Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Maybe I have written about this before, but I'm not sure. It's quite customary now for Koreans to choose an English name for themselves. Whether they are businessmen who do international business, or children in English academies, a lot of people give themselves English names. Sometimes, in the children's cases, someone chooses the name for them (such as the teacher), or they pick names they know from celebrities or from books they've read.

Most of my elementary age students come to class with an English name. Either they've been in our academy the previous semester and it's already in the computer system, or they come to class and say they have an English name. This is true for most of my elementary students. However, a lot of my middle school students opt for their real Korean name.

I can't say I blame them. When I go to Mexico, my pastor there jokes and calls me Margarita, which is the closest Spanish name to Meghan. Honestly, I don't like it. My name's not Margarita, and I am not used to responding to it. I like my name. So, sometimes I feel bad that these kids have to be called by their English names.

So, if a new student comes, and they want to be called by their Korean name, I let them. I romanize it so that I can read it and remember it by it's English letters, but it is still their name. Sometimes, when a class is beginning its semester, I have a hard time keeping the names straight.

I had quite the problem with my current middle school class at the beginning of the semester, though I think I have it figured out now. I have HyungJune, JooHyun, YoungHyun, which I got all confused the first few days. There are more names to be confused, but those are the three that sound so much alike. I have to try to sit them in three different rows. But, things are okay now.

In other news, one of my students somehow got named Cruise. I've heard stories of English academy teachers getting ridiculous and naming their students after a string of celebrities (Brad, Angelina, Britney), sports stars (Jordan, Shaq, Beckham), or even just plain old funny English words like Robot. Good grief. Talk about stupid.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Making Sentences

My kids have phrases that we work on to understand and to make new sentences. Last night one of the phrases was "(person) called out from (place)". So, they had to insert a person, and a place that they called out from. We complete the sentences in the workbook and also make our own, new sentences. I had to explain to the kids that if someone calls out from a place, that means that they are inside of that place. So, our examples said things like "the trapped hikers called out from the cave", etc.

Well, at the bottom of our page we had a picture and had to make the sentence. It started with "Mrs. Roberts....." Clearly Mrs. Roberts was calling out from the kitchen, as you could see her head poking around the corner by a dining room table. Well, one of my students started talking and said "Mrs. Roberts called out from the chicken..." and everybody in my class started laughing hysterically. The class had been in a fun, joking mood all of the class time, and even I was laughing so hard I was stomping my foot on the floor. The student, Brian, was embarrassed, but laughing, too. The best part of it was that he really meant to say kitchen, but kitchen and chicken sound so much alike, it is easy to get them confused.

I went on to explain (and laugh at the same time), that if Mrs. Roberts was calling out from the chicken that meant she was inside the chicken, and that the chicken must have eaten her!

Oh, fun, when English words sound alike.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bike Rides

Since the weather has been nicer, Stephanie and I have been running down by the river. It's very cool to live close enough to walk down there and go running in the morning. We noticed that the bike rental place is back open for business, so Monday morning we went for a bike ride.

Looking across to the North side of the Han River:

Looking North and West (for a reference, that means looking in the direction of China):

Getting started:

I love the fact that this guy is out taking a ride at the park. We've seen him on other mornings as well:

We had traveled East, and reached the end of the path where there was some bridge construction. The construction has barely begun and will last until 2011 (or so the sign said). The cutest part were the three older people sitting, walking around, and generally overseeing the construction of the bridge. For some reason it reminded me of the "Show Me Progress!" signs I saw in Missouri when we drove through during construction season. These three older people (and another that came along while we were there) were talking, looking around at the bridge, and even peeking through the holes in the fence to try and see what was going on. Stephanie and I enjoyed watching them.

And Stephanie and I by the bridge construction:

Sunday Stephanie and I made plans with Will to try and find the Coldstone Creamery that had eluded all of us. By the time we left church and arrived at the Coldstone we had acquired a large group. It was fun, and a little scandalous, to eat ice cream for dinner, and we all had a good time. Here's a picture of Stephanie (she's excited), YoonSun, Eddie, and myself at Coldstone:

My students' writing

My students have a LOT of homework. They do all of their class homework (finishing their workbook and writing in a notebook), and then do other homework that I rarely ever see and I definitely don't grade. I can, however, look at their little writing essays online when I want, and it's fun to read what they write.

