Friday, May 23, 2014

If Korea Had Prom....

Given this is prom season back in America, when I was out of ideas for my second grade class this week, I decided why not do a prom theme.  There is no such thing as prom in Korea, so needless to say my students were amazed (and jealous) of the prom experience that American high school students have.

After I told my students about prom, they had to make a proposal for their own prom and present their ideas to class.  Afterwards, we voted for the best one.  This was highly entertaining for me because of the themes the students chose.  Here are some of my favorites:

--Harry Potter
--Vampire's Castle
--Traditional Korea
--Night Club
--Mermaid theme (girls have to dress as mermaids and boys have to dress as fish)

And last but not least:
(I should have known this would be on someone's list!)

Overall it was an interesting activity.  There are no school dances in Korea, so students are quite envious of this element of American high schools.  Who knows, maybe someday Korea will adopt the tradition of having prom as well....because who wouldn't love to go to a Frozen themed prom? ;)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Things to look forward to.

Things that I'm currently quite excited about:

--The fact that next week at this time two of my friends from home will be in KOREA!
--The trips I'll be taking with these friends while they're here.
--Going to the Taditional Darangee Village Framing Festival in June
--Going HOME in August!!!!!! Which means seeing my friends and family for the first time in a year. I CAN'T WAIT!

So many good things to look forward to in the near future.  I'm not sure how much I'l be posting the next few weeks while I have visitors here, but I'll try my best to keep things updated!


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Things that happened at school this week

Things that happened at school this week:

1) I amazed my students by reading Korean. 

When I read the Korean one of the markers (보드마카)  for the white board my students were completely astonished.  But see, the funny thing is I've been able to read Korea for pretty much the whole time I've been here.  Not to mention 보드마카 reads as "Bo-duh-ma-ka.  It's not exactly hard to figure out what something says when it's just English words written in Hangul.  However, I am glad that my students are occasionally easy to impress.

2)  I amazed my students by telling them that my mom, brother, and I have blue eyes, while my dad and sister have brown eyes.

I was wearing a royal blue shirt, which is just about the only color that makes my eyes look really blue and less grey.  Naturally most Korean students aren't that used to seeing people with blue eyes, so they are occasionally really interested in staring at me on days when my eyes look especially blue.  This time two girls stayed after class to tell me about how much they loved colored eyes.  When I told them that my dad has brown eyes and my mom has blue eyes, they were completely shocked.  Then came my mini-genetics lesson about how that works (thank you high school biology!) They were fascinated, which was pretty adorable, but my favorite part was when they asked if I had ever seen people with green eyes.  When I told them yes they couldn't believe it.  Green eyes?!  Amazing.

They then asked if I knew people with red or purple eyes, and the conversation then changed to a discussion about the natural color of eyes versus the use of contact lenses.

Who knew eyes could be so fascinating?

3) A student shared her bathroom detail.

During my night class there is a fifteen minute break for the students.  During that time one of the girls in my class began telling me about how she has been having bathroom difficulties lately.  This is when the vocabulary lesson about the word "constipation" began.  She then continued to tell me a very long and detailed story about her problems with this before.

The funny thing is, this isn't the first time this has happened this semester.  I remember at orientation they told us that Koreans are very open about discussing bathroom occurrences, but I hadn't experienced it until this semester.  I don't know if it's because my female students feel close to me or what, but I am learning a lot about my students in ways I NEVER would have imagined.

I'm going to add this to my list of things that would never happen in America.

4)  I had a class of 27 crying teenage girls.

As I already noted, Thursday was Teacher's Day.  It was a wonderful day...until my last class.  Usually my students come into class before the bell rings, but when it came time for my last period class the bell rang and I still had an empty classroom.  I was wondering where they were when they slowly a few students started to come in.  However, instead of bouncing through the door and yelling "hello!" like they usually do, they were all crying.

My co-teacher wasn't there, so I was left to ask them what was going on.  I couldn't fully understand what happened, but apparently they had prepared a big surprise for their homeroom teacher (my CT later told me that they had gotten a cake, printed pictures, and were standing in a heart shape when he walked in the room).  However, apparently he had been upset with their behavior in his class (or in another class...I'm not really sure), so as soon as he walked in the door he said he didn't want it, yelled at them, and then left.

