Sunday, September 30, 2012

Live from Gwangan Beach, Busan

We made it to the beach and it isn't raining! The weather's in the upper 60s/lower 70s and partly cloudy.

Here's some pictures of the beach, the surrounding buildings, and the Gwangan Dae Gyo (Gwangan Bridge)

Seoul to Busan

(Written on the train ride between Daegu and Busan)

The clock says 1:55am and we're around 15 minutes from Busan. The train ride has been good. They shake you around like the Amtrak trains do though, so writing and typing here doesn't always work so well. Reading's fine though.

Everything went according to plan. We arrived at Seoul Station with the ticket reservations and passports in hand. The woman at the counter only looked at my passport because I'd bought the tickets in my name. I had my ARC out as well, but she didn't look at it. She only looked at the passport to confirm the number and my ID. Note to ex-pats over here who haven't ridden the rails over here yet: bring your passport because the ARC will not suffice.

Later: 3am. Found the hotel after walking in circles for 20 minutes. We were a block away the entire time. The Busan Inn is literally across the street from Busan Station, but they don't actually tell you how to get there beyond "it's 200 yards from Busan Station," which sounds quite easy until you remember the confusing scheme behind Korean addresses. It's times like these when Rochelle's iPhone comes in handy. Google Maps has helped us more times than we can count.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Assessments and exams in Korea

The days before midterms and finals are always a bit different here: classes get cancelled or rescheduled with little notice, the kids are noticeably more stressed, and I usually end up presiding over study halls instead of teaching lessons because of directions from co-teachers. Doing so is perfectly fine; exam time’s stressful in any country, but it’s different here than it is in the States, especially this semester because the exams take place on the Thursday and Friday after the big annual Chuseok holiday. The kids will be taking their exams after a 5 day weekend and because Chuseok’s a busy time for Korean families, the kids will get extra time in class to study for their exams.

What follows got sparked by a conversation with JB the co-teacher (Mr. Kim) earlier. He had asked about the American system for high school exams and we’d talked about the differences between the two systems.

He spoke of his dissatisfaction with Korea’s system of putting all the emphasis on the exams because it often results in the students paying little attention in class because they think they can study the textbooks later. Plenty of students sleep in class and don’t participate at all. They can do this because of the testing system. While they have to study for every class period, the students do not generally get in class assignments. The Korean teachers don’t do formative assessments the way American teachers do. Rather, Korean teachers teach middle school and high school like college professors teach giant lecture classes: study the book and pass the exams because the midterm and final mean everything.

Putting everything on the midterm and final results in two things: less paperwork and grading for the Korean teachers and more stress for the students, who virtually no incentive to stay awake in class beyond taking notes because they can always cram for the exams later. JB doesn’t like this idea because he’d rather the students paid more attention in class.

He’d asked me about the US style of exams and I explained how the US middle/high schools don’t operate like their Korean counterparts. US middle/high school teachers tend to follow a system of daily assignments, homework, quizzes, and tests to record students’ grades. All of those things get assigned a point value. The final exam comes at the end of the semester. This method presents more work for the teacher and the students, but it does alleviate the stress of studying for the final exam. I can’t speak for all US high schools, but Waukesha West High School pegged the exam’s weight at no more than 20%. This meant that the exam could only count for 20% of a student’s final grade and 80% would come from other assignments. The exams were important, but they wouldn’t always make or break a student’s overall score. A D student could ace the exam and get a C or an A student could fail and get a B or C.

JB found what I said intriguing and said he thought that changing to the American style of grading might bolster the students’ focus in class. I’m inclined to agree. The students would have more incentive to do well during daily classes and would have less pressure to do well on the exams. As it is, they tend to study like they’re in a university: furiously cramming during the days leading up the exams.

