Saturday, March 20, 2010

Seven Months

Don't worry about the snow in March...not like it should be Spring or anything
At least it makes the sewage stream look a bit omre picturesque

Walking to work in the snow and slush is tons of fun!!

Street food in Myeongdong...I'd love to actually see someone walking around gnawing on one of those two-foot long octopus legs...

Sure, these LOOK like french fries...but chances are, they're some type of dried squid or processed fish sausage. Koreans LOVE their processed fish sausage!
Myeongdong shopping district: so busy on a Sunday afternoon!
Too bad these animal ears aren't even costumes...Korean women truly wear them as hair accessories. It's kind of maddening, actually...seeing 20-something women walking around Seoul wearing furry Bunny ears
My favorite street food, Tteok Bokki- chewy, spicy, stir-fried rice cakes
Dolsot Bibimbap (a hot pot of mixed rice, vegetables, meat, and egg), at our favorite restaurant in the food court of a nearby department store. You mix everything inside with your chopsticks so that it cooks together...and the pot is SO hot that they have to serve it in these wooden holders This is Aaron, from one of my elementary classes. He's got a pretty exceptional Asian mullet haircut...although you can't see it as well here because I made him put my hair clip in his hair From my 4:00 class: Annika, Tony, Jack, Aaron...I love this class!!
Two of my new kinder students: Vicky and Jasmine
Ray and Kelly, new kinders
Julianna- such a sweetheart :) And yes, that is a giant cloth bear head on the side of her headband... Seoul, on a Sunday afternoon...
One of the few (or only?) Starbucks with the logo not written in English. If you sound out the Korean translation, it would sound like: "Suh-ta-puk-suh"
Adjusting to the new students, classes, and school routine has kept me pretty well occupied for the past few much so that another big milestone came and passed without my acknowledgement. It's called "I've Been in Korea for 7 Months"! And this milestone is only more important than the Halfway Point of last month because it signifies that downward slope toward the end of the year (I believe those were actually my mom's words...)
I have pretty mixed feelings about this point in time. Yes, the whole experience so far has been a rollercoaster of emotions and mixed feelings, of highs and lows. And I'm sure that my feelings and attitude about Korea will continue to change right down to the last few weeks here in August. But as of right now, it gives me a stomachache to even think about leaving in 5 months. Of course, I've already become so attached to my new students...and I'm still having difficulty letting go of my old ones! It already makes me so sad to think that I'll never see them again...or that once I get home, I won't be Britney Teacher anymore...I'll be Ms. Haeg! That's just too strange to think about :)
I am trying to just enjoy every has been an exciting past few weeks, meeting so many new students and beginning to teach new classes. I'm teaching the same level of science as last term, and it feels pretty good to know that I've already taught the whole textbook before and feel very confident in what I'm teaching. Never, ever thought I'd enjoy teaching science so much! It's also been a new experience teaching a high-level 5th grade reading class...these kids are wickedly smart and have better vocabularies than most native English-speaking adults. I've had to learn to adjust my language dramatically when teaching this new class...I can speak in full sentences and have actual conversations with them!
About my new kindergarten class...let's just say that they're a work in progress! They're still allowed to speak Korean to each other and in the classroom for now...and then by the first week in April, the "No Speaking Korean!" rules will be fully enforced. That should be interesting...considering that they are only now equipped with the very basics of English communication. What are they supposed to do until their vocabularies expand more, just say "hello" and "goodbye" to each other all day long?? Yesterday, one of my girls said to me, "May I have some milk, please?"....and I almost died, I was so happy. That was one of my first moments of success with these students, as I had been teaching that expression every day during milk time for the past few weeks. Proof that they are truly learning something with me!!
Wishing it was Springtime here...there has been some great Minnesota-esque weather lately, such as snowstorms in March. I'm thinking that must be because there are so many Minnesota teachers at our school!! Apparently Korea is usually in much higher temps and having nicer weather by now...but considering that this was the year of the most snow in more than 100 years, the outlook doesn't seem too promising for Spring anytime soon...hmm guess there are many parts of MN staying with me :)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Last Days and Oh...Canada

This was the scene we encountered at 4:30 am, Monday for the USA vs. Canada gold medal game. Main level of a bar in Seoul = PACKED. We took a cab into Seoul at 4 am in order to arrive at this bar in time...oops, forgot that most people would have already been there after partying all night long. That was an odd feeling, cabbing into Seoul at a time of night we'd normally be returning home from Seoul...

Upper level of the same bar = EVEN MORE PACKED
The crowds were CRAZY! The bar is Canadian-owned, so there was definitely more Canadian than US representation. There was no room to move, to cheer, even to breathe...

Not looking too fresh at 4:30 am...but excited about the crowd for the game!

Canada + the US, after the a much quieter, less-populated bar. Time is now about 8 am...still much too early to be at a bar in Seoul. I felt an odd urge to stand and sing with the Canadian teachers when watching Team Canada receive their gold medals...maybe because I knew Tom Haeg would have been belting out "Oh, Canada!" if he was watching at home??

MN girls: clearly, we acted too soon...
Team USA: Bloody Marys & Gold Medal Hockey at 5 am. What could be better??
I swear we were sad after the US lost...but you can't really tell here because we are sleep-deprived and only have thoughts of a big breakfast at the nearby "American" diner!

Everland...the magical Asian amusement park!

Like the Asian version of the Middway at the State Fair??
Ashley was a little sad...this was my last day teaching my kinder class
Tattoo Parlor: drawing hearts on each other, duh. That's what we do in kindergarten
Alex and his car
Irene...don't you just want to hug her??
Last show-and-tell with my kinder class: a duck, a Pokemon card, and Alan grinning mischieviously in the background
In kindergarten, when we're not giving each other heart tattoos, we like to brush our teeth with the toy blocks Or, we like to "drive" the toy box around...
Alan, I will miss you so much :(
Last pics with was hard not to take about a million pictures
Alan was so sad this last day...he didn't want to be in any pictures because he was "sad for Britney Teacher"
Tried to do some final group shots, courtesy of Christine Teacher...
My little babies!! So grown-up and on their way to becoming big 7-2 kindergarten students, with a new teacher...

