Thursday, October 4, 2012

2 (Stories from Class) + 1 (Random One)

Elaine is a sixth grader that I previously mentioned in the post, A Few Stories from Class.  She is rather intelligent, and since this story was posted, she has leveled up into a more advanced class taught by my coworker, Kezia.  I have since found out that Elaine was born in America, and lived there during her early childhood.  Kezia pointed out that Elaine has sort of a refined demeanor that most of the other students don't have, and that could be attributed to her travels.

When Kezia began teaching Elaine, I told her about how I call her Olivia, and how annoyed she gets.  So later on, Kezia told me about an instance in class where she warned, "Elaine, if you don't answer this question correctly, I will start calling you Olivia..."

She responded emphatically in a Korean accent, "I am not OLIVIA!!  CHRIS TEACHER TELL YOU BAD THING!!  CHRIS TEACHER TELL YOU BAD THING!!"

And sure enough, upon seeing her in the hall after that class, I greeted her as I always do, "Hey Olivia-- I mean Elaine." 


"Sorry, Olivia-- I mean Elaine."

"I am not OLIVIA!!"

Joss is a second grader in one of my lower level classes.  There's no way to describe him except to say that he's a character.  Joss has a sly smile, and sometimes he can be difficult to contain, but nevertheless, he is a pleasant student to teach.  Kezia previously taught his class, and recently, teaching duties for it were turned over to me.

We give bimonthly speaking tests, and for the general speaking portion, we normally ask the lower levels questions such as, "What is your favorite...?"

And an answer that would receive full credit, without prompting, would be, "My favorite ... is ..."

Kezia warned me that if you give Joss the question, "What is your favorite animal?"  It would be guaranteed that he would answer it with, "My favorite animal is snake!"

When it came time for tests, I randomly chose general speaking questions for students, and it just so happened that Joss drew "favorite animal."

When it was his turn, I briefly greeted him, "Hey Joss, how are you?"

He looked at me, flashed his sly smile, and confidently stated in a Korean accent, "I'm fine, thank you!"

I set my timer, as students have thirty seconds to answer the general speaking portion, and I asked him, "Joss, what is your favorite animal?"

His eyes looked up and to the right as he gave a sly grin.  Then he paused.  Fifteen seconds went by without him saying anything.

I prompted him, "Joss, my favorite animal is a tiger."  Students are docked a point when prompting is required.

His eyes lit up, and he flashed his sly smile.  He confidently responded in a Korean accent, "My favorite animal is snake!!!"

I immediately laughed.  

Monday, September 10, 2012


At my job, there are normally four of us foreign teachers on staff, but for the last two months we have been short one worker.  Kelsey, Kezia, and I have been covering a class load that is normally covered by four people.  Getting through the day hasn't been that difficult.  While at work, I am normally "in the zone," and all I'm thinking about is teaching.  Being tired, hungry, or thirsty never crosses my mind until I am finished.  While teaching, especially during the last two months, the only thing I really think about consuming is coffee.

Being that the number of classes that we are teaching is higher than normal, during the last two months, we had no breaks during our work time, so eating before work is essential.  I found that I was at my best when eating during preparation time.  We are required to be at work an hour before classes start for that.  A healthy meal enables one to have a more sound mind and body, and thus increasing performance at work.  Eating immediately before the start of class time has been an essential factor in my ability to be at my best when I am "in the zone" throughout the day.

As I stated earlier, normally at work, with the help of coffee, I am only concerned with teaching, so again, I never concern myself with being tired.  I've noticed that the fatigue begins to set in during the weekends.  I've been sleeping a lot more, and my desire to go out to see friends and other things has significantly dropped.  For the last month, my weekends, especially Saturdays, have consisted of me laying in my bed relaxing, ordering delivery, watching downloaded American TV shows, staying in at night, and falling asleep early.  Lately, I've been too tired to concern myself with having a strong social life.  During my time living in Korea, playing music with my friends on the praise team at my church has become sort of become something that I do on the weekends, no matter the circumstance, if I am in town.  That has not been the case these last few weeks because of the fatigue.  I've even been skipping out on that.

I spent this last weekend in Busan, and spending a weekend in a different city remaining anonymous, walking around exploring, and stopping in the occasional coffee shop for a cup and an internet surf is one of my favorite ways to relax and recharge, and my trip this weekend definitely enabled me to do that.  I turned off my phone, and relaxed mentally.

Busan is a coastal city, and it always seems to rain when I visit there.  I wanted to spend the weekend on the beach, but the rain may have been a blessing in disguise.  There is not much that I dislike more than being wet when I don't have to be, so last Sunday, I took the subway to Nampo Dong, found the nearest cafe, ordered what amounted to be a few cups of coffee, and proceeded to watch college football highlights on my computer.  I also spent an hour having a Sunday devotional, since I didn't attend church that day.  Looking out the window, I noticed a small japanese restaurant, and when I felt like it, I walked over, and had a bowl of Japanese ramen.  The rain enabled me to recharge both mentally and physically.  Normally during the weekend excursions, I am recharged mentally, but find myself physically tired.  That wasn't the case with the trip I took this weekend.

I came back to work today feeling good.  We recently hired a new teacher at our school, Natalie.  She just finished her training, and this week we are finally back to our normal class load, breaks and all.  During my break today, I went to the kimbab restaurant downstairs for a bite to eat.  Normally, only one of us foreign teachers at a time are on break, and this case was no different.  I went downstairs with my ipod touch and my set of headphones.  I sat in the restaurant reading a book that I had downloaded to my itunes along with music playing in my headphones while eating my meal.

Over the music, I overheard a group of young Korean girls sitting behind me.  I normally wouldn't have noticed them, but they were being especially loud and enthusiastic, so I looked back to see if they were students that I taught.  As I did so, they all immediately exclaimed in a Korean accent, "Oh!?  Whoa!  Hello!  How are You?!"  It was a group of fifth grade girls that didn't attend my school, eating a normal meal that fifth grade Korean girls would normally sit down and share together at a restaurant such as the one I was patronizing.  The girls were all very cute, and we shared the normal small talk that would be shared between a native English speaking teacher and a group of young students.  Each one of the five seemed to say at a different time, "You are handsome!"

After living in Korea for over a year, that still never gets old.  I responded to each one with, "Thankyou, and you are very pretty!"  As I finished my meal, and walked to the counter to pay for it, I suddenly got the urge to pay for theirs also, and I did.  I would have preferred that he not do what he did, but the man at the counter immediately told the girls that I payed for their meal.  Upon the realization, each one seemed to suddenly exclaim in a Korean accent, "Oh!?  Whoa!!  THANKYOU!!!"  One even said, "I love you!!"  They all made hearts above their heads with their arms as they thanked me.  I left the restaurant blushing, and in a good mood for the rest of the work day, as I proceeded to have one of my best work days in a while.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Observations Regarding Japan

Here are some of my personal observations regarding Japan.  Many are comparisons to Korea.  As an American who lives in Korea, the comparisons are inevitable.  These are merely observations, and are not universal truths, so they must be taken for what they are.  A common theme I come across in comparing the two cultures is that the various tastes and preferences seem to be more diverse in Japan than in Korea.     

