Friday, December 27, 2013

Reflections on the 2013 school year 3: Plans for next year

My lessons aren’t perfect. Next year will undoubtedly present more difficulties than 2013 or 2012 did. There are several reasons for this:

The more I teach, the more I need to learn

While my footing may be surer than it was two years ago and I’ve a better idea of what to teach and how to do it, that doesn't necessarily mean learning has ceased. Quite the contrary: every day brings on a series of questions. If the lesson was good, what was good about it? What can be done better? If a lesson wasn’t good, how come it wasn’t? What could have been better? Was there another way to teach the material? What about next time? These questions determine what happens next.

Also, while I may understand more about Korean culture than before, the journey continues. The more time I spend here, the more nuances come out.

Increasing coordinator duties

A new head coordinator took over in August. He’s an energetic, indefatigable man and he’s got us working on bettering the EPIK program. Admittedly, there isn’t much I can talk about here, but I’m excited about what’s to come down the road. This past year has been a good introduction to coordinating and I welcome what’s ahead in 2014.

Changes in co-teachers

One coteacher, JB, told me that he’ll be moving on to another school once this year concludes. He was here when I arrived and has been a great help both in and out of school. For a time, he was my main co-teacher, so he was in charge of business trips and any issues that arose outside of school. In every instance, he provided invaluable assistance and understood how the EPIK program worked. Moreover, he has unquenchable thirst for learning English because he’s always studying and asking questions about the expressions he comes across. His vigor’s inspiring, for it reminds me to keep studying Korean and not to get stuck doing or saying the same things over and over. He’ll be missed.

Another co-teacher’s finishing out her 5 year stint at one school and will have to move on. She’s co-taught with two other Cheorwon veterans and is another tireless learner. She too understands EPIK and will be a boon to whichever school she teaches at next because of her bright smiles and charming personality. Our conversations are a highlight of school life. But there’s a chance she’ll simply move to another of my schools because the school transfers aren’t final yet. She won’t know where she’s going until March.

My obligations borne out of time spent here.

Admittedly, I don’t know what will happen, but the trend’s been that every year means more responsibilities on the professional side. It makes sense, each year here brings a raise, so asking for more work in exchange for more money’s a fair trade in my mind.

To be sure, there’ll most likely be another night class or two as well as more record keeping to do. The night classes this semester went well because they featured a small group of high level speakers, so each lesson was more like a coffee shop chat than a formal class. I’d choose a topic, draw up some questions and vocabulary, and briefly explain them before we got going. The students simply had to follow the topic (ie, traveling) at hand and speak in English. It was a format that worked well, but for next year, I’ll be including more A/V materials as well as more opportunities for writing. I should’ve better employed their notebooks this year.

More to come later.

Also...I'd like to wish everyone a belated Merry Christmas and hope everyone's enjoying the holidays.

Friday, December 20, 2013


The last few posts detailed professional concerns, but life hasn't been all work and no play in Cheorwon. Seeing as it's Friday, here's something lighter to kick off the weekend:I've begun cooking in earnest. I should've done it much, much sooner, but it's never to late to learn and do new things, is it? The late-20s are as good a time as ever to begin cooking for oneself.

Thanks to the lovely R and to JT Gatto for inspiration.

For my British friends: Beans and toast! It was every bit as good as you said.

Rice, fried tofu, and raw veggies.

You know it, I know it. The egg came out mangled, but it still tasted like victory.

Reflections on the 2013 school year 2: Anger

Avoid it as much as possible.

I’ll confess to losing my cool and yelling at students for misbehaviors. It’s not something to be happy about. It didn’t do anyone any good because it not only worsened the situation; it gave the kids their much-needed dose of attention. They got what they wanted and I got a headache and a sore throat. Korean society emphasizes the concept of “face,” which I definitely lost a few times over the years here. I took care not to ruin the class and quick switched a more positive mood to get the class rolling. Sometimes it was too late, but we usually got back on the right track.

