Friday, November 30, 2012

More Drafts

I had to deal with a case of cheating today. Fortunately, it went as smoothly as I could have hoped for! Here's what went down:

My students are writing reports on their scientific research (Research and Education project, or R&E) that they must present in an oral exam styled after speech-giving. We've been working on this for the past five weeks, actually: the result of my seeing each class only once a week, plus the massive amounts of free work time I gave them, because I wanted these speeches to be as perfect as possible. Well, I shouldn't have been surprised that some students still had very little to work with after a month, and accordingly, some of the speeches have been horrendous. Others have been absolutely perfect, which brings me joy.

But one student in particular, who will remain anonymous, showed essentially no effort. He handed in a first draft that was just a few sentences, and didn't bother to hand in a second draft. Two weeks later, he had his speech test, and stumbled through it, not really having memorized whatever was on his paper. And it was when he turned in this paper, the third and final draft, that I noticed something was up.

The final draft the student handed me was written in nearly impeccable English and I instantly suspected (more like knew) that the student had not written it. Or if he had, then he had to have written it in Korean and had someone else translate it. What I read simply could not have been produced by this student, a hunch I confirmed when I asked my co-teacher, and she said that this student normally had extremely low scores in her class.

We briefly discussed what we should do, and we knew we had to confront this directly. My co-teacher said, "You know, if this makes you uncomfortable, just know that it makes me uncomfortable, too." There are two things I'm sure you all know by now: grades in the Korean education system are the Most Important Thing, and parents can be insane. In extreme cases, the opprobrium a student caught cheating for good grades faces is nothing compared to the scandal churned up by the parents against the school, as if teachers are somehow responsible for students who have to resort to such measures.

In any case, we called in the suspected student, and I asked him to sit down and tried to deal with the problem as professionally as possible. I showed him his paper and asked him, "Is this your final draft?"

He knew what was up immediately. He said, "Yes, but... someone helped me to write it. But, I-"

I interrupted him. "Who helped you write it?" I asked, fearing that it might have been another student.

"My father," he replied. His face was completely expressionless, but there must have been a lot going on behind it. "He is a teacher at hagwon."

"Well, your father has very good English," I said, relieved, "but this is not good. I want you to write another speech, by yourself. And you will give your speech again, next week. Do you understand?"

He understood. In fact, he told me that he had already begun to write another speech. I let him go, and when the door closed behind him, my co-teacher (who had been in the room, watching and listening) chuckled. She said he looked so cute when he confessed. We were both glad that it didn't turn into anything uglier. I mean, part of me really wants to call up the student's father and chew him out for what he did, but I'm going to let it slide. He's going to be punished enough by the points deduction; in fact, both of them are being punished by this, in a sense. And this way, I was able to give him a second chance.

- - -

So, just because they fit thematically, and because I'll never get around to posting them otherwise, here are some choice excerpts from my students' first drafts. They're funny. (And they've all improved dramatically since.) Enjoy.

#1: First, make a box
There are so many surface structures such as honey comb, lotus leaf, etc... and it's very useful in many ways. In order to research about this, we made some surface structure by chemical experiment. We'll test many things. Materials: Many types of polymers, water. Method: First, make a box in which we will do experiment [...]

#2: We meet propessal (professor)
Title: "beams go down and Tables go down with Glass" -- we start our R&E since September. We already study force's blance. I will explain go down, beams, go down is [Korean] beams is [Korean] our R&E which search go down table with glass we studied material physics to reaseach and we meet propessal. We don't finish experiment. so we don't have data. Our R&E find out Glass and table is go down when our R&E finish, the table which have glass on elastic is not important

#3: We've released a lot of chlorine when junior tied the goat (The Google Translate Essay)
Title: "English Speech Drart1" -- The angle at which the subject of my math R&E traces of the endpoint of the segment under study for a change. In this study, we've released a lot of chlorine when junior tied the goat comes from the problem of saving the trace to move. Moons of the planets also orbiting around the planet and at the same time orbiting around the Sun when I was wondering about what draws the traces. Research first, computer programs to obtain a graph satisfies the condition. [...] Three ways to save a relationship with us through trillion, depending on the ratio of the segments of the expression cos values yielded different anchor points increases, the coefficient in front of the cos value has changed.

#4: Last but not least, the one that was handed in to me entirely in Korean.
I don't know, A for Affort, I guess?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Admissions Exams for CSHS

I posted the following on my Facebook about a week ago:
First round of admissions results for my high school came out today. 285 middle schoolers applied for 96 spots, and today 50% of them got cut. My host mother has told me that the announcement page has racked up nearly 6,500 views in the two hours since it's been posted...
It's safe to say that the competition for admission into the high school where I teach is fierce. It is one of only two science high schools in this entire province (although are more in the Busan metropolitan area, which is technically not part of the province). It just so happens that the other science high school, located in Jinju, is the most respected science high school in the country, while mine is one of the newest and doesn't really have a reputation yet. A fellow Fulbright teacher, Ryan, teaches at the science high school in Jinju. I like how that makes us rivals!

Anyway, as I mentioned in the previous post, the admission interviews for the middle school students who want a spot in the incoming freshman class took place yesterday and the day before. It was two grueling days of interviews: the first was an oral exam to test their math and science know-how, and the second was an interview geared toward their character. Of the 130 students who were selected for interviews, exactly 80 will be offered admission (28% of applicants).

Having come from the public school system, I knew I'd be in for a few surprises as I got to know the system. It seems so similar to the hyper-competitive college admissions process. Everything is highly confidential; my co-teacher couldn't tell me what the questions of her interview were until they were all over. Even so, I do recall the teachers who were in charge of creating the questions on the math and science portion of the interview holding an urgent meeting on Monday to finalize (or come up with?) the exam content.

What surprised me the most was the helicopter parenting. Obviously, the middle school student applicants' parents were very keen on having their child do as well as possible on the interviews. How that translated to the parents' intent to hang around campus literally all day as they waited for their brainiac child, I don't know. I saw parents napping in idling cars (so wasteful!) and others standing in small groups by the school's entrance gates, just looking intently at the building. I really couldn't fathom why they didn't just go to work. My co-teacher said that it was a similar situation to the day of the 수능, when some parents hold onto the bars of a school's gate and pray for the entire nine-hour duration of the exam.

Nevertheless, I'm kind of second-handedly excited about the exams, because in about a week, I will know the exact makeup of the new first-year class that I will teach next semester! I'm sure they'll be bright, although I know now what to expect of their actual English levels. My co-teacher also says that due to the fact that middle school students can only apply to one specialized high school, the best of the best of the best all take their chances with the science high school in Jinju, and our school attracts what you might call the second tier. Well, to that I say: no big deal! I'm already looking forward to it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Empty Week

My host parents are listening to instrumental Christmas music and looking at old family photos in the living room. It's so cute! And I would join them, but I have a few thousand words left to write for Nanowrimo (having lowered my personal goal to 30,000) and only a few days left to do so.

