Wednesday, October 31, 2012

해피 할로윈! Happy Halloween!

I broke one of my teaching rules today and gave my students candy. In fact, I've been giving them candy all week, as this week was the week of Halloween-themed English lessons! Yup, I'm doing my part as an American cultural ambassador by teaching them how much we love junk food.

In class, today: "So children dress up in costumes and knock on your door. Then, they say, 'Trick or treat!' and you have to give them candy, because... um... well, just because. So anyway, what kinds of costumes do you see in this picture?"

"My costum is homo-simpson"
Still, the Halloween lessons have been fun. I'm scaring my second-years with horrifying animated gifs from various movies (courtesy Buzzfeed) and having them draw silly or scary Halloween costumes. They also get to watch "Thriller"! My first-years are identifying all the monsters they see in the hilarious video of two women freaking out in a haunted house on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

And everyone gets candy! And prizes! I went to City 7, a small but pretty shopping mall located in a neighborhood closer to my house than the actual downtown, to find cheap Halloween-themed stuff to give to my students. The E-Mart at the mall had about half an aisle dedicated to kids' costumes and props, all made in China. The tchotchke was definitely cheap in quality, but the prices were almost offensively high. For a few pounds of candy and some plastic jack-o'-lanterns, masks, and the like, I spent 24,000₩. Come on!

Nevertheless, I actually found myself enjoying the light festivities. It just tickled me that I was in a department store in Korea buying fake vampire teeth and Tootsie Roll Pops. This is especially weird because I don't celebrate Halloween, not having dressed up or gone trick-or-treating since I wore a mouse onesie (complete with a hood and tail) in kindergarten. I guess I felt carried along by the wave of every other ESL teacher I know doing something related to the holiday. I also wanted to give my students something fun to do in class -- especially something creative -- because I can see how stressed they are at this time of the year. That's why I've lowered the bar for receiving candy from "Show me your filled-out lyrics worksheet!" to "Just say, 'Happy Halloween!' or 'Trick or treat!'"

So, it's nice to get into the spirit of things. All my students knew that today was Halloween, but they didn't have any plans to celebrate it. I told them that they should play pranks on their friends to scare them.
Anyway, tomorrow is All Saints' Day (which I also, strangely, do not celebrate), but I'll continue with the haunted houses and the costumes. I love what my students have done so far this week -- I'm putting up their artwork on the wall -- and I also have tons of candy and prizes left to give away. It's got to go somehow, and I'm definitely not going to eat it all. Happy Halloween, kids!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Dang. The videos and photos that are inundating (...) the Internet right now are unreal. Hurricane Sandy gave the American Northeast a beating, leaving around 7 million people (7,000,000!) without power and flooding New York and New Jersey. Downtown Manhattan is underwater. Tunnels and subways are turning into rivers. Paradoxically, a six-alarm fire basically destroyed an already-flooded neighborhood in Queens. The hurricane also collided with a nor'easter and dumped snow on West Virginia.

While it's evening on the thirtieth in Korea, back on the East Coast it's still morning on a Tuesday, and I expect as day arrives and as the storm and surges recede, we'll soon be able to see just how much damage has been done. It's interesting thinking about the literal morning after the storm... I can't imagine what it must have been like for my friends who had to shutter themselves indoors all night, with 75-mph winds howling and rain falling sideways (although Facebook hinted that they were actually enjoying their storm days off).

I've already been through several typhoons in Korea, and my verdict has always been that they're never as nightmarish as they're made out to be. However, this doesn't mean you can be too prepared... and this record-breaking storm looks like it was absolutely insane. So as Hurricane Sandy retreats, my thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the disaster. 화이팅!
Ground Zero worksite being flooded. (via The Scuttlefish)
What I've been reading:

Monday, October 29, 2012

감 - Persimmons

Persimmons are in season in Korea! There are two kinds here, both of which I love.

단감 (dangam) are sweet persimmons. They are small and flat, and look like orange tomatoes. These can be eaten before they are fully ripe, when they have a crisp texture and a mild sweetness.

홍시 (hongsi) are astringent persimmons. They are larger, shaped like acorns, and usually have a deeper hue than sweet persimmons. They must be left to ripen completely, attaining a pudgy, bulbous peel surrounding the pulpy, syrupy and delicious meat inside. (These are the kind that I grew up on.) Unfortunately, if you eat a hongsi before it is fully ripe, it tastes bitter and leaves your mouth feeling fuzzy and dry. This is the tannin at work, shrinking the salivary glands in your mouth and leaving a rather unpleasant feeling. Tannins -- a natural astringent -- are also found in banana peels and in some wines and teas.
홍시! Koreans also eat them dried, like Taiwanese and Japanese. They also ice them to make a kind of persimmon water ice, which is new for me. (LOL: as soon as I wrote the above sentence, my host mother popped into my room to hand me some iced persimmon on a plate. 무슨 우연이람!)
Another name I've heard to refer to hongsi is 떫은감 (ddeolbeungam), or simply 떨감 (ddeolgam). This literally translates to "astringent (bitter) persimmon". I like knowing this obscure vocabulary word, but I think I prefer 홍시, since it is related to the Taiwanese word I use for this fruit:

홍시 (hongsi) --> 紅柿 (hóngshì) --> angkhi
(Note: the common Mandarin word for persimmon is 柿子 (shìzi), not 紅柿.)

Some random facts: the English word persimmon comes from the name of the fruit in an Algonquian (Native American) language which means "dry fruit". They probably didn't wait for them to ripen enough before naming eating them! Also, persimmons are, botanically speaking, berries. So are tomatoes. I've been thinking about how long it's been since I've even seen (much less eaten) a strawberry, blueberry, or raspberry since coming to Korea... I guess persimmons will have to suffice.

감이 아주 맛있어요!

Sunday, October 28, 2012


I've just watched this YouTube video and it's given me quite a bit to think about. The video is part one of an interview with Kim Han-sol, the eldest son of Kim Jong-nam, who is the eldest son of Kim Jong-il. So, this kid is the grandson of North Korea's recently-deceased dictator.

He's currently studying at United World College in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sat down with the president of his school to talk about his childhood and his dreams for the future. You can watch the first part of the interview (starts at 1:35, and is interspersed with footage of North Korea and some captions in Swedish at random intervals) below.
Some of my stray thoughts:

1. Han-sol is studying at a school that was founded with the explicit intent to educate the next generation about peace and conflict resolution. I think that's a promising start. All of his friends are multicultural and come from all over the world. His roommate was from Libya and told him stories of the Libyan Revolution. He has a few South Korean friends with whom he's traveled. For someone of his family background to have had these kinds of experiences by the time he enters college is a great privilege. It sounds like he acknowledges this, too, and hopes one day to work for peace and -- get this -- unification of the Korean peninsula.

2. He has never met his grandfather or his uncle (Kim Jong-eun, the current leader of North Korea). His immediate family has actually fallen out of favor with the current dynasty in power, and they live in Macau. Han-sol received his high school education at an international school in Macau. He says that he always wanted to meet his grandfather, though, and isn't sure if Kim Jong-il even knew that he exists before he passed.