On a similar note, Pink Floyd’s immortal warning of “No dark sarcasm in the classroom” proved all too tempting to ignore because there’s nothing a good harsh quip to put a student in his place, right? Wrong. Sarcasm doesn’t do anyone any good either. Life isn’t a movie script. There’s no peanut gallery watching the classroom for cutting lines or deft jests, there’s just me, the co-teacher, and the students. Moreover, sarcasm wouldn’t bring about any behavior change because it says nothing about the behavior that’s best for the classroom (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Here’s how: Saying something like “Oh, I see you’ve graced us with shining presence” to a tardy student may gratify for a second, but it won’t make him get in the door any sooner. Something like, “Good to see you, Joe. Arrive sooner next time,” would work better because it’s neutral and also points to the desired behavior. It also speaks the truth—I am truly am glad to see Joe and would like it even better for students to learn that expression to use among themselves. But, there’s another, more effective solution: Wait until the students are off and doing an activity and leave Joe a note or talk to him privately. Doing so allows for two things:
l       Joe gets no unnecessary attention when he enters the room.
l       He’s reminded of his misbehavior.
l       The conversation’s kept private.
l       I (the teacher) have time to cool down.

Contrast that with the aforementioned sarcasm and see which method’s more effective for yourself.

On a final note, I've found that telling the students I’m angry works because saying so always prompts a question as to why, and then I can explain. Yelling doesn’t work, but saying what the problem is—or demonstrating it, one of the two—always yields better behavior.

Let’s conclude by saying that sometimes voices need raising. One example comes to mind here: It happened during a word game we were playing at the boys middle school. One boy’s turn to speak came up and before he could say anything, another boy fired off a salvo of “You’re stupid” and “You don’t know anything” quips. The words cut the boy to the bone and he broke down and cried. As this happened in Korean, I missed the words and only saw the boy crying. A quick question to the co-teacher had her explaining what happened. It was no ordinary joking—it was verbal abuse. I yelled “Stop!” and halted the game so that we could review what showing respect and speaking at appropriate times means. By this time, everyone had gone silent. The other boy knew he’d done wrong, but rather than talk to him privately, I addressed the entire class, for they needed to hear this. They needed to know that taunting and verbal abuse is uncalled for. My co-teacher also talked to him after class and noted the incident in her log. 

More reflections coming soon...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Reflections on the 2013 School Year 1

Exams have concluded today and we’re entering the last days of the school year. The year concludes on 27 December, so we’ve about two weeks left before the winter classes begin. The regular year is, for all intents and purposes, over. We still have more classes to do, but they’ve already been planned out, so I’ve more some time to relax and stretch out. Hence, this post and a future series of posts reflecting on how the 2013 school year went down. Here’s the beginning:

Favorite lessons/activities:

l       The Price is Right--the students had great fun guessing prices of various items we learned about. It also provided an excellent review of money and numbers. The teams liked competing with each other for the closest price as well.
l       The hotel and airplane tickets roleplays--The students enjoyed walking around making their various plans with people. They got to do some real life English as well as practice activities they'll likely do as adults. As reading's been called an "imaginative rehearsal" for real life, so to are the role plays.
l       Battleship--The activity does take some time to explain, but the students understood it after a couple of tries. The game's format lends itself to repetition, so students get plenty of practice with variations on a speaking point without wearing the point out. The students also had fun guessing where the ships were.
l       Board games--UpWords and Scrabble. The games allowed the students to use their repertoire of English words in a fun context. To keep track of the words, they wrote words that they played on a handout and turned them in for my review.

What else went well? Why?

l       Anything I mentioned about America. The students are hungry for knowledge about my home country as well as the chance to compare Korea to other countries. The students delighted in hearing about how it’s possible to vote, buy rifles, and smoke cigarettes at age 18.*

l       The notebooks and the bringing of materials.I've written about this before—at the beginning, it felt like moving mountains get the students to remember that yes,this is class, and yes, you will bring your materials with you, but theydid get the message. Soon over 80% were bringing books, notebooks, and pencils to class and we began taking notes in earnest. Some grumbled at this, but it was the next step after brining the stuff to class. (Many did see the value, though) The note-taking part’s still being worked on, but the students are starting to see that yes, they need to write stuff down from time to time. Writing helps, interestingly enough, with the hallowed study method of memorization. It’s funny how students will copy words and sentences for pages, but writing stuff that appears on the board is forgotten much of the time here. Oh well…one more thing to work on next semester.

