Friday, December 14, 2007

One more picture

This is me and two other teachers watching the game. I had totally intended on playing, but went jogging for the first time in quite a while and hurt my my mom said, maybe those two things aren't entirely unrelated!

Egerton Cup

Me and Mimi, my principal's little dog, trying to stay warm!
One of the teams in their official Egerton Cup shirts.
The other team.
Pete and Jason watching the game.
The two teams after the game.

On Sunday, December 9th, there was a soccer game in honor of John. He was the varsity soccer coach. Our school just had a new soccer field built, so it was a fitting place to have it. Then we came back to the apartments and had a Thai food potluck and some people (not me!) drank car bombs (a shot of Jamison dropped into a glass of Guiness and chugged), which were John's favorite drink. Even though it was a Sunday night, some people (again, not me!) partied into the night, so Monday morning was tough for some folks! But it was a nice way to remember John.

I'm heading home in a week! I'm very excited to go back to the US and see everyone. There's also a lot of food I'm excited to eat while I'm home that I can't get here: a Burgerville cheeseburger, black beans, skim milk, good Mexican food, pastries, sourdough bread, regular Diet Coke...yummm!

Friday, December 7, 2007


Last Saturday, December 1st, one of the SIS teachers was riding his motorcycle in Seoul and was hit by a bus that ran a red light and was killed. The teacher taught junior Kindergarten (4 and 5 year olds) and was 12 days shy of his 28th birthday. I didn't know him all that well, but it's been a huge shock to the whole school. One thing that was weird for me was that I had e-mails in my in-box from him that he had sent me just a couple of days before he died. For the people who knew him well, this week has been really difficult. I was really impressed by how the SIS community pulled together to mourn him and celebrate his life. It's kind of a weird thing to have someone die like this, so far away from home. To a large extent, his friends here in Seoul had become his family for the past 3 years, but then he has this whole other life in the US that most people here don't really know much about.

We all found out about his death on Sunday and on Monday, the multi-purpose room at school was turned into a place for his memorial. It's traditional in Korea to send large wreaths of white flowers to a funeral and there were over 20 huge wreaths for this teacher, mostly from parents connected to the school. There was also an alter set up with flowers, a picture of the teacher, candles, pictures, and other souvenirs people had from this teacher. The school put on a memorial service for the teacher on Thursday. Then on Sunday, we're playing a soccer game and eating Thai food in his honor.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jeju Island

I spent Thanksgiving weekend on Jeju Island (or Jejudo, in Korean). It was nice and warm there and the island is known for tangerines, which were right in season when I was there. It was fun to get to see all the tangerine trees full of the fruits. Jeju is also known as a big tourist destination for Koreans and others, so there are a bunch of different museums on the island. I went to a folk museum, 2 lava tubes, a botanical garden, a waterfall, a citrus museum, and a sex museum! Regarding the last one, Jeju is also known as a big honeymoon spot and there are 3 sex museums on this little island! So it was a very educational trip, all the way around.

Here are some pictures from the trip, from the top to bottom:

  • The view from Seongsan Ilchulbong out over the South Sea/East China Sea. Ilchulbong is an extinct volcano that is shaped like a punchbowl, but doesn't have any water in it because the volcanic rock is so porous.
  • Kimchi pots at the folk museum
  • The view of Mt. Halla, in the middle of the island, after a 2 and a half hour hike. I enjoyed some lovely ramon (ramyon in Korean) up there!
  • At Hallim Park, a botanical garden that was set up in 1971.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Today some of the other SIS teachers and I went to the town of Yeoju, which is known for its pottery and ceramics. Yeoju is about an hour southeast of Seoul (well, actually from Songnam, which is officially the city where I live). I bought 12 pieces for about 60,000 won, or 70 bucks, so it was a good day for me! The main thing I was looking for was a little kimchi pot, which I got. I don't really know what I'm going to do with it, but I like it a lot! I've put some pictures of bigger kimchi pots and one of the men making the pottery on this post. These are the types of pots that used to be buried underground for months at a time as the cabbage and spices fermented. Today most people don't have anywhere to bury their kimchi, but they make little kimchi fridges that keep it at the perfect temperature for fermenting.

Ever since I got here, I've been hearing about how the SIS students have to walk a fine line between their Korean lives and their American lives. I've had a chance over the past few weeks to hear from my students about this topic and learned some interesting things. I already told the story about getting yelled at for speaking English on the subway. I told some of my freshmen about it and they all had their own stories about speaking English in public. It's really looked down upon for Korean kids to speak English, which is interesting because I believe it's mandatory for all Korean public school kids to take English in school now. One girl told me that she and a friend were speaking English on the subway and an older Korean woman came up and smacked her and told her she should only speak Korean! This same girl said that she hates having to have her textbooks visible on the subway because they're all in English and she gets people staring and making comments about her. Another girl told me that she and her mom usually speak English when they're together, including when they're in public, and that she hears other Koreans swearing at them, thinking they don't speak Korean. She said she loves to say something to them in Korean just as she's leaving to let them know she's understood everything they said. It's not just older people who get mad at the kids speaking English...many of them had stories about having Korean public school kids beating up friends of theirs for speaking English in public. I asked my students why there are so many hard feelings and they said that they thought with the kids especially, there is a lot of jealousy because the English of the international school kids is so much better.

