Monday, December 20, 2010

Last week at Bokja part 1

I had my girls make Christmas cards in class today because I believed that after the way they worked their butts off on finals, they deserved some fun time. The catch was that they had to write the write the cards in English!

This activity came after singing Jingle Bells and Rudolph. Christmas Carols are a required part of the holiday curriculum in my mind. (so says the music teacher.) They laughed as I cued them on when to start singing. When they remembered I was a music teacher by trade, they laughed some more.

But, back to Christmas card making: these girls are insanely creative if they're allowed to be. I brought in glue sticks, wrapping paper, cutouts of different holiday pictures, scissors, and markers/crayons. I've never seen them work so intently on anything. We had pop-out cards, moving cards, cards of different shapes, and everything in between.

A few of my girls made me Christmas cards ... and I took pictures. Here are the outsides ...

And here are the insides of a few of the cards ...

Yeah, I definitely teared up a little today. Remember, it's only Monday.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Private students

One of the first few weeks I was here I picked up a private student. I've had several other offers but every time I try to arrange something with them, it always fell through. Luckily this girl hasn't.

Her name is Myeong Yeon, and she is a 1st grade middle school student (Our 7th grade. She will be in 8th grade in March). She is one of the most darling girls in the world, and she’s come a long way in 3 months as well. We have 1 hour lessons once a week on Thursdays where I had originally planned on teaching her conversational English mixed in with a little bit of reading comprehension.

Her mother altered that plan and wanted me to focus on reading and pronunciation from this awful pre-teen book. She had no concern about comprehension as long as her pronunciation was right. Well, thank goodness I'm the teacher and can modify things to make them appear as if I am accomplishing the goal her mother wants.

During out lessons we learn new vocabulary and work on comprehension within a reading and pronunciation framework. I wish it didn't have to be from this awful pre-teen book though.

In addition, her mother is a nut-job. She confiscated her daughter's cell phone for a bizarre reason, leaving me without a means of communication with Myeong Yeon. This resulted in her blowing off a lesson because she couldn’t call me because she didn’t have my phone number. Her mother refuses to pay for it as well saying “she wasn’t there, so why do I need to pay you?” I don't want to make her daughter suffer, so I just let it slide.

Today, Myeong Yeon comes running into my apartment after 2 weeks of no lessons due to finals, and the first thing she says is, "Lauren! I've missed you so much!" She shows me a brochure for this movie she went to go see with her favorite actor. I could tell that she worked on how to explain the movie to me, primarily because she was slowly speaking the new words that she is trying to add to her vocabulary, and looking at me ensuring that they were correct. We discuss the movie and the actors for a few minutes, and then she goes into her backpack and pulls out her English final exam. She hands me the paper with a small smile on her face. I look down the page and see no 'X' marks. I just see each problem with a big 'O' around it. I look back at her;

"A circle means it's right?"
"I see all circles..."
"You got a perfect on your English exam? You're awesome. I'm so proud of you!"

She had the biggest smile on her face and she grabbed my hand with this look of absolute satisfaction. I'm not sure how much praise she gets at home, but this girl deserves a little bit more of it. She told me about how she was crying this past week from stress over her exams. A 13-year-old girl should not be crying over stress of studying. I'm sorry but that's wrong. This poor girl studies harder than I probably ever have in my life (with maybe the exception of my music history and music theory finals … and maybe my senior recital.) But students here start doing that at age 13 and go all the way through high school and college in a similar manner! They don't have a life and they don't ever have time to be kids. I find some major fault in this system.

Whenever Myeong Yeon walks in my door, I turn on the doting aunt switch. I take out food for her to eat, we talk about what is going on in her life, and you can tell she just relaxes for an hour. She tells me stories from school, I tell her stories from when I was a student, and we laugh. You can help kids learn better when they feel safe. If the environment is not safe, the learning process is harder because information doesn't stick. This holds especially true when they're in middle school -- there is too much self discovery during these years.

