'm not really sure what reason I had to be there. The lectures were in Korean, so while their content seemed interesting from what I could understand on the slides and videos, I hardly took anything from them. I guess I made for good company for my students. (I had actually assumed that my first-year students would also be going on the field trip, which was why I was willing to forego my afternoon classes with them yesterday; as it turns out, they stayed at school and I accidentally gave my co-teacher two extra classes to teach. Oops.)

In fact, I really enjoyed the company of my students. They seem to have warmed to me; I don't have to corner any of them to start a conversation anymore, because most of them will willingly speak to me about whatever is on their minds, or at least say hello, and we can go from there.

For example, a funny exchange between YJ, a third-year, and me:
Me: YJ, what did you think of the lecture?
YJ: Oh, so tired.
Me: Yeah, I was tired, too. Also, I couldn't understand the lecture because it was in Korean.
YJ: Yes, Teacher, you were sleeping.
Me: Oh no, did you see me fall asleep?
YJ: I was watching you.
Me: ಠ_ಠ

Anyway, YJ used to be very shy, but now, even if she doesn't know how to put what she wants to say into words, she'll try anyway. I can see that my students overall have gained a lot of confidence in their spoken English, and that's very important. I just have to nurture that, make sure they keep it up when they speak with strangers, and teach them interesting things to say.
학생들은 뇌를 궁금하게 검사해요. Some of my students examine the brain in curiosity.
That said, I got some interesting responses when I asked my students how they liked feeling the brain or what they thought of DGIST. Some of the female students I was waiting with were pretty ecstatic about touching the brain (they kept saying 재미있겠다! "This'll be fun!" over and over again), yet they also couldn't hide their disgust. When I jokingly suggested poking their finger deep between the lobes, they squealed and squirmed but grinned all the more. One student said the brain felt like those pre-packaged soup noodles you can get at the grocery store; just throw them in broth for some good 국수 (guksu).

As for this school, unfortunately, it seemed as if very few of my students intend to apply here. Although the D in DGIST stands for Daegu (대구), the campus is actually located in a rural area way outside of the city. It's pretty isolated, and also currently has no undergraduate student body, only graduate students. I think when my students envision finally going off to college, they see themselves somewhere a bit livelier than here.

I found it a bit strange that I was even talking to my students about college, though. They've been in high school for one year, yet they'll start applying to schools in just a few months. I've been teaching lessons based on the future and following one's 꿈 (ggum), or dreams, and invariably a topic that always comes up is one's 꿈 꾸던 학교 (ggum ggudeon hakgyo), or dream school. POSTECH, SNU, Yonsei, KAIST... my students are dreaming big. 화이팅!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hong Seok-cheon and Korean LGBTQ Culture

From KoreaBang, about a month ago: Gay [Korean] Celebrity Receives Letter from Nephews, Is Moved to Tears.

I was reminded by my host mother that tomorrow is White Day, the unofficial follow-up to Valentine's Day. In Korea, the tradition is for women to give chocolates to their loved ones on February 14th and for men to reciprocate the gesture by giving candy on March 14th. I wonder what gay Korean couples do on these two extremely heteronormative holidays? Probably nothing. To be queer is to be countercultural, so might as well reject the consumerist bent of these "traditions" as well and demonstrate your love with actions, not gifts.

Anyway, LGBTQ culture in Korea is quite subdued and still very much underground (i.e. on the Internet via forums). The US does have its culture wars with their fierce legal battles (California, I'm looking at you), but its queer community also has tons of pride, love, and support. We've got politicians, athletes, entertainers, religious leaders, and moms and dads doing their part to show the world what an accepting society should look like. Hello Neal Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper, Orlando Cruz, Nate Silver, Tammy Baldwin, Rachel Maddow, and Judith Butler!

Hong Seok-cheon (via
As for Korea... there is only one openly gay celebrity in the entire country. His name is Hong Seok-cheon, and he's paid dearly for his bravery. When he came out of the closet in 2000, he effectively destroyed his acting career; as the news spread, he was dropped from all his shows and struggled to land other jobs due to the stigma of homosexuality. In recent years, however, he's found success as a restauranteur and has finally begun reappearing on talk shows and in other media without much backlash.

In fact, at least one of Hong's restaurants is in Hongdae, and I'm disappointed that I didn't get a chance to check it out last month when I was living there. My hagwon Korean teacher said she ran into him once in this neighborhood, and that he is a very down-to-earth, funny, and genuine person. From what I've seen and read, I really respect him and his resilience. Most of the younger generation of Koreans also seem to support him and, whether or not they support equal marriage rights, recognize that LGBTQ people also deserve to be happy. Here's to hoping he can be a pioneer and help pave the way for other Koreans to feel safe being their full selves in public.