1.  Younger Japanese women are more likely to wear traditional clothing in public than younger Korean women.  When walking the streets of Osaka and Kyoto, it was not uncommon to see Japanese women in their twenties wearing Kimonos with their hair fixed up beautifully, and wearing makeup.  The combination of the kimonos, the white socks, and the slippers force them to walk a certain way, taking shorter and lighter steps, while keeping their legs together.  It is very feminine, and very attractive.  Many times, men would be with them in their traditional garb also.  It is quite evident that that particular generation upholds certain traditions, and are unashamed of their identities, which is something to be admired in a world where the east is becoming more western.  The only time I have ever seen a younger Korean woman wear a hanbok is in pictures for a wedding.  It is quite rare to see a young Korean adult wearing one in public on Chusok or Lunar New Year, holidays where one would think that traditional garb would be worn, much less in everyday life.    

2.  There is a definite difference between Koreans and the Japanese in eye shape and facial structures.  Many Japanese people seem to have larger eyes, although many have smaller ones.  More Japanese people seem to have double eye lids than Koreans.  Those with smaller eyes definitely have a shape that is distinctly different from those of Koreans with eyes of a similar size.  Japanese children look distinctly different from Korean children.  Because children are obviously less likely to have plastic surgery, wear makeup, and grow facial hair, the difference in facial structures between the two races seem to be more indicative and telling in them.  Japanese people also have facial expressions that are uniquely Japanese, as Koreans have those that are uniquely Korean.  It is difficult to explain, but contrary to popular belief in the west, all asians definitely do not look the same. 

3.  Japanese people seem quieter.  Before visiting Japan, my Korean friends explained to me that Japanese people are less expressive in public.  I don't know how true this is, but apparently it is bad manners to be overly expressive in public.    Although I did see bursts of laughter by one or two people at a time, I didn't see it from larger groups of people, as you see in most other places.  A lot of women covered their mouths in order to contain their laugher.   

The Japanese language seems to be more rhythmic, and slightly less harsh than Korean.  Japanese consonants seem to be softer sounding, and that may contribute to the quietness.  As a nonspeaker, the Japanese language is very pleasant sounding.  I am not saying Korean is not, as that is a matter of preference.  It is especially pleasant to hear a younger Japanese woman speak.        

4.  Japanese people, as a whole, seem to have a broad taste in music.  While Koreans seem to prefer pop music influenced by hip-hop and r&b, a lot of Japanese people seem to prefer rock music.  Some of the pop music in Japan seems to have more of a rock influence, while almost all of the pop music in Korea is influenced more by r&b.  In Japan, I saw on television a video by Jack White, and another by Oasis, artists that most Koreans have never even heard of, and if they are, they hardly get a mention.  I also saw Lady Gaga, and Justin Beiber, western artists who are also quite popular Korea, on television in here in Japan.  Some japanese music seems to have similar influences to that of most Korean popular music, but there is a broader influence here as well.  It was quite refreshing to hear guitar music in Japan.  There rock music, in particular, seems to be diverse.  K-pop also seems to be popular in Japan.  I've seen numerous Girls' Generation posters, and heard "Fantastic Baby," by Big Bang several times here.  One of my new Japanese friends talked about how his female friends regularly listened to K-pop.  Unlike Korea, people in Japan seem to think more independently in their music preferences, because a larger variety is available for them.

5.  Japanese men seem to be shorter than Korean men.  I felt taller in Japan than I did in Korea.

6.  Significantly less people wear glasses in Japan than in Korea.

7.  My coworker, Kelsey, pointed this one out.  In public, while trash cans are rare in Korea, places to sit, such as benches, are rare in Japan.  At least they are in Osaka and Kyoto.  Maybe more is available in other parts of Japan. 

8.  English is a lot less prevalent in Japan than in Korea.  In Korea, a significant amount of Koreans are able and willing to communicate in English.  In Japan that is not the case.  In Korea, regarding fashion, English is sort of "in."  Most Koreans wear t-shirts with English writing, much of it being misspelled and nonsensical, but nevertheless, funny.  Contrary to what one might think, it is rather hard to find a shirt with Korean writing here in Korea.  Before going home to America, I wanted to find t-shirts for my brothers with something written in Korean, but actually had a hard time finding what I was looking for.  That was not the case in Japan.  English doesn't seem to be "in" there.  

9.  The fashion tastes in Japan are a lot more diverse.  In Korea, generally, the celebrities seem to set the fashion trends, and the general population follows it.  In Japan, the preppy look is in, as is in Korea, but the punk look also seems to be popular.  There were a lot of Japanese men with spiked hair who were going for a rougher look than what one would currently see in most men in Korea.  In Japan, I also saw a lot of nerds,  a lot of men who were into sportswear, and also lot of men who dressed classily conservative.  In terms of women, there seemed to be two general types.  I saw a lot of women who were conservatively elegant.  There were also a lot of women who were more trendy.  In Kyoto, the conservative elegant classy look seemed to be more popular, while in Osaka, fashion tastes were more trendy.  In Osaka, it seemed like most of the ladies had their hair color altered.  There seemed to be a lot more diversity in hair styles and altered hair colors among women in Japan, than among Korean women.  

10.  As a whole, Japanese women were beautiful.  Like Koreans, they cover their mouths when they laugh and/or blush.  Most Japanese women wear blush, while most Korean women don't.  It was summer, so an abundance of Japanese women, like Korean women, were wearing miniskirts and high heels.  I didn't think this was possible, but I noticed that a larger percentage of women in Kyoto and Osaka wear high heels those in Korea.  A lot of Korean women wear tennis shoes with their skirts.  I find it to be a cute fashion trend.  Japanese women, like Korean women, walk under femininely flowery umbrellas in sunny weather in order to protect their preferred fair skin tone.  I thought the women in Kyoto were generally more attractive than those in Osaka, and I still prefer Korean women to Japanese women.

12.  The funnest thing about Japan was eating the food.  The food was so different from anything I had ever tasted.  The only sampling of Japanese cuisine that one would get in America is Americanized sushi, so trying new food was a lot of fun.  To see exactly what I ate, check my Facebook page, or my twitter account.  I have numerous pictures posted.  The goal in Japanese cuisine seems to be to accentuate flavor of the key ingredient.  Japanese food doesn't seem to be heavily seasoned, nor is it spicy.  The goal of Korean cuisine seems to be the exact opposite.  They seem to go for a particular taste in whatever dish they serve, so Korean food is usually heavily seasoned, a lot of it being spicy.  A lot of my food during my time in Japan came from the delis of grocery stores, and convenience stores.  The convenience stores had extensive selections of cooked meals, including noodle dishes, rice dishes, salads, various rolls, and etc.  The delis in the grocery stores had the same things, but they seemed to be of a higher quality.  The grocery stores offered a decent selection of various sushi.  It was both delicious and fresh.  I enjoyed eating in Japan. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Being an Outsider

I am currently in the middle of a one-week vacation in Japan.   I flew into Kansai International Airport in Osaka on Wednesday, and immediately  took a train to Kyoto.  It is Sunday afternoon, and I am currently in Osaka.  I have been here since Friday, and will be here until Monday morning.  I will then take a train back to Kyoto, and will remain there until the remainder of my trip when I fly out Wednesday.  Thus far, everything has been incredible, and being that I prefer large cities, I thought I would enjoy Osaka more, but the contrary has been the case.   That does not take anything away from Osaka.  It is also an amazing city.  