The more I think about it, the harder I realize it is going to be leaving my students in a few weeks. I get teary-eyed thinking about it. Right when I am finally getting to see how huge the personalities of my students are, when they are finally showing me their quirky sides, and when they’re finally begin to open up and tell me about their lives, I need to go.

I find something about this situation slightly unfair, and I think it's unfair on both sides of the coin.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The streets behind Bokja

So if you will remember, the drivers of Korea are kind of insane. Calling it aggressive would be an understatement. About two months ago, by the back entrance of school, the city installed a crosswalk. This was, of course, after many months of petition from the Bojka school nuns, the boys high school down the street, and the two or three middle schools in the area. Multiple accidents happened because the students couldnt cross to get to their school, and I think the city finally relented.

Now that there is a cross walk and a button to press to help the students cross the street, the traffic occasionally stops at the red light. Its amazing to see. But more often than not, if there is a student crossing, the car will zip through the light before the student gets to their side of traffic. Cant win them all I suppose.

But once this crosswalk went up, it seemed that the instillation came with an adorable little ahjushi (old man) with a navy blue baseball cap. Every morning when I walk to school, he is standing at this crosswalk pressing the button every time a group of students need to cross the street. Ive been at work as early as 7:30 and as late as 8:15, and every day for the last 6 weeks, he has been there pressing the walk button each time a student approaches.

And every time I walk up to the cross walk, he is there. Every morning, he tips his hat and bows to me. Of course, I bow back as a return greeting. And a moment later, I cross the street. Hes made this crosswalk his unofficial job in the morning. But I have never seen him when school lets out.

None of the students ever pay attention to him, but he is there every day, regardless of the weather, pressing that walk button and making sure every student gets to school safely.

Hurrah for sweet old people :)

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Return of the Rooster

So remember that rooster? The one who serenades me in the morning at school? Well, he was off waking up the neighborhood this morning after a short vacation. (He seemed to be missing for a week. Must have been vacationing in Thailand where it's warmer.)

Well, I heard him this morning about 9am while reading at my desk, and of course, I began giggling. That stupid bird never fails to make me laugh, even on a blustery Monday morning in December. Angela and I gave each other a small smile, and continued to do our work. I asked if she wanted some chicken for dinner and she began to laugh saying that we can't eat our pet.

About 1:00pm or so, he began cockle-doodle-dooing again, and I began to laugh some more. Rosa looked over my desk and we both shook our heads.

Rosa: "Lauren, I found out some interesting news about our pet rooster today."

Me: "Really, what is it?"

Rosa: "He belongs to the school. It's the school's rooster."

Me: "No, you're just trying to tease me."

Rosa: "No, I'm serious. It belongs to the school. I think he belongs to one of the nuns."

Now at that point, I was left completely speechless. I asked where this rooster lives because I want to take a photo of him, but no one seemed to know. I am now of a firm belief that this is a phantom rooster. No one has seen this blasted bird. No one knows much about this blasted bird. He randomly disappears and reappears.

More on the phantom rooster when I have more tales to report, my lovely audience.

But now, I need to go to sleep.

annyoung gayseyo,

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Quotes from the halls of Bokja Girls High School 12.2.10

Walking home from school
Student: Oh! Lauren! Hi!
Me: Hi, how are you?
Student: Good. You try! (Shoving food in my face)
Me: (moving away) Wait, what am I eating?
Student: Waffle sandwich. Delicious. You try.
Me: Wait...(as I open my mouth, waffle sandwich gets shoved in)
Student: See! It's good!

Sitting in office
Student: Lauren, I have a question.
Me: What's up?
Student: what does "burnt to a crisp" mean?
Me: It's an expression. I'll explain. Say I decide to go to the beach and I forget to wear sunscreen, after a few hours, I would be burnt to a crisp...
Student: You would be very stupid also.
Me: Well, that too.

