Friday, December 24, 2010

I have some amazing kids...

I have been getting a few Christmas cards this week. All of them are sweet in their own way but this one i got today...really rocked my world.
As a teacher here in Korea I sometimes feel as though I'm just here to play the part. It doesn't matter if they understand as long as I look like I'm having a good time and the students LOOK like they are learning.
Until I got this card. If I had known what it would say I would have wrapped this girl up in a hug and wished her a more sincere "Merry Christmas".
She is a 3rd year student which means next week is the last time I will see her. She made the card last night at Church.
I will post a picture later but here is what it said:

To: Amanda
How do you feel now? I feel very happy now. After you have taught me, something to me was changed. In fact, I lived very hard time.
A lot of stress and parent's indifference made me crazy! But, though the situation is not change I will do my best to be happy. I think it will be hard for my parents to have more concern to me, cause they are very busy. ㅠㅠ
I found my own after I met you.
I found my bright side thanks to you.
So, I feel very thankful.
That's why I want to give you a Christmas card!!

Merry Christmas!

She ended it with a little * saying she is not good at writing and if there is wrong expression to understand her, please.

ON the back of the card she wrote "I will never forget you!!"

It took everything in me not to start crying at my desk. I have not felt this way in a long time. It only took a Christmas card and I want to bring her into my protective circle and do everything in my power to make her happy. To give her the attention she deserves.

She just rocked my world.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

This end DOES NOT justify the means

I found out from my friend Sara how South Korea has decided to deal with Hoof and Mouth Disease. All of the cows in my province are being slaughtered. The meat will not be used for food. In fact they don't even plan on killing them quickly. Nope. That'd take too much man power.
Instead they are going to dig a giant hole and throw them in. If they don't die from the fall or being smashed by their fellow cage mates they will be buried. Alive. Apparently the first 500 died this way yesterday.

I'm not a vegetarian. I like meat. I do NOT like the senseless killing of any innocent lives. I can't even kill bugs because I can't help but tell myself they have a purpose on this earth just like i do. Mine is more important...but that doesn't matter. I can't kill without cause. A mosquito--it will bite me. I still feel a little bad about it...sometimes.

This brings me back to Shakespeare's "Macbeth"

A scene where Macbeth is expressing guilt over killing his King--who was like a father to him.
Methought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep," the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast—

Lady Macbeth:
What do you mean?

Still it cried "Sleep no more!" to all the house:
"Glamis hath murder'd sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more; Macbeth shall sleep no more."

and another later on, same act (act 2 scene 2) that I think anyone who has senselessly killed any animal should feel 

How is't with me, when every noise appalls me?
What hands are here? ha! they pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

Basically he feels as though his hands will be forever stained red and that an entire ocean could never wash his hands clean of blood. Should he try the green ocean would turn red with the blood of his sin.

I fail to see the justification for this. I need a reason to accept this as a logical mood. Economically it is a good move because it will save on vaccination costs and labor for the farmers who have to seek out the infected and separate them from the herd.

It isn't even humane to the cows and pigs to end their lives this way rather than sending them to the slaughter. Hoof and mouth disease is a terrible disease for the animal. They wind up not being able to eat or stand by the end. However, I think slaughter is almost a better way to go than to be buried and slowly suffocate.

I can imagine the helpless cries of these abused animals as they are herded into holes, crashing into the cold hard ground, and struggling for a foothold before another lands on top. Then the crushing weight of the dirt as it piles high and darkness pervades the air.

I think I need to check out for a while. People don't understand me and my reaction to animals and I really don't have the energy to try to explain or justify my feelings.

This end DOES NOT justify the means.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Twelve Days of Christmas :D

SO after another class singing Christmas Carols and filling in the 12 Days of Christmas I have a few more gems to share! :D

From So hee:
1. Christmas tree which is made by me
2. Snowmans that were made by my family
3. Dogs barking silently
4. Smart phones for my family
5. Chickens for me and cousins
6. Shoes
7. Lucky Spirits for Me
8. Favorite Foods
9. Aladdin's Lamps
10. Idol Singers
11. Santas
12. Clothes for me

from 송다정(Song Dah Cheong)
1. Bright star on the tree
2. Fairy Tales Books
3. Pretty Necklace
4. Cute Cats
5. Golden Bells
6. Concert Tickets
7. Signed CD
8. Big Teddy Bears
9. New Clothes
10. New Sneakers
11. Times for play computer
12. Times for sleep.

