Thursday, March 27, 2014

Badger Blogging Blitz: Day 4

[This post is Day 4 of a weeklong blogging event, Badger Blogging Blitz 2014, during which myself and five other UW-Madison graduates are posting every day about living and teaching English in Korea. The original event was created by past Badgers in Korea in 2012. Here are this week's previous posts: Day 1. Day 2, Day 3]

7:25 - Alarm goes off. Snooze.

7:46 - Get up and go to the bathroom. Grab a banana on my way back to bed.

8:07 - Hop out of bed. This is really pushing it for me, because I always used to try to leave at 8:10. This is the first day in Korea since fall that I don't put on leggings under my pants (jeans today)!

8:15 - Leave, walk to school. See that they're setting up for the market today.


8:35 - My co-teacher YH comes in from next door and asks me how to play Go Fish. I tell him the rules again, and he says the problem is some students might have lost their flashcards so we should make copies of extra cards (he brought this up yesterday, but yesterday he thought there'd be enough).  His cards are ripped out of the back of the book (and not with him). I've already ripped out my cards too, but I put them in the pocket that's in the back of our new 3rd and 4th grade textbooks, (which I love, by the way -- that they added a pocket for kids to keep all the flashcards). So he takes them with him to go make some copies.

8:38 - He comes back with the copies. I take them and cut the stack with a ruler and utility (x-acto) knife, which is how they cut big stacks of paper here. Most kids have utility knives in their pencil cases too, which surprised me at first, but it's normal and the kids can handle them.

9:00 - We start the day's lesson. We're reading and writing about sports: basketball, baseball, tennis, soccer, and badminton. When it's time to play Go Fish he has everyone get out their cards, and chaos ensues. He passes out the extra cards we made to all the kids who have lost theirs since Tuesday and has students push their desks into groups of four. Nobody's listening to us explain when we demonstrate because they're all playing with their cards -- the game they learned on Tuesday. If I were doing all of the leading, as I do with my other co-teacher, I would have had them watch us play before they got out their cards. So we end up going around group by group to explain. Many are simply playing the game from Tuesday, but after I sit with each group for a few minutes and show how to play, they catch on.

9:43 - During the break time I say to YH that maybe we could try demonstrating the game before they get their cards out, that perhaps they'd listen better. Yes, okay, he seems to be in agreement.

10:15 - It's time to learn Go Fish, and YH tells the class "OK, get out your cards!" before we've explained anything. That's not what I'd had in mind, so I groan inside but just I roll with it. There's lots of background talking during the explanation, but at least he hasn't had them move desks into groups of four yet.

10:26 - YH tells the kids to stop playing, but it's super loud and nobody listens. He's saying a bunch of stuff in Korean at them, but I'm not sure if any are listening. Many are still playing. Eventually they get desks back in place and put their flashcards in the book's pocket (I hope), and then they're off. My other co-teacher is always on top of discipline; the class must be quiet and listen to me. But with my new co-teacher it's usually louder than I'd like, with background chatter and wandering eyes (and hands) even while he's talking.

11:02 - The third period is now learning how to play Go Fish. YH and I are demonstrating at the front. We've just demonstrated what happens if the partner does have the card I ask for ("Let's play basketball!"). He gives me his basketball card and says "Sure". I show my pair to the class and set it down on the desk.  The kids are nodding their heads and go "Ahh" in the tone like "Ah, now I get it". And then many turn to each other and start trying to play. But we haven't finished explaining yet! A student at a group in front asks YH a question in Korean about the rules, and YH starts listening, talking to just that one kid while the rest of the class has stopped listening and started to play. No! Attention back on us! They don't know how to play yet! But YH is helping that one student over at his desk. Finally he comes back and says "Ok, look at us." and then some stuff in Korean.  But there's so much talking and card-holding. So I step in and say "Hands on your head. Hands on your head." This gets more students to put their cards down and look at us. YH tells them to put their hands down, and now we demonstrate what happens if the person you ask does not have the card: "Sorry, I can't." and you take a card from the middle. Phew.

11:16 - (With my other co-teacher, she always plays that lesson's Chant when it's time to stop playing a game or doing an activity. It grabs their attention and the kids start chanting along as they get back to their seats.)  So near the end of the third period now, YH tells them (I assume because it was in Korean) to put their flashcards away and stop playing, but there's still tons of talking and playing. So I go up to the computer and play the Chant without consulting YH, then help kids move desks back to where they should be. The kids get the idea.

11:30 - We start the fourth and final 4th grade class of the day. Same as the previous three periods.

12:08 - YH is busy helping a group, but I know we should be cleaning up (period ends at 12:10), so I decide it's clean up time and just go ahead and play the Chant. It works and students put desks back into place, stop playing, and start chanting.