I'm taking a course on ESL in the Mainstream and we're talking about our students' English speaking abilities as well. Quite a few of the teachers in the class have taught in other international schools around the world and pretty much all of them say that this is the only school they've ever worked at that doesn't offer classes for the kids in the native language. One of the teachers in the class is a social studies teacher in the high school who teaches Asian Studies. She said when she first came to SIS last year, she was so nervous to teach the course, thinking that all the kids would know so much more about Korean history than she did, but that's she's found that to not be true at all. It turns out that many students at SIS speak Korean to some degree, most pretty well, but do not know how to read and write fluently in Korean. I think about what an awkward position that puts them in, especially those that plan on living in Korea as an adult, because most of these kids aren't American either. A lot of them were born in the US, but moved back to Korea as babies or young children and don't really remember the US. Even those that moved to Korea later seem to be much more Korean than American to me. Yet they may not have the ability to read the newspaper or write an e-mail in Korean. It's an interesting paradox and seems to really limit what the kids will be able to do. In fact, some of the kids go to hagwons to learn to read and write Korean, which seems funny that they'd have to spend all this time outside of school to learn the language their parents speak and for the country they live in. Also, they don't really know their own history, which is especially interesting (and sad) to me considering that this generation's grandparents lived through the trauma of the Korean War and these kids may have great aunts and uncles, aunts and uncles, and cousins living in North Korea who they've never met due to the Korean War.

In the conversation I had with my freshmen about speaking English, we started talking about the US military presence. A couple of kids had stories about seeing the American soldiers here drunk and/or acting very inappropriately to Koreans in Itaewon, the neighborhood near the big military bases. One of the other new teachers here has a couple of friends who are in the military and they told her that Korea is seen as a very undesirable post, so a lot of people don't want to be here. My response was, if I were in the military and got stationed in Seoul instead of Iraq or Afghanistan, I'd be jumping up and down and kissing the ground! But one of this teacher's friend who just left the Army 3 months ago said that the best soldiers are getting sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, so it's the real doofuses who get sent to the folks here are not exactly getting to see America's best! There is some resentment amongst the Koreans about having the American soldiers here for various reasons, and my students gave me some interesting insight into that issue.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Chusok Parade Pictures

Wow, 3 posts in one day! These are pictures from Chusok, about a month ago. The elementary kids had a little parade through the school and while I didn't get to see it, I heard about it. The girls are wearing hanbak, the traditional dress. I don't know what you call the outfits the boys wear. I think most of these kids are first graders and they're all cute! At some point, I'd like to go price hanbaks for myself...I'd have a halloween costume for the next few years!
In the picture with the little boy in red, you can see all the shoes on the little shelf by him. The little kids have slippers that they wear inside the classroom, so they keep their outside shoes outside the room in these little cubbies.


How's this for a store's name! And the clothes aren't even that lovely!

This store is in Itaewon.

Autumnal Pictures

Here are some pictures from a walk I took today on the hill behind my neighborhood up to the Buddhist temple. The leaves are starting to turn and it's really pretty! Three of the pictures are from the temple and the picture with the tiger statue is from the school.


One of the interesting things about living abroad is figuring out how to pay bills and get money! Most of my bills are taken out of my pay check directly, but I get my gas bill and phone bill in the mail, so I have to figure out how to pay those, which is tricky since the bills are in Korean! We have an ATM at school and the bills can be paid through the ATM. But wouldn't you know it, while it's in English when I need to get cash out, when I need to pay a bill, it only does it in Korean. Some folks have written out a flow chart with all the various steps (press the top right button, then press the middle green button, etc), but it seems like they missed a step or two, so it's tricker than I think it should be. When I got my first bill in September, I had to basically tackle another teacher to get some help! But this month I managed to figure out how to pay my gas bill...but I don't remember exactly what buttons I pushed! So hopefully I can figure it out again next time! This time I really couldn't figure out how to pay my phone bill, but I heard from another teacher that I could go to my local mini-mart to pay that. So I went down today to try it out. With my limited Korean, I set it on the counter, said "Hello", and smiled. And lo and behold, my bill got paid! It had a barcode on it, so the mini-mart lady just scanned it and I paid it.

