Day 478 - More School Festival Pictures

1st years warming up for sports day

some 1st year friends

3rd years lookin' supa cool

my favorite students are 3rd years (don't tell the 1st and 2nd years!)

tug of war (right before they won!)


Day 477 - School Festival

samulnori club performing for their classmates

three-legged racing

display of the students' graphic arts work

tug of war, where this 2nd year class surprised everyone by beating the 3rd years

The first of many pictures to come of the school festival last Thursday and Friday. Since my school's out in the middle of nowhere, it's hard for me to spend time outside the classroom with my students. The festival's a good opportunity for me to see them outside of their student-persona and let them see me outside my teacher-persona.


Day 472 - State of English in Korea

It sucks.

Okay, so I have a bunch of time on my hands, so I've been looking through some lesson plans and getting organized for future classes. I came across another foreigner's blog and read through his rant on the state of English in Korea.

To summarize, it sucks. I'd say the average person in Korea has spent at least 10 years studying English through their public education. This isn't like your high school Spanish class though, this is intense studying that involves going to after-school tutoring classes and nation-wide standardized testing.

And yet, nearly every student I meet is completely incapable of interacting with me.


In your high school Spanish class, you probably studied all the aspects of Spanish. Vocabulary quizzes, grammar tests, listening exercises, writing essays, speaking tests, end-of-semester skits, Spanish food and culture. In Korea, however, English learning stops at the "listening exercises" part. Speaking tests are rare, writing essays or performing skits is nearly unheard of. Production of English is not taught -- it's assumed to develop on its own through all the vocab quizzes and grammar tests.

Enter the native speaker.

The government, educational boards, and schools assume that the native speaker is inheriting however many years of ability that the student has spent studying English. For me, this is about 10 years, as my high school kids started in elementary school. They're translating excerpts from novels and studying words like "abate", "prevail", "salvage", but they're unable to tell me what they did for summer vacation. No production skills.

Why can't they produce English? They're never taught how. They never need to learn how. Their standardize tests only measure vocabulary and grammar. Reading and listening. There's no writing or speaking section, so students are never required to show that they know English, only that they recognize English.

So back to the post on that other foreigner's website. He comes up with 4 points I completely wholeheartedly agree with.

  • Make English tests related to actual speaking and comprehension ability, not the 'ability' to pass a test. These are the hardest things to test, admittedly, but there are ways to test via a neutral third-party. Someone with no connection to either student or school - perhaps a third-party test center that connects to a call-center of trained native English proctors / testers.
  • Give teachers - both Korean and foreign - the flexibility and autonomy they need to do their job. Tell the parents to back off and let the teachers do what they're paid to do. If the parents can't trust a full-time working person to do their job, ask them if they think they can do better.
  • De-emphasize the English language as an educational gold standard. Yes, I did just say that. Take the pressure off of the entire population to learn a language only a fraction will actually need. How many store clerks need the vocabulary of a college scholar to sell a Coke?
  • Sponsor / support new and innovative programs - especially those started by English teachers trying to improve educational levels and standards.
My students aren't becoming the next community leaders, I'll be blunt. They don't need to know how to translate "Many people with hay fever move to more salubrious sections of the country during the months of August and September." Why force something so unnecessary on them when they could be doing something much more productive with their time?


Day 470 - Lotte World, Baking


Lotte World is a Korean Disneyland, an amusement park with a somewhat childish theme running throughout. It's pretty small compared to Disneyland, you could probably ride just about everything and see everything there is to see in one day. Doyup suggested we go as a sort of 300-day-anniversary celebration, so we took Friday off of work and went up to Seoul.

The original plan was that we'd go to Lotte World and afterwards meet up with his parents. (Luckily) we never ended up meeting his parents because either Doyup or his parents backed out at the last minute. At least I'm not the only one totally terrified of the inevitable awkwardness.


One of the hardest parts about living abroad, alone, is watching life back home go on without you. I kind of felt all last year that when I came home nothing would have changed, like time stopped while I was living abroad. It doesn't, of course. My sister graduated high school, my grandparents aged one more year, my friends got engaged and/or married.

Part of the reason why watching time pass for my family and friends hurts is that the seasons remind me of things that *should* be happening. Like when snow starts falling and the days get shorter, I expect to hear Christmas carols, go searching for the perfect evergreen tree, and taste eggnog. In the fall, when the leaves start changing and the weather gets crisp, I look for Halloween decorations, pumpkin pies, and spicy scents like cinnamon and cloves.

So I decorated my classroom and started baking during all my spare time. I haven't been able to find any canned pumpkin or candy corn, but I do what I can with molasses (dark sugar and honey) spice cookies and some sugar cookies.

It helped that Lotte World was decorated for Halloween, even if they did call it Happy Halloween Party.


Day 465 - Korea in America

Korea has mostly been known in America for Kim Jong Il and the Korean War. Unfortunate, because it means most people only know Korea as some kind of third-world, war-ravaged country over there in Asia.

So when I was looking through the Billboard Top 10 to find a video to use with my students (i.e. something not too rappy since they can't handle fast lyrics and something not too sexy because this is school) I checked out Billboard's #2, "Like a G6" by Far-East Movement.

And it is filled with Korean Easter eggs.

Some things I spotted:
--green soju bottles
--Hite beer
--"Korean restaurant"
--Makgeolli ads
--Hangul everywhere


Day 463 - F*bright 60th, 300 Days

This weekend was filled with anniversary marking. Additionally, I was incredibly ill. I went to the hospital, but a chest Xray and a CT scan later, they very obviously showed how incompetent they were and I left feeling just as crappy as when I got there.

In other news, it was the F*bright 60th Anniversary celebration this weekend. My teaching program invited 600 program members, diplomats, and alumni to the Shilla hotel (a ritzy 5-star near Namsan in Seoul) to mark the 60th year of the program. We started just a month before the North Koreans pulled their surprise attack on the South and started the Korean War, so it's pretty cool to be a member of the 60th class.

I sat with some of the other 2nd year extendees (and one amazing first year!) and we downed wine and bread like there wasn't going to be wine and bread anymore. Dinner itself was not quite the $100 per plate extravaganza I thought it would be, and then we had to sing.

Yes, as part of the celebration, all of the 100+ English teachers was forced to sing a song written especially for the ceremony. It was terrible and embarrassing and it sounded just awful. I'm not sure what they were expecting from a group who, for the most part, has little to no vocal training, but it was worse than a high school choir performance. Complete with the white-on-top, black-on-bottom matching clothes. Something I will not fondly recall for a number of years.

Besides the 60th anniversary, today marks DY and my 300 day anniversary. Hurray! Seems crazy that it's been 300 days already. We both took Friday off of work to go up to Lotte World, something we've been wanted to do for a while but is made EVEN BETTER because the amusement park is doing a Halloween theme now! So I'll be able to celebrate Halloween at least for a day.

I guess that's about it. The bathroom in my apartment is having MAJOR drainage issues, which is terrible since the shower is just chillin' out in the bathroom and drains through the floor. I dumped like half a liter of drain-o in it last night, so hopefully it'll be de-clogged by the time I get home today.