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.

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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… 🙂

1st Trip to Seoul

Cemetery

Yesterday, the director of our hagwon, Mr. Kim, and his wife, Charity, took us to Seoul. Our first stop was a cemetery for foreign missionaries who brought the gospel to Korea. If you think about it, it seems slightly unusual, but the Lunar New Year, or Seollal, for a traditional Korean involves bowing to the graves of ancestors and offering them food. Christian Koreans do not bow to their ancestors’ graves, so going to the cemetery to learn about missionaries

seemed appropriate for the holiday season. Many graves had signs about the individual’s life. I thought it was interesting that at least four missionaries were from Iowa and three were all from Des Moines. There were two cemeteries – one for Protestants and one for Catholics. The Catholic cemetery had a memorial for French missionaries who were martyred by Korean officials who blamed the missionaries for the French invasion.

Memorial for the French Catholics.

After visiting the cemeteries we found Insadong street so we could eat lunch and go shopping. We drove down Insadong street looking for parking. It felt like we weren’t supposed to be driving on that street because people were walking in the middle of the street! We had bibimbap for lunch. It was much better than the bibimbap on the plane. My bibimbap was spicy but not too spicy. Peter’s was a cold version. Both were really good.

Insadong Street

After we were done shopping, we went to Gyeonghui Palace. We were able to look around the museum for awhile, but we didn’t get to see much of the Palace because it was closed for the day. We were able to see two of the courtyards though. We will hopefully go back and see the rest of the palace.

We took some pictures with some statues that are near the palace. Charity told us that the gold statue is of the king who invented Hangul, and the other statue is of a man who invented the turtle boat that helped the Koreans in battle against the Japanese.

It was then time to head back home. We were hoping not to get caught in Seollal traffic, but we were stuck in what seemed the middle of it. It took about 2.5 hours to get home instead of 1.25 hours, but we got to experience the “Great Migration” of Seollal.

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