Archive for the ‘pen pal’ Category

On Rice Cakes, Traditional Rice Taffy, and Hot 6

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Today was the 수능 (Suneung – the college entrance exam), and life here in CP went on like normal. You’d think on a day that determined the future of so many young people you’d be able to feel it in the air, the very atmosphere would be crackling with electricity and you could smell the standardized tests from miles away, but if you didn’t know you’d assume it was a day just like any other. If you live in a city you can tell. Planes aren’t allowed to take off or land, all high schools and some middle schools are closed, the police escort late risers to testing sites, and parents often spend the entire day in prayer. However in sleepy sleepy CP, less than a mile from my high school where all of the third grade boys in the county were taking the exam, the cars trundled along as per usual and the old people sat and chatted on the street corner for hours.

The first group of students that I really connected with, the students that were first graders back when I was a first year teacher, took the Suneung today. One of them was my host sister, who I have only seen twice since leaving Yesan at the end of my first year. We’ve tried to keep in touch through kakaotalk and skype, but with both of our schedules it’s been difficult. When I first moved in she was one semester into high school, and in February she’ll graduate and, depending on the results of this test, go on to the university of her dreams, or to a university she had to settle for. I want her to do well. I Miss You SO Much(e) Boy also took the Suneung. I also hope he did well. Same with all of the students who stood on their desks and shouted OH CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN, all of the students in class 2.2 of SGHS I did the pen pal exchange with, the girls in my club class my first fall at CPHS, my thousand kilowatt senior, and so many more. I want them all to do well.

Unfortunately, they can’t. The nature of this test, and the way that it’s scored, is that in order for someone to do well, someone has to fail. You receive a percentile ranking, which is one of the things that makes this test so competitive. If it’s not my students that do poorly, it’ll be someone else’s students.

The students all know this, and though they are friendly and support each other, though they’ve spent the last three years eating, and sleeping, and studying, and playing with their classmates, when they walk into the classroom on Suneung day they know they are walking shoulder-to-shoulder with their competitors. On this day, a senior has no friends. The first and second grade students recognize and understand this burden and cheer on their seniors, knowing that in one or two years the same will be done for them. This goes beyond the actual testing day – you can see it all year. On an average day at CPHS, you’ll see the second grade class captains standing in the stairwell of the main building during lunchtime, two boys and two girls. They rotate this duty so that different students do it on different days, but it’s always four students standing there, ready to shush the loud first graders as they run up to their classrooms after lunch, because the third graders need lunchtime to study without any distractions. The first and second graders, though they dislike each other, take note of and respect the third graders’ drive to succeed, and do their best to help them along.

Korea has a lot of superstitions about tests, more so than Americans do, at least to my knowledge. As there’s a lot more emphasis on testing, this isn’t all that surprising. On a test day, you’re not supposed to wash your hair, because then you’ll wash all the answers out of your brain. Another superstition, is that you cannot eat 미역국 (miyeokguk – seaweed soup) before an exam. The seaweed soup is so slippery that it will cause you to do badly. This belief is so prevalent that an idiomatic expression for failing a test is 미역국을 먹다 – I ate seaweed soup. A surprisingly logical reaction to this superstition is the idea that if you eat sticky food, you will do well on the test. Therefore, it’s thought that eating 떡 (deok – rice cake) or 엿 (yeot – a traditional and very sticky rice taffy, normally eaten by the older generation) is optimal test food.

On Tuesday I ran into multiple students leaving school. I walked with a first grade girl for part of the way to the market, where she was buying rice taffy. I asked if it was for her, and she giggled and said that it was for the seniors taking the test. She mimed chewing rigorously, and then explained that it would help all of the things that they had studied stick in their brains on Thursday. I told her that if flavor didn’t matter she should get the pumpkin because it was the best, and she giggled and raced off. The second student I ran into, a second grade boy, was also buying presents for the seniors. Instead of rice cake or taffy he was buying Hot Six, a ridiculously powerful energy drink. I was struck by the differences between the two gifts – one, a traditional and difficult-to-eat snack that followed superstition, and one, a very modern invention guaranteed to take years off your life. However, more than that I was struck by the effort the students went to in order to support their seniors.

