Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rubbing Elbows with the Neighbors

Well, it's a lazy day here in Dongchun-dong. We're allowing ourselves to be a bit lowkey. But the weather is gorgeous - bright blue sky and mid-sixties, so we had to venture outside. The kids and I ended up spending much of the day just outside our apartment complex where the kids play. I thought I'd get some reading done, but I ended up enjoying watching Anna interact with the kids.

Alec was off playing with some of the kids from our school while Anna and I were playing a bit of badmitten. Pretty soon a bunch of Korean girls came walking toward us from a distance. "Anna!" they called. They know her from dragonfly catching days, I think. I thought it would be nice if they played badmitten with her, so I handed mine over. Pretty soon she ended up playing several volleys with four different girls. A few girls know a little bit of English. Pretty soon I hear one say, "Anna, do you want to play... (whisper in Korean to friend) dodgeball?" Anna agreed. The next thing I know, the group of girls are choosing sides and Anna's playing with them. Cool, I thought.

After a bit, the girls drift off to do something else. Some time passes. Anna and Alec end up hanging out with the group of expats from our school. By this time a colleague/friend who lives here has joined me. The kids are in a huge group talking about something. What? Craig comes over, "We're going to play Americans versus Koreans." Well, it never quite developed, but at least the kids were leaning in a slight way toward interacting with one another.

A bit of time passes. Pretty soon a young boy of 12 comes over to talk to me. I've met him before. He's a bit fascinated with Anna and works real hard to use his bit of English, more than most other Koreans do. "Anna?" he asks. "She went up to the apartment," I say. "Aparti." "Oh. She is going home?" "Yes. She is home. . . in the aparti," I say. He looks a bit disappointed. He has a friend with him, a young man probably 13 or 14. "She is going home?" he asks again. By this time I'm getting the notion he wants to go knock on the door and see if she'll come down, so I try to explain where she is. "She's in o-pek-gu dong, chun-o-pek-sam ho," I say slowly. At first he looks confused, trying to figure out what I said in English. Then he realizes I'm giving him directions in Korean. His face lights up. "Oh! Thank you!" he says. He and his friend head out.

A bit later I take leave of my friend to see if the kids made it up to the apartment and if they are still there. Sure enough. Two sets of strange shoes are in the entryway indicating our guests. Anna and Alec are showing them the apartment, or rather they are snooping around, a very Anna-ish thing to do. They are giggling and dial a friend on their phone. They have a cellphone with built-in video (like Skype). They're talking and giggling with their friend, taking pictures with Anna and Alec to prove they are in our apartment. I hear "waygukin" whiz by in conversation, one of my new vocabulary words - meaning foreigner. They stay a bit longer, then politely head out saying their good-byes.

Moments later, the door buzzer rings. It's the boys. Anna lets them in. Now they're with two girls about 13 - 14 years old. They're all giggling. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," the younger boy says. It seems his older friend wanted the girls to see our place, too. They all take off their shoes again and follow Anna around giggling. The oldest girl comes to talk to me briefly in decent and fluent English. I ask her how she knows English and if she's ever been out of the country. She says she's learned her English at an English Academy close by. The kids head out again saying their thankyous.

I hope these are the beginnings of friendship. I know it's hard to move beyond the "sideshow entertainment" phase, especially with a language barrier. We'll see. But I have to give Anna credit; she's making more progress than the rest of us getting to know our Korean neighbors.

"And a little child shall lead them."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pusan and High School Musical 3

Here I sit watching High School Musical 3 on TV, because it's in English, and I do like it. High School! I've been living that since 1982. But I digress. . .

The family traveled by speed train to Busan/Pusan (same thing) this weekend. We left school a bit early on Friday, having taken 1/2 personal day. We took a bus to Seoul and then the KTX train to Pusan, a three hour ride. I've ridden on one once, but it was the first time for the rest of the family to be on a train! Very fun. Once we arrive we took a cab to our hotel. We had about a 15 minute scare while the hotel seemed to have trouble realizing we had a room booked. But they got it figured it out and all was well. The weather cooperated Friday night and Saturday. Highlights included seeing the Pacific Ocean (only a five minute walk away), seeing the hour-long fireworks display off the Wangali Bridge, watching Anna ice skate on the 7th floor of Shinsigae (the largest Department Store in the World), eating out for both traditional Korean BBQ and at TGIF's and visiting the UN Cemetery. A few unusual things happened too: we saw several tiny hummingbirds and walked past the windows of the ladies of the evening!