Another interesting thing they do here is that you can transfer money into other people's accounts at the ATM. All you need is their bank name and account number, and then you just enter that info. and you can transfer money in. When I paid for a plane ticket a few weeks ago, I was able to just put the money into the travel agent's's pretty slick! Another teacher was telling me that last year she was at Costco right before payday and so wanted to charge her stuff to her credit card since she didn't really have any money in her account. But of course, Costco doesn't take credit cards, but she didn't realize that until she had done all her shopping and was at the cashier. So they had to call the manager over to explain what was going on to her, so she said, then I'll just put my stuff back and come back after pay day. Well, the manager said, no no no, I'll just give you the money and then when you get paid, you can just tranfer the money you owe me in to my bank account. Can you imagine that happening at home?!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

How my students see Americans

Hi all,

I've had some revealing glimpses into how Korean teenagers see America and Americans recently. In my 9th grade class, they were taking a test on the play 12 Angry Men and were given quotes that they had to identify who said the quote, the context of the quote, and what the author was trying to say was right and/or wrong with America through the character. One of the characters in the play, Juror #11, is an immigrant from Europe who moved to the US in 1941 to escape persecution. The quote I had on the test from #11 that they had to identify was "This is the reason I came here. I wanted to have the right to disagree.” One of my students said, "This is wrong to American society because people have the right to speak, but it makes the US look bad to other foreigners, because they think that its natural and okay to always have unpopular opinions." I thought this was a really interesting take on freedom of speech. At first I thought, "wait a minute, how in the world can she say freedom of speech is bad?" But then when I got to the end of the sentence, I could see where she was coming from, especially given Bush, the Iraq War, etc. I don't agree with her 100% (well, I do agree with her on Bush and Iraq!), but it is curious how something that I think most Americans consider super important can be seen as a huge negative to others.

Then, the other day I was using this new technique I learned called Chalk Talk (for you teachers out there, here's how it works. You put an open-ended question on the board. Give the kids a few minutes to think about it [I used the same question as their warm-up question] and then they start Chalk Talk. Basically, for 10 minutes, kids respond to the question only through writing on the board. The room should be silent during this because everyone is "talking" through writing. I put 4 markers up there so only 4 kids could come up at a time and let them go. It was awesome! At times, there was literally a line of kids waiting to come up and write. You end up with this multi-colored web of thoughts, opinions, questions, responses, etc up there. And, when I saw there were holes or things I really wanted to make sure were pointed out, I just went up and started jotting stuff down. The teacher who taught me Chalk Talk said that she has one student who will not speak in class ever, but she'll do Chalk Talk!). Anywho, the question was, "Besides someone who lives in America, what is an American?" Some of the responses were really interesting. One kid said that an American is someone who believes in freedom, but will not die for it. I asked him about that and he said that during WWII, Americans were willing to die for their country, but not now, which he's totally right about. Then another kid had just written "manners" on the board, so I asked him what he meant...were those good manners and bad manners? A bunch of kids ended up answering at the same time and some said Americans have good manners and some said they have bad manners! I asked them what kinds of things were good and they said that if you bump into someone in the US, the person you bumbed into will apologize to you. That's really different from here where you get bumped and shoved and pushed and knocked into all the time (rarely on purpose though) and there's hardly ever any sort of acknowledgment or apology or anything...there are just so many people here! So that got us on a conversation about bubbles and how Americans like their space! I didn't hear too many specifics about Americans' bad manners (maybe that were worried they'd offend me?), but loudness came up.

Speaking of being seen as rude, a few weeks ago I was riding the subway with another SIS teacher and we were talking, but not loudly, and this woman was so disgusted with us that she scolded us in front of everyone, looked at us like we were the most digusting thing she'd ever seen, and told us that she was going to have to change subway cars because we were so disruptive! As I've told a few other people, I try to be really conscious of not being the ugly American when I travel, but in this case, she was so obviously prejudiced against us because we were white and speaking English, that I didn't even feel guilty. There is some definite racism against Westerners here, especially Americans. I've noticed it mostly among the older people. It's not uncommon for there to be an empty seat next to me on the subway and have it be the absolute last one taken, I'm assuming because people don't want to sit next to someone who's white/foreign. I've heard from other teachers that they've been yelled at by bus and taxi drivers for speaking English. So far I haven't been too offended by it though. Korea is a country that's been taken over time and again by outside forces, so it makes some sense that they'd have negative views towards foreigners. It is interesting though... But then, I've also had Koreans be absolutely wonderful to me as well. When we first got here, a group of us went to a restaurant/bar with a band and the table next to us had a woman's who was celebrating her birthday. The band sang her happy birthday, so we sang along and then when her little cake came out, she gave our table 2/3 of it and thanked us profusely for helping her celebrate her birthday! And last week when I went hiking on the mountain, a Korean man and his father-in-law made sure that we were having a good time, seeing good stuff, etc. So, just like anywhere, you have your good and your bad!