The Suneung is over, for most of the third graders. Some of the students that scored very poorly will elect to take off a year and study again. They’ll take classes in the city at an academy designed to prep students to retake the Suneung, and rent rooms roughly the size of closets near these academies to reduce distractions. For the ones that receive good test scores, or scores that are good enough, they’ll embark on the time-consuming task of applying to university, but also they’ll find themselves surprisingly free. If they hang out of the windows of their homerooms it’ll be to breathe in the fresh air, and gaze at their surroundings, instead of to keep themselves awake while studying. If they stay awake late at night, it’ll be to talk to friends instead of cramming for the practice test. If they go into the nearby city, it’ll be to go to academies that fulfill their own interests, or to get their driver’s license, instead of to study math or any other core subject. They’ll get perms and dye their hair, join gyms to throw off the weight they’ve gained studying, buy new clothes for university, and some of them will get plastic surgery. As they slowly come to life again, the second graders – my CPHS babies, my life for the past year and a half – will slowly start to fade into the 360-odd day “final” push to the Suneung, something that seemed so far away when they first entered high school.

This is my final Suneung as a teacher in Korea, I’ll leave six months after my host sister graduates. That’s good, because I don’t think I can take another one. It makes me sad that I won’t see Hongdae, Solomon, Fistbump Kid, EC, or any of my other CPHS students (or the SGHS students I was only able to teach for a semester) graduate, and I’m sad I won’t be there to support them through this process, but I’m also happy I don’t have to see them go through the pressures of Suneung day. I’m also happy to know that their juniors, the students who come after them, will support them.

Goodbyes Part 3: Wednesday

Friday, July 15th, 2011

So far this has been my hardest day, though I think that Friday will prove to be the most difficult (being my last day, and also my last class with class 2.1 – my advanced second grade students). I teach two of my best behaved classes on Wednesdays – class 2.6 (very low level, second grade, co-ed, approximately 10 students) and 2.2 (intermediate, second grade, co-ed, approximately 30 students – one of my two penpal project classes), and I also teach class 2.3 (low level, second grade, all girls, approximately 20 students) which is not exactly well-behaved, but well-meaning and full of spunk.

When I walked into class 2.6 today I found a giant pyramid of chocopies on my teacher’s podium, decorated with fish-flavored crackers, and I found out that there were only four out of my usual seven (which again, is out of my actual ten) students. Two students were sick, three were off doing sports things, and one was being disciplined. The four students that were there (three girls and a boy) participated well. It was actually interesting teaching only them – they are normally the shyest students in the class, and at the beginning of the year I couldn’t get them to talk. This class was my most difficult class in September 2010, and it’s become one of my favorites. Unfortunately the two girls that were sick, and one of the boys that was off doing sports things, are the three highest level English speakers in the class, and thus the ones that I end up talking to a lot outside of school and have really bonded with, and it was sad that I couldn’t say goodbye to them. I’ll have to go back to their homeroom later. Rose (her Korean name literally means Rose) is actually older than I am, has really awesome tattoos, and is an absolute sweetheart. The other girl is my only student that to date has written down everything I have written on the board. The other boy has a part time job and sometimes I see him late at night delivering pizzas. He runs with the cool gangster crowd, but every time he sees me says “hi” to me, which I think he gets some flak from them for doing. Not only does he say “hi” to me, he starts up conversations and makes them talk to me too.
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before and after fish chip inspiration.

I left 2.6 late because I was chatting with them, then realized that I still needed to print papers for 2.2 which I was supposed to teach immediately afterwards. Therefore I ran to class, was a bit late, and didn’t think that it was odd that two students met me in the hallway and walked me into class.
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On the chalkboard all the students had written messages to me (including my favorite message written by Smart Alec as I’m going to call him, which read “Hi Emily. I’m fine thank you and you?” – my least favorite phrase in the entirety of the English language) and they had a song cued up on the computer. Without missing a beat the students started singing at the top of their lungs. I didn’t catch all the words, but I caught “thank you.”

