Saturday, December 10, 2011

"A Starry Night"

Last weekend was "A Starry Night", a winter ball celebration for the high school kids from the school where I teach.  I had the privilege of chaperoning with my husband and a few other adults the 100 kids.  The venue was a beautiful hall in the Gangnam area of Seoul.  I was curious to see what a dance would be like in Korea versus back home.  Well, kids are kids and dance music is dance music, but it still held some surprises.

At 7 PM, the students arrived as expected, in semi-formal attire and with dates.  They made their way to the edges of the room to sit at candlelit tables and chat.  The student-DJ began playing upbeat music that the kids knew and enjoyed.  Pretty soon the high schoolers approached the dance floor.  They were tentative at first, girls congregating with girls and guys with guys.  After a bit, two groups forms - guys and girls.  The music thundered and Ian blew the whistle to the beat.  The scene so far reminded me of a junior high dance when I was a kid.  It was charming.  The kids were enjoying themselves.

As the music called to them, they came closer to the DJ dancing and bouncing.  Before long nearly 100 kids all were jumping to the music on a small raised stage, something probably designed for a wedding soloist. They looked like a mosh pit minus the concert!  This went of for a long time, no slow songs, no guy-girl combinations, just a ball of knats swarming the stage.  Baffling.

Finally a few slow songs were on the playlist.  I'd heard from other chaperones that the students rarely would slow dance.  My husband and I decided to lead by example.  So we took to the floor.  We were amused by the genuine joy the kids had at seeing us dance; a few even took our picture on their cell phones.  About 12 couples managed to make their way to the dance floor during the slow music.

By 9:30 a most extraordinary thing happened.  The dance organizer said the kids had been dancing straight for a few hours and were tired, he was considering calling it a night (about 30 minutes early).  We mentioned that perhaps some would be angry to end early after paying good money for the event.  He shook his head, understanding.  Next thing we know, this young man is sitting down at the white baby grand in the hall and dedicating a song to the kids there.  He proceeds to play a short song, perhaps original, while all the kids sit quietly and listen.  "What an amazing group of young people," I think.  Then the amazing becomes extraordinary.  The students start chanting for one of their classmates to sit down and play.  Dean somewhat reluctantly comes forward, sits, and begins playing a 6 minutes classical piece from memory.  I was awed by how the students sat and listened attentively and THEN demanded he play another piece!  Can you believe he proceeded to play a 9 minutes memorized and rather bombastic piece?  Unbelievably, they shush one another and continue listening.  Yet another few musicians made their way to play and sing before the night was over.

So there it was. My first high school dance in Korea; I felt as if I'd traveled back in time to a time and place a bit more innocent than Green Bay.  (Ironic, when you consider we were not in a city of 100,000 but of 15 million people.)  How could a dance turn into a classical concert?  I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.

But let me leave you with this thought: several times now I've witness our students encouraging one another to perform and performers stepping up with no embarrassment.  I've witnessed kids mess up while performing and others encouraging them with shouts and clapping rather than making fun of them.  These moments I wouldn't trade for the world, even on "A Starry Night."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Giving Thanks

It's hard to be away from family during Thanksgiving.  Warm memories of turkey with all the fixings with immediate family, cousins, aunts and uncles, in-laws, and grandparents surface as soon as someone says "Thanksgiving."  And, sadly, many of our family members back home won't have a large meal with many places set at the "adult table" and the "kiddie table."  We seem to be scattered about the world now and maybe getting too old to prepare and host a big meal.

But for the exPat's in Korea, we've managed to keep tradition alive - after a fashion.

Actually, we've had three Thanksgivings.  Our school was kind enough to host a feast for all the employees and their families.  They brought in turkey from the American base, stuffing, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and pumpkin pie.  We sat at the tables set up in the conference hall, ate, and visited.  It was quite pleasant.  I couldn't help but think that if I were at my last school (a Catholic school) we'd have a prayer together.  I missed that.

Today at our new friends from Australia's apartment, we had another feast.  It was a wonderful sitdown potluck meal.  An international group - Australians, Canadians, Americans - and ages spanning 4 years to 45 with 10 kids and 11 adults managed to give thanks together, watch the Packers play Detroit, and enjoy each others stories.  Sound familiar?

So while we certainly missed being "back home" we managed to bring home to Korea this Thanksgiving.  I'm grateful for my family and my friends!

May God Bless you and your loved ones and may you find much to be grateful for.

B

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Day with Yena

I waited for Yena at Starbucks near Sunae Station.  I was anxious to see her and her straight, long black hair with short bangs.  Yena graduated from my school just last June and I was eager to catch up with her life.

I didn't have to wait long.  We were both quite pleased to see each other again, hugging and laughing through our hellos.  After a quick trip to the Starbucks counter we headed upstairs to the comfy chairs to begin catching up.

Of all my students from last year, Yena is the only one I CAN see in person.  She didn't head off right away to the US to a university, but instead has been pursuing admission to a Korean College.  For the last several months she has been going through the rigorous admission process for International Studies at 4 different universities in Korea.  She recently was admitted to one of her top choices and finally has a chance to catch up.  Her school year will begin in March, which is common in Korea.

We jabbered back and forth for a good 45 minutes at Starbucks, barely even able to know I'd gotten the wrong order!  I was intrigued with Yena's stories of the admission process.  First there are incredibly rigorous tests to take, the College Scholastic Ability Test.  Since she didn't attend Korean school so she had to prepare for the tests on her own.  (How one does on the tests determines what level of university you are eligible for.  They even divert air traffic so examinees don't have to hear the noise!  Students typically study 12-14 hours a day in preparation.) After successful completion of tests, there's an interview process at the college with usually 2 professors.  This is no what-is-your-favorite-book-interview.  This is a read-a-passage-prior-to-entering-and-then-we'll-ask-different-philosophical-questions interview.  Apparently one question had something to do with "how is the unknown known and how is the unknown unknown?"  There were other questions relating to the field of international relations.  And as Yena said, these were questions on things she hoped to be LEARNING, so how could she be expected to already know?  At any rate, these interviews are 6 - 10 minutes and INTENSE.  So Yena was thrilled to get into one of her top choice schools and the finest Korean College for International Studies.  Yeah!

I asked Yena what happens when people DON'T get into a college.  What are their other options?  She said they usually do something else for awhile while they study for another year in preparation for the tests.  Then they try the next year.  I am so happy for her achieving this goal!

Our conversation continued at a sushi restaurant I had been curious to try.  It's the kind of restaurant where small dishes of different colors (denoting different costs) with different delicacies slowly ride a conveyer belt through the establishment.


 Patrons take what they want and as much as they want and the cost of the dishes is totaled at the end.  I'd never done this before and don't speak the language well, so Yena was the perfect one to mentor me through the process.  We sat in a booth instead of at the counter. And it turned out there was a picture menu to order from, as well.  This ended up working best as the food was prepared a bit more fresh for us that way.  We tried a bit of everything.  As small dried whole fish, larger and fleshy cooked fish with their heads still on, along with various kinds of sushi traveled along the belt, Yena order.  And ordered.  And ordered.  It was perfect, however, because I got to try a number of dishes.  We had some California Roll (delicious), baked fish (very fatty and flaky), shrimp tempura (yummy), raw shrimp sushi (on rice with a seaweed wrap (not my favorite), and tuna roll.  The tuna roll was a riot because it was so huge it was nearly impossible to pop it in your mouth AND chew.  So we each took turns telling a story to the other while she chewed (trying not to laugh, of course).

What a lovely afternoon!  Thanks to Yena I now understand the Korean college system a bit better AND will not hesitate to try the sushi place with the family in the future.

The adventure never ends.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"My old nemesis, STAIRS."



"My old nemesis, STAIRS." - Po in Kungfu Panda II

That's my phrase these days.

For some reason I felt compelled to join our staff's Biggest Loser Challenge (a 9-week weight loss challenge).  I was ready to get back in the work out and walking mode after taking a year off (and putting on a few pounds, I might add).  So, two weeks ago I committed myself to two things: the motto "elevators do not exist" and walking every morning.

What does this mean exactly?

