Valentine’s Day Approaches

As a single lady, I don’t really have any reasons to be super excited that Valentine’s Day is coming, but I do love it because holidays are always a fun thing to celebrate in a classroom.

I’m planning on turning Friday into a mini-party–still working out logistics–but I’m going to bake Funfetti cupcakes with pink icing and I want to make these cookies:

Yummy!  😀

And maybe some of these too–I could put together some cookie bags like I did for Christmas.  😀  We’ll see.

I also want to have them make Valentine’s cards for each other as it’s a cultural experience and it’s not something that’s done here.

Valentine’s Day in Korea is when the girls give chocolates/candy to the boys and a month later on March 14, White Day, the guys return the favor.  Apparently there’s also Black Day the following month (April 14) and that’s for the single people.

You’re supposed to go to the restaurants and order jjajjangmyeong, which is a cold, black bean and noodle dish.  You’re then essentially upping your chances to meet other single people in hopes that you won’t be single the next time it rolls around.

My goal with the treats and Valentine’s party is to make a fun party out of it.  I want them to be able to enjoy the holiday in another way.  I like opening their eyes to different things.
For example, a girl was reading a book about apple picking and there were yellow apples in the book and she thought it was funny.  In Korea, we have one type of red apples and SOMETIMES green apples (and the world goes crazy when they are here), but there aren’t any yellow apples.  I explained to the girl that there are yellow apples too and she thought I was joking, but I pulled up an American grocery store on Google and she was amazed by all the apples.  Not just one kind of red…but a lot of red, green and yes, yellow apples.
I try to also include other countries into the mix also.  I don’t want it to be all about America, but also about other places that I’ve experienced.  I like to pass on as many cultural things as possible to open their minds a bit.

With Valentine’s Day, I want them to know that it can be celebrated any way you want, but especially including your firends and family into the mixture.  It’s not only for boyfriends/girlfriends.  I hear so much about being “lonely”/”don’t want to be lonely”/”Aren’t you lonely” from the older people (my age) that it’d be nice to diffuse some of that before it gets going.

Let’s see…oh!  We watched Matilda the past two movie days (Only about 30 minutes each time)–and usually I don’t do two movies in a row because there are so many out there, but they LOVED Matilda, so we continued on a bit more with it.  (One of my girls in the class found the book in our library and I encouraged her to take it home and try it out.  It’s well above her reading level but she loved the movie and she seemed excited to have it, especially knowing that there wasn’t a rush and she wouldn’t have a test over it.
Ah yes, the point…if you’ve seen the movie or read the book you know there’s a horrible principal called Miss Trunchbull, and later in the movie it lets on that she’s superstitious and afraid of spooky/ghosty things.
This lead to a segway about superstition. A massive word for them, but I talked about it anyway.  We talked about good luck and bad luck and what things people are superstitious about in Korea.  They didn’t know the word superstitious in Korean (I translated it, but they don’t know it yet in their language, but they knew bad luck).  We also talked about how superstitions (or things that are bad luck) can be different in each country.
For example, in Korea, the number 4 is considered to be bad luck, as is writing someone’s name in red ink (symbolizes death),  I talked about some that we have in the US (walking under ladders, #13, black cats) and helped them understand why Miss Trunchbull was freaking out when there was a black cat near her in the movie.

Whew.  A bit long-winded tonight.
We had the movie day on Friday, but I made a note to talk with them about it because they seemed confused as to why this big strong lady was afraid of cats.  One boy just thought she didn’t like cats…but it was a good learning experience.

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More on Korean superstitions herehere and here!!
The first link is a good one and talks about ‘fan death’.  😛

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Anyway, I’m eagerly awaiting for a package from my mom with the two Titanic books that I ordered off Amazon for my Titanic-obsessed student.  I want to see his face when he gets them so bad.  It’s going to be beautiful.

Valentine’s Day is going to be snack-time (cupcakes and cookies–bagged candy can be pricey and I love baking, so baked goods it is!) and they’re going to make Valentine’s for each other and their parents.
We have two hours…so that should be enough time…right?

Holiday Time + Hanukkah!

I did a short Powerpoint presentation on Hanukkah today with all 3 classes and then they made their own menorahs 🙂

They had never heard of Hanukkah, so I was really happy with my decision to teach them about 3 of the major winter holidays.  They learned about latke, menorahs, dreidles and gelt.  I feel more knowledgeable too, haha.  I did quite a bit of research putting the powerpoint together.