And finally from 유지유 (You Gee You)
1. Apartment in Seoul
2. Computer
3. Dog like Gaho
4. Banana Milk
5. Big Bang Members (this is a boy band in Korea <3)
6. Airplane ticket to Eruope
7. Candy
8. Bread
9. MP3
10. Vacation
11. BIG Bang's new song
12. BIG BANG's concert ticket

Still can't beat the first one with exploding schools and screaming teachers :D

Monday, December 20, 2010

South Korea: Filling in the blanks

Keumsan Temple
“I have a fill in the blank future and I hold the pen.” My friend wrote this on a blog recently and it has been really running through my mind. Maybe that is why I chose to go to Korea? Maybe that’s why I’ve made most of my decisions in my life. My future is tabula rasa in the sense that it is indeed a blank slate, or a fill in the blank, while at the same it time reflects my past decisions. While sitting at my desk I often have one of those moments where I pull away and have a look around and think, “Wow…I’m in South Korea. Was this a good decision?”            
I’ve had plenty of these moments in my life like when I was choosing which university to attend, what to study, and where to work. However, I think they’ve started to happen more frequently since I finished the application process through EPIK. It seemed to take forever until suddenly my papers were in the mail and I had to sit back and think, “I’m applying to teach English in South Korea. Why?” I had an amazing job at a zoo and I was getting closer to my dream job, to be a zookeeper. I was 24 years old and I was living on my own. After finally establishing myself and getting my own place, I wanted to give it all up so I could travel half way around the world and teach English. I have a bachelor degree in biology for goodness sakes! My friend, who had been talking about the program ever since she started the year before, painted a pretty picture for me. But I was realistic enough to know that there were a lot of pros and cons to this decision. In the end, one of my main reasons for choosing to move to South Korea was that I wasn’t ready to settle. 24 is just too young for me to be settled down into a career and start working on the rest of my life. I am too restless for this and I yearned for adventure. I wanted to travel, and a job at the zoo does not leave a lot of room or money for such ambitions.
So the application was sent and, faster than I thought imaginable, I was on a plane to South Korea. A 24 year old girl from Michigan who’d only been to Central America, and that for a study of natural ecosystems through college, was now headed to The Land of the Morning Calm. I did not feel calm despite arriving in the early morning. I had literally bought my ticket the Saturday before my Monday departure, leaving absolutely no time for a crash course in the language. With only Spanish as my second language I hopped off the plane and blindly followed the crowd, while at the same time trying not to look as lost as I felt. Starting to feel like a small fish in the Pacific Ocean, that is a relatively large and foreign body of water at the same time surrounded by a lot of knowledgeable sharks, I quickly ducked into the closest women’s restroom to splash cold water on my face. Knowing I had small amount of time before I’d lose the crowd, I gave myself a quick pep talk and walked back out. Everyone I saw was Korean, spoke Korean, and everything was written in Korean. I felt like the speck of white in a sea of black and tan; very foreign, and scared that other people might notice that I didn’t belong. Incidentally, I thought back on a song I’d heard my previous boss sing when teaching at the zoo:
“One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others things
Before I finish my song?
Despite the choking fear I started to giggle and immediately felt like I could take on the world. So what if I wasn’t the same? That didn’t mean I did not belong! After walking around for a while I spotted other people who were “not like the others” and followed. I had made it. I was in South Korea, in the right place, and was finally waiting for the bus to pick us up to take us to our orientation site.
Caitlin, Me, and Summer at Keumsan Temple
             Fast forward through orientation: classes to prepare us for teaching English as a second language, a crash course introduction to the Korean Language, and a bus ride to the cities where we’d begin our new lives. Goodbye to the new friends we made during orientation and “Anyeonghaseyo” to our future coworkers. Filled with promises and strange rumors about the customs (do they really eat live octopus) of the native people, I don’t think there was a person on the bus that wasn’t nervous about our first meet and greet with our co teachers. We were told during orientation that they would be our new best friends. They would be our introduction and safety net to catch us when we hit one of the many cultural brick walls in this new land; basically our lives hung by a thread and they held the scissors just like the Sisters of Fate in Greek Mythology. Yes, we were nervous.
             Looking back I can only laugh at that visual image. Sweaty palms, breathless, and my mind filled to the brim with useless knowledge I’d picked up from other people who’d heard from someone else what it was like here in Korea. It seems almost natural to be here right now sitting at my desk and writing this paper. Nervousness has flown out the window and I am once again settled in at my job. My first couple of classes I felt went horribly because I was nervous and really didn’t know how to best communicate with my new students, but I also learned that it happens to everyone. The worst thing I could do is let it affect my day and refuse to improve the lesson.
Teacher picture at Busan Aquarium
             My co teachers have been everything I was promised and more! I have five, and they are the first to notice if I’m not feeling well and to comment if I look tired. My Principal and Vice Principal speak English, for the most part, and that makes my life here so much easier. Notice how I said “easier” and not “easy”. No, as I’ve learned in the past, life is by no means easy, but I’ve been blessed with people who’ve made it a little bit easier to handle. For example, there is this whole lie about Koreans being subtle. I don’t know about other places, but I’ve been told by my co teachers that my lesson was boring and that the students are not interested. When I had planned on ending the class with a song I was asked the relevance of it to the lesson and Lord help me if there wasn’t any. However my co teachers have made the stress of teaching an easier burden to bear. I can go to them with questions and ideas about what they feel the students would like. If a lesson didn’t go well we’d put our heads together and try to figure out where we went wrong and how we can improve. They laugh with me when I make a mistake and praise give praise when the lesson is amazing. With the watchful eyes of the co teachers the students rarely act up and it is great having that support system in the classroom