First of all, it means that rather than waking at 6 AM, I wake at 5:20 AM put on my walking gear and i-pod and head out for a 30 minute walk on a lit trail near my house.  Actually, this is not new to me.  Over the years I've walked Bucky and Roscoe in Bellevue, then did Walk-and-Talk with my sister on cell phones while walking Boomer in the woods near our home in Green Bay, then walking Boomer in Brillion, etc.  I've always had a dog to motivate me to walk!  At any rate, when we moved to Korea I wasn't sure I wanted to walk in the mornings without my Boomer and especially before sunrise.  But now that we've lived here a year, I feel perfectly safe and I was ready to get back at it.  So, walking it is.

Secondly, it means stairs.  Fifteen flights of stairs, to be exact.  Since we live on the 15th floor, and since "elevators don't exist" stairs have become my "nemesis" to be sure.  Well, at least they WERE.  I'm proud to say that over the past two weeks I have averaged walking up to our apartment two times a day.  Sometimes it turns out to be three times a day.  At first I could only make it to the 7th floor before I needed my rest.  Then 8, then 10, then 11.  Now I've begun regularly making it all the way without stopping in under 4 minutes.  Sometimes I even walk up from the basement parking lot which turns out to be 17 flights.

What is this doing to my weight?

I'd like to say it's done miracles, but I can't.  So, this has sparked me to try adding a third phase to my "get-fit" life - do MORE.  "More" might mean biking, swimming for 30 minutes in the morning as well, doing some weight training, aerobics, or circuit training.  But we'll see what results occur once that becomes routine.

At any rate, I'm proud to say that I don't get a pounding heart and winded on the 7th floor any more and that Alec seems to enjoy walking up with me, too.  That's a bonus, right?  Show the kids how it's done!

So, to all the Biggest Loser Wanna Be's out there. . .  Take a step today.  Take the stairs!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

School Days

There seems to be so much going on lately.  So much that I haven't found a minute to write a blog.  I've actually been contemplating for a few weeks what to write.  Sure, we've hit a couple new places in the Seoul area - a ceramics festival that was amazing where three of us made pots on the wheel, and a Arts Village near the DMZ where Anna and I were fascinated by the hundreds of minerals on display at a museum, among other things.  But, I needed something else. 

What has REALLY been taking the majority of my energy lately is school.  Why? Well, here's the part where being an English teacher comes in.  Even with 65 students, I'm finding it difficult to get it all done.  As the end of the quarter neared I had 65 individual conferences to attend to, 32 papers in-class essays, then 32 analysis papers and finally 33 Multi-genre projects to grade (or as the Australians say, "mark"). 

I'd gotten through most of the essays by the time the Multi-genre projects came in.  But you know how it is - finish one thing just in time to get started on the next.  I'm ALMOST complaining.  Perhaps I even WOULD be complaining, if it weren't for the Multi-genre projects.  I have to thank my colleague Anthony for this idea.  I'd not heard of it before.  But it resonated with me because it sounded a lot like a portfolio (and you know how I love portfolios.)  

Students had been studying Romanticism in American Literature.  How to assess their understanding of Romanticism?  Well, allow them to BE a Romantic by exploring several genres all centered around a Romantic ideal (individuality, inner experience, inspiration from nature, imagination, innocence. . . )  Ask the students to find a way to make the project flow and tie it all together with a reflective and informative preface.  

I'd never done this before, so, you know. . . I was a bit. . . nervous.  Would they take it seriously?  Would they find their inner Romanticist?  Would they get anything out of it?  Would I have a bunch of thrown together crud or would I find brilliance?

Here's the part where I LOVE being an English teacher.

That's right.  I found brilliance.  The students have been imaginative, creative, innovative, honest, and soul searching.  They have discovered new things about themselves, looked inside in ways they hadn't before, began to notice innocence and nature all around them again.  They've reflected on family and relationships, society and the environment.  They've become poets and photographers, graphic artists and song writers, clever storytellers and contrite letter writers.  I'm so proud of my juniors!  Their job this year is to find their VOICES as writers and speakers.  And I just saw them take a big leap in that direction.  

I couldn't be prouder.

Now. . . back to work!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Poem: Trying to Be Romantic

The students were carefully prepped
“Listen to nature.  Find out what it says to you.
“Romantics see a tree differently than Rationalists.”
We entered the woods via the school trail
sat on the benches and studied Thoreau.
Ah . . . Nature!
Finally I set them off alone to “commune with nature”
Think about life.
See what nature had to offer them as a Romantic.
“The symphony of cicadas and crickets will speak to you,” I said.
The sunlight, trees and insects concurred.
Ah, Nature.
Just then They came.  The 12 year old scientists.
Their teacher hiked them up the very same steps by which we had entered the 
Romantic woods.
But they brought their yellow ribbons labeled with numbers
Tied them on the trees.  Asked questions like,
“What species is that?”  “What do its leaves look like? Its bark?”
The rationalists had arrived.
Ah, nature.
Next came the helicopters thu-thu-thu-ing overhead.
Then the computers accompanied by urgent questions 
on the particulars of “the assignment”
Finally, announcements rang out across the mountainside.
A bell sounded.
Civilization had arrived.
Aw. . .  nature.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hawaii 2011

We spent this year's Chuseok Break in Hawaii - the trip of a lifetime!  We were on Oahu and loved every minute of it!  Enjoy the photos.



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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Pacific: Above and Below

It's very likely that a day like today can never happen again.  To me, to you, to anyone.  Okay, to few people.  That is because today I was both above the sea and below it all in the same day.

We're on Oahu Island, Hawaii, for the Korean Holiday of Chuseok.  Today was one of the "big days" that we had planned.  We would head out to the western and northern coastal areas on an Ocean Joy Snorkeling Excursion (with Captain Jerry).  There we would get an hour of snorkeling and maybe see some dolphins on the way out.  This is our second time snorkeling.  Kids, too.  We were prepared for a good time.

On the way out the 30 of us had a light breakfast, listened to crew directions, and kept our eyes open for dolphins.  Our captain made a few calls to other boats on the water and discovered a small pod of spinner dolphins en route.  Sure enough, he found them!  They were gorgeous!  Perhaps 6 of them including two babies!  They were resting so they weren't going anywhere.  We enjoyed their company for about 10 minutes. 

A bit later we were all in the water with our snorkeling gear on.  Unbelievably there were not only several varieties of fish on the reef, there were also sea turtles!  At one point one of them floated up right below me; I got to within inches of it!  Anna, too, got very close to a sea turtle.  It amazes me how there is an entire universe under the deep blue sea.  All of this was plenty to enjoy and appreciate, but there's more.  We boarded the boat.  Alec was the first to spot flying fish as our boat skimmed along.  "Mom, it's the flying fish, just like in LIFE."  They were a brilliant blue, maybe 10 inches long, emerged from the water only to glide for maybe 30 feet before re-entering the water.  Crazy! 

As if this were not enough, on the way back to the harbor, our Captain learned of a pod of bottle nosed dolphins close by.  So we cruised on over, and sure enough, there they were!  Maybe a dozen of them.  One of the large ones seemed to love rubbing against the boat.  He hung out at the surface for a long time, even turning belly up and then on his side flicking a fin at us.  So amazing!  Our captain told us that when the whales are here, they play with the dolphins!  Sadly, after a lovely lunch on the boat we returned to the dock.

But this wasn't the end of our experience with the sea today.  Later, we decided to hike the .8 miles up the Diamondhead Crater trail.  It was a bit of a hike, but no worse than hiking in Korea.  In the end, we were standing on the top of the high point at Diamondhead.  Here the view of the ocean was amazing!  We had a full 360 degrees panorama view of the mountains, the city of Waikiki, the coastline and the Pacific Ocean.  Here the white clouds and sky blue complemented the deep navy blue of the deep water and the aqua blue of the shoreline.

And this was the day. There will be no other like it.
Give God the Glory!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Burger King - Finally.

There's something about Burger King that
sucks you in.
Is it the fries?
The Whoppers?
The "have-it-your-way" slogan?
Perhaps it's the grease
the hard chairs
the charcoal scent wafting through the restaurant.
Today it called to us.
Just 1 further subway stop;
We had time enough to sneak off and get
take out.

We waited patiently to arrive at home before
savoring the bun-meat-mayo-lettuce-pickle-ketchup combo

Sohyeon to Miguem by subway
Migeum to Goodmorning Hill by bus 17

Finally!

