Archive for the 'Teaching' Category

Last day of Korean elementary school

Wow…it’s my last day being a Native English Teacher at Jincheon Elementary School.  I’ve been cleaning out my desk, recycling files, and writing a welcome note for the next Native Teacher who starts in a couple of days. 

It’s really surreal.  As the old adage goes, “time flies.”  And I think when you are living in a foreign country (and enjoying the experience), I think times flies even faster! 

My teachers are so cool.  I come to school this morning and they are waiting with a cake (an unexpectedly delicious sweet potato cake), matching couple’s t-shirts for Micah and me, and some awesome Belgium chocolates (from the P.E. teacher who just went to Europe for his summer vacation).  I am really going to miss them.

Although we come to Korea to help teach English to students…really, I feel I’ve been most beneficial to the Koreans who are more my age.  I can tell a dramatic difference in the English fluency and confidence of the teachers I sit with every day.  And I hope they can feel that for themselves as well. 

Micah and I have been ridiculously busy the past few days.  Packing, moving, dealing with administrative issues (to put it nicely), goodbye dinners, and even an overnight trip to Seoul to be instructors at an orientation session for new EPIK teachers.

We’ve been running around like crazy (hence lack of blog updates), and still will be running around like crazy for one more day…but then…we say goodbye. 

I can’t say it enough that this experience has been one of the best ever.   Annyeong!!

It took 6 months, but I finally got her to talk

I accomplished a HUGE goal the other week.  A goal – that I didn’t think I’d actually achieve – especially as the days ticked away towards the end of the school semester.  But finally…success!!

Let me explain:

I have a sixth grade girl who doesn’t talk.  She’s painfully shy.  I have never heard her even speak in Korean (and any of the teachers I talked with have never heard her voice either).  That is some serious shyness.  Oh…and yes, she is able to talk – she’s not mute or anything.

But, the teachers don’t ever force her to talk because, well, she does her work (non-verbal work that is) and she is never a discipline problem.  Her fellow students are also *surprisingly* quite understanding of her shyness.  They don’t tease her, or yell at her – they seem to just accept that she is one shy girl.  But believe me, these same students have no qualms yelling at the “dumb” kid or the fat kid – so whatever halos you were picturing in your mental image of my students – remove them immediately. 🙂

Even my lowest, lowest, lowest students can utter some verbal this or that at me.  They can at least spit some Korean my way.  But this girl…nothing.  If I even say “hi” to her, she immediately puts her head down. 

And this made me sad.  She’s the cutest little thing and I just couldn’t accept the fact that she was so shy that she couldn’t even say “hello.”  Actually, I believed that she wanted to say something, but she was too afraid.  So began my six month mission – starting in February: By the time I leave Korea, she will say something in English to me.

I knew it would take a long time.  And it was going to be baby steps…actually, baby-ier than baby steps. 

My approach was quite simple:

  • Every time I saw her, I would say “hello” and called out her name (this sometimes meant going up to her in the cafeteria during lunch just to say ‘hi’).  And I always said “bye” to her after every class.
  • Every now and then, I’d give her a piece of candy or a pencil – just because.
  • Smile…a lot. 

I wanted her to know that I was friendly and I never forced her to talk to me. 

A huge help came from a fellow classmate who speaks really good English.  This classmate noticed my effort and started to encourage the girl to try and talk to me…or at least wave back at me. 

Months and months and months…and very little progress.  Sometimes, she’d wave back to me…but only sometimes.

There were only two days left before the students were going on summer vacation.  I thought my mission was a big ol’ FAIL!  But, the girl and her classmate learned I was going home to America.  And *ding* – I think this was the motivation she needed. 

She had her classmate write me a letter in English saying how much she was going to miss me.  And that she was sorry she was so shy.  They delivered the letter to my office.  She still didn’t say anything to me, but I knew that she wanted to. 

The next day, I wrote her back a letter (a very simple letter) and included some chocolates with it to share with her classmate.  The look on her face when she saw it was unforgettable.  It was a cool moment. 

And later that day, she tracked me down – and after about five minutes of just waiting and looking at each other (actually she was looking at the ground) – she finally said “thank you.”  It wasn’t much more than a whisper, but I definitely heard it.  No other teacher in the school can say they’ve heard her speak an English word.

