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).

Go Bears!

Hi all,

Last night was my first experience with Korean baseball! The Sunshine committee (what a name, eh?) organized a trip for the staff to support the Doosan Bears team (apparently our headmaster is a part owner or something...some sort of tie-in with the team) as they took on the Unicorns (which is a WAY cooler mascot!). I only stayed for about 6 innings, but it was a lot of fun! It was interesting to see the Korean come straight from work, still in their suits and ties, and burn off some steam by drinking a lot of beer (of course, some of the SIS staff was giving them a run for their money in that department!). I actually can't tell you if the Bears won or not, but they were losing to the Unicorns when I left. It was a fun way to wind down after a full week at work, and I was still back in time to watch The Office on that's a good Friday night! The pictures I've included are, from top to bottom, the beer guy who wears a backpack-cooler of beer; myself, Aaron, and Coleen enjoying the game; and the Korean crowd of Bears supporters.
One of the funniest parts of the game were the cheerleaders...a little different from the cheerleaders at home, especially the male cheerleader! It's a little hard to describe, but go to to see video shot by one of the SIS teachers. There are a couple of others he's posted of the cheerleaders (male and female as well) on there too. It's pretty hilarious!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Buddhist Temple

Yesterday a group of us went for a walk up to a Buddhist temple on the hill behind our neighborhood, which was so great! It was nice to get into the woods, although you could hear the freeway the whole time. It was about a mile and a half each way and the temple was beautiful! It's a fairly small complex with 2 temples and a library thing. But there's this Buddha carved into the rock that is really important, for some reason (At some point I should figure out what's so great about it, since I've seen it now!). It was cool to see the city skyline as well. Actually, we could only see part of the skyline because 1) the city is so huge, and 2) there's a mountain in the middle, so it's hard to see around it.

Another cool thing about the hike is that there are all these foxholes up there! I've included a picture. They look fairly maybe they've been used post-Korean-War! So if North Korea does attack, you'll know where to find me! :-)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Korean Beer

Here's the new thing I learned last night...Korean beer is a lot more alcoholic than other beer! There was a get-together between our school and Korean Int'l School (KIS) at a bar near their school. It was a fun time, especially because some of the teachers at KIS have formed a band which is actually pretty good! But I definitely had a little too much of the Cass beer, which was definitely not my intention! So today has been a lazy day of hanging out, grading some essays, listening to NPR, and napping! Later some of us are going to walk up the hill behind our neighborhood to a Buddhist temple, which I've been wanting to do for a while, so I'm excited about getting to see it.

This picture is of the entrance to my dong or neighborhood.

Friday, August 17, 2007


I have a washing machine in my apartment, but not a dryer, and as a result, have realized just how much lint/fuzz is produced when you don't have a dryer to take it all away! I've finally decided to never wash a towel with my clothes, but some of my clothes are absolutely covered with towel fuzz now!

I got through my first week of school with no problems. I still want to wait a little bit before I start talking about my kids, but I've been pretty impressed so far! One thing that's really nice is that I don't have to get up until 6:00 now, as opposed to the 5:00-5:20 I was getting up back in Washington! There is something to be said for an 8:00 start time! Plus, we have 4 80-minute periods a day, with all teachers getting a prep each day, and a 65-minute lunch/activity period, so I have a lot of time right now for planning, grading, etc. At Kamiak we had a 55 minute prep and a 30 minute lunch.