*They couldn’t believe it was possible to own a gun while still in high school. And as someone who turned 18 just before senior year began, it is a strange thing to think about. The Korean students can’t drive, smoke, or vote until age 19, which means after they’ve finished high school. What a contrast to America—driving is high school for a good chunk of the population, for better or worse.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On to SKY

Few things in a teacher's life sound as good as hearing of a student's successes: One my former students has been accepted to the prestigious Yonsei University! Ji-hye deserves it: A consummate scholar and a bright presence, she always showed up to class with a smile and practiced her English at every opportunity. She's certain to do well at the university. Her amiable personality and intelligence will serve her well in the years to come. She's done our school well.

This is what happens when you study hard and keep focus. Well done, Ji-hye! Here's to bright college years. The road ahead won't be easy, but we've every reason to believe she'll keep up the good work.

*Yonsei's part of the Korea's illustrious SKY universities: Seoul National, Korea, and Yonsei.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Teaching tip: You can only be you

Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson  [Quoted here]
Teaching corollary: Teach how you will, but no matter how you do it, you'll always be you. 
Whether you're teaching in hagwon or EPIK, chances are that if you're teaching in Korea, you will have heard about your predecessor(s) in the classroom. Maybe you're like me and you not only met her, you were neighbors with her. And chances are that in doing so, you have heard students or teachers talk about what predecessor X did for a lesson or how X's differed from yours. It's inevitable when considering all of the different people who go abroad to teach English here. In hearing about X, you may feel tempted to compare your classroom performance to him or be more like him in the classroom. But however you think of X, resist trying to be X. 

While it's good to draw inspiration from teachers past and present, it does no good to try to be someone you're not. You can only be you, especially in the classroom. By all means, learn from your colleagues and emulate the masters, but remember that trying to be someone else is futile.

During my first year here, I thought about the woman I replaced and how my style compared to hers. Since we were neighbors for a time, comparisons inevitably popped up in conversation. Students called her the "games teacher" and referred to me as the "educational teacher." She had a kinetic and whimsical style; I moved more deliberately. She so spoke highly of her former girls middle school students and the lessons they did together that I wondered how well I was doing. The questions came in flashes: Was I boring them? Should be I more like her? Should I jump around more? What if they resent me because she's gone? I'd get into that pattern for a while before the thought of hey now, you're not her and never will be--relax already! came to mind like a Seattle sun-break and I moved on.

As the months grooved along and found my footing, those questions dissipated and were replaced with more practical questions about how to adapt her good lesson ideas to my classes. I couldn't be her, but I could certainly emulate her. Doing so helped alleviate the anxiety and allowed me to concentrate on reaching the students because above all, the students will know when the teacher's on uneven footing. They can sense it and are masters at spotting uncertainty. Like Emerson said above, we can only be who we are, but we should strive toward becoming the best possible versions of ourselves. The students will adjust to you because you are not the first foreign teacher they've had and nor are you likely to be the last. In short:

  • Do the best you can, because you can only be who you are.
  • There's no one way to teach and there are many different styles.
  • The students will adjust to you. They have plenty of other teachers who teach differently. You're no different.
  • The students will know if you're going too far out of your comfort zone. 
  • Overthinking leads to mental fatigue
And as I'm a fan of bookends, let's conclude with more of Emerson's wisdom from his essay Self Reliance:

There is a time in every man's education when we arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is give to him to toil. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he tried.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Choppers overhead

I was walking home from school this week and looking up at the hues of the sunset when I heard them. Choppers. More than two, from the sound of it. I kept walking and within seconds, they came into view like something out of a movie. Helicopters fly by occasionally up here, so seeing them was nothing new, but the combination of seeing the three of them coming out of the southwest looked startling. We don't usually have three choppers flying by at a time here, despite all of the army camps strewn about Cheorwon. I wonder what they were up to? It makes no matter now. Helicopters and rifle fire from nearby ranges are as much a part of Cheorwon as the kimchi.

The picture below came a little late, but it conveys the idea.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Smart phones aren't entirely evil

Two high school girls watch an online lecture on a smart phone during a study hall. 