Speaking of Christmas (성탄절/sungtancheol, or just 크리스마스), I maybe lied when I said the weather was getting colder. Or, at least, today proved me completely wrong. It was about as cold as a California winter today (which is to say, magnificently warm). Maybe God just wanted me not to complain so much. But honestly, it was really nice. 따뜻한 날씨를 좋아해요!

On the other hand, what's not so nice is the fact that I've been stuck in my gyomushil (교무실/teacher's office) literally all day for the past two days, and will be again tomorrow, even though I'd love to just chill outside or in a park somewhere. My school basically shut down for two days while a hundred-something middle school third-year students came for their admission exams and interviews (면접/myeonjeob, or just 이터뷰). It's serious business, one that I'll describe in more detail later.

In any case, all classes were canceled (the students had to stay in the study rooms all day for two days; my deepest sympathies go out to them), every other teacher was busy administering interviews, and I had about eighty persuasive essays to correct. Aside from the Buzzfeed breaks, it has not been a terribly interesting or fulfilling two days. And tomorrow, since my new(est) schedule has left me with a free Thursday, I guess I'll be doing more of the same. So by the end of this week, I will have taught only four classes; two on Monday and two on Friday, and all four periods taken up completely by speaking tests. I can't actually remember the last real lesson I taught. Goodness.

Well, who ever said teaching would always be crazy and fun? Sometimes you hit unexpected doldrums, and you've just got to keep paddling.

I'm going to leave you with a (only vaguely related) Korean proverb (속담/sokdam) that my host mother told me a while back, for a reason I can no longer remember:

똥을 밟으면 재수가 좋다.
Ddongeul palbeumyeon jaesuga cho'da.
If you step in dung, you will have good luck.

And I have no freaking clue what this website is, but it looks suspiciously like a collection of proverbs, all related to poop and (or in?) dreams. "Restroom Proverbs". Korea, I'm mystified. Please explain.

The Ginkgoes Away

Ginkgo trees near my apartment, blazing yellow in autumn. (I took this photo on my cell phone!)
For the past few weeks, up until now, I've been meaning to go around the city, maybe even check out the local mountains, in order to take photographs of the amazing display of autumn foliage here in Changwon. There were innumerable ginkgoes and Korean maples which made the tree-lined boulevards in this city look like long halls in a palace trimmed with crimson and gold. Alas, I never actually got around to those photo shoots, and with December just days away, I'm afraid that all the leaves have dropped to the ground by now. Most of the deciduous trees I see on my daily commute have been left naked, dark, and spindly, as if the fiery fall colors literally burned away, leaving charred skeletons behind. And along with the loss of fire comes the loss of heat and warmth. It has definitely gotten cold here. As much as I look forward to the changing of seasons (I'm hoping it'll snow at least once in Changwon), a part of me yearns for summer again, back when everything was so fresh and new. This city is still beautiful, though. I really ought to show you sometime.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Small Talk

During lunch and the occasional dinner at school, more often than not I opt to sit and eat with my students in the cafeteria. Usually, I just grab my tray, look for an empty seat, and sit down, to the surprise of the students already at the table. They are always surprised by this, as if three months of making this into a habit hasn't really sunk in for them yet.

Unfortunately, I am a rather slow eater, and this means that I'm usually one of the last people left in the cafeteria. Some students feel obligated to sit with me until I finish, nudging their leftovers around their bowls and kinda-sorta participating in conversation with me while they wait. I've found that the female students are generally more willing to chat, and they ask me about my high school and college experiences, among other things. I really enjoy discovering what my students are thinking, or at least what they are thinking that is within the scope of their English abilities to articulate.

But the other day I was eating dinner at school when my young table-mates all excused themselves at the same time to go play badminton or something. I thought that I'd be left to finish my rice alone, when two second-year male students came into the cafeteria. It was pretty late, and I wondered if they'd been studying (or sleeping in the study room) for so long that they missed the dinner bell or something. I motioned to them to come join me, and then began the typical small talk.

But in my effort to make conversation, I ended up with the following exchange:

The student who loves yogurt.
Me: JH, what were you doing just now?
JH: Hm?
Me: What were you doing before you came to dinner? Why are you late?
JH: Oh... I was... taking poop.
Me: What?
JH: Poop.
Me: Oh! Okay, sorry I asked.
JH: Slowly, and carefully.
Me: Okay! That's good, that's enough. (thinking: Let me eat, please!)

JH laughed, and his friend laughed, and I finished my dinner, and then JH's friend proceeded to eat six cups of yogurt while we sat in a nearly-empty cafeteria and talked about things other than poop.

Moral of the story: so maybe I don't always want to know what my students are thinking! But regardless, it's endearing.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

鼎泰豐 - Din Tai Fung! (& the GRE)

I traveled up to Seoul again this weekend (so that's 100,000₩ spent on buses in the past two weeks, ugh) in order to take the GRE. But I also took advantage of being in the capital again in order to meet up with friends and eat delicious food!
Din Tai Fung / 鼎泰豐 / 딘타이펑
Did you know that Seoul boasts two branches of the Taiwanese dumpling heaven also known as Din Tai Fung? I didn't either, until I wandered around the Gangnam neighborhood looking for a cafe to work in and saw one of them out of the corner of my eye. Seriously, you cannot imagine how excited I got. I quickly texted Jung Hyun, saying, "Forget that American restaurant you mentioned. Want dumplings?!" Or something along those lines.

Chocolate Kaya toast! (Click to enlarge)
While I waited for my friend to arrive, I studied for a bit at a cute cafe called Ya Kun, part of a Singapore-based chain that specializes in sweet and savory toasts. Strawberry cream tea (?) for 3,300₩ and chocolate kaya toast for 3,800₩. It was good, but maybe a bit pricey. The study atmosphere would have been nicer if folks at the table next to me hadn't been chatting very, very loudly.

Jung Hyun at Din Tai Fung
Anyway, the real culinary goodness started at Din Tai Fung. I've loved this place ever since I went to original restaurant in Taipei. It was small, busy, chaotic, and absolutely delicious. The restaurant wasn't delicious, I mean, but the dumplings were. The chain is supposed to have this fiercely-kept secret recipe for how they make their dumplings so juicy, but I don't know, that might just be good advertising.

Another aspect of the chain is that every restaurant has an "open" kitchen; in the photo at the right, you can see one of the dumpling chefs at work in the background!

Anyway, Jung Hyun and I got two combination platters of dumplings that were 11,000₩ each and some 볶음밥 (bokkeum bap/fried rice); our total bill came to 16,000₩ per person if I remember correctly.

