Friday, June 24, 2011

How to send a hug in the mail.

It's as simple as that.

Just a testament to all the amazing things you can do for someone,
even if they're far away.
Thank you, Kate!
Share |

Thursday, June 23, 2011

K-pop Friday.

For all the months I've been here, my blog has-- strangely-- managed to be almost devoid of Korean music. Considering how high I put music on the list of life-influencing factors, it's time to let you all in on the emotionally fascinating music that is K-pop.

Unlike pop in the States which focuses on gettin' crunk or scoring ladies, the heart throbs that run the K-pop kingdom seem to have different agendas. Performer 'Beast' (stage name 'B2ST') sings the summer single 'Fiction' with an angst I can only call dedicated.

"I can't believe the fact that you are leaving me... I will re-write the story of you and I."

My 6th grade girls love B2ST in a fanatical way only pre-teens can love a pop idol. In fact, my Korean co-teacher jokes that he should get a B2ST face mask so they will focus better on their English lesson. Not a bad idea, considering I find "BEAST" written all over their desks after class.

On another note, my co-teacher shared this video with me today. I'm not familiar with the artist or the song, but I thought it was a really good representation of the unique style and feel Korea has in their pop music videos. Sharp, colorful and modern, borderlining on freaky.

Happy Friday to those near and far!
Share |

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Photojournalist Shot of the Day.

It's been a while. Like I said: not a photojournalist. Otherwise I'd have to fire myself for posting such an out-dated photo. Still, it was a pretty magical catch.

A woman wears Hanbok, traditional Korean attire,
and bows to honor Buddha's Birthday, May 5th in Seoul.
Share |

Extra credits.

By now, dear readers, you have become familiar with the English program I teach in Korea. Maybe even a little too familiar.  And being the Guest Engligh Teacher, I guess I can't really help it. But the Korean public school system actually offers elementary school students some really interesting subjects aside from the basic courses such as Korean, English or math, and I think our own home countries could really benefit from implementing them.

First is Ethics. In Korea, even students as young as elementary-age learn how to deal with dilemmas ethically and think critically. With the rise of technology (and especially in Korea where kids of all ages have easier access to the internet and other privileges), it is really crucial to have students aware of issues that can affect their daily lives, such as anonyminity online. Another part of the Ethics course is to examine the North Korean language-- which differs slightly from the South Korean language-- to prepare for re-unification. When I asked my co-teachers how they know so much about the North Korean language (since NK has that whole "I'm not speaking to you" attitude most of the time), they said that people examine the news broadcasts and assess the language differences from there. Fascinating.

Another class that my school is particularly proud of (and one that really impresses me) is our Safety program. Next to the English lab, we have an entire area dedicated to learning all kind of safety precautions, including CPR, fire safety, and how to drive a car through arcade-style simulations. The other day, someone left it unlocked and this waygook took the perfect opportunity to snap a couple shots of all the glory that is this room.

I'd like to note that kids in Korea cannot get a drivers' license until they're at least 18, but most people wait until they're well into their 20's. Still, it's good for kids to know about traffic laws, and be familiar with driving in the event of an emergency!

That beaming firefighter's name is Sappy. She and her male counterpart, Happy, are about to put out the fire in that burning building. I walk past this wall poster about 49812450 times every day.

When I see amazing programs like this in place for students in Korea, I wonder what we could be doing better for our young minds in the States if not providing them with the skills to be safe and think critically about their world. I think Happy and Sappy would agree.
Share |

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hope in sight for all us veggies in a veggie-less world.

Among the laundry list of things that makes me different from Koreans is the fact that I came here vegetarian.

..."came here vegetarian" being the operative phrase.

I found it really difficult to go by without eating meat here. Even things that seem to not have meat in them will often come with diced ham or other little shreds of beef. I can't tell you how many times I've had this conversation with a local (in both English and Korean):

Me: Does this have meat in it?

Waiter/co-teacher/Shop owner: No, do you want meat?

Me: No. Please no meat. I don't eat meat.

Waiter/co-teacher/Shop owner:  ...................

Me: (pointing to menu or saying the name of the dish over and over and making a huge 'X' symbol with my arms) This, meat, no. Meat, no. Meat... NO.

Waiter/co-teacher/Shop owner: Ok, ok.

... and 15 minutes later, I have a wonderful dish of meat-filled food.

My reasoning for not eating meat is multi-faceted, but the main pillar is because of factory farming (by the way, if you are reading this and haven't watched Food Inc. yet, you are virtually and morally obligated to do so by the end of the week). I asked my co-teachers about what countries export their meat to Korea, and was disappointed to find that the US is on this list. In short: the factory-farmed meat I want to avoid in the States is now travelling a further distance than before, makng it even less sustainable than it already was.