3. His parents taught him to keep an open mind and always look at both sides of an issue. Political neutrality, in other words. They told him to forget about his background and try to live the life of an ordinary citizen in order to better understand his people. He also remembers to be thankful before he eats a meal, thinking about those starving back in his home country. From this and the previous stray thought one can conclude that this young man is very far removed from the current regime in North Korea not just geographically, but also politically and even ideologically.
"I've had some friends from South Korea in Macau, and it's quite interesting because the two countries, they are trying to work to build peace together for unification, but at the same time there are laws that say North and South Koreans shouldn't interact with each other even outside of Korea. 
And me and my South Korean friends, at first it was kind of awkward when I first met them. But then, little by little, we started understanding each other, again, through the same classroom experience. And also sometimes we share our stories from back home and realize how similar we are. Same language, same culture, and it's just political issues that divide the nation in half. And now, today, we are really close friends and we travel together and it's such a wonderful feeling."
4. I'm not sure what he means when he says that the two countries are trying to work to build peace together for unification. That's not happening, as far as I can tell. Furthermore, it is not only political issues that separate the Koreas now, but also the fact that there is an economic and humanitarian crisis in one country while the other is still riding the crest of a huge economic boom. It makes me wonder how much he really knows about what is happening in the rural areas and the prison camps, places outside of Pyongyang or his mother's hometown. Or maybe he's just being very careful with what he says (but not so much that he avoids mentioning "unification" altogether).

5. Otherwise, he appears to be unhesitatingly idealistic, as well as proud of his school. He loves its diversity. He likes chatting with his friends for hours about politics and cultural differences and similarities. Best of all, he has big dreams about world peace. I think he'd have fit in very well at Swarthmore...
"I've always dreamed that one day I will go back and make things better and make it easier for the people there. I also dream of unification, because it's really sad that I can't go to the other side and see my friends over there."
6. He speaks English quite well, with a slight Korean accent and just a hint of a Slavic accent... am I just imagining that? Especially when he says "topics". Otherwise, his diction is otherwise very similar to a typical college freshman. He's careful with his words, but he rambles. He says "like" a lot.

7. The interviewer is definitely pushing an agenda. She's kind of annoying in that way. Shh, just let him speak. Crack more jokes so he smiles more, okay? Oh -- but before I forget, something hilarious happens in the last ten seconds of the interview (in part 2): Elisabeth Rehn tells Han-sol that he's a sweet kid and that she'd have liked to have him as a grandson. "But you have already... your own parents," she continues. She was totally going to say "grandparents". Oh, except... Yeah.

8. Lastly, I wonder if Kim Han-sol has a future in politics? It's very unlikely under the current regime, of course, what with his family being in quasi-exile, and well, to be frank, after giving this interview he'll probably never be able to visit North Korea again. Nevertheless, he looks and sounds promising. He probably has a bright future ahead of him regardless of what he chooses to do. I wish him all the best!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Land's End

Today was the first rainy day of fall*. I expect more to come, so I'm going to have to buy some new shoes. The pair I've had since I began college has gaping holes in both heels and bleeds blue onto my socks when wet. Today was the first rainy day of fall, and I walked around in wet shoes and socks for hours in Jeollanam-do with a large group of tourists from a Korean Teachers' Union.

*Actually, it wasn't. I just thought that that would be a nice way to begin the entry.
Host mother and me
My host mother is a biology teacher and belongs to a union. She and half a dozen other teachers from her school joined a tour of Haenam County in South Jeolla Province. We went to Haenam (해남/海南), Daeheungsa (대흥사/大興寺), and Ttangkkeut (땅끝), which is the "Land's End" of Korea -- the southernmost point of the peninsula (this does not include the many islands just off the coast). Due to the language barrier, I did not understand the majority of anything that happened today from 7am until 10pm, neither what our schedule was or what our tour guide was ever talking about. However, I did get some opportunities to practice Korean, I made a new friend, and I took some photos of pretty things at a Buddhist temple. An opportunity to take photos of pretty things is always nice. (Can you tell that I'm really tired right now?)
A statue at Daeheungsa (대흥사), the main temple of the Jogye Order of Buddhism. The temple was large, spacious, and peaceful, I think in part because it was raining and there were no busy crowds.
단풍 (danpung) is the Korean maple tree, as well as the word for the changing of leaves' colors in autumn.
The main attraction at Ttangkkeut is a monorail that goes straight up a steep mountain to the Ttangkkeut observatory. We waited in line for nearly forty-five minutes for a chance to ride the monorail. It was fairly unexciting, save for a moment near the top when the car suddenly stopped and the lights when out, as if the power had been cut. And it was still raining. I suddenly wondered if we'd survive if the car were to freefall down the side of the mountain... But the power outage didn't last long, and soon we were at the top. We stayed up at the top for about five minutes, as the wind and the rain made it uncomfortable to stay up there, and the view was miserable, anyway. So... so much for that! At least I can now say that I've been to the southernmost point of the Korean peninsula. The next time I go farther south, I want to be on Jeju Island -- when it's not raining. The weather put a "damper" on things, if you will. (Damp: 축축하다/chukchukhada)
Ttangkkeut Monorail.
Following Ttangkkeut, we visited a small cabin complex in the woods in Gangjin where the great Joseon period thinker Dasan lived in exile and wrote five hundred books. He must have had a lot of time on his hands. I don't know much about Dasan (다산/茶山/Yes, that means "Tea Mountain"), but I will read his biography when I get the chance to, because his life seems to have been very interesting. (Unlike the photos I took at this tourist spot, since it was getting dark by then...)

After a Korean beef (한우) barbecue dinner, it was time to go home. A few scattered notes: I spent a lot of time today adding vocabulary words to my flashcard deck on Anki, and it's great to see how I'm actually progressing. I'm happy that I got to spend a lot of time with my host mother today. Usually all the members of my host family are so busy, especially in recent weeks, so this was nice. Teachers' unions (교원 노동 조합(노조)/kyowon nodong johap) are an interesting thing in Korea -- as I'm sure they are in the US, too. They haven't been legal for more than a few decades, though. I'll have more thoughts on them according to what I know, later. But it's time to sleep, now. Good night!

Friday, October 26, 2012

I voted!

I received my absentee ballot today, filled it out, and sent it home. I didn't expedite it, though, so here's to hoping it reaches Delaware County before November 6th!
Now it's your turn!
Some election vocabulary (Korean speakers, feel free to correct my mistakes!):
election - 선거 (seongeo)
to vote - 투표하다 (tupyohada)
absentee - 부재자 (bujaeja)
to win an election - 당선되다
Democratic Party - 민주당 (minjudang)
Republican Party - 공화당 (gonghwadang)

오늘 저는 부재두표 했어요.
Today, I voted absentee.
버락 오바마는 다시 당선되면 좋아요.
It'll be great if Barack Obama wins again.
적어도, 미트 롬니 당선보다 좋겠다.
At least it should be better than a (Mitt) Romney win.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Exercising my rights and my Korean skills

Absentee voting from abroad is not easy.

The general election is on November 6th, and as I am abroad and unable to vote in person, I needed to send an FPCA (Federal Post Card Application) to receive my ballot. I filled out the FPCA two weeks ago and faxed it, but I was never sure if it was received on the other hand. I waited for my absentee ballot to arrive in my inbox, but it never did. So, I called yesterday (hoping that the international call would be short and not keep me counting the seconds on hold for fear of my phone bill) and was notified that my FPCA never even made it to Delaware County.

So, I did it all again today: printed out a new form, scanned it, and sent it by email this time, and then went to the post office to mail the original as well. I should have done this the first time around. But the prospect of having to mail anything from Korea by myself was... not inviting, to be honest.