The support doesn’t end there. What amazes me is the continual support I have from the people I met at orientation. Honestly, I didn’t think we’d be in contact after we were transported to our different cities. In my orientation class, we were actually split into different provinces so meeting up is even more difficult for us than for others. Yet we still manage to keep the support system up, and all of us are willing to share stories about great lesson plans (and even complain about the bad ones). Not one of us has something that we wouldn’t change but I can guarantee all of us have parts of our job that we absolutely love. Sometimes it’s that one student in the worst class that keeps smiling at you, despite your absolute failure at getting the point across.
                          Since arriving in my city of Andong, I have been pushed to the limits of my patience, understanding, and even compassion for other human beings. There are days where I just want to sit at home and rage at the differences between our cultures and feel justified in my anger. However, this only lasts until I realize that not only am I a native speaker, but I’m a guest English speaker in this country. A guest does not rage at the host’s inability to make things exactly to their specifications and how they’d like for everything to be. I’ve had to learn how to find delight in the differences that I enjoy and humor in the ones I do not. Sometimes a simple shake of a head and a smile works wonders to improve my attitude towards something very strange and sometimes "backward’ to me.
             My students have been teaching me a lot about Korea, while I am at the same time I am teaching them about American culture. They’ve taught me they are all hard workers and really do want to do well in everything they do. For instance, I am proud to say that I let my emotions show when I am angry, happy, upset, or confused with the behavior of the students. I do let students know when I will not accept their bad behavior. Sadly, in Korea, you do not do this. It's ok, though. I found another way to make my students behave. I stare at them. I stare at them and smile. I smile so large and so sweetly I think it unnerves them. It helps that I don't say anything while I'm smiling at them. It hasn't failed me yet. Who knew silence was the best way to gain the attention of 35 noisy teenage girls?
EPIK trip to Keumsan Temple
             I’ve learned more than just discipline. I’ve learned to laugh while I make a complete fool of myself in order to help the students understand my meaning. In the end, does it matter how I look if the student remembers me hopping around on one foot shouting, “Are you alright?!” If they remember that during the English test and it helps them answer the question then it doesn’t. My friends tell me stories of how they literally trip and fall down in front of all of their students, just so they can teach them the word “embarrassed”. We are a dedicated group of native speakers who at the end of the want to brag to others about how amazing our students are that they remembered last weeks lesson and I am proud to say that mine are some of the best.
             I’ve heard a million times that students are at various levels, and it is true. I have 2nd year students in my middle school that I can literally sit down and have “girl talk” with about boyfriends, or even what they want to study when they go to University. I have 1st year students who show no fear when getting in front of class, and will perform a melodrama about finding a boyfriend, kissing him, getting an upset stomach, and needing to go to the doctor (that was an amazing class that I will never forget!). Then I have students who only say “hello” to me and can’t get over the giggle-fits when I respond in kind. However, to get anything else from them is like pulling teeth. The students knowledgeable in English answer me before the other students get the chance to even process the question. I’ve had to adapt to this language barrier and different levels of comprehension by keeping them on their toes. If there is a competition, I make sure that even the students who are poor at English have a fighting chance at winning some sort of prize for art or creativity. I incorporate pop music in some of my lessons so all students are at least practicing English in a very fun and safe environment.
Outside of school and the many lessons I teach, I sometimes find myself struggling to combine my American ways with the more traditional ways of the Korean culture. When I do, it often results in a mess that really isn’t helpful until I can pick it apart and find some strange lesson in the end. Relationships between friends, co workers, my boss, and even the opposite sex can get all muddled and confusing that it makes me want to just throw my hands up in the air and distance myself from them as much as possible. However, that is impossible since personal space is a ‘foreign’ concept to a lot of Koreans. I’ve learned that I am not Korean and that means I will be treated differently than if I were a Korean woman. Men can be sweet and kind but if you answer “solo” to the question “are you single?” so I am now prepared for being asked for a phone number, to go out for soju, or maybe be introduced to their son. I’ve learned to take this all in stride with a few trial and errors. The same simple shake of the head and sweet smile helps with would-be suitors when I am gently telling them “anio” (no).
Despite the difference in culture there is one thing I had no trouble soaking in: the scenery. The mountains, beautiful trees, and fresh air sing to my biologist soul like nothing I have ever experienced before. And nestled in the mountains are traditional temples and villages that make me feel like I’ve stepped back in time. Despite my heart belonging to the sciences I have a passion for history and South Korea is full to bursting with rich history. I’ve visited the history museum in Seoul, walked the halls of Gyeongbokgung Palace, sat in the waiting room to the bed chamber of an ancient king, traveled to the Keumsan Temple and watched as Buddhist monks prayed to their golden statues, and even been shown the oldest standing pagoda in South Korea.
Minyong Kim and me atGyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul
The blanks in my future as starting to fill in, and I am happy I hold the pen to writing it. What an amazing future I have, surrounded by this wonderfully strange, unique, beautiful, and culturally rich land. Not only do I look forward to my future, I am also looking forward to telling my story. That is why I am here in South Korea. I will continue to add to my wonderful story and keep others interested in it. I’d advise everyone to do the same thing. To push themselves. Engage in conversations and (safe) situations they’d never think to find themselves in. In the beginning of this essay I asked a very good question; if this was a good decision for me. Looking back I wouldn’t trade a moment I’ve had in Korea for anything in the world, and I am looking forward to the next 8 months.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

