A Tribute to Korean Mothers

In honor of the recent Mother’s Day holiday, I have decided to write a tribute to Korean Mothers. Koreans do not actually celebrate Mother’s Day. They have Parent’s Day on May 8th, Children’s Day on May 5th, and Buddha’s Birthday on the 8th day of the 4th month in the lunar year (which happens to be May 10th this year). So we have 3 major holidays within 6 days of each other. Parent’s Day is not celebrated very much but Children’s Day and Buddha’s Birthday are huge. We have both of those days off from school which is really nice.

It would be very difficult to understand what exactly we have to deal with as English teachers if you do not understand Korean mothers. Koreans are very competitive. Getting into a good middle school and high school are about as hard as getting into a good college in America. So the mothers push their children very aggressively to study and practice. Korean mothers brag a lot as well which makes life even more difficult. If one mother is bragging about how good their kid is, then the other mothers push their kids even harder. These poor children end up getting overworked because their mother does not want to look bad. From the mothers’ perspective, if their child does not turn out perfect than they are viewed poorly.

We have even had Koreans tell us that Korean mothers are insane, so I do not feel too bad about writing about them. Because the kids get pushed to study so much, they turn out to be pretty smart, well at least book smart (ranked 2nd in the world in education behind Norway of all countries). English is one of the 8 or 9 main subjects taught at Korean public schools so most children know some English. In fact, one of the test for determining how good of a high school they go to is an English test. So the parents push their kids to learn how to take that test. The only problem with that is that the students don’t actually learn how to communicate in English, only how to take a test. And the Korean government knows that is a problem, but they do not know how to change that.

Our hagwon is focused more on the conversation side of English than on the written side. The curriculum we use helps student listen to and speak English instead of just take a test in English. The curriculum works great if you can wait a little bit to see results. But Koreans want results immediately. So we have had the challenge of adapting the curriculum to fit the Korean’s craziness. So if you ever teach English in Korea than you can expect frequent visits from the mothers checking up on how their child is doing. It makes sense I suppose, but it can get frustrating.


Easter in Korea

No chocolate bunny, no jelly beans, no marshmallow cream eggs, or even candy in plastic eggs. No decorations to be found and no one running around wearing bunny ears. We could hardly tell there was even a holiday coming up.

The Koreans celebrate Easter in a way that probably all people should celebrate it. There is very little commercialism, but much meaning. For those who are not Christian, the day just passes as any other day. There are no days off from work or federal holidays. But for those who are Christians the Easter season is a time to remember what Christ did. People actually intentionally avoid celebrations or festivities on Good Friday. Instead they remember Jesus dying on the Cross. Then on Sunday they celebrate the Resurrection with friends and family at church or at home.

On Sunday we made it to church and they had a really nice meal afterward. It was really nice to be able to stay and talk with people. We took the bus back to Dangjin after the dinner. When we arrived at the Dangjin bus terminal, some members from a church that one of our students attends were handing out fliers and actual eggs to people. They recognized us because we had seen them around so they gave us some. They had even written something in Korean on them which I assume was “Happy Easter” or something. It was until a few days later when I tried to use one of them that I found out they are actually hard-boiled eggs. 🙂 Good call on the church’s part for hard-boiling them so they do not break after handing them to someone.

I was craving jelly beans or a chocolate bunny or something but had no luck with the sort. So we ended up going to the grocery store and buying a bag of Hershey kisses. The Hershey bags were all different springy colors like sky blue, pink, light green, etc. The Koreans were probably wondering why Hershey changed their bags. 🙂

We were going to have an Easter egg hunt on Friday at our Kindergarten. But we found out they avoid celebrations like that on Good Friday. So we moved it to Monday. The idea seemed pretty foreign to the Koreans, so we had to explain it to them. They do not sell plastic eggs near here for putting candy in, so we ended up having to hide plastic balls from the ball pit. Rachel helped the students make an Easter basket out of paper and string last week so we filled those baskets and gave those to them at the end of the day. The students really enjoyed it! They also do not sell Easter egg dying kits so we had to try to make our own. The dying process did not quite work out as well as expected so we had them put stickers on and draw on their eggs. I’m not sure if the eggs made it home alive because we did not have anything to send them home in…..