I’m looking for a fun Hanukkah-related movie for our movie day on Friday to help wrap up the week so it’s not just today, but there don’t seem to be that many.

hanukkah

I also decorated the rest of the classroom today 😀

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Classroom–the garland has white twinkle lights in it (super fun when we have the lights off for a video clip)
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O
ur classroom door

Back to Hanukkah, I was also toying with the idea of trying to make latke (fried potato pancakes), but I have no idea how those would keep throughout the day…probably not well.  Might just stick with the movie.

I also had a super religious 5-year old in my first class and I was a bit nervous talking about Hanukkah with him there because I didn’t want him to run and tell his mom that we were learning about different religions.  Anyway, he seemed to enjoy it when the Dreidle song started up in the presentation, and I still think it’s good for them to learn about the different holidays.  I had some students in my second class who were shocked when I said Christmas isn’t the only holiday in winter.
Anyway, so far so good!  I’m also loving how the menorahs turned out 😀  Lots of creativity in those pictures 🙂

Also, I learned that our front desk girl that has been there since before I was there is being let go because she wants to go to the US for a week for her friend’s wedding.  (Keep in mind that we work all through the year with only 10 days of vacation).  Head Front Desk lady said that Korean people don’t need vacation..soo…yeah.
She’s always been super nice and great with the kids and parents, so it’s a bit of a shock.  She’s being replaced by another Korean girl who doesn’t speak any English… :-/
Should be…interesting…
Trying to keep positive though.  At least she gets to go to her friend’s wedding?  And she’ll still be in our city…so…that’s good.  *sigh*
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

But, to end on a positive note–I sent out all the penpal letters today! (and yesterday–stragglers…)  Wahoo!  I love projects and I love this one, but it’s also really nice to have it all finished and out of my hair and thoughts.  I was going to include some Korea presents/candy, but I’m also hesitant about sending candy and such because I don’t want the other teachers in the US to feel obligated or anything to send stuff, especially because sending stuff from the US to Korea seems to be more expensive.

Anyway, goodnight!  Hope it’s warmer where you are 😀

*Dance Dance*

I was a bit concerned about my youngest kids and this penpal project because we’re matching the kids up with 5th graders and I didn’t know if (1) they would have much to talk about with the age gap (my youngest: 1 kindy and some 1st graders) and (2) ability level.
So, I did some poking around and I got another class (THANK YOU MATT!!!!!!!!!) that is interested in writing to my youngest babies.  They’re kindergarten, but apparently fairly advanced.  Either way, that would be great practice for them.

Yay!  😀 😀
Still awaiting a confirmation email on the second school from the teacher herself, but I’m feeling good.  Happy week 😀

More Excitement :D

This is a tiny post but I can’t contain my excitement to combine it with something else, so here we are.

I have been toying with the idea of organizing a penpal project for my students for awhile (just brewing in the back of my mind) and I mentioned it to my boss today and got it approved!
I wrote out a message to all of my teacher friends in the US and UK asking if they would like to write to my kids and participate and I just got someone who was as excited as I am.  Less than 3 hours later.  😀 😀 😀

I did a mini-penpal thing a few months back where my kids wrote to “a book character” (me) and I wrote a custom letter back to each of them.  It was a ton of work though (20+ custom letters).  We did it back and forth twice and they got excited about the letters, but I think this will be more exciting.  They’ll have real kids their own age and they can practice writing in a real sense…not just in a workbook or for a test.
Maybe even form some long-term friendships??

Anyway, I had long day Friday and was ready to leave, but now with this new little project, I’m excited for Monday to get here 😀

11 Things I Dislike About Korea–Part 2 of 2

I’ve written about my favorite things (here, here and here) about Korea and this is part 2 of 2 in the things that irk, frustrate and really rub me the wrong way about life in South Korea.

Ka-Ja! (Let’s Go!)

7. THERE ARE SO MANY SMOKERS!! (*waves goodbye to her beautiful lungs*)
Self-explanatory, no?
Ok, fine, fine!  A wee bit of an explanation just in case I want one in 50 years when I read through this again.

This plays into #1 and 6 as well.
This is likely also due to the group-think mentality and peer pressure (see #11) that exists here.  I guess they haven’t had the D.A.R.E. program here and “Just Say No!”
Anyway, cigarette butts litter the street (I’m so punny, ha. haha.) and the smell of smoke is in most bars and restaurants.  I think they are working on banning it in public places, but uh…good luck with that.

I wonder if it’d be excessive to hang up one of those dirty lungs posters with “Don’t Smoke” written on it in my classroom.  They’re a bit young, but it’s never to early to start talking about it.  Anyway, that’s enough of an explanation.

Oh, and here.  (My teachers and university professors would kill me for using a Wikipedia as a source, but there you have it.)