Last night I went out with some of the teachers for a girls night out and some of the teachers who had taught at other international schools were telling stories, which were really interesting. One teacher, who just got done teaching for 3 years at a school in Alexandria, Egypt, was saying that one of her friends who was a social studies teacher there, brought a globe and a couple of world maps with her and customs literally cut out Israel from the globe and maps, which is pretty crazy. And then, another friend of her's was teaching in Kuwait and went to visit Israel. I guess if you tell the Israeli customs folks to not stamp your passport, they won't, because most other Middle Eastern countries won't let you in if you have an Israeli stamp. So she asked them not to and they said OK, but it accidently got stamped anyway, so she called her school to ask them what to do and they said to throw her passport away and get another one from the embassy because the Kuwaiti customs folks wouldn't let her back in, even though she had a job there. Crazy stuff.
The 1st picture is of the walking trail that's near my apartment that literally goes the whole way through Seoul. Since I'm on the edge of the city, it's not too long before you're out in the semi-country. The other one is of the "main street" (it probably has an actual name, but I don't know what it is!) that's about 2 blocks away from my apartment building.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Independence Day

Today we all had a day off from school, which was pretty nice! It's the Korean independence day from Japan, so I think most of the schools and banks were closed, but the important thing is, Costco was open! 2 of my fellow teachers were nice enough to let me hitch a ride with them, so I was able to load up on some staples. I also went for a walk along the Han river on this walking trail they have that goes for 30 miles or so, apparently. I included a picture with this post...even though it's gray and cloudy, it was pretty hot and humid and I was quite a sweat ball by the time I got back!

Some people have been asking about my students and fellow teachers. I haven't said much about my kids yet because I don't want to make all sorts of statements that later turn out to be all wrong! So I'll wait to talk about them, but I can talk a bit about the other teachers here. There are about 100 teachers total, for all 3 schools. Most of them live in the teacher apartments, which I've included a picture of with this post. My guess is about 60% are American, but there's a very large number of Canadians, a few Australians, a couple of Kiwis, and a couple of folks from England. It's fun to hear all the accents in staff room! Maybe after 2 years of this, I can finally perfect the Canadian "about"! I'd say about 2/3 are in the 35-and-under bracket (there are at least 3 29 year olds...I guess we're all wanting to do something exciting before the big 3-0!). Probably about 70% are married or seriously dating someone here or, in a few, cases abroad. So there are some single folks, but because it's something I'm involved in, 95% of the single folks are women...sigh! But I've met a lot of great people so far. There seem to be a whole bunch from the Northwest, including BC, which is interesting. I guess we're an adventerous bunch!

Another thing I've found, not surprisingly, is that all of them love to travel. Back home, I felt like I was on the high end of travel experiences (not that I've done lots of expensive "high end" trips, but that I'd traveled quite a bit), but here I'm like the big loser who's hardly gone anywhere! I've got to start traveling more! Thailand seems to be a hot spot. I think just about everyone here has gone to least I've been there, so I'm not quite such a loser! :-) I am one of the few who's been to North Korea though! I guess there's some sort of deal North and South Korea have worked out where non-Northerners can go hike some mountain just over the border with a guide, of course. I think that would be awesome!

Monday, August 13, 2007

1st day of school

Today was the first day of school. I saw all of my classes today (that's the only time that will happen...otherwise I see 3 of my 6 classes per day) for 15 minutes, so that was just enough time to go over the syllabus and that was about it.

One of the other new teachers here, Heather, is doing a much better job than I am of taking pictures of the neighborhood and daily life here. To see them, go to and just imagine they came from my camera!

The picture I'm attaching to this posting is of Heather and I the day we got the pads for our mattresses. We're completely squashed in the car with 2 mattress pads on our laps, so we couldn't even see over them! It would be pretty uncomfortable at the best of times and when it's super hot and humid, it makes for a pretty sweaty trip home! But it was so worth bed is so comfortable!

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Hi all,

So, last night (Friday) was my first big night out with the teachers. We had meetings all day on Friday, so everyone was ready to blow off a little steam. A group of us visited the Noreabong (karaoke) place not once, but twice! It's a lot more fun than karaoke places I've been in the US because you get your own little room and so it's just you and people you know...I actually sang without having had anything to drink! We belted out a little Bohemian Raphosody (sp?), Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Twist and Shout, and Beyonce's Crazy in Love (which is a very hard song to sing, actually!), among others.