Korea has a wealth of online lectures for students to watch and learn from. From the looks of them, they're well produced and practical.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving 2013

...and happy Black Friday, for those who braved the maelstrom that heralds the Christmas shopping season. And for those who will storm the Internet gates for Cyber Monday, I say good hunting. The gods of commerce appreciate your zeal for bargaining.

And, more generally, winter arrived in Cheorwon the form of 6" of snow on Wednesday afternoon. Even now the roads are still iced over thanks to a lack of salting and shoveling. More than a few of us have already slipped and fallen while out. The students threw caution to the wind and began another round of snowball fights in their slippers. Some of the fights made their way into the halls of the school and the detached building I teach in. Thankfully, little snow actually made it into the classrooms themselves. 

I'm thankful for that and much more. I'll say it in a Korean for a change: 가족, 엄마, 아빠, 동생, 여자친구, 철원 원어민 선생님들, 학교직원들. You know who you are. Thanks for being here. Rock on, stay warm, and keep the greasy side down while driving.

From Cheorwon with love.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Lunches and dinners

Lunches and dinners from the boys middle school and the high school...I eat well here! Most of the time, the dishes are spicy, but I've grown accustomed to that and enjoy more or less everything the cafeterias have to offer. If I've one complaint, it's that the high school lunch ladies always give me too much rice. Even when I ask for less, they still pile it on. One thing's also for sure: One's never hurting for grains. Some might decry it, but I like it. I'm a grains man...the only problem is, there's too much of them! On some days, we'll get some kind of rice, noodles, and potatoes! It is indeed nearly too. Ich of a good thing, for simply won't all fit in my stomach. It's not good to waste food, but thankfully Koreans tend to dump all their food waste into recycling containers for composting. 

As I may or may not have noted before, most all teachers eat in the cafeteria. We pay about 55 dollars a month (60,000 won) to do so. Some teachers also eat dinner in the cafeteria. Dinner service is also 60,000 won. I'm going to stop going to the school for dinner because cooking stuff at home sounds more appealing these days. It's high time I learned.

Below are some pictures. Enjoy!

Above: This was a special one! Clockwise from the top left: bossam pork and kimchi pancake, gochujang sauce, radishes, spicy tofu soup, lettuce, and rice. 

Clockwise: Beef and quail eggs, spicy noodles and vegetables, kimchi, rice and seaweed, and radish soup.

Above: Fish fillet, kimchi, donut, bean sprouts and other vegetables (surprisingly unspiced!), galbi tang (beef soup), rice.

Another special one for Parents Night at the high school! Clockwise: A big ball of veggie fried rice, black bean noodles (jjajang-myeon), fried mandu (dumplings), radishes, sweet drinking yogurt, and spiced cucumbers.

Spaghetti! This meal marked the only time I've skipped the rice at school in over 2 years.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Nami Island and Zip lining (남이섬 / 집 나이인)

Under the trees at Nami Island.

A friend of ours heard about zip lining at the famous Nami Island in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi-do, so went out there this Saturday. Nami's famous for its trees and scenery and has been featured in the Korea n drama Winter Sonata. As seen below, the island draws a crowd even on cooler autumn days. R and I had been meaning to go to Nami as well as go zip lining for a while, so the trip made a perfect combination of the two.

We joined fellow Sincheorwon teacher Jackie and took the 3000 bus out of Sincheorwon and got off in Pocheon, Gyeonggi-do to transfer to the bus to Chuncheon. The Chuncheon bus passes through Gapyeong, so we got off there and took the 33-5 bus to the Nami Dock. Once there, we met with our EPIK friends from other areas of Korea and began our adventure. The journey there took around 3 hours.

We arrived to find the place bustling with activity, so we got our zip lining tickets and then headed to a restaurant to pass the wait time with some tasty soup and good conversation. We opted for the longer (and slower) of the two possible zip lines because it allowed us to "drop in" on Nami Island and have a look around before we headed home. The other zip line goes to Jara Island is shorter and faster. Riding the zip line was a fun filled descent into a lovely little island. The wind rippled and the harness bobbed a bit. R's line ended up going faster and somehow I came to a dead stop before I could get out, so an attendant had to push me to the finish line. That made me feel like a kid again. Fun times! It's an exciting minute or so and it's more dangerous than a roller coaster.