So what am I going to do tomorrow? Nothing romantic or materialistic, unfortunately. Besides visit Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology with my students on a field trip, I'll probably scour my city in search of a single bakery that sells pie. Teehee.

Monday, March 11, 2013

How was your day?

Today, my host mother told me that Koreans don't really ever say "오늘 어땠어요?" to ask the English equivalent, "How was your day?" While it's not grammatically incorrect, she said, it's just not normal.

I thought, "Oh dang, really? I've been saying that to you almost every day for the past six months!"

Instead of voicing that, though, I asked, "Well, then what do Koreans say instead? What question should I ask?"

As it turns out... there's no question. Just a cheerful "잘 다녀오셨습니까! (Welcome home!)" will do.

P.S. Pronunciation guide: 오늘 어땠어요 = oneul eot-daesseoyo; 잘 다녀오셨어요 = chal danyeo-oshyeosseoyo, where "eo" is /ʌ/ in IPA: kind of halfway between the English "uh" and "aw".

Friday, March 8, 2013

Without a Hitch

As far as school is concerned, this week went by without a hitch. Sure, schedules were shuffled and some administrivia have still not been finished (for example, I don't have physical rosters for my classes yet), but I'm quite used to the less stringent way my school works. As long as I'm flexible, I'm fine. Regardless, my classes have been great. My second-year students remember me with at least some fondness, and the new first-year students are a lively, energetic bunch. At least two of the latter group are, I've discovered, fairly fluent in English, owing to their having lived in North America for some stretches of time. The rest fall within the normal spectrum, from being terrified of their prospects in an "English-only zone" to bursting at the seams to say anything at all in English and hope that it's correct. It's been fun on all fronts, and, though I don't mean to 자화자찬 (jahwajachan)*, or praise myself, I think I'm off to a good start.

Non-work related stuff has not been necessarily as successful. I want to find a 태권도장 (taekwondojang), or taekwondo gym, and take classes there this semester, but most -- if not all -- of the local dojangs are specifically for children. I checked one out with my host father, to no avail. I think it will prove to be more difficult than I'd thought to find a place that is not too far from home and also willing to take on a foreigner who can hardly speak Korean. We shall see. In addition, I want to begin 봉사활동 (bongsa-hwaldong), or volunteering, at a Hana center in my city this semester. Although I have contacted several people about this, I haven't yet gotten a reply.

But... 긍정적으로 생각합시다. Let's stay positive. Work is good, homestay life is good, and the weather down here -- four hours south of Seoul -- has been practically spring-like these past few days. I love it. Oh, and it's 불금 (bulgeum)**. Bring on the weekend!

*I learned this new phrase tonight when my host father carefully examined the curry meatballs he had cooked for dinner and, after a taste test, declared himself to be a great cook. My host mother then gave her two cents. Vaguely related: Happy International Women's Day! Shout-out to my 근면한 (keunmyeonhan) and 다정한 (dajeonghan) mom: hard-working and loving, like all great mothers.

**And my host parents laughed at me when I used this bit of slang this morning. You can ask the folks at TalkToMeInKorean for an explanation!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The English Library

Today, I met some first-year students for the first time! I don't teach their classes until later this week, but I popped into the English Zone classroom near the end of the lunch period and found a few students browsing the books in the English library.
New books that we ordered for the library this year! So exciting!
I don't know if I've talked about this library before, but I am kind of in love with it. It only consists of a few bookshelves, but it is crammed with some of the best English literature out there. At least a third of my junior high and high school reading list is there, along with classics like the LOTR trilogy, popular fiction such as the entire Harry Potter series, some solid recent non-fiction like Obama's memoir and Malcolm Gladwell's works, and hundreds of children's books, including a huge collection of Roald Dahl. If you look at my Bookworm page, over a third of the books I've read this year are books I've snagged from the library. (In addition to novels, the English library has an enormous collection of SAT and AP prep books and a shelf overflowing with random English grammar references and textbooks.)

I ordered kids' classics - some that I've read, some that I haven't.
The problem, however, is that CSHS students basically never read any of these books. They're too busy studying science and math; English grammar and conversation are already very low on their priority list, so what chance does English literature have? It made me kind of sad when I thought about all the money the school funneled into stocking this library (and expanding it every year) going toward nothing more than a pretty display gathering dust. Of course, I'm reading all of these books, so it's not a complete waste, but I really wanted my students to read them, too.

