Tag Archives: Teaching in South Korea

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.

`

Leaving South Korea:Last Weeks At Chung Dahm

Seven is the number of the month in which I was born, and the number of the month in which we find ourselves in now, this 2010th year AD. But the significance of this number today has to do with the number of weeks left in my contract with Chung Dahm; the number of weeks in which I still have gainful employment.

It means only seven more weeks of Closed Circuit Television and working 4:00 to 10:00 PM with only one or two five-minute breaks and never sitting more than a couple of minutes at at time. Only seven more weeks of lesson planning and grading online essays with their strange and arbitrary set of parameters, e.g. you must make exactly seven comments, each comment must contain 250-350 characters,  include the student’s name, an example and make reference to the in-class lesson.

It also means only seven more weeks to spend time with some pretty amazing students who bring me a great deal of joy and laughter and who have exponentially increased my enjoyment of Korea and the quality of my life’s experiences. Only seven more weeks to interact with these kids and appreciate their unique perspective of the English language and American culture. Only seven more weeks to spend time with awesome co-workers turned friends and fellow writers whose insight and experience will no doubt continue to inspire me long into the future, wherever we may find ourselves.

As in past experiences, as I prepare to move from one geographical area and way of life to another, my experience of and interactions with the objects and inhabitants of this world are more vivid than in months previous. The lines that frame objects and people are sharper, their colors, if not always brighter or identifiable, more noticeable. Even the moisture that sticks to my skin as I move through the humid Korean air is weightier.

I began my countdown the first week I started working for CDI, when I was culture shocked and slightly traumatized by a week-long training session that was quite different from my expectations, despite my efforts to suspend those expectations. I kept counting down through the first awkward, stressful weeks of my first term teaching children who I could barely understand and who arguably didn’t understand me – wondering all the while how anything could be taught or learned in an environment in which the language barrier was so pronounced. And when homesickness pierced my liver and shot through my heart after every American holiday, I counted even more carefully the weeks left in my contract.

Now the acute awareness over every awkward mistake of my early weeks in Korea has begun to give way to acute awareness of momentary perfections, often manifesting in the beautiful faces of my students. My relief over surviving another day now daily metamorphoses into confidence that comes from  perseverance.  I am not longer timid to tell a student he or she is not doing well nor do I refrain from taking their cell phones. I no longer fret over Korean people staring at me on the subway, or the lack of friendly acknowledgments from fellow foreigners on the street. Today, I move through the streets with confidence and teach like an expert. Today, I know these days, at least for me, are coming to an end.

The Earthquake Affair: Another Abecedarian Story by Chung Dahm Students (South Korea)

Here is a story my Comp. 100 class and I composed using the exquisite corpse writing prompt our last night of class. Starting with the letter “A,” each new sentence must begin with the next letter in the alphabet. There must also be an attempt at cohesion in the story. All together, we composed four stories. This was voted as best. (Remember, these are middle school aged ESL students.) I’ve copied it verbatim here:

Again and again the children asked their mother to push them on the swings. But their mother, her belly holding yet another child, shook her head, her face white. Children started to find out where their father had gone. Dad was in restaurant with his secret girlfriend. Every other day, he met this secret girlfriend for lunch at this favorite restaurant.

Father!” the children cried in unison when they saw him – one with a shocked face. Girlfriend also stared at the children and asked father “Is they are your kids? Why are they calling you father?”

Ha ha ha,” they are not my kids, they are kids who live in my town.”

I am your son! I am your first son,” the boy cried, his tears streaking his cheeks and rushed home.

John, the first son, went home and surprised by strange man sit closely with mom.

Kelly, I really think you should tell your husband we’re dating. I mean, look at OUR baby!”

Listen to me, we can’t let anyone know about our love-child NOW!” Mom whispered and John the son hide behind the sofa, was so shocked that he cried

NO, it can’t be – Mom and dad BOTH can’t both be having an affair! “Oh my god, what did you mean that both me an your father having affair?” Mom shouted.

“Please tell me it isn’t so!” she wailed. “Quickly, hide Luke!” she said to her boyfriend when she saw her husband coming.

Really, I can’t believe this situation! I heard all things! How can you have affair” said father.

Suddenly the ground began to shake and rumble.

To be continued…

——-

We ran out of time before we ran out of alphabet. But we didn’t run out of fun!