For the last few years, it has been a dream of mine to visit Japan, and being here has sort of been surreal.  Interacting with the people, eating the food, and experiencing the culture have all been learning experiences.  Back home, and even in Korea, interacting with Japanese people has been a rarity.  Although I have known numerous Koreans throughout my life, I have been around very few Japanese people, so Japan has been a huge source of curiosity.

Upon arriving, I immediately felt like an outsider, and I've never felt that way in Korea.  I arrived in Korea with a strong knowledge of Korean culture.  Although I am not fluent, I've known enough of the language to be polite, and to get what I've needed.   Koreans have many times seemed willing to at least make an effort to speak English during the times that my knowledge of the Korean language has been insufficient.  That is not the case here in Japan.  Japan is sort of like America in that here, they expect foreigners to speak their language, and they rarely speak English here during interactions with them.  Fewer signs and documents are in English, and only on one or two occasions have Japanese people actually spoken English to me.  The only thing that I've been able to say in Japanese is "arigato cojaimas," which means Thank you.  I also know nothing about Japanese manners and customs.  When interacting with older people in Korea, it always seems to be polite to nod, or even bow.  Although they bow and nod in Japan, they don't seem to do so as much, so I have zero knowledge on when and when not to do so.  Having no knowledge of the language and basic etiquette can cause one to immediately feel like an outsider.

In Korea, although I don't look Korean, I have always been fairly familiar with the etiquette and customs, so when Koreans look at me as if I don't belong, I am secure and confident in my identity as a person of Korean descent to know that I do.  I have become quite used to that mentality.  Being here in Japan, I now know how my foreign friends in Korea feel in being exposed to an unfamiliar culture with unfamiliar norms, unfamiliar manners, and unfamiliar customs.  In Korea, I've found myself being rather judgmental of the foreign community for their lack of understanding of Korean culture.  I've now learned to be more sympathetic.

Being in an unfamiliar place, I've learned to remain quiet, smile, observe, then imitate.  

Japanese Ramen has been my favorite dishes here in Japan thus far.  It is nothing like the Ramen in Korea or America.  It is of a much higher quality.  The broth is so much richer and better tasting being that it is homemade, and doesn't come from a packet.  The texture of the noodles seems to be slightly more chewy.  The meat that is added always seems to be of a high quality.  To call it ramen sort of does it an injustice because when people from America or Korea think of Ramen, they immediately think of the store-bought packages.  

Upon arriving in Osaka in Kansai airport, one of the first things that I did was enter the food court for lunch.  Knowing nothing about Japanese cuisine, I chose the first restaurant that I saw, which was one that served Ramen.  The woman greeted me in Japanese, and I was absolutely clueless as to what she was telling me.  I sort of nonverbally informed her that I don't know Japanese, and I immediately smiled in such a way to make light of the situation.  Luckily, the menu had pictures of every dish.  I chose the one that seemed to have the highest amount of meat per price, so continuing to smile, I gently pointed to the picture of the dish that I wanted to order.  She smiled back, and spoke softly, as Japanese people seem to always do, telling me what seemed to be the price, the instructions of where to eat the food, and what to do with my dishes once finished.  

Some of my Korean friends told me that Japanese table manners are slightly different, so I was rather self conscious. I immediately began to observe how other people around me were eating.  I noticed that they were loudly slurping when eating their noodles.  I began do so also, and was quite pleased to remain oblivious to all the others eating.  The broth in the soup was amazing, and one of the best broths that I have ever eaten.  I wanted to consume every bit of it, and the spoon was a rather uncomfortable tool.  Once again, I looked up to observe.  I noticed people were drinking straight from the bowls.  I immediately began to do so, and was once again happy to remain oblivious.  

Although initially being exposed to an unfamiliar culture, I have found that in any culture, it is always polite to remain quiet, and warmly smile frequently in interactions.  And when in doubt, observe others around you to see what they do, and imitate.  And even when I have been incorrect, I have found that people are less likely to be agitated when I am quiet and pleasant.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sixth Graders

I would like to apologize for not posting in quite sometime.  I have no excuses.  I only hope to work harder for you all.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for taking to time to read my blog.  I also would like thank you for all the kind words and encouragement.    

Throughout my time teaching in Korea, the sixth grade has been the most difficult age group to teach.  Sixth graders are interesting.  I have been teaching at the same school for over a year.  In terms of height and weight, I usually notice a minimal difference in growth in students between the second and fifth grade.  It's not because they don't grow.  They do, but it isn't as noticeable.  When students reach the sixth grade, their faces suddenly become more mature.  Their voices change.  They begin to grow acne.  The changes become more noticeable.

When I went back to the states a few months ago, one thing I noticed was that children in America are noticeably larger than those from Korea.  A friend of mine back home has a five-year-old daughter, and apparently, she is one of the smallest in her class, and she is the size of most of my second graders here in Korea.  It's funny, because some of these fourth and fifth graders look like five-year-olds, and suddenly, when they reach the sixth grade, they grow and physically mature significantly in a short period of time, and on a random day, they suddenly walk into school looking like they are twenty-seven.  Some of these sixth graders would be able to walk into a convenience store, buy a case of beer and a pack of cigarettes with out being asked to show identification.  This is especially true with the boys.  The growth in girls seems to be more gradual, and becomes more evident in the fifth grade.  By the time students reach the sixth grade, most will have gone through puberty.

When students reach the sixth grade, they suddenly begin to see adults for who they are, human beings with flaws.  Some quickly acquire an inherent distrust and bitterness towards authority.  When students reach the sixth grade, they suddenly become more likely to blatantly disobey and disregard authority.  They also become more open with their attraction to members of the opposite sex.  The boys suddenly have a desire to establish dominance in the classroom, out of their desire to impress the girls.  Once dominance over the other students is established, they attempt to establish dominance over the teacher.  The girls become more giddy upon realization that they are noticed by the boys, so they talk to their friends more, and they do so more loudly and more enthusiastically.

These two factors are the reason why sixth graders are such a challenge to teach.  Out of their desire to impress the girls, many boys will become more obnoxious in class, and many of their verbal jabs are in total disregard of the teacher, in order to establish dominance.  If dominance is not established by the teacher, this alone can cause a class to get out of control.  From my experience, as a man, girls establish dominance differently.  They do so by gaining favor from the teacher, not for academic benefit, but in order to be able to get away with more.  As a male, I find it more difficult to be stern with the girls.