There we are.  The shy girl (in the blue/green shirt) and the very caring classmate.  She even said “bye” to me after we took this picture.

Is she now suddenly going to study English a lot and break free from her shell?  Doubtful.  But, my hope is that she gained just a teensy bit more confidence, and that she felt like someone really cared about her. 

I’ll only have two more chances to see these girls before we head home.  So…I’m curious to see if she will talk to me. 

Schools out for summer…camp

Ah, the last day of school!  The teachers get a half day and we will all celebrate with a big lunch of BBQ duck. 

And the students – as exciting as summer vacation sounds (I certainly can remember how excited I was when I was in elementary school), well…most of them will just go to more school. 

All of the Native English teachers here will spend the next couple of weeks teaching Summer English Camps in different schools around the city.  It’s just more English lessons – but hopefully a little more fun for the students than usual school. 

And if its not English camp, then a lot of students will just continue to attend their 4, 5, or 6 day a week academies.  So yes, students get a break from public school…but not school in general. 

Micah and I are fortunate and got placed at the same schools for our camp:  3 days at Micah’s middle school.  And 5 days at the nearby elementary school. 

44 things I’ll miss about living in Korea

I’ve been trying to avoid doing the “countdown to America” thing – there’s just so much left to do that I’m not looking for the days to pass by even quicker than they already are.

But, given that there is so much going on – I figured I’d at least see how many days we have left to stuff everything in. 

As of today, July 9th, we have 44 days!  That’s it folks.  44! 

So, I thought it would be fun to compile a list of the 44 things I’ll miss about living in Korea.  Believe me, there’s a bunch of people/things we are looking forward to when we get back home, but life here is pretty darn easy and definitely a lot of fun. 

In no particular order:

