Monthly Archives: August 2010

Pyeongchon Writers’ Group Final Reading a Success

While in Anyang, I’ve  had the opportunity and great joy to work with a small group of Expatriate writers who, from January to August 2010, met  bi-weekly in Pyeongchon coffee shops, office-tels and restaurants to share stories, frustrations, goals, and best of all, creative writings. Some of our work consisted of old stories and poems we hoped to revive while others were  inspired by our experiences in S. Korea. On August 22nd, we held a reading at the home of one of our members to share with the world a few of the more significant fruits of our labor. In addition to reading some of our work, we assembled collection of our pieces in a small chapbook to share with attendees and friends. Both the reading and the chapbook were well received.

Pyeongchon Writers' Group 2010

Pyeongchon Writers’ Group 2010

Author Bios (from left to right):

Gary Jackson is the winner of the 2009 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for his first book Missing You, Metropolis. He was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, and received his Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry from the University of New Mexico in 2008.

Lisa M. Hase (back row) holds a Master’s Degree in English with an emphasis in writing from Kansas State University. Her poems have appeared in such literary magazines as Susquehanna Review, Midwest Quarter and Sub-scribe Online Magazine.

Derrika Hunt (back row) was born and raised in South Florida and much of her writing is inspired by the many challenges she faced growing up there. She writes for all of those voices that have been silenced.

Chau Nguyen was born in Stockton and raised in Pomona, CA, and educated by worldly travels and her folks. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley.

Members not shown: Sonali Maulik and Cereba Barrios

Newest Abcedarian Story: “The Ant and The Bee” (as Written by Chung Dahm Students)

Thursday was the last night for my Comp. 100 class, and as is often my habit, I had my students write an “abcedarian” story (though abcedarian is usually a poetry exercise  rather than a short story exercise). Each student begins a story by writing a sentence beginning with the letter “a.” The paper is then passed to the next student, whose next, somewhat cohesive sentence, should begin with the letter “b,” and so forth until either time runs out or the letter “z” is reached. Sometimes a letter or two may get skipped until all the students get the hang of it, but generally they catch on pretty quick.  I also like to sit in on the circle and add a few sentences. Stories are titled after they are written.

It’s always interesting to see how students approach this exercise.  Last term’s Comp. 100 class really labored over each and every sentence and were  genuinely amused by the results. This term’s students, while no less serious, seemed to approach the exercise with efficiency. As a result, their stories were a little longer (we got to “v” this term while last term we only got to “t”), but no less amusing.

Here is this term’s winning story (based on student votes):

“The Ant and the Bee”

An ant is moving up a hill. But the ant wanted to fly to the sky when it went to the top of a hill. Carelessly, he jumped, flapping his arms. Directly, he jumped to another hill, where he found another ant trying to fly. Elephants could be seen in the distance.

“Failure isn’t in my dictionary!” he cried out before he fell into the middle of the forest.

Gorilla was searching for food in the forest, saw the ant flying toward him and shouted “flying ant!” Horrified, the gorilla ran away screaming “I’ve never seen a jumping ant…I must be crazy!”

I don’t know why that gorilla is running away”  the ant said. “Just because of little old me?” the ant wondered. Knowing that his energy was consumed, the ant decided to explore the jungle, but he heard people shouting about jelly and eggs.

Lovely…I want to taste them a little…should I?” the ant wondered. Mostly without thinking one more second about it, the ant followed the smell.

“No!” someone shouted  quickly, “it is trap of humans!”

On top of the flower, there was something small saying something.

“Please, please, someone help me!” a bee said.

Quite down so I can concentrate…how can I get up this flower?” the ant said.

Really easy! Fly!” the bee kept suggesting.

Something caught up in his mind. “To me to fly? No. I can’t, it was just a jump” the ant said honestly.Unless…what can I do?”

Vanity never gets you anywhere.

Why Korean ESL Students Ask “Why?”