We’ll have to see what can be done here. It’s good to know that JB and I have similar ideas about assessing/grading students. It’s also good to know that he’s thinking about these things because it shows active involvement in his profession. With his help, it may be possible to implement an American-style system to assess students. Some kind of points system’s in order for my future classes. While plenty of students do pay attention, there are always one to three students in every class who evidently can’t be bothered to do much of anything. They generally don’t cause any trouble. Most of the time, they’re overtired from the long hours at school, hagwon, and the PC bang. The co-teachers usually let this behavior ride, so there isn’t too much I can do about it. Still, having a chart or two with the students’ points could boost their attention levels.

I should note that I don’t officially have to do this, but I want to. Even after a year, it’s still amazing how much paperwork I don’t have to do here. Unlike the Custer days of yore, there are no essays to grade and little, if anyway, attendance sheets to fill out. For this American teacher, it’s a bit strange, but it’s easy to get used to.

I’d been thinking of instituting a points system for daily work because it could boost participation. To date, this has not been done yet, partly because of negligence and partly because I don’t want to fall back on rewards. Kirsten has been successful with her system of points and rewards, but I’m not a fan of using extrinsic motivators in the classroom because they don’t promote learning for learning’s sake.

A year on the frontier pt. 2: Studying Korean + Future posts

I’m a month into year 2 now and I’ve these next 11 months to do an even better job than before. The first year was all about finding my footing and getting acclimated to the new environment here. Landing here brought plenty of challenges – living here’s a job in itself. Sure, teaching’s important and challenging, but so is getting through the days and weeks as an ex-pat in a foreign land. Getting through the day can takes its toll on you.

It’s a new year now, so residency’s been established and I know my way around this town (and Seoul). Feel things seem unfamiliar now, especially here in Wasu-ri. I’ve learned enough Korean to get through most any situation now. My Korean’s nothing special, but between my knowledge of the vocabulary and a few phrase forms, I can string enough broken Korean together to be understood. Combine that with a knack for making inferences and I can usually understand what people are saying on the street or in movies. Every day brings a new word or phrase or three to study too.

Some good stuff’s on the horizon as well:

Busan - As I noted earlier in the post about KORAIL tickets, The Chuseok holiday is this weekend, so we’ve a 5-day weekend. Rochelle and I will spend it in Busan and Seoul. We’re riding on the midnight train tomorrow, so we’ll have a relaxing day in Seoul before the big ride begins. The train tickets are printed, the hotel’s booked, and the bags will get packed tonight. We’re both excited for this one. This trip means visit #1 to Busan for me and visit #3 for Rochelle.

The upcoming EPIK/Korean English teacher’s conference in Yang Yang. It’s going down on 11 and 12 October, so it means another short week of teaching.

Thoughts on exams and assessments / Comparing the American and Korean systems. This will be the next post.

Additionally, here’s a preview of what’s to come in future posts:

Top 10 memories of year 1

Teaching schedule/The middle and high school teaching scheme

A tasty meal we ate in the Central Asia Food Village

More K-rock videos

More of “A Year on the frontier”

A response to something my dear dad said: “It sounds like teaching ESL is easier than doing regular English in the USA.”

4 weeks of writing activities in HS grade 1.

Our mission as EPIK educators / Reflections from the Cheorwon Crew

Dating logistics

Monday, September 24, 2012

Back to Wasu: All along the walking path

This goes together with the "Thankful for my country home" post from earlier. The past couple of posts were about places in Seoul, so I thought it best to return to Wasu and Gimhwa for another look at the lovely countryside here.

Rochelle and I took a long walk up one of the walking paths from Wasu to Gimhwa recently. Wasu has a shallow stream running alongside the town and it has walking paths on either side. The summer and its rains have suddenly become a mild fall and we've had some great sunny days here.

The towns of Wasu and Gimhwa may as well be one and the same because there's barely any separation between them. Gimhwa's actually the smaller of the two, but that happened because Wasu's population grew faster. This may explain why the schools carry the Gimhwa name instead of Wasu, despite having a location closer to Wasu than Gimhwa.