12 days of Christmas

SO this week is an easy week for me. My 1 and 2 grade students (the first and second years in middle school) are testing and that leaves me to entertain the 3 years.

Maybe i haven't explained this very well so let me take a little bunny trail so I don't lose you when I mention this again.

I teach at an all girls middle school and middle schools in Korea are three years long, much like the states. So, when I mention 1, 2, and 3 years that's what I'm talking about. 1st years are amazing, they are so excited to be in middle school and they want to please you. Really, they do. 3rd years are at that stage where they can either be too cool for school or feel like they need to set the standard for the 2nd years so they pay attention and act very mature...kind of weird. 2nd years could really care less one way or the other. Not all of them but a good number of girls here are all about themselves and I really can't wait until they are 3rd years. I"m also praying that my lovely 1st years don't turn into the current 2nd years.

OK...back on path...12 days of Christmas and an easy week for the 3rd years.

Ever since my 3rd years finished their finals it has been difficult finding lessons that they would think are interesting. I've tried shoes, natural disasters, appearance....finally with the Holiday around the corner I was inspired to do the 12 days of Christmas.
My plan: To have them listen and sing the 12 days of Christmas
After they have all embarassed themselves and enjoyed the easy bit of singing a rather repetitive song I then go over it AGAIN but this time with a fill in the blank sheet.
OK...hard work is done and now it is time for the application...

Their goal now is to form teams and create their OWN 12 days of christmas song. At first I was a little nervous. My first class didn't do so hot but I wasn't going to back down. I wanted this to work. SO, I came up with my own and gave examples in class.

I asked if they liked music. If so, what band, and I told them they could put those members on their christmas list. I mentioned food, travel, jewelry, etc.

These are two of my best responses :D

1. A Bong Won love me (강 동 윈 is his name and apparently he is a famous Korean Actor and I THINK this is his picture...)
2. Two monsters uprising
3. Three cakes flying
4. Four princess turns prince
5. Five Chanel Earings
6. Six ladies having plastic surgery
7. Seven teachers screaming
8. Eight pigs grunting
9. Nine students run away
10. Ten schools destroyed
11. Eleven men proposed
12. Twelve chickens dancing

twisted, yes?


1. delicious apple
2. girls singing
3. ducks swimming
4. silver ring
5. blue eyed boys
6. warm cocoa
7. shining stars
8. nice presents
9. christmas trees
10. cute boots
11. small cakes
12. happy peoples

these girls are in the same class... xD And she calls herself Venus.

Awesome :D

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You can't escape it


So one of the perks about coming to Korea is the fact that I thought I was leaving behind all the crazy old guys that liked to hit on me in public places.
Well that perk has officially flown out the window. Apparently my charm and beauty (ha!) transcends cultural and language barriers as well. Damn.

The culprits? Taxi Drivers.

I get in the taxi and the first thing they do is smile WIDE and say, "Whare are you flom?" "America"

This gets them excited! They then let out a string of compliments in garbled english/korean and then drop the bomb, "You have boyfriend?"
Should I lie? I should...but I can't. Obviously they are too old for me, right? Apparently not because soon after they are inviting me out to drink soju (alcohol) and asking for my phone number.

Oy ve.

I had one taxi driver try to hold my hand when giving my change back, when that didn't work he tried to prolong the eyecontact and once again asked for my phone number. REALLY?

I guess it can't be as bad as being asked to smell my hair...Can anything really top that?