Although I do know (and seriously commend) a few vegetarians living here as foreign teachers, the fact is that, for me, I would be less comfortable eating absolutely NO meat because of my school staff and Korean friends. Sometimes, there is no meat-less option, and at least by eating chicken I have the ability to chew on something whilst sitting around with those who have a full pallete to work with. This is not my country. For me, it just seems polite.

A bummer? Sure. I would rather be vegetarian. And sometimes I even feel a little frustrated about what I  can only refer to as being "force-fed meat" (see the example conversation, above). But sometimes that's part of cultural competency, especially in a professional atmosphere. It wasn't a choice I was thrilled about, but since I have only been vegetarian for a couple years, it was a change my body could make to better adapt to the life I have here.

However, I did find this yesterday, through a fellow foreign teacher, and thought it was definitely worth sharing:

Aeris Kitchen is a recipe blog that has a Korean cooking component for [lacto ovo] vegetarian dishes. Despite the content of this post, I do want to make it clear that there are vegetarian options here on occasion, and they are pretty basic (and thus easy to make). Aeris Kitchen makes it easy to find and re-create vegetarian Korean dishes, whether you are living abroad or back at home. I know I'll be using it when I go back to the States.

UPDATE ON THE VEGGIE FRONT: I don't know what to say, but after TEN months of being at my school and eating in the cafeteria daily, today my co-teacher decided to tell the lunch ladies I don't eat meat. Today. Right before I went to publish this blog post. I had just been eating around the meat and giving the extra to the school staff (very Korean, I know), but now the lunch ladies are replacing my meat with extra veggies. On today of all days. Sometimes, the 'ask and you shall receive' thing totally applies.
Share |

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer just wouldn't be summer without it.

I wanted to write a haiku in honor of this weekend delight, but honestly there is too much going on here to fit it all into a 5-by-7-by-5-syllable format.

No. This is something completely out of all of our leagues.

Let me introduce you to the traditional Korean summertime snack, 팥빙수 (or pat-bing-soo).

Now, upon first look, I kind of wanted to run away. In a typical dish, one could be subject to find:
red beans
random jelly
rice cake
cereal flakes
and some kind of sweet milk.

To me, it sounds like something the Very Hungry Caterpillar would fantasize about, but it's really just the typical snack Korean use to cool off on those very hot summer days.

This weekend, I knew it was time to girl-up and find me some pat-bing-soo, if for no other reason than to write a blog about how much it weirded me out.

Maybe I've been here too long and will accept red beans in and on anything, but I actually really enjoyed sitting on the floor of my apartment, windows open, eating this thing. And-- even better: since it's not ice cream, I felt absolutely no guilt for eating it all... even if the lady I bought it from did  ask me if I wanted two spoons.

With that mystery solved, it's good to know I can walk down the blazing hot streets of my Korean summer no longer in fear.
Share |

Friday, June 10, 2011

Not just the typical, "neener neener neener."

This morning, there was a pretty major incident in one of my 5th grade classrooms. Like any good Guest English Teacher, as soon as I made it to the Teacher's Room, I logged onto Facebook and sent out an SOS via status update into the virtual community:

Upon a first-read, the drama of the situation seems entertaining, almost. And with the language barrier I have between me and the students, it does seem comical to think about how I-- as 1 of 2 adults in the room-- had to sit there and witness the whole thing unfold without contributing whatsoever. Sure, it was scary, but hey, it's one for the books, right? Besides, nobody got hurt. Doesn't that mean we can laugh about it?

The interesting thing is: that's exactly what the students do. This boy had tuned out all verbal and physical commands (clearly just running on Id at this point); his actions, harmful to others and to himself, took learning off the list of priorities as the entire room was concerned for the safety of the group. However, the boys who held him down got up to do so as if it was routine. They grabbed him in big bear hugs and tolerated the kicking and jabbing coming from the perp while another appointed student dashed off to find the homeroom teacher. The rest of the students knew to stay clear.

All in all, it was a pretty organized affair.

What gets me about this situation is that is was so organized and casual, when this boy obviously has pent-up anger and quite possibly needs to see a counselor or use another program outside of public school to receive education. In short: the public school doesn't have enough resources to suit his needs.

This is a very common problem in Korea, as many Guest English Teachers can attest to. There is little the teachers can do, aside from talking to the parents about the issues. When I asked one of my Korean co-teachers about on-site counseling (like, if there is any), she said this (paraphrased):

"Of course. But many parents don't want to take their child [to the school counselor] because they don't want to think their child has a disease. What happened today, it's from a disease, but many parents won't accept that."

This cultural desire to be the same echoes throughout the public school system. Every child is expected to be the same in ability and performance. This is precisely why all subjects are taught by age group (grade), not level of ability. Thus, it's not uncommon to have children who are well above average in your class, bored to pieces; it's equally likely that you will have some students who are below average or dealing with behavioral disorders which have yet to be evaluated. 