Well, these fragile, emotional teenage girls were heartbroken.  I can't imagine this class ever behaving badly, so I have a had time believing that they really did anything THAT bad. I guess I can't really know the full story, but it really broke my heart to see them all so upset.

So, there I was, in a room with 27 crying teenage girls.  How are you supposed to teach a class like that?

Naturally, I tried to distract them.  I put on Pharrell's music video "Happy", which was somewhat successful.  They were still upset, but at least they had stopped crying by the time it was over.

It's amazing how much can happen in one week.  When my days start to feel redundant, sometimes I need to step back and recognize these kind of unique moments, especially since I only have a few more months to enjoy with this group of kids.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Teacher's Day

The month of May is full of holidays in Korea. Not only do they have Parents' Day, but they also have Children's Day and my personal favorite thus far...Teacher's Day!

I guess that typically we wouldn't have classes on Teacher's Day.  Usually there is a big volleyball tournament that all of the Mungyeong teachers go to on this day, but since all activities were canceled in light of the Sewol Ferry accident, we had a regular class schedule today.

Although Thursday is my busiest day with six classes, there were plenty of wonderful surprises throughout the day to keep it interesting.  Before my first class this morning, one of my students came up to me with a boutonniere and pinned it to my shirt.  Then, a few of my second grade girls came up to me with a rice cake and drink along with a thank you note from their class.  Too cute.
Who doesn't like getting flowers?

When I went to my first class of crazy, rambunctious boys, they promptly greeted me with a song.  They then fed me Jello (and yes, I mean they just shoved it in my face and put an entire little container in my mouth...because who doesn't want Jello at 9 AM?)  It was a nice, and definitely unexpected beginning to the day.

When I went to my next classes, I realized the whole song thing was going to happen in every class.  Not that I minded, it was actually quite adorable.  Kind of like having someone sing happy birthday to you...a little awkward, but great all the same.

Throughout the day I received a lot of small snacks and notes from my students.  Being the sentimental person that I am, my heart was warmed by all of the small gestures.

This was from one of my second grade girls from last year.  She's now in third grade, so I was really surprised when she came to give me a gift because I don't teacher her anymore.  So thoughtful! 

My collection from the day...minus the things I already ate.  

To end Teacher's Day, we had a teacher dinner after school. Although I was less than thrilled about the menu, which contained raw fish (again), I appreciate the thought because I know raw fish is expensive.

I know we technically have Teacher's Appreciation Week in America, but Korea definitely has us beat in this department, especially considering the celebrations were seriously cut back this year.

This semester has seriously been draining my energy lately, so it was nice to feel appreciated for a day.  Although, as my students all thanked me for teaching them, I told them (and totally meant it when I said it), that I'm truly the lucky one to have the chance to get to teach such great kids.  With only a few more months left at my school, I'm trying to appreciate every day with these kids who will always have a very special place in my heart.

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's Election Season!

It's election season here in Korea.  Local elections will be held in the beginning of June, which means that there are of course the occasional campaign billboards around the city, but by and large the most frequent method of campaigning I've seen has come from these little cards.  Candidates and their supporters can be spotted around town handing out cards at any given time. Here are the cards I've collected over the past few days:

I got the majority of these cards yesterday morning when I went to church.  Every Sunday for the past month or so, the people running for office have been camped outside of the church.  I'm not sure why they think I can vote, but I guess I appreciate the consideration?

I'm interested to see just how big this collection will get by election day.  If only I could understand more Korean, I'd really love to know what kind of campaign promises these people are inner political junkie wants to be able to follow this all better.  I mean after all, those pictures are pretty inspiring, don't you think?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Beautiful Bijindo

Last weekend we had a long weekend due to Children's Day and Buddha's Birthday.  Just about every teacher and student had been eagerly awaiting this long weekend, and I had been especially looking forward to it because of the trip we had planned to visit a small island named Bijindo.  All I had to do was look at some pictures of this island and I knew I wanted in on the trip months ago, and at long last the time finally came to pack my bag and set out on the journey to Bijindo.