Although, generally speaking, in a class with an equal amount of boys and girls, the girls tend to be more well-behaved.  But contrary to that, I find that a class with only boys to be easier to maintain control than a class with only girls.  In a class full of boys, there are no girls to impress, and being that it is easier to be stern with them, it is easier to keep them focused.  With no girls, they are less likely to be embarrassed, so they can be a lot more fun.  In a class full of girls, they all seem to be competing for the teacher's favor, making it more difficult to be stern, so they tend to misbehave more.  All this is especially true with sixth graders.

When I went back home to the states, I had a conversation with a friend of my mother who is an experienced teacher, much of it teaching sixth graders.  I asked her, "Do you have any advice in handling them?"

She replied, "Sixth graders will always be difficult.  There is nothing you can do to stop it.  You have to be determined to be the one who, when they look back, and they remember you, they can say 'that teacher impacted my life.'"  At the very least, I can be one who they remember favorably.

After that conversation, I no longer lose my temper with students.  I no longer take seriously that which isn't worthy of such.  It took me a year to realize this.  I find it works a lot better to make a joke out of a verbal jab, than getting frustrated.  In the long run, I find it easier to make fun of what they say.  It lightens the mood.  With sixth graders, I find that they work harder when the mood is light.  If any discord towards the teacher exists, they will be unwilling to speak, participate, and work.  During my first year of teaching, I have had classes like that, and that is when teaching becomes most difficult.

Nothing they say can effect how I teach them.  Nothing they can do will stop me from being kind to them.  Nothing that can be perceived as disrespectful will ever cause me to lose my temper again.  Because, as my coworker, Kezia, so effectively put it, "Who are we kidding ourselves?  We are dealing with 12 year-olds."

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Minor Miracle

Lyn, one of my fourth graders, is a delightful little girl.  In class, I always spell her name, "Lynn," which is the only way that I have ever seen that particular name spelled, but whenever she sees her name spelled with two n's, she is always sure to correct me to be certain that her name is spelled with only one n.  She is a girl that is sure of herself, and her identity.

Lyn is always confident in her ability, and she always speaks assertively.  During the reading or sentence making portion of the lesson, she is usually one to speak up, as she always wants to go first, but unlike some of the other students that are her age, she is not one to get upset if she is not chosen.  She has a wonderful attitude.  

I remember the first time I called her for a required telephone interview upon joining my class as a third grader.  Upon answering, she gave the me the standard Korean telephone greeting the same way all young Korean girls do, "Yoboseo..."

"Hi!  May I speak to Lyn please?"

Again, she responded the way most young Korean girls who are on a similar level of English do by simply saying, "Teacher, me."

"Hi Lyn!  How are you?!"  

"I'm fine, thankyou."

"Very good!  What are you doing?"

"I'm watching TV."  

"What are you watching?"

"I'm watching music video."

"Music videos?!  That sounds like a lot of fun, Lyn!"  When students are listening to music, I like to take the mundanity out of the telephone interviews by attempting to get them to sing over the phone.  Normally, I am never able to get them to do so, and I am certain that no amount of money would ever be able to bribe most of them to sing.  Nevertheless, as I always do when the situation arises, I asked, "Lyn, can you sing the song that you are hearing now?"

"Yes," she replied confidently.

I was so surprised by the response, that I was sort of taken aback, because normally, they start laughing, and slightly embarrassed, they respond with, "Teacher?!"  And as they continue laughing, they answer, "No."  

Then I will respond, knowing that they will never agree to sing over the phone, by upping the ante, "Such and such, I will give you x amount of stickers if you sing the song that you are hearing right now."

They continue laughing slightly embarrassingly, and respond with, "No teacher..."

Anyway, again, I was taken aback by Lyn's confident response, so I responded with, "Really?!?!  You will!?"


"Okay, Lyn...  Go!"

This is what she sang...

She proceeded to give me the best rendition of "Roly Poly" that I ever heard.  It was so good, that I began bobbing my head to the rhythm of her singing. I was speechless for several seconds after she finished.   

"Lyn...  That was amazing..."

I said it several times before finally hanging up, and each time, she responded with, "Thank you, Teacher."

A few weeks ago, on a normal day, Lyn showed up in my class wearing a black baseball cap with the bill worn in such a way to cover her face.  I looked closer, and noticed that she had a large bandage that was saturated in blood completely covering her little chin.  The bandage was unable to cover her bottom lip, so I was able to see the large scabs that covered it.  It looked horrible.  Normally, I don't allow hats in my class, but I made an exception for that particular instance.  

When it came time for the reading portion of the lesson, this time, Lyn didn't assertively speak up, and when it came to be her turn to read, she refused with a simple, "No," as she looked at me, and shook her head.

I mistakenly did what I normally do as a teacher, and insisted that she read.  "Come on, Lyn.  You're next."

She gently replied again, "No."

I pressed further, "Come on, Lyn. It's your turn..."

Lyn put her head on the desk, and began to sob.  

I felt terrible.  My only instinct was to stop the class, and comfort her.  

The class was silent.

This happened on a Wednesday, and I felt absolutely horrible for the rest of the day.

That night, during the prayer portion of my daily quiet time, I prayed for her.  Not only was she hurt physically, she was also hurt emotionally, so I prayed for the miraculous healing of her chin, and a quick healing of all the emotional anguish that she suffered because of it.    

I'm never able to see the students in Lyn's class on Thursdays, because on that day, I teach a different class in a different area of the building.  So I saw her the following Friday, and she wasn't wearing a hat, and neither was she wearing a bandage on her chin, and she seemed to be her same confident self.  

She came to me, and upon seeing her, I got down on my knee, and examined her injury.  Her bottom lip was completely healed, and only a small scab was left on the bottom of her chin.  Maybe her wound was not as serious as it appeared that Wednesday, or maybe God healed her.  That was the first instance where I earnestly prayed for the miraculous healing of a person, and I believe God answered.  

From that particular instance, I learned a lesson about prayer.  God will answer if you pray in the name of Jesus on somebodies behalf, provided the prayer is honest, and the request is truly made out of love, steadfastly believing that the circumstance can be changed.  It's comforting to know that God gives such a capacity to love, and the capacity to believe that circumstances can miraculously change.

Before going to school every morning, my TV is running on silent as the music on my itunes is playing on shuffle over my computer speakers, while I am getting ready for the day.  One thing that always catches my eye on the tv are the weather reports...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Two Dreams

I am a believer in the notion that God speaks to us through dreams, and I frequently have vivid ones.  I don't like to think too deeply into their meaning, because, many times, I've made a fool of myself making decisions based on such dreams, but there were also instances when I've made the correct decision in following them.

I had three interviews for three jobs in three different towns/cities in Korea.  My first interview was one for a hogwan in a rural town in the northeastern portion of South Korea.  The interview went as well as it could have, and I was offered the job.  