I can only describe the dumplings as being 맛있어요 (delicious)! I tried the shrimp shao mai first, which were good, with really hot juice bursting from the thin shell. The pork dumplings were juicier, though. We also had some 油飯 (glutinous rice) dumplings, which weren't as memorable as the others... kind of dry, actually, in comparison. But overall, it was great; my stomach was full and happy before long.
Dumplings at Din Tai Fung. I'm so happy we found this place!
Jung Hyun and I chatted for a long time about our lives as busy adults with real jobs... what a concept! And after dinner, we went to Starbucks, got sugary not-really-coffees, and walked around the ritzy Gangnam area just to look at the lights and pretty things. All around Seoul, people are getting ready for Christmas!
It's Christmastime at the flower shop in the metro station!
Seeing all the decorations everywhere is really great, but also kind of strange, because Korea doesn't have quite the same connection with Christianity that western nations and cultures do, so Christmas seems, at least to me, to be more overtly commercialized. It's really about getting into the spirit of shopping and buying cute, pretty things that have no basis in anything remotely close to Korean culture. In the United States, of course, every Christmas spawns another round of the "Put the 'Christ' back in Christmas!!!" chorus -- American Christmas is indeed the epitome of the Commerical Christmas -- but there's also the strong religious cohort that tries to keep the roots of the holiday as visible as possible. Here, well, maybe not so much? I have yet to see any nativity scenes, but time will tell.

Okay, tangent aside... after dinner, I went back to the place where I was staying and crammed for a bit, slept, woke up at 8am, spent the morning nervously eating breakfast and cramming more, and then took the GRE. It was not easy. Four hours makes for a long exam and an exhausted Andrew. Then I Skyped with my parents, got lunch with Jake, Fulbright's current Executive Assistant, and hopped on a bus back to Changwon.

All in all, a productive weekend, I suppose. But although it was fun, I think I need to budget myself better. I spend so much money when I go to Seoul, it's alarming. I think I started out on Saturday with over a hundred bucks in my wallet, and I have only one 5,000₩ note left. Also, I'm pooped. I think the upcoming week is going to be tough... while my first-years are still doing their speaking tests, my second-years are turning in their first drafts for their speeches, which means several long nights of correcting papers are in store for me. Sigh... 화이팅!

P.S. Happy birthday, Mom!

Friday, November 23, 2012


[in a Western accent] In these here parts, a good way to git students to care about English is to threaten 'em with a grade. Now, I weren't the one doing the threatenin', but Co-teach decided that I'd probably be a good person to judge the students' speakin' ability. Long story short, they've got ta give a three-minute speech in front of the class, in English and memorized, and whatever they git on it becomes ten percent of their grade in the grammar class. It goes without sayin' that they're takin' it seriously, most of them, leastways. Most of 'em are takin' advantage of the fact that I'm allowin' them to hand in as many drafts as they like, as I'd said on my honor that I'd correct 'em. That said, I won't go acceptin' no drafts without the student askin' me properly, first! In English! So here's what happened yesterday...

Four students mob me in the hallway, puttin' pieces of paper under my nose.

"Teacher! My draft!"

I crack a smile, thinkin', well, I'm not lettin' this go that easily. And I smile, jus' waitin'.

"Teacher, my draft... uh... [in Korean] How do you say 'check' in English?"

They know what I'm thinkin'. And I know they know what I'm thinkin'. "Yes?"

And they try so many darn times!

"I want... my draft."
"My draft, examine? Exam?"
"Please, you, my draft."
"I want to... check my draft."

This game's pretty fun, I'm thinkin'. "Who do you want to check your draft?"

"I want to check my draft... to you!"
"I want to examine my draft to you?"

Passin' period's almost up, so I give in. I say it to 'em, real slow. "I would like you to check my draft."

They repeat, and one of 'em counts the individual words on his fingers as he sounds 'em out. "I would like you to check my draft. [in Korean] Oh, this is so hard."

And I make all four of 'em say it back to me before I go takin' their papers. Then, a fifth student saunters up to the crowd. "What's up?" I say.

"Please check my draft." Hands me his paper. Walks away.

Folks are impressed. In a manner of speakin'... what a boss.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Trash and Taboo

I embarrassed one of my students to near humiliation the other day. Oops.

Here's what happened, in the present progressive: So I'm telling one of my second-year classes about their speech tests, which is visibly boring them. I think to myself: well, they have a worksheet with good directions on it, and they've done this before, so let's just speed through the rest of this stupid lecture and play a game. (It's also been kind of an off week for me, since my teaching schedule was changed, again... with any prior notice, again...)

So I whip out the deck of Taboo cards that I brought from home but have never used in class before (shoutout to Jen, Rebekah, and Irene for helping me choose the most ESL-friendly!) and make up a sort of charades-Taboo-mashup game right on the spot. Some of my students have fairly low vocabularies, so I allow them to act out the words on the cards as well as use language -- English only -- to describe them.

The first few rounds go by just fine, and the class is finally beginning to wake up, thanks to their ever-competitive spirits. And then it's MC's turn. He's generally quiet in class, but I know he's not shy, because he's pretty boisterous when it's just him and friends, no intimidating foreign English teacher in sight. MC's been getting into the game and goes up for his turn with confidence.

I show the representatives of both teams the card: "trash". As it's a Taboo card, there are other words below it, but we ignore these. MC looks at it and nods, and his competitor from the other team immediately starts miming crumpling up paper and tossing it, or something like that.

MC decides to go verbal. He uses his hands to mimic a pile of something, and calls out, "Ga-bee-jee".

My ears perk up. What was... did he just say galbi jjim (갈비찜, steamed short ribs)?

"No Korean!" I warn him.

In an instant, the entire classroom has erupted in laughter. I'm confused for just a moment, and then I lock eyes with MC, who looks completely stupefied, and realize... Oh. He meant to say "garbage".

Moments later, the opposing team gets the word and the point. MC walks dejectedly back to his seat, but the class is still giggling uncontrollably and it actually takes a minute to get them settled again. I apologize profusely before turning to the board and writing "GARBAGE" in big letters. Anything can be turned into a lesson: time for some pronunciation practice, class!

P.S. So-called "proper" English pronunciation is a tricky subject, one that I don't think I'll delve into much, but I'm not the only Fulbright teacher whose misadventures with misunderstood words has turned into a teaching moment. I present to you: Samantha Teacher, whose blog you should read because it's great!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sunday Morning in Seoul (with Street Food)

Woah there, Blogger/Google/Picasa. Apparently I've used up all 1000 megabytes (1GB) of the free storage space that comes with this blogging platform. I've been in Korea for less than five months, and I've already uploaded a gigabyte of photos? Dang.

I'm loathe to pay for extra storage space, though. Hm, what to do now? Link to Facebook photo albums? Delete older photos? Resize all of my pho- NO WAY. So... Dear readers, any suggestions?

I was going to write about the lovely Sunday morning I spent in Hongdae and Myeongdong, two popular neighborhoods in Seoul, with Fulbright buddies as well as a long-time-no-see high school friend. I had photos of mint chocolate lattes and Myeongdong's famous street food. Whatever shall I do now that I can't share them?


Well, I can use words, I guess. I stayed with a couchsurfer named Kevin, who is from Switzerland, on Saturday night. My first official couchsurfing experience was great all around, although it was short. I would of course recommend it to anyone itching to travel but either worried about lodging costs, traveling alone, or traveling without an itinerary. I'll definitely look to it when I look for places to during my spring break next year.