Smoking in South Korea is similar to other developed countries in the OECD, with a daily smoking rate of 22.90% in 2012 compared to the OECD average of 21.13%. However, male smoking is among the highest at 40.80% while female smoking among the lowest at 5.20%.[1]

This also plays into #1 and #6 a bit.

8. Racism and Sexism
I believe this is mostly due to Korea being taken over by other countries so many times and a lack of exposure to different people and cultures.

Russian?”
If you come over and someone asks you “Ruh-she-an?”–They’re not asking if you’re from the country of Russia.  They’re asking if you’re a prostitute.  Yes, really.  And yes, I’ve been asked.  You’ll get it more if you have a lighter hair color and a lighter eye color.

*Black/African-American People
Can I admit this here?  But I honestly don’t know what the preferred term is anymore.  I don’t want to offend anyone by saying the wrong thing.

Oi.  Whew.  I hope someone is with me on this because I feel like some stereotypical white girl or some naive person.  Anyway, I just don’t normally run around classifying people by their color, so it can get a bit confusing when I actually have to do it.  (*runs and hides her head in shame*)

So, anyway, racism is still a really big problem here and is fueled in part by their media/TV shows/K-Pop singers.
I work to correct is when I see/hear about it in my classroom and so far, they seem to be catching on that I have a zero-tolerance “hate” policy.
Anyway, there is a particular TV show here called “Running Man” which is a slapstick humor style show and they’ve been criticized a few times for their usage of “black-face” in some of their sketches.  The shows will get a sort of slap on the wrist, but it’ll happen again later and no one seems to make that big of a deal of it except the foreign community.  Anyway, we’re getting there.
Also, I can’t speak for anyone besides myself obviously, but I’ve heard of issues with getting jobs (jobs asking for only white people and turning others away if they are darker than what they expected during the original interview, etc), BUT not everyone is like this.
It’s like this anywhere though…it’s NOT everyone.  I just want to stress that.  It DOES exist, sometimes more blatantly than others, but it’s there.

Just the other day, I was reading a book with my students and one of the characters appeared a bit darker in this particular version (more brown to my eyes) of the book and one of the kids said “Teacher, MONKEY!!”.   The whole class started laughing.  I let them have a short laugh then reeled it in and we had a liiiiiittle chat about it.
We read the same book the next day and not a  word was said and no one laughed at the picture again.

Anyway, I also try and show lots of videos with lots of different sorts of people so they have more exposure, and usually they’re pretty good about it, but it was that particular page that did them in.  I dunno…I guess more talking about different people and as much exposure to different people as I can try and give them.

9. Difficulty to get a decent haircut/Lack of English after so many years of learning it in school (hoooowwww?!?!!)

I’m just confused as to how English can be mandatory in schools from elementary school up through high school WITH major exams in high school that test on English, and yet, no one understands anything.  My main gripe is trying to get a haircut.  Everything else I can be pretty much left alone.
Oh, and I’m trying to get a gym membership and that…just….yeah, doesn’t happen. I’m actually going with a team of friends this weekend and we’re all going to try and push through the language barrier together.  haha.  It’s one of those things that you laugh about after but is incredibly frustrating while it’s happening.

It just reminds me of that ^^, haha  😀

10. ALCOHOLISM/Public drunkenness
Being drunk (or passed out) isn’t illegal here and you can see drunk (and beyond drunk) people (usually old men) stumbling around on most nights of the week.  These ajosshis (middle-aged men) go out for drinks with their bosses and co-workers after work and drink as a form of bonding.

The main issue (or one of many issues) I have with this is that people drink way past their limits because it’s part of the work culture.  It’s seen as incredibly rude to decline a drink (foreigners can get away with breaking this rule), but if your boss offers you a drink…you take it.  The seniors/bosses typically call the shots…and if you have an alcoholic boss…well, I hope you like the taste of your own vomit, or that you learn how to quickly hold your alcohol.

Anyway, again, drinking here is seen as a form of bonding and it’s done like this in social groups as well.   Not just with your co-workers.  (Yes, co-workers go out and get drunk together.  Yes, really.)

This also means that on a Sunday morning (or any morning if you’re up early enough), definitely watch your step.  Seeing vomit on the street is not unheard of.
Maybe that’s the *real* reason that people take off their shoes before entering a Korean (or Japanese) home.

I’m not against drinking or having a good time, I just don’t agree with pressuring people into drinking past their limits.  I also think that people should know their limits and respect them.  Basically, know when to call it a night.
If that makes me a party pooper, then so be it.