Today I went with some returning teachers to the old neighborhood (they all call it the old dong...I'm not sure what dong means) where they all lived before the new apartments were built. I had heard horror stories about those apartments and from the outside, they looked pretty gross. But the neighborhood they lived in is older than the one we live in now, so it had all these stores and restaurants...I mean, my neighborhood has lots of those as well, but this had more. The best part was finding a place that sells the mattress pads. The mattresses we were given are so hard, it's almost unbelievable. In fact, for a while I thought that perhaps they had accidently put the box spring on top, but nope, that's the mattress. But a lot of Koreans sleep on the floor, especially in the winter when it's warmer down there, so they have these great sleeping pads. I bought one for 50,000 won, or about $50, and I literally can't wait to go to sleep tonight!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Apartment Pictures

I finally took some pictures of my apartment. It's pretty empty right now, especially the walls, and I've got piles of stuff everywhere, but it gives a sense of what it looks like. I have a heater under my floor, which is the Korean style, so I'm looking forward to when it's cool enough to turn it on. From what I remember when I was in Korea in the winter of 2000, it's pretty nice!

This week has been all about school. I'm feeling a little more like I know what I'm doing, but I think I'm going to be really busy keeping my head above water for the next little while! One nice thing is that I only have 2 preps and I only have, get this, about 55 students total! My smallest class size is 6 and my largest is 11, which is crazy! I actually prefer (up until now) classes of 25 or so, but I'll get used to something else new! One thing I'm really looking forward to is the fact that school doesn't start until 8:00, so I won't need to get up at 5:00 anymore! Some of the teachers who have taught in hot places, like Egypt and Honduras, have been saying that their school would start at 6:45 or 7:00 so the kids could get out of school before it got to the hottest part of the day.

Speaking of hot, it's still very warm here and very humid. It has absolutely poured off and on today, so it's actually a little bit cooler right now, which is nice. I've got my windowns open and my AC off!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I'm here (and the internet is on!)

I finally got the internet hooked up at my apartment. I heard recently that in a poll, American high schoolers said they'd rather live without TV than the internet and I think I may agree with them! Plus, even after I got on my internet, my blog page was in Korean, so it took me a while to figure out how to get it in English, but now I'm set to go!

So, I've been in Korea for almost a week now. Things are going well so far. I got in Thursday night, after an 11+ hour flight, but the jetlag actually wasn't too bad, considering. I was one of the later new teachers to get in, so Friday and Saturday were big group shopping days. We went to the Korean stores GS Mart and E-mart (which I found out today is apparently Wal-Mart...and I was hoping I wouldn't shop there!) and Costco. So I spent a whole bunch of money, but got a lot of the household items I need. Sunday was a bus tour around the city in the morning and then that afternoon, a former Kamaik student took me out to lunch, to a movie, and for dessert, which was awesome (although a little long).

Starting Monday, it was all about school. There's just so much information to take in and, of course, I don't know who to ask what questions of, so there's a lot of running around right now. Tomorrow the returning teachers have to be there, so I'm looking forward to sitting down with those who I haven't met with and figuring all this stuff out. Next week, the kids come for a half-day on Monday. Tuesday is some sort of Korean holiday, so there's no school, and then Wednesday, regular school starts. The school uses a block schedule, so the kids take 8 classes total, 4 per day. Teachers only teach 3 per day and classes are about 80 minutes each, with an hour-long lunch/activity period. I'm starting to realize the benefit to having a union, since teachers have to supervise detention, the lunch room, and have bus duty on a rotating basis...public school teachers wouldn't put up with that! Oh well, all in the name of new experiences, huh?!

The weather so far has been hot and HUMID. It's been raining like crazy too. I've heard that July is usually the monsoon season, so it's very strange for it to still be raining right now, but it sure is. Acid rain is a problem here, which is comforting to think about when you're slogging through puddles in your flip-flops and your feet are wet all day long!

I'll definitely take some pictures (I have yet to take any yet...I need to start taking my camera places) and post them in the next few days.

Sunday, August 5, 2007