Monday, September 8, 2008

Our long Overdue Update!

Shopping in Insadong, Seoul
Listening to traditional music
In the Buddhist temple
People worshipping in the temple

Ashley and I with our friend Jessica
fake orange palm trees
hangin' out downtown

So…for those of you have threatened to write the blog for us because we have been bums and have not updated you thus far- here it is! Sorry for the long over due update. Things have really picked up speed for us over the last month. We have experienced a lot of changes in our schedule, not to mention some surprises of sickness due to the weather change and weekly travels. But…we are adapting to yet another completely different schedule again and will commit to sharing our lives with you. **Hopefully we will hear from you soon with a comment or two just so we know there are people out there who read it.:) It keeps us motivated if you know what I mean.

First, I’d like to share with you what we have learned. Over this last month – it was yet another turning point in our life when we both turned a year older. We found out that we are older than we think. According to Koreans, when you are born, you are already one year old. This concept makes sense, but what about the other three months?? Also, when New Year’s Day arrives, you instantly turn a year older. Because of this, most Koreans celebrate their birthdays twice in one year! Now, when people ask our age, we give them our Korean age and International age. I prefer giving them my international age myself.:) 27 just sounds too old! At least they celebrate with cake!

Another helpful tidbit we learned about Korean culture is how to write their names. A few weeks ago I was using a red pen to write the students’ names. This has been particularly for attendance and detention purposes that we have to submit to the secretary. To our dismay, the head teacher approached us and said that it is offensive to write their names in red! To do this means they are going to die or have already died. You can imagine how awful we felt and vowed to never do it again! This would have been helpful if they had told us prior to starting our classes. A simple 101 Korean class would have been nice, but of course that’s not how things work do they?

We have learned other things such as the amount of Vitamin C and other vitamins that are packed in seaweed (something Ashley and I eat almost every day), or that kim chi has the same properties as yogurt! Apparently kim chi provides the natural bacteria necessary to aid the intestinal wall. I haven’t grown too fond of kim chi yet, but maybe we’ll benefit from this health food soon enough. We really do learn something everyday here!

Ashley and I are enjoying our classes, but they are met with challenges. It really is difficult trying to make the content fun and interesting, yet stimulating. We are trying to find innovative ways to do this though. With dictation classes, it’s even more a challenge. These classes provide hardly any interaction with our students because we are pressured from the school to get through the books as quickly as possible. These are older students too who don’t really like earning stamps as an incentive for doing their work. Because of this, Ashley and I decided that we would try to reward these students somehow by treating them to ice cream or dinner. Of course, we don’t have bundles of money to do this with all our students, so when we give them a writing assignment (every Friday or every other Friday) for Writing Day, we decided we would choose 2-4 students every so often that submitted the best paper. The first time, Ashley and I took two of her students to dinner after class one night. Since our schedule has changed though we can’t offer this kind of luxury to our students.:) My last class ends at 9:30 now, so I decided the best option was to take my students to a coffee shop where they could choose between a number of things. Their parents, for whatever reason, were totally okay that I took them out on a school night downtown! Students in Korea typically get up at 7:00 in the morning, start school around 8 and go until 4 or 5 in the afternoon, attend some sort of music lesson, have a break for doing homework and make their way to the haegwon where we teach. Students take anywhere from 1-3 classes depending on the level of their class. If that wasn’t enough, most students have to do homework after such a day!....Anyway, taking my students out was definitely an adventure. I didn’t want to limit this experience to only 2 students like we had originally planned so I extended this invitation to two other students as well, who happened to all be boys. I did this because Korean students are hardly recognized for their efforts. They are met with increasing pressure from not only their parents, but their teachers and the world telling them that if they don’t succeed they’re a failure. I became more aware of this as I read their papers from the latest writing prompt I gave them on, “The Most Difficult Obstacle in Your Life”. About more than half of the students wrote about the challenges of studying and never being able to meet up to the expectations of people around them. It was heartbreaking to read. The opportunity to come to a school and be filled with knowledge has become, for some students, their worst nightmare. One student wrote that his studies must be his future job because he even dreams about it in his sleep.

We boarded a taxi and went downtown to our favorite coffee shop. It was great because none of the students had been there before. It was a real treat for them. They couldn’t believe that their teacher wanted to take them out! It’s surprising how much teachers hold a negative view for most students here. It’s actually quite common for teachers to hit their students. The most affective way to discipline in the public schools is by using a stick to hit students with. I don’t want to go as far as to say that this method is wrong, but it certainly does not appeal to my philosophy on education. I’m trying to look at the way they do things here, but sometimes I can’t help but strongly oppose their methods. Anyway- I took my girl students out as well. There were 6 of them! I have to say though that the boys actually tried to practice their English; another incentive for going. I never thought I’d say this, but I actually prefer to work with the middle school students here. I think I could say the same thing for Ashley. We just prefer to engage with our students on a deeper level. For the younger ones, it’s a challenge because they can hardly speak any English. Don’t get me wrong, they’re as cute as can be- but then they lose a little bit of their cuteness when they deliberately disobey. Some of this though I think is attributed to miscommunication. We just don’t have the resources to effectively teach and communicate to most of our students. We are doing the best we can to work around it however.

Ashley and I are building our vocabulary. I think we know about 15 words in Korean now. Hahaha- which is actually an unsightly number when you live in an area like we do! Our friend and neighbor Grace though has offered to teach us Korean once or twice a week. She is a God send. We discovered she lived right next door to us about 4 weeks ago. She is happy to translate when we go anywhere and we are just happy to be in her presence! She is quickly becoming our closest friend here. She even ventures to come to Seoul with us sometimes when we go to church. That’s right, we go to church every week in Seoul. It’s about a 2 hour bus ride just to get to the bus terminal in Seoul and then we take the subway (about 30 minutes) to get to Itaewon, a district in Seoul, where we then walk about 20 minutes up hill through these side streets to attend church at 11:00 in the morning! The lengths we go to, to go to an English speaking church! We love it though. The people are genuine, extremely welcoming, and hospitable. I think we had 3 people offer to have us stay with them overnight whenever we come to Seoul so we don’t have to get up so early on Sunday mornings. The pastor even gave us a key to his home and told us to drop by anytime we come! We feel very blessed to have such a wonderful group of people to fellowship with. The 3 hours it takes to get there is worth it.

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