12:11 - Head to the lunch room. Here's what's on the menu today:

Kimchi, pasta with mushrooms, fried/seasoned tofu, rice with some grain, yummy soup, strawberry yogurt 

Two teachers sit down at our table over five minutes after we got started eating, which I'm glad for because it'll take them longer to finish, so I've got some more time now.  Partway through this little first grade boy came and sat next to the kind librarian teacher at our table. So cute.


12:35 - The first grade boy in red (pictured in the background above) comes over and asks me something in Korean, with the name "Holly" in there. Holly is a first grader, the only "white kid" in school, as her mother put it when I met her last fall. It sounded like he was asking "how much" in Korean, with Holly's name, but then I figured out he was asking if I was Holly's mom.  No, I told him - in both English and Korean just to be clear. I wasn't surprised though, because my past co-teacher (EG) last fall told me some kids had asked the previous Native English Teacher, Jessica, the same thing - if she was Holly's mom. We're the only two westerners they see, so young minds draw connections.

12:44 - We all leave the table together and take dirty dishes over. I was last in line, so I linger a bit and snap some pics of the set-up - just for you, dear reader!


Then I go and say hello to Holly. I barely ever see her, but I'd like to befriend her if I can. Someone she can speak to in English! (I have no idea how much Korean she speaks -- I'll have to ask her that next time). Now that she's in first grade maybe I'll see her more at lunch.

12:47 - Get back to my office from lunch. Way later than normal, I love it.

13:01 - I remember that I'd wanted to send a funny youtube video to my past co-teacher EG and YJ that I saw last night. Frozen was a huge, huge it in Korea too, so many students know some of the songs. We even taught some in English class back in February.  Here's the video: A young girl is crying while having a splinter taken out of her knee by her mother, so she sings through the pain!


13:02 - Just as I'm about to press send, YH comes in the office and says let's have tea time (next door). So I quick press send, grab my mug, and go next door. I mention to YJ (We're in her office for tea time) that I just sent her a funny video if she wants a laugh. So she gets the speakers set up so we can hear sound, and the three of us watch it in the office. I don't think they found it as funny as I did, but it still got some smiles. (EG seemed to have enjoyed it, in her message response).

13:12 - YJ leaves momentarily to brush her teeth (Koreans brush their teeth three times a day, so all the kids/teachers have a toothbrush and toothpaste that stay at school for brushing after lunch. I have not partaken in these brushing activities.) Meanwhile YH looks at the related videos and clicks on one where a woman shows how to style your daughter's hair like Elsa from Frozen.

13:15 - YJ walks back in and it was funny because YH and I are just watching this lady do a girl's hair, and YJ says "What are you doing?" and laughs, but then she sits down and now all three of us are watching.

13:16 - A 3rd grade teacher comes in to sit and chat, and it was even funnier seeing his reaction to the three of us watching this video in silence. He asked in Korean if any of them could understand it, or just me - because the lady was talking at regular native speed and using hair terminology and stuff.

13:35 - Back in the office after an abrupt ending to tea time. The teachers started telling me that there was a visiting teacher there today from a nearby college or something, and then the first grade teacher said wait, are they here already? And the three of them got up and looked out the door, and his third graders were back so he had to leave. YH left, and so I grabbed my mug and left YJ's office.

14:10 - My 2nd grade class starts in 20 minutes, but I go to the English room now because I still have to clean up from our morning's 4th grade classes and get set up for this afternoon class.

14:30 - They're on time today! And there are boys and girls. The boys are crazy wild again today. They're just a bad combination - too many "trouble makers" together in the same class.  We do our hello routine, do a counting video from 1 - 15 (11-15 are new to them), and then review our Shapes song before a coloring activity. They each get a piece of paper and fold it into four sections. I choose a student to give me a shape (triangle, for example). I draw a triangle on the board. Then I solicit a color (blue, for example), and put a blue flashcard below it on the board with a magnet. Lastly, a student gets to roll this stuffed die that we have (four, for example). Then they need to draw four blue triangles. I played the Shapes Song while they drew, and when the song ended we'd choose the color/shape/number for the next one. They actually responded quite well to this activity, I wasn't sure if it would interest them or not.  Well, four or five of the boys were just goofing off the whole time, but the rest of the kids were doing it. One of the hardest parts with this class is choosing one kid when eight hands are enthusiastically raised "Me! Me! Pleeease! TEACHER! TEACHER!".  How do I decide which student to call on? And if you don't call on them they can be so bummed out and upset. My other problem is that if you call on a student once, they'll still anxiously raise it the next time, as if you haven't called on them once yet. So with this many kids it's easy to forget who you've already called on. But anyway.

