Monday, July 28, 2008

Life As We Know It

A typical classroom
Another example
One of the school hallways
The school bookstore
One of our favorite coffee shops!
Ashley with some Dietrich and a cup of coffee

Ashley's desk
Caleen's desk
A sea of Koreans downtown
Downtown Chungju
We love our Asian pears!
This is what the weather does to our hair!

It’s been another adventuresome week. Ashley and I have started to expand our current mode of transportation. Yay for us! We are now using the taxi to get across town and using our new set of wheels to get around (we'll post pictures another time). Our vice principal was nice enough to provide a couple of bikes for us to use. Our bikes are right up there with Yolanda (Ashley’s former car) in terms of coolness. When we ride them however, people tend to laugh and point. We don’t know why exactly. We think we look pretty cute:).

Ashley and I are starting to get out more. In fact, just the other day, we were anxious with delight by the possibility of some American food. We went downtown to search the surroundings and spotted a Pizza Hut. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to eat at a Pizza Hut before! (Ashley and I haven’t quite grown accustomed to Korean food yet). At any rate, we were ecstatic to see familiar logos, a salad bar(!) and some forks to go with our meal. As we were eating however, we felt like we were re-living a moment in Arachnophobia. As we glanced outside, enjoying our meal, we were horrified (okay, maybe I was more so) to see 10 or 15 huge black spiders hanging from the roof!! They were about the size of a 50 cent piece. I don’t know if you can imagine this, not sure if you want to…but let me tell you that it was a pretty gruesome sight. The waitresses were quite amused because we were so engrossed with what basically could have been their window ornaments for Halloween, there were so many. Needless to say, we gave them something to laugh about. Sorry, no pictures.

The bulk of our time however, is in the Korean hagweon. When we first arrived to the hagweon, the students were pretty enamored with us. A few students lit up when they saw me because of my blue eyes. One student said I looked like an angel! Haha- I guess they don't see very many blue eyed people. The students are also pretty fascinated when they hear that Ashley and I are sisters! They even ask again, just to double check! Anyway- this past Tuesday we experienced a complete shift in our schedule. We are arriving to work around 8-8:30 in the morning and leaving a little after 6. It’s taken some time to adjust but we almost prefer this schedule more. We are actually given 2 hours for prep, (which helps a lot when you have 7-10 classes to prepare for) and lunch this time around. Ashley and I have developed a system too that has taken some tweaking, but has been working pretty well now. As some of you know, we were having a few problems in certain classes with behavior (those dang middle school boys :)). Anyway, we have found that most Korean students, especially the older ones, are over worked and thus do not want to be fully engaged in class. Realizing this, as well as their tendencies to speak mostly Korean in class, we came up with a system that at least from this week, is proving to work quite well. By encouraging the students to speak only English, it has actually cut down on half of the discipline problems. Also, we give students 5 stamps if they speak only English (no Korean), which is a good incentive, because the school provides a stamp party twice a year. The students can buy prizes and food with their stamps. We also start each class with 3 dashes on the board. If the students are being too noisy, or refusing to follow instructions, we erase a dash. If all the dashes are erased, the students have to stay after class for 5-10 minutes. (I’ve only done that twice and the students REALLY don’t like it!) If all three dashes are there towards the end of class, we play a game. I’m at the point now where most of my classes play a short game at the end. And of course, there are students that we have to send to detention if they don’t respond to the above, which doesn’t happen very often. We’re whippin’ those kids into shape! Not literally of course. We actually really enjoying teaching and the students are great! Sometimes, when I get them to play a game, I’ll give out prizes to the winner.

I don’t know if there is anyway to describe how different things are in the school system compared to the U.S. That was probably one of the hardest things I had to adapt to. The school is really only interested in students taking tests every day and getting through the curriculum as fast as possible. In fact, they encourage the teachers to go through an entire textbook within a month. Most of the classes are centered on listening, dictation, (the ones that Ashley and I teach) and grammar (what Korean teachers teach). However, when the students write, it seems unlikely that they were actually schooled in English grammar. The first day, the head teacher told us that we couldn’t do games or arts and crafts in the classes. I was really disappointed about that, but a couple of my classes call for it (practically every day from the text) so I do it anyway if the text suggests it. No one has said anything yet :). We feel really bad for these kids. They are in the public schools all day and are then forced to come to a hagweon (could be for an English, music or tae kwon do hagweon). Then the students go home and do homework all night. Supposedly high school students are in school until 11 p.m. or so and have to do homework on top of that. The teachers at our school are mandated to give the students a list of words that they have to write 2-3 times in English and 1 time in Korean each night for a test the next day. We also have to give them listening homework and an activity from their workbook each day as well. The students are expected to do that for each class they take (usually up to 2-3 in a hagweon), not to mention the homework they are given in the public school. Right now the students are on vacation, but it’s not much of a vacation because they just take more classes at the hagweon.

It has been an interesting ride. We still have conflicting views and struggle with the system, but perhaps our perception will change over time. We are just trying our best to work with what we are given and reach out to our students within the time we have them, which is a lot of students. We have about 130-150 students total. There are 13 students on average in our classes. We’ll let you know how it goes when we have to make a report card for each student :). Thanks for staying tuned! I'm sure we'll have many more experiences and pictures to share!!


KristinDewey said...

Hey my sistas!! Sounds like you are getting the hang of things now and you seem more optimistic about things. That is good!! The spider thing at Pizza Hut was pretty ronch. I'm liking the pics too--it's cool to see your desks and what not. I can totally picture you two sitting at the desks and grading papers! haha.

Love you both!!! I'm always praying...

Rachel said...

Hey girls! I'm back home! It was amazing reading your blog- some of the experiences the Indonesian team has had parallel yours! Hope you are well and miss you guys an awful lot. Love, Rachel