It is Tuesday evening in Korea, and I am catching up on a lot of chores and listening to Christmas music. I just got home from grocery shopping which is always an adventure. Every time I grocery shop I have a mild anxiety attack. There are at least 4 grocery stores (do not picture American supermarket- picture dirty, crowded stores with lots of unidentifiable food) and the street market within a 5 minute walk of my apartment. All of the grocery stores have a person whose job is to stand in the aisles with a microphone and YELL deals and sales (obviously, in Korean.) As if boxes stacked up in the aisle, throngs of pushy old women, my inability to read a single label (I buy things based on the pictures on the front. As you can imagine this does not always work out so well), and not knowing where to find most of what I need is not stressful enough, there is someone just shouting at you in a foreign language the entire time. It's kind of funny in a "this actually give me anxiety" way.
Today was a nice day in Seoul- it is still freezing, but it has started snowing which is at least pleasant to watch from the window (some of which are open. I will never understand this, but the explanation usually amounts to "the air is not fresh"). School is winding down for the students, and they are definitely behaving like it is too. Today, I became so frustrated with one 6th grade boy, I asked him to leave the class. I sent him back to his homeroom, and although I'm not sure what they did to him, I gathered he got in big trouble. He also had to come apologize to me later. The rest of the students during the day would walk by me and put their fingers on their head to make little horns and say, "Teacher angry!" Yes, that's right kids, hold on to your hats because Ms. Ban IS angry. Not all of it is like this though- most of my classes in the last week have been fun.
I think it would make my life easier if I knew all the kids names. Unfortunately, I do not have the mental capacity to learn 700 Korean names. I know most of my "favorites," and there are some kids with English names that I remember - such as Transformer, Brain (I'm pretty sure he meant to be Brian), and the best friends in the 6th grade who named themselves Tom and Jerry. They always remind me "teacher, we best friends." Not knowing the names is not usually a big deal, but sometimes it is hard to get a kid's attention. For example, today a girl in the back of my class was just chattering away. After a generic, "everyone be quiet," "Look up here please!" and "listen!" I tried, "Team 5! Team 5!" (hoping someone in her group would tap her), and finally a sharp, "In the back! Be Quiet!" and "You in the blue!" I have to remember sometimes that some of these students literally speak NO English. They don't study, they don't go to "academy" (a topic I will get to in a minute), and, frankly, they do not care. None of the phrases I say mean ANYTHING to them. I have to tap desks a lot to get their attention.
A lot of my students, including the little ones go to what they call "Academy." I knew kids spent a lot of time after school studying with private tutors at these academies, but I did not realize how intense it was until I was practicing "daily routines" with my 6th graders. Many of them wrote on their daily schedules that they are in class until 10-11PM. Some of them don't even go to bed until 1am. I was shocked- they're in the 6th grade. From what I've gathered, "academy" covers many subjects, but I can definitely tell the kids who focus on English and those who do not. Academy supplements the education system here, and I think anyone who can afford it sends their kids to these intense lessons. Although I don't think academy is really healthy for the students, it does not surprise me that Korea is such a technological powerhouse- if you shove education down kids throats like that you're bound to end up with a pretty impressive workforce eventually.
Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to get to attend my advisor's wedding. Korean weddings are very different that American weddings. To begin with, you don't give the couple gifts - you give them money. When you arrive at the wedding, you put your cash in a special envelope with your name on it, and then you turn the envelope in to a man at the door. The wedding was at a wedding hall- apparently, there are a lot of these all over Seoul. There are a lot of weddings going on at one time- all in different rooms. The turnover is fast too- the hall gets you in and out of there in no time. The room we were in looked like a ballroom of a hotel and was full of people. I sat with my coteachers, and we were served lunch. While everyone was eating and talking, the bride walks in and the ceremony takes place while people eat. After a short ceremony, people sporadically get up from their tables to take pictures with the wedding party (No one smiles. I asked why everyone looked so serious and was told "Koreans do not like to show emotions."). I was forced into one picture which I could only gather was "the single girl" photo. It was really uncomfortable because a lot of people were pointing at me - the only foreigner in the room. Anyway, the wedding was fascinating and my advisor, Sunyoung, looked beautiful, and I am definitely glad I attended.
Sunday, I entertained myself for several hours at the War Museum. This museum houses not only tons of stuff from the Korean War, but from all wars in Korea's history. Obviously, this adds up to a lot of stuff since Korea has been occupied by just about everyone over the years. Honestly, those academies must be pretty amazing because after visiting the museum, I was even more impressed with how advanced Korea is for having such a, well, repressive history. They are such impressive people. Pictures of the museum are above.
Have a great week!