Teaching Masters Classes at Chung Dahm

Well, the first week of my third term is complete and I have met all my new students.  I am not teaching any Memory classes this term, rather all the classes I have been assigned are mid- to upper-level reading classes (Par and Eagle) and, this is most exciting, three different Master Level classes: Masters Comp. 100 & 105  and Lit. Project 100 (Wartime Literature).  This first week has been a real challenge since I am prepping for so many different levels (Par is the only class I have previous experience with) and I am scheduled to teach 27 hours a week (as opposed to the usual 24) this term. I feel confident one moment and completely incompetent the next. Ah, but such is usually the case when facing difficult but worthwhile challenges. I only wish I’d hadn’t had a head-cold all week; it’s the third one in six months! Everyone says it’s the poor air quality. Still other people tell me it’s due to the change in seasons.  I believe another contributing factor is the exposure to so many different people, mostly kids, in a week’s time. Suffice it to say, I am pretty tired and am looking forward to a Sunday afternoon nap.

Comp. 100 is fundamentals and very similar to Expository Writing. Even though my students are Middle-school aged, they will be responding to college level texts. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure they are mature enough, intellectually or emotionally, to respond to some issues, but then they always surprise me. The students will be writing a variety of short essays and learning about different genres of writing.

Comp. 105 is all about argumentation and is taken only after a student has had experience with Comp. 100. Ethos, Logos and Pathos, here we come!

Lit. 100 involves Wartime Literature and includes the following on its book list: When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park,  Hiroshima by John Hersey, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and The Book Thief by Marksu Zusak. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some of these books, some for the second or third time.

Did I mention our terms are thirteen weeks long? With all these books to cover, I think this third term (second to last one here) is sure to go quickly.

When I’m not prepping or teaching, I am writing. My current writing schedule (which was on a semi-hiatus this week) involves writing, free-writing and generating new work in the mornings from approximately 10:00 AM to noon Monday through Friday, with one “floater” day to be used for miscellaneous unexpected events that necessarily come up. I used to spend one hour on Monday and one hour on Friday nights, previously my evenings off, to work on revisions. However, since I no longer have Monday evening’s off, I plan to work on revisions for two hours on Friday nights this term, as I have all day Fridays off.

Sometimes I do a little writing on the weekends – usually blogging – if so moved or inspired, and have begun a writers group here in Pyeongchon, by request. We’ve only met once, but plans are underway for another meeting later in March. Since April is National Poetry Month, I am hoping to recruit a couple of fellow writers to participate in the Poem-a-Day challenge with me.

I’ve been reading voraciously since arriving in Korea, but this has lately been slowed as I try to work my way through Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, a read I admittedly am  undertaking more because it is an “important” work than for pure pleasure – though I find parts of it interesting enough. The political backdrop is actually more interesting to me than the interrelationships among the characters, surprisingly enough. It does inspire me, however, to make notes and observations of the various individuals I’ve met here which I believe will make great character profiles for some novel that could be written at some future date. The novel in my head is of a group ex-pats living and working in Korea and the tales of their travels, relationships and escapades.  Sort a modern Hemingway/Fitzgerald-esque novel with bared secrets and slightly dysfunctional ways of looking at the world. Of course, the novel in my head is interesting and great. Getting it onto paper is another thing all together, isn’t it? Character profiles will be enough for now, though.

Third Term Masters Class, Chung Dahm (South Korea)

It’s hard to believe that I have teaching for Chung Dahm for six months now. I am much busier than expected and have barely enough time keep up with my blog. Everyone I ever talked to before coming to Korea who had taught here said they had a lot of extra time on their hands. All I can say is that they must not have worked for Chung Dahm. Either that, or they were here before the Hogwong industry really took off and became so competitive and high pressure.

With that said, I have to say that my second term here has been considerably less stressful than the first. For one thing, I am more settled  and established now than before, am no longer a newbie, and  feel like I am hitting my stride in terms of teaching. Track “B” is also a considerably more manageable curriculum than Track “A.” It didn’t hurt that I had a great schedule – half-days on Mondays and Fridays. I will miss that.

In other news, next week is the beginning of the new term (no break between terms here) and I will have a new schedule. Though I’ve not received confirmation yet, its about 99% certain that I will be teaching a Saturday class this term from 2:30 to 5:30 PM. But, it is a Master’s Reading class, so I will get to teach literature to high-level reading students, and I look forward to the opportunity. So far, there are only five students enrolled, so I really think it’s going to be worth the trade off. It also means I will get a day off during the week, and it’s so much easier to get to places like Itaewon on the weekdays. Saturdays on the subway is always mayhem. The image of sardines always comes to mind when I consider riding the subway during the weekends, because that’s usually what I feel like when standing in a cram-packed metal subway car.