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After class (where we played American Geography & Flat Stanley Penpal Project Jeopardy and then wrote letters to the new English teacher introducing ourselves) some students came up and gave me coffee, notes, and I even got one picture of me with some of the girls at Sports Day. I love this class, there are so many fun personalities. There’s Smart Alec who was the only boy in my winter English camp and totally lived it up, being a total, well, smart alec. There’s ILY Boy as I’m going to call him, who every time and everywhere I see him (much like I Miss You So Much(e)) starts screaming “EMILY TEACHER I LOVE YOU.” Literally everywhere. There’s my Piano Prodigy who every Tuesday and Thursday rides the train into Seoul and takes piano lessons there because she’s just that darn good, who also happens to be amazing at English. There’s Rock On Boy, who when the other students came to greet me, gave me a fist bump instead of a handshake and then bragged to his friends that we were friends on facebook. I Miss You So Much(e) also came into this class at the end to rub it in everyone’s faces that he would see me on Friday. He’s somehow taller than me now, I don’t know if that’s a recent development or he’s just always been taller than me and I never quite noticed…

During class they told me not to cry, and cheered when I promised to visit them. I made them promise to be nice to the new English teacher, and they harrumphed but obliged. I’m going to miss class 2.2 so much it’s not even funny… this is the closest I’ve come to crying over leaving yet.

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Here are some excerpts from 2.2′s student notes. I debated whether or not to post these because they’re private letters, and also it seems somewhat self-serving, and like I’m trying to make myself seem like a better teacher than I am, but I decided to post them for numerous reasons, the biggest reason being that it’s my gosh darn blog, so I can do what I want with it ^_^. Also , because I’ll be moving around so much in the next few years, there’s a good chance I could lose these notes, which would be tragic, so if I post them here at least I’ll still have the message.

To. Emily teacher

Hi, Emily teacher ~~
I’m GW
Today of the last lesson. so, I’m sad.
In the meantime Sapgyo for high school passion very thanks and take the trouble ^_^
Spent with a teacher time I’ll never forget.
Do you know?
Emily techer is attitude makes popular with students.
You are the best a native speaking instructor I’ve ever had.
I hope you go to a new school that’s plug along.
Good luck <3
Bye ~ Bye~

Hi Emily! I’m Piano Prodigy.
I heard that you leave the Sapgyo high school. So, I’m very sad. ㅠ_ㅠ.
I’ll never forget recollection with you and Young Rim. (Cheonan).
Emily! thanks for teaching me.
When you teaching me I feel very happy and fun.
I never forget you. Contact me!
goodbye, I love you! <3

I then ended the day with class 2.3 which has always been a hit or miss class. They’re very sweet, and they’re very well-meaning, but they’re also very loud, which combined with the fact that they’re low-level, can be a difficult combination to work with. Started the class off on the wrong foot, when I went to their classroom and half the students were missing. The class captain then burst into the room, started screaming at another student, and wouldn’t answer any of my questions or even acknowledge me, then stormed out of the room. I immediately followed, yelling her name down the hall, as other students kind of stared at me, and she turned out of my sight around a corner. She then immediately came back, with a bunch of choco pies stacked into a cake along with the other half of the class. They weren’t late or disrespectful, they were just trying to surprise me. Oops.

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They then sang me a song but my camera died halfway through, whoops.

The Effects of the Pen Pal Project

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Remember that pen pal project I’m doing with students?  Almost everyday I receive pictures and a letter from someone writing to their Sapgyo High School penpal. I put the pictures onto Flickr and then I write the blog entry, and take the pictures from Flickr (to save space) and put them in the blog post. Then at the beginning of every class I choose one letter (I try to pick easy to understand letters, or letters from cool places with great pictures) to share with the class and we read through it and comprehend it together. After that I show all of the pictures from all of the other letters we received that week, give brief backgrounds about the people who went them and the locations of the letter, and then give physical copies of the letters to each student. I unfortunately don’t have time to go over all of the letters in detail with the whole class, but at least this way we can read one letter together, they can see all of the pictures, and people get physical copies of their individual letters.

It’s a fun project, but I’m never sure how much students are getting out of it. They’re always excited to receive letters, but how much do they pay attention to the letters versus the pictures? I tried to get people who live in many different places and have many different jobs and lifestyles to write back, do my students understand or internalize that at all? Do any of my students interact with the project outside of class?