Here are a few videos for your viewing pleasure:
http://www.eatyourkimchi.com/how-to-drink-in-korea-in-seven-easy-steps/

Korean Drinking Games:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0f7d5VRhLls

Blacked Out Dudes and Dudettes:
Black Out Korea

11. Peer Pressure/Group-think/Hierarchies in the Workplace

I honestly don’t feel like going too much into this, sorry.  It just seems like something that comes up enough in the news as is, but I just wanted to point out its affects on the public drunkenness, smoking, lack of family time/work stress, etc.

I don’t deal with this personally, I just have seen it in action, so I also don’t feel qualified to talk too much about it.  If you’re working for a larger corporation, you’ll get t experience it, but since I don’t, I’m just going to leave it at that.

12. Toilet paper/Soap/Dryers/Paper Towels in the Trashcans in the Restrooms!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQAsZaDYJs0

This goes along with the “messy/dirty” categories from earlier.  Watch the video first and then come back.

Ok, so that’s a pretty standard bathroom in Korea, except the toilet paper in the trashcans can get piled pretty high and sometimes even onto the floor.  Not sure who cleans it or WHEN, but it’s definitely one of my least favorite parts of Korea.  Leaky toilets plus tissue everywhere is not a pretty picture.   And yes, I also put mine in the toilet.  2+ years later and I have yet to have any sort of toilet issues, even in my own apartment.

Toilets in public places are often in the hallways between the different shops, so a floor of businesses can share one set of restrooms.  They often have some sort of key or doorcode combination that you’d get from the coffee shop/restaurant/etc that you’re visiting.

Most bigger restaurants will have their own restroom, which is usually cleaner.

ALSO, soap is usually bar soap on a stick or it’s sitting in a little dish…that is if it’s in the bathroom at all.  Combined with the fact that the majority of restrooms DO NOT have dryers of any sort nor do they have warm water.  Granted, some coffee shops and chain restaurants will have their own bathrooms that are modern, but most other bathrooms do not.
Example: my last school (hagwon) only had a cold water tap, with no soap or paper towels.  My current school has a cold water tap (also functions as a tall mop sink–mens bathroom has a regular sink but also only cold water).  We sometimes have soap on hand and never have paper towels.

So…picture this, you’re in a building (lacking insulation as well, per the norm) and ready to wash your hands in the frigid water without soap or any sort of warm dryer (or towels). Do you or do you not wash your hands?  Not judging, just posing a question.

Street Shoutouts

As an expat/foreigner in a country, especially one that’s as homogeneous as Korea, am I somehow obligated to responding to everyone when they shout “Hello!” to me?

This is me just thinking out loud, but I usually try and think of myself as an ambassador of sorts because foreigners definitely stick out here, but also because maybe I’m the one opportunity that a person will have with a foreigner or an American.
Sometimes people/strangers will shout or say “Hi” to me (about once a week) and I respond about 99.9% of the time.
They typically don’t have any intention of starting a conversation with you, just a “HELLO!” and then they giggle or talk about it with their buddy.
I’ve just been wondering where the line is drawn with this.  I usually walk with headphones in and it still happens and I know it’s something small because saying “hi” back is fairly simple.  But where does this “ambassador” line end and when do my rights as a person who just wants to walk peacefully down the street begin.
Did I forfeit this when I left the country?

Koreans don’t typically chat randomly with strangers at all, and if I were to do the same to them, or even start chatting away (assuming I could) with the lady at the grocery store, this would be seen as extremely weird.  So, it’s definitely only with foreigners.
Some people I know don’t say anything at all in response.
I also act differently if it’s a little kid as compared to an older man.

Also, if this happens in the US, I don’t respond at all.

Anyway, I’m not sure if there’s a real answer to this, but it’s been something that’s been on my mind.

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I also broke in my new gym membership today (feels sooooooooooo good to be back) and worked my arms.  It’s been like two hours and I’m already feeling the burn.  Should be good tomorrow when I can’t pick up cups or lift my fork to eat my birthday cake. Actually, that last one won’t be a problem.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  haha 🙂

11 Things I Dislike About Korea–Part 1 of 2

…and some things that just rub me the wrong way.

I’ve already written quite a bit on the things that I do like (here, here and here), so I’d like to finally write about my dislikes.
These are not in any particular order and are not meant to offend or anything.  These are just my personal observations from the 2.5+ years that I’ve spent living, working and traveling in Korea.

1. Spitting
This is extremely common and done by men/boys in their teens all the way up through to old age.  You can be walking down the street and you’l hear a “hhahwwwkwkkkkkkkkkkkk puuuutuh.”  (The sound of hawking a loogy in case you didn’t know.)
I’ve been directly behind them and had to sidestep out of the way to avoid it.  So nasty.  I dunno, drink more water or something.