But, wait!
Where is the Take-out bag?
The take-out bag with 2 burgers, 2 fries, 1 orange and 1 Coke Zero?
NO!!!!!
     The bus.

And so we waited some more
impatiently
for 8018 to make it's rounds and return on the opposite queue.
Just 10 minutes more
Okay, 12 minutes more.

Finally!
I hop on, flash "lost item" to the bus driver on my cellphone and
pick up the familiar brown bag on a back seat
just where we left it.
That's Korea.  Nothing stolen.
Just flavorful goodness awaiting my return
and a little warmup from the microwave.

Ah! Burger King.

Finally.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Something fulfilling. . .

More than 2900 North Korean refugees came to South Korea in 2009.

When we began attending our church in Korea last year, I was so impressed to learn that they had mission work teaching English at a refugee center for North Korean women.   All year long I toyed with joining the group that teaches, but I never did go.

This year, as soon as I returned to Korea, I decided to give it a go.  I figured if I really loved it, I could make a regular commitment to it for the year, but I didn't know if I would.

The Center is an hour and a half drive to a community south of us.  As the six of us headed out from the church, I wondered what the night would be like.  I only knew that the number of people to attend is always a mystery, that we would teach a few simple action verbs, sing a few songs, and speak a simple Greetings dialog for about an hour.

It's hard to bring to life the experience.  At the appointed hour about 25 women and 3 young boys entered the lecture hall.  Most of the women were smaller in stature, smiling, bowing, and excited to be there.  The energy in the room was palpable.  The ladies sat in the closest rows.  For some women this was their first lesson as they had arrived within the 2 weeks since the last session.  For others their three months in the refugee center were almost over, and this would be their last lesson before venturing out on their own to a society so different from their homeland.

The ladies were EAGER to learn - so eager to repeat everything we said.  We practiced introductions, first going through a brief dialog.  Then the 5 of us fanned out and spoke personally to as many women as we could in a few minutes' time.  A few were outgoing and others were shy and uncertain of their pronunciation.  We spent extra time trying to help them hear and say the difference between "work" and "walk".  At one point I became the demonstrator of verbs, pantomiming eat, run, walk, jump,  and dance, among others.  This brought me right back to my early days of teaching beginning French.  I have no qualms looking silly in order to make learning a language fun.  It was amazing hearing the ladies and the children laugh at my antics as they repeated the words and tried the actions themselves.

As the time neared the end, Patricia taught the ladies a song refrain about finding empowerment.  The ladies were happy to stand and sing.  They listened quietly as Jacob prayed for their safely, transition, and friends and family left behind.  Our teenage translator did a great job translating the prayer.

At the end of the hour, people filed out slowly, being sure to say thank you while shaking our hands or bowing.  I amazes me to think what their lives must have been like and what drove them to leave their homeland.  It seemed paradoxical: how could women who have experienced such pain show such obvious joy?

Needless to say - I'm hooked.  I've been inspired to work out some upcoming lessons to use.  Perhaps I'll let you all know how it works out.  Now I'm counting down the days until I can return.  As Patricia says, "It's more about showing them love and compassion than it is about teaching English," though I hope we managed to do both.

May God Bless each woman and her loved ones.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Risk-taking 101

I had a nice conversation with my students the other day.  I was trying to make a point.  I placed two statements on opposite ends of the board: No success without failure first AND Failure is not an option.  Then I asked them to stand somewhere on the imaginary continuum between the two statements on the board.  Which philosophy most matched their own or were they in the gray area?  Most aligned themselves with the first statement.  Many stood in the middle.  A few brave souls stood on the "Failure is not an option" end.  From there we divided ourselves in two groups to have a short debate.   Students on the side of "No success without failure first" discussed how allowing for failure made them less stressed and willing to try things in order to improve.  They felt it led to a more perseverant attitude.  Those on the side of "Failure is not an option" felt that by aiming high they would achieve more, accomplish more, or have a better chance of winning.  In the end the students explored the idea fairly well.

When the conversation was over, I tried to make a few points of my own.

1) In order for good communication in arguments of this nature (or any "discussions", for that matter), it is good to define terminology clearly.  For YOU what does "failure" or "success" mean, for example.  Once each side has clearly defined the terms as they understand them, communication can be improved.  We can even agree to disagree in a civil manner.

2) I've seen people get paralyzed by a "failure is not an option attitude."  I don't want my students to get paralyzed or fail to attempt new things because they worry they can't achieve them on the first attempt.  In my classroom, it is okay to fall down.  Just get back up and try again.

3) The way I see it, one must be willing to take risks in order to be creative or innovative.  And the world needs a lot of up-and-coming innovators.  My students are just a few short years away from being the ones to take on some of these big issues.  They've got to be able to come up with brand new solutions to brand new issues that face the world today.  And while they may feel that in the end "failure is not an option", they must also know that sometimes success only comes after countless failures.

I hope this sets the tone for the class.  I hope my students become bigger risk-takers in their speaking, writing, and thinking.  I hope they seek quality achievement but only after adequate exploration and discovery.  I hope they aim BIG!  They are OUR hope, after all!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fresh Start

One of the things I like best about being an educator is that we get to experience beginnings and endings each year.  The work is cyclical.  Begin in fall, finish a semester in winter and begin a new one, then finish again in Spring.  I love getting to know a new group of strangers each fall, getting to know them (quirks and gifts and all) and seeing them off in the spring.

New staff arrive each year.  This year at my school there are 13 new staff.  Each person brings his or her gifts and expertise (or inexperience) to the table.  At any rate, I enjoy making new friends, mentoring, and learning new tricks of the trade from new colleagues each year.  This year I have a new co-teacher of American Lit.  We've already met a few times to flesh out our vision of the course and the first unit and opening days.  It's fun negotiating these new waters and learning each other's strengths and what philosophies we hold in common.  I'll learn from him and he'll learn from me, and in the end both we and our students will be better for it.

At the beginning of the year the building itself holds new appeal.  You can usually expect that the floors have been waxed and carpets cleaned. . . maybe something received a fresh coat of paint.  In our case, we're coming back to a brand new weight-room facility that was built over the summer.  That, and several meeting rooms created from what had been large, open spaces in one of our buildings.  So the campus has received a bit of a face lift.  All the old student work comes off my wall in the Spring making way for new student work and inspiration to take its place.

The beginning of the school year also marks the opportunity to simply START OVER.  Whatever I didn't like last year I can DO OVER.  A bit of reflection after a unit or a year completed helps me to realize which things WORKED in the classroom and which ones DIDN'T.  If I had a particularly difficult group to work with, here's a fresh start.  If I had a particularly difficult schedule, here's a fresh start.  If I had a rough ending to a year, here's a fresh start.  And even if I just completed a magnificent year of teaching (as is the case with last year), I still have a fresh start - a new beginning. . . and it feels good!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Photoessay of Bundang (shot in February 2011)

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Blessed

Vacation was awesome.
Blessings were abundant during 6 weeks of re-connecting with friends and family in the US.

Loved ones!
Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and birthfamily.
Friends from schools and church, former schools, former students, former colleagues, neighbors.
Friends from Calvary Players, even our financial advisor!

Celebrations!  
Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa we celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Anniversary, 4th of July.  Lars Birthday, Anna's Birthday. Dad's 50 Anniversary of his Ordination.

Places!
Madison, Platteville, Viroqua, the Cabin, Minneapolis, Monroe, Baraboo, Green Bay, Ted Fritch Park, NDA, Copeland Park, Klipestine Park, Marinette, Appleton, Fitchburg, LaCrosse.

Water!
Swimming at the Lake, skiing and tubing at the lake, swimming at the Y, Ray's, Sarah's and Tuppers, and the water park.

Fun! 
Camping, Hiking, Bay Beach and the Zippin' Pippin', sleep overs, golfing, music in the park, Farmers' Market, final Harry Potter movie, Bill's Party!

Food!
Cheese curds, peas, Mexican, Italian, Cookouts with brats, hamburgers, steaks and s'mores.  Homemade guacamole. Char's Breakfasts.  Lombardi's. More cookouts.  Pizza. Noodles and Co., Black Otter.  Sweetcorn. Diet Coke!