My adorable, wonderful, super intelligent upper level class full of fifth and sixth graders are my favorite, and their writing this week was superbly hilarious, so I thought I would share. We are reading a small scholastic reader called "Gross Body Facts". Last week we talked about bad breath and sweating. So, although I don't know what their essay question was, I can tell by the students' answers that the question was something like "What would you do if your friend smelled bad?" These are some excerpts from their writing (usually the first one or two sentences). These were the highlight of my evening:

"First, I run away from smell friends to another friend. Because talk to the smell friends so they can despair. I don´t want to make friends despair." -Rina

"If he was my best friend, I would tell him you smell bad. But if he was not my best friend, I would run away secretly and never meet him again, before he takes a shower."-David

"If I and my friend play together, I think bad smell from my friend moves into my body and so another friends can have the misunderstanding that I have a bad smell, too. Therefore, they don´t like me. So I think running away from the friend having a bad smell is the best way." -YunJi

"If my friend smells bad, I will say I need to go home because, today my grandfather comes here. Then, I will run away to my house." - Mark

"If my friend smells bad, First I will tell him that he is smells bad. I will give him a one more chance. And I will just play with my freinds. and If he is still smells bad,I will ask him that ″Did you wash last night.″"- Andy

"First, I would tell him methods because I think it is better than escaping from him. If I escape from him, he will be unhappy. But, if I tell him methods, he may try to change his smell."- Brian

"Hey my friend! I want to tell about your smell. I´m sorry tell this. Umm... I sniff something. Maybe this smell is from your body."- Cruise

"I would go to a store and buy my friend a purfume,with a card saying,″hey... you really smell!″. Also , I wouldn´t hurt my friend´s feeling! Isn´t that a wonderful idea?"- Christine

"When my friend smells bad, I would do two things. One thing is to make my friend think about her smell and another thing is to give her a natural soap."- Louise (who went on to say that she would help the friend think about the smell by talking about a different "somebody" with a bad smell, and then giving them the natural soap under the guise of "it's good for your skin").


Monday, March 12, 2007

National Museum

On Saturday Stephanie and I went to National Museum of Korea. I thought that since we were not going on the Free Saturday that it wouldn't be crowded, but I was wrong. If there's one thing that I find really enjoying and refreshing about Korea, it's that the people are very big supporters and attenders at their cultural and park-like attractions, and the fact that it's so cheap, which I think must be the result of the attendance numbers. It cost us 2 dollars to visit this massive museum. Also, it doesn't matter how small the child is, the parents bring them anyway. I think that is great.

This picture was taken on the second floor (out of three total), in front of the pagoda. Behind it you can see how huge the museum is. Fact is, there is another big part of the museum, with a rotating exhibition. Currently there is a display from the Louvre. The place is so big and so marbleized I felt like I was in Grand Central station or something.
I am mostly interested in historical and cultural things, and so I enjoyed seeing old artifacts from different times. Here is a crown (sorry it's a bad picture), I realized after I took the picture that I was not supposed to be using flash inside the museum. Oops.

They also had these trunks, which made me think of my mom, who loves antiques. First two are trunks, and the third one is a smaller item. The sign said it was a comb chest.

Also, some sort of chest/armoir/storage. I loved this one:

Hangeul (the Korean alphabet) is really something that is fascinating to me, because of its creation, its phonetics, and its ease to learn. I especially thought these thoughts from King Sejong (who created Hangeul) were interesting. I think the Korean alphabet and language is really something the Korean people should be proud of. I think its history and usage is amazing.

And here's the required tourist photo! A friendly pagoda and me.

As we left the museum, we walked down to the front gate and to the subway. While walking down we noticed a very strange man walking, and making animal noises (growling/yelling) at people he walked into, including groups of middle-aged women. Stephanie and I were feeling a bit nervous because not only do we look very different from everyone (and seem to sometimes get more attention), we can't tell him to go away in his language!

We walked down to the crosswalk really fast, and stood with the large group of people. We knew that other people knew about this man because a dad behind us grabbed his son's shoulders and "arrgghhhhh"-ed at him. Everyone around laughed. The scary man came, walked across the crosswalk, where the crossing guard told him to "shhh". The scary man kept walking down to the subway. As we passed a Western couple we knew the scary man had passed them as well because we heard the western man say "That was like we were in New York again there for a minute". We thought that was hilarious.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

This and That

I have new classes as of last week, and all of them are going fairly well. We are also on a new schedule. We used to work four days a week 4pm-10pm, but now we work five days, with two days a week only teaching 3 hours. While I lament the loss of a free day of sightseeing or doing nothing, teaching just 3 hours and then going home is actually quite nice. Our classes are 3 hours long and packed with things, so after 2 back to back classes you can feel a little exhausted.