All right, I'm off to the vegetable market. Have a great week!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Inwangsan Shamanist Hillside Walk

Pictures, top to bottom: 1) Shamanist shrine (notice the swastika on top. That symbol has been part of Asian cultures for centuries, way before the Nazis got a hold of it).
2) An offering of rice left in front of a statue.
3) Some of the rocks on the hill.
4) A view of Seoul and the Blue House, where the President lives.
5) A bronze bell that is rung with that log on the side.
Last weekend, I went with Heather, the elementary school librarian, on a walk we found in the Lonely Planet book. We got to see Seoul's most famous shamanist shrine and part of the old Seoul Fortress Wall. We had to ride the subway for about an hour from our neighborhood in the southeast part of Seoul to the northwest part. Then we walked up through a neighborhood and lots of construction to the shamanist neighborhood. There were all these little shrines sprinkled in amongst more traditional homes. Unfortunately the directions in the guidebook were not so clear, but we eventually got to where we wanted to be, after dodging a snarling guard dog and a dead kitten on the road (it probably got hit by a car. There are a lot of stray animals here in Seoul and probably all over Korea. I don't think they're so into spaying and neutering animals here).

It was a beautiful day...really sunny, but not overly hot. So we wandered around and saw some of the shrines. I don't know a ton about Shamanism except that they're very into spirits and nature. A lot of Koreans are both Buddhist and/or Confucionist and/or Shamanist. The neighborhood is up on a hill with lots of cool rocks, so we wandered around a little bit and then ran into a Korean man and his father-in-law who helped us scamper up a hill and then we joined a hiking trail up Inwang Mountain. So we ended up in this cluster of Koreans out for a hike for the day and they all had their walking sticks and fancy backpacks and high-tech fabric shirts (we were in t-shirts and jeans, thinking we were just going to go on a neighborhood jaunt). The views were beautiful and the Korean man and his father-in-law both spoke some English and were very nice. They kept watching out for us and making sure we were keeping up with everyone. Then we walked down the hill along the fortress wall. The wall has been around for a long time, but was torn down over the years, including during the Japanese occupation. They started to rebuild it in the 1970s.

We ended up coming out of the park in a totally different spot than we had gone in, but found our subway stop, so it all worked out!

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Last Monday, the 1st, was my 30th birthday! It was a little weird to celebrate my birthday half-way around the world from my family and friends, but it was a good birthday. I got packages from friends and family that I was able to open the day of and I think there's at least 1 more coming, so my birthday will be spread out for the next couple of weeks! I also got taken out to dinner twice, once for Vietnamese and once for Mexican. I found out about an actually good Mexican restaurant called Dos Tacos here in Seoul. The guy who started it apparently lived in LA for years, so he knows Mexican food. I had a potato burrito and a side of sliced avocado with a Corona and it was pretty good!

Here's a picture of me with a present from Abby, a Junior Mints lunch box filled with 30 little boxes of Junior Mints!

Friday, September 28, 2007


On Saturday, 9/22 I went on a USO tour of the DMZ, the border between North and South Korea. I had been there once before, in 2000, and had really enjoyed it, so I was excited to go back.

The DMZ is about 1 1/2 hours north of Seoul. It's so easy to forget how close I am to North Korea when I'm in the middle of Seoul! There are a few different companies that do tours up there, but I think the USO may be the only one that actually goes onto the base that's there, Camp Bonifas. It's illegal for South Koreans to go to the actual DMZ, so there are some tours that go to other places along the border, but not the camp.

We caught the bus to the DMZ at 7 AM, so it was an early start. The tour at the camp was almost identical to the one I'd taken before. It started out with a presentation of the history of the DMZ and then we hopped on buses and went to Conference Row, which is a series of 4 or 5 small buildings built right along the border. So when you're in the buildings, you can walk between North and South Korea. There's a big gray building that belongs to the North Koreans and sometimes the N. Korean soldiers come down to the conference buildings when Western tourists are in there to take pictures through the windows. Unfortunately that's never happened when I was there. The tour groups can go into one building and wander around. On the N. Korean side of the building, there's a door that leads to N. Korea. Apparently there's always a N. Korean guard posted on the other side of the door. It used to be that a S. Korean guard (Republic of Korea guard, or ROK) would go in and lock the door by himself, but then one day, the N. Korean soldier on the other side opened the door and tried to pull the ROK soldier into N. Korea! So now 2 ROK soldiers go in to lock the door, one with a gun drawn, so if that happens again, it will probably result in some sort of international incident! Also, in that building, there's a little plaque with plastic flags in it. Apparently there used to be little cloth flags there, but when G.W. Bush came for a visit a few years ago, some N. Korean soldiers came into the building and pulled down the US and ROK flags and blew their noses into them! (Apparently they like GWB about as much as I do!). So now they have the plastic ones.