On Sunday morning, then, I was about to wander around the Hongdae area by myself, when I ran into Rachel and Andrew M. in the metro station. We decided to get coffee/breakfast together, and Rachel and I tried in vain to find food. Now, Saturday night Hongdae is always a hoppin' neighborhood, unimaginably crowded and just jam-packed with all kinds of restaurants. But Sunday morning Hongdae is like a ghost town. You might call it peaceful, with weak ten-o'-clock sunlight shining through some trees and a pedestrian or two wandering about, but in fact, it was kind of chilling (and chilly). Where was everyone? And more importantly, why were there almost no cafes open? And why was there only one food truck in sight, one that was setting up and not ready for business yet? We tried a hole-in-the-wall place whose sign read that it would be open at 10:30 but failed to do so, which we found out when we almost walked into a chair stuck in the (open) doorway upon which a paper note had been affixed that read (something along the lines of) "Nope! We're actually gonna open at 12:30, sucks for you". Dang, run-on.

Rachel commented that this was the first time Korea had failed her when it came to needing food at any given moment in a day. Despite the previous night's feast, we were ravenous, and finally settled on Homestead Coffee, a sort of Starbucks knockoff that seemed too trendy for my taste, but it was all fine and dandy in the end.

Then my high school friend, Justin, called me up and we embarked on a mission to fill our 배 (pae/stomachs) with as much delicious street food as we could find around Hongdae and Myeongdong, several subway stops away. Eggy bread (1,000₩)? Check. Hotteok (1,000₩)? Check. Gross burnt caramel thing that looked a lot better than it tasted (1,000₩, unfortunately)? Check. Tornado Potato?!?! (2,000₩) CHECK. The problem with the tornado potato, aside from the fact that it is a heart failure-inducing, deep-fried entire potato, is that its twirly deliciousness is so thin that in the frigid air, it goes from piping fresh-from-the-deep-fryer hot to soggy, cold, and sad in mere minutes. Still a treat, though. I wish I could show you the photos.
Oh hey, it works! Facebook-linked photo; you should be able to see it if you're friends with me on FB. En garde, beware the skewer of deep-fried potato! (photo taken by Justin, fellow MSJ Yearbook alum!)
It was fun to hang out with Justin that morning, and all too soon, it was time for me to depart (lest I return to Changwon too late for my own good, as this bus commute takes five hours, one way). And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my weekend in Seoul! In two days I'm going to repeat the trip, only this time not for Thanksgiving and wonderful food, but to take the GRE, which I'm going to fail, no doubt. (Who does worse on practice test number two, after two weeks of cramming? Seriously?) But I'll be sure to do fun things and take good photos, and I'll find a way to put them here soon enough. Ciao!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Seoul Lantern Festival

It was chance that allowed us to visit the Seoul Lantern Festival (서울등축제) after the Embassy-sponsored Thanksgiving Dinner. I had had no idea that it was ongoing, but when I suggested a walk along the Cheonggyecheon (청계천), a 5-mile long artificial stream that winds through the heart of the city, I was surprised to hear that not only was it a short walk away from the museum, it would also be lit with lanterns and lantern sculptures. That basically made it a done deal, and about a dozen Fulbrighters braved the cold to visit the festival. I have tons of photos: enjoy!
Hundreds of tourists were walking along the banks of the creek to see the lanterns. My friends and I stayed at street level.
An amazing and beautiful tunnel of blue light.
The Cheonggyecheon is really long, but the lanterns didn't extend along its full length. I'd say we spent about an hour walking leisurely and seeing the beautiful artwork.
This display had some traditional music playing to match all of the lantern instruments you see.
This display was one of my favorites; the lantern kites were held up by wires, but they were actually moving in the breeze.
Katelyn and me in the gorgeous blue tunnel (taken by Tracey).
The whole group from left to right: Jonathan, Ammy, Ashley, Kathy, Katelyn, Kristen, Tracey, Julia, Maggie, Kate, Kaley, and Christina. They're in front of a huge lantern gate, literally a wall of light towering above them.
The Seoul Lantern Festival is not as large or famous as the Jinju Lantern Festival, but I missed the latter (because I went to the Busan International Film Festival instead). Thus I'm glad I got to see firsthand what the lantern craze in Korea is all about.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The U.S. Embassy's Thanksgiving Dinner

So festive!
Who: Fulbright ETAs, members of the Korean American Educational Commission (including the director, the all-powerful Mrs. Shim), and important people from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul (including the ambassador, Sung Kim).

What: An early Thanksgiving dinner, with food and performances. There was tons of food, traditional Korean songs (Arirang) and instruments (gayageum), more food, and more performances, some by current ETAs: hip hop, Irish step dance, poetry, poi, and more.
The performance of gayageum, Korean zithers, at the National Folk Museum of Korea.
Where: The National Folk Museum of Korea, after hours! It was after closing time, but some of the galleries were left open for us to wander through on our own, which was excellent. Also, the museum itself is gorgeous and is located in a beautiful, historic part of the city.

Why: The embassy and the KAEC wanted to keep everyone's minds off of the fact that, this coming Thursday, we will actually be spending Thanksgiving away from our families and friends, which is kind of sad. On the bright side, we have our Fulbright family, our Korean families, and that fighting American spirit that will get us through. Plus, they happened to have tons of American food lying around that they needed people to consume. ;) Turkey and ham, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, baked pasta, pumpkin pie, and so much more... yum!
It was great to catch up with Fulbright friends, a whole month after our Fall Conference.
So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, what are a few things I'm thankful for? Let's see... I'm thankful, first and foremost, that I am healthy, active, and alive. I'm thankful that I have a loving family spread out across two continents and friends who are just a few Facebook clicks away. I'm thankful to have a stable job that I absolutely love. Discovering a thirst for teaching has been a real joy over the past few months; I'm glad that I get to do it in the context of Fulbright. I'm grateful for the friends I've made in Korea and for my host family's generosity. My life here could have been a heck of a lot more difficult than it has been, so even though it's not perfect, I actually have nothing to complain about.

I acknowledge, further, my privileges as an American and a native speaker of English, as these are statuses that come equipped with rights I never had to earn, respect that I don't always deserve, and job skills that I didn't have to pay for. As long as I am in Asia, I should be aware that being Asian and being male are also privileges of their own. These are good things that I should not take for granted.

I'm thankful that I own a camera and can take photos of beautiful things. I'm thankful that I can take the GRE while abroad (even though I'm dreading it...) and that I have a say in my own education. I'm thankful for books and for writing and for the ability to create stories out of my mere imagination. I'm grateful that Koreans keep complimenting me on my Korean ability even though I know it's still not very good. I'm thankful for chocolate, tangerines, yogurt, persimmons, and Korean street food. I'm thankful for the bad TV shows I watch, the good music I listen to, and the fun and interesting blogs I read. I am grateful even for my ability to watch, listen, and read.

And lastly, I must accredit my utmost gratefulness to God for being a provider and a source of love who will never leave me. Thanks, God! Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I ate this.
추수감사절 축하합니다! A very happy (early) Thanksgiving to you all, on behalf of Fulbright and the U.S. Embassy, from Seoul!

(That's pronounced: choo-soo kam-sa-chul chookha-hamnida.)