  1. No tipping!  It’s not required, nor expected – and sometimes even considered a little rude.
  2. The subway.  Fast, cheap, and easy to maneuver (especially in Daegu).
  3. Cheap taxis.  Yes, they drive like madmen – but they are cheap and get you where you need to go fast.
  4. Eating out with friends for $5-$10 a person (including beer/soju).
  5. Side dishes.  Every bar or restaurant offers little side dishes of tasty snacks (and unlimited refills).
  6. The “we need you” table bell.  If you need more water, beer, food, etc. – just press the button and “ding” – someone will be over to help you ASAP.
  7. Drinking beers for CHEAP!  Mind you, I didn’t say I’ll miss drinking cheap-tasting beers.  But I will miss being able to drink all night with friends and only paying about $8/person at the end of the night.
  8. Ice cream.  Korea has such a HUGE variety of individual ice cream treats.  Oh so yummy and so cheap (about $.50/each).
  9. Korean food.  Granted, some stuff I don’t like – but the majority of it…I love!  BBQ, jimdakk, deokbokki, soups, noodles, and the list goes on and on.
  10. Dunkin Donuts.  In the U.S. it’s only on the East coast – but in Korea – they are everywhere.  Specifically, I’m really gonna miss this donut.
  11. Fruit and veggie stands.  Cheap and easy way to eat your fruits and veggies.
  12. Concord grapes.  Big and juicy.  Once you learn how to eat them, it’s fun to suck in the grape (you don’t eat the peel).
  13. Cheap cell phone.  I pay about $15 a month.
  14. Cheap cable and internet.  The cable TV is $5/month.  Don’t know how much the internet is, but it’s cheap too.
  15. Not carrying around keys.  Our door has a code-activated locking system.  And we don’t have a car.
  16. Walking.  Yeah, walking sucks big time when it’s super freezing out or super hot and humid, but it’s good exercise and way less stressful than owning a car and driving.
  17. Korean pop music.  Yes, cheesy and super manufactured.  But oh-so infectious!
  18. Going to the movies for $6….not $16.
  19. NOREBANG! (Aka karaoke).  Private rooms, snacks and drinks, and cheap.
  20. Service.  In Korea, this means getting something for free.  It happens fairly often, but you never know when.  Sometimes it’s a free bottle of soda, or a free extra serving of meat, or a package of ramen noodles.  It’s great!
  21. Going to the doctor.  Okay, I don’t mean I enjoy going to the doctor…but if you do need to go – no need to make an appointment – just show up.  Most times, you won’t know what the doctor is saying/doing/prescribing (unless you speak Korean), but it’s better than nothing.  And…it’s cheap.  $2-$3 to see the doctor?  Ok!
  22. Prescription drugs.  Korea usually has the same American drugs (or something very similar) and it’s WAY cheaper.  Flonase in America…with insurance cost me $20 a bottle.  In Korea, the exact same Flonase is about $4-$5.
  23. Our water filter dispenser.  Most Korean homes probably don’t have this, but we have been renting one and it’s awesome.  Filtered, hot (really hot) water at your fingertips…as well as really cold water too.  We drink TONS more water purely because of our water dispenser.
  24. Fast food drinks to go.  If you order a soda from McDonalds, Burger King, Lotteria, etc. – they will tape the lid on and put the drink in it’s own handy carrying bag.  No spilled drink worries.
  25. Air conditioning in our apartment.  Not that we need it when we get back to Seattle, but just nice to have for those really hot days.  Very very unlikely we’ll ever get it though.
  26. Shirts with bad or confusing English.  My friend really did see a Korean woman rocking a shirt that said, “I’m so fucking disco.”
  27. Cheap ATMs.  It doesn’t matter if you can’t find your bank’s ATM.  The surcharge to use another bank’s ATM is usually about $.50-$1.00.  And it’s SUPER easy to use the ATM to transfer money from your account at Bank A to someone else’s account at Bank B.  I’ve never had a need for a check.
  28. Korean co-teachers!  We’ve made some great friends with some of the teachers at our schools.  We’ve helped them with their English, taught them a few drinking games, and they’ve helped us survive our year abroad.
  29. Non-Korean friends!  We’ve also made some really great friends with other Native English Teachers.  Some are staying in Korea another year, and some are going back home.  But we’ll definitely be staying in touch!  Some even live in Seattle!
  30. Students.  Not all students.  But I definitely have a handful of students that I really really enjoy teaching and seeing everyday.  They are funny, cute, and excited about life…and learning English.
  31. Easy commute to work.  Leave apartment at 8:10am, get to school by 8:30am.  Work. Play. Fuss around. Leave school at 4:30pm, get home by 5pm.  It leaves us with plenty of time to have a life (workout, cook dinner, meet up with friends, watch movies, read a book, play video games, etc.)
  32. High speed train.  In Korea, it’s called the KTX and it’s the fastest way to travel the country.  From Daegu to Seoul it takes about 90 minutes. 
  33. Visiting other countries.  Living and working in Korea has allowed us (time-wise and money wise) to travel to many countries (Japan, Thailand, and Australia.  And soon: Hong Kong, Phillippines, and Singapore).  Already being in this part of the world makes it faster and cheaper to visit SE Asia especially.
  34. Cell phone charms.  Cute and ridiculous.
  35. Pot bing su (팥빙수).  Korea’s version of shaved ice…but with way more toppings.  Quite possibly one of the most refreshing things to eat on a hot day or after a spicy meal.
  36. The $30 facial.  Must find time to squeeze in another one (or two) before we leave!
  37. School lunch.  Cheap, tasty, and easy (no need to pack your lunch the night before).
  38. Makgeolli.  It’s a type of Korean rice wine.  I love it best when mixed with fruit juice – strawberry, kiwi, or honey flavored-makgeolli are my faves!
  39. Kimchi.  Yes, this is included in #9, but I’m going to really really miss true, authentic kimchi.  So, it gets its own number.
  40. Korean grocery stores.  The big ones have food samples galore.  Costco has got nothing on the big chain stores here.
  41. Korean socks.  Cheap, cute, silly, and sometimes just plain odd.  But for less than $.50 a pair – how can you pass it up!?
  42. Hof Hama.  It’s a bar near where our friends Gabe and Charissa live.  It’s probably the place we hang out the most with our friends.  Unlimited popcorn snacks and huge mini-kegs of beer.  Always a good time.
  43. Seeing little Korean toddlers bowing.  Seriously, Koreans probably bow 50 times a day.  They are always bowing and you just get used to it.  But when you see a little toddler with his/her mom or dad and they bow – it’s one of the cutest things ever!
  44. Love motels!  It’s one of the cheapest forms of lodging.  Pay by the hour if you like.  Granted, we’ve only stayed in them for actual overnight trips – but they have always been clean.  Some places even will offer you a “goodie” bag upon arrival – filled with a few items to help you get your lovin’ on.

