Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Link: Dom and Hyo on winter hats

I was going to write a post about the exact same thing when this couple already did it. Their site has an excellent cartoon that can explain this better than words can, but basically, many Koreans don't wear hats in the winter. Many eschew them altogether or some just use their jacket's hood. Either way, the reasons center on not wanting to mess up their hair.

At the same time, winter hats are available everywhere.

And on that note, it's gotten cold here. This is the coldest of the four Decembers I've lived through.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pop song ELT: MAGIC!'s "Rude"

One of the best lessons of 2014. Originally written in early July 2014.

In my experience with teaching in Korea, virtually anything related to English can be brought into the classroom. As it's the end of the semester and exams have concluded, the students have been in dire need of some refreshing lessons. This particular one has worked well.

The lesson began when a boys middle school CT suggested that we do a pop song in class. I happily agreed to do so, but questions came to mind: Which one? And for what purpose? Things must have a purpose in the classroom. They must have some kind of practical application. As much as I love music, I cannot simply bring in any song without a purpose for using it. And just what pop songs were out there? Despite my affinity for older kinds of music, the students like newer stuff, so I consulted the Billboard Hot 100 and started at the top. If I was going to bring something into class, it might as well be popular in the USA. I knew I had something with #3, MAGIC!'s song "Rude," for it had simple lyrics, a catchy melody, an expository, humorous video. Moreover, it had an interesting topic: A boy wants to marry his sweetheart, but her father says no.

I sent a link to the song to my coteachers, who watched the video and approved it for class. Next, I typed the first verse of the song into a PowerPoint file. The song, the PPT, and the handout below are what I made for class.

Why only the first verse? I'd read in Teaching Unplugged about showing a block of text for one minute, having students copy it, and comparing their versions with the "correct" text on screen. The one minute time would make copying a kind of race, which my boy students enjoy. It would also save me from printing the song's lyrics for everyone. Once the students had the lyrics down, they then had a text to work with.

How the class worked

We walked in, said hello, loaded the PPT, and began. I said we were going to do a class about a pop song. "We'll ask questions, make predictions, and learn some new phrases. We'll also talk about what you would do..." and got to work. I showed the first verse, had the students copy it, and checked their writing against the original.

I and my coteacher then asked checked the students' comprehension of the lyrics, phrase by phrase. Since the verse includes a simile, a line about a suit, and the pronoun you, we had plenty to talk about. What does raced like a jet mean? Who's the you in the song? Who is the narrator? We asked these questions and got the following answers:
  • Raced like a jet = Drove fast
  • The narrator's a man because he wears a suit. When I pointed out that women can wear suits, the students held fast to their answer/
  • You is either the man's wife, mother, company boss, or friend.
Having answered the questions and pondered the verse, the students were now ready to see what happens in the song and whether it matches their predictions. I played the song and cranked it up.

The song:

After the song concluded, we went back and went through the lyrics, line by line, so everyone knew exactly what MAGIC! was singing about. We briefly discussed the idea of the father giving his blessing before setting up the group discussion. We asked the students, "What if you were the man in the song? What would you do? And what if you were the girl?" and handed out the table below. The students got into groups and discussed the problems.

Facimile of handout

Imagine you are the boy in the song. What would you do? Write four ideas:





Best idea? Why?

Imagine you are the girl in the song. What would you do?





Best idea? Why?

What if you are not so serious about your boyfriend?

We gave the students around 10 minutes to discuss and prepare their answers. Each group presented their papers, often to laughs from everyone. We circulated around the room and helped whenever needed, but overall, the students did a good job of figuring out the writing themselves.

We thought things went well. The students enjoyed the music and many felt good at having figured out a foreign pop song by themselves without any translation. All of us had fun discussing the best and worst courses of action for the narrator.

My CT and I placed no rules on grammar or the kinds of sentences the students should write. The groups were mixed ability, so some wrote more or more in depth than others. Some groups wrote entirely in Korea, which I took as a chance to help them with translating. My Korean's good enough to recognize some words and phrases, so I worked with the lower-level groups and helped them rewrite their notes into English. In doing so, I learned some Korean slang that's since proved fruitful for jokes in class.

As a side note, I also got to do this lesson at the girls middle school with the 3rd graders. Doing so allowed me to compare to boys' answers with the girls', which showed some stark differences. The boys overwhelming favored "Killing the father" if they were the boy. The girls, by contrast, thought "Pleading with the father would be best." It seemed as though the boys and the girls wanted to play up the drama.

Scott Thornbury - Teaching Unplugged

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Belated Thanksgiving 2014 / Sunday morning reflections

This week's been up and down. Most of it comes from feeling homesick because it's Thanksgiving today. As I explained to the students this week, Thanksgiving is quite like the Korean Chuseok holiday: It's a time for families to gather and enjoy spending time together. It also focuses on being thankful for what you have. And what you have isn't so much what you possess as it is about intangible things like family, love, and friendship.