I just found out that yes, in fact, at least some of the students are interacting with this project outside of class. A student dropped by the teacher’s office during the lunch period and asked for my help. She’s a 2nd grade intermediate student, which means she’s very busy, and spends most of her free time studying. She put down in front of me a letter she written to her penpal in response to his letter, and asked me to help her edit it. She was so pleased with her penpal’s letter, she wanted to write one back to respond and to say thank you. I never even suggested that students should write back, this was her idea entirely.  I helped her edit it, and then she told me she would give me a copy so I could send it to her penpal. A student did work outside of class of her own free will, practicing English, because of my project. I feel really happy right now. Thanks everyone, who wrote a letter to a Sapgyo High School student – it means a lot to me, and it apparently means a lot more to them than I had thought or even hoped it would.

No I’m not talking about “Atlanta”

Monday, April 25th, 2011

It took the Sapgyo post office 15 minutes to figure out where “Georgia” the country was, but I sent off all 59 letters! Thanks to everyone who volunteered and who recruited volunteers for me, you should be getting letters in 1 – 3 weeks.

Also because it’s the day after Easter I keep getting hardboiled eggs as presents. What a delicious and nutritious teacher’s office snack! If only I was going straight home after school… I’m a little scared that these hardboiled eggs are going to explode in my bag.

Call for Pen Pals… pretty pretty please

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Remember the project I told you about? I’m sending off half of the letters today!* The letters are mostly done, and I’m giving the students 10 minutes at the beginning of class to complete them. Today we will finish the letters, draw pictures, address our envelopes, I will theoretically go to the post office, and then 30 lucky people will get letters from my students in approximately 1 – 3 weeks! I am doing this with two classes, so this means we are approximately half way through the project. I will post pictures of the students working to the link above later this day so check back.

Are you mad jealous that you won’t be receiving a really awesome letter? Fear not! I still need about 20 volunteers to email me their mailing address. Do you live in Korea? Do you have friends? Send -after getting express permission from them to send personal information to a stranger- their addresses my way!

Happy Wednesday!

Emily Teacher

*…if I can make it to the post office before it closes.

Schoolhouse Crush?

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

This post title does not refer to me.

So one of my advanced students has taken to saying “I miss you so much(e)” whenever he sees me, and you know, randomly throughout conversation, to the point where I’m not quite sure he actually knows what that phrase means. Today he came into the teacher’s office because he had hurt himself so he came up to me to show his academic war wound (a cut on his finger) and chat.

“Emily Teacher! I hurt myself! I miss you so much(e)”
“Oh no I’m sorry! Stop hurting yourself” (this is the second time this week he’s hurt himself). I continue to wrestle with the copy machine that has decided to eat my lesson plan and spit only half of it out, and is now choking on my scholastic endeavours.
“I am inspired by your class.”
“Really?” That’s something every teacher wants to hear. “That’s so sweet”
“I like you. I like you. I like like you. I like you very much(e). Much(e) much(e). I miss you so much(e).”
“… thank you?” (honestly, I’m still not entirely sure what to say to stuff like this. As I’m really not that far in age from my students I feel like it’s inappropriate to say “I miss you so much(e)” back, so I’ve settled for the super awkward “thank you” which actually doesn’t make a lot of sense… also not sure he’s inspired in the way that I want to be inspiring >.<)
“Our class is next next day!”
“Yes it is! Friday! I will see you on Friday!”
“Yes. I miss you so much(e) goodbye.”

Oh Tuesdays…

In other news I’m starting a pen pal project! I’ve already bothered people about it on facebook/email/gchat/skype but the project deadline’s approaching and I still need about 40 or so more addresses, so I’m going to shamelessly plug the project. Basically it’s a pen pal project with my two intermediate classes where they write a letter and draw a picture of themselves and send them to America. The recipient of the letter takes a picture with/of the drawing and writes a letter back in email form, and emails both the picture and letter to me at msemilyteacher@gmail.com. Then the recipient sends the student’s original letter and picture to someone else and the process repeats. I’m going to be documenting the whole thing through the blog I have shamelessly plugged not once but twice. click it. CLICK IT.

As most of my readers live in South Korea… how can you guys help? Well, do you have friends outside of Korea that speak English? If 진구가 없어요 do you have, family, a co-worker, anyone who you communicate with in any shape or form? If you know anyone who’d like to get involved please have them check out the project description on the blog and then email me their mailing address at msemilyteacher@gmail.com. For my non-Korea-dwelling readers who want to get involved send me your mailing addresses at the aforementioned email address, but also feel free to talk to friends etc, the more the merrier!