It's quite frightening for to have to use my limited Korean in "real life" -- which means in public, with Koreans who do not speak English and are not my friends or teachers who understand that I don't really speak Korean very well at all.

As I was walking toward the post office (우체국) this afternoon, a thought suddenly struck me: Andrew, you're about to have to use Korean only to communicate for the next thirty minutes at least. It may be a disaster. Brace yourself, be confident, and keep a smile on.

I entered the post office, took my number after looking confused for a few brief seconds, and sat down to wait. While I waited, I looked up the words for "special", "envelope", and "send" on my phone's dictionary app. I needed a special envelope -- actually, I needed a normal envelope, but on this blank envelope I needed to print the FPCA template for the address that would allow me to send it postage paid.

My original intent was to buy an envelope and then take it back to school to print out the template, only then to return to the post office to actually send it. But I noticed that the post office had printers of its own, so I decided to try to ask if they could print it here for me. I somehow made myself understood and the post office worker took my flash drive to check what was on it. Unfortunately, her supervisor saw what she was doing and was all like, "Nope! Can't do that here. Go to a PC방." Tail between my legs, I scurried away (taking the envelope with me without paying for it).

At the PC방 (a public computer gaming room), I asked the two guys working there if I could print stuff off. I already knew the answer before I asked, though; the PC방 was smoky, noisy, and full of computers for League of Legends and whatnot, without a printer in sight. I was then told that PC방 rarely had printers; they had no other suggestions for me.

Getting a bit desperate, I Kakao-ed a Korean friend and asked for her advice. She told me that unfortunately she wasn't sure where I should go, but perhaps look for a 인쇄소 (print shop). So, I went into the nearest convenience store to ask if there were any in this area. Nope. At this point I had spent close to half an hour trying to communicate with six different Koreans, all without success, just to find a public printer.

Exasperated, I decided to forfeit the postage paid envelope and just write the freaking address on the envelope on my own, and pay for it myself. So back to the post office. And here's the rest of my conversation with the post office worker (PO), translated from Korean.

Me: The PC room couldn't print it, so...
PO: When do you want this to arrive?
Me: Uh...
PO: Normal postage will take 10 days.
Me: Oh, 10 days?
PO: Do you want to expedite it? It'll be expensive.
Me: Oh, how expensive?
PO: [checks figures] ... 17,600 won ($16). Very expensive!
Me: [thinking: holy @*#$!] Oh, yes, that's expensive! Um...
PO: It will arrive next Tuesday if you expedite. But it's very expensive.
Me: Um... normal is okay, then.
PO: Normal?
Me: Yes.
PO: Okay... 610 won ($0.50).
Me: [thinking: and I went to all that trouble to try to print on the envelope...] Okay. Thank you.
PO: Did you just come back from living in America?
Me: What?
PO: Did you just come back from living in America?
Me: [not understanding the question] Uh, yes, I came back from living in America?
By now, everyone in the office is listening, and they laugh when I say this.
Me: What?
PO: Were you born in America?
Me: Oh, yes. In California.
PO: Ah. Are you Korean?
Me: Huh? No.
PO: American?
Me: Yes.
PO: Your face looks Korean!
Me: Oh, no, I'm not. I'm Taiwanese-American.
PO: AH! Taiwanese-American! [to others] He's Taiwanese-American. You look very Korean! We thought you were Korean!
Me: Really? Thanks.
PO: You speak Korean well.
Me: No, not really. Thank you.
PO: Okay, have a nice day!
Me: Goodbye!

Anyway, I'd better get my absentee ballot asap. I'm also going to use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot just in case. This probably means another trip to the post office soon. What fun!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Everybody's Gonna Love Today

After lunch, I'm walking back to my office. Down the hall, I notice one male student running past the lockers. He's being chased by his friend, who quickly corners him and puts him into some sort of headlock.

"What are you two doing?" I ask.

A pause, then a grin.


This makes me laugh out loud.

They run away and continue their chase.

- - -

I've introduced a new label to my posts: Student Said What? It's for each instance I talk to my students and they reply with something offbeat, unexpectedly hilarious, or surprisingly sobering. (Also included: the best (or worst) of English grammar and spelling in their homework.) More to come!


When did I agree to correct ninety students' essays -- twice -- over the course of two weeks? I've successfully avoided taking any work home for the first two months, but yesterday and tonight smashed that streak to smithereens. It's past 1am, and I've only just finished class 1-2, which marks the halfway point. The last two classes will have to wait until tomorrow. And next Monday they'll be turning in their second draft, which means I get to do this all over again.

At least some of these essays are amusing. Here's one gem:
"just I don't have deep mathledge. so it was hard to me."
Mathledge, folks. And with that, a good night to you all! (Good morning in California!)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hard Work Pays Off

The CSHS-Yamaguchi Prefecture high schools mini-conference, held this afternoon, with my student SH speaking at the podium.
My two students, SH and SJ -- the ones with whom I worked for an unexpectedly long time last Friday -- presented their research in front of their peers, teachers, and a cohort of visiting Japanese high school students and faculty today! All in English, for which I am very, very proud of them.

Two other presentations were given by the Japanese students, whose English sounds strangely robotic. It was like a recording, really. I know that this is mostly due to my unfamiliarity with Japanese-accented English, but I'll be honest: one girl in particular sounded so much like an android that I had to stifle a laugh from way in the back. Their brief words of introduction in Korean were better than anything I could manage, though.

In any case, I think that the only people who really understood everything that was said for the duration of the hour-long mini-conference were myself and the two other English teachers at my school, unfortunately. Many students were nodding off, and our science teachers would prod and slap them to keep them awake. Hopefully they still learned a thing or two. Hooray for cultural and educational exchange!

In other news, I stayed at school until 8pm again today. I hope this isn't the start of a trend... but I know that for at least this week and next, I'll be grading hundreds of essays written by my first-years, which range from terrible to woah-did-he-really-write-this good. Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

스물두 살

It's an organic cake, of course.
오늘은 제 스물두번째 생일 이예요. 사실은 제 한국 나이가 스물세 살 이는데, 생각하고 싶지 않아요. 제 생일은 대개 보통의 날으로 생각해요. 교회에 갔고 다음에 친구의 집에서 점심을 (타코가!) 먹었어요. 날시가 맑고 예뻤어요. 보통의 날 였어요... 그 케이크를 제외하는데요. 홈스테이 가족 하고 같이 저녁을 먹었어요. "Happy birthday to you..." 노래를 시작 했을때, 셋째 행을 잊어버렸기 때문에 한국어로 계속 했어요. "사랑하는 엔드류... 생일 축하합니다!" 귀여웠다!

그런데, "로-키" 생일이 좋아요.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Deepest Darkest Fears (Conference pt. 5)

Part 5 of 5 from last week's Fulbright Fall Conference.
The problem boarding wall. Write out your problems, write out advice for others.
A neat portion of Fall Conference that ran continuously throughout last weekend was the problem boarding wall. All of the ETAs were asked to respond to two questions on a folded sheet of paper. On the outside, "What do you wish you knew about teaching?" On the inside, "What is one unresolved fear or worry you have about being in Korea?" Our questions and problems were then posted on a literal wall, and during any free moment we could write an answer on a Post-It to help one another out. As you can tell from the photo, we had a lot of problems.