See below for some photos of the renowned island...our trip back to Cheorwon proved long and eventuful thanks to waiting in the rain, dealing with line jumpers, and running for our bus in Chuncheon. We took the 33-5 out of Gapyeong, got off at the train station, and got on the ITX into Chuncheon. Once there, we dashed to the bus terminal at the E-Mart 10 minutes away. We ran in, got the tickets, and got on the last bus out with seconds to spare.

Zip lining at Nami Island.
The last vestiges of the autumn foliage. Beautiful stuff.

The big field in the middle of Nami.

A big ol' statue of a mother and her boy on the island. We found it striking.
I snapped this picture while riding the elevator to the zip line platform. Nami Island is straight ahead. The zip wires are faintly visible.

People disembarking from the ferry. The sky looked good, but it quickly got overcast and began raining intermittently. Look closely and you'll see the restaurant sign for dalkgalbi [닭갈비]. Gapyeong's near Chuncheon, which is famous for dalkgalbi

The looming zip line tower.
Tour buses here, tour buses there, tour buses everywhere.

Transit info:

Sincheorwon to Pocheon: 45 minutes.
[The 10am bus to Chuncheon was late, so a 15 minute wait was actually 30 minutes]
Pocheon to Gapyeong Terminal: 90 minutes
[~10 minute wait for the 33-5 bus]
Gapyeong Terminal to Nami Dock: ~10 minutes

The ride home took much longer than anticipated. Please be advised: Nami draws the crowds and you will be waiting in line for a bus or taxi. Also please note that you may have to hold your place in line, as a group tried to cut in line. The 5 of us barely made it on the bus. This behavior's uncommon for Korea, but it does happen: Groups have been known to cut in line at the last second for buses.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The College Entrance Examination pep rally

Tomorrow, 7 November, marks the day of the exalted College Entrance Examination. The Examination's the culmination of all those years of studying, for the students' scores on the test will largely determine what universities they can enter. Not only that, but their universities will largely determine what companies will hire them after they graduate. It's a serious occasion. This year's an especially interesting one because these are the students I met as 1st graders upon arriving here 2 years ago. It'll be bittersweet to see them move on. The year isn't finished yet, but they've nearly reached the top of their mountain. FIGHTING!
The high school and girl's middle school principal giving a speech. The banner talks about amazing test scores and realizing your dreams.

We commemorated The Day Before with a pep rally to raise their spirits. The principal and head teacher gave speeches and we cheered for the 3rd graders. They went home after the rally.

Friday, October 25, 2013

An evening of classical music

Two of Rochelle's coteachers invited us to join them in attending the Youhwa Muse Ensemble's 10th Regular Concert in Dongsong last night. They played a total of 15 concise pieces from composers like Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel. Also on the set list was the Korean folk anthem "Arirang," a song so good that the group reprised as an encore. "Arirang" is a national treasure for Koreans; a song of hope and longing that has been played and sang for generations. Indeed, R and I enjoy the song as well. I don't know all of the words (yet), but the melody carries the mood well. 

We actually arrived quite early because of a misreading of the schedule, but that was fine. It gave us all time to chat and talk about our respective classes. It was also good that we arrived early because lots of people came to the concert. The concert was free for anyone in the area, too. What an excellent way to spend a Thursday night. Special thanks to her coteachers for the ride to the hall and the ride home to Wasu. It's events like this that make Cheorwon a great place to live. It may be rural, but it isn't lifeless!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Boys middle school water cooler

All the schools I've been in have water coolers instead of fountains, yet few students have cups or water bottles of their own. The boys middle school has anywhere between 1 and 5 cups set out at any given time. 
The very public nature of the cups makes me think the boys must get sick often, but maybe that's my American paranoia. 
I do find it interesting that few of them have their own water bottles. 
And for all the running around that they do, I don't see much of any water drinking happening.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Oppan tractor style!

Here's the vehicle of choice for many farmers and older folks in rural Korea: A field tiller hitched to a two wheel trailer. They don't go faster than 5 miles per hour, but they're everywhere out here. The car shop across the street uses their tractor/tiller to crush aluminum cans. One of the guys dumps a bunch of cans on the driveway and proceeds to drive the tractor over them. It works.