The students had a great time and most importantly they were all able to listen to the Easter story throughout the week. I am very thankful for a chance to be able to work at a Christian school where they encourage us to share the Gospel with the students. If only they would buy us a chocolate bunny too… 🙂

Hwaseong Fortress

Last Saturday Rachel and I went to Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon. Suwon is about an hour bus ride from where we live and about an hour south of Seoul. They were having a Cherry Blossom festival for the weekend. We had heard that Hwaseong Fortress was very beautiful so we decided to visit.

We bought bus tickets to go to Suwon and waited for our bus to come. When I saw the Korean name for Suwon (수원) I was pretty excited because the last syllable looked like a table and chairs with food! About ten minutes before our bus was scheduled to leave another bus pulled up at the same platform our bus was supposed to be. Well, that bus did not have the table and chairs syllable but all of the people were getting on that bus so we decided to follow. They guy took our ticket and we got on. When I sat down, the guy next to me looked at my ticket and said “Suwon, no.” I was confused but someone at the front of the bus was saying something about Suwon as well. So we got off the bus. I guess the guy who took our ticket wasn’t bright enough to realize the first time that we wanted Suwon and not that bus. I’m sure we made the Koreans day by being able to laugh at a stupid white person though.

We made it Suwon, wrote down the last 2 or 3 buses’ times back to Dangjin, and then started to walk out of the terminal when we noticed an information center. We stopped and started looking at some of the maps when the Korean behind the desk asked in very good English if he could help us.  We told him where we wanted to go and he explained which buses go there and what else to see in the area. He certainly made our trip much easier.

Hwaseong Fortress (Brilliant Castle) is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of about 10 in Korea. To save you the hassle of Wikipedia-ing it (or you could enlarge the picture of the history of Hwaseong Fortress at the end), the Fortress was built by King Jeongjo to honor and house the remains of his father. For some reason Jeongjo’s grandfather, who was king at the time, killed Jeongjo’s father for not following orders. When Jeongjo became king he had a temple and fortress built where his father was buried so that Jeongjo could have a place to stay when he visited his father’s grave. Jeongjo had very technologically advanced equipment for that day used to build an impressive fortress. King Jeongjo even wanted to move the capital of Korea from Seoul to Suwon but eventually gave up that idea because of a lack of support.

The weather turned out to be gorgeous for out visit. There were not many cherry blossoms out, but the few flowers were pretty. The festival itself was held at the city governmental buildings which were down the hill from the fortress. We certainly got a workout walking up and down the hills of the fortress, but the lookout view of Suwon was gorgeous! We decided not to ring their famous bell of fortune because it cost money. We did take the cool dragon trolley ride! Hwaseong Fortress was definitely worth the visit.

We ended up taking a city bus back to the bus station. The city bus we ended up on was being driven by a guy whom I could swear was trying out for the World’s Worst Bus Driver award. Thankfully we made it alive. Attached to the bus station was a shopping mall with some restaurants. We ended up eating on the 3rd floor at a restaurant named Alaska Family Restaurant Seafood Buffet. We figured combining the Koreans expertise of seafood with Alaska’s delicious seafood would make an amazing meal. Well, we quickly saw those dreams dashed. They had a ton of seafood options in their buffet, but nothing quite hit the spot. It all seemed a bit off. We did get to eat some crab legs and all sorts of other sea creatures. For some reason they did not have plain shrimp. Anyways, we were hoping dessert would salvage our experience, but were disappointed again by dry cookies and mediocre cakes. Thankfully they did not charge us what a high end seafood place could have cost. We thought the second to last bus for Dangjin left at 6:50 but when I checked my notebook I found out it left at 6:40. So we had to leave in a hurry and quickly walk downstairs. Thankfully our bus was at the first platform out the door after buying tickets so we made it just in time.

I would highly recommend visiting Suwon (just be careful of your choice of restaurant). We are hoping to go back and visit more of the sites there. I am sure it will be even pretty when more flowers come out. The slideshow of pictures at the end is definitely worth looking through. There are 80 pictures and a good number of them have captions.

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The Bum Poke

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There is a very unusual and disturbing problem that Korean children have which I was not made aware of until I arrived here. Actually only one person even told us about this problem before we starting teaching and he was a foreigner. Apparently the Koreans just think it is funny so they do not bother telling foreigners about it. I have had the misfortune of experiencing this problem frequently over the past few weeks.