The Master’s Reading class is in addition to the Master’s Writing class I was asked to teach earlier, so I will need to go through some additional training. Master’s Classes instructor training is scheduled for this Wednesday in Gangnam, which means getting up early to travel on the a fore mentioned sardine container. After training, I will  need to rush back to my branch by 3:00 PM, then teach until 10:00 PM. In other words, it will be a long day.  Since Gary has to attend the first training session with me (he will be teaching a Master’s Writing class next term), and doesn’t teach until 7:00 PM Wednesday, he said he’d wait for me to finish the second training session so we can take the subway back together, as sardines (yea!).

In any event, as I will be teaching what I have know how best to teach, writing and literature, I am very excited about teaching Master’s Level classes this term.

I am thinking of everyone back home and unfortunately blogging is the best way for me to keep in touch at the moment, and even that (I know) is spotty. Please keep checking in whenever you have a minute and always feel free to leave a comment.

Second Term Teaching at Chung Dahm (South Korea)

View from Classroom Window

View from Classroom Window

My second term here at Chung Dahm Peyongchon Branch is already two weeks underway. So far, “Track B” has proven to be much easier to prep for and teach, just as promised. I am only teaching three levels this term, which is so much more manageable than five. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 4:00 pm class I teach Memory Tera. I am teaching Par Reading at 7:00 PM on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Birdie Reading Wednesdays at 4:00 and Thursdays at 7:00. I get off early on Monday and Friday nights, which I am loving. I also have my own classroom this term.

My Wednesday 4:00 pm Birdie class is composed of elementary students. Because Birdie is a fairly high-level reading class, this means I have a class of very smart students. I really enjoy them and get to bring in extra information to challenge them. The first week we met, the students encountered two new terms; tangible and intangible. I explained that tangible is something you can touch or experience and intangible is something like an idea, something you cannot touch. They seemed satisfied with my explanation and we went on with the lesson. However, about thirty minutes later, one student (Jimmy) wondered if air is intangible; a pretty good question for a fifth grader I’d say. After a few minutes of discussing this rather complex idea, I think I convinced him that air is tangible because it can be experienced (we can feel it when we take in breath). Intangible things are more like beliefs and ideas, like love or whether we believe in God. He seemed satisfied once again.

The experience made me realize that I will really have to bring my “A” game to Wednesday Birdie class, but I am so looking forward to the challenge. Folks at Chung Dahm call it a perfect storm when you have a higher level reading class filled with elementary aged students.

Bridge Reading, Fall 2009

Best Friends to the end

Even with the new term proving to be so promising, I cannot help but miss my former students; even the ones who were difficult. Still, it’s fun to hear from other instructors that this or that student is in their class and how they are doing. It’s funny, it’s after you no longer have these students that you learn if they liked you or not. I hear it second-hand from my students’ new instructors that this or that student really likes me. It works the other way too; I hear from my students how much they liked (or sometimes, disliked) their former teachers.

Door Decorations

“Merry Christmas”

A majority of my students “leveled up” last term and the few that did not really could use another term at their current level. I took a few pictures on the last days of classes and will post them here (if I figure out how). This new camera of mine is very smart; it will sometimes ask if you want to keep the picture you just took if it detected that someone moved or blinked their eyes. Because of the nature of Korean eyes, my camera almost ALWAYS asks “did someone blink?” and I wonder if my camera is racist (or just made by wide-eyed westerners).

This past week I made and put a construction-paper Christmas tree on my door and have had my students add decorations to it. The elementary aged students are eager to partake in coloring and adding things, though, so far the middle-school students have not contributed anything. Our branch is sort of having a contest and other instructors are decorating their doors as well. So far there is a snowman with snow flakes on one door and student-drawn Christmas scenes on another. I was pleased when the Chung Dahm staff came to my room the other day and complimented my on my door. I can’t believe Christmas is less than two weeks away. Christmas in Korea will be something to remember, I’m sure.