Every teacher has four classes that meet two times a week. Last semester I taught three different subjects. This semester I only teach two different subjects. This might be confusing but I teach 3 classes of the same subject and only one class of the different subject. And with how much schedule works it means that every time I go into work I only have to prep for one class - it's really nice!

Some of my classes will be more difficult because they are a little older students (5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th grade), yet they are not doing very well in their English, so their understanding is not as good as it could be for the class level. This is frustrating to me, but also understandable and something that will challenge me. Korean students however, are very smart and have been known to use their smarts for things other than schoolwork, so sometimes I'm not sure if I'm being used (and they are pretending not to understand) OR if they really do not understand.

I do have one class that is like a teacher's dream come true. It is a higher level class, but they are all 5th and 6th grade students with one 7th grader. It's a full class of 17 students, and they are all high achievers, which is why they are a bit younger, yet in a high level class. What this means is that nearly all of them do their work, participate, answer questions without having to be called on, and understand me well when I make jokes in class.

WHICH is fun right now because we are reading a book called "Gross Body Facts". So far we have talked about burping and sweating, and it grosses out the kids, yet they want to talk about it. I can't imagine having to teach this book to middle school boys, so having 5th and 6th graders for this book is a lot of fun. I love that class.

In other news, when I had parent meetings a couple weeks ago an interesting question I got was what sounds the student(s) need to be working on pronouncing. Easily the first thing that comes to mind is the l/r sound that comes at the beginning or ends of words that Asians are often known for mispronouncing.

While taking Korean lessons I understood why this happens, at least for Koreans. The Korean letter ㄹ makes an r/l sound, either L or R depending on its placement in the word. Now, the Korean letter ㄹ is very difficult for ME to pronounce. I can never seem to get it right. It is no wonder then, that when the tables are turned and they tried to pronounce our L or R sound that often it is not correct. Somehow when I was trying to say it correctly the lightbulb went off in my head. THAT'S why!

Winter is back, like I said, but it is sunny outside and we even had clear skies today (no smog hanging over). Spring seems to be coming and Stephanie and I are both looking forward to plans for the Spring. We are hoping to go the DMZ (demilitarized zone) by the North Korean border sometime soon. You can read more about that here. The USO offers a trip on Saturdays that we have heard good things about.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Stephanie and I decided, since the weather has been a little warmer, that we would go over to Yeouido island and just see what was there. We had decided to go on Saturday, but had a phone call from a friend that changed our plans. He had a rental car leftover from a business trip he went on, and invited us and another of our friends along for a ride out to a town called Paju.

It was incredibly nice to get away from the city. In fact, we've only been able to do that a few times since we've been here. It's just refreshing to get away from tons of people and actually see more hillsides and open areas.

Driving out on the freeway toward Paju (which is, I believe, North of Seoul), we saw barbed wire on the left side of the freeway for quite a while. We didn't know what it was.
YongHyun missed an exit, got off at a tiny farm exit, and tried to go under the freeway, through a small tunnel, to find an on-ramp. However, the tunnel ended in a military barricade, and a soldier who told us we could not enter.
We couldn't quite figure it out, but YongHyun explained something about a bird sanctuary. We were a little confused about the barbed wire and the military protecting a BIRD SANCTUARY, so we just made jokes about them containing the bird flu. In all seriousness, I think it does, in some way, have to do with guarding borders to protect against bird flu or something. Okay, but honestly, I'm not quite sure.

We made it to Paju and went to a small development, but I'm not sure of the name. It, apparently, is a place for many artists who live in modern housing. There are some cafes, galleries, etc, and seems to be a place to drive around and look at. The buildings are still being built. Here's an example of some buildings/houses we saw:

We goofed around:

The funny thing is that this "artist village" is RIGHT next to the famous English village where parents take children and schools take students to be immersed in an English environment for an afternoon or a day. They try to recreate it all for the kids, most of whom are all learning English either at a public school or an after school academy.

So, quite mind jarring is the new modernist buildings, and in the background having very European style townhouses:
Also, this majestic building was right across the street as well:

We rode home in the late afternoon. It was really an odd day... really cloudy and overcast, yet not raining and not so cold. See the look of the countryside in the pictures above? This is a picture of Seoul back in town:

It had warmed up over the last week or two and we were happy just to be wearing coats outside and not having scarves and hats and gloves. My director said, though, that there is a saying in Korean for when the Spring comes, and the Winter feels jealous for all of the joy that Spring brings the people. It is jealous of all the attention and love that Spring gets, so Winter comes back for an encore because of its jealousy. When we woke up this morning there were tiny little snowflakes and the freezing wind was gusting. I told my director tonight "you were right!"