Thank You, Lord!
Places to stay and 2 cars to use.
Communion with family.
Doctors visits with healthy results.
A cast removed.
A Bible for Anna.
Prayers answered.

What Shall from This Point Be Known as "The Maple Syrup Incident"

Wisconsin has maple trees.  And maple syrup.  The Amish make maple syrup in the area my parents live.  They sell it for a reasonable price and it is AMAZING.  I like maple syrup.

In Korea there are no maple trees as far as I know.  It is hard to find syrup.  There's a very weak, runny sort of thing that passes as syrup. Also, no Mrs. Butterworth's that I have found.  And if you are lucky enough to find maple syrup, plan on paying about $18 for 8 ounces.

This is why I was on a mission to bring LOTS of maple syrup back to our home in Seoul.  It's been on my list for months. 

When our family arrived in Viroqua where my parents lived, I made sure to find some.  As a matter of fact, I ended up with 1 quart and 1/2 gallon.  Fairly heavy cargo, but a perfect pairing for my 10 lbs. of pancake mix from Cosco ($5.97).  Surely I would be set for the whole year for Saturday morning pancakes in Seoul.

I was very careful to pack my syrup in gallon ziplocks.  But just to be sure they didn't explode in the cargo area of the plane and mess up a suitcase, I made a calculated decision to put them in my carry-on.

The day arrived!  Our lovely family of 4 after 6 weeks of marvelous visits with friends and family all over the Mid-west was going home.  We said our final good-byes to my mother-in-law and father-in-law at the airport.  We happily proceeded to airport security, took off our shoes and placed them in the gray bins for scanning.  My carry-on merrily passed through the scanner. 

The next thing I know, the good-looking security guy is holding up my carry-on.  "This yours?"  "Yes." "Step down here please.  Don't touch the bag."  The security guy takes out his gloves and swab and opens my bag.  "Ah.  Here would be the problem," he says pulling out my maple syrup.  "This is more than three ounces of liquid, Ma'am.  You'll have to dispose of it, sorry."

My mind raced.  You have got to be kidding me!  Stupid!!! How could I not have realized that?  Liquid!  Maple syrup is LIQUID.  

Dejected, I took my maple syrup from the security guard and proceeded downstairs to figure out what to do.  Hmm. . . .

I started with the Delta counter.  "Excuse me, ma'am.  Have you checked my bags through already?"  "Yes. Why?"  "I was hoping to put this maple syrup in there.  How much would it be to check my carry-on as an extra bag?"  "$150."  $150? Bummer!  What next?  I could call my mother-in-law if I had her cellphone number and 50 cents, but I don't have either.  Drat.  Maybe the gift shop has empty 3 oz. bottles and I could buy all of them up and fill them with syrup.  I checked the gift shop.  No go.  Bad idea anyway.  I couldn't give it to anyone - not in an airport where you get arrested for giving something to someone to take on a plane.  I looked around for my high school friend who I knew was going to be on our same flight.  If he HAPPENED to be checking in I could give it to him.  No luck.  I couldn't just throw it in the garbage!  But what? 

I decided to return to the Delta counter.  "Excuse me, ma'am.  I don't suppose you could help me.  See, I have this problem with my maple syrup. I've got 3/4 of a gallon and don't know what to do with it.  Got any ideas?"  "I see what you mean!  When are you coming back?"  "Next year. But my mother-in-law lives in town.  She might be able to pick it up."  The Delta gal looked at me sympathetically.  "Well, if you can give me her phone number I can call her."  She took the package and set it on her counter.  "Really?  That would be wonderful!  When I get back upstairs I can get the number from my husband."  "Sounds good.  Here's my extension, just have the attendant at the gate give me a call,"  she said handing me a slip.

So, after waiting for the entire plane to board, I asked the attendant to call Marie at her extension with my mother-in-law's number.  "No problem, I'll see her in 20 minutes," he said taking my slip.  I boarded the plane, not yet sure of the fate of my maple syrup.

Forty-eight hours later I was shopping for groceries to restock our fridge.  There it was! One tiny glass bottle of maple syrup for 18000 KRW (about $17).  No way I'm buying that!

Seventy-two hours later I finally spoke to my mother-in-law.  "Did you get a weird call from Delta?  Did you happen to pick up our syrup?"

"Yep.  No problem.  I'll keep it for you for next year," she said.

And so it waits, silently mocking my stupidity from a cool basement in Madison, Wisconsin.  Have no fear; next year I'll be smarter.  I've learned my lesson:  Syrup = liquid.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"There are no boats in Korea"

Alec commented to my sister, "Why are there so many boats in your neighborhood?"
She responded, because in Minnesota there are a lot of lakes and people go boating.
"There are no boats in Korea," he said.

We're straddling cultures, aren't we?

A year ago when we announced we were moving to Korea, so many people commented how "good living in Korea would be for the kids" and "what a wonderful way to expand their world view."  Sure.  Of course, I thought.

Now that we are spending our summer break back in the Mid-west of the US, I'm getting it.  My kids know and understand life as a Mid-westerner (Walmart, fast food, rolling hills, long car rides, back yard BBQ, a day at the lake, eating with forks and knives, blending in as a member of the majority).  But they also know and understand life as an ex-pat in Seoul (apartment living, public transportation, walking and biking paths, listening to and learning Korean, eating with chopsticks and a spoon, and sticking out as a minority).

My kids know that there are no boats in Seoul.

My kids also know what kimchi is, the view from a 15th floor apartment, what a Buddhist temple looks like and sounds like, that not everyone is Christian in the world, that not everyone lives in houses with lots of stuff, that there are no pickup trucks in Seoul, that you give up your seat for someone older when on the subway, that milk is 4000 Won for a litre, that little Korean children are cuter than the dickens, that Korean saunas are separated by gender and that everyone is naked.  Sure, they could have read all of that in a book somewhere, but now they KNOW it.  And this fact means that they are now straddling cultures.

We've been blessed tremendously this past year; we've been able to show our children the Ice Festival of Harbin, China, the Terra Cotta Soldiers of Xi'an, China and the Great Wall.  They've eaten Beijing Duck in Beijing, and they've seen the Beijing Acrobats. .  .in Beijing.  They've lounged on the beach in the Philippines and snorkled in the water there.  All these things are amazing to say, I know.

But I'll tell you something just as amazing.  My kids have seen the rolling hills of Southwestern Wisconsin and Amish buggies, and hummingbirds so close you can hear that they sound like bumblebees.  They've eaten the best apple pie I've ever tasted (I may be biased, but everyone I know agrees that my mom's is the best).  They've fed rainbow trout in their Grandpa's pond and fished them out.  They've eaten at a drive-in restaurant where the waitress arrives on rollerskates.  They've experienced every missed holiday in a matter of a week! 

My kids know how to swim in a pool or lake, as well as an ocean.  They know how to find pretty rocks in the freshwater stream and drink the water.  They've seen beautiful horses and cows and have eaten World winning Wisconsin cheeses and Amish maple syrup.  They've eaten wild strawberries and "dug for gold".  They know what it is to meet great-aunts and uncles, second cousins, and cousins once-removed.  They have been surrounded by everyone who loves them from grandparents to great-grandparents, to aunts and uncles, and cousins.  Even a birth-family!

So this is what it is to straddle cultures and "expand their world view."

I'd have it no other way.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

We're here!  We're really here!

Okay.  I didn't kiss the ground when we arrived after our 14 hours in the air.  But I sure love being home in the US  for awhile.  After a year living in the Seoul area, eating primarily Korean food, and living on the 15th floor of an apartment, you might say there's a bit of culture shock.  So, first impressions back?

Everyone is so white, they all look the same.  No, really.  My family was cruising around the Madison square at the Farmer's Market with a few other hundred people (felt like the Seoul subway, it was so crowded).  Anyhow, I lost track of my family!  And I couldn't find them.  Everyone was the same height and had blond hair!  Now that hasn't happened for a long time.

The Farmer's Market was a kick.  It was our first outing and we wanted to try everything and we wanted it NOW!  We walked the square with my mother-in-law and father-in-law.  Tastes included: fresh garden sugar snap peas, pastries, and cheese curds.  We also couldn't pass up the tomatoes, mushrooms, and radishes.  Since then we've managed to have Culver's frozen yogurt, Benvenuto's Italian, mom's strawberry shortcake with fresh whipped cream, local lefsa, cheese, and sausage.  The list of foods never ends.
             