And that makes for a pretty interesting class.

A friend of mine also opened my eyes to another perspective on the matter: bullying. Disorder or not, the kids who pick on each other and create fear within an individual or among a group should be considered a bully. Although I felt some sympathy to see the student from this morning return to the English Teachers' room crying his apology to us, I do consider him a threat to his classmates. I assumed, upon coming to Korea, that there would be less bullying here than in the States. However, it's becoming apparent to me that bullying is just as common here as anywhere else, and visa versa.

According to Jae-In Lee (n.d.) from a study on bullying in Korean public schools:

[Those who bullied], in particular-- those who bullied the weak[er-looking students, were] less mature and more distorted in the developmental stage. The students [who] bullied the weak needed to be counseled as much as the bullied.

In a society where success in education is everything, I hope that soon there will be more moderation in the realm of mental health for young children, not only for those who are victimzed by bullying, but for those who throw the first punch. Looking at outward, negative actions as a sign of deeper, unmet needs, and getting parents to accept their child as who they are as opposed to the mold they 'should' fit into could work wonders to relieve Korean students' stress and diminish unhealthy behavior.

And it would sure give those poor chairs a break from being thrown around my 5th grade classroom.
Share |

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What keeps me coming back.

This week, I sent my first box home. Things I don't need here: winter clothes, souvenirs; maybe even some things I will end up donating upon arrival in Seattle (which makes the value of those donations, thoeoretically, way higher because of shipping costs!... but I digress). Two more boxes sit in my apartment now, open but empty. It is a constant reminder to me of my looming departure. There's excitement as well as sadness; hope as well as anxiety. All in all, it's a happy thing. I may not always like change but boy do I love packing.

It wasn't easy, though-- getting to this point. For those of you who aren't famliar with the system here, my 1-year contract is up for renewal in August. To give the Metropolitan Office of Education enough time to fill my place, they needed to know if I was renewing or not by mid-May. I've never had such a difficult time giving someone a "yes" or "no" answer (and for those of you who really know me, you know that's saying a lot). Nay, there were many times I flip-flopped, debated, and utterly freaked out (which, sadly, happened at least twice). I try to refrain from outright asking for advice; however, I found myself in desperate need of some. Friends and family alike had their take on how to make the call.

Some people suggested a healthy dialog.

Others thought I should make a list.

Some even suggested flipping a coin to see how I felt about the outcome.

After trying everything, I almost found myself more lost than before. I talked myself in circles and flipped a variety of coins (for some reason I thought the type of coin might make a difference), all to no avail. And the list part-- MY typical default-- was the worst one yet! On the "Pros" side were the important, hard-hitting and adult-type aspects:

job security
housing security
relatively low cost of living
amazing health care
continue learning a language
continue traveling

Wow. Well that's the way to shove me out the door.

This is a dillemma that many a Guest English Teacher face in Korea. The fact is that, despite our complaining and serious confusion in this culture at times, the Korean government has made it almost too enticing to leave, especially in this economic climate. That's why many of us stay here after a year, whether we had planned to or not. It attracts all types: people who are trying to save money; couples who want to work and travel; legitimate teachers (the rarer breed); and party-hearty die-hards who can reconcile their lifestyle in a culture that accepts them as both an educator and as a drunken fool.

With all that said, many people ask me why I decided to leave Korea after only 1 year.

I often get asked this question as if there must be something wrong with my situation, like I got shafted on the school/principal combination, or I finally snapped after eating kimchi every day.

The best way to describe why I'm leaving is this: it's about love.

"Love, like truth and beauty, is concrete. Love is not fundamentally a sweet feeling; not, at heart, a matter of sentiment, attachment, or being 'drawn toward.' Love is active, effective, a matter of making reciprocal and mutually beneficial relation with one's friends and enemies.

Love creates righteousness, or justice, here on earth."  --Carter Heyward

We all have to listen to our inner voice. Sometimes the voice inside of us is really loud, and it shouts for us to do something. But sometimes it's quiet and small. That doesn't take away from its value, or mean we can ignore it. We just need to listen closer in order to understand what it's trying to tell us.

The love I have inside of me is to affect change for those who need it. It's not the kind of thing that fills me with rom-com joy, or has a 'happily ever after' tacked onto the end. It's not even something I think could lull me to sleep at night. In fact, that voice screams at me daily to get up and do something for others. But the voice that prompted me to go back to the States was small and scared, because starting over-- even at home-- is difficult.

I was afraid, for a time, that going home meant I was failing myself, like I wasn't able to live across the world alone. What I ended up realizing, after a million coin tosses, 2 lists and an emergency international call to my parents, is that it takes just as much courage to follow your passions at home as it does if you're on the other side of the world.

And now that I know, doesn't that make every day an adventure?
Share |