In classroom
Student 1: Teacher, you so sexy!
Student 2: Yes, very very sexy. Oww oww!
Me: What are you talking about? I'm wearing a blouse with one button undone! This is not sexy.
Student 3: They need to grow up.
Me: Excuse me?
Student 3: Did I use phrase right?
Me: Yes. Where did you learn that?
Student 3: Don't remember. But I like a lot.

In classroom
Student 1: Teacher! Your outfit, I like it.
Student 2: Yes. Very cool. Very hip.
Me: Thanks girls. Are you two girls my fashion directors?
Student 2: Are you Barbie then?

During class
Me: Ok girls, what else do you think of when I say the word Christmas?
Student 1: Boyfriend! Couples!
Me: Why do you think of boyfriends?
Student 1: Because boyfriend buy present. Boyfriend and me kissy kissy.
class: Ahhh!!!
Me: You girls need more boys in your life.
class: Yes!!!
Student 2: Teacher, you find boyfriends for us?
Student 3: Your brother? He have girlfriend?
Me: We are ending this conversation ...

Before class
(Walking into classroom)
Me: Good morning, girls!
Student 1: Hello Lauren! I love you!
Student 2: I think she lesbian.
class giggles
Student 1: I love you too!
Student 2: I was right.
Me: Well, I love all of you girls. Does that make me a lesbian?
Student 3: No, that makes you a teacher.

After class
Me: Goodbye girls. Have a good day.
Student: No! Don't leave us!
Me: Awe, that's sweet. Why don't you want me to go?
Student: Because we have math now.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On being a music teacher ...

I am still a music teacher. Today I think I discovered that I will always be a music teacher.

This week and next week, all of the freshman and sophomore classes at Bokja will have a class concert during their last music class of the semester. (What an awesome idea. I’m putting that one in the back of my mind if I ever teach an ESL classroom only)

Anyways, this week I’ve been receiving personal invites from my students to go their concert. This not only makes me feel so loved by my students, but I am quite excited to see how skilled they are as well. Many of my girls either play violin, flute, or piano (or all of the above.) But a small handful of them play traditional Korean instruments too, such as the ocarina. This gives me an amazing opportunity to continue bonding with my students until the end of the semester, and gives me the feeling of teaching a music class today.

Today was the day that I realized that you can take the music teacher out of the classroom but that changes very little in the way she thinks. A freshman student came up to me today before class started. She began asking me about a rhythm in her solo piece for the class concert, and I became far too excited to help her out. Another student asked me about phrasing (didn’t use the word phrasing, but she sure did stumble around it.) I was significantly more excited to help them than they will ever be aware of.

I adore the ESL/EFL classroom. There is very little I love more than it. But the one thing I do love more than it is the music classroom. For a minute, I felt like I was home from just a simple question on how to read a dotted rhythm. I love the loud rehearsals, I love the learning process of working on a new piece of music, I love having dozens of students in a class at once, I love the group dynamic that is established, I seeing a bunch of them flocking to the room during breaks, and I love the emotion that drives the class and the students. The whole energy makes you feel alive.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I want to take most of these girls home with me back to my future classroom in the states. I can already tell how much I am going to miss these girls, and knowing that I will be leaving them in less than a month breaks my heart. This was my first real classroom. This was the first time I truly taught solo – my class, my rules, my students. I did as I wished every day. It was my demeanor that created the mood. I had no one telling me right from wrong besides my own internal guide. If something went well, it is because of me. If something went wrong, it is because of me. I love knowing that I am the factor that controls failure and success. And I could not imagine a more beautiful and safe environment to learn in.

Recently, I’ve taken to practicing in between periods at school. I hide in the music room above the library with my Mozart, Schumann, and Bernstein and practice for an hour or so. As the periods end, I see my girls unaware of my presence, run into the music room to practice on the piano. When they see me they freak out a little and say, “Oh Teacher! So sorry! We no see you!” I laugh a little and tell them, “No no, keep practicing. I want to hear you play.” Then they laugh and keep playing. And for another minute, I feel at home.