The drive?  Well, thank you to my parents for supplying us with wheels for our trip!  Getting behind the wheel of a car took me a few days because I first needed to replace my lost driver's license.  Initially, it was a bit weird sitting in the driver's seat, but now I feel comfortable.  Just "like riding a bike".  I've even been able to drive their manual with only killing it once!  The kids are re-adjusting to booster seats and mandatory seat belts.

The kids are rotting their brains with their old favorite television shows.  Thanks to a few rainy days, I think they are caught up on an entire year's worth of TV!  But might I say that this craze for reality TV stinks!  "16 and Pregnant"?  Really?  Do we really need to enter these poor people's lives?  The local news is fascinating, but I don't think I need 15 minutes of weather anymore.

Out - not up!  No need to look up, except to hope to catch some stars in the overcast night sky.  Now I'm enjoying endless corn fields with family farms tucked in here and there.  There's mile after mile of lush green countryside nestled between wooded hills.  Even walking for a few miles without another walker in sight.  That's Midwestern America, eh?  As you know, the Midwest experienced a harsh winter and a harsh spring with tornadoes and flooding.  So, it's no surprise that a few days ago we were under a tornado watch.  And, it has been raining for a few days.  Where's the hot weather and sunshine?

So, first week:  Focus on family and food.  What a joy!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I might seem weird. I'm sorry.

We're heading back to Wisconsin in a few days.  We're very excited.  It will be our first time back in 11 months.  My more experienced friends have been telling me what to expect.  It sounds like I might seem weird to you, due to culture shock and all.  So here's a list of the "Top 10 Weird Things I Might Do" so don't be surprised.


Top 10:

#10 - I might bow to people, instead of shaking a hand.
#9 - I might use two hands to take or give something to you.
#8 - I don't speak to strangers (not even small talk).  This includes cashiers and waiters.
#7 - I might get sensory overload hearing others conversations around me in English.  (It's easy to tune out people speaking a language you don't know).
#6 - I might look up a lot, expecting at least 6 stories to every building.
#5 - I won't know how to drive a car (sorry Mom and Dad, I'll do my best.)
#4 - I may stand closer to people and may bump into them without saying excuse me.
#3 - I might complain that sweet things taste "too sweet".
#2 - American dollars look like monopoly money to me.
and the number 1 weird thing I might do is. . .
#1 - I might say 'hello', 'goodbye' or 'thank you' in Korean!

Soon.  Very soon. . .

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Home We've Created

I just finished reading my description of our apartment after we'd first moved in.  What fun to read my impressions of our apartment!  It mainly consisted of observations on space, color, furniture, and sounds.  I don't think I'd even think about some of those things anymore.  Yes, every appliance makes a unique sound, but I don't register these sounds much anymore.  Yes, an apartment is much smaller than a house, but the size suits us pretty well.  Yes the floors are all linoleum or laminate with no carpet, but I don't think much about that anymore.

I guess we've managed to turn a PLACE into a HOME.

First, we've managed to fill the place up.  Now, our apartment is so much more than a list of furniture.  Now it is home - a place filled with memories of people we know, things we've done and places we've gone.

Our apartment is in Suji-gu, Dongcheon-dong, in Dongmun GoodMorning Hill.  We're in o-pek-gu dong.  This is what we need to tell taxi drivers who bring us home.  We live many stories up on a 25 floor building amongst 14 buildings.  There are 5 playgrounds on our complex.  There are also two entrances and three guardhouses.  Very close by there is a walking and biking path that runs along a stream lined with beautiful flowers this time of year.

Our apartment is a three bedroom, 2 bath, with living room, kitchen, and sunroom with lots of windows. It's quite quiet at night when we sleep - surprisingly so.  But at night from around 8:30 - 10:30  children come out to play and we can hear them loud and clear even so many stories up.  (We still can't get over how late Korean kids stay up.)

Part of what makes it home is it now reflects US.  We've managed to add all sorts of furniture since we first arrived.  Some purchased, some hand-me-downs, some found at "free mart".  We've got a couch and recliner, 42" television, 2 book/curio shelves, coffee table, drawers, and three plants in our living room.  We've also got a sizable rug to cover the floor.  On the shelves are souvenirs we've accumulated throughout the year including knick knacks from India, China, the Philippines, Russia, and North and South Korea.  On the wall are masks, photos, fans, and a scroll, an decorative scroll with our name on it.

Venture into Anna's room and you'll see the STUFF that she has accumulated throughout the year.  Yes, some of it was purchased at the cheap stationery store nearby, some of it was created by her own hands, but most of it was the result of "dumpster diving."  She's got a shelving unit we found at the garbage; on it is an eclectic collection of junk ranging from a mug and teacup collection to various types of containers, to traditional vases worth $50.  She's also found us a nice umbrella holder!  She finds the most random things and rationalizes their "use" or "beauty".  Unless we force a clean up, it's usually a mess in there, so beware.

Our bedrooms consists of a bed, two closets, two chests of drawers, a built in desk and an office desk.  Our bedspread looks like a fuzzy tiger skin; we bought it from a street vendor for about $30.

The kitchen doesn't look much different than the day we arrived.  It is primarily white with silver appliances, small and functional with a small table and four chairs.  It's got a dishwasher and a big kitchen sink.  There's a still life painting of daisies on the wall near the table; we bought that from a street vendor last fall.  There's a red decorative fish hanging in the kitchen that we brought back from China after the Chinese New Year.  On the little window sill there's what's called a PeeBoy (also from China), a small teapot for brewing looseleaf tea, a teacup from China, and a little copper plaque that reads Vietnamese Restaurant (one of Anna's original creations).

Alec's room is neatly organized.  He's got two narrow shelving units, a bed, a small desk, and a black cushy floor chair.  He's managed to accrue some 300+ Pokeman cards, several stuff animals including one called Tigress who sings and wiggles her bottom around.  His dresser is just outside his room and contains lots of hand-me-downs inside while on top is a picture of Brett Favre as a Packer.   He's still got White Puppy (now a sickly gray), in case you wondered.

The furniture we began with - a couch and chair - are now in the "sunroom" overlooking the courtyard.  It's a nice airy place to do work or watch the world go by and listen to children playing.

We've got a clothes drying room, which replaces a dryer.  Clothes manage to dry in a day or two, which is nice.  The washing machine has its own little space.

Not all of the cupboards and storage spaces are full yet, so I guess that means we must need to come back for another year.  But in the meantime, we'll be saying Anyunghekaysayeo (good bye) to our HOME in about 1 week.

Hope to see many of our US friends and family soon! And thank you in advance for sharing your homes with us!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hooray for Portfolios!

If you aren't an educator, you may not be interested in this post.  If you ARE an educator, you might be.  If you are a parent, you SHOULD be!

I've just completed reading 29 senior portfolios for semester 2.  As always, it was a time-consuming activity but definitely worth it.  I always come away feeling fulfilled as an educator when I'm done reading portfolios.  Why is that?  Because of the reflection process.  So rarely in education do we ask students to reflect on themselves and their learning.  An educationally sound portfolio stresses reflection, however, and that is one of its greatest contributions to our students' learning.

Let me do my OWN reflecting here. . . .

For twelve years now I've fully engaged in the portfolio process.  For most of those years it was with seniors who were okay students or who struggled in English/Language Arts.  All that time I maintained that using portfolio assessment in the classroom would be beneficial to ANY student, no matter what the skill level.  This year my gut instincts were validated.

DEFINITION
To me portfolio assessment  has meant these four core components: collection, selection, reflection, and projection (goal setting).  It has also meant fully engaging in the writing process and reducing (or eliminating) the emphasis on traditional grades.  At points it has also meant conferencing with parents and students to arrive at a final grade.  This year, specifically, it has included an emphasis on
  • the writing process, including careful planning and brainstorming, writing, and peer and teacher review and revision opportunities
  • heavy discussions of texts prior to writing
  • written reflection on oneself as a reader and as a writer at the end of the term
  • goal setting before the term and evaluation of previous goals after the term.
FINDINGS
All (or nearly all) of my students from AP Literature will be attending university next fall.  They are going to places like Northwestern, Wellesley, University of Chicago and Princeton.  They are students who came in with strong abilities to read critically, think critically, write well-organized essays, and express themselves confidently in class.  They had already tackled some pretty difficult literature and certainly knew their way around technology (being at a 1-1 school).  Frankly, I was amazed at their initial abilities to discuss our summer reading After Dark, by Haruki Murakami.  I didn't think they had far to go to be ready for college (or the AP exam).  But even these stellar young people reflected on their learning and growth through their portfolios and the revision process.  You may be interested in the results.