Great Week of Classe at Chung Dahm (South Korea)

This week, I think, has been a particularly successful week at Chung Dahm; maybe because the term is coming to a close, maybe because testing is over and the students are more at ease, or maybe I’m actually seriously getting the hang of this teaching Chung Dahm style. Whatever it is, I am thankful to whatever beneficent entity aligned the planets of teaching in my favor.

My Mega kids are learning about “Unsolved Science Mysteries” and we’ve been considering the possibility of life in outer space, particularly on Mars. I’ve supplemented the in-class readings with internet images of Mars’ surface as well as images of the various space vessels that have been propelled to that planet. The kids are not as amazed by these realities as I was when I was a child and space travel was still very new. They seem to have every confidence that scientists will in fact find life on another planet or at least discover a planet that is compatible enough for life that we earthlings will be able to immigrate to it before global warming fully destroys our earthly climate.

One of the “Critical Thinking Projects” involved envisioning life on Mars and drawing a picture of a creature from that planet. Most of their illustrations were based more on fantasy than fact and proved to be very imaginative. One group of students depicted alien life looking very much like Sponge Bob.

Monday night’s Bridge class only consisted of four students this week. Our subject was “Prehensile Tails.”

I started the class by asking the kids “if you could be any animal at all, what would you choose.” The answers were bird, dolphin, whale and cat. I showed them a couple of videos of animals with prehensile tales, namely a pangolin (a kind of anteater). Later, during the post reading (which was about prehensile TONGUES) I showed them a video of a chameleon catching a grasshopper with its tongue in slow motions, which quite impressed my students.  I then accused my students of hiding their prehensile tongues and tails from me, which they though quite funny.

The “Critical Thinking Project” for Monday’s Bridge class  involved considering attributes non-human animals posses that are useful and imagining what two attributes would be neat for a human to have. Everyone picked the ability to change colors, like the chameleon, but no one picked prehensile tails. We all drew pictures of our ideas and taped them to the wall. One student thought wings would be nice (the same student who said he’d like to be a bird), another student chose smelling as a preferred attribute because then she could easily find chocolate cake, which sounded like pretty sound logic to me. Two other students chose the ability to run fast so they could shop quicker and easier. I chose a turtle shell and wings, which my students found pretty fascinating. That way, I explained,  I could go to fa- away places and still have my home with me.

Tuesday’s Tera class involved the “Roots of Rock and Roll.” During this unit I played a number of youtube clips of Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, the original movie trailer for “Blackboard Jungle”  (which they really disliked) and finally a clip of Run DMC on “Reading Rainbow” (mostly because our text makes a connection between the rock movement of the 50s and the hiphop movement of the 80s in terms of cross-over music). They thought Fats Domino was ugly and had a hard time believing Chuck Berry was really black. DMC seemed to be their favorite clip. I showed the kids some 50s and 60s dance moves. They loved it when I did the twist.

I have two Birdie level classes, one on Tuesday one on Wednesday nights. My Tuesday night Birdies are a surly, sullen bunch, but I am starting to get through to them. I have of late been rewarded with a smile or two from some of the most surly. My Wednesday night Birdies are all girls and the atmosphere of my Wednesday night class is quite the opposite from Tuesday’s. I spend more time trying to get the girls to stop talking and focus on the lesson. But we all really like each other and, amidst discussions of pop music, shoes and movies, manage to get our work done every week.

I work really hard for Chung Dahm, and Chung Dahm demands it of me, but because I love the students it is worth it and I am thoroughly glad I’ve come to S. Korea.

There is also a chocolate museum and factory, where one can purchase Jeju Island chocolate. The area is famous for it’s orange chocolate, which make sense when you realize that the island is also famous for its delicious oranges.

Sunday Again: Prepping for a Week of Classes at Chung Dahm (South Korea)

For four weeks now we have been living in our little officetel in the Tres Belle building in Anyang City and for five weeks teaching at Chung Dahm. The term is half over and soon we will  be giving our students exams to determine who will “level up.” Outside the weather is beginning to change. The hot sultry days and nights of late summer are giving way to sultry days and cool autumnal evenings and mornings.  I miss home daily but find the challenge of living in a new country while also meeting the demands of a challenging job quite satisfying. At times, I am even downright content.  Now that we have internet in our home, I can finally get back to the business of writing regular blogs.

There are so many things to write about and yet I’ve no idea where to begin. I have journal entries and blog drafts about many of my experiences since our arrival here in late August, yet the task of organizing every bit of information and putting it in chronological and coherent order is a bit daunting to think of at this moment, a Sunday evening. Since prepping for the coming week’s classes is foremost in my mind, I think I will write about my classes.