That's why I had my college prep class read Holes together last semester. It was a small success, I suppose. At least one of my students was interested enough in the story to go to the school's main library and check out the Korean translation, and then he read that.

Anyway, I digress. Today, during lunch, I ran into first-year students browsing the shelves in the English Zone, and I introduced myself (of course, they know who I am already, but I had to be friendly) and told them how I wished more students would read novels in English. One of the students, HY, seemed really eager to chat with me in English, and her speaking level was more advanced than I expected. She had picked out the fifth Harry Potter book of the shelves, and we talked about our favorite characters and books. I told all of them that I had more books in my office and that they could come and borrow them at any time. It was great! I hope I didn't scare them too much.
Co-teacher got a ton of books she wanted to read. Smart move!

Later, HY came into my office and asked if she could borrow a book from the English library. That's the second time since I've been here that that has happened. The first time was a college prep student who wanted to borrow the AP Chemistry book to study.

Speaking of reading, since my schedule has been rather erratic during this first week (I had both my afternoon classes canceled, and more changes will come next week), I spent the entire afternoon reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It was interesting, and, due to the many classics name-dropped in Charlie's letters, made me even thirstier to read the rest of the books in the English library.

Monday, March 4, 2013

개학일 - First Day of School

What's changed?

Everything felt very familiar this morning. The same school, same clear blue skies, same brisk walk to campus. More studio apartments have been built in the empty lots across the street, but that's hardly significant. When I arrived at school today -- back in the chilly halls, back in my cozy office -- it was as if I hadn't even been gone for two months.

근데 모든것은 늘 변해요.

The day began with an 입학식 (matriculation ceremony) for the incoming class of first-years. New students! Over eighty of them! They looked so young and nervous, dressed in the same gowns that they would wear two or three years later for graduation. As they filed into the auditorium, our principal handed each of them a rose. Then, everyone sang Korea's national anthem, and there were various speeches, and I totally zoned out because I still 한국말 잘 못해요.

I snapped back to attention when some of the second-years (they're still first-years in my mind, but I guess that will take some adjusting) got up on stage to perform their own rendition of every Korean high schooler's theme song, Dream High, from the eponymous K-drama Dream High about high schoolers who sing and have tons of drama.
Gosh, it was so endearing! At the very end, SW and SM yell, "New students, welcome!" and "We love you!" Cue warm fuzzy feelings.

Next, some scholarships were handed out, some ceremonial bowing was done between the 선배 and 후배 (upper- and underclassmen), and then all the teachers were introduced, old and new alike. I felt the warm fuzzies again when some of my schools' more beloved teachers were introduced, like the second-year homeroom teacher and some of the physics and math teachers. The way the students cheered and gave 큰 박수 (a big round of applause), you could really tell they respect and like them a lot. I hope that when I leave this school, I'll be cheered for because my students appreciate how I've taught them, and not just because I'm the American oddity. As it were, when I was introduced, I heard mostly, "Oh, 앤드료 선생님 [is back]!" Surprise, kiddos.

After the 입학식, I went back to my office and prepared for classes. This semester, my workload has increased: 4 first-year classes, 4 second-year classes, and 3 third-year classes (hooray! I love my third-years). This, plus one or two classes with the other teachers in the English department and an English class for the Korean teachers if there's enough interest, brings my teaching hours up to fourteen. That's considerably more than last semester, but I'm ready for it. (Mentally, ready, that is. I don't have any lesson plans prepared past this week.)

There was also a 33% increase in the number of English teachers at my school: from three to four. Now that my school is finally at full enrollment (three grade levels), it needed an English teacher for the new third-years. I met him today, but apart from exchanging niceties, I stayed mostly out of his way because he was having a rather troublesome first day of school due to Technical Difficulties; i.e., computers not working, phones missing, and schedules and rosters not being printed out. I've been there, man. This brand-new school is already breaking. I feel for ya. He also has been tasked with the illustrious job of teaching 수능-prep English to our third-years, who are already sick of studying all the time. 참 안됐다!

Speaking of studying, I found out that, today being the first official day of school notwithstanding, the first-years (and all of the students and other teachers, in fact), have been in school for about three weeks already. Not only that, but they've been taking performance and aptitude tests, the results of which have earned some of them scholarships. So... they had three weeks of classes to prepare them for the next two years of classes. Whew.

In response this, I've renewed my resolve to make my class fun, engaging, and as stress-free as possible. During some down time before and after class today, I started browsing the Internet and brainstorming new ideas for the semester: art projects, games, and everything cool that falls within the intersection of English and science. New semester, new year... let's do this! 시작!