After that building, we got back on the bus and drove to Checkpoint 5, which overlooks N. Korea and the Bridge of No Return. The bridge is called that becuase it's where prisoners of war were repatriated at the end of the Korean War. All the POWs got to choose which side they ended up on, but that was it...they couldn't go back. It also looks over the Checkpoint 3, which is at the S. Korean side of the bridge. That post used to be manned, but in 1976, there was this big poplar tree that had grown so big that it was blocking the view of Checkpoint 3. So a group of 10 S. Korean and US solders went to cut it down. They were chopping it down, when all of a sudden the 30 N. Korean soldiers standing around grabbed the axes that had been used to cut down the trees and killed 2 Americans and injured the other 8 soldiers. The US and ROK soldiers retreated, but then they really needed to cut down the rest of the tree, so 3 days later, Operation Paul Bunyan was underway, that involved all sorts of troops all over Asia being on high alert in case the war started up again (since the Korean War is still technically going on). This time the N. Koreans didn't bug them, so it was finally cut down totally. For a while the stump was left, but now there's a plaque there that shows how big the trunk of the tree was. Over on the N. Korean side, there's a "Peace Museum" that apparently has the 2 axes used to kill the American soldiers.

After that, we went and and some Korean food for lunch (after a stop at the gift store, of course!). Then we went to an observation tower that looks over N. Korea. We couldn't really take pictures there, but there were telescopes you could use to look into N. Korea. There's a town right across the border called Kijong-dong. In English it's called Propaganda Village because no one actually lives there. Instead, it's a bunch of empty buildings, a huge flag on top of a huge flagpole, and giant speakers that broadcast N. Korean propaganda across the border throughout most of the night. There are some N. Koreans who come and are caretakers of the buildings, but they don't live there. It was really weird to look through the telescope into what could be a bustling town and see basically no one. There were a very few people wandering around...I saw probably about 5 workers over there.

On the S. Korean side, there's a town called Taesong-dong, that just so happens to be inside the demilitarized zone. The people who live there have pretty strict rules. They have to stay in the village for 240 consecutive days and nights, they have to be in their homes by 11 pm and have their doors and windows locked and be accounted for. They also have to listen to the broadcasts from Propaganda Village all through the night. But, there are some benefits. It's a farming village and the people that live there have 14-17 acres of land, compared to the average of 2-4 acres in the rest of S. Korea. They live tax free and make about $80,000/year. The men are also exempt from the mandatory military service. The men in the village can marry women from outside the village and bring them in, but the women can only marry men from the village so that there aren't more men who are exempt from military service (which is totally unfair! What if there's no one a woman likes in the village?!).

After the observation place, we went to a tunnel that the N. Koreans secretly dug to try to get to Seoul. It was found in 1978 and was the third one of these tunnels to be found. It wasn't completed, but if it had been, it would have been big enough for about 30,000 armed troops to move through in an hour and they would come out just 44 km from Seoul. Today tourists can go down in it, but no camera are allowed. When it was found and the N. Koreans were confronted, they said, "oh, we were looking for coal," and they had even painted the walls of the tunnel black so it would look like long as you didn't touch it, because then you end up with black stuff all over your fingers, and you can see the rock underneath the paint!

After that, we headed on back to Seoul. Another technique the ROK soldiers use to detect if N. Koreans are trying to get into S. Korea is that they stick rectangular rocks into the chainlink fences all along the border. Then everyday they inspect the fences and if rocks have fallen out, they know something's going on there. I couldn' believe how close to Seoul these chainlink fences were....I was looking at rocks almost the whole way back!

So, if you ever come to S. Korea, I totally recommend going to the DMZ. It's just so dang interesting!
Pictures, top to bottom:
1) An ROK soldier standing on the N. Korean side of the building on Conf. Row we went into. The door he's standing in front of is the one with the N. Korean soldier posted on the outside, where the ROK soldier was almost pulled in.
2) The small blue buildings are the ones along Conf. Row. the big gray building in the background is a N. Korean building.
3) N. Korea's Propaganda Village, with its giant flagpole. The flagpole is about 160 meters high and the flag is about 30 meters long.
4) The plaque where the tree in the Axe Murderer incident stood. The beige ring is the circumference of the tree trunk.
5) Looking across the Bridge of No Return.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Terry Fox Pictures

OK, now I can upload pictures. The first picture is, from right to left, Heather, Francie, me, and Aaron before the race (we got there about 2 hours early, so we had a lot of time to hang out and take pictures). The next picture is the start of the race. The last picture is me taking a break from the oh-so-grueling walk in front of a lovely field of flowers.
One of the funniest things about the race was how many people were smoking before they got going! I didn't get any good pictures of them, but there were all sorts of men in full running gear, stretching with a cigarette in their hand! I'll see the same thing when I go down to the river trail by my dong; all sorts of folks in spandex and bike helmets, enjoying a cigarette before they take off on a ride!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Terry Fox Run

Hi all,

On the weekend of September 16th, I got to pretend like I was Canadian for the day! (I wish I was Canadian!). I participated in the Terry Fox 5K run or walk (I did the walk). I had heard a little bit of the Terry Fox story before, but he was this young Canadian guy who got bone cancer in his 20s and decided to run across Canada to raise awareness of cancer, even after he had a leg amputated due to the cancer. He died in 1981 without having made it across the country, so now Terry Fox runs are held to help raise money for cancer research.