Any of you know that John Mellencamp song "Small Town"? I used to loathe that song and everything it stood for before I arrived in Korea. Who wants to live in a small town with nothing to do? To my pre-Korea mind, small town America was all about complacency, dependence on cars, lack of intrigue, and boringness. Growing up on the outskirts of Waukesha, WI fueled the resentment of small towns. Not being able to get anywhere without a car did a number on my adolescent psyche. Ages 13 to 16 felt isolating.

All that has changed upon arriving here. I couldn't get much happier living here: everything's within walking distance, the air's clean, traffic's light, and people are nice. Let me repeat that last point: the people are nice. Moreover: there's frequent bus service to Seoul, Incheon, Chuncheon, Suyu Station (northern Seoul), and a bunch of points in between those destinations. The local buses connect Wasu to Sincheorwon, Dong Song, Yukdan-ri, and a bunch of other small towns. Korea knows its public transportation. Can I say the same for the United States? No, especially in Wisconsin.

Enjoy the pictures.

Harvesting the rice

All of these pictures were taken between 10 and 25 minutes from the E-3 apartments here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Purple Record in Hongdae, Seoul

Rochelle and I went to the college student/hipster/musician's paradise of Hongdae Saturday night and paid another visit to Purple Record. Damn did it feel good to buy some CDs again. We'd been there once before, when I bought the Lowdown 30 CD, but this time, I was really in the mood to get some new tunes. The store carries good range of music but I found it lacking in the punk and metal selection. Then again, this being Korea, a lot of small label releases probably don't make it over here too easily. Purple does boast excellent rock, jazz, and blues albums.

The sign talks about a sale on LPs.

This had to get posted. "Black" music?! Rochelle and I found this, er, interesting. What exactly constitutes "black" music now, anyway? At least it didn't say "Race Records." 

Want to see and hear what I bought? Here you go...I've also posted this to my other blog, Investing in Polyurethane Discs, which I've started reviving lately.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra's first LP, The Inner Mounting Flame, from 1971.

Their second LP, Birds of Fire, from 1972.

Two things spurred these purchases:

1. I had a beyond cool class called American Popular Music during my freshman year of college. Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum taught the class and he'd played these guys during a lecture on jazz and its influence on rock music. The song he played: The Inner Mounting Flame's "Meeting Of The Spirits," a veritable explosion of sound and melody. The song came to mind a few days ago, so I looked it up on YouTube, played it, and listened to it anew after 7 years.

2. Henry Rollins mentioned Birds of Fire's title track in his book Fanatic! He writes:
This is John McLaughlin's monster band....if you like what you hear, the record is cool and so is The Inner Mounting Flame. I think [Black Flag's guitarist] Greg Ginn really got a lot from McLaughlin and this record. I checked out the song and yep, it sounded good!

[Note: I bought these two based on three songs ("Meeting of the Spirits," "You Know, You Know," and "Birds of Fire") and their reputation as influential albums. Sometimes you get a gut feeling that an album's just going to be good--these are two such albums. Even though I'm loving The Inner Mounting Flame on first listen, I already know that the album will get even better with each listen. These guys knew something. "Dance of the Maya" gets heavier than Black Sabbath at times. "Vital Transformation" has an insanely complicated and precise drum and guitar intro. "You Know, You Know" rides a gentle groove for a while until hard stabs of dissonant, distorted guitar break up the melody. Need I say more? Fans of Hendrix, King Crimson, and Black Sabbath should listen in]

[Fanatic!: Songs Lists and Notes from the Harmony In My Head Radio Show. Rollins, Henry. Las Angeles: 2.13.61, 2006]

Bob Marley's 1973 album Burnin'

The video above's the Deluxe Edition of the album, which I haven't heard yet. I have the single disc remastered version.

Rochelle had bought me the vinyl LP of Legend to celebrate our 100 days together and it sparked an interest in this big musical figure. I've always known about Marley and his songs, but hadn't spent much time listening to him until now. He's good stuff. Reggae's still largely unknown to me, but I like the laidback grooves and the uplifting songs. Burnin' is full of quality songs. Favorite tracks:
  • Get Up, Stand Up
  • I Shot The Sheriff
  • Small Axe
  • Burnin' and Lootin'
  • One Foundation
Extra info dept: The book Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders The Classics tore about Marley's famous Exodus album. The book isn't here in Korea, so I can't say anymore about that right now. The memory's fuzzy.