Chung Dahm is one of the better established English Language academies in S. Korea, which basically means its employees can count on getting paid regularly. The Pyeonchong branch, where I work,  is located on Hogwanga Rd. It is called Hogwanga Rd. because it is lined with Hogwangs – or cram schools, of which Chung Dahm is a variety. And not only are their Howangs on both sides of the street for several blocks, they are als stacked one above the other for several stories.

Every night on my walk to and from the school, I see hundreds of Korean School children being dropped off in cabs or shuttles or getting off of city busses to rush to class. I also see a fair amount of foreigners too, who are almost always English teachers.

I teach five different levels of English classes. Two of the levels I teach are known as Memory Classes and are geared for elementary school students. These two memory classes are Memory Mega and Memory Tera. There is one level between these two classes, which I do not at this time teach; Memory Giga.

Since children in S. Korea do not begin school until age seven or even eight, elementary school students here are a bit older than elementary school children in America. I sometimes have difficulty remembering I am dealing with eleven and twelve-year-olds, especially when they are so petite of stature, and find the personality of most Memory students to be a curious mix of precociousness and naivety.

Memory level classes are generally fast paced, have several components and involve a good deal of student management. As a result, I am getting a crash course in edutainment. My Mega students are reading about Elian Gonzales while my Tera students are reading about “Extreme Science Jobs.”

The reason these levels are called “memory” is that a large component of each class is dedicated to memorization. I have my memory students twice a week, and each time we meet, they have a model summary they are expected to memorize. The first class period of each week they are tested on their memorization. Memory students also learn about skimming, annotating and scanning.

My memory classes begin at 4:30 PM and end at 7:30 PM sharp. There is one five-minute break every hour, the first of which I am required to take each students temperature (Chung Dahm’s response to fears over S1N1).  My Memory Mega class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays while my Memory Tera class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I do not have a Memory Class on Fridays.

I also teach three reading classes, which are geared towards middle-school students (ages 14-16), and meet from 7:30 to 10:30 PM. Monday nights is Bridge Reading, in which we are learning about symbiosis, Tuesday and Wednesday nights are Birdie Reading, in which we are learning about immigration, and finally, on Friday nights, PAR reading, in which we are discussing the fascinating subject of Global Communication.  I do not teach a reading class on Thursday nights.

The other reading levels available to students are all above PAR and include Eagle, Albatross and Albatross Plus, none of which I am teaching this term.

Students in reading classes are notoriously tight lipped, sullen and self-conscious, as may be expected from any group of people in this age group. It takes a considerable amount of silliness to get a reaction out of many of them, yet they are able to smile (though they prefer teachers not know this). There are also a few charming, gregarious and bright middle schoolers who make working with middle schoolers all worthwhile.

For all my classes, I use stickers as bribes, which works on all but the most stubborn of sullen students. We can also award “Bonus Tickets” for perfect scores and completing all homework. Students can use Bonus Tickets to increase their test scores by a few points.

The staff at Chung Dahm is composed entirely of Korean people who are good enough tolerate us foreigners. They try to help us, though I suspect we are mostly hopeless. They speak primarily Korean, which can make it difficult to get one’s point across, but with enough pointing, pantomime, drawing and a few key phrases, we all manage to get the kids where they need to go and see that their parents are well enough informed.

Our Faculty Manager is, in my opinion, Pyeongchon branch’s greatest asset at this time. He is conscientious, gets things done and has so far been a pleasure to work with. I have found in him exactly the level of support and freedom I have needed to learn my job and get along at Chung Dahm these past five weeks. While there is still much, much more to learn, I am eager to meet the daily challenge and am every day glad I came to South Korea for this adventure.

Until next time…

Fourth Saturday in South Korea: Getting Acquainted

I’ve been in South Korea for about three and a half weeks now and so much has happened in that time that I hardly know where to begin. This is the first time I’ve really had time to reflect on my experiences so far and formulate any kind of real opinion. Up until this moment, I’ve had to rely on quick reactions and sometimes very basic survival skills. I’ve met some great people and a couple of real assholes too; faced overwhelmed, overworked students whose accents are so strong I could not understand them; gotten up in the early hours of morning to prep for classes; and wished a million times I had not left my comfortable home in Albuquerque.  But I persevere and have even begun to feel like I can make a place for myself here, even if only for a year. This belief is drastically different from the one I held only three days ago when I was certain I would have a nervous breakdown If I didn’t have a plane ticket back home in my hands before the day was out. I really don’t know how I moved through those feelings except by paying close attention to my breath and reminding myself that nothing and no one here can truly hurt me. I look forward to sharing some of the details of my first three weeks here as some of them are truly hilarious and some quite frightening. The best part is that these are my own true experiences of my own real-life adventure.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support and messages of encouragement. You have no idea how truly helpful they have been!!!