Anthony, our Program Coordinator and conference MC, tried to lighten the mood a bit by joking about how we should be writing our "deepest, darkest fears" on the insides of our problem boarding sheets. Regardless, I took it seriously. Some things have been weighing on my mind a bit more heavily than I'd like to admit. They're not really fears, to be fair, but simply vague clouds of dissatisfaction. And they don't actually have anything to do with my placement or how life has been for me these few months. It's hard to explain, but I'll try my best.

On my "I wish I knew..." section, I wrote that I wish I knew how to engage the students in my classes who are at a lower level of English than all the rest. I can tell they don't understand sometimes, but what student is willing to raise his hand and ask the teacher (read: announce to the entire class) that they're confused? As a result, they keep quiet and zone out. I wish I knew exactly what my students want or need out of my class, too. Most of them will need English to attend the top science universities, but if they're not aiming that high, or if they fall short of their goal, what then? What's the point of my class? Can I offer them a different motivation? And I wish I knew all of my students' names and their stories. As for this last one, I think I'm getting there. It just takes time and patience.

Those were my teaching questions. My fears, on the other hand, are much more broad and substantial. The first (of two) was a fear that I've already fallen too far behind in my goal to reach basic conversational fluency by the end of the year.

One optimistic stranger wrote to me on a Post-It: "It's really not too late!! Take advantage of winter break and take a class! Ask a co-teacher or faculty member to do a language exchange. Go to a university area -- or ask around -- and find a college student who wants a language exchange. NOT TOO LATE!"

The rational part of me already knows all of these things. It's not that I don't know what I should be doing -- in fact, I am taking a class, sort of. But the worry is an ambiguous projection into the future. The goal I set was not concrete enough, so I won't really know if I've reached it. That is to say, what is "basic conversational fluency", anyway? From one perspective, I've already reached basic conversational fluency, because I can hold a conversation with my host parents completely in Korean about my weekend plans or what I did today. I've also had lots of practice at the Korean class held at the community center. But because I still run into communication problems on occasion, I get frustrated about the simple things that I don't know, and that's why I am doubtful of my progress. In fact, it's pretty irrational, when you think about it.

The second fear I wrote is that I'm having trouble figuring out what to do after year one. Should I renew my grant and stay for one more year? Should I apply to graduate school? If so, in what field? If I don't apply now and I don't renew, should I just go home and become a sad sack?

The Post-It reply I got read, "Sounds cheesy, but where is your heart calling you? I'm going home at the end of the year."

It's not cheesy, Post-It peer. I understand exactly what you mean, and then some. It's the same irrationality that has brought about my lack of confidence in Korean. See, I know that I should be following my heart -- or to put it in spiritual terms, placing my trust in God and trying to discern His will -- but actually doing so is a different matter entirely.

And this is where things get depressing. I have no idea what God wants me to do after my grant year. I'm still trying to determine if coming to Korea in the first place was a part of His will, or if my coming here was really just me running away from something else, like Jonah trying to go to Joppa in order to avoid Nineveh. The analogy isn't perfect, of course. If Korea were truly my Joppa then God would never have actually let me come, and I'm sure Megashark would have leapt out of the Pacific to swallow my plane before I'd arrived.
Joking aside, I'm starting to feel the creeping pressure to get myself a concrete plan. For starters, although I'm fairly comfortable and happy in Korea, I don't want to give off the impression that I'm drifting. Deadlines for graduate school applications are coming up... and I don't even know what I want to study in graduate school. Linguistics? Religion? Education? Should I switch to law? Do a post-bac in medicine? I had so many ideas before graduation but never settled on any of them. I never sat down and considered any of them seriously; now I'm afraid that if I choose one, I'll second-guess the decision and spend the next five to seven years wondering if I should have done something else.

Thus, in the meantime, it's like I'm just stalling for time by teaching during the week and exploring Korea on weekends. Not that teaching is just a meaningless method of killing time -- far from it! I love teaching (see yesterday's post for proof); it's been nothing but a pleasure so far. And anyone would agree that traveling is a neat way to spend a year after college. But like my dad says, I can't do this forever.

And that's the next source of pressure: parents. My future is nowhere near the path that they envisioned for it. I was supposed to go to Berkeley, study medicine, and become a doctor like my two older brothers. Instead, I went to Swarthmore, studied Linguistics (what is Linguistics, anyway?), and didn't even take a single course in organic chemistry. But that was okay, they reasoned, because with my quarter-of-a-million-dollar education, I could do something else just as amazing, right? Right.

Then, I became an English teacher in Korea. Nope, that was definitely not on their radar.

These days, our Skype dates have become a weekly episode of Where in the World is Your Future Headed? and it's just as disappointing for myself to have to answer that I don't have a clue as I feel it must be for them. Dear Swatties, remember The Graduate?

Mr. Braddock: Ben, what are you doing?
Benjamin: Well, I would say that I'm just drifting. Here in the pool.
Mr. Braddock: Why?
Benjamin: Well, it's very comfortable just to drift here.
Mr. Braddock: Have you thought about graduate school?
Benjamin: No.
Mr. Braddock: Would you mind telling me then what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work?
Benjamin: You got me.

Its not all bad, though. I've registered for the GRE; I'll be taking it in late November. I'll study hard so that I only have to take it once, and then the scores will last for five years. That should be enough time to figure out what I want to do. One doesn't decide overnight that they want to commit to years in some graduate program or other. I can still patiently think and pray and discern.

I'm not drifting. It's not that I don't have any plans; I just have many options on the table, and I'm being non-committal. Oh, and you know what? One of my main goals for the Fulbright grant from the very beginning was to see if I had what it takes to be a good teacher. So this is a year of prospective job training, isn't it?

Well, there's a fine line between looking on the bright side of things and sugarcoating the truth.

"Don't settle. You can do better. You're smart, you have a good education. You should aim to be the best in your field. Don't you think your skills are being wasted if you spend more than one year in Korea? Hey Andrew, didn't you once say you wanted to be a doctor, a professor, a missionary? You need to wait for God to tell you what to do -- oh, and also, you need to decide now. Dear Andrew, I hope South Korea's treating you well. What are you planning to do afterward?"

Mr. Braddock: What is it, Ben?
Benjamin: I'm just...
Mr. Braddock: Worried?
Benjamin: Well...
Mr. Braddock: About what?
Benjamin: I guess about my future.
Let That Be Enough (Model Behavior) - Switchfoot by Jars of Clay on Grooveshark

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Long, Long Day

We interrupt the steady stream of pretty photos from Gyeongju with a special announcement: Andrew has finally discovered what his school's cafeteria serves for dinner!

It's 8:30pm and I have just returned from what is arguably the longest workday I've ever had. And, yes, I stayed at school through dinner time, using the opportunity to chat with students over a meal of udon, rice, banchan, and a wonderful, what-the-heck-is-this chicken mozzarella stew.

In case you're confused... I work at a boarding high school. My students go to class and study from morning until evening and take all three meals in the same small but airy cafeteria. For the past two months, I've eaten lunch with them and make it a point to chat with my students in English to encourage them and give them a chance to practice. But I always leave school at five or five-thirty and have dinner at home with 아버님 and 어머님.

Today, however, was a day of curveballs. I taught two classes and led one discussion class for teachers. After my last Friday class, my schedule has usually been to go to my school's gym and then work in my office to finalize next week's lesson plans. But I was told today that two of my first-year students were going to spend fifth period practicing a special presentation they were to give next Monday. The regional education office is sponsoring a group of Japanese students to come to CSHS for a kind of science research exchange, and my students, SH and SJ, will present their current Research Education group projects. The problem is that they haven't quite finished translating their work into English and need practice. Hence, I was asked to attend their rehearsal and take notes, give feedback, the things a native-speaking English teacher would be expected to do.