African fufu at Mama Africa in Itaewon

My 2nd grade high school kids have been studying a chapter on international foods (particularly different countries' versions of dumplings) with their Korean English teachers recently. I've taken to patterning this semester's lessons on the textbook materials so the students can get a more consistent message. Nina and her co-teacher in Dong Song sparked the idea for doing so because gave a presentation about this idea during a workshop this summer. It seemed a good idea and so far it's working: the students seem more focused on their studies because I'm teaching some of the same things as the other teachers.

To get back to the food, I got to thinking about how the textbook never mentioned anything about African dumplings. Surely, I thought, African food has some kind of dumpling dish, so I did some research and read about a west African food called fufu (also spelled as foo-foo), a kind of dough ball that gets served with stews. YouTube had a video about it too, so I watched it and thought the kids might enjoy seeing it too. They did. Being rural Cheorwon students tend to not know much about food from outside of Asia* so I strive to expand their knowledge in that area. They knew nothing of African food (neither did I until now, too) had mixed reactions to the idea of eating food without utensils. More than one class said "Dirty!" during the video. This was interesting because of all the other foods they eat with their hands: pizza, bread, fried chicken, and barbecued meats like galbi or samgyeopsal. Maybe it was the shock of the new? They probably weren't considering this.

Seeing the video got me interested in trying the fufu because you take a hunk of dough and make a mini-shovel out of it to scoop up the stew. You can leave your spoons, forks, and chopsticks in the drawer for this finger food. It sounded like a good time, and as I'd be in Seoul with Rochelle on the weekend, we made plans to check this out.

A quick Google search turned up Itaewon's Mama Africa restaurant. The review I read looked good. We had lunch there on Saturday and everything tasted great. We will come back again soon. We picked a non-spicy stew that had goat meat and vegetables in it. We were asked if we knew what to do about eating the fufu and I enthusiastically said, "Yep, sure do!" and mentioned the video and the restaurant review. The owner lady liked that.

The fufu and stew arrived before the other dishes did. It tasted excellent and it filled us up enough that we barely touched our fried plantains and fried jollof rice to go.** African cuisine went from "unknown" to "top 5" in 1 bite in my view. Yep, it's that good. Eating's always good when your fingers get a bit sticky--especially when you're experience a food from a different area of the world.

Fufu on the left, stew in the right. You're basically working with edible Play-Doh here. Fun stuff!

Holding a bit of fufu. I'm breaking a rule by using my left hand here because I'm left handed, but yep, I was indeed excited. (As per the below video, use your right hand. Apparently, the western African culture does the same thing as Arab culture: your right hand's for eating and shaking hands and your left hand's the "unclean" hand. No one noticed though. I'll know better next time)

Rice and chicken. Also quite good. Eating roasted--not fried, roasted--chicken felt quite good because unlike the States, regular grilled chicken breasts aren't easy to find here. Fried chicken and dakgalbi (spicy grilled chicken and vegetables) is much more common.

Here's the video if you don't want to leave this page.

Some information:

Mama Africa's near exit 4 of Itaewon Station. When you come out of the exit, turn around, cross the street and go down to the next intersection. You'll go down a slight hill. Turn left at the intersection, walk a few seconds, and you'll see Mama Africa on your left. Food costs between 7 and 10,000 won. We'd recommend sharing a foo foo and stew because it's almost too much for one person!

Oh yeah, the staff's quite friendly and helpful if you have any questions about the food.

This page has the review.

* Except for ice cream, pizza, spaghetti, fried chicken, donuts, bread, and waffles.