I believe when God opens doors for people, he makes the circumstances perfect, and on the surface they certainly appeared that way, which was why I felt sort of an internal pressure in my own mind to accept it.  I am extremely intuitive, and most of my major decisions are based on my intuition, and for some unexplainable reason, accepting the job in that rural town simply didn't "feel right."  It was a gut feeling, and this particular feeling seemed so ominous that it gave me a pit in my stomach.  I am not saying that rural jobs are inferior, because I have friends that work in rural areas who have had wonderful experiences.  It simply didn't feel like the right thing to do for me.  

A personal rule that I have for myself is to never make major decisions in haste.  A required immediate decision, for me, will always be a "no."  I always allow for at least one night of sleep before coming to a final decision, and in this particular instance, I did so hoping that I would feel better about accepting, and I didn't.  The internal pressure to take that job became stronger, and at the same time, so did the pit in my stomach.  I decided to sleep on it for another night, and as I fell asleep, I had a dream.  It contained nothing visual, as it was merely a voice that spoke to me, and it said, "It's okay to wait for something different."  

Upon awakening, I felt better.  I immediately emailed Dan Henrickson, my recruiter, to inform him that I would not be accepting the job.  

I don't know what would have happened had I decided to take the job in that small town.  It probably would have been a good experience, but I know it wouldn't have been as good as my current situation, which is perfect, so therefore, I have no regrets.  I have a feeling that I belong here in Gwangju, and nothing beats having that satisfaction and contentment.  My city and my job have been a source of immense blessing.  

As I stated earlier, I prefer not to think too deeply into the meaning of the dreams that I have, but some of them can be so vivid, emotional, and memorable that I can't help but think about them.  Upon merely making the decision to pursue jobs teaching English in either Korea or Japan, before starting a blog, and even before beginning the process of looking for jobs, I had one such dream on the couch of my parents' home in Louisiana.  It was so vivid that soon after, I felt compelled to write about it.  And this is what I wrote:

On a random night, I fell asleep on the couch at around 7pm.  It wasn't a deep sleep, but it was one that was deep enough for me to dream.  And in that dream, I saw her.  There was no mistaking her.  She was Asian, attractive, and in her early to mid twenties.  She wore her hair down.  It was long, well kept, and black.  She had the eyes, facial structure, and skin tone that is unique only to women of that race.  She was tall and slim with the feminine build of a model.  She was wearing a green t-shirt, and was standing in a green field.  The grass was long, and above her waist, but I knew she was wearing jeans.  
And then I looked closer, and I noticed her mouth, her nose, her facial expressions, and her mannerisms.  They were also mine.  She had managed to possess all of my quirks to go along with all of her beauty.  There was no mistaking her.  She was my daughter.  And the love that I began to feel for her was unmistakeable, and unexplainable.  She looked into my eyes, and it was as if I were looking into a mirror, and I immediately felt all the emotions, both good and bad, that she felt towards me.  And then I immediately awoke. 

It was such a powerful dream that I began to weep upon awakening.  Again, through experience, I have become one who doesn't think too deeply into them, but dreams like this particular one do nothing but compel me to ponder the possibilities.  This particular dream happened so long ago, and the reason I write about it is that I have never forgotten it, and for some reason, lately, I have found myself thinking about it more frequently.  So much so, that I've felt compelled to share it.  It could be prophetic, or it could mean absolutely nothing.  I guess we'll eventually find out with certainty.

I've had dreams, such as the first one, that give clear instructions.  I've also had ones, like the second one, that were merely visions that left me dumbfounded, and sometimes hoping.  I've also had some that have left me feeling like a fool.  It says in the bible that God spoke to Jacob and Joseph, the father of Jesus, in dreams, so obviously some have merit.  I find myself relying on my intuition and experience in discerning which are worth following, and which aren't.  It can be difficult.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Looking Back

After spending a year in Korea, and spending a week back home in America, I can't help but look back, and this passage from the post, Preparing for Korea, definitely stands out:

What will my place look like?  What kind of students will I teach?  How will my coworkers and superiors act towards me? How will I make friends?  What kind of food will be available?  Where will I attend church?  How difficult will the language barrier be?  Each of these mentioned uncertainties, among others, are enough to invoke fear in those who are afraid of the unknown, but I seem to always embrace it with excitement.  What if I taste the best thing that I have ever eaten?  What if I make several life long friends?  What if I fall in love?  What if I come to a greater understanding of who I am as an American of Korean Descent? 

I will start with the question, "What will my place look like?"  My apartment is a shoebox.  It is smaller than those of most of my friends, but I have made the most of it, and have made it comfortable.  I live in a beautiful area of Gwangju, called Pungam Dong, and a lake is around 200 yards from my house, as is a large mountain.  The Gwangju landscape is marked with countless high rise apartments.  The buildings themselves are not that beautiful, but the combination of them, and a sea of mountains make for a breathtakingly gorgeous landscape.

At night, on the lake that is near my apartment, the wind always seems to cease, and the water becomes as smooth as glass.  When the windows on the apartments light up, the countless neon signs that mark the businesses nearby are lit, and when the headlights are activated on the cars that drive on the busy road that runs along the shore of the lake, they all reflect on the smooth water.  The reflection of the impressive mountains compliment that of the lights and the buildings, and it is an incredible thing to see.  I don't have any pictures, because I am not a great photographer, and none of the pictures that I could ever take would ever do it justice.  I love taking walks at nights along the lake.  It's one of my favorite things about Gwangju.  It was along the banks of that lake that I fell in love with Tae Hee.

Regarding the question, "What if I fall in love?"  It happened.  Tae Hee was the prettiest girl that I had ever been with, and I still say that every moment that I spent with her was among the best moments of my life, and I know that at the time, she felt the same way.  Regarding her, someone wiser than me told me, "It was definitely love, but it wasn't perfect love, which is why it didn't last."  Too many factors came between us, and "the stars didn't align."  I was left broken hearted, because it was nothing more than a fling.  I learned numerous lessons from being with her that will serve me well for the rest of my life, and I could write another post about that, but I would like to keep those to myself.  I had two flings, both being with Korean women, while in Korea.  They were both incredible, and I regret neither of them.

Regarding the question, "What kind of children will I teach?"  My students have been incredible, and I find that I miss them after being away from work for only a week.  While researching Korea when I first started looking for jobs, I read about how spoiled and pampered some Korean children can be.  In my case, I have never experienced that.  They are significantly less spoiled than American children, as they take pleasure in simpler things.  On their birthdays, many of them merely receive new school supplies, and they always seem ecstatic to receive them.  Many of them don't receive Christmas gifts.  The reason they aren't as spoiled is not because they expect less in terms of material things, and it's also not because their parents draw less of an income.  The students at my school come from fairly affluent families.  They are less spoiled because they have a stronger work ethic, and more is expected of them.