The exciting thing here is that through full engagement in the writing process and the portfolio assessment process, these skilled and talented young people grew as readers and writers.  Surprisingly, many of them felt they hadn't had much opportunity for revision and polish in previous classes.  (Are we still too consumed with pounding them with assignments, slapping on grades and moving on?)   Many students reflected on the value of class discussion (or wiki discussion) in helping them see a text through a variety of perspectives.  This, in turn, let to greater depth of thought.   They valued peer and teacher evaluations and comments, taking them to heart in subsequent revisions.  Without revisions, what good would the comments have done?  I credit the revision process with helping them to grow to the next step.

That is voice.  Many students reflected on how they had gained their VOICE as writers.  To me this is a very advanced stage of writing.  It only truly comes after mastering the basics (organization, support, strong thesis, critical thinking).  It is also the one thing that most of the students LACKED when they entered the class in the fall.  Even more surprising, VOICE is not something we discussed very much in class.  I don't even remember using the term very often.  And yet, it happened.  Once students felt confident in their writing skills, they were able to tackle the nuances of writing like voice and style.  I would confirm their intuition on this point.

Another aspect I found interesting had to do with creative writing.  I'd like to give a shout out to the vast benefits of allowing students to write creatively from time to time, even in an AP Lit class that seems to need to focus on analytic writing.  First, the students appreciated being able to USE their knowledge of how poetry works by trying it out themselves - exploring, playing with words and sounds, learning how to find just the right word at just the right time, seeking the right image or emotion, creating tone - all these things were freeing for them.  It also helped them to explore and find their VOICE!

Aha!  The pieces begin to fit together.  In addition to writing a bit of poetry, we ended the year with short story writing.  We'd just finished watching and discussing the movie Inception.  I modeled for them my own process (I love doing that).  I asked their advice for wording, holes in the plot or characterization, and how my story should end.  They then worked on their own "Inception-like" short story.  A challenge, to be sure.  For several of these students this was their first time writing a short story.  I couldn't believe that!  How could you go all through high school (maybe even middle school and high school) and not write a short story?  Again, they experienced their epiphanies.  They liked the freedom of the topic and the structure;  they liked the challenge to take risks and be creative!  They enjoyed tapping into that side of themselves at the conclusion of their senior year.  And, guess what?  So many of them credited this experience in helping to further develop their VOICEs.

For me, I see more clearly how allowing students to explore a variety of writing (and reading) genres helps to move them from mechanical drones who all sound alike, to interesting writers who enjoy what they are doing, understand their strengths and weaknesses and who ultimately find their VOICEs.

Additionally, I was surprised at how many of the students were worried that college writing or literature classes might stifle their newly found voices.  Their perception is that college classes will want to stuff them back into that cookie cutter mold where they sound like everyone else.  I assured them this wasn't so - that they would only be encouraged to continue growing and discovering their individual voice and style.  (So if you are a college professor, please don't squelch them!)  Several of the students would like to start blogs just to continue refining their VOICE.

Finally, let me comment on another mature insight on the part of many of these graduating AP Literature seniors.  They must write in a way that connects to their readers.  Perhaps because they HAD readers who commented on their work, they became aware how important writing TO an audience truly is.   On some level it seems obvious - "of course you are writing for an audience!  everyone knows that!" - but in practice, this is often not the case.  Novice (even intermediate) writers only think of themselves; they have difficulty stepping away from the piece and wondering if it will maintain the interest of their audience or speak to them in some provocative way.  But many of these students got there.  They not only understand it, they KNOW it.  Amazing!

So. . . Hooray for portfolios!  Even in a class that seemingly has its goal as passing a standardized test, portfolios still won the day!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Anna

On Saturday evening I was prepared to write about our monumental mountain hike that lasted 4 hours.  By Sunday at 7 PM I had changed my mind and wanted to write about our amazing day at Everland (a Disneyworld wanna be).  But by Sunday night at 8 PM I knew I had to write about Anna.

Our daughter is in third grade.  She's a whiz at language acquisition.  We've known this since she was three and switched languages from Russian to English in just three months.  At that time we marveled at her ability to pick up a new language so easily.   Later it was the beginnings of Spanish (and even a little German) in kindergarden through second grade.

Now we are in Korea.  We've seen it all year long.  She more than anyone in the family has embraced the new language, permanently replacing Mom with Almeony and What time is it? with Myatsheayo?  She gives ME vocabulary quizzes over breakfast and tells me how pathetic I am that I can't remember the vocabulary from one day to the next. (Which is true, more or less.)  I'll try to communicate with a vendor and have them look at me with a blank stare.  She'll say the same thing (only apparently with better pronunciation) and they'll go "Oh, sure!"  All this may seem impressive . . .

But after the 35-minute ride home in a cab the other day, my husband and I will never see her the same again.

She'd been a bit carsick on the way to Everland, sitting in the back.  So on the way home we decided to put her in the front seat.  As always, the cabdriver was smitten with her open nature and blond-hair.  He knew a few bits and pieces of English but not much.  By five minutes into the drive home, they were talking full-out in Korean.  He'd ask a question and she'd reply.  She'd ask a question and he'd reply.  He'd ask a question she didn't know, would point and gesture or give his own response or try a little English and she's say, "Oh, now I understand" and off they'd be on a new strand of conversation.  They discussed everyone's ages, family relationships, where we lived, all the things they liked and didn't like.  I'd have to say every bit of vocabulary she's learned from her 2x/week Korean teacher was put to use.

We sat in the back amazed.  She was polite, laughing, asking questions, answering questions like a . . . grown up conversationalist!

We began to wonder if she'll have a future using a second (or third language) rather than in art.  How does she do it?

Meanwhile, I sat in the back desperately trying to keep up, using my Essential Korean Phrases book.  I DID learn that the months of the year are quite straight forward (essentially something like 1-month = January, 2-month = Feb. and so on).

So there you have it.  Anna wins the blog story this week.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Forever Changed?

Our first year living abroad is coming to a close in a few weeks and we shall travel back to Wisconsin  to visit friends and family.  I'm excited to get back "home."  I expect some people may be interested in how this year has changed me.  And while I've given thought to what I've enjoyed this year, what has been challenging, and what I've missed from back home, I haven't yet given much thought to how I've changed.

So let me try it here.

I would have to say the biggest change is that I've been untethered from the USA and North America.  We used to think, "Let's go to Utah (or Florida, or California, or Mexico)" now we think "Let's go to Malaysia (or the Philippines or Australia or Cambodia or Vietnam or Europe or on safari in Africa)."  Our children used to think "Let's go to the Dells."  Now Anna says things like "When can we go to Paris, the city of Love?"  This is pretty huge because it implies a different world view than before (for all of us).  Globalization already had been making the world smaller (or flatter, depending on who you read), but now globalization is also a part of my existence and very real.

Changing from living in a house to living in an apartment has been less significant that I thought it would be.  Some friends and I were musing about this today.  We worried that living in a big city would mean the end of nature in our lives.  We used to sit on the deck in the back yard and enjoy the flowers and trees, etc.  We worried that apartment life would feel so confining without a back yard to go to.  What we've found is that Korea (at least Seoul and the surrounding communities) has made a concerted effort to create green spaces (extensive parks and biking trails) for people to enjoy.  Also, the mountains are replete with trails.  It is not hard to find nature here at all, and that makes apartment living less sterile and confining than one might think.  So, while I yearn for a back yard BBQ and the chance to sit on a lawn chair, I've also come to love hiking and biking on trails and playing with friends and family in a local green space.

