Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Happy late Chuseok to all! For those of you who aren't familiar with Korean culture, Chuseok is the fall holiday that has been likened to an American Thanksgiving. Everything kind of shuts down for a few days and many travel back to their hometowns to spend time with their families. My school has Monday and Tuesday off, although some schools had Friday off, as well. Lucky jerks.

To prepare for the holiday, one of the teachers organized a dduk making class after school. On Thursday, one of my co-teachers and I went up to the 3rd floor to the home ec classroom. I hadn't even seen it before, although I'd had the suspicion that there was one (boys and girls occasionally roaming the hallways in adorable pink/yellow/baby blue cooking aprons). My school never had anything like home economics, so I was pretty curious. It basically looked like a school labratory but with stove tops instead of Bunsen burners and large mixing bowls rather than chemistry beakers. There were about forty students who had signed up. It was quite refreshing to hang out with them outside of the classroom. They immediately began pounding the dduk...mix. Sorry, I am not quite sure what to call it. It looked like white, soft clay. We then tore off small pieces and flattened them into circles. There were bowls of sugar/sesame seed and it was with this that we filled our dduk. The superstition goes that if you make a perfectly crescent moon shaped songpyeon (the name of this particular dduk), you'll have an especially beautiful baby girl.

I also had to become "mean teacher" last week, assigning several detentions. Two of the boys didn't come on Thursday (probably testing the waters to see if I would really follow through with my threats), however, so we alerted their homeroom teacher. She made sure the kids came the following day, when they had double the detention assignment. While all their little friends were racing home at 3 pm to enjoy their Chuseok holiday, they were in Englishee Teachuh's classroom, hurriedly trying to finish their assignment. Muahahahahahah.

Here are some pictures of the students making seongpyun:

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sorry that I haven't been updating at all! I'm going to try to be more diligent in the future.

My classes of little 7th grade angels have transformed. I guess the second semester really does breed something different, because they're monsters now. I feel like it happened overnight. My voice has become sharper, my glares significantly colder, and actual homework is going to start to be given. The 9th graders remain pretty much intact, but those 7th graders... *shudder* little horrors.

On Saturday, I went bike riding along the Han River with Dean and two friends we met last semester. We met them on our trip to Geomundo and, since then, have only hung out with them in bars/clubs. It was really refreshing to do something with friends that didn't revolve around drinking, actually. But I hadn't been on a bike in a couple of years, so I was kind of apprehensive

So the four of us meet at Dangsan station, which is close to the river. We pay 3,000 won to rent the bikes for an hour. Dean chooses a speed bike and the rest of us opt for these vintage, pink and green bikes with small metal baskets in the front. As soon as we start going, I feel nervous. The bike isn't sturdy and makes unsatisfactory creaking sounds as I peddle. There are many Koreans and foreigners out, and let me tell you, the Koreans look hardcore. Other foreigners have made this comment before, but I'll repeat it here. If a Korean wants to take up a sport, they don't half-ass it in terms of equipment or appearances. I've gone walking on trails in Chucks and a peasant skirt and ran into Koreans looking as if they are ready to scale Mount Everest. And sure enough, a vast majority of the bikers are in full body spandex biking suits, special shoes, special helmets, and expensive bikes. There are a few people that look casual like us, in t-shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes, but most look ready for the Tour de France.

When we turn around to go back to the bike rental place, I get knocked over by one of these hardcore Korean bikers. I hear a quick warning of, "Heads up!" from Dean, and next thing I know, I'm toppling off my bike and onto the concrete. The guy rights his bike and stands over me, hands on his hips, lips pursed, and then proceeds to lecture me in Korean. No, "Sorry!" or, "Are you okay?" Just looks like he's trying to prevent himself from yelling at me and gestures a lot. My friends stand awkwardly by, and yes, it is another one of those fantastically awkward moments in Korea.

Random pictures from this week:

Some 2nd year boys were in a dispute whether they should kill a grasshopper or save it. It was a big deal. :)

Last semester, the 3rd years were all about soccer and the 2nd years just played basketball. Now, the 3rd years have taken over the bball courts leaving the 2nd years with soccer and badminton.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Weekend at the beach

Since we had a 3 day weekend, all of us CUA kids signed up with Adventure Korea to visit Geomundo Island. It's small--most Koreans haven't even heard of it--but it was the perfect vacation. We weren't surrounded by crowds of Korean tourists--it was very low key. We left from Hongdae at 11:30 PM and drove through the night, reaching the ferry at 6:00 AM. We spent the weekend hiking, swimming, drinking cheap Korean beers by the shore, singing and sharing drinks with some old local islanders, etc.