I returned from a lovely weekend in the capital just over an hour ago, and I'm pretty spent. No GRE cramming or Nanowrimo tonight. I'm just uploading photos to Facebook and reminiscing on all of that wonderful food... and of course, of the things for which I'm thankful. I'll write more substantially tomorrow. Photos (of food, the Seoul Lantern Festival, and more food) to come!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Toasty Feet

Ooh, the host family has turned on the ondol (온돌), and the floors are nice and toasty this morning. Ondol is Korea's signature underfloor heating system. In this apartment on the third story, of course, we're not using wood smoke and a furnace. It's probably electrical heating, or maybe water. Whatever it is, my feet appreciate it.

I'll be leaving the warm house soon, however, to take a trip up to Seoul. Tonight, Fulbright is hosting an early Thanksgiving dinner at the National Folk Museum of Korea! This will be my fifth consecutive Thanksgiving away from home, but my first without any members of my family... But on the bright side, all the other Fulbrighters will be there. It sounds like it's going to be a classy shindig, and I'm excited. I won't be back until Sunday evening. Photos to come soon!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Science Fair

Today, I was reminded why my students are the cream of the crop when it comes to smart kids bound for greatness. It sounds like an exaggeration, but it's not just the personal bias speaking when I say they totally impressed me. I might even say that I see them in a different light now.
CSHS Science Fair 2012. In the foreground, a bunch of students play with some instant-foaming organic insulator they created.
The Changwon Science High School annual science fair took place today. The first-year students have been working on "Research and Education" projects all year, and this is the time for them to present their work thus far. But this isn't your average high school's science fair. My students have been doing some advanced projects in chemistry, engineering, physics, biology, and mathematics. One group, for example, developed a computer program for an alarm system that would tell you if there was a problem with your home's circuit box, and also where in the house the problem lay. Another group made a molecular film that mimicked the waterproofing ability of the lotus leaf. These projects weren't just lab experiments or textbook problems, they were actual research.

The biodegradable fish-based plastic project.
It was way more advanced than anything I'd ever done in high school, at least, and I took AP Biology. Most of the projects I didn't even understand, and it didn't help that the posters were all in Korean. But I had a few of my students try their best to explain what was going on to me in English.

As it so happens, their speaking test for my English class is a three-minute speech that introduces their R&E projects. Seeing as these tests begin next week, many of them have had a little bit of practice already. It helped that I've been reading first, second, and third drafts of their speeches for the past month, so I could recognize the group that made a biodegradable plastic out of fish scales and bones and the group that used 3D imaging programs to predict which geometric theorems of right triangles could be extended to tetrahedrons.

But the real Big Deal at the science fair was the judging portion. Unsurprisingly, the first-years are not just doing these projects for the educational experience, but it's also a competition. There were judges from the regional Office of Education (I assume) who listened to every group give their poster session spiel. (This is the part that my students have been freaking out about for the past few days.) The best groups will get prizes and also advance to a regional science fair. Then, the best of those will advance to the national fair, for their shot at eternal fame and glory. But the competition is fierce every step of the way. (How do I know this? Oh, right, I've seen it before.)
The sonoluminescence group captured light emitted from bubbles excited by sound waves. Okay, I don't know how sonolumniscence works. My students are smarter than I am. THEY BUILT THIS.
Besides R&E, lots of artistic odds and ends on display.
(stuff from their other classes, like environmental-sci)
So what's the ultimate motive for all of this is? You guessed it: university. My first-years have taken their first steps in a year-long frenzy to garner as many academic accolades as they possibly can in preparation for their early applications to university next fall. If they place in a regional or national science fair, that's a huge boon to their prospects. Last year's class (the school's first graduating class) had a handful of students advance to the national level, I believe, but I'm vague on the details.

But you know what? Wandering around the gym and marveling at all of these projects, you wouldn't be able to tell that the atmosphere was buzzing because of stress and anxiety. Unless you asked a student who hadn't met the judges yet. Otherwise, there was a buzz of excitement in the air.

Besides the students, teachers, and judges, lots of parents were there to see what their children had produced. This includes my host father, who came to take a look at my host sister's project on the effect of UV radiation on photosynthesis.

And then, when the second-year students -- all of whom had to go through this experience together last year -- descended upon the gym to check out this year's crop, there was this near-carnivalesque atmosphere that... well, that wasn't a carnival, obviously, but do you get what I'm saying? It was just so exciting. The students were naturally curious about their work, probably did a little bit of bonding over their shared experiences. Of course, the second-years also came for the free coffee and snacks, but most of it was gone before they'd arrived. Oh well!
Host sister and her group, with their irradiated lettuce plants.
I took tons of photos and chatted with all of my students, all of whom were very proud to show me their work and explain it to me -- to varying degrees of success. Later on, I hung out in the gym with the students who had finished their presentations and we chatted. I'm getting to know the first-years a lot better now (at the expense of the second-years, which is sad, but I don't teach most of them anymore...), and I think they appreciated that the only things I really said to them all day were, "Your project is awesome!", "You're so smart!", and "Good job!" Some of them looked like they needed the encouragement, anyway.
A student rehearses his presentation while snacking. His project tried to identify the mechanisms in bees and other small insects which allow them to survive being hit by drops of water (when it rains).
So I'm honest when I say my students really impressed me. I really hope the best for all of them in the rest of their high school careers, as I've realized how maddening and soul-crushing it can be for them. I've also seen how my students light up when they talk about science or math and, well, a part of me wishes that they could have the same enthusiasm for English. For the most part, though, I'm extremely happy for them, and I can only hope that they retain that passion for the field that is likely to become their lifelong pursuit.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

서예 - Korean Calligraphy

Six "fonts" for Hangul calligraphy; the phrase is: 창원한글학당: Changwon Hangul Hakdang (School). Plus, some hanja on the very left. I can read about half of the characters... pity.
Our calligraphy teachers demonstrating their skills!
Korean calligraphy, called 서예 (seoye), is an art that has been practiced in the country for hundreds, even thousands of years. The calligraphy that uses Chinese characters, which were introduced to the peninsula in the 2nd or 3rd century, is called 한자 (hanja). In 1443, King Sejong and his court invented a script for Korean that wasn't based in Chinese characters; this new writing system is called 한글 (hangeul), or Hangul. Currently, Korean calligraphy includes character writing in hanja and Hangul, as well as minimalist still life paintings of things like trees and flowers.

Yesterday was "Korean Culture Day" at the Korean class in Jungang-dong. I was only vaguely aware that there would be some food provided at the class, but what I didn't realize was that we were going to have a husband-and-wife pair of calligraphers come to show us their art and teach us the art itself. That, plus the 귤 (kyul/tangerines), 김밥 (kimbap/rice rolls), and 떡 (tteok/rice cakes) made it a party.

There was also a lottery at the end of the class/party, where winners received a calligraphy painting done by one of our teachers. I was the first one called! That's unusual... I almost never win lotteries of any kind. But I took home a nice painting of some reeds, as well as a painting of a hanja character: 忍 (Mandarin: rěn; Korean: in), which means "longsuffering", that the teacher did for me just on a whim.