I gladly agreed. Only literally as soon as my co-teacher and I left our office to head down to the auditorium, we were told that the rehearsal had been moved to next Monday, the morning before the actual presentation. I shrugged and decided to go to the gym.

When I returned from my workout, my co-teacher announced that in fact, they decided to move the rehearsal back to today, and it had actually begun fifteen minutes ago, so could I please come to the auditorium? Cue the smile and sigh that comes with all sudden schedule changes at Korean schools!

While listening to SH's nervous speech given before a grim audience of five teachers, I realized that she really did need some help. I mean, my students are incredibly smart, and their research is very complex (one group made a fertilizer from discarded starfish and tested its effectiveness, and the other created different varieties of bio-degradable insulation). But I have to admit that all of that was lost completely in the presentation. Her delivery and the PowerPoint slideshow were just... really bad. There was a lot of work to be done, and she knew it. I actually pitied her, because the other supervising teachers at the rehearsal really didn't hold back in their criticism. Their science teacher doesn't even speak English and he could tell that it was a mess.

So I discarded my afternoon plans to work on my own things, and I went through SJ's script line by line with him, trying to fix its syntax and to create plausible sentences out of phrases like "it is arrangement of mini tomatoes vertical". I painstakingly broke down how to pronounce Asterina pectinifera. I double-checked my co-teachers translation of SH's script, too, which was some nice collaboration. Together, we realized that in order to do the best we could for our students, we'd have to stay late. "I think," ventured my co-teacher, "you should stay for dinner tonight."

By the time I had finished recording SJ's entire script so that he could practice correct pronunciation and intonation over the weekend, it was completely dark outside and all the other students had headed to the cafeteria for to eat. I sent a quick text to my host mother to tell her I wouldn't be home until late ("갑자기 저는 학교의 일은 많아서...").

I figured, after dinner, that as long as I was already here past sundown, I might as well stick around to get some more work done. So I went over my notes on SH's presentation with her and tried my best to be encouraging. I did some lesson planning. I made some suggestions to SH's research group as they gave their PowerPoints a complete makeover. I didn't leave until after 8:00pm, remarking that the school looked completely different at night, though not necessarily in a bad way.

So that makes twelve hours spent at school today! I wonder why I did that? I mean, of course, I was asked to help, and I wasn't about to half-ass a big favor asked of me by my co-teacher. But there's more. I really want to watch my students kick butt at their presentation on Monday. (They want to show up their Japanese visitors!) I know they can do it, but it makes me sad that they are so stressed out about this -- it's not even going to be graded, as far as I know -- and I want to help make it as comfortable and successful as possible. Also, now that I've gotten involved, my inner perfectionist wants it to be, well, perfect, too. This goes hand in hand with the realization that I actually feel comfortable being at school and interacting with my students outside of class, even on projects as spontaneous and hectic as this.

All throughout this long, long day, time paradoxically passed in the blink of an eye. Although I'm pretty exhausted now, I enjoyed the sort of bonding time I had with my students and with the other teachers at my school who stayed late to work with them, as well. I like the idea that my dedication to my students is leaving an impression. My co-teacher has informed me that students have recently been telling her that they like the effort I make to talk to them. Of course, they never tell me this to my face; I suppose it would be embarrassing.

As I left, I wished my co-teacher a nice weekend and told her not to stay too late -- the opposite of the traditional Korean valediction, "수고하세요!" (Work hard!) In reply, she told me that tonight was actually her shift to stay at school overnight and monitor the students in the dormitories. Now that's real dedication.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Silla Legacy (Conference pt. 4)

Continuing the tour of Gyeongju from the Fulbright Fall Conference!

It is now Sunday after lunchtime, and everyone has stuffed their faces full of bulgogi, and it's warm and bright out. So when we arrive at a museum housing artifacts excavated from tombs dating back to the Silla Dynasty (57 BC to AD 935), we all just kind of casually wander through it and snap photos at pretty crowns, jewelry, and pottery. In fact, as I stroll from exhibit to exhibit with Jason, Katelyn, and Jake, all of us are actually engaged in a conversation about our favorite versions of the Pokémon games. (Mine is probably Crystal.) I also busy myself trying to read the Mandarin on the exhibit descriptions. My Mandarin is very rusty, but any chance is worthwhile! I can only recall two things, though: Gyeongju (경주) is 慶州 (Qìngzhōu), "Celebration City", and Silla (신라) is 新羅 (Xīnluó).
A crown in the unique style of the Silla period. It looks like it's made of gold leaf, and it also looks like it was made for a very large head. The little jade jelly bean ornaments make me giggle.
A lot of folks finish the museum early and are just lying on the grass outside beneath the sun. I feel like singing, or maybe napping. We board the bus to go to Anapji, a Silla palace built in the 7th century. Once there, we are given forty-five minutes to walk around the pond, but seriously? This place is gorgeous. Can we just stay here forever, etc. There is a large wooden scale model of the ancient palace complex that everyone photographs before starting the leisurely stroll around the park. The water is absurdly green, but despite the algal blooms, we see giant koi swimming comfortably around.
Katelyn and me at Anapji Pond. (Taken by Jason)
This probably doesn't help their tourism industry much, does it?
Alas, time doesn't stop for us, and we board the bus again to go to Cheomseongdae (첨성대/瞻星臺), the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia. Popular legend says that it was built as a means for the public for learn how to read the stars on their own rather than having to depend on a corrupt shaman  class -- I can dig that. It's like the Luther Bible of ancient Korea.

But the star-gazing tower itself, despite all the boasting a guidebook can put forth regarding its numerological perfection and structural symbolism, is rather dull. It's really just a giant rook in the middle of a field that nobody is allowed to visit. See the sign?

Haha, I kid. It's actually a poor translation; the small placard reads, in Korean, "들어가지 마세요," or "Please do not enter." It's referring to the grassy area.

Even so, we walk around the entire thing and realize that there's no door, only a window. The thing must have only been accessible by ladder... Nothing else to see here.

At Cheonmachong. The balloon way in the background is from the 떡 festival.
From there, we walk past a 떡 festival and enter a quiet, secluded park with trees shading the paths and hushing the sounds of the roads. The only sounds are Fulbrighters chatting and Brittany's loud maniacal laughter as she shoots us all with the soap bubble gun she has for some unknown reason.

A path leads us past giant earthen mounds -- more like small hills -- that are all just a little bit too geometrically perfect to be natural. They are tumuli, each one a tomb for some member of the Silla royal family. They look like they would be so much fun to sled down come wintertime, but no one is allowed to step foot on them. No visitors allowed. Only lawnmowers to keep them looking pristine.

The very last one at the end of the path is Cheonmachong (천마총/天馬塚), the Heavenly Horse Tomb. It's named after a painting of a pegasus found during the tomb excavation. Now, visitors are allowed to walk inside to see some neat artifacts from the 6th century, but it's all artificial, like a small museum instead of an actual excavation site.