On the other hand, I feel bad for them, because many of them have less of an opportunity to be children, and simply play.  Even the elementary students do hours of homework, and have to go to school on Saturdays.  While American parents are paying for their children to go to baseball practice, and dance class, Korean parents pay for their children to go to English academy, and Math academy, which most of the time, have a more intense curriculum than their regular schools.

Nevertheless, my students are extremely clever, as even my lower level students are able to speak and coherently express intelligent thoughts in English.  My upper level students are, for the most part, fluent.  Korean children are enthusiastic, fun, and are generally respectful to authority.  As a whole, they are extremely funny, as they always seem to provide me with something to laugh at everyday, and they are always able to have a way to make my day better.  If fatherhood is similar to teaching these wonderful children, it's definitely something that I am looking forward to.

Regarding, "How will I make friends?"  My friends, both Korean and foreign, are another thing that has made my experience so incredible.  I was blessed to have such wonderful coworkers.  When I first started at my school, I was the only American on staff.  Kirk was Australian, Tal was Canadian, and Maggie was from England.  Tal left suddenly, then Mae was her temporary replacement, and Kelsey replaced Mae.  It didn't seem like a long time before it was time for Maggie and Kirk to return to their respective countries in the beginning of March.  The goodbyes were definitely tearful, but I am blessed that wonderful people were hired to replace them.  Currently, the foreign staff at my school is all American, and consists of Kelsey, Phil, Kezzia, and I.

In Korea being that people work in one-year increments, unfortunately, good people come and go.  I've seen it happen at my workplace, and at my church.  That can be difficult.  I was blessed to see two wonderful friends, Sara (pronounced Sahra) and Carolyn, off at the bus station, as I was the last person to say goodbye to them at Gwangju.  Both were emotional experiences.  We've had numerous tearful goodbyes at my church, and that doesn't surprise me, because both Koreans and foreigners here have been incredibly welcoming and inclusive.

As my coworker, Kelsey, explained, I now know what it's like to be a minority, and as such, it is essential to have a community of people that you can turn to for support.  And if the people that are a part of our community were all a part of a majority, we may not have enough in common to be friends, but as a minority, sometimes nationality is enough to bring people together.  I've certainly made some wonderful friendships that will definitely last a lifetime.  I now know how my mother feels as a Korean living in America, as she is definitely a part of a network of Korean friends here in New Orleans.

Regarding, "What if I come to a greater understanding of who I am as a Korean American?"  That's difficult to explain.  On the contrary, I have become a more self-aware American, and I am proud to be one, but throughout my time in Korea, I felt strangely at home.  I've said numerous times that I've never experienced the culture shock that my other western friends have experienced, because I've experienced Korean culture throughout my life in my home.  I have come to a greater understanding of my mother, and her emphasis on education, which was a source of resentment growing up.  I now understand why she was so adamant about me working so hard, because that seems to be an emphasis of all Korean parents.  I am now grateful for how hard she pushed me.

Have I come to a greater understanding of who I am as a Korean American?  I would say definitely, but it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how.  Whenever I tell Korean ladies that I meet, "Omhaga Hanguk saram (My mother is Korean)," their opinion of me always seems to favorably increase.  In my first year in Korea, I've definitely developed a stronger pride in being of Korean descent.  I've definitely developed more of an understanding about what makes Koreans who they are, and unfortunately western culture has had such a large influence on their society.  Some of my students tell me that they don't like kimchi, and that their favorite foods are hamburgers, and pizza.  Many Korean women get plastic surgery to enlarge their eyes and noses in order to look more western.  It annoys me when Mcdonald's and Pizza Hut take over all that is local, and that which provides variety.

Obviously, I am not completely satisfied with my understanding, because if I were, I would not be returning for another year.  With that being said, my time in Korea has been amazing, and it has thus far been among the best years of my life.  I tell people all the time that, in Korea,  time has gone by so fast, and I've had so much fun, so why not stay for another year?

I look forward to seeing more of Korea, and understanding the culture more.  I look forward to becoming a better teacher and leader.  I look forward to trying new foods.  I look forward to touring other parts of Asia.  I look forward to making more Korean friends, and becoming closer to the ones that I have already befriended.  I look forward to meeting new western friends that I otherwise would have never met had I not come here.  I look forward to more meaningful relationships.  I look forward to coming to yet an even greater understanding of who I am as a Korean American.  I am excited about what this next year holds.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Upon Landing in America

Being that I have been in Korea for the past year, overhearing a conversation in English has been an extreme rarity, so I have been rather "in tune" to my surroundings since landing in the US today.   I've heard numerous other people who have lived abroad speak of this particular phenomenon.  One thing that I've learned is that Americans can have such shallow conversations sometimes (lol).  Koreans probably have similar ones, so I am glad that I am ignorant to that possibility.  Here is a conversation that I overheard while sitting in the airport in San Francisco:

Male:  "Oh my God!!  Look at all those DVD's!!  Did you buy all those?!?!"

Female:  "Yeah. I just LOVE three ninety-nine DVD's at Target!!"

Male:  "Isn't it the greatest??!!  I bought Bring it On's 1 and 2 last week!"

Female:  "Aren't those such good movies??!!"

This one was a phone conversation:

"I just, like, totally love my new spin class.  You should totally come...  It's SO fun!!  ...  Aren't our husbands watching UFC next weekend??  ...  Isn't there one, like, next weekend??  ...   If there is, we should SO skip out, and do spin class together."

I laughed out loud when I heard this one:

"Whoa!  You're sitting in first class??  You have SO much class!!"

"Stop.  What row are you sitting in?  I'll walk back, and bring you guys some cookies."

"I don't want to tell you.  I feel like such a loser."

I'll be in the States for the next three weeks.  I am currently between contracts.  I signed for another year with the same school in Gwangju, so I will be back in Korea on May 1.

I have always strived to be truthful in my opinions and observations, both positive and negative, correct and incorrect.  I may be ignorant regarding some issues, but I certainly am not stupid, and I never want to be foolish, so when I am incorrect, I welcome correction.  I welcome your thoughts, and input, but when leaving a strong dissenting opinion under the comments section, don't expect to do so without expecting me to defend mine.

I was previously in sales before teaching English in Korea, and rule #1 in sales is to love the product that you are selling.  Rule #2 is to defend the product when somebody speaks negatively about it.  If a client speaks negatively about a product without a response from the salesman, the salesman is validating that the potential buyer is correct in his/her negative opinion.  These two principles can be applied to numerous other things, even writing.  Much like a salesman with a product or service, as a writer, I've learned to love and embrace my true feelings and insights regarding my observations and opinions, regardless of whether or not they are politically correct, or even if they offend some people.  I've heard it said before that you can't please everybody, and if you do, you are doing something wrong.  I have learned that, like those of most other people, most of my opinions and observations are reasonable, not baseless, and they matter.  I have learned to write about things that I love, and am passionate about.  The truth, my passions, and my honest opinions and observations are always more interesting to write about, and are certainly easier to defend.      