15:12 - The students leave, and my room is trashed per usual. The boys for whatever reason like to rip up whatever paper they have their hands on and leave it all over. Markers are on the ground without caps. I discover that one boy colored all over his desk! So I start cleaning up. I put some Regina Spektor on the TV so I have some background music.

Here's a before, during, and after:



15:36 - Finally finish sweeping and re-organizing all the packs of crayons and markers (making sure each pack has one of each color) and go back to my office.

15:45 - YH and I start talking about tomorrow's fifth grade lesson. He's found a document online (Korean teachers have a site where they share teaching materials) with tomorrow's "Listen and Say" script on slips of paper that the students have to put in order. Then he says he'll look for a different game for the final activity, because he doesn't like the book's activity.  I suggest a game, but I can tell he's not sold based on his initial reaction, so I say "Or maybe there's a better one on the site", and he says "Yes, I'll keep looking".

He finds a Baskin Robbins game, which is a reading game. Tomorrow's period is not reading-focused (It's only the second period. Reading/writing always come in the 3rd/4th/5th periods of a lesson. The first two are to introduce new words/phrases and get kids comfortable hearing and saying them.) The game goes like this: There are some sentences on a PPT slide. On each student's turn, they can choose to say either one, two, or three words. Keep going around and whoever says the last word (the 31st word) is out. In this version he found, it says the student can do a dance in order to stay in the game, so I'm hoping it's entertaining.

16:04 - YH prints six copies of the slips of paper for the ordering activity on the color printer, which comes out to 12 pieces of paper.  I start cutting them all with the utility knife, but can only do two at a time.

16:29 - Finish the pages he'd handed me, which comes out to four sets of slips. He has the pages for the two remaining sets but says he'll cut them tomorrow morning. Clean up, pack up, shut down.

16:34 - We leave the office. I head to the grocery store for more bananas, but seeing the bank (right next door to supermarket) reminds me that I have a bill to pay, so I stop there first. I was going to just pay it at the ATM, but I see that the bank is still open inside. I thought it always closed at 16:30, so I go inside and grab a number. We have bank books here, just like what I had in Spain, and I was on my last page and needed a new one. (You put your bank book into any ATM and it prints out all of your transactions into it since the last time you printed transactions. So handy! You can also use your bank book like a debit card in the ATM machines, and transfer/withdraw money.) I really love these bank books, don't know why the U.S. doesn't have them (nor why we still use checks!), but I digress.

16:46 - I have a new bank book in my hands! I'm so happy at how painless it was! The lady understood what I was asking for based on my motions, and all I had to do was show my ARC (Alien Residency Card) and then sign the new book!  Then I pay my utilities bill by doing a transfer on the ATM, which is also really easy. The ATM has an English menu, and the account number to type in is located on my bill. And boom - instantaneously the money is where it needs to be! (Cough no checks in the mail, needing to be deposited cough).

16:50 - I get some bananas from the grocery store, as I'm down to one from my last bunch.

17:05 - I pass the market, then sit at the park, eat a banana, and read for a while. A nice day again, but I'm not in that enthused running mood like I was yesterday.

Outdoor market in town

View of park, from the bench I'm sitting on

17:45 - It's getting a bit chillier as the sun gets lower. I get up and walk home.  Do some blogging.  Usually on Thursdays (about every other week, I'd say) I get dinner with Woo Seok at 7pm, my only Korean friend outside of school. He doesn't live in my town, but he works (owns) a business here, about a 10 minute walk from my apartment. Last week he had to cancel, but said this week would work. I forgot it was Thursday and didn't get any Kakao messages from him yet today. I don't ask though, because I'm feeling tired and know I've got to do my daily things (stretch, Give it 100 video, Duolingo, read blogs) and write this post, which will take me a while. So if we don't meet today I'll get to bed earlier.

19:10 - I'm blogging away and realize it's past 7. Guess we're not getting dinner this week. That's okay with me!

19:51 - My throat feels just the slightest bit sore, so I take a Zicam that my aunt sent me just to make sure I don't get a cold. Time for some tea with honey to sooth the throat.

20:52 - I cook the same dinner I had last night.

21:17 - Ah, I haven't answered today's first question yet, not sure what to write...

21:45 - Call my friend on his way to work again.

22:05 - Finish call. And now I'll finish this post!

Day 4 Questions:

1) How has this experience changed you?

I definitely have changed, thought it's hard to articulate exactly how. In some ways, I've continued to become more myself, since my prior values have been strengthened by coming here (education, teaching, helping others, travel, cultural understanding, snail mail). I love seeing children smile, I'm overjoyed after a successful learning activity, I'm thrilled to see progress and to be able to help students learn. I love learning about a new group of people and their way of life by living in their society. Living here in Korea has reinforced that there is so much to learn and experience in this incredible world, both with people and nature, and that I want to continue exploring and uncovering hidden treasures as much as I can.