A lady gives a short introduction to the tomb right outside of the entrance, and asks a trivia question: "Why do you think the king's body was placed facing the east?" I answer without even thinking, "To face the sunrise". To my surprise, the tour guide herself seems surprised, and wonders how I knew that. I shrug; it seemed logical. By then, the afternoon has worn on and it's nearing dinnertime. I'm tired, but in a good way, I think, because although my feet are sore I feel like I've had a really fun, chill day.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Beautiful Gyeongju (Conference pt. 3)

"Beautiful Gyeongju" is the cheesy English moniker adopted by the historic city of Korea. (See related: "Colorful Daegu", "Dynamic Busan", and... "Changwon: Environmental Capital". Yeah.)

There's no denying, however, that Gyeongju lives up to this name. It's a small city but its boundaries are wide; the best word that I can think of right now to describe it is uncompressed. Unlike Seoul, Daegu, and Busan, there's so much room to breathe. And there are trees everywhere, all on the verge of changing colors -- the phenomenon known as 단풍 (dampung) in Korean. On a sunny, crisp, almost-autumn day, the tour we took around the city's historic monuments from the Silla Dynasty was more calming and relaxing than I could have imagined, thanks to our slow pace and the gorgeous sights at every stop.
A small hut selling memorial tiles; you can buy one to write an inspirational message on. I was most interested in the wooden rooftop, though; there's not only moss but small trees growing on it!
The first stop was Seokguram (석굴암/石窟庵), a Buddhist shrine located on the top of a tall mountain. Fortunately, our bus drove to the top, and we didn't have to hike for more than five minutes to arrive at our secluded, peaceful destination. Although there were tons of tourists, they didn't seem to bother the worshipers inside the shrine, who were also separated by a thick glass wall that said "No Cameras". Inside was an enormous ten-foot-tall statue of the seated Buddha, imposing yet peaceful. From the outside, you could see the beautiful farms and fields far below us in the valley, although the morning mist obscured it some. Seokguram is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A very awake Ginger and Nina jump up in front of Seokguram Grotto (built into an artificial cave!).
Down by the parking lot, we passed by a long row of ajummas (아줌마) selling fruits and roasted chestnuts. Mmm, chestnuts. It was a nice surprise for me that chestnuts (밤, bam) are a common autumnal snack in Korea. They remind me of France (where they're called châtaigne).
This is literally a dozen sellers of the exact same product. You have to wonder what the market competition is like.
After Seokguram, we hopped back on the bus to go to Bulguksa Temple (불국사/佛國寺), Korea's "Historic and Scenic Spot No. 1" and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some of the historic treasures located within the temple complex included stone pagodas (탑), famous bridges, and, of course, statues of the Buddha. While we were at the temple, we were supposed to follow a tour in English, but the tour guide mysteriously never showed up (I found out later that she was just very late), so most of us just grabbed a map and wandered around the huge grounds on our own.
Me in front of Dabotap (다보탑/多寶塔), the pagoda of many treasures, built in AD 751. Its partner pagoda just a few meters away, Seokgatap, was under heavy construction at the time. (Photo taken by Susie)
For the average tourist (aka, me), it seems as if once you've seen one Korean Buddhist temple, you've seen them all. I wish I knew more about Buddhism (불교; bulgyo), though; I took only one course in college that covered Eastern traditions, and it only skimmed the surface of what there was to see and learn at Bulguksa. One neat little corner of the temple was covered with hundreds of small cairns -- piles of flat stones stacked neatly atop one another -- that made me feel like a giant in a Suessian wonderland, sans the vivid colors. I wasn't sure what their function was, having been told, when I saw similar structures at Muryeung Valley, that they were used to mark hiking trails. I found out later that they were for making prayers or wishes.
Build a cairn, make a wish! This one is about as tall as a soda can.
All around and behind me are hundreds of small cairns, carefully constructed by thousands of the faithful. (taken by Brittany)
And that's about it for Seokguram and Bulguksa! Two of Korea's most famous historical sites and tourist attractions, check! Then, it was lunchtime (맛있는 불고기!) and off to more beautiful places plus a museum, which I'll get to in a later post. Stay tuned!
The main gate of Tohamsan (토함산/吐含山), the mountain where Bulguksa is located. I spy thirteen -- no, fourteen! Fifteen? -- Fulbrighters!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reunion: Fall Conference 2012 (pt. 2)

You could also call this the Group Photo Post. Last weekend's conference was a fantastic time of reuniting with all of our friends after seven weeks of being apart. Of course, I've traveled to other cities and I've seen tons of other Fulbrighters; I may be the only one in my city, but I'm not as isolated as that. Nevertheless, for everyone to get back together was really something. When we were all gathered in the main conference room, I was taken aback at our numbers. In one large room were represented dozens of cities and over one hundred and twenty different schools, families, and experiences. This amounted to thousands of stories to share.
Contacting the night away! Left to right: Ashley, Sarah, Thomas, Kelly, Sara, and Erin.
On the first evening, a bunch of folks decided to walk around the Bomun Lake (보문호수), the large reservoir central to the tourist resort area where our conference was held. We got drinks and chocolate and, braving the nighttime autumn chill, sat on a pier by the lake and talked and played games. Contact -- my favorite game ever -- was the order of the evening. I love a good two hours of Contact. I mean, not even that, I love a good two hours of speaking quickly and fluently in English with my friends. A nice break from the Korean and intermediate-level English that surrounds me in the classroom every day. And on top of that, a word game that gives your language faculty a run for its money! Kelly perhaps described it best when she said that it felt like her brain was being massaged.
한우, Korean beef grilled over charcoal. The cuts were twice as thick as what I usually see at barbecue restaurants!
On Saturday evening, a group of us got adventurous and went out to get Korean barbecue. Fortunately -- or unfortunately, depending on how you view the situation -- we chanced across a nice-looking restaurant: 강산한우. I wasn't aware of this when we walked in, but 한우 (hanwoo) means Korean beef. Korean beef is really, really expensive. And sure enough, this restaurant turned out to be a wallet breaker. But was it worth it? The small cuts of meat that we got (10,000₩ per 100g) were delicious; juicy steak grilled over pure charcoal, along with tons of garlic, mushrooms (as much as we wanted), and a variety of 반찬. Mhm, there's no denying that it was an excellent meal, surpassing the quality of most of what I eat these days. On the other hand, I've also been stuffed to satisfaction at barbecue joints to the tune of 5,000₩, whereas this tourist trap restaurant, which charged extra for rice and even for setting up our table and grill (who does that?!), landed us with a bill of 20,000₩ per person. I'd pay $18 for that in the States, no sweat, but in Korea? Hmph. I'll say it was worth it, but I don't think I'll be treating myself to 한우 again soon...
The adventurous group that shelled out for some mad-expensive and supremely delicious Korean beef barbecue. Left to right: Kelly, Ashley, Jason, Katelyn, Ben, Tsu, Nina, Elaine, and me. (taken by Neal)
After the meal, everyone was stuffed -- almost uncomfortably so -- which called for a night-time stroll around the lake. I took photos and played with long exposure...
Katelyn, Ashley, Ben, Kelly, and Jason at Bomun Lake in Gyeongju. Jason likes his ice cream.
And that evening ended in a great Bananagrams and Pirate Scrabble marathon, during which I continued to fend off Ashley's attacks on my claim as Bananagrams Boss and Pirate Scrabble Captain and generally had a blast.