I go home at night and conduct to the music playing from my computer (be it intentionally or unintentionally.) I still dream of being in front of an ensemble on stage. When walking around Cheonan, I get excited when I see people carrying gig bags. Some waygooks get excited to see other waygooks around, but I get excited over gig bags. If I come back to Korea, I need to be in Seoul … or find a way to make my high school allow me to teach music classes. I am not going on a music hiatus this long ever again. When I head to a concert, I don’t want to sit in the audience being jealous of the members on stage. (That happened a few weeks ago, and it tore my heart out.) Not being in music rehearsals absolutely kills me. I need to be in an ensemble, be it on the podium or as a member.

I don’t think I ever realized how much of a musician and music teacher I am until today.

One simple question on reading rhythms.

And yes Daddy, this is another introspective blog post.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And North Korea attacks again

When I went to Israel in December of 2008, the war in Gaza was just breaking out. Many of the towns that our tour group passed through were hit by missiles from Gaza, and one town that we were supposed to go to was hit the day before we went there. (Needless to say, we didn't end up going.) I remember my family members were all extremely nervous, and I cannot say I blamed them. But that was different. In Israel I saw tanks driving by our bus. I heard fighter planes overhead. You knew that a battle was going on. It was not just a short volley of missile fire. It was constant, and had been for some time.

But I got home alive and well. It will be no different in this case.

I am in a town called Cheonan, which is about 100 miles south from the DMZ as the crow flies. As most everyone is well aware, yesterday about 2:30 or so in the afternoon, North Korea sent missiles to Yeonpyeong Island off the coast of Korea. The island is near the DMZ zone in the West Sea. It is a small fishing island with a South Korean military base on it, and a population of under 2000 civilians.

Here's a good article I saw on the event if you care to read more

I didn't even realize what happened towards the north until I got a Skype voicemail from a friend freaking out. That is how unconcerned people are here. Someone at school might have read the news, but no one told me. I had zero idea.

Soon after I called him down, I checked Facebook where Brad sent me a message asking me if I'm ok and what is happening.

From there, people started figuring out the situation.

The number of emails, phone calls, and other messages I have received is amazing. (Thank you all for making me feel so loved, by the way.) But here, it is almost disconcerting how much people just shrug off the whole event! It's almost as nothing happened. The whole western world is having a panic attack and all the Korean citizens shake their heads thinking, “oh naughty North Korea.” One of my co-teachers told me this happens every other year or so, though it is surprising that it occurred on a predominantly civilian island. But people just ignore the scenario entirely.

Apparently, North Korea does this for attention and usually because they're low on provisions. The North doesn't have much to lose, but the South does. This makes the South give the North what they want to get them to shut up a while, and everything continues as before. Even though South Korea has allies all over the world, North Korea has a standing army of 1.1 million. Now, chances are, once the military marched into South Korea, most soldiers would make a break for it and run and hide as to not return to the North, but still.

I've been reading the facebook statuses of my friends in Korea and there are some pretty amusing ones including:

Korean Native: "Every foreign friends !!!! thanks for the caring !! i'm fine and South Korea will be fine 2 ! when war breaks out i will be at ur room ,,, just don't kick me out ! :)"

Waygook: "Sigh. Not again."

Waygook: "NORTH KOREA......yes they fired at South Korea... yes they have done this before......yes they may be doing it for attention...and yes most south Koreans are probably going to ignore this one too and pay no attention to it..."

Waygook: "This is as normal as an ahjumma walking down the street wearing big flower printed pants, a polka-dotted blouse, and a visor. Koreans aren't even paying attention. It's barely even news."

Waygook: "So about that DMZ trip we're heading on? Should we still go? I think we should still go."

And most haven't even commented on it.

I am registered at the embassy. They know I'm here. All is well. No worrying until I say it's ok to worry.

Under 6 weeks until I'm headed back to the states. Now that is scary!