** It made for a good breakfast today

A quick note about Itaewon

For those who don't know, the centrally located Itaewon neighborhood makes up the heart of Seoul's foreigner community. It boasts many fine restaurants and clothes shops. It's also home to many clubs and bars, some of which explain why Itaewon's not always the best place to go at night. My fellow Cheorwon buddies have mixed opinions about the neighborhood. I maintain that it's a fun place to go during the day and haven't been there at night, so I can't give any opinions of the clubs or bars. I've been to a few clubs in Seoul and I can't say that they're worth going to. I don't care for overly loud dance music.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

From the archives: Myeongseong Mountain

Here's a shot taken somewhere during the ascent of Myeongseong Mountain in October 2011. This was the first mountain I climbed.


From the archives: Hwacheon / Farewell Paula

I figured out how to email pictures off of my battered-yet-still-ticking cell phone earlier tonight while waiting for a teacher's dinner to begin. The middle school had its festival today and we went out for samgyeopsal to celebrate. The restaurant was in Wasu, so it was in walking distance. I ended up getting there early because my co-teacher gave me a time that later got changed. Oh well. It felt good to get these pictures off the phone because they're some of the best snapshots of Korea. Just about everything on there came from the first few months in-country because one of the camera sensors got busted during the winter and the camera no longer worked.

Anyway, my dear English friend Paula finished her contract last month and has begun traveling around Asia and Australia. We had met on the bus ride from Seoul to Chuncheon after Orientation and made fast friends. I'd seen her once or twice between lectures, but we hadn't spoken until then. I'd excitedly started asking her about all things England and she willingly obliged. This is a bit hard to explain, I suppose, but England's always been something of a touchstone for me: I've always loved the music, the culture, and (admittedly, my slim knowledge of) history of the country. Here was someone from the country of Orwell, Churchill, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, the Who, and fish and chips, and she was all too happy to talk it. She was from Brighton, the site of the '60s Mod-Rockers riots and the setting of Quadrophenia!

But I'm carried away here. Suffice to say, we kept in touch all through last year and visited each other's towns several times. She was the first person I visited who lived outside of Cheorwon. The shopping trip that  I wrote about here happened because it meant we could hang out, shop, and drink beer. Plenty of other trips happened, too: multiple meetings in Chuncheon, the February Suwon excursion, the Hwacheon visit and several trips to Seoul , including the palace visit. Every time was great. I've a feeling that we may see more of her on these pages, for she'll be taking a teaching job in either Russia or Taiwan in a couple months and a visit will be in order.

Here are two pictures from the first Hwacheon visit. Cheers!

In front of the Hwacheon Rotary, October 2011.

The gorgeous river that bisects Hwacheon, October 2011.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Welcome to Rod End

The village finished putting in a new side street last week. It runs alongside the back of the elementary school and connects our "shortcut" walking path with the main street into town. There had been no road there before. The side street allows teachers easier access to the school because they can now take two ways in instead of one. They also have more parking spaces.

There's one thing about the road though: "Road" is misspelled as "Rod." Hence, the new name of our neighborhood: Rod End.

I laughed the first time I saw it, but I also had an idea about why "Road" was misspelled. It's simple: when Korean characters (Hangeul, or 한글) get transliterated to English, the letter O signifies the "Oh" sound of John Doe. So, "Road" would sound like "Rod" to a Korean ear because of the silent A, but English speakers pronounce "Rod" and "Road" quite differently.

The Korean on the sign, 도로 끝, is pronounced "Do-ro ggeut" and it translates to "End of the Road." "Ggeut" can mean "end" or "finish." Here's another instance of something getting lost in translation.

On another note, the new week brought a new hurricane with it. Nothing but rain happened here, but the southern parts of the country (and Jeju) got hit hard again. Let's have a moment for those who didn't fare so well.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"I'm thankful for my country home"

That line comes from the Neil Young song "Country Home." It plays in the background every time I go walking through town here, so it's been on my mind for quite some time now. Wasu's Neil Young country: endless mountains, wide open fields, low population density, and a slower pace of life. It mirrors his loping, rounded-off, lazily grooving songs well. If you know him and Crazy Horse, then you have an idea of what life feels like here.