A few concrete changes:

This experience has made me much more aware of Eastern cultures, which I've really enjoyed. Lacking exposure to Eastern people, my mind grouped them into one big category prior to this year: Asians. I now have more of a context if I were to meet a Korean or Thai back home, for example. My perspective has once again been widened, as it did when I lived in Spain, and I want to experience the culture of other Asian countries now.

This job has let me finally live alone for the first time, which I now know that I really like.

I'm a better ESL elementary teacher than when I started (you'd hope so!). My co-teachers last fall were great role models, and I learned a ton just by observing them when we taught class together and talking with EG about lesson plans and activities. This was my first time teaching at the elementary level, so the experience will definitely come into play with any future teaching opportunities or schooling.

And the challenges and hard times have only made me stronger, and made the triumphs that much more victorious.

2) What has been the most difficult aspect of Korean life to get used to?

Ah, how to choose which one.  Probably the language barrier, though the social hierarchy is a close second.  I've lived abroad before and like to think I'm quite flexible, so adjusting to daily life in Korea wasn't too strenuous.  No dryer? I've lived without one for the past three years, no problem.  "Small" kitchen?  Spanish kitchens are also very small, it's okay.  Wearing clothes that cover my shoulders?  I can do that, no problem. Bowing all the time as a greeting?  It quickly became a habit.  But not speaking the language?  That was totally new to me, and it is isolating and harder to understand the reasons behind the culture if you don't know what people are saying.

I did go to Korean classes last fall for a few months and learned the Korean alphabet (so I can read), some very basic words/phrases, and numbers. I also bought some textbooks for self study, started having Korean/English exchange with Woo Seok once a week, and used websites and apps to study from too. In the winter I realized as I neared my halfway point (and made my new year's resolutions), that the time/energy I put into studying Korean further wouldn't give me an equal value in return. What would be the purpose of studying all these random vocab words if I was never going to use them? For daily interactions at the post office, grocery store, etc, simply knowing "hello", "thank you", and "goodbye" get me through without a problem. The other factor in my decision to put Korean on the back burner was that I had other things I wanted to spend my time studying. So I chose to let French, coding, and health studies take the place of Korean. I still practice on my phone apps or crack open the textbook every now and then, it's just not my main focus.

I've felt okay about the language barrier lately, but in January and February not speaking the language was especially frustrating for me. And the frustration/isolation wasn't always from not speaking Korean, but many times from having all of my English conversations be with non-native speakers. Small simple things are often misinterpreted and then require much explanation to point out the miscommunication and what you had originally intended to say.  It's harder for ESL speakers to pick up on meaning behind tone or certain wording. (For example: Once without thinking I said "Oh, that's okay" in the tone we'd use to decline an offer, but it was received as "Ok, good" - as if I had accepted the offer).  Having to deal with this during every single interaction is - for lack of better words I'll use them again - frustrating and isolating.  Many times it's easier to just say nothing at all. I've experienced seven months of this, so I'm finding it hard to describe all of that in a few sentences.

And on to my "close second" answer to this question, the social hierarchy.  Before I proceed to explain, I'd like to just point out that I am not an expert on Korean life/culture in any way.  This is just my perception based on experiences I've had, books I've read, and conversations I've had with Koreans (in English).

It really bothers me that people are so defined by their job. If you have a high ranking position at a good company, everyone bows really low to you and you are seen as "better" than others.  Thus, people in lower positions think they're not as good.  Students are pushed too hard to study as much as they can, because if they don't go to a good college they won't get a good job and marry well and have a good life. It'll be somewhat shameful for the family.  So where does that leave creative folks? People that want to make art, music (not k-pop), or write? People who aren't interested in becoming doctors, lawyers, and engineers?  Where's their place in society?

The other part of the social hierarchy I don't like is that it's as if the people at the top can do no wrong.  If the principal at our school, for example, gives an order that the teachers don't agree with, or that they think is the wrong way, the teachers will simply comply and keep their mouths shut.  They have to.  It would be disrespectful and completely against social norms to do otherwise.  But I strongly believe that there should be room for dialog between boss and employees, and that people should be able to call someone out or make suggestions/critiques.


BBB Bloggers 2014

Here are my fellow Badger bloggers' posts for today. I encourage you to take a look!

Abby @ Bodging For Apples II

Ashley @ ...meanwhile in Korea...

Maggie @ The Traveling Flamingo

Drew @ The Hungry Partier

Vicky @ Outside the Pyxis

• • •

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