A great part of the trip was getting to spend the day with Mary. She was a student of mine 17 years ago! Now she teaches English in Pusan. She was brave enough to spend Saturday with us as we toured the city using the City Bus Tour. She also sweated out ice skating with Anna and listening to her prattle on about this and that. All of that and a nice walk on the beach and brunch at the Weston made for a great weekend.

There's always a few misadventures. The only thing this time happened to be the temperature of our hotel room - 29 degrees C, which is. . . HOT. We didn't know how to turn it down. Thankfully there was a fan in the room. We managed, though. Saturday evening was PERFECT! Mary and her boyfriend took us out for bulgogi (yummy!) before watching the fireworks. The walk back to the hotel was a lot of fun on such a gorgeous night - as we walked along the sidewalk next to the ocean. (sigh)

I'll post pics and videos on FB for friends to see.

Enjoy your week. We will now that we are refreshed and rested.

(For those of you interested - the cast of HSM 3 are now singing about Prom.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Alec's Blog

Alec has agreed to let me share his emergent writing. He's got a small notepad now that he has carried with him for a few days. He's writing what he thinks. Here's what he says,

"I'm happy today We got money for being good yesterday. We are going to a new park We are going to lotte world. We are having a nice walk We all exersid. We played dogs We are going to apple mall. We are getting a smoothie. We got jenga. We saw a white crane. we're eating out 10/16

"We're going on the subway intill a long time. We are going to suhhun we are in town. We are in Dos tacos. I am getting my third qaseadea. This is good. We cleanned the house. 10/16 We got doughnuts. I got a new balloon dog. we are watching a movie. I got bugs silly bands. 10/16

"We're going to church. I drawed Puke the Pirate island. We are going to Burger King. I am mad at Anna. We ate at Burger King. This is good. We are doing Wii. We are in Ori. We are at Home Plus. We are playing Wii at home with dad."

How could I say it any better?

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Dear Readers,

It is getting harder to think of new things to write. In a way that is a good thing; it means that what was once new and exciting and different at every turn is becoming more normal.

I still have moments of clarity when I say to myself, "Are you kidding? You're in Korea! Far from home living an entirely different life!" I had such a moment last evening. The staff social committee had arranged for a kickball tournament/BBQ Saturday afternoon for all of the staff and their families. We attended. The kickball portion took place on the soccer field. This happens to be a similar spot to the picture on our school's website. For months I saw that picture from that particular angle - with the skyscrapers and mountains in the background and the soccer field and school buildings in the foreground. Well, sitting in the stands watching kickball I had the same view. How odd! To suddenly realize I was living inside that picture! Living it, not just looking at it. In those moments life isn't normal at all. But otherwise, the apartment is feeling even more like home. And routines are in place. We're becoming more accustomed to riding public transportation, bumming rides from friends, shopping for products by the picture only, etc.

Some things still aren't routine - like exercise and working out. I miss my dog and his insistence on walking every day. However, we did take a short hike today in the mountains. It reminded me of walks with Boomer in GB at Ted Fritsch Park. The difference here was that there was much more of an incline. Also, while there were trees along the hike, there was very little undergrowth and no critters! We neither heard nor saw squirrels, chipmunks, snakes or mice. It was quite quiet.

Other things are routine now. I've mentioned them before. School ad work, church and activities with kids. This is all good.

Speaking of kids, our kids were interviewed yesterday. Yes - interviewed. Our school has a media class that posts on our website and youtube. Two students decided to cover adoption as their in-depth story. As I've been quite open about our adopted children, they decided to interview them. It was quite an exciting morning as they asked us all questions and took video of the kids playing outside and in their rooms. In a few days they should have the story posted. Those interested in more can leave a post or email and I'll let you know how to find the final story.

To end, I must say what I am most looking forward to. Those of you from GB will know how much we all love our Seroogy's chocolate. Well, Wayne L. returned home for a bit and I begged him (via Facebook) to bring me some Seroogy's chocolate. And he DID! Now I just have to meet up with him in Seoul and get a hold of it. There's nothing like a taste of home.