The weekend started as soon as the bell rang at school at 5:00.  I bolted out the door as quickly as I could, rushed home to drop off my school bag and replace it with my weekend bag, and did my best speed walking across town to make it in time to meet up with my friends for the 5:40 bus to Daegu.

After a bus ride that turned out to be longer than expected, we didn't arrive in Daegu with quite the cushion of time that we had been hoping for.  Once we got to Daegu we had to take a taxi to a different bus terminal, which wasn't quite the speedy process given the Friday night traffic.  Once we finally got to the bus terminal, we had missed the 8:00 bus to Tongyeong, so we had to stick around and wait for the next bus, which didn't leave until 11:20.  All in all, I was ok with it because I was starving at that point, and was happy to have some time to get a bite to eat before getting on another bus.

Finally, we got on the 11:20 bus and less than two hours later we reached our destination of Tongyeong.  Since it was really late by that point, we found the nearest motel and promptly crashed for the night.

The next morning we headed off to the nearest E-Mart to stock up on food for the weekend.  Bijindo is such a small island that there's only really one restaurant there and one or two VERY small stores, so we had to buy just about everything before taking the ferry to the island.

After doing some serious damage at E-Mart, we met up with the other Jeomchoners who were accompanying us on the trip.  We took a taxi to the ferry terminal and after a little wait we were on the ferry to Bijindo.

We arrived at our pension in the afternoon, and after taking in the amazing views for a bit we began our first braai (South African BBQ), which included lots of awesome food.  After eating way too much food, we spent the remainder of the evening hanging out. It wasn't a late night though--we were all definitely ready for some sleep.
Braai number one!

Sunset on our first night.  

The next morning we decided to explore the island a bit.  We walked along some roads with beautiful views, and eventually found the small town part of the island.  And by small, I mean VERY small.  We could tell they don't see many foreigners around there because everyone we came across was eager to talk to us.  Talk about feeling like a celebrity. When we stopped at a small place for some coffee, one man suddenly came up to feed me a piece of seafood that he was holding with his chopsticks (yes, this is a Korean thing. It's kind of a polite thing to feed someone else food).  With no other choice, I opened up wide and hoped that whatever I just ate was at least dead.  Although the sea critter wasn't moving, let's just say it wasn't the most delicious thing I've ever had...but I guess it's the thought that counts.  

As we continued our walk we came across a small school.  We're not entirely sure if it's still in use, but there were tons of local kids playing outside in the yard.
Yes, this is at the entrance to the school.  Very interesting. 

The school.  Can I be the NET here?

Unfortunately, the rest of the afternoon was pretty cloudy, but I was still happy to spend some time reading on the beach.  We had braai number two for dinner, which was just as awesome as the previous night's.  This time we were also given some fresh fish by one of the Koreans.  Although I'm not a huge fan of seafood, it was once again just another example of how generous Koreans can be.  After dinner, we spent the night hanging out, but went to bed early, as we planned to watch the sunrise the next morning.

Our sunny morning turned into a cloudy afternoon.  
Cloudy, but still beautiful.  
The fish that were given to us.  

The wonderful thing about Bijindo was that we had the ocean on both sides of us, making it a perfect place to watch both sunrises and sunsets.  Although it was still cloudy on Monday morning, we still saw a pretty decent sunrise. It's not everyday that you get to watch a sunrise on an island, after all.
Just before sunrise. 

Here comes the sun!
After our sunrise viewing, we went back to the pension and while some people decided to go back to sleep, I decided to try getting in the shower because the previous morning I had had nothing but ice cold water.  I was hoping that if I got up and beat the rush I would get some warm water.  I was only somewhat successful in this endeavor, but at least I was up and ready for the day nice and early.

After eating some breakfast I headed out with two others for a hike along the opposite side of the island.  This was hands down my favorite part of the trip.  The hike went straight up the mountain, then back down and around.  The views were stunning the whole way along--it was really the perfect morning hike.
Just beautiful. 