I'll have more updates later. The past few weeks have been busy with conferences and exams. There hasn't been much time to write, but I've plenty of topics in the the pipeline. As it happens, we teachers in Gangwon have the annual conference in Yangyang to go to this Friday. It'll be a one day affair this time and it will involve waking up early for the drive there, but we'll make it a good time.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cost of living: Utility bills

For anyone interested in coming to Cheorwon, here’s a table with the usual expenses for utilities and amenities...

For those who’re new to Cheorwon or Gangwon-do in general, here’s what you can expect to pay during your time here. By now you've probably had one or more bills come due, so I hope this helps with planning your budgets!

Based on 2 years of living here, here are my monthly utility expenses in KRW (won):

Gas (Heating/hot water)
8,000 (warm weather)-275,000 (winter)

Apartment maintenance
Internet (KT Olleh)
60,000 (For a smart phone)
Note: Before I switched to a smart phone, my “dumb phone” bill ranged from 30,000 to 80,000 per month based on usage.. The smart phone bill follows a flat rate.
Total per month

Note: The 275,000won bill came about because I was running the heat every day during the winter in 2012. I learned my lesson and only ran it for a couple hours at night during the winter of 2013. As a result, the expenses dropped ~100,000 won.

Heating can be expensive because our apartments use LP (propane) gas to heat the ondol floors. The LPG comes in a tanks, so it is not connected to a gas line like many other areas are.

Warm weather means roughly April to September.

Also: Apartment maintenance, Internet, and phone bills are automatically debited from my bank account. All other bills are paid at the bank.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happy Chuseok!

The 3rd one's the charm. The flight to Tokyo leaves in less than an hour and we're set to tackle the land of the rising sun. Incheon Airport thrummed with activity this morning, but we cleared check in and customs quickly. The officials know how to keep the lines moving.


The seats are red and black...good colors.

Enjoy the holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

12 years ago today / 9-11

I became an English teacher because it allowed for discussing literature as well as history. History education is wonderful, but it's English education that helps us reads the texts the world runs on. Similarly, as an ESL teacher in Korea, I'm in a unique position to blend literature, conversation, culture with history together. All of those things aligned today. Thanks to being on other side of International Date Line, Korea got to September 11 before the USA did. I came to school today with heavy memories of the day. They're heavier now than they were before Korea. Funny how that works. The musician Henry Rollins once wrote that "You're not an American until you leave America," and after two years over he had it right. I never had to fully consider what it means to be American until arriving in Korea, but it came hard and fast when the 10th anniversary of 9-11 came in 2011.

Lest anyone wonder, my high school kids know the significance of the World Trade Centers. I didn't talk too much about the event, but I did show a picture that had the burning towers and the Statue of Liberty in it before beginning the lesson. The idea was to note why the day is important to Americans. Others can talk about it in more detail. Let's take a moment to remember that black day in history. Let's remember the souls caught in the blaze and those who came to their aid.


Here's Woody Guthrie and "This Land Is Your Land."

And CCR with "Don't Look Now"

Carry on, everyone. I'm off to Pyeongchang tomorrow for a Gangwon coordinator's meeting. It should go well.

Make it a great day.

Fall 2013, Week 3-5 pictures

The last couple of weeks have been busy.  Updates are on the way. 
Until then, here are some pictures. 

Picture explanations:

The high school had a fire safety demo. A couple of the 2 grade girls go to use the fire extinguishers.

Coffee Mama is Wasu's newest cafe. The students say the green tea lattes and shakes taste good.

A view of the Wasu Stream.

A view of Sincheorwon, taken from a bridge in the town.

 of the HS 2nd graders rocking out at the school's festival.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

To the new EPIK teachers in Gangwon-do and elsewhere

Welcome fall arrivals! By now, you've entered your second week in your town. Perhaps you have begun teaching classes, been to a teachers dinner or two, wandered your neighborhood or town, or journeyed around the province.

Here are a few posts you may find of interest:

Life in general / Being an expat / Living abroad / Stuff you'll see here

Teaching / The teaching life

Student life

This should be enough to get you started. Enjoy!