The run was in an area of Seoul kind of far away from where I live near the Han River (that's about all I can tell you about it!). It was kind of weird to be around all those Westerners at once, although there were plenty of Koreans there as well. It seems like everytime I see a Westerner, I automatically assume I know who they are, since in my little neighborhood, that's just about the case! Even if I know right away I don't know them, there's always that little smile that passes between Westerners...except at Costco, because then it's all Westerners and we're all too busy shoppin' to smile at each other! Shopping at Costco is great because all the signs have English on them, so I can actually tell what I'm buying. Of course, there are a lot of things I'd love to try, but I don't want to have to buy 17 pounds of, but at least I can sort of recognize it if I see a smaller amount in the regular store.

For some reason, blogger isn't letting me upload any pictures right now, but I'll try again later.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


It's the first weekend of my week-long Chusok holiday! Chusok is apparently like the Korean thanksgiving. Most people go spend the day (this year, the actual Chusok day is Tuesday the 25th) with their families, so traffic is pretty bad that day, I guess. A lot of the SIS teachers use this week to travel, but I decided to stay in Seoul, mostly because it cost so much to ship my stuff over. But it's nice to have some time to relax and see Seoul.

It's traditional to give presents to family and people who work for you on Chusok, so at Costco and GS Mart, there are all sorts of Chusok gifts you can give. It's amazing what kinds of things are available to give! They have gift packs of almost anything you can think of: alcohol, socks, handtowels, tuna, oil (canola, grapeseed), tuna, Spam, soap, toothbrushes, etc. My boss, Mr. Kim, got presents for all the teachers, which was very nice...12 gigantic Asian pears! So every teachers has got pears coming out of their ears. We're all bringing a pear to lunch, eating them for breakfast, etc. I just have one left (I gave 6 of mine away and 2 of them went bad before I ate it), but it's been a struggle! Then, a few days after we got the pears, someone (I'm assuming a parent) got 10 pounds of sweet potatoes to give to all the teachers! Luckily I found someone else to take mine right away...I'm not a big sweet potato eater!

It's also pretty common to give Chusok presents to teachers, especially elementary teachers. I didn't get anything this year, but a couple of years ago the school had to put a limit on how much teachers were getting. One of the teachers I work with has a husband who teaches 1st grade at SIS and apparently he would get a TON of stuff. So much that she and he would have to make a couple of trips to get it all home! Not anymore though.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


My 10th graders had this group project to do on Colonial Americans which included a paper that they needed to write. SIS subscribes to this service called, which checks papers for plagiarism, so they had to upload it to that website as well as turn in a hard copy to me. A couple days after the paper was due, one student came in to see me because she was concerned that her partner had plagiarized part of her paper and she wanted to let me know so that she didn't get in trouble. This student had printed out the part of the paper her partner had copied as well as the original source she had copied it from, which turnitin hadn't caught. I took a look at it and realized that the student who wrote that page had taken the first 2 sentences of her page from this website, but had changed the language just enough that turnitin wouldn't catch it.

So the next day, I talked to the student who had plagiarized. Of course it's not OK that she did that, but I decided I'd let her have a chance to rewrite that section and turn it back in and not take any points off since it was her first offense. I had her stay after class and told her all that. I also told her that I wasn't mad, just disappointed in her choice and that she was perfectly capable of doing a great job of writing without needing to plagiarize. The next day, when I came in, I had the e-mail below from the student:

Dear Ms. Jones,

When you informed me that I had plagiarized , I was so much in shock that I did not find the time to apologize, and also to say thank you.
I am very sorry for the mistake that I have made.
We are currently studying plagiarism in journalism class, and as I listened to the teacher's lecture, guilt weighed me down so much that I wanted to burst out crying.
After my partner submitted our paper, she said that she saw a pretty high percentage turnout, and pointed to the exact same sentence that you did today.
She also mentioned that we did not include the site containing this information in our bibliography, which was completely unintentional.
I thought that it would "be okay," so we did not take any further action to prevent this problem from occuring. That was one crucial mistake I made.
The second mistake I made was, well, plagiarizing.
Before going on any further, I hope that you will understand that I had no bad intentions while writing this assignment.
In fact, I was only trying to convey the same ideas just using different words. But there were simply too many good phrases and words that I was eager to include.
Those two sentences are a mistake that I regret very much, and I have learned my lesson to be more cautious, and to never do it again in the future.
I never had the chance to say thank you.
Ms. Jones, you can not possibly comprehend how much this means to me.
This second chance that you have kindly offered allows me to repair my mistake and also to learn a profound lesson.
I feel so much remorse for my mistake, but I am simultaneously glad that this happened because I have learned so much from it.
Thank you so much, and I hope you have a nice evening.

Can you believe that?! And the crazy thing is that she's totally sincere too! This just cracked me up!