What I liked the most about this reunion was that all of us Fulbrighters could basically pick up exactly where we left off at the end of Orientation, which strangely seems like it was simultaneously very long ago and just yesterday. Only now in addition to our crazy antics and long chats about our lives back home, we have stories to tell of our students' crazy antics and long chats about our lives right now. Over all the meals, throughout all those long hours just chilling, between games of Bananagrams, the conversation continued unbroken, and, well, I guess it was telling of just how wonderful it was to be together again.
The wonderful 인터미디엇 (촣아, 촣아, 촣아!) class reunion photo. Left to right: me, Lizzie, Tracy, Jaeyeon, Susie, Amber, Soon, Monica, and Kyla. Missing: Kelly, Megan, and Ashley, who wandered off early :(

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fall Conference 2012 (pt. 1)

Part 1 of 5 from the Fulbright Fall Conference.
Just an arbitrary Korea-themed photo I took in Gyeongju.
I'm back from Fulbright Fall Conference, or the "workshop" (워크샵) that I attended last weekend in Gyeongju (경주). It's hard to explain the nuances between workshops, conferences, conventions, and things of this nature in Korean, but the abovementioned Konglish loanword seems to suffice.

The weekend was definitely a throwback to Orientation, and this not simply on account of all one hundred-and-twenty-something Fulbright ETAs being together in one place for the first time in seven weeks. In true Fulbright fashion, the hours were packed with panels, discussions, small groups, large groups, and presentations that covered every issue under the sun. The main focus overall, though, was on improving our teaching skills, classroom management strategies, and getting along in the homestay (for the first-year ETAs). It was a day and a half full of talking, listening, talking, listening, reflecting, and listening some more.

Here are some stray notes I jotted down. (I wasn't as assiduous as I normally am, due in part to being slightly overwhelmed by all the information pouring in.) Yes, I guess this is the boring part of my updates on the conference, but I think they're necessary -- helpful for me, at least -- and maybe you'll find them interesting. Here goes:

3rd-Year ETA Panel:
- In the classroom, content is important, but Korean students get tons of content already from their other English classes. If you want to change things up and/or burden your students less, focus on caring for them. It's arguably more important to show them that you care than to perfect their English.
- A tip for reaching out to introverted students: don't rely on speed and volume (such as using games like Speed Quiz). Use critical thinking problems, which require time to think and to focus on accuracy, to let the quiet students shine.
- Think, Pair, Share is an excellent Independent Practice model that will have every student speaking at one point and reduces the embarrassment factor when it comes to speaking in front of the the whole class.

SG Discussion on Building with the School Community (Sam & Dan):
- CoolMessenger is a good computer program that connects faculty and relays important information. Get connected with it to stay up-to-date and avoid pitfalls such as having a class canceled without your knowledge.
- Give food! Share generously. You can always connect over food.
- Offer to help with anything and everything -- especially if, like me, you have not been asked to do much at all in the past two months.
- On a free weekend, be so bold as to ask some co-teachers if they'd like to hang out -- go hiking, fishing, whatever. Folks at my school are insanely busy at this time of year, but it's worth trying!
- Find out the PE class schedule and make the gym your new haunt. Often, students are totally willing to chat with you while they're not testing or even include you on their dodgeball team.
- Memorizing names is like memorizing vocabulary; make your own mugshot flashcards (camera phone apps) and flip through them in between classes.
- Giving your students your KakaoTalk (Korea's ubiquitous instant messaging app) ID is an option. I think I may do this for my second-years after they graduate.

SG Discussion on Drama Activities (Vinnie):
- Keep your goals simple at each meeting/class. For example, in one day choose to focus on just the vocal projection, just tone or enunciation, just making good eye contact, just gesturing, etc. Don't overwhelm students with everything all at once. My first-years have a speech test coming up, and I have to train them on how to properly give a speech. I hope I have enough time to address all the important aspects individually.
- Some random fun ideas for class warmups, skits, etc.: acting like old people, Zip Zap Zop, 1- to 5-word sentences, "Sausage", Magic Doctor Chair... I should also browse Whose Line Is It, Anyway? for some more skit ideas.
Another photo that doesn't really have anything to do with the post. This was also taken in Gyeongju, which is home to a billion beautiful and interesting things to photograph.
SG Discussion on Teaching for Introverts (Anne):
- Yeah, I went to a small group for introverts. If you know me well, you'll know that I'm an introvert. I love hanging out with my friends, but being around large groups for too long is draining, and I cherish my alone time. So a group of Fulbrighters similar to myself gathered (ironically, there was a rather large group of us) to discuss how this affects our performances as second language teachers.
- One issue that introverts may face is the utter exhaustion that follows a day of "performing" in class and being around people -- strangers, really -- without a break for down-time. On one hand, you can remedy this by making your own down-time, finding the teachers' lounge and napping, or going to the gym. I go to the gym, and I also read in my office. I'm fortunate enough that my 교무실 (gyomushil) is tiny -- just my co-teacher and me -- that it's generally very quiet already. On the other hand, as you become accustomed to teaching, gradually the exhaustion will lesson, and your stamina will build, and soon you will become SuperTeacher and tackle all those classes like a boss.
- Stay natural in your teaching persona; whether or not you "perform", don't stray too far from who you are normally. Your students will soon stop comparing you to last year's teacher, Ms. Always-Played-Games-And-Sang, and learn to appreciate you for being you.
- Try to relate to your quieter students. If you're an introvert and they're an introvert, you have a connection there. Don't surprise them with anything that you yourself would be terrified of doing -- dancing in front of the class, for example. Exercise your compassion.
- Repetitive conversations with students ("Hi, how was your day? Oh, busy? Tired? Again?") are... repetitive. But they lay the groundwork for future gains in relationships with students. So don't write them off.

SG Discussion on Reward Systems (Bryce):
- To encourage individual participation in addition to classroom participation (I'm having my classes compete against other classes, but some students aren't buying into it and thus don't ever raise their hands), you could have a raffle system where individual participation is rewarded with a raffle ticket for an occasional drawing. It's cheaper than most prizes, more suspenseful than stickers, and healthier than candy.
- Also opt for verbal encouragement whenever possible. It is, after all, more English. I'm also entertaining the idea of teaching my entire classes stock phrases ("You rock!") that we can all use together to praise an individual who does well, although it smacks of an elementary school classroom...

Spare Ideas:
- Hangman tip: don't just have students guess letters, but challenge them a bit to say, "A, as in apple", for example.
- The Kid Should See This
- Incorporating the arts into education is important... not just mental education, but physical, emotional, civic, and artistic education are also important. This is actually a huge topic, and I'd like to write some more about it in a later post.
- Many of my second-years are graduating soon. It'd be nice to have them write advice letters to new students, who will arrive on campus next February.
- Including common classroom expressions ("Could you repeat that, please?" and "How do you spell..." are the ones I find myself constantly reminding my students) on name cards is a great idea.
- Seat students in a circle and have a discussion by throwing a ball to one another. I even got an awesome Switch Ball for this purpose! It's good at keeping students engaged, maybe even motivating them to speak up in class.
This is a Switch Ball. When you toss it, it flips itself inside out and changes colors. 헐! (Wow!)
Okay, that's it! I promise more beautiful things (photos, etc.) in the next post.
exempli gratia pretty leaves, as Korea slowly turns toward autumn.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Not Karma

My friend and fellow ETA Monica recently said something to the effect of, "I believe in karma. I remember when, back during Orientation, I sprained my ankle. And I was like, 'This sucks. I'd better get a good placement!' And I did. Yeah, karma!"