There's really not much on Bijindo!

After finishing our hike, it was time for some beach time.  One ajumma had made herself comfortable with two of my friends who were already on the beach--apparently she was shocked by my male friend's really pale skin.  She made herself comfortable lying right on the sand, and when I put my towel down on the sand she also told me that I should l just sit right on the sand.  If there's on thing I've learned in Korea it's don't disobey the ajummas, so I also plopped down on the sand and made myself comfortable for the remainder of the afternoon.
The ajjuma sure did make herself comfortable with us!

With the sunshine, vivid blue water, and mountains in the distance, who could be unhappy?  There's something truly therapeutic about being at the beach.
Can I go back now?

As two members of our group left that afternoon, it was just me and two of the guys for the last night.  We had pre-ordered Mexican food to bring with us to the island (yeah, you can do that), and we had ourselves quite the delicious fiesta for our last night.  It was definitely a wonderful way to end our mini-vacation.
Sunset on the last night.  

We were totally exhausted not long after dinner since we had been up since 5 AM, so we were in bed by 9 PM.  Yes, 9 PM.  I'm really not sure the last time I was in bed so early.

The next morning we sadly had to leave--it was time to get back to reality, although I'm sure we all would have preferred to keep living the island life.

Overall, I have to say Bijindo is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to.  The island was so small and quiet, and pretty much just the perfect place to really GET AWAY from everything.  It wasn't a crazy partying weekend, and I am actually really glad for that (am I getting old?)  It was lovely to go to sleep with the sound of the ocean in the background, and to wake up with the blue sea and sunshine right outside the window.  I was reminded of just how much I love being by the ocean, and of how lucky I am to be able to be in Korea and able to take trips like this.

When my time in Korea comes to an end, I sure am going to miss being able to pack up for the weekend and go places like this:
This is a picture of the view from our room.  It doesn't even do justice to the beauty of the view.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ready to go!

This weekend we have a long weekend due to Buddha's birthday and Children's Day.  It's absolutely awesome that these two days conveniently ended up right next to each other, making for a four-day weekend.  

To take advantage of this break, a I'll be heading to Bijindo with a few friends.  Bijindo is a very small, barely inhibited island south of Korea's mainland.

To say I'm excited would be an understatement.  Here's a glimpse at why:

Let's hope the real thing is as beautiful as the pictures! 

Staying Motivated

 Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I'll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you'd like to contribute to next month's Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at, and he will let you know how you can start participating!

"How do you keep yourself from becoming burnt out and how do you stay motivated to teach?"

This month's topic for the blog carnival couldn't come at a more appropriate time.  At this point we've had  two solid months of classes without any long weekends.  Thankfully, we do have one right around the corner, but these past few weeks I've been struggling to keep my motivation to teach.

There's no way around it: teaching is exhausting.  I think few people understand just how draining teaching is until they are teachers themselves. Teaching is more than just planning lessons and lecturing.  You have thirty or more students who all need your attention, sometimes all at the same time.  You're pulled in a million different ways each and every class. Teaching is emotionally draining, and it's only a matter of time before you just need a break to rest and regain your passion and enthusiasm.

When it comes to the inevitable problem of feeling burnt out, here's what works for me:

1)  Take time for yourself.

As an introvert, this is something I always have to remind myself that's it's OK to do.  The wonderful thing about being in Korea is that there's always something going on.  I feel like I always have friends that I can meet up with. However, just because you're  invited to do things doesn't mean that you have to so say yes every time.  It's perfectly OK to say no.  It's OK, and in fact, even prudent to sometimes spend your day in your pajamas, watching TV, reading, listening to music, whatever it is you need to do to just unwind.

Sometimes alone time works wonders for recharging my motivation.  However, other times I find that nothing can rejuvenate my enthusiasm for Korea like going somewhere or doing something new.  Sometimes a change of scenery really ignites my passion for being here, and that can carry over into the classroom.  Sometimes taking time for yourself means sucking it up and spending a lot of money on the weekend to get out of town for an adventure.