In some ways, using public transportation has changed me.  First of all, I'd never used the city buses in Green Bay (and I don't know that I would now).  But now I feel more comfortable taking a bus or a subway or a train.  I did know how to ride a subway before, but now I know how to get around  by bus waiting as much as 20 minutes for it to show. An odd side effect of being on a bus with strangers who probably don't speak much English is that you stop talking all together.  No one on the buses talks unless it is to quiet their child.  Mostly, they listen to ipods, read, or doze.  But rarely does anyone talk.  Yesterday I was on a bus that was so crowded all the seats and the aisle were elbow to elbow people.  Probably 55 - 60 people were on the bus, and the bus was SILENT.  Between the quiet nature of public transportation and the language barrier, I've found that I no longer say the customary "Hi. How are you?" or   "Excuse me." etc.  No more potential for "small talk" with a stranger, unless that stranger speaks English too.

Recently I realized that this year has allowed me (or forced me) to explore different interests.  For the past few decades my hobbies have focused on singing and acting and walking.  These are three thing that I love!  While in Korea I've not had the opportunity to sing or act BUT I have been able to resurrect old interests like playing volleyball and piano.  About two or three times a month I've been playing duets with a friend from work.  I've also taken up yoga once a week.  There is a pretty large group of teachers who like to play volleyball, so I've been able to do that again (even ended up on this weekend tournaments' winning team!)  I've taken up hiking and more biking.  It's been fun to pursue new interests and resurrect old ones!  I believe I'm becoming more physically diverse.  That's pretty cool.

The last way I believe I've changed is that I've gotten spoiled.  To define that further, my job here has spoiled me, and I love it.  I haven't had to work at a dizzying pace this year nor have I had to work tirelessly at home with a huge paperwork load every night.  This is an amazing thing!  It means I am pretty much stress free and relaxed for a good portion of each day.  This is not to say that I am not working hard or to my fullest potential.  On the contrary, I believe I've got more time for planning, thinking, and creativity.  I have more contact with my students since I have fewer students to care for.  I get to be myself in the classroom and that is a joy.  I believe it would be hard to return to 150 students to care for and 150 papers to mark.  For one who has sought balance for much of her life, I believe I've found the best balance here.  Lots of time with family; lots of time with friends; productive time at work; (more time needed at church, though).

If any of these changes sound intriguing to you, I encourage you to think beyond your usual "world", even if it is just to look at a National Geographic magazine or go for that bike ride you've been talking about but never do.  You're never too old to learn something new.  Give it a go!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The DMZ

The Demilitarized Zone.  This is an area spanning 2 km on either side of the dividing line between North and South Korea and all the way across the peninsula.  As technically the North and South are at a cease fire in a war that never ended, you might find it interesting to know that it is also a tourist attraction.  We visited 5 different locations in the DMZ.

It is a pretty bizarre feeling being in the DMZ.  Brent and I toured there this weekend with about 30 other staff members.

We began at the USO in Seoul then made our way by bus the hour north to the border.  We had an introduction to the JSA with a presentation by Staff Sergeant Cisneros on the history of the war and the DMZ.  We were instructed that we must follow procedures.  There's an age limit, dress code, and strict rules about when to and not to take photographs.  At no time is pointing, waving, or other gesturing allowed - anything that may be used as propaganda by the North against the South.

Once at the DMZ we were able to go into one of the buildings.  This was a building for any meetings between dignitaries.  There were three ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers with dark sunglasses standing at TaeKwonDo ready (meaning fists at their sides but white-knuckle clenched).  As our US Army/UN representative Cisneros informed us about our location and told stories, I learned that I was at that very moment straddling the imaginary line that runs between North and South and through that very room.  I actually had one foot in North Korea and one foot in South Korea.  Speaking of feet.  It seems that there are toe and foot prints on the tops of the meeting tables because North Koreans who have met in the room have gotten up on the tables bare foot and stood with their backs to South Korea as an insult.

We were able to take some pictures.  I used my zoom to get a picture of a North Korean Soldier standing at attention at the front of their main building on their side of the border.

The feeling there is tense.  What an odd mix to have soldiers ready for any moment to erupt in conflict and at the same time have tourists taking pictures next to them.

Other memorable moments of the day.  We saw and were told about Propaganda Village just over the North border.  It is a town that is shaped like a triangle, with the widest portion facing the South.  This is to give the impression that it is bigger than it really is.  In it are dozens of buildings and roads and such, but NO people.  In fact, there is not even glass in the windows.  At night lights go on to "light up the town" to make it seem occupied.  For a long time they used to blast propaganda over a speaker system there between 6 - 8 hours a day.  The broadcast would be inviting S. Koreans to defect to the North.

A few kilometers behind it is an industrial village that is quite unique.  This village is a cooperation between S. and North.  South Korea provides the electricity and raw materials.  North Korea provides the labor.  They manufacture some sort of products.  These products are then transported by truck down the one highway (incidentally called Highway 1) between the two nations.  Some are taken directly to market.  Others come to warehouses at a very unique train station.

We visited the train station, too.  This train station is the closest one to North Korea.  If reunification happens, it is ready to run trains.  The facility was finished in 2008 under the Sunshine Policy of South Korean then President Lee.  President Bush was there for the opening.  There were hopes the train would be used to transport goods from the industrial village as well as tourists to North Korea.  Unfortunately, the train only ran once.  At that time in 2008 one of the tourists from the South did not follow instructions about where she could go.  She was instantly shot and killed by a North Korean soldier.  No trains have run since.  What an odd place, this train station.  It is literally like being in a ghost town.  Everything is new and beautiful, but for a few tourists on a daily basis, it is empty.  There are huge parking lots that simply stand empty.  If you've ever seen Stephen King's Langoliers, it was like that.

We also visited Tunnel 3.  This is one of 4 tunnels that have been discovered.  These tunnels have been blasted and mined out by the North and their political prisoners in order to attack the South.  It is possible that there are tunnels that have not been discovered, of course.  But for now, Tunnel 3 is visited by tourists.  We walked down and in through a tunnel with a 2-person width.  They estimate that 30,000 soldiers could have emerged per hour.

We had an opportunity to buy some souvenirs.  The North Korean beer was actually pretty good.  Brent got some framed barbed wire (kind of like buying Lambeau Field dirt, right?) and I got North Korean currency.  Later I found that my 100 Won bill was worth 11 cents.  Incidentally, the laborers who work at the industrial village have it quite good, making about $25/month.  Of course the government takes all but about $5 of it.  But this is still more in a month than most people make.  Terribly sad, I know.

One of the things we noticed gazing across the border was the topography.  While the mountains are, of course, a continuation of the mountains in the South, there is a noticeable difference.  Their mountains are stripped of almost all trees.  This is because their people have needed to use them for firewood.

To learn more, click on the links in this blog.

I put this experience right up there with visiting the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta Warriors.  I've no plans to return, so don't worry.  But, visiting the DMZ was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Homecoming!

Homecoming

First and foremost, I'm looking forward to hugs with dear family and friends and lots of conversations!

After the dust settles these are some of the things I'd like. . .
Seroogy's Chocolate
Backyard BBQ with local brews
Pool games in Bill's basement
Mom's apple pie
Talk talk talk
Seeing Dad's hummingbirds and the Wisconsin stars out at the cabin
Spring water
Carpet under my feet
Walmart
Skim milk
My old walk in the woods in Green Bay
Cribbage and 500 with the family
Hearing lots of stories and seeing lots of pictures
Wisconsin black soil and beautiful bluffs
Walking with my sister
Seeing Emily and Kent's new addition
Music in the Park
Going to church at Calvary and taking communion and maybe singing

Gallagher's Pizza
Elegant Moose French food
El Azteca

Tastefully Simple
Ray's pool and JF's pool.
Garden Food - new potatoes!
Good old fashioned Independence Day!
beach days
and lots more hugs and conversation!