Many new Korean ESL instructors are sure to notice that their students have a peculiar way of asking the question “why?’ They will notice, for example, that from the mouths of a Korean ESL student, the question “why” has the kind of emphasized lilt which illustrates, without a doubt, that the student clearly understands how a question mark influences the inflection of a word. Instructors may also notice that their students will add an extra syllable to the word, thus “why” ends up sounding something like “why-ee?”

I’m no linguist, but I believe that at least part of the reason students exaggerate the long “e” in “why” has a little something to do with the fact that the English word for why sounds somewhat similar to the Hangul word of the same meaning, which sounds something like “whea.”

Now consider for a moment that Korean ESL students are expected to speak English exclusively during class time and, further, that the penalty for speaking Hangul during class includes anything from a lower participation grade (and Korean students DO take their participation grade seriously) to a two-minute speech on a subject of the teacher’s choosing – in English. It logically follows then that students want to make sure there is no confusion over which language they are speaking, thus the emphasis on the difference in vowel sounds.

This does not necessarily explain, however, why they drag out the long “e” when their teachers announce it is time to take the weekly review test or in-class quiz. In those instances they are clearly just trying to annoy their teachers.

New instructors are also sure to  notice that Korean students use the question “why” as a kind of catch all for all “wh” questions. For example, say Yoojin’s friend comes by her classroom during break to talk to her and calls her name from the doorway to get her attention. While  most American kids would answer “what?” a Korean kid will respond “why-ee?” Students respond similarly when called on by a teacher to answer a question or read aloud.

Important for new instructors to remember is that since “why” is not always used literally, it is wise to take a moment to consider the context in which the student is using it. Honestly, the sooner this technique can be mastered the sooner instructors can minimize the amount of class time taken up by asking students, in a puzzled tone, “what do you mean, why?”

Again, I am no professional and can only base my theories on classroom observations, which probably hold about as much water as a mother’s intuition over, say, the educated diagnosis of a trained pediatrician. Still, I believe that English teachers themselves encourage the improper usage of the word “why.”

Instructors are encouraged to use the Socratic Method to guide students through essays; that is, they ask leading questions that encourage students to find the answers for themselves and respond verbally, which arguably encourages participation. While I always figured that the Socratic Method was meant to encourage students to think more deeply about philosophical questions and not merely for skimming passages, it does have some practical application. Unfortunately, and this is especially true when working with reticent youth, it becomes very necessary to ask absurdly pointed questions to get the students to respond appropriately. As a result, the Socratic Method comes off sounding a little something like this:

“OK Jimmy, according to paragraph two, line three,  aerobic exercise is beneficial becauuuussse….why?

Obviously, the proper way to ask questions like this is to front-load it with whatever “wh” question is appropriate. But, since most instructors have little to no experience with or training in pedagogy, much less child development, and are merely trying to do their job, which is to get Jimmy to say the right thing,  the application of the Socratic Method becomes a kind of  fill-in-the-blank word game.

Finally, ESL instructors contribute to the “why” phenomenon when trying to induce topical conversation in the classroom. For example, while trying to break up the monotony of the repetitive main-idea-and-supporting-detail-outlines teachers must illustrate on the board throughout class, they may stop periodically to ask simple content questions, usually something along the lines of:

“So, do you think deforestation is good or bad?”

Regardless of a student’s response, however blatant that response may be, instructors, in an attempt to encourage discussion (for which there is not time) will reply with the now infamous question “why?” i.e. why do you think deforestation is bad? This is generally followed by a thirty second discussion of little to no consequence before the teacher must move on to stay on schedule, no one being the wiser.

New instructors will also discover, and this is the best part, that teaching is as much about being influenced by students as it is about influencing them. I mean, I could obnoxiously insist that my fellow instructors amend their teaching ways and preach the proper pathways to good grammar (as if I knew), probably causing new instructors all kinds of unnecessary paranoia in the process. Instead, I rather encourage teachers to view the “why” phenomenon the same way I have come to view all Konglish; as a kind of in-between language that captures something that neither language can capture without the other. So, if you are, or will soon become, a new ESL instructor in Korea, I say let yourself be influenced by your students and, most of all, let yourself be influenced by Konglish. Learn to respond to a moment of confusion or the call of a friend the same way students do and the same way I and my fellow instructors have learned to do as well. Learn to just ask “why-ee?”