Bonus track: his cover of Woody Guthrie's immortal  "This Land Is Your Land," which should be the USA's national anthem. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Hantan River Valley

Taken on an overcast Tuesday this week by an excellent pork galbi restaurant that overlooks the canyon. Pretty, isn't it?

We had a teachers dinner there for the 4th time this year earlier this week. It seems to have become a favorite place with our principal as of late because we would usually eat in Wasu or Gimhwa restaurants, but now we go this place in nearby Goseokjung. The restaurant even has a shuttle service that comes to our school to pick up all the teachers who don't drive or don't have cars. The exact name of the restaurant eludes me now. It'll get posted later. Suffice to say, it's quite good eating.

This past dinner ranks among the best--and drunkest-- of the teachers dinners in Korea. I've written previously about the customary pre-dinner shot of soju, but this particular evening featured the soju plus somaek (soju and beer together) and boilermakers because some kind soul brought a bottle of Scotch with him. You know it's going to be a good night when a half and half boilermaker arrives in front of you before you start eating. My principal's a generous man. Cheers!

Coke Light in Korea

Years ago, a slightly silly idea came to mind about how soda makers should call their "diet" sodas "light" because it sounded cooler. Maybe it was because beer companies would make "light" versions of their beers and call them "x light." Perhaps this idea occurred to the Korean arm of Coca-Cola, because here's Coke Light.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Asian emoticons class

Asian Emoticons

Teaching tip: Use your classroom as a resource. The kids can teach you any number of interesting things.

Also: Use materials the students can relate to.

I used part of this lesson from Breaking News English recently and it went down fairly well. My co-teacher had been teaching lessons from a chapter in the class textbook about cultural differences and body language, so this lesson seemed a good fit. As you can see though, the Breaking News lessons are probably written for college ESL students and as you can see, they’ve enough material for more than two classes. I simplified the lesson and only did the true/false quiz, the gap fill in the reading, and the vocabulary activities with the students. The news story had some challenging vocabulary in it but the students got the gist of it.

I introduced the material by asking the students to write down different emoticons they knew. They wrote some on the board and we talked about them. Though I’d seen a couple of Asian emoticons, the students proceeded to show many more that I didn’t know. You can see the below because you might want to see them.

Note the big difference between Asian and Western emoticons: the Asian ones emphasize the eyes and the Western ones focus on the whole face. They also differ in their orientations: Western emoticons go sideways and Asian ones don’t. The Breaking News reading talked about how different cultures look at facial expressions, especially between Asia and the West, so the students instantly related to the reading. They liked learning about new Western emoticons too. Again, the reading may have been a bit too complicated, but the kids accomplished the objective and learned something new.

Asian emoticons:

^_^       Happy               
ㅇㅅㅇ Wow (in Hangeul—the Korean script)
>_<       Angry (some of the kids say “cute”)                     
m>_<m Cute angry / aegyo
^_~      Winking
_   Sad
_   Crying

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More travel lessons: Train rides and KORAIL ticket booking

The train tickets from Seoul to Busan got booked today. It looks like my first Korean train ride will be on a midnight train because that was the only one available. I got on the KORAIL website as soon as I could (2pm today) but it it was still almost too late: all but two trains were sold out. Granted, this is during the Chuseok weekend, but we're taking the slower Mugunghwa train instead of the fast KTX, but it didn't matter as that many people will ride the rails over the holidays here. I can only imagine what the highways will look like.

Matt in Dong Song had given us some this bit of info: Train tickets go on sale on KORAIL's English website after they go on sale on the Korean website. Rochelle and I probably snagged two of the last seats on the train. Let that stand as a lesson learned: Have a Korean friend or associate help you book train tickets on the Korean KORAIL site because you'll have a better chance of getting the train you want. Frankly, I'm not thrilled that we're leaving at 9pm and arriving at 2:15am, but that's how it goes. It isn't for lack of trying.