Friday marked the last day of Fall term at school...6 months with the same kindergarten and elementary classes...and now 6 more months with all new classes. It's been such a rollercoaster of emotions lately, dealing with the stress of Festival preparation, and then the overwhelming pride and excitement of Festival, and then the bittersweet last days with my kinder class. Friday was one of my most difficult days here...I couldn't believe how attached I felt to this class. I could barely even bring myself to announce that they'd be starting new classes with a new teacher in the following weeks...I didn't want to admit it to them, let alone to myself! So of course, I took a million pictures of them in the last week and implemented many "fun days" with hour-long playtime sessions and lots of coloring, singing, and stickers. Here was one of my favorite moments on my last day...Irene pretending to give me a manicure with a dolphin-shaped squirt gun, during playtime.
When I asked how all my students were feeling that day, while writing their names and drawing their faces on the board in the morning, many of them said, "I am very sad because Britney Teacher Wednesday, noooo..." Translation: because Britney Teacher will no longer be their kindergarten teacher, beginning next Wednesday, March 3, upon the start of the new school term. All day, Alan wouldn't leave my side. While walking in the hall for bathroom break, or to play in the Big Gym, he just hung on to me and buried his face in my shirt. It made me so sad...I kept tearing up when he would cling to me and then look up at me with those big eyes. By the end of the day, zipping their jackets and hugging them for the last time before sending them to their bus lines, I pretty much lost it...and I joined Shauna Teacher in the bathroom to cry. No judging me for this...these students are so important to me...they have been like my best friends, every day, for the past 6 months. You'd grow pretty attached to them, too....
After teaching a few days this week with my new kinder class, I'm still undecided about which would be more difficult: leaving Korea right now and never seeing my old kinders again, or seeing them every day at school while knowing that I'm no longer their teacher. They seem so old and grown-up to me now...when did that happen?! And compared to my new class of little ones...WOW. What a difference a year of English can make!!
My new class: 5 girls and 5 boys, all little peanuts that weigh next to nothing and speak no English. Their names: Jessica, Jasmin, John, Jamie, Julianna, Ray, Chris, Kelly, Vicky, and Sean. The girl names Jasmin was originally named Britney (same-same as teacher!), but her mom ended up changing her name so it wouldn't be confusing in the classroom. I had been so excited to have a little Britney...but in all honesty, my classroom is a confusing enough place right now without a Britney Teacher AND a Britney Student!
It was quite strange interacting with these kids on the first day. They all looked so scared and so vulnerable...and so uncommunicative. I was afraid that I'd have a silent classroom all day- that it would just be me, blabbering away in English to a brick wall of students. It ended up being a day of complete chaos- no big tantrums or criers in my room, but lots of confusion and helplessness on everyone's part. My big goal for the day was to have them remember me as "Britney Teacher, " and not as "Son-saeng-nim," which is the Korean word for teacher. Three days in, we're still working on that one. Our other lessons have included the introduction of letters A, B, and well as far too many trips outside the classroom to familiarize the students with the location of the bathroom (and even more importantly...the location of the girls bathroom vs. the boys bathroom).
It's kind of lonely, being in a classroom full of students who cannot communicate in the least with you. I want to be able to speak with them! I miss the English babble of my old students...their broken English and poorly-structured sentences...and their newfound abilities to express themselves and thus pick fights with each other. But, I feel certain that in due time, my new kinders will be expressing their own poor English grammar...and I look forward to that day!!

K-Pop Krazy!

K-Pop group "Super Junior"

K-pop group Girls' Generation

K-pop group T-ara

Yes- they truly perform with those animal ears and mittens on

Watch this video:
Now watch this video:

That should give you an idea of the popularity of K-Pop (Korean Pop) is literally the genre of choice for everyone from 5 year old boys and girls, to teenagers, to my 30-something Korean supervisors at school, to the middle-aged women grooving to it at the gym while working out beside me. K-Pop is Korea's contemporary culture at its best! (and that's sort of a joke). It's pretty comparable to bubblegum pop in the US, such as all the boy bands of the 90s, but it's much more clean-cut and just...cutesy. You won't see any Britney Spears imitators here...these singers are totally wholesome in their lyrics, their dance routines, and their stage outfits (think: Mickey Mouse ears, big hair bows, ruffled skirts, and even furry animal gloves). And that's what really struck me about it, after seeing my own kindergarten girls imitate K-Pop singers for so long...that kind of thing is okay here, because it's not Britney Spears. It's not risque, or suggestive, or a blatant display of poor role models for entire populations (if you're not convinced, check out this clip... pretty sure we would NEVER see a girl group in America dressed like this for a Christmas performance:
So even though I am somewhat ashamed to admit to my obsession with K-Pop, just know that I also blame it completely on the effects of living abroad. When in Rome...right??
Here are some of my other favorite K-pop songs...
Girl's Generation, with the creatively-titled song, "Gee"

Super Junior, one of the premier boy bands in Korea. There are posters, keychains, mugs, etc. of them at every tourist shop here. Their song is called "Sorry." Watch the video, and then you will understand why every time someone says "I'm sorry" in my classroom, at least 5 students start to chant, "sorry sorry sorry sorry, nicka-nicka-nicka-nicka!"

2NE1 (pronounced like 21), with "I Don't Care." This song was EVERYWHERE when I first arrived in Korea...every cell phone ringtone, every soundtrack in every store...