I got to see Dave Sperling of Dave's ESL Cafe speak in Daejeon yesterday. He said, "You're living the lives you want.  You're in Korea, after all." A wave of happiness went through me when he said that, for it's something that, obvious though it is, I sometimes forget that coming to Korea was about more than taking a job. Coming here meant learning a new culture and leaving home. It meant getting--and using--a passport for the first time. And it meant having to keep an open mind about things.

Sometimes one needs to hear the obvious. Living and teaching here is what I want to do. What other explanation exists for having signed a fourth contract? At another point, Dave said, "If I'd known [doing Dave's ESL Cafe] would be so hard, I wouldn't have done it." Not me. If I had known in August 2011 that the next three years would mean traveling all around this peninsula and Asia, meeting countless wonderful people, feeling better and worse than ever, and becoming a better teacher, then yes, I would've done it. Korea continues to be a wonderful time. Some days go better than others. Living as an expatriate is a full time job. But even so, it's the best I've ever had.

I'd like to give thanks to
  • Family. Words fail to express the importance of family. I miss all of you very much.
  • Friends. I've met friends from around the world here and that probably wouldn't have happened--not to this extent, anyway--if I hadn't gotten on that plane. You know who you are. Thanks for being here and for all the things you've mentioned about your home countries. 
  • The students. The Korean school system pushes them to the limit, but they keep coming back for more. The longer I stay here, the more I feel for them. I often wonder how I feel in their shoes.
  • Coteachers. Thanks for all of your help with understanding the school system and teaching our classes.
  • Planes, planes, and automobiles. Korea has an excellent transportation system. One can go anywhere at nearly any time.
  • Anyone who comes here and reads this blog.
This will be my final Thanksgiving in Korea. It's getting to be time for me to move on, for some educational and work opportunities have come up in the USA. The final Dispatches from Gangwon will come in August of 2015.


Though I'm not Southern, this song's a favorite for what it says about the USA and how we should try to preserve nature.
Lynyrd Skynyrd - All I Can Do Is Write About It

Actually, though it's about the USA, those lines about "the concrete slowly creeping" apply to Korea as well? Other than Shin Joong-hyun's legendary "Beautiful Mountains and Rivers"? 


Previous posts about Thanksgiving

#1: Happy Thanksgiving! 2011.

* Ironically, Thanksgiving signals the start of the crazed Christmas shopping season. And Black Friday and its sales are on the next day. Strange.


Last, but not least, thanks to Cal and J for being here in 2013-2014. Rock on!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Proving that we can eat spicy food

From journal entry since revised:

4 September 2014 – Went down to dinner and ended up going to a new Chinese restaurant in town. I ate jjajangbap and R ordered jjamppong noodles. Both dishes tasted good!
R ordered the spicy version of the jjamppong because she didn’t want the owner to think that she, a foreign woman, couldn’t handle spicy food. She wanted to prove herself and to not further the Korean assumption that foreigners can’t/won’t/don’t eat spicy foods. Second, she didn’t want to set a precedent for future visits where she’d always get the less-spicy version of the dish.

This changed prompted a conversation about Korean perceptions of foreigners for a bit before we moved on to talking about how the school day went for each of us. The conversation about spiciness and precedence stayed with me, which is why I’m recording it here. The owner of the restaurant seemed to assume that R wanted the less spicy version and, judging from her brusque manner, wanted us to make up our minds faster than we did. When we actually had to tell her twice that, yes, we wanted the spicy jjamppong because she talked over us when we ordered the first time. We’d ordered and she’d said some rapid-fire Korean back at us. We caught enough words to know that she was telling us the dish was spicy and she’d make the less spicy one for us. But that wasn’t the food we’d come for.

Spicy food is a sticking point for both of us, for while we do eat it, we don’t care to eat it all the time. And for my part, I always wonder about this, because whenever spicy food is on the menu, I feel as though I’d better eat it, lest I get labeled with not being able to handle spicy foods. And possibility of being told, “Oh, but you don’t like spicy things, so we ordered you something else.” Lest any readers think I’m worrying too much or too irrationally, what I just described—the “one and done” assumption—can and does happen here. Many EPIK friends have related similar stories to me.