5 more weeks, folks!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

2010-2011 Review in 17 Tweets: A Poem


I
Have arrived in Korea!  We’re very tired.  The apartment is on the 15th floor.  Peanut butter, bread, jelly, milk, and tuna to greet us.
II
New teacher orientation now.  Began with a scavenger hunt around K--.  What a confusing campus!  We all got MACs!  Kids happily playing all day.
III
It’s hot and raining.  Hot and raining.  Hotter and raining still.  How much won equals a dollar again?
IV
Balloons dropped on opening teacher inservice day.  What did I get myself into?
V
I love my classroom, classload and students!  Can’t wait to get to know the staff.  But . . . Kimchi at every meal?  
VI
Chuseok.  What is this thing?  All I know is we got a vacation and ended up in the wrong city.  Apparently Chungju and Cheongju aren’t the same place.
VII
Acclimating to city life with public transportation.  No car for us!  The kids are movie stars.  Everyone wants their picture wherever we go!
VIII
Monsoon Day replaces snow day.  Now that’s something I never thought I’d say.
IX
Thanksgiving at K--, just one of many FAMILY experiences here.  I loved the turkey! and the games!  We have an awesome Social Committee!
X
Boracay was amazing!  New beach.  New good friends.  I think I could get to like 3 weeks off in the winter.  Life is good!
XI
Packers win!  Packers win!  (Why am I not in Wisconsin for this?) Packers Win! (I’m so thankful for the Superbowl Party and CHILI)  Yahoo! Go Pack Go!
XII
I successfully ordered pizza to be delivered to our home.  Thank you NHS Korean teachers!  Comsahamnida!
XIII
I’m constantly amazed at the talent and intelligence, drive and politeness of my students.  Best year ever!
XIV
Small world!  Since moving to Korea I’ve seen Yunji, Sein, Wayne, and Mary - former students, and Dr. Noble and the Darlings from my alma mater.
XV
Life abroad changes your perspective.  It matters to BE IN Korea and China and the Philippines.  It matters to be so close to Japan.
XVI
Book Club, Yoga, Volleyball, Hiking, Rainbow Room, Round Robin Dinner, Christmas with Santa, Easter Egg Hunt, Scavenger Hunt, Korean Folk Village!
XVII
Twelve months ago I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d be calling Korea home.  Be here we are.   Coming soon, SUMMER!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Palm Sunday in Korea


So, I was yearning for a church to attend on Palm Sunday. Hoping to sing some Hosannas and see little kids with palms in the aisles. But the church we attend currently doesn't do that sort of thing. I thought, "Why not try the church down the street? Even if I don't understand the service, I might hear songs and see kids." I don't exactly know what denomination the church is, but it's Christian, so I thought I would give it a try.

I timed my entry so I'd arrive right at the start. No use trying to greet people I can't talk to. I entered the church alone just as the service was ready to go. First thing I noticed was that the pews in the small church were full of middle aged to elderly Korean folk. The only kids around were the two alter boys. The next thing I noticed was that 99% of the women had their heads covered in white lace. I didn't. Oops.

Thankfully, two women in the back row didn't have their heads covered either, so I took a seat next to them, removed my coat and took out my Korean/English Bible. There WAS a bit of singing Hosanna, but it sounded more like a dirge than celebration.

I listened to prayer, more prayer, liturgy, and prayer (at least that is what I think was going on) and read my Bible. An alter boy up front yawned big as day. After awhile I noticed that all the women (no, EVERYONE) had their arms covered. Oops! While I was dressed nicely, I didn't have long sleeves. I discreetly put my coat on over my dress so as not to offend anyone further.

I wish I could have understood more than "Christo", but I did what I could. I repeated phrases during call and response and prayed silently. What a strange sensation it all was.

After a while I snuck out a bit early and headed up the hill to the Catholic's prayer garden. There I was able to read my Bible some more in the sunshine with the statues of Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus to keep me company. The sun was bright and the trees blooming. It was a lovely Spring day!

So, while I can't say I'll venture back to the church down the street, I did manage to find some peace, comfort, and joy just as needed.

Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thinking of Home!

Just a bit over two months remain and our minds are more and more on coming home to Wisconsin. We're missing family and friends but trying to keep our minds on the day-to-day needs. We're anxious to sit on the back deck with family, friends, or old neighbors taking in the sunshine while the kids play and just talking about every day matters. How I miss a backyard and a deck with a grill. I need a grill!

Dad's been spiffying up the cabin for our return, even going so far as to get air conditioning installed prior to our arrival. Thanks, Dad!

I've been telling people that Brent will be comatose within the first week from overdosing on steak. We just don't get big portions of meat here - especially beef. And the beef that we do get is from Australia. Sorry, Australia, but your beef isn't as good as USDA. I'm anxious for some great pizza and Seroogy's Chocolate!

On the home front, we've been enjoying further exploration of the city of Seoul and what it has to offer. Now that the weather is nicer, we're heading out again. We went to the zoo found at Seoul Grand Park. The grounds are extensive - reminded me somewhat of the Miami Zoo. Anyhow, the highlight was a polar bear that totally entertained the crowd with his water antics - including standing on his "hands" in the water and sticking his back paws up in the air. He did this at least 6 times for our amusement (and his own, no doubt).

If you'd like to see us when we are back to the mid-west, leave a message on Facebook or leave a message here. It's easy to do and requires no sign-ups!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An American in China

Our family recently spent five days in China touring Beijing and Xi'an. I'd like to reflect on that experience through stories. Pictures can be found on my previous post.

Several times while there, I had to pinch myself. Was I really in China? Was I really ON the Great Wall? Was I really at Tieneman Square and the Fobidden Palace? Was I really viewing the Terra Cotta Warriors in person? I kept thinking, "No one I know from back home has had this opportunity. What a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime experience." I kept reminding our children, one of whom asked if we could go to London next, that they may never be back here again.

You can easily search for pictures and history on any of the landmarks in Beijing and Xi'an, so I won't go into much detail about that here. But I do want to share things that I don't think I'd find elsewhere. For example, our first tour guide Wendy has a husband and a two year old daughter. She talked a bit about the 1 child limit in China and how it affects families. She grew up with siblings so she could identify how this rule plays out. While it is true that families that can afford to pay the government to have a second chld, most families (like Wendy's) have just one. Boys are still preferable. Her daughter is two years old. The culture is consisting of only children. No siblings. No cousins. Each child is the apple of the parents and the grandparents eye! And they are getting spoiled. Imagine - almost all children are only children; that means if mom won't give "it" to me, dad might. If dad won't, grandma might. If gramdma won't, grandpa probably will. In the end, even her two year old already knows how to play the game and is getting spoiled. I can only imagine what this looks like in the classrooms.

There is also the matter of "keeping up with the Joneses." As her daughter grows she will be expected to play piano, dance, learn languages, and a myriad of other things. "There's no time for play. Competition is fierce," Wendy lamented.

Also, families don't move around much. Generally, the parents of the new husband are to provide means for a house. Once a house is owned, no one is moving. Others would question why you would move - financial problems? Why are you selling? Also, couples don't generally marry until a home is secured.

This brings me to the next tidbit of longevity in housing. We had the opportunity to tour the Beijing city center, a 700 year old community. Many of the families living there have lived in their homes for generations. As a part of our rickshaw tour, we were able to enter a home and talk to the woman of the house (with translator handy). The home we visited was quite small, containing stone walls and exposed concrete floor, and decorated nicely with traditional Chinese items. The family living there was sixth generation! Their kitchen area contained a small refrigerator, stove, and a few appliances - no counters. Their dining area was adjacent; the hostess had a small table and a few stools to sit on. There was also a bureau that was generations old. Everything felt cramped! But they managed to have a bird that greeted us with "Nee-how!", fish, and a turtle. We didn't get to see the bedroom, but it was next door. One needed to exit the kitchen and enter the courtyard to get to the bedroom. Apparently there are also shared bathrooms and a shared kitchen for the residents there who consider themselves family after living in community for so many generations. This part of town is coveted by some because of its wonderful location. The cost of living there, therefore, is rather expensive.



Here's another little tidbit. Our tour guide in Xi'an, Linda (who is about my age), told us that when she was a little girl her parents would talk about the poor kids in America who didn't have much to eat. This was to motivate her to clean her plate. (Sound familiar?) She also told us that she and her classmates would imagine that if they dug far enough they could dig all the way to America! (Also, familiar!) Guess what? She hadn't known that we said the same things as kids!

Lastly, I have to say something about all the construction going on! Both in Xi'an Beijing (and Shanghai for that matter) we saw SO MUCH construction happening. I'd never seen anything like it! Driving in just one area of the city we could easily see 5 buildings being worked on with all the cranes sitting there. At one point I counted 12 cranes all in one area.

So, China had much to offer. And I have to say, I LOVED having private tour guides!