It was fun to chat with the Korean teachers about hanja and how much they did or did not know. I also had a casual conversation with one of them about his Mandarin studies in college. A feeble attempt to retain my rapidly declining Mandarin...

Well, I didn't learn much Korean yesterday, but I got a taste of Korean culture, plus some souvenirs, so I guess that's good enough!
They also helped some of us make our own paintings! According to the teacher, traditional Korean painting is much simpler and minimalist than what you'll find in most Chinese paintings. There's a lot of white space left on the canvas.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Under where?

After lunch, I walk up to a group of boys hanging out outside the cafeteria. They stand up when they see me, eager, I suppose, to talk. One of them gestures excitedly to the student beside him.

"Teacher, teacher, roommate!"
"Oh, he's your roommate?" I say. "Cool!"
"So..." (How do I continue this conversation?) "Do you share clothes?"
"Yes! We share clothes," he declares proudly. "Everything. Even... what is 속옷? ... Underwear! We share!"
He suddenly makes a grab at his friend's pants.
"This is mine!"

Ah, high school. They continued to joke about who was wearing whose clothes, including one student who was apparently wearing nothing that was originally his. Furthermore, it seems, to the socialist's delight, as if this collapse of the traditional ideas of ownership is perfectly ordinary. (Hm, I do suck the fun out of everything, don't I?) Anyway, these were some of my second-years, whom I already miss. On the other hand, four new students were added to my college prep class today, and tomorrow I will begin reading Louis Sachar's Holes with all of them. It should be fun!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kiddie Convertible

I saw this on the streets of Changwon the other day...
The father gave his daughter a sip from a smoothie, and then proceeded to drive her around in this kid-sized remote-controlled car. I repeat, that is is a remote-controlled car.

Korea, you outdo yourself sometimes.

Too cute! 귀엽다!

P.S. Oh! It was Pepero Day today. November 11th (11/11) is the day when huge conglomerates in the food industry want everyone to buy Pepero (chocolate covered pretzel stick snacks, similar to Japanese Pocky) and other expensive chocolaty things for their significant others. Yeah, whatever, commercial nonsense. I spent the day watching Glee and studying for the GRE, and I also cranked out 3,000 words for Nanowrimo. Hooray for productivity!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Konglish and Cold Weather

Female Student 1: Wowwwww!
Me: What!
Female Student 1: You are wearing short sleeves.
Me: Oh, yeah.
Female Student 2: It's cold!
Me: I'm not that cold. I have lots of body heat.
Female Student 2: Can you give me some?
Me: UH... no, haha.

That funny little lunchtime conversation happened on the last day I wore a polo shirt to school. Since then, it's been noticeably colder, and I've taken out the scarves from where they were hiding in the back of my dresser drawer. The day I first wore my favorite scarf, a long gray knit thing that can wrap around my neck at least four times, to school, the other teachers noticed. (They all drive to school, while I walk, so they don't have to bundle up like I do.)

One of them made a point to ask me if I was wearing a scarf, and then chuckled when I replied in the affirmative. Why? Because of Konglish -- English words borrowed into Korean, often resulting in arbitrary changes in meaning. Some examples include:

fighting (화이팅/hwa-i-ting) for "You can do it!"
cider (사이더/sa-i-duh) for plain soda, like Sprite
meeting (미팅/mi-ting) for "blind date"
service (서비스/suh-bi-seu) to mean "on the house"
hand phone (핸드폰/haen-deu-pone) for cell phone

So there are two Konglish words you must understand. The first is muffler (머플러/muh-peul-luh), which we in the US know as the thing motorcyclists take off their motorcycles so they can annoy the heck out of everyone in the neighborhood. In the UK, however, a muffler is a scarf.

Speaking of which, scarf has also been reappropriated by Konglish (스카프/seu-ka-peu), but it has changed in meaning, from any piece of cloth you wrap around your neck, to specifically small silk scarves, the kind that women tend to wear more often than men.

That said, when I told the other teacher that what I was wearing was a big scarf, he laughed and said no, no, it's a muh-peul-luh. But my English co-teacher knew that there was some Konglish at play there, so she had me explain the differences between the English understanding of words and the altered meanings they sometimes acquired on their way into general usage in Korea.

There's another word for scarf in Korean, one that isn't borrowed: 목도리 (mokdoli), which to me sounds like "neck girder/support". A quick Google Images search indicates that 목도리 and 머플러 are basically the same, although the results page for the Konglish word appears to have more white people on it.

Here is a link to an "Ultimate Konglish List", very extensive but probably incomplete, as language change happens more quickly than you can say "sociolinguistic phenomena". Fun to browse!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

수능 - The Sooneung

Today, the second Thursday of November, millions of Korean high school students have just finished taking a nine-hour college entrance exam, called the 수능 (sooneung). This beast of an exam blows the American SAT Reasoning Test and all APs out of the water in terms of difficulty, importance, and the crazed culture of high scores that surrounds it. The scores students receive on these exams can literally change their lives, more than the years spent in preparation for it already have.

The documentary ExamiNation, by Judy Suh, takes a close look at the 수능 and how it really affects the entire country. Most of the documentary follows a day in the life of an average high school student named Bitna, a day that is spent entirely in school, then in cram school, then in a tiny study carrel until 2am. There is one breather, a frank and moving scene shot on a rooftop where Bitna catches a dragonfly and then releases it, jealous that it doesn't have to study twenty-four-seven the way she does.

The twenty-minute documentary was very well done, and I highly recommend that you watch it. In fact, I've embedded it below, so you can watch it now and get a glimpse into the lives of the students I teach.

Well... not exactly the students that I teach. You see, less than 1% of my high school students took the 수능 today. Remember me saying that my high school is very new? I don't have any third-years (seniors) yet, only first- and second-years. Regardless, the 수능 also happens to be not very important to any of my students. At my science high school, the only subjects that matter are science and math. They don't need to study English, social science, or even Korean, for that matter, in order to be accepted into the top science universities in Korea. During their second year, they will take specialized entrance exams for specific universities, and do not even bother with the 수능.

As I've discovered very recently, however, the students who don't get accepted into university early are now faced with the prospect of a third year of high school very similar to that of the rest of their peers, and they have already begun studying for the 수능 that they will take in exactly twelve months. I'm already wishing them good luck.

Here is the documentary ExamiNation.

ExamiNation is a short documentary film about the notorious South Korean college entrance exam, Sooneung (수능). Can one exam dictate a culture and lifestyle in a country?

P.S. On a different note, I did teach class today, since it wasn't canceled at my school for the national exam. My nine-person college prep class -- the second-year students who have been accepted into university and need to practice college-level spoken English -- absolutely wowed me today by shifting the debate we'd been having on American political issues to the hot-button topic of same-sex marriage and successfully debating with each other in English for nearly ten minutes at the end of class. And they started off the period not knowing anything about American politics aside from who the US president is. So proud.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

President Obama Won!

오바마는 이겼어요! Obama won!