“The Lisa Song:” A Gift from my Chung Dahm Students (South Korea)

One of my favorite students ran into my classroom this afternoon before

Front Cover

classes started and gave me a piece of chocolate cake from Paris Baguette and a big handmade construction paper card. I’m not sure for what occasion – late birthday or early going away gift? Perhaps just an assignment from one of her summer intensive classes? Anyway, I couldn’t wait to share it and have copied the contents of the  card here (verbatim):

Lisa

Wacky night Lisaish night

When all the kids tango to the moon

Presidents appear and waltz with you

A bear appear and tap dance with Lisa

Every thing is so wacky, you can dance

to the son.

Crazy night Lisaish night

when all the birds fly out to space

A pig sings “sing” and dance with you.

A spider back flips and turn cart wheels

Every thing is so Lizaish, You can eat

pigs head.

It was a super special thing to get since I have been feeling a little blue these last couple of days. It’s nice to think “kids tango to the moon” on my night, though I don’t know about eating pigs head.

`

Last Weeks of My Last Term at ChungDahm

Summer in Korea

Summer in Korea

It hardly seems possible that it’s already the first week in August, though the weather outside certainly confirms the fact. I’ve never lived anywhere so humid and hot in my life. Even in the Midwest, the humidity never really goes above, say 70 percent, and even then, not for very long. Here, the humidity ranges between 75 and 100 percent every day while the temperatures are routinely in the 90s (Fahrenheit). It’ always about to rain, raining or just finished raining too, so things are always dripping wet. Rather than comparing the atmosphere to a sauna, a more apt analogy is a tropical rain forest. Often the moisture is so dense you can actually see it in the air, almost cut through it with your hand. It reminds me of the many misty photos of Asia I’ve seen in my life, though I can tell you walking through these landscapes is not nearly as romantic as they are to look at.

Things are changing rapidly at my branch. Both of our branch’s Faculty Managers have moved up to HQ and about half of the faculty are leaving. This is mostly due to the fact that, like Gary and I, most instructors’ one-year contracts are coming to an end. This was the last week for at least four “veteran” instructors and there are four new instructors haunting the halls, sitting in on classes and trying to learn the ropes. They don’t know just how lucky they are to get a week to observe and adjust, for certainly not all new instructors get that privilege. They have been asking questions about why so many people are leaving. We give them the standard explanation that contracts are expiring and people usually choose to leave at term’s end. It’s too difficult to explain fully why most instructors don’t renew. There are just too many nuances that a new instructor could not possible understand, and no one wants to terrify a new person. It’s better they see for themselves what it’s like to work for ChungDahm. Besides, it’s a different experience for everyone.

Most of my students are all doing pretty well, though they are a little more excitable than usual because they are on school break (yes, they still come to academy during school break).  I have built great rapport with many of my students and feel like I have become rather masterful at managing a classroom of elementary or middle school students. I have even made progress with one of my most difficult students, who I have had in my Wednesday 4:00 pm class for three terms in a row now.  On most days, he follows my instruction and does as I say with little resistance. Just the other day, for example, instead of choosing to act out in anger by kicking his desk, as is his habit, he simply stated that he felt angry. I was a little stunned that he chose to articulate his feelings rather than acting on them without thought. I also feel like my rapport with him had a little something to do with his choice. All in all, I view this change as progress.

Another one of my students recently won a prize for best webzine. Since I am his teacher, and he made the webzine for my class, I get a little recognition too. A staff member came around to my class and snapped a picture of me with the student, though I have no idea how the photo will be used. (Probably some promotional marketing pamphlet somewhere).

Right now I am in the middle of a bit of a time crunch. It’s enough to keep me on my toes and make me a little resentful that I don’t have more time to write this week, especially since taking on an extra class, but I also know it won’t last long and I have lots of great poems in the works.

Only three more weeks of gainful employment before Gary and I head south to Busan for a well deserved, and real, vacation by the sea, followed by an adventurous visit to Tokyo, Japan.  We’ll be back in the states by September 20th.