Remembering those leaving Cheorwon (Fall 2013)

Like I did the previous semester, the end of the term means that some of us have moved on from Cheorwon. Let's take a moment to salute the three who've left Cheorwon:

Gracie always had a smile for everyone. Her warmth must've bowled her youngsters over.

Ramsey could hold court with the best of them. He always had a funny story or anecdote for us.

Alexis has a great sense of humor and could hold her own at the teachers dinners.

Rock on, everyone!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Fire Friday / a week of farewells and hellos, round 4

It's Fire Friday today. Whereas Americans will say TGIF, Koreans say Fire Friday as a way of igniting the fires if the weekend. Or so the students say! I like it,  but I've begin seeing weekends as a time to gather firewood and save the real burning for the weekdays, for those days count the most.

It's now 6:20pm and I'm writing this post on the phone. The Crew is meeting in Sincheorwon tonight for barbecue. By now the outgoing teachers have left and the newcomers have settled in. We'll make it a great semester.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Yonghwa Garden Restaurant, Cheorwon County (용화 가든, 철원군

An excellent chicken soup restaurant that's located outside of Sincheorwon. Thanks to Ramsey for recommending it!

If you look closely, you'll see that the water runs under the tables. Having your feet in the water while eating good food with good friends equals a quality time.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bring your materials to class: "I will remember to bring my notebook..."

I wrote about students not bringing their materials to class below, but doing a repost of the article because a recent meeting with the new Gangwon-EPIK coordinator inspired me to redouble my efforts. During our too-short conversation, he eloquently elaborated on why notebooks remain essential to class: They not only provide a record of the class, but they all serve as reference materials for later. He explained how he required the students to bring notebooks and assigned lines to them if they failed to bring them to class. I did the same thing. Last week, I reminded every high school class about the need to arrive with appropriate materials. If they showed up to the next class (or any subsequent one) without notebooks, they'd be writing 50 lines of "I will remember to bring my notebook to class."

And in what will surprise few people who've taught anywhere, many students forgot what I'd said in English, what my co-teachers said in English and Korean, and what was written on the whiteboard. It was what I said in the very first class and what I continue to say now: Bring materials. But after two years, I needed to do more.

So I made good on the promise and hit them with this:

True, he didn't sign the signature part. I'll have him do that tomorrow.

Keeping this up will take effort, but it's necessary.

The original post:
Bring your materials to class: Since my first days as an educator, I’ve told students what teachers around the world tell their students: Bring your materials to class. ...

And by the way; the new arrivals are all excellent people who will surely rock and roll it in Cheorwon!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day three of being 27 / Weekend update

Quick but substantial post tonight. Week 3 of school begins tomorrow. The past week has been busy and eventful:

R is coming to Sincheorwon! No more long bus trips to see her. Woohoo.

Sincheorwon's teachers are leaving and will be replaced by Rochelle and another woman.

Josh in Dongsong's teachers is transferring out of Cheorwon and will be replaced by a man.

Alexis in Wasu's finished her year and begins her new job at a school in Seoul. I'm told that Wasu will not get a replacement for her until next month. This means that thanks to another teacher vacating the apartment and moving to Sincheorwon with his wife, I will be the only foreign teacher in Wasu for the time being.

I took over Gracie's phone and consequently have a smart phone now. It's nice to be able to type and to take nice pictures again. All of the pictures that I took and posted her were taken with the iPad camera. It does a decent job, but it's ungainly.

I turned 27. As many surely know, the world doesn't stop on the birthday. Far from it. There were four middle school classes to teach, lessons to plan, and persons to see on that day. In short, I got to do everything I loved. Perhaps others might decry having to work on their birthdays, but not me. Getting things done takes precedence over lazying about any day.

And so begins another era for the Cheorwon Crew...I can't wait to meet the newcomers and show them around. They're coming to an excellent place. We have good people and good schools here. And at the same they come here, Gangwon EPIK has a new head coordinator. I met with him recently and had a stimulating conversation/interview with him. It'll be a pleasure to work with him and the newcomers!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend, those on Seoul time. For everyone in the States, it's ~7:45am Central Daylight Savings Time now. Good morning to you. Make it a great day.