Getting the tickets for the late train also prompted this problem: whether or not the our hotel would let us check in at such an hour. Generally, check-in times for Korean hotels last from 2pm to midnight, so I had to make sure we wouldn't get called no-shows. Mrs. Jeong the co-teacher provided valuable help here because she got on the phone with the motel (he didn't spoke much English) and asked him if he could hold the room for us. He could indeed do it. Problem solved. We have hotel and the train tickets now, so we're set. I'd hope to see the countryside on the way there, but it looks like that will happen on the return trip instead. Either way sounds fine.

Good luck to anyone booking tickets out there.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Quotes from the classroom / The walking dead

Here's a quick hit about some stuff I heard earlier today:

Two good quotes from a 3rd grade middle school class. The students were completing the expression "I am ~ enough to ~." Here are three of the responses:

1. I am old enough to love.
2. I am cute enough to attract boys.
3. I am tall enough to do the dishes.

Hehehe, yes indeed. While #1 says something self-aware, #2 will have no shortage of boys who like her, #3, takes the humor prize, for doing the dishes does require some vertical stature. Good for her.
And on a similar note...something I misheard became an even better line (and just as plausible) version of what was actually said. It happened earlier when I saw Jelina, one of my former 3rd grade students in the hallway.

Me: Hi there, how are you?
J: Sad.
Me: Why?
J: Universe.
Me: Universe?
J: No, university.

At first I thought she was playing on the traditional teenage melodrama of "everything sucks," but she was actually lamenting how much work she had to do to get into college, and she's far from alone. A Korean student's 3rd year of high school is a grueling marathon of studying in the school and the hagwon. They live at school and feast on their textbooks. For all the emphasis we have on the ACT in the States, the Korean college exam carries much more importance. The kids study day and night for this thing. Here's an illustration from the first day of the new semester in March: I'd begun a section of a 3rd grade class and had asked, "Are you ready for a new year?" to hear a chorus of "No"s. I asked why and they said "college entrance." There they were, a full 8 months before the November exam and they were shaking as though they had it the next day. I'd been excited to teach them in their final year of high school because their English levels had risen and the class was full of interesting kids. 3rd grade seemed like the time to bridge that gap between ESL and the traditional English stuff I'd been doing before Korea--the students were about to leave school, their participation had increased, and they understood 95% of what I said. Surely now we could blend English conversation with literature and really up their levels. Not so. Not at all.

The semester's classes were inconsistent at best. The stress of the upcoming exam and school life had the kids either half-asleep or slap-happy. They seemed like the walking dead; the same kids who'd never hesitate to talk stopped saying anything beyond the bare minimum. Answering "How are you?" took visible effort, as if they had to stumble through an unlit labyrinthine network of tunnels to find the correct response in "I'm fine, thanks"--an expression that they'd known since elementary school. Getting any participation grew difficult. The kids were just too burned out to want to pay attention. The once-engaged 2nd graders had morphed into burned out 3rd graders. Sure, some students did still talk, but it wasn't on the same level as last year. This grew wearying. Was it the lessons? Was it school life? Was it general apathy? I still had some good classes, for sometimes the students' slap-happy attitude brought out some great jokes. The best class of the semester came when we discussed bullying, swearing, and insults with a clip from the Korean film Sunny. You can watch it with the YouTube link below. Skip to 32:24 and turn on the subtitles by clicking the icon next to the gear at the bottom of the player. The kids enjoyed that one because they got a chance to learn about bullying and the context of swear words. I thought long and hard about using the clip in class because of the profanities, but went ahead anyway. The kids deserved to know more about English swear words because most, if not all of the students had already heard them before. I made sure to explain that profanities were not to be used outside of class as well. They understood. The resulting discussion yielded some thoughtful discussion about why bullying exists, too. My co-teacher said he enjoyed it and added that the kids needed to know about bullying. [Side note: swearing is an integral part of American/English speaking culture. The students may as well know why people say hell and damn in the States. Also: I've yet to hear any of those same 3rd graders swear.]

At any rate, the 3rd graders enjoyed the class and seemed to enjoy the semester when I asked them about it,  so that's good. I'm not teaching them any more because they need more time to prepare for college. This is probably for the best. I wish them well. 100% of the graduating class got into college last year. Let's hope it happens again.