Korean children think “the bum poke” is just about the funniest thing in the world. They will run around me and try to poke my butt! And its not just a little poke either, its an actual poke. There are 3 things that make it even funnier for the students. Telling them to stop will make them laugh and continue trying it. Trying to cover you bum with your hands will make it worse because they think its a funny game. And trying to run away will not help either because they just laugh and chase after you.

Thankfully I only have 1 or 2 students who attempt this. And I think they are starting to get the hint that I am not a fan of their favorite game. The students love using me as a play gym though! We do not have a play gym yet for the students so I will wrestle with them on one of the mats or in the ball pit. They are pretty strong but I have managed so far. One time I did get trapped in the ball pit when all of the students ganged up on me. And what did the Koreans teachers do? They took a video and laughed hysterically lol!!

Gifts…. or Bribes

Last week into this past week we had 4 days in a row that students brought in gifts for us. Last week we started taking our own food in for lunch because we did not want to eat rice and vegetables for lunch everyday. The food they have at school is pretty good but we like a variety. So we brought in peanut butter and jelly and made our sandwiches and had a couple snacks. The students were watching us and wondering why we were eating bread and the Korean teachers told them that we are not used to eating rice everyday.

One of the students said that his family had a lot bread at home so one of the Korean teachers told him to bring in some for us. On Wednesday he brought in a muffin for Rachel and I to share. It was a pretty good muffin too. Then on Thursday another student brought in some crackers for us. His mom or dad had written a note on it in English that said that once the student woke up in the morning he started talking about me and how he wanted to go to school! I didn’t realize that kids like school so much. I was really glad to see that they enjoy us and that we have an impact on them. Then on Friday they had a birthday party for the students who had birthdays in March. One of the mothers sent in some bread for all the students and some mini cake/bread snacks for the teachers. They were delicious!

Then this past Monday one of the students brought in a small French Lavender plant for Rachel and I. I put it in our classroom and it is actually starting to bud already! And then on Friday this week one of the students brought in a whole package of crackers for Rachel and I! I am not sure if they are bringing in gifts because they like us or if they are trying to bribe us but I am sure that those students will get a higher grade. 🙂 This teaching thing works out pretty well sometimes. 🙂

First Thoughts of Teaching

KCIS Dangjin officially began classes on March 2. We were nervous about teaching but glad to start. Spending February lesson planning and adjusting to Korea was nice, but we were glad to begin teaching. Over this past month we have been busy and sick though. We were not able to travel for two weekends and Rachel had to miss a few classes because of being sick. Thankfully we have recovered, but are still quite busy.

We really did not know what to expect for teaching. It would have been nice to know more about Korean children before starting. We kind of learned the hard way that they are not very well behaved. For Kindergarten classes they divided the students between a K5 (American age 3 maybe 4) class and a K6 & 7 class. For the first 2 weeks we did not go by a normal schedule because we wanted to allow the students to get used to being in school and to get used to foreign teachers. The 3-year-olds spent most of the time crying or attached to the Korean teachers. The 4 and 5 year olds warmed up to us pretty well.

The elementary students were worse behaved than we expected. I had the mindset of Koreans being very respectful and disciplined. With Korean teachers they are better but they think they can get away with more with a foreign teacher. The MeySen curriculum is much different than the normal Korean way of learning. They are used to textbooks, tests, and memorizing things. But MeySen teaches English in a more natural way that gets students to communicate in English and comprehend what they are saying. Because there are no textbooks or tests the students tend to just goof off and talk. So we have had to adjust our teaching style to add in more homework and start giving assignments.

We have also been doing some research trying to get ideas of how to do classroom management better. A lot of people were saying that Korean children are very competitive. Just getting into High School is as hard as getting into a college in America. It’s pretty brutal. Students spend like all day doing school work and studying. So most people recommend to use that competitiveness to our advantage. So we’ve starting putting students on teams and taking points away if they are bad and giving points if they are good. It’s pretty funny to watch them go crazy when we take points away from them. The points mean nothing, but they get all bent out of shape.

At the start things were pretty challenging but things have gotten better. The students are actually pretty cute and they are learning. It’s been fun to watch them start using more English phrases and actually talk to us. They are still pretty dependent on the Korean teachers, but it’s been good to see improvement already.

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