So there you go.  There’s more I could add, but 44 was the magic number I was shooting for.  🙂

School cafeteria lunch

Some people have been wondering what school lunch is like in Korea.  So, I’ve taken some pictures to share with you.

Please note, generally speaking – all schools serve the same sort of lunch: 3 Korean sides, 1 rice, 1 soup.  However, how each thing tastes – well, that can vary quite a bit between schools.  Fortunately, I think the head cook at our school is pretty good, so most of the time our lunches are decent.  (FYI: The head cook, just like teachers, also move to new schools every four years.  Which is a good thing if your cook sucks, and a bad thing if your cook is awesome).


My school’s cafeteria.  So calm and peaceful it looks now, but believe me – during lunchtime, it’s chaos.  Loud, smelly, dirty chaos.



Lunch #1.  Starting on upper left and going clockwise: lettuce with a sesame oil dressing (YUM), some sort of meat – probably pork, kimchi (of course), some type of tofu soup, and rice (of course).


As you can tell, I’m doing a great job of learning all the names of Korean foods. 🙂


Lunch #2.  A different style kimchi (less spicy.  Oops…took the pic a little late), orange slices, fish skin (I think), and curry and rice.  Koreans love curry – Japanese style curry that is.


Lunch #3. Picked radish kimchi, a spicy cabbage slaw, quail eggs (which I love), a seafood soup, and rice. 


When you are done eating, you pile all your uneaten food scraps into one part of the tray and then take it over to the food bin…and unload.  Ewwww.


I took a pic of the bin after it’s been cleaned.  It’s usually really gross when it’s in use.


Next, if you are thirsty – you don’t drink water DURING lunch, but wait until after.


Get your sterilized metal cup from the sterilizing cabinet.  These cups are about 4 inches high – roughly 3 large gulps of water.


Here’s where you fill up.  Usually the water is a lukewarm temperature.  Kind of odd.  There’s usually a large traffic jam at this part of the cafeteria. 


So, there you go.  What do you think of Korean school lunches?  Some of my English teacher friends can’t stomach the school lunches – so they opt to bring in a sack lunch everyday (which ALL Koreans find very strange.  “A sandwich for lunch?”  [insert very curious and concerned looks from Korean teachers]). 

Also, I do pay for my lunches.  Each month about $35 (US) gets deducted from my paychecks.  Pretty cheap…about $1.75/school day.


A “Holy crap it’s mid-May” update

Seriously, the closer we get to the end of our year here in Korea – the faster the days go by.  And as excited as we are to see our friends and family, and return to an English-speaking country…the days are going too fast!  I can’t say I’m all that ready to head back just yet.  It’s finally sunny and warm hot!  And there’s so much left to do and see.

The past couple of weeks haven’t been all that eventful.  We’ve been going on some day trips with friends on the weekends and planning for things coming up. 

1. May 20th – 23rd: Buddha’s Birthday.  All of us teachers get Friday off from school!!  And even better, Micah and I get Monday off too.  We are headed to a beach town called Yeosu with our friends Gabe & Charissa and Courtney & Sydney.  A posting on that to come.

2.  May 30th – June 6th: Micah’s mom is coming to visit us!  She’ll be flying into Seoul and making her way down solo to the bus station in Daegu.  We are still figuring out what places to take her to.  Fortunately, we have that Wednesday off from school (Election Day in Korea). 

3. August: We are still deciding what to do for our summer vacation plans.  Including the weekends, we can take a 12 day vacation.  My ideal itinerary: Hong Kong (2 days), Northern Vietnam (7 days), Singapore (3 days).  Micah is…sorta on board.  He’d rather nix Vietnam and do Bali instead. 

4. February 19, 2011: Our wedding!  We are slowly checking off things on the master wedding to-do list.  Planning our wedding is actually…not that fun (gasp!).  I know…shocking right?  As much as I love helping others with their weddings, I just don’t get that same sense of satisfaction with our own. 

So, other than planning – just same ol, same ol really.  Some days you even forget that you are living in a foreign country.  🙂

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).


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.


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. 


5th graders (above)


1st graders – I think


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. 






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. 


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. 


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!!!!!!!!


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. 

Where in the world…

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