I think kids in Korea, and at private schools especially, are under so much pressure that even really good kids find themselves taking the easy way out, so all the teachers are on high alert for cheating. I guess it's a good thing that we have kids on the lookout too!

Friday, September 14, 2007

One more camping picture

Here's another cute camping picture of us all, which I just found.

From left to right, it's me, Heather, Francie, Coleen, and Alana.


The weekend of September 7-9 was my first Korean camping trip! A group of 6 women from SIS all decided to rent a school van, borrow some camping gear, and head off to the beach after school on Friday! We lucked out with the weather...after raining all week, it got sunny and warm and it was a lot of fun!

We went to Taean Seashore National Park, which is about 2 hours southwest of Seoul. If you look on a map, you may see the town of Mallipo, which is in the park. It's on the Yellow Sea and has quite a bit of camping in the summer. We left on Friday and got to Mallipo just in time for sunset, which was beautiful. When you don't know Korean it's pretty hard to find a camp ground in the dark, so we ended up finding an empty lot owned by a family that owns a minbak in the area. A minbak is a guesthouse. I've not stayed in one, but I've seen the insides of a couple. Basically you get a room with no furniture except a TV. You get a bedroll-type thing, called a yo to sleep on and that's about it. We could have stayed in the minbak, but since we had our tents and it was a beautiful night, we went for the empty lot. It was fantastic to be able to see some stars for basically the first time since I got here (light pollution and clouds), and go to sleep with the sound of the waves in the background.

The next morning, we got up and it was HOT! After breakfast, we headed down to the beach for a couple of hours. It was beautiful and I can now say I've swam in the Yellow Sea. The other good thing about going down there was that we found an actual camping spot, so we moved our stuff down there. The only bummer was that garbage cans are not all that plentiful in Korea and there was all sorts of garbage all over, which was gross. But other than that, it was fantastic.

That day some of us went to a nearby restaurant and had some crab. We picked out our live crabs and then the woman made a soup out of them. It was good, but very spicy (Koreans love their spicy food and I don't like spicy food, so that's been a bit of an issue so far). Luckily she had only quartered the crabs, so the meat wasn't that spicy at all.

On Sunday, we got up pretty early and headed back to Seoul. Traffic on Sundays can apparently be pretty bad because so many people go home to their small towns and villages on the weekends and then all head back to Seoul on Sunday. We hit the road early enough to miss most of the traffic, but still got stopped a few times.

One of the great things about the camping trip was that I had gone to the Korean version of Target, GS Mart, and bought a tent and it ended up being a fantastic tent! It's a nice 3-4 person tent that's easy to put up and was only 90,000 won, which is about $100. I'm excited about having this great tent for future camping trips!
The pictures, from top to bottom:
* A Korean sunset from Mallipo beach...beautiful!
* Heading out for a morning of relaxing on the beach.
* Coleen, Heather, and I making dinner on Saturday night
* The same Korean sunset, a few minutes earlier (the sunsets don't look this good in Seoul!)
* Alana, Heather, Coleen, and Francie enjoying our crab soup

Sunday, September 9, 2007

More School Thoughts

It's now been almost a month of having my new students. One thing I've noticed about them is that they swear so much out in the hallways! It's not a problem in the classroom, but I've heard some language in the hallways that would make a sailor blush! I think it's because most of them don't speak English at home, so the swear words don't really mean anything to them. They just hear them in the movies and toss an F-word into their vocab every so often when talking with their friends. Most of these students are going to go to college in the US or Canada, so I think they're going to have to figure out that most college students don't constantly swear just for the heck of it!
I've added some pictures of my itty-bitty little classroom. I actually don't mind its small size because my class sizes are so small. I've realized that it's not the number of students as much as the number of students in relation to the size of the classroom. I hate it when my students and I can barely move because there are so many of us squished into a classroom, but there's plenty of room in my current room, even with my biggest class of 13! I finally got my shipment last week, so I finally have my classroom decorated. Unfortunately I can't tape things to the walls because it will take the tape off and nails or pins don't work on the walls because they're concrete, so I can only put things on my bulletin board. But I got a wire installed along the back wall, so now I can hang things from that as well (it got installed after I took these pictures).

Friday, August 31, 2007


OK, I feel I'm ready to make gross generalizations about my students now that I've had them for 3 weeks! So, I have 58 students total in 6 classes, which is 100 fewer kids than I had last year at Kamiak. I teach 4 sections of 10th grade US Literature and 2 sections of 9th grade General Literature. We have a block schedule so I see my first 3 classes on A days and my last 3 on B days. All of my students are Korean and literally about 1/3 of them have the last name of Kim. It's been a little bit of a struggle to learn their names, largely because I don't see them everyday, but I think I just about have it down, with a few exceptions. I have a ton of Andrews, Davids, Christines, Kristys, and 2 Janices, but also a lot of Korean first names as well.

