Sports Day aka The Most Important (not academically-related) Day of the Korean School Year

Earlier this week my school (as well as hundreds thousands of other public schools around Korea) celebrated their Sports Day.  It’s a big HUGE deal.  My teachers really did tell me that Sports Day is the “most important day of the year.”  Personally – I think they meant to say it more like how my blog post title is written above.  :-)  We see students walking home from school at 11pm – we know how it is.

All Korean public schools have Sports Day – unless of course there’s a swine flu “epidemic” going on at the time and your school cancels it (e.g. me and my school last October).  But for some reason, the once-a-year Sports Day went from a Fall activity in 2009, to a Spring activity for 2010.  Yay!

What is Sports Day?

Hmm…I can best equate it to what many schools in America called Field Day.  Where students compete in random activities that take place outside.  Think tug-of-war, relay racing, sack race, jump rope competition, etc. 

In Korea – Sports Day is like Field Day…on crack.

Here’s a brief rundown of my school’s Sports Day – which is basically identical to any other Korean elementary school’s day:

One thing to keep in mind: It was hot this day – like 84 degrees (F).  We were outside for the majority of the day (9am-3pm).  And Koreans (especially women) don’t like to expose their skin – any skin – to the sun.  So nearly every female teacher wore a full track suit (pants and jacket), huge sun visor, gloves, and bandana to cover the bottom part of their face.  They HAD to be dying of heat – but to see them in shorts and t-shirt would actually be more shocking.

Before school starts:

Parents of the students are setting up camp on school ground.  Food vendors too.  Sports Day is not just about students – it’s there for the parents (who are included in some of the day’s activities), and to impress other schools (principals of the area schools visit each other on Sports Day).

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Pizza, chicken, candy, ice cream – waiting for you.

The warm-up:

All students (1st to 6th grade) plus all the homeroom teachers and P.E. teachers line up on the dirt field and do a choreographed warm-up/stretching routine.  The students have been practicing this warm-up for at least a couple weeks.  They even cancel regular classes (like English) in the week leading up to this day – to practice.

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Hana, dul, set, net, tasot (1, 2, 3, 4, 5…)

  

The dances:

Each grade performed a dance out in the middle of the field.  This too was choreographed and the difficulty level (and embarrassment level) seemed to increase with each grade. 

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5th graders (above)

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1st graders – I think

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3rd graders – hula hooping AND doing the Macarena at the same time.  Mad skills.  Side note: Koreans are unbelievably good at hula hoop.

The Games:

Each grade is divided into two teams – blue vs white.  And each grade competes in some type of non-race related competition.  Whoever wins gets X points. 

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Part of my duties: keep score.  Not easy to do when you aren’t really sure what they are doing, when the game is over, and who the winner is. :-)

The Races:

The students seemed to have the most fun with the races.  Again, each grade had their own races.  But there were also mixed-grade relay races.  Some of the races were as simple as a 100 yard dash.  And some required running to a certain part of the track, doing some obstacle, and then finishing. 

races

One of the obstacles for the 6th grade girls was to find a particular person in the crowd and run to the finish line with him/her. 

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Eun Jin had to find “Lisa Teacher” to run with

And just like any activity involving kids and competition – there were LOTS of tears.  Of course, most of them flowing after someone finished last – or didn’t finish at all. :-)

The Parents:

Throughout the day there were several activities for the parents.  (Many parents help in the planning).  Some were just for moms, some for dads – or in this case – parents plus teachers.  TUG!!!!!!!!

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I also realized that when it comes to “athletics” – parents in Korea can be just as intense as parents in the States.  Part of my job during the race events was to yell out who finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd (I know that much in Korean at least) for each heat.  Those students got a stamp on the hand indicating their place.  That’s it – no team points were based off your place – just personal satisfaction and bragging rights. 

Parents were constantly coming up to me with their little one’s hand sticking out – arguing that their son/daughter should have a stamp.  I’m confident I got the stamping order correct (at least 99% correct), but the moms were adamant I was wrong.  No use fighting it (as if they’d even understand me) – Ok…your son finished last? 1st place stamp for him! :-)

The Cool Down:

Just as the day’s festivities started, it ended the same way.  Cue choreographed cool down and stretching.  But by this time, the students were super hot and super tired – and most parents weren’t paying attention anymore.  It lacked the luster of the warm-up.

Concluding this long post:

It was a really fun day for the students and for me too.  It was great to see my students outside of the classroom and just having fun.  Many of my students tried to converse with me and would introduce me to their parents (which usually resulted in very confused-looking parents). 

An added bonus – I had the next two days off from school!

Micah’s school has its Sports Day next week. 

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