Geomundo! It's really two islands connected by a bridge. It's halfway to Jeju, but yeah--not a huge tourist destination. Thus the PERFECT TRIP.

A picture of the lighthouse on Geomundo taken during our hike.

Pictures of the Baekdo Islands. There are about 100 small rock islands close to Geomundo. We got a ferry tour around them on our first day.

A boy on the beach. The water was really that pretty--very clear and aqua. Even though it was cold, some of us went all the way in.

Liz and Kirsten in the background.

During our hike, some of us did a detour and climbed up this rock mountain, nicknamed "Wizard Rock Mountain" or something like that. We saw all of these old men and women on it, so we figured, "how hard could it be?" Um...those are some tough elderly folk.

The wishing rock towers. You add your rock and make a wish.

A diva shot of Liz and Dean!

And finally, a picture from our drive home.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I kept forgetting to update!

Sorry! I could have sworn I updated this thing recently, but apparently, I'm just going crazy.

Work has been busier do to the fact that I have extra classes from 3:30-5:00 on Monday and Wed-Fri. It's double the work but double the pay, so I can't really complain. The kids are getting more restless as the semester rolls on, but they're still quite cheerful.

Spring is finally coming in, so it's been in the mid-sixties! The cherry blossoms are gorgeous in the city and there are flowering trees everywhere. I'm so excited for this next month or so, since 1) I have 3 days off this week when my students go on a retreat 2) I have another 5 day weekend in early May due to Children's Day and we're all going on a tour of the Korean islands 3) and my parents are visiting!

Dean and I went to Boramae Park on Thursday. It's a bit over a mile from our apartment but it was a very pleasant walk. There was a big group of older men playing traditional board games by the lake.

The cherry blossom trees by Sindaebang station. Really beautiful.

The Sillim Market by Sillim Station. It's sooooo long but really cool. Tons of fresh fish, vegetables, fruits, ginseng, meat, etc.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spring is finally here!

It's been a great week at Munseong (they changed the official spelling this year from Munsung to Munseong)! I'm feeling better than ever in front of the classes and the kids have been complete sweethearts. I don't have one single "bad" class, either. The level of understanding is considerably lower this time around, but only because when I came here last semester, the 7th graders already had a full semester of middle school English under their belt. But I have them fresh out of elementary school now, so things are a little harder to communicate.

The weather has finally lifted and is hovering in the high 50s, low 60s in the daytime. I've loved walking back to the apartment in this weather, and the yellow dust hasn't really kicked in, either.

On a more wide-scale note, there has been some big controversy in Korea as of late. They just got a new president, Ee Myung Bak, who was a former mayor of Seoul. One of his greatest achievements was the restoration of the Chyeonggye stream that runs through Seoul. Now, he plans on building a giant canal/waterway from Seoul all the way to Busan (on the south eastern coast of the peninsula). There are many that favor this plan, for it aims to create thousands of new jobs, invigorate the more central/rural parts of the country, and bring in more tourists from China. However, there are plenty that are completely opposed to this idea. For it to work, they would have to widen and deepen parts of the rivers and environmentalists are extremely concerned. During monsoon season, this could have serious repercussions. Plus, the construction of such a canal would cost about $52 billion USD. I asked some of my students about the canal idea, and they responded with grimaces. One of my more English-fluent students proclaimed, "He's terrible. Ugh" and then made the finger cutting across the throat movement. Well, only...what, 4.10 more years?

Ok, here are at lot of pictures from this week! I took my DSLR to school so I could take some quality pics of the kiddies.
These are some 9th graders in one of my favorite classes

Here is a group of boys who are super excited about the game we played today. They were just turning around to call me over to check their answer when I took the picture. Very, very enthusiastic class!

Another one of my 9th grade classes. My co-teacher, Mrs. Ryu, is in the background. Compared to some other classes, these students are fairly serious. They do their work quietly, they don't ask many questions, but strangely enough, they participate well when I ask for volunteers. Usually, quiet classes are like pulling teeth--it's impossible to get them to share their answers with the class. But these kids are fairly stellar.

I love this class! These are 2 7th graders. The one on the right actually lived in Philly for a year and her English is fantastic. I asked if she'd lived there for a couple years, but she was like, "Nope, just a year!" She kind of intimidates the rest of the class (they are very embarrassed to speak sometimes, because they know she's so advanced).

So what's interesting about this picture? Maybe the fact that some military men are just chilling in the background. Since the military is so large and they don't have tons of room, they sometimes come to schools and have meetings/some sort of training. They came during the lunchtime and were discussing something in the back of the playground. Meanwhile, the kids were running around them, playing soccer and basketball.

Here are some of my 9th grade girls. They're usually so shy about other people taking their pictures (even though they take tons of self-taken pics) so I have to get them while they're working.