We were eating lunch at the Shinsegae Department Store. Monica continued, "So it's okay when bad things happen to me, because that means that good things have to happen soon."

"That's not how karma works, Monica," I said.

"Yeah," chimed another friend, "I think it's when you do good things for others, then good things will be done for you in return."

"Oh, well," Monica didn't miss a beat. "Whatever. It's balance, anyway."

- - -

Thinking about this, though, I don't really have a problem with the idea that life has its natural ups and downs. Maybe, just as a rule, positive stuff always follows negative stuff; maybe the beneficial comes after the detrimental; maybe good fortune rides on the heels of bad fortune. (And I have obviously just finished teaching a lesson on pros and cons this week.) I believe that all things work for the good of those who trust in God, but I also believe that there is a chaotic force of entropy that physically affects our lives beyond its literal thermodynamic principles.

Before this gets too fluffy and long-winded, though, I just mean to say that not everything has been picture-perfect so far. During the one hundred-or-so days that I've been in Korea, life, teaching, and cultural adjustment have been mostly awesome and rarely unpleasant. Yet there have been times of unpleasantness.

And it was toward the middle of this past week when the various small un-pleasantries began to add up and I felt sort of like what Koreans call 답답해 (dapdaphae): stifled, cramped, burdened, and restless.

On the bright side, if you always stay rooted in mental and spiritual habits of positivity, it's never too long before something simple cheers you up and reminds you why you're doing what you're doing.

That simple something happened today, when a student asked to speak to me in private after lunch. I thought that something was wrong, judging by the tone of her voice. As it turns out, she only wanted me to write a short note in English for her friend -- another one of my students -- for the surprise birthday party they were going to throw her that evening. I thought that was sweet, but wondered why it was so important to have the random foreign English teacher sign a card. I mean, I was surprised that I could even conjure up our birthday girl's face when I was told whom the card was for; she tends to be very quiet in class, and I've proven to all of my students that I'm particularly awful at matching their names with their faces even if they do speak up more often.

The answer left me taken aback: "Actually, she hates English, but ever since you came she tries really hard and does all of her [extra credit] homework."

It's true. I assign homework only as extra credit in my classes, and this girl has done it every single time. I feel flattered, and I guess I just need to focus now on transferring the source of her enthusiasm for English class from myself to the language itself. Anyway, this was a definite pick-me-up for the day; it's like I finally have proof that I am actually leaving some kind of good impression on my students.

Despite the fact that I do not actually believe in karma, I'm going to cherish the small seeds of goodwill that I receive from my students, and I'm also going to plant as many of my own as I can around here, because the give-and-take of goodness can really only lead to more good.

And with that, it's off to Fulbright Fall Conference! I'll be away all weekend in Gyeongju (경주), known as the historic capital of Korea because it has (literal) mounds of ancient monuments and fantastic dynastic-era tourist attractions. You can expect tons of photos in the days to come! Ciao!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Yongji Lake

Yongji Lake's light and water show
Yongji Lake lies at the center of a small but delightful (did I just use that word?) park in downtown Changwon. People walk and jog around the lake all day, and apparently when it's nicer out musicians play together outdoors. In the evenings -- every evening, in fact, from March until November, there is a water and light show that draws friends, couples, and random passers-by to watch.

I went once with my friend Elani, who is from South Africa and who teaches at an after-school academy, and once with Erik. The show was tacky at points but still breathtaking and very peaceful. Even if it's the same exact show, with the same exact music every time, I get the feeling that it's the kind of thing you could see many times and not get tired of it. Water and light can be seen in an infinite number of different perspectives.

I need to keep the whole perspective thing in mind daily. Sometimes, I teach a class and it feels like nothing got through to my students. Sometimes, I hit a major block in curriculum planning. Sometimes, it's impossible for me to express what I want to say in Korean because I don't have the skills yet. And sometimes, I just get bored. But these times are inevitable. As I tell my students, mistakes are okay! Effort matters more than perfection. In the grand scheme of things, you're doing all right. So take a deep breath, pray, maybe go to the gym to sweat it out, shake it out, and just move on.

Shake It Out by Glee on Grooveshark
This song's been on my mind!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Masan, the Dream Bay
Changwon gets some pretty legit sunsets (일몰, ilmol). Every evening, I walk home from school and can't help but look up at the sky as the clouds turn from gold to pink to purple to gray. (But I also have to look down to make sure I don't step on dog 똥 or giant bugs.) There is a beautiful Korean word for the glow and colors of the setting sun: 노을. It is pronounced no-eul, kind of like Noel with the accent on the first syllable. One of my students happens to be named this, but to me, her personality is more like mid-afternoon than twilight (the latter of these essentially being, thanks to today's popular culture, no personality whatsoever).

Last week, I went fishing with my host father and brother. We went to Masan, which used to be the city just west of Changwon but is now the westernmost district of a bigger Changwon, ever since the incorporation two years ago. Masan's moniker is "Dream Bay", and this photo was taken from one of two iconic bridges that span said bay.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Meet-a-friend Monday

This evening I had the immense pleasure of seeing Erik-san, who is visiting Korea from our neighbor across the East Sea, Japan. Erik is an Assistant Language Teacher with the JET Program (very much like Fulbright, but based only in Japan), having fallen so much in love with his placement school and town that he has renewed twice. Now in his third year and completely conversant in Japanese (and dressed head-to-toe in Uniqlo), he is very much the model of how I'd like to see myself in, say, 2015.
Erik-san, looking confused at a Dunkin' Donuts... perhaps an awkward consequence of being in the same photo as a suggestive banana cream pastry and two radioactive-looking coffee cups. By the way, that green tea latte was good, but my current gassy state tells me I shouldn't have consumed it...
I haven't thought too much about what I will do when my grant year expires next July. I think renewing my contract for another year would be amazing, especially since I have been having a wonderful time so far and have some personal goals (i.e. learn Korean) that could require an extension of my stay in this country. However, I'm also thinking a bit further ahead at options back home (i.e. graduate school), and I believe a date with the GRE may be fast approaching.

Anyway, this was just one of the few things we caught up on... We also swung by Yongji Lake, one of the few interesting public sights in this city, experienced the terror of Changwon buses in the evening, had pizza and chatted about life in Japan, our shared Altaic languages, homestay life, and much more. When I think about it now, I think it's kind of unusual that we didn't really talk about Swarthmore at all. Usually, when Swatties meet up, all we want to do is talk about Swarthmore and other people in our rather insular community. But perhaps due to our having graduated and looking forward to what's next in life, our college connections simply never came up. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant evening. Thanks for visiting, Erik! 부산국제영화제 즐겁게 보내다!

Other highlights from a nice day: I got nine hours of sleep last night, and when I woke up I felt like I was on top of the world. If only that could happen every morning. Also, two students of mine are planning to take the AP Biology exam (like, whaaat?!). They've asked me to help them prepare for it! This strikes me as slightly insane; still, I agreed. Except it's been about five years since I took the exam. I don't know how much of a help I can be to them... ALSO! My cousin Irene got engaged today! When I found out -- via Facebook while at work, no surprise there -- my jaw literally dropped open, and I wanted to jump up and down. Congratulations to Irene and Dan! And lastly, I just had some great catch-up time on Skype with another friend from Swat. It was great. Great, as in, if you're a friend from home, this is my not-so-subtle way of telling you to set up a Skype date with yours truly!