As always,

Saturday, October 2, 2010

School Reflection

Time again to reflect on school. First, let me say that I am thoroughly enjoying my year so far. What a blessing to have such little job-related stress. I give my students the credit for that. They are terrific.

First, a little demographics. The school I teach at in Korea is a K-12 international school with about 1200 total students. We are celebrating a decade of educating. Families are primarily Korean by ethnicity. Students often have lived abroad in an English speaking country or school for several years prior to attending our high school. Families are professional and expect a world-class education. The campus has a 1 to 1 laptop program fro students between 6th and 12th grade, so technology is a central component in learning.

Back to my students. I am still enjoying my students tremendously. They continue to be upbeat, prepared, polite, and engaged in learning. I find we do a lot of laughing, which is nice. Disciplining naughty children in my class is practically a non-issue. The biggest distraction for them is their computer. It is quite easy to simply ask them to close their computers in order to regain their attention. I continue to be amazed at their respect for each other and for me. This makes for stressless class periods.

Small class sizes play a role. Previously when I would have 28 - 32 students in a class as an English teacher, I would dream of small class sizes. I, and everyone else in my position, did the best we could to offer a tremendous education to our students. And we did. And they continue to do so. However, there really is something to be said for smaller class sizes. I now have between 9 and 19 students in my classes and have just 4 classes. Smaller class sizes means that I can expect all students to contribute to class discussion; individual project presentations takes fewer class periods to complete, students are able to get more individual attention from me, the general feeling in the classroom is less congested and rushed. And I have more time for planning because I'm taking less time for correcting.

Collaboration plays a role. As I have found in the past, life is easier as a teacher when you have colleagues with which to collaborate. I am so thankful that my new department members are willing to give their time to my questions and needs to make my courses successful. For instance, another teacher and I have the same preparation (course) and a common planning time. As needed, we can and DO meet for course planning and reflection. I'm doubly blessed because she and I seem to have similar teaching styles and views on what is important for the curriculum. Having TIME to collaborate can be and usually is an issue. What a difference it makes.

A supportive administration plays a role. I so appreciate that the culture in our building is healthy and supportive of staff. You see it in the class sizes. You see it in the encouragement of the social committee to keep the feeling of "family" through outside activities for staff. You see it in the way they address the teachers and present new ideas or tasks. There is a respect for who we are as professionals and people. One of the things I most worried about coming to a new school would be if the building would be a healthy and happy one. It is. Another blessing that keeps me balanced.

Technology usage in a 1-1 program keeps things fresh. I am absolutely loving the computers in the classroom. Students are responsible for buying and having their computer with them all the time. And they do. It is available for personal and school use and generally maintained by our IT department, which consists of 5 people for the entire district (3 buildings). Having computers at their fingertips has changed my teaching in some liberating ways. I post my lesson plans on my wiki now, along with links to documents, assignments, or websites used for instruction. Rather than print off all of these things, I tell students to "go to the wiki." Having access to the internet means they can easily navigate through parts of a website on their own and explore more than before. They can research topics right as we are discussing them. They also have access to a variety of resources for presentations like i-movie, keynote, youtube, etc. It is easier for students to communicate with one another through school email, chats, blogs, and postings on the wiki. Students have been able to post or download their assignments for me to correct. At first I didn't think I would like this feature, but it turns out that I do. I can usually use the editing feature to still write my "teacher comments" and I don't have a pile of papers to take home. Additionally, students can comment on one another's work this way for peer critiques outside of class. In the near future I hope to do a collaborative project with a former colleague and her students. We're hoping to have our students from half-way around the world read and critique each other's papers. To keep students on task in class with computers in use, we use a program called Apple Remote Desktop. This allows me to see what students are doing and know if they are off task. I can speak to them directly or shoot a message electronically reminding them of the class expectations.

So, for the most part I would say the transition to my new school in my new country is going quite well. There isn't too much to stress over. The things that do cause stress are those to be expected, preparing for two new courses, creating curriculum, learning the routines, getting to know colleagues personally, and forming deep, lasting friendships. These things will come with time, effort, and patience. In the meantime, I shall continue enjoying each day as it unfolds with all its ups and downs.