Things People Ask About Our S. Korean Adventure

1. Why South Korea?

The recruiting agency we applied with (Aclipse)  places teachers all over Asia; schools in Japan and China were full. We have the option to relocate after our initial contractual obligations are met. Thankfully, North Korea was not an option.

2.  Where in South Korea are you going?

Chung-Dahm Learning Center has ten branches in the Seoul area, and though we know we will be in Seoul, we do not know which branch we will be teaching at or in which district we will be living. These details will be determined during orientation.

3. Do you speak Korean?

– Not at all. In the classroom, we will not be required to speak Korean. The students are to speak exclusively in English. If they speak to us in Korean we are to tell them we do not speak Korean and to please address us in English. On the other hand, I plan to learn as much Korean as I can, starting with basics, like “hello,” “my name is ___,” “I’m sorry,” “How much…” and “where’s the bathroom,” as those seem like crucial things to be able to say. Further, I don’t wish to be an arrogant American who expects everyone around them to accommodate them.

4. How long will you be there?

– We have a twelve-month contract that automatically renews unless we give 45-day notice.

5. Do you have a place to live?

-Not yet. During orientation we will be assigned a branch to teach at, a place to live within 10 minutes travel time of that branch, and cell phones. We will also have the opportunity  sign up for such benefits as health insurance.

6. How much will you be paid?

As hourly employees we stand to make more money than salaried employees, though we will be responsible for our housing costs.

7. What’s the weather/climate like?

-Very similar to the mid-west; hot and humid in the summer, wet and cold in the winter (lots of snow). When people learn that we are from Kansas they generally tell us that S. Korean weather won’t throw anything our way that we haven’t already experienced. Obviously, the further north one goes, the colder the winters.  Remember, Korea is a peninsula.

8. When are you leaving?

-Hopefully around the 24th of August (our departure date has been set back a couple of times due to VISA issues – see my blogs on VISA debacles)

9. What can you take with you?

-Two fifty-pound bags (check in), one twenty-five pound carry-on and one personal item.

10. What are you doing with all your stuff?

-We have sold nearly everything we own through a series of yard sales and numerous listings on craigslist. What we have left, which consists primarily of personal items that have sentimental value, is being stored in a 4X6 storage unit.

11. What are you going to do about your pets?

-Akira, our dog,  is living as a “foster” dog in a very loving environment and has a foster sister, Frannie (pictures to follow). We will continue to keep in touch with Akira and pay for his vet bills as needed. He will live with us again some day.

-Baby Girl, our cat, has found permanent residence in a home with other cats. I have no doubt she will be thoroughly spoiled (and I’d have it not other way). Her new name is Princess Anabelle.

12. What do your families think of you moving out of the country?

-As might be expected, our families feel a little conflicted. They are happy for us and excited that we are  answering this call for adventure. I think it’s also safe to say that they are very proud of us and rather relieved that we will have each other to rely on while taking on this challenge. In tandem with these positive feelings though, are feelings of sadness that we will be so far away, sadness that they won’t be able to talk to us anytime they want or see us several times a year as they can now (we plan to get a skype account). Above all, they love Gary and me dearly and support our decisions.

13. Are you worried about war?

-Of course. Everyone is worried about war. That our proximity to North Korea will be greatly reduced is obviously a point of concern; no one wants to live in a war zone. But living in fear that some un-name-able tragedy might occur has never been my style and I’m not about to begin now. I live my life regardless of world politics and threats of nuclear testing or war. Besides, those North Korean missils are aimed at American soil. (As reassurance to my readers, we will be registered with the American embassy in Seoul in case evacuation of expatriates is required. I have also subscribed to the US State Departments e-newsletter alerts. Finally, I have no intention of wandering into North Korean territory in a journalistic endeavor to cover some sensitive political issue.)

I will post more FAQs and their answers as I collect them.