This morning, I had only one class scheduled, but it was canceled without my knowing because my students had to assist in a mock-수능 (Korean SAT) examination. While bummed that I did not get to do my Election Day lesson, at least this left me free to watch Election Day unfold on my own. I hooked up the smart screen in an empty classroom to the Huffington Post's awesome live-updated Election Results webpage. It was intense and thrilling to watch electoral votes get picked up by the dozens by Romney at first, but when the West Coast brought it back for Obama, I cheered. I was also glued to Time's live blog, CNN's minute-by-minute updates, and my Facebook feed, and I couldn't really get any work done.

After lunch, I came straight back to my classroom to watch the swing states (Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado) battle it out on the smart screen, and some of my students came by to watch. Even though I didn't teach any classes today, I was able to teach a dozen or so interested first-years, as well as my English co-teachers, about the electoral college and other interesting tidbits about the election, such as voter disenfranchisement, the bicameral legislature, and "flip-flopping".

When California went to Obama, I cheered. When Oregon brought him over 200, I cheered. When Ohio and Pennsylvania turned definitely blue, I cheered! And my students were also in on it. I'm so glad that they showed some interest; arguably Korea's future relationship with the United States hinges on the re-election of a man who has better foreign policy experience (despite questionable educational ideologies).

In the end, I'm very proud of my president and pleased that he gets a second term. Obama is imperfect, of course. Who isn't? He was hesitant and obstructed in the past four years, but I'm confident that we will all look past the messy politics and that real change is on its way.

Here is a video of his victory speech in Chicago, from the Associated Press:
Korea will also hold a presidential election this year. They occur every five years in the democratic South, and presidents have only one term. Thus, Lee Myung-Bak is on his way out (thankfully), and one of three contenders will take his place: Park Geun-hye (박근혜, right-wing), Moon Jae-in (문재인, left-wing), or Ahn Cheol-soo (안철수, left-leaning independent). The election will take place on December 19th, just a few days before I leave Korea to go home to the States for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I Have No Words

In other news, my host brother is playing a game whose title translates into Dung Nourishment Simulation. It's a virtual pet that lives on his smartphone. And by pet, I mean a piece of poo. You feed it vegetables, fruits, and candy, and it gets bigger and does tricks, like grow and shrink or jump up and down. Watch the video below:
Later, he said, "My poo is 331 grams. 400 grams, it can stretching."
You can find some strange things on the Internet.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Teaching Politics

I made a mistake today. Well, the mistake was yesterday, actually. Yesterday, I assumed that I would have enough time in the morning -- because I normally have no classes on Mondays before lunch -- to cobble together a quick lesson on American politics and the upcoming election for my first-years.

In Korea, never assume.

As soon as first period had started, one of my co-teachers came by my office and told me that the schedule for the second-years' college prep English conversation course had been finalized. Oh, yes, I forgot: November has been ushered in with a complete reshuffling of my second-year classes. Now, I had known this, but I forgot how soon the change would occur. To my dismay, the new schedule had bumped one of my first-year classes up to Mondays. Mondays at third period, to be exact. Which would begin in less than two hours.

I definitely had to scramble to get the lesson done, and it wasn't great. I essentially talked at my students for half an hour and then had them watch a snippet of Obama's acceptance speech at this year's Democratic National Convention. It was boring, some of them fell asleep, and the fault is entirely mine.

My co-teacher, always supportive, told me she thought it was a great lesson and that my timing was perfect. I thanked her for the compliment, but I completely disagree; it was a crappy lesson, and I should have begun planning it last week. I sat right back down at my desk after third period, and worked on it during fourth, fifth, and sixth, as well, to fix it for the next class. I did some quick research. I made a ballot box out of an empty box of chocopie (always useful; I'd like more). And I went to seventh period armed and ready!
My MacGyvered ballot box, made from an empty chocopie box, plus ballots.
Fortunately, version 2.0 of the Election Day lesson went wonderfully. I began the class with hangman, which, I have discovered this late in the game, all of my students love unconditionally. "Exercise your right to vote!" And then I had them brainstorm types of government. This was hilarious, as I got some of the usual, "democracy", "kingdom", "socialism"... and then some more creative answers: "non-government" (anarchy), "priest-government" (theocracy), and "dictation" (dictatorship). And then a poor student tried to say "vassalage", and I have no idea where he learned that word -- even I couldn't decipher what he was trying to say (or spell; he tried V-A-S-S-L-L-G-E) for several minutes. So, yes, today I went on a tangent and told my students about feudalism.

After introducing the current candidates for tomorrow's election, with some awesome coincidental mnemonics (Democrat, Donkey, Obama, Biden, Blue, Left-wing vs. Republican, Elephant, Romney, Ryan, Red, Right-wing), I actually had my students vote! I presented Obama's and Romney's stances -- extremely simplified, and non-partisan -- on education, the environment, the economy, healthcare, and same-sex marriage (information grabbed hastily and gratefully from aljazeera), and then passed out mock ballots for the "state" of Changwon Science High School. Our constituents were voting on President and also the passage of a certain Proposition 31, which would continue funding for English classes at our school even though "we suddenly have no more money".

I am happy to report that in Class 1-3, Obama won and Proposition 31 was passed, both by a landslide. Here's hoping for the best come November 6th! (My absentee ballot still hasn't been received by Delaware County...)
Look, this voter wrote "I like gay~!" Warms my heart, especially since the average Korean high school classroom is fairly homophobic. When I introduced Obama's and Romney's stances on same-sex marriage -- actually, as soon as I said "same-sex marriage", the whole class went, "Ooooohhhhhhh!!!!1!!1!11" as if I had said a dirty word.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Swattie Reunion in Busan

The Swatties strike again! I had the pleasure of meeting up with Kevin ('11) and Natalia ('12) this weekend in Busan. Kevin is teaching English at a rural elementary school on a TALK (Teach And Learn in Korea) scholarship, and Natalia is studying Mandarin Chinese in Beijing. Because Natalia has a week-long break following the end of her first semester, she flew over the East China Sea to Korea to visit some of the dozens of Swatties who are here. (To fly from Beijing to Busan takes about two hours.)

Galmaegisal (skirtmeat) barbecue at Seolae.
On the first evening, we met up at Gwangan (neighborhood of the famous Gwangalli Bridge) and got dinner at a great barbecue chain restaurant called 서래 (Seolae). The place was busy and the space inside was pretty cramped for our group of five, but we got some delicious barbecue. The specialty of this restaurant chain is 갈매기살 (galmaegisal), which is called "skirtmeat" in English. This is the meat around the diaphragm and liver, and it's the kind often used in fajitas. Our meat that night had been marinated in something special that made it very tender and very spicy. 억수로 맛있다! Seoul Food has a more comprehensive review here. The price came out to about 10,000₩ (<$10) per person, including drinks (소주 and 맥주, which gave me some embarrassing Asian glow). Great restaurant, right by the beach!