This was taken while walking home. The flood of students from Doksan High School has just begun--you can see them all in the background. It's kind of like walking the gauntlet--you get tons of shouts, waves, and enthusiastic statements of, "Oh, Miss Jen!!! Hello!!! Hello!!!" (Many of my students who graduated this Feb are now at Doksan)

Taken during lunchtime today. It was gorgeous and there were a million kids running around.

Finally, me and Blue!

Alright, I have tons more pictures I could post but this update is already very full. Check out my flickr.com site if you want to see the rest.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Change WIll Do You Good

I was not looking forward to this new semester, what with one of my co-teachers leaving and my other close one having her desk relocated, plus my favorite student transferring schools. However, this year has turned out so much better than I could have imagined. My kids are a lot better behaved at this point because it's the start of a new year. When I came to Munsung, it was at the start of their second semester and I just felt like I was trying to fill in the former English teacher's shoes. The kids knew I was new, I felt new, and I didn't feel nearly as at ease in the classroom.
This time around, things are easier and the kids are more ready to give their respect. I have all new students, so this past week, I've just been doing an introduction, a classroom vocab review, and a simple word game. I included lots of pictures from home and college, plus some of my photos and art. The kids were REALLY impressed that both of my parents are lawyers (this revelation drew consistent "WOOOOOOWWWWWWW"s from all the classes).
My students that were 1st years have now moved up to be 2nd years, whom I do not teach. But the kids drop by my classroom every day just to say, "HI!!!!!" or "Hair pretty!!!" I still see a lot of my kids that graduated and went to high school, too, since many of them went to the high school right down the road. When I walk home, I get a lot of bows, giggles, and excited waves.

When a new principal or vice principal comes to your school, it's tradition for the old school to send flowers and gift rice cakes (not like American ones, these are chewy, dense, slightly sweet treats that look kind of like candies). This is the VP's desk on Tuesday of last week--the number of flowers grew by about 5-6 a day and by Friday, even the Korean teachers were amused. A few brought in their cameras to snap pictures.

Ahhhhh, this is one of the best things about Korea: tons of pastry shops. Korea has really embraced French pastries, and thus dozens of chains and individual bakeries have sprung up in Seoul. Paris Baguette is the most famous, and there are about 4 or 5 within a mile of where we live. There are also other shops that are privately owned close by. Anyway, their pastries are *delicious* and cheap--a croissant will run you about .60, an apple pastry about $1.10, and a gorgeous fresh cream cake with fresh strawberries costs about $12. I stop at this Paris Baguette a couple times a week on my way back from work.

This is a Buddhist sanctuary/building. And no, that's not a Swastika--it's a Buddhist symbol (it is turning in a different direction). This is a block or two from my school in a normal neighborhood. They're quite common.

Here is a typical Korean house. I don't live in a rich area, either. Most houses around where I live have a gate in the front and is surrounded by a concrete or brick wall. The houses aren't small, either--most are two stories and fairly big. The traditional style gate is still much used.

Last, here are two pictures of my new hair. I dyed it last week and it's been pretty fun.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

On the sly

It's 2:55 pm and I'm quite pleased with myself. The school has certain websites blocked from being accessed (such as myspace, blogspot, livejournal, etc), but I found a way around it and now I can update my blog while I'm at work! This way, I'll probably update on a more frequent basis though not always with photos.

Today was my first day back in the saddle, although I didn't have to do any actual teaching. Since today was the first day of the school year, there was a ceremony in the classrooms to welcome the incoming 1st graders (7th graders) and then the students all left early. I can't say that I was particularly thrilled with today, though. I don't really know the person sitting next to me (many teachers changed desks) and I have two new co-teachers. They seem like nice women, but I'm definitely going to miss having Yunhee around. Her English was just top-notch.

So I've sat here at my desk all day. I made a lesson plan for tomorrow, which is just a simple introduction with a powerpoint presentation of WV, DC, family, etc. Then, I have a game for them to play using classroom vocabulary (notebook, eraser, blackboard, etc). I finished that plan around 10 AM, and have just been browsing the facebook and studying Korean ever since. The internet really is an amazing invention. I found this HUGE site with hundreds of flashcard sets for learning Korean--they were all taken from different Korean textbooks or made by the users of the site. So I can flip through standard verbs or nouns (ask = 질문하다, alone =혼자) or I could choose a more specific card set, such as one for astronomy (asteroid = 소행성), tree names (bamboo = 대나무) or even "the dark side" (paganism = 이교!!). It's a great way to kill time and beef up my vocab.

The office is covered in these beautiful flowers. Parents send in huge potted plants at the start of a new semester with colorful ribbons streaming down the front. I took a picture and will post it next time.