Relaxing in Seoul on Friday night. Sunglasses by R. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

2 years of Gangwon Dispatches and counting

I began Gangwon Dispatches two years ago today on the night before my 25th birthday. I flew out of Chicago the next day. Since then, well, you know the story: 2 years in Cheorwon, Gangwon-do and innumerable adventures in this wonderful country. Here's to year 3...

I'm off to dinner now. Come back for more.

PS--Thank you, dear readers.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Fall 2013 Week 1 - Class rules and acrostic poems in high school

Class rules / Acrostic poems

The first week is done. Unlike other EPIK teachers, girls middle school and regular high school's semester began on Tuesday. I taught two classes on Tuesday, four on Thursday,* and four on Friday.** The schedule hasn't been set yet, so we'll see what happens next week. Typically, schedules don't get written until after the semester begins. Every semester has begun with a provisional schedule that becomes a regular one. The first few days are often exciting as a result.

The high school classes went well. Despite the lack of time off, it did feel as if we're in a new semester instead of a continuation of the old one. It felt good to be back in class and getting the 2nd semester going. The students have shaken off the restlessness of the last days and have begun anew. They're paying more attention now. 

For the first week, I kept it simple and limited the lesson to reviewing the class's rules and showing the students how to write an acrostic poem about themselves. I did so because it took little prep work and was easy to add to my already-written intro lesson about rules and procedures. Classes went like this:

Intro/Saying hello

This is typically the first two minutes where everyone's getting settled in. I'll say hello and check to make sure everyone has their materials. Sometimes we'll talk about the weather or school events. I'm going to do more during this time by implementing so short "Do now" tasks because the 10 minutes they have between classes is time enough to mentally prepare and move to the classroom.

Rules/Overview of new semester

My rules are simple. They abbreviate to STABS:

S peak at appropriate times [in English]
T reat others with respect
A rrive on time
B ring materials
S tay on task

When I wrote the list, I looked for the smallest amount of words and the words that were easiest to understand in isolation and in the full sentence. I also phrased them positively to avoid putting anyone on edge with a series of "Don't" expressions.

Poem definition and demonstration

I used this image from Read Write Think, an excellent resource site, to explain and demonstrate an acrostic poem:

I also showed them an acrostic poems about Korea. And to show how they could write poems about themselves, I showed them what Benjamin would look like as an acrostic.


K nowledge industry
O ceans, rivers, and streams of clear water
R olling hills and mountains of luscious green
E ating delicious barbecue and kimchi!
A lways changing

The beginning line was blank until the 3rd class because I couldn't think of a good line that began with a K-word. Luckily, Michael, a 2nd grader, came by after class finished and said, "How about 'knowledge industry'? Korea has much knowledge and many industries. We are smart!" I liked his line, so I wrote it in and added his name to the credits.

The idea was for the students to describe themselves in the space of the poem.

Poem drafting

Writing takes time. I make sure to give the students plenty of time to write anything and circulate the room with the co-teacher to offer help and direction anyone who needs it.

Poem final draft/decorating

I'm planning on decorating some of the room with the students' writings and thought this acrostic poems would be a good place to start. Rewriting the poem also helps spelling practice and word choice. I've found that rewriting things leads to a better draft because in rewriting something, I'll inevitably think of better ways to phrase things. For the students' purposes, it gave them a chance to draw their words larger and add some pertinent decorations.

I'd planned on doing a poetry slam at the end, wherein the students would take turns reading their work and the audience would rate the best one, but we ran short of time in every class but one. Maybe next time we can do it. If I run through the introduction and rules quicker, we can probably squeeze in a reading. The one class that did feature a reading went well. That class has four girls in it who have gotten better and better as of late. They used to go off-task and distract each other, but thanks to some joking and positive attention via questions in class, they've been paying more attention and speaking more. All four of them turned in good work. 

The poetry went well. The students have now written a poem in a foreign language. The sense of accomplishment from having done an English poem was palpable. While poetry's not an "everyday" skill like, say, booking a hotel room, it is a literary skill. It focuses on word choice because every word counts in a poem. Above all, it allows the students to express themselves and learn something new at the same time.

* High school
** Girls middle school

What I'm teaching this semester:

High school grades 1-2
High school night class (Grades TBA)
Boys middle school grades 1-3
Girls middle school grades 1-2