And I don’t want to sound worrisome or act like Koreans want to paint western foreigners into a corner. Goodness knows that the world has enough stereotypes and misconceptions about Koreans. No, the idea here is whether or not R and I, Western foreign teachers here, have to prove our culinary chops to Korean people, particularly with:
  • Using chopsticks
  • Eating spicy food
  • Eating kimchi (which is spicy, but even so…)
During the time here, I’ve alternated between two views:
  • There is no need to prove anything. I like what I like, and that’s that. As I like to tell the students, there are 300 million people in America from all different ethnic groups. There isn’t really a standard “American taste.” Not to digress, but I also hesitate to say, “Americans do…”
  • It’s best to go along with things and not make a fuss…especially in this small town. Or, for that matter, anywhere else. Being the noisy customer is not for me.
19 November 2014/extra notes:

I mentioned the “proving” bit above because that’s what we and others have experienced in our time here. Let me emphasize that this mostly small-town­ Korea…areas that haven’t had much contact with foreigners. And the old ideas about foreigners not eating spicy food or Korean food being too spicy tend to persist here because of that lack of contact. We get that.

But then, I can’t worry about whether or not ordering spicy chicken breaks down the idea that foreigners don’t eat spicy chicken. And I can’t worry about turning down a spicy thing…people will think what they want. I won’t be the only foreigner they meet. In sum, for those of you who think about whether or not you should prove yourself worthy of jjamppong, well, just eat it if you want to. 

What these two foods look like:

Jjajangbap [Black bean sauce/stew with rice. Picture:
Note: Bap means rice. I've had this dish with chopped vegetables in the rice. It's also come with a fried egg on top. Some restaurants do that. Also, jjajangmyeon means jjajang with noodles [myeon] instead of rice. 

Finally, this is the unofficial dish of "Black Day," which is a sort of Singles Day for Korea. Many single people from all over Korea eat jjajang on 14 April every year.

Jjamppong [Chinese/Korean spicy seafood noodle soup. Picture:]

Note: This dish took a long time to build a taste for.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Screen time: Me versus the students

Coteacher: So, how much time do you spend on your computer?
EPIK teacher: Hmmm…maybe 6 hours a day?
Class: Whoa! 
Coteacher: Really? What do you do?
EPIK teacher: Everything. Lesson planning, shopping, sports news, email…
[Coteacher and class nod] 
--Demonstration lesson video at an EPIK workshop, Yangyang, circa 2012.

I’ve written about phones and “screen time” on here before, yet…lately the idea of comparing my screen time to the students came to mind. It wouldn’t be right to complain about something others do when I do it, so let’s take a look at how the numbers compare. Bear in mind that this is completely unscientific...

I started with the overly cynical and unrealistic idea that students spend every spare moment on their phones. And how many spare moments do they have? Let’s see: There 10 minutes between classes, 60 minutes for lunch, 20 minutes for cleaning time, and 60 more minutes for the dinner hour at school. Considering the hours between 8:30am and 7pm, the timetable looks like this:

Breaks between classes (6 @ 10 minutes each)
Lunch break
Dinner break
Cleaning time
200 minutes (3 hours, 20 minutes)

And me?
Breakfast: Emails and blogs
School: Planning, research, emails
After school: Emails, videos, music


Well then. We both spent a lot of time in front of computers or phones...but to be realistic, there's no way the students can spend all of their time in front of computers or phones. It's impossible. It only looks that way sometimes. And as the cliche goes, looks can be deceiving. I probably spend more time in front of screens than the students do. It'd be good to remember that.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Test day hath arrived

Another short one:

Like I wrote yesterday, the big College Scholastic Ability Test/College entrance test day is today. The Korea Joongang Daily ran this little article about it today. Here's something that caught my eye:
Airplanes will be banned from flying over exam locations for 25 minutes from 1:10 p.m. during the English listening portion of the exam. Cars will be banned from a 200-meter (650-foot) radius from test sites. [NEWS1]
Some thoughts on this:

  1. Never have I ever heard an airplane flying over head when I was in or around Seoul. I can't recall even seeing an airplane flying overhead either.
  2. I'd known about flights getting diverted, but didn't know it happened during the English portion. 
  3. Again, not to harp on it, but I do wish the students well. Their experience is worlds apart from my experience with the ACT ~10 years ago. I (and many other American teens), apart from a couple of ACT-prep workshops, no after-school classes, and no cram sessions. The Korean kids, on the other hand, stand against a whole culture that pushes a high score and considers the CSAT the moment in teenage life. Pressure, indeed.
  4. And on the other side: "Businesses capitalizing on free time after CSAT." Mother-daughter surgeries? What a strange message, though: "Don't worry about the lines on your face from all that stress! We'll straighten your face out now. And you can go with your mom!"
  5. How many students will go to special schools to study and take the test again?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Yesterday, today, and especially tomorrow

Yesterday was Peppero Day, the "holiday" for Peppero sticks. They're popular gifts for everyone.

Today's The Day Before the College Entrance Test. It's 1:30pm and all of the students are gone now. The middle school kids had a half day of classes and then got sent home.

And tomorrow's The Test. The big one. Students have killed themselves over this one. Those poor kids. I wish them well.

Korea Joongang Daily: "Students sacrifice year to ‘study again’ for test"