2. Poor driving (cars parking on sidewalks, motorbikes, red lights)
I’m so, so, so glad that I don’t drive here.  Red lights seem to be more of a suggestion as people will just honk their way through as they run the light.  Maybe this is a city thing?, but I’ve never seen anything like it in other cities that I’ve been to…but parking on sidewalks and just…anywhere seems to be an ok thing.

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Delivery motorbikes zip in and out of traffic and drive on the bike paths on the sidewalks.  It’s a bit of a mess really.
Oh, and this is a common sight.

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Blocking the flow of traffic

I asked my friend and she said it was illegal but that people do it anyway because they don’t want to wait.  Which…you have to wait anyway because the cars in front aren’t moving and you block the flow of traffic for all of the other cars…but hey!  Why not?
That same friend had also said that she had been to the US and really liked how we seemed to have a system for 4-way stops (yes.)  In case you’re unaware, or not from the US, we operate under the “first-come, first-to-go” sort of policy.  If you’re there first, you stop, look and go.  Then the next person to arrive goes…and so it continues.
That doesn’t exist here.  If you wait your turn, you’ll never have one.

3. Lack of common sense (due to the need to follow directions all the time)

4. All work and no play makes Lee a dull boy.
The work-culture here is a bit insane.  People work incredibly long hours and sacrifice family time (if there is any) to advance at work.  Also, people will often come into work early and leave later because the amount of *time* spent at your job shows your dedication and commitment.  You might not be super productive during those hours, but if you’re there early and leave late, then you look better than those who are not.

This also affects the students because students are often at school from early in the morning til late at night.  Wealthier families try to send their kids to the after-school schools/cram schools/academies to get them ahead or extra tutoring.  Rather than have time playing games (OUTSIDE GAMES, not computer or phone games *headdesk*) or going to the park, they’re in school or at tae kwon do or at piano/flute/guitar/banjo/ballet/swimming/hapkido practice.

For example, I have one student in my 6-8 PM class that is always wearing his hapkido uniform because he has hapkido directly after our class.  It’s often school, then home for a snack and to change clothes, finish up some homework/play computer games (I’ve asked) and then off to hagwons (after school academies).

This leaves little time for kids to be kids or for any sort of self-exploration or discovery.  The schools don’t seem to have the same sort of club structure that we had in our schools (and yes, to each their own, but I think those school-sponsored clubs were a great way to discover your interests).

Anyway, I know this society is based on Confucianism and doesn’t really value individualism or developing your own hobbies and interests.  As a child, you’re basically told to do whatever your parents want you to do and that’s that.  It creates good rule-followers but does little to develop the self or any sort of creative instincts, which is very noticeable as a teacher.

5. Pushing/Shoving/Lack of Personal Space
Lines?  What lines?  Getting on the subway or train can be frustrating because everyone seems to be in a big hurry, which is part of the “bali bali” (“quick quick”/”hurry hurry”) culture.
It’s possible also that it stems from having so many people in such a small space.  However, when I visited Japan, people were still quite capable of making lines and not shoving eachother around.

I’ve also included this in a few of my classroom lessons.  Not sure if it’ll make a difference, but if I can stop it in my own classroom, then that will be enough for me and hopefully they can take those lessons outside of the classroom.
Unless someone is handing out free money or the train is leaving the platform in one minute, there isn’t a reason to shove other people.  So just calm down everyone.

I have students that push eachother to get to a chair when I open the door of my classroom and it’s like “Whoa there!  There are plenty of chairs for everyone.”  Maybe they’re all just super excited to be in my class.  😀  haha  Or trying to get that perfect chair in the room…I’m going to go with the former.

Here’s a great article on some of the pressures in Korean society.

6. Dirty Streets/Litter/Lack of Public Trashcans
Korea doesn’t have many public trashcans and it shows.  This is one of my top dislikes about Korea.  It makes it smell and it looks awful.  No, not awful…disgusting.

These were a few taken near my apartment, but it’s like this in a lot of places.

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Also, fliers are used as advertising and chucked all over the streets (and sometimes posters are taped to the ground) and it’s never really cleaned up.  A bunch of ajummas (older ladies) come by in the early mornings and pick things up, but the bright green tape is always there on the ground and the cigarette butts look like confetti on the sidewalks and streets.

//Taking a breather here because I just viewed it and this post looks a bit overwhelming and long.
Tune in next time for part 2.  It’s already outlined, I just need to add in some details.  😀
Hope you’re having a lovely week!