2)  If possible, teach what you're passionate about and don't be afraid to try new things. 

I'm fortunate to teach high-level high school students, so I'm guessing that this is a little easier for me than it is for elementary or lower-level teachers.  However, this is one of the main things I try to do to keep my enthusiasm in the classroom.  Before I came to Korea I was a social studies teacher.  This means the things I'm  passionate about teaching are history, politics, culture, etc.  While I don't mind teaching things like English grammar, it's just not what I'm passionate about.  Luckily, in my position I'm not expected to strictly teach grammar, which has allowed me to create lessons about things I'm more passionate about.

I teach some of my lessons six times a week, so in order to keep my motivation it's essential to create lessons that can not only get the students to practice English, but that I can also find interesting and feel passionate about. Trying new teaching techniques and topics for discussions definitely keeps the atmosphere of the classroom interesting.  Sometimes a lesson can take a few times to get right, but finding something new that works great with the students is a really rewarding feeling that can boost your enthusiasm for being in the classroom.

I suppose the fact that I had teaching experience before coming here probably affects the types of lessons I make (once a social studies teacher, always a social studies teacher), but in my experience there's nothing worse than teaching a lesson you're not passionate about over and over and over.  Mixing up lessons and keeping them interesting to you makes the days much more enjoyable.

3) Remember your impact on your students goes beyond what you do in the classroom. 

Out of all the ways to keep motivation levels high, I would say this is the most important.  When the days start to all feel the same, it's easy to lose sight of the impact you can have as a teacher.  When you teach classes in which the students are always falling asleep because they got five hours of sleep (or less) the previous night (and every night before that), it's easy to feel like you're wasting your time by putting so much energy into your lesson plans and time in the classroom.

However, that couldn't be less true, especially while teaching in a school where you're the only foreigner.

This was illustrated for me last week as I was walking home from school. I was on my normal walk home  when one of my former second grade students caught up with me. She continued to walk with me because she was heading to the doctor and it was in the same direction as my apartment.

 During our walk, she told me that she and her classmates often talk about me with their other English teacher.  This of course surprised me and  made me hesitantly ask why, at which point she told me it was because her class is very fond of me. Apparently they often talk about how they worry that I am sad because I miss my family.  I assured her that even when I miss my family, I am happy to be here because I have many friends and enjoy seeing everyone at school.  She then told me she was glad and that I shouldn't ever be sad because they all love me and don't want me to leave Korea.

Moments like these are important reminders that although sometimes students are shy and afraid to talk to you, you have a real impact on their lives. Lately, many of my students have been asking me questions about America.  They are curious about everything--especially the lives of teenagers.  Sometimes I forget that these kids have no idea what life is like outside of Korea.

Although sometimes I doubt how much I really help these kids improve their language abilities, the main thing I hope many of them take away from their time with me is an understanding of the world outside of Korea.  Or should I say, an understanding that there is a world outside of Korea.  Don't get me wrong, I love Korea in many ways, but it's an incredibly intense country to grow up in.  Students don't often get a glimpse of the outside world, except through their native teachers.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that my role as a teacher here is way more than teaching students English.  It's introducing them to what's out there beyond the confines of the school walls.  It's reminding them that someday the unbearable monotony of high school will be finished, and there's a big world waiting for them.  It's reminding them that they're more than their imperfections.  It's reminding them that they're more than just their test scores.  It's making them believe that life is exciting and wonderful, because many times they really don't believe it.

No teacher has perfect lessons every single day, but that's not all there is to teaching.

What is the main thing that keeps me motivated to teach?

Without doubt, it's my students.  While students are often what make me feel burnt out, they're also what restores my motivation and passion for teaching.  Always telling classes to be quiet and juggling the classroom management of apathetic students takes a serious toll on you.  However, looking for the growth in every student is what makes it worth it.  It's watching them become a little less shy to speak English.  It's in getting to know them and their aspirations.  It's watching them become more curious about the outside world.  These are the things that make me come back to school day after day, and these are the things that I will keep with far long after I leave Korea.