That was our next destination, chilling on Gwangalli Beach just to see the lights on the bridge and cool off after a spicy meal. It was nice to catch up with Natalia and Kevin, chatting about Swat news, of course, among other things.
Swatties at Gwangalli Beach! Me, Natalia, and Kevin. (taken by Jamie)
Natalia and Monica at noraebang.
Later, when Kevin and some others in our group left, Monica, a Fulbrighter in Busan, joined us and we went to a 노래방 (noraebang) for everyone's favorite: karaoke! This 노래방 was right on the beach; I forget its name, but it was just 15,000₩ for an hour, no drink purchase necessary. In fact, we got some free apple juice just for the heck of it. (서비스, or service, is a Konglish word that means "complimentary stuff".) I totally sang Starships. And Mrs. Robinson (Swatsick...). And Beyonce. And I even tried a G-Dragon song and butchered it. It was a blast!

It was around midnight when we finished, and I had already missed the last regular bus back to Busan by several hours. Fortunately, Natalia's couchsurfing host was incredibly gracious and said that I could crash the night at her place, as well, on a spare air mattress she had. I was extremely thankful for this. We talked all night about Korea, weddings, and Glee. I slept well, and we left at noon the next morning.

People have been talking up couchsurfing like nothing else recently (especially my globe-trotting friend Miyuki, and my first experience with it was so generous that I've decided to sign up for it and see where else I can travel. I would gladly host anyone coming through Changwon if only I lived in my own apartment, but unfortunately, that's not really the case right now.
Street food: 호떡 (hotteok), which is so incredibly nommable. Deep-friend pancakes filled with melted cinnamon sugar, pine nuts, and peanuts. This particular vendor had a long line of people waiting, which doesn't mean slow service but instead top-notch quality.
Sunday was a laid-back, drizzly day. Natalia and I took the subway to Seomyeon, the downtown area. At the subway station, we had a "stupid foreigners" moment and I accidentally made Natalia buy a multiple-trip card instead of a one-trip ticket. To our surprise and amazement, we were very quickly and efficiently helped out by some of the workers at the information office, who 1) gave Natalia a refund on the card that she shouldn't have bought and 2) walked us through how to use the correct ticketing machines (which we had not noticed before going to the wrong machines). Three cheers for patient, polite, and helpful Korean public service workers!

Woojung's Bibimbap in Seomyeon.
At Seomyeon, we met up with Kevin again and had lunch at Woojung's Bibimbap, and then chilled the afternoon away at an adorable cafe called Tokyoloose. Perks of the bibimbap restaurant included the cheapest 돌솥 비빔밥 (dolsot bibimbap, or stone bowl mixed rice) that I've had in Korea, at 4,000₩, as well as good service, its plain interior and staff of irritable ajummas notwithstanding.

Tokyoloose, on the other hand, is the very paragon of Korea-cute. Stuffed animals, lacy place mats, decor that looked like we landed in France in the '40s... As Kevin described it, "Like Japan's interpretation of an antique French country house." Really, all you need are some photos in order to understand what I mean. Oh, and the drinks and desserts were just great, with almost everything on the menu in the 4-6,000₩ range.
Cafe Tokyoloose, located on the second floor of a building somewhat far from the main bustling streets of Seomyeon.
The surprisingly large and spacious interior, well-lit and overwhelmingly cute. Light jazz playing on the radio.
Natalia and Kevin at Tokyoloose. Note the lacy place mats, the antique clock, large windows, and the enormous stuffed giraffe.
So there was a "Dress Shop" inside the cafe with clothes that you could try on... but they weren't for sale... And  there was a mirror, so I guess the whole point was just to try on cute clothes and silly hats while you waited for your green tea latte?

Oh, yes, and there was also food. A lemon tart presented to us with instructions on how to properly eat it (squeeze the lemon slice over it first, and then alternate small bites of pie and ice cream).
Banana chocolate roll, with truffles and almonds!
I'm planning to write reviews of both of these places on Fulbright Infusion's city guide soon, as they were both fantastic and deserve a bit more attention. As you can probably tell from all the photos I took at Tokyoloose, I really loved it and would definitely go back again. Besides the cafe itself, though, it was a wonderful afternoon spent with friends. As I've said before and will say again, I really enjoy getting together with Swatties in a place that is not Swarthmore. The farther away from Swarthmore, actually, the more fun it seems to be.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Vanguard

SY comes to find me as I finish lunch in the cafeteria. I'm always one of the last to finish; most of the other teachers have left, so I'm easy to spot.

"Hi, SY! What's up?"
"Um... nothing much! You?" He's catching on to the slang that I taught my students a few weeks ago.
"I'm good. Do you have any entrance exams this weekend?"
"Oh, no..." He grimaces, but I don't catch it.
"Well, that's great! Aren't you happy?"
"No, I'm very bad," he says, putting his head in his hands and sighing.

I get him to explain, with the help of my co-teacher, who is sitting with us. The majority of the second-years at my school have been stressed out about science university entrance examinations, which have been taking place on the weekends of September and October. They are short oral interviews that test applicants on anything ever covered in their science and math curricula. For students who want to get into the likes of KAIST, UNIST, and POSTECH, acceptance hinges on their results on these very difficult exams.

As it turns out, SY doesn't have any more exams, because he already sat for all those of the schools to which he'd applied. And he was not accepted to any of them.

My heart sinks at this news. I forget about my lunch and look across the table at the high school student sitting there, processing the fact that he will not be going to college next year.

But then I remember something: SY is a second-year. (He's only at the equivalence of junior year of high school.) I wonder to myself, did he really expect to be accepted into some of the most competitive institutions in the country one year ahead of the rest of his peers?

I guess SY's entire class of eighty had high hopes. They're the vanguard, after all. The first graduating class of Changwon Science High. They need to prove that this city's enormous investment into their education at this shiny new school was worth the millions. Everyone -- teachers, principals, parents, peers -- has been pushing them nonstop for two years, equipping them for the controversial early application process that many science high school students pursue. They cram as much physics, chemistry, and biology into their heads as humanly possible in two years and then take the entrance exams at the same time as the third-year students at other high schools. Are the odds stacked against them? Incredibly so. But the extremely confident -- and I would add starry-eyed -- faculty here project a minimum yield of thirty accepted students. This would catapult CSHS to a high spot in the science high school rankings. Everyone has high hopes.

But late October and November are times of anxiety and despair for many as they receive negative results. Some of my students have been accepted; I don't know who, because they seem to keep this information private. But the rest of them are now preparing for year three and a second chance.

"Hey, you know what? On the bright side, I can teach you for one more year now!"

Back to lunch, where I smile as hard as I can and try to steer the conversation away from the depressing topic of college rejection letters. Actually, SY remains optimistic despite his huge disappointment, because, he tells me with a small grin, his sore throat is finally getting better. He wants to begin practicing his gig for the school festival in December: lead vocals in the student band. He also wants to perform at Yongji Lake alongside the other buskers next summer. (Now that it's autumn, the weather is too cold.) But he's worried that I'll have already gone back to the U.S. by the time school lets out next July. He already knows that I have to go home for Christmas before the school festival takes place.

"Next year, can you go Yongji Lake?"

I tell SY to let me know whenever he goes downtown to jam at the lake. It doesn't matter if it's in the dead of winter. I'll be there.