Overall, they're pretty good kids. Their behavior has been really good so far, although I can tell there are a couple of kids who are testing me to see how far they can go. One thing that I love is that they don't line up at the door before it's time to go. They also don't have their iPod earbuds in their ears 24-7 like Kamiak kids did and the girls don't put makeup on in class, which was an issue last year at Kamiak. Also, most of them make sure to say goodbye to me when they leave class, which is nice.

As far as their academics go, I can tell that some of them are definitely ESL kids from their writing skills. Most of them have the basics of sentence construction, spelling, and punctuation down, but need help on some of the higher level things. For example, a lot of kids write things like, "the main character wants to revenge the other character." So it's little things like that that I'll try to teach as the year goes on. I'm making a list of things to focus on. It seems like things that can be memorized are what the kids have focused on, so doing in-text citations and spelling, which have a process that can be memorized, are things kids do well on here. One of the elementary teachers was saying that she's been impressed by the kids' spelling, but that if there's a word they don't know how to spell, they don't know how to sound it out, so they come up with basically jibberish. They just memorize how to spell all these different words.

Many of the kids are busy because not only do they go to school and are involved in sports and activities, they also go to hogwans. Hogwans are basically cram schools. It sounds like there are different hogwans that specialize in different areas, so a kid might to go a math hogwan on Monday, a reading hogwan on Tuesday, a taekwondo hogwan on Wednesday, etc. One of my sophomores said she spent her summer going to a hogwan for the PSAT, which I think is ridiculous! That test doesn't even really mean anything! But they take things like that really seriously here. A lot of the westerners who come to teach over here teach at hogwans. Some of them are good, but some of them are pretty shady, for both students and teachers.

Last night was parent night and I had a parent asking me about her 8th grade son (who I don't have). He apparently isn't a very good writer and is better at math and science, so she wants to have him improve his writing skills. She was telling me that she had never sent her kids to hogwans before, but is considering sending this poor kid to a hogwan where they meet for 3 hours every Saturday for 3 months and in that time, they read 100 of the "classics." Kids need to read 2 of the books per week and then they spend Saturdays going over the books. I think that would be the worst thing she could do for a kid who already doesn't really like reading and writing and if I had been in the US, I would have told her that, but I didn't want to offend her, so I was saying, "well, you could do that...". For the kid's sake, I hope she doesn't! It seems like students and parents here put a lot of focus into quantity, not quality. For example, an elementary school teacher was saying that she's had 3rd and 4th graders who have read To Kill a Mockingbird and the fact that they didn't have the foggiest idea what was going on isn't the they can say they've read it.

Another big thing here is grades. I've heard over and over about all the pressure that parents put on kids to get As and then kids put pressure on teachers to give them As, and if the teachers don't, the parents may get involved. Apparently it's not uncommon to have a parent at the end of the semester telling teachers that they've ruined their kid's chances for getting into a good college, and therefore their chance of a happy life, because of a B in a class. One of the high school science teachers was saying that she had e-mails from 15 sets of parents at the beginning of this year wanting her to change their kids' grades from last year! She said she just deleted those e-mails without responding, which is what they deserve, in my opinion! Yesterday I handed back quizzes from their summer reading books to my sophomores and one kid hadn't done terribly well on the quiz. I looked over a couple of minutes later and he was standing in the corner, just staring at the wall, which is kind of weird, to say the least. I was about to go over to him when he kind of collected himself and went back to sit down, so I left him alone. I don't know what he was doing, but it was obvious that he was very disappointed/annoyed/distraught about his quiz grade. Of course, in the long run it doesn't really matter since he'll have all quarter to bring his grade up, but I don't think they see it that way.

It's rainy and cool today, which is a nice change from rainy and hot! Next week I think I'm going camping, so I hope it stops raining for that.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Garak Market

Garak Market is an outdoor produce market that's about 3 subway stops away from my neighborhood. In general, food here is about the same price as in the States, but at Garak Market, produce is so cheap, it's almost unbelievable! But it's a place where restaurants go to get their produce, so you get a lot for your money. Some of us have figured out that we should go together and split the cost and the food, so we've made a couple of trips since we got here.

Most of the food is locally grown, although there were oranges from California there yesterday when I went. Most of it is stuff I've seen before (and really amazing quality too), but there's some pretty wacky stuff there too. Bowls of what look like chopped up sticks, weird roots, tons of little dried fish, and whole boxes of chicken feet! I've been there twice now and haven't seen any other westerners there, so we stand out a little bit, but luckily they have signs with the price on them, so we can figure out how much things cost. 2 other teachers, Derek and Alana, and I made the trip yesterday and bought so much produce, we had to take a cab home. One thing I learned is that 1 kilo of lettuce is a lot of lettuce! But it only cost 6000 won! It was very hot there, so we were sweaty when we got back, but I sure love having a fridge full of veggies and fruit!
Picture captions: Derek holding on to a umbrella after the wind blew it over (left), Alana & Derek choosing necturines (center), and the view of Garak Market from about the middle of it (right).