Upon landing in America, I immediately noticed two things.  The first thing that I noticed is that a large number of Americans are extremely overweight.  Although there certainly are obese Koreans, it is significantly less common there.

It doesn't take a nutritionist to figure out the reasons behind the weight problem in America, and the lack thereof in Korea.  In Korea, when eating out, the side dishes are usually a variation of kimchi (heavily seasoned cabbage), bean sprouts, spinach, seaweed, and radish.  In America, the side dish is almost always a form of potato, and they are usually fried.  When they are not fried, they are usually saturated with butter.  On the rare occasion that steamed vegetables are served, they are almost always doused with butter as well.  When having a salad, the primary ingredient in most dressings is usually some sort of oil.

I realize that I am being rather critical of an aspect of American food and society, as Korean food is not without fault.  It is extremely heavy in sodium, but the truth is evident.  A large number of Americans struggle with weight issues, and most Koreans don't.  And that truth has become apparent during my particular experience.  During my first year in Korea, my diet consisted primarily of Korean food, and I ate out almost every day.  I lost a total of 26 lbs (11.79 kg).  I don't want to even think of what I would look like if I ate out almost every day in America.

I am not saying that it is horrible to indulge in a hamburger with fries, and/or a pizza, and I am certainly not an advocate of government regulation of the fast food industry.  I love fattening food just as much, or more, than most people, but like everything, it is something that must be enjoyed in moderation.

The second thing that I quickly noticed upon landing is that a large number of American children can be rather disrespectful when addressing their parents.  I realize that I am now able to overhear a lot more conversations, especially words, but the truth is more evident in the tone than in the words.  Upon landing, I heard, "Mo-om!!  I already told you!!  I don't want that!!  I want this!!"

I also heard, "Mo-om!!  Where are my Nintendo DS games?!!  I want to play my Nintendo DS!!"  On a few separate occasions, in the San Francisco airport, I heard American children talking to their parents as if they were stupid, and below them.  I realize that I don't understand most of the language, but tone is unmistakeable, and I never hear that agitated borderline angry tone, that is unfortunately too common in older American children, from Korean children when addressing their parents.  Although Korean children can sometimes be rather disrespectful towards us foreign teachers, as they are not ignorant to the cultural differences, I have never seen them speak that way to a parental figure, or even to a sibling, in public.

Despite that, I am extremely happy and excited to be home.  I am excited about spending time with my family, relaxing, mowing my grass, eating delicious food, and seeing friends.  It will be fun.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Guitars

A great piece of advice that I got before leaving for Korea was to "bring the one thing that you absolutely know you will miss, even if it costs money to put it on the plane, or to ship it."  It was a great piece of advice that I heeded.  I brought my acoustic guitar.  I know some of you will be asking, "Why didn't you just buy a cheap one in Korea?  It wouldn't cost much more than the price of checking it on the plane."  My answer to that is my Taylor acoustic guitar is my companion, and if I left it behind, playing a cheap one in Korea would cause me to miss it even more than not playing one at all, and I would never be able to stop playing.  On the flight from New Orleans to Los Angeles, I carried it on the plane.  On the Asiana flight between L.A. and Seoul, the compartments were too small for me to carry it on, so I had to check it, which costed fifty dollars.  I knew I would miss both of my guitars, and bringing my acoustic was worth it.

I realize that you may find this to be rather bizzarre, but I name my guitars and guns.  I'll start by quickly sharing the names of my guns.  My 12-gauge shotgun is definitely a female.  I gave her the name, Bernice.   I also have an SKS assault rifle that is undoubtedly a male, and I named him Rico Suave.  I am not a hunter.  I am a "city boy," and although I can count the number of times I've been hunting on one finger, I do believe in exercising my second amendment rights as an American.  I believe in protecting oneself in the case of an emergency.  I also love to occasionally go out and "pump lead" in a country field.  Not much feels better than destroying a watermelon, or watching a two-liter of coke explode.  Shooting a gun feels amazing, as does playing a guitar.

Before coming to Korea, I tried to make it as a traveling singer-songwriter, and I didn't succeed as a professional musician for two reasons.  I didn't work hard enough, and I simply wasn't good enough.  I am not bitter, and I don't regret pursuing my dream.  A blessing that came as a result of my pursuit is that writing lyrics has made me a better writer of prose, as I focus just as much on the flow of my words as I do the content.  Contrary to what one might believe, my love for music has grown exponentially since my pursuit.  Music relaxes me, and enables me focus.  The only thing that feels better than hearing an amazing song is performing one in front of people.

I currently own two guitars.  My acoustic guitar is definitely a male that I named, Jake, and as I stated earlier, he is here with me in Korea.  Bringing him was one of the best decisions that I made regarding my time here.  I play and sing on the worship team at my church, and that has been an amazing blessing in itself.  I still write music, but not nearly as frequently as I used to, but when I do, I take comfort in knowing that my companion is with me to be my aid in inspiration.  Every once in a while I still get the itch to perform, and whenever an opportunity arises, I have Jake with me to "blow minds (not really)."  I also enjoy "fine-tuning" my singing and playing quietly alone in my apartment, as I find that to be one of the most soothing things a human can do.  Squeezing the neck, pressing the strings, strumming, and quietly matching the tone and rhythm of my voice to that of a guitar other than Jake, here in Korea, would just not be the same.

My other guitar is an electric, and is a female.  She is a black Fender American Standard Telecaster that I named, Rosalyn, but I call her Rose.  Rose has a white pick guard, and was a graduation gift that I received from my parents upon finishing my studies at LSU.  My older brother received a beautiful gold graduation ring, and as much as I would love to have such a meaningful symbol that is such a wonderful source of pride, I asked instead for the guitar of my dreams.

I plug Rose into a Fender Twin Reverb guitar amp.  It's called a twin because it has two twelve inch speakers that sit side-by-side.  Rose and the Twin Reverb together are capable of blowing the roof off of any large building.  It is also capable of blowing down most brick walls.  I don't understand why they ever used sledge hammers bring down the Berlin Wall.  I have a few petals (no pun intended) for Rose, one being a Keeley modified Ibanez Tube Screamer, which gives it a nasty distortion sound with a vibration that feels absolutely incredible in the chest when the volume is high.  I would have loved to have brought her here to Korea, but that just wasn't feasible, being that the amp is enormous and extremely heavy, and not to mention, toting along the petal board, which would have been counted as another checked bag.  An acoustic is a lot more practical here, because of it's portability.

Rose is one of the things that I miss most about home.  I get excited, and my heart beats a little faster every time I think about plugging her into my petal board, plugging that pedal board into my Fender Twin Reverb, flipping the switch, watching that red light on my amp begin to brightly glow, turning up the volume before squeezing Rose's neck, and pressing my fingers against her strings that stretch above her rosewood fretboard.  I would then tap my foot on that green Ibanez TS9 Keely modified Tube Screamer pedal to activate the distortion, and authoritatively hit a chord, as I begin to feel power at my finger tips.  I get chills thinking about it, and when I lay in bed at night, if I am not careful, and I think about it too much, I won't be able to sleep.

I miss Rose, and can't wait to play her again, but it is also comforting to know that my faithful companion, Jake, is here with me here in Korea to aid me in my joy, my pain, and my worship.  I am also excited knowing that Rose will be at home waiting for me on my return.  I can't wait to get back.

This week, we had writing tests at school.  Some of my students never cease to amaze me, and one of my sixth graders, Jenny, is among them.  She has always been such a kind girl in class, who has such a pleasantness about her, as she always playfully asks me if she could wear one of the Angry Bird badges on my jacket, or if she could keep one of my red pens.  Before reading this, I never knew that a sixth grader was capable of possessing such wisdom, along with the ability to express it so profoundly.  I almost tear up thinking about it, and if you knew her, and saw her wonderful humility, along with her work ethic, you probably would too.  I'll let you read what she wrote in response to the question, "If you had a time machine, what time period would you like to visit?"  I know that the future of our world is in good hands.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Plastic Surgery in Korea

I am currently in Seoul for the weekend.  Whenever I get bored in Gwangju, and feel like spending time alone, I'll hop on a bus, and enjoy a weekend of walking the streets of Seoul with my headphones and my ipod.  I am currently in a coffee shop in a district called Gangnam.  From what I've read, it is a district where the most affluent of Seoul live.  Upon walking the streets, that definitely becomes apparent.  The women are all extremely fashionable.  The men here carry themselves as one would expect from a person of wealth and status.  The latest and the most expensive of everything seems to be the norm in this area.

Generally speaking, Koreans are wealthy people.  Korea is among the top twenty economies in the world, and it is among the top twenty five nations in per capita income.  Obviously, as is the case with all people who are wealthy, generally speaking, Koreans have a significant amount of disposable income.  And as do women of all nationalities, backgrounds, and income levels, a huge amount of Korean women have issues with their self image.

I teach students ranging in grade levels from the second through sixth grade, and these problems with a negative self image are definitely prevalent, even among them, and it is especially evident among my sixth graders.  On the bimonthly written tests that we give our students, one of the questions for a test given to one of my sixth grade classes was, "What do you like about yourself?"  

One girl wrote, and I paraphrase, "I like the fact that all my friends are very pretty."  She continued, "I don't understand why they are friends with me, because I don't think I am pretty enough."     

I also hear rumblings, and rumors of various female middle school students in my school who don't like the way they look, so they have verbalized a desire to get plastic surgery when they get older.  I hear of Korean high school girls, who upon graduation, have their parents pay for double eyelid surgery, a procedure done to make the eyes appear larger, as a graduation present.  Many Korean girls also have surgery to enlarge their noses, and some have procedures to make their cheeks appear smaller.

Quite frankly, it's sad.  It's upsetting because it's evidence of a problem, and that being that Korean society, like many other affluent societies in the world, places an excessively high emphasis on the importance of vanity, which causes girls of all ages to have a negative self-image.  This is especially true with the prettiest.  It's the norm for Korean celebrities to have such procedures, and it puts a positive spin on something that is negative, and it has sadly perpetuated the epidemic.

It saddens me, because, especially in my youngest students, I see so much beauty and potential in each of them, as individuals.  And much like English, they are being taught, at a young age, this unnecessarily excessive importance of vanity.  It saddens me because many of these students, especially girls, as a result, will grow up to have a negative self image, and will sadly hear the lie that plastic surgery is the answer.  As an authority figure in their lives, I feel that I have a moral obligation to nurture their growth as people, to guide them, and to enable and empower them to become productive citizens in society, and these negative self-image issues are definitely a hinderance. 

Obviously, girls in the west suffer from this as well, and it is an area where husbands, boyfriends, and mothers in these affluent societies have failed.  Especially in Korea, a society where people are driven so hard, and have so much pressure applied to them at such a young age in order to better themselves, a significant amount of girls are never told by their fathers that they are pretty.  Wives and girlfriends are encouraged by their significant others to have cosmetic surgery, instead of being comforted, and reassured that they are beautiful as they are.  Many of these young girls are told by their mothers, "you have to do 'this and this' to become more beautiful," instead of being told, "You are beautiful as you are."

It is a failure in our world's medical industry.  Instead of being driven to become orthopedic surgeons, cardiovascular surgeons, and/or even neurosurgeons, many young med students in Korea are choosing to become cosmetic surgeons in order to make young Korean and Japanese girls' eyes and noses appear larger, not because these girls are victims of car crashes or birth defects, but because these girls are victims of this notion that they are not beautiful enough.  Instead of working more vigorously to find a cure for such horrible deseases as aids and cancer, many doctors in America are figuring ways to perfect breast augmentation procedures on young healthy women, who instead being victims of breast cancer, are victims of this belief that they are not pretty enough, and that cosmetic surgery is the answer. 

This excessive emphasis on vanity in these affluent societies is a problem that can only be solved by the men of these societies.  We, as men, must be the ones to take a stand and declare that this is wrong.  We must do so by being better fathers.  We must tell our daughters that they are beautiful as they are.  We must do so by being more effective examples for our sons, and show them how to be better husbands, by loving our wives as they are.  We, as men, must learn to be strong, and tell our significant others and daughters, "No."  We must show the girls in our society that they are pretty enough, and do so in such a way that when they see an advertisement for a particular cosmetic surgical procedure, they will be inclined to confidently state, "I'm glad that I will never need that."                   

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Few Stories from Class

When I walk around my classes observing their group conversations, sometimes the students look up at me as they are sitting.  Whenever one particular student, Lena, looks up, she says in a Korean accent, "Teacher!  You have big nose hole!"  Her particular class is full of girls, as there are eleven of them, and only one boy.

All the other girls would chime in, "Teacher!  You have big nose hole!  Teacher!  You have big nose hole!"  Apparently, I have what is called a "high bridged nose," which is the reason for my abnormally large nostrils, by Korean standards.

I would then proceed to put my chin up in such a position to make me able to pretend that my nostrils are my eyes, and I am looking at my students through them.  I would flare them to make them appear even bigger.  The class would then then erupt with, "EEEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWW!!!!  Teacher!! You are so ugly!!"

I always respond with, "They are not nose holes!  They are called nostrils!!"

I shave around once a week, and when the five o'clock shadow becomes it's darkest, some students begin to notice, and comment. One of my other fourth graders, Jan, while touching her cheeks, would say in the most concerned manner in a Korean accent, "Teacher, you need the chuck, chuck."  Apparently, to Koreans, "chuck chuck" is the sound of a kiss, and it is an expression that is used to describe moist healthy skin that is worthy of being kissed.

At first, I would respond in the most reassuring manner, "Ok Jan, I will be sure to get the 'chuck chuck,'" as I touch my cheeks also.  I later asked the Korean woman who handles all of our questions and problems, "What does 'chuck chuck' mean?"  She laughed, and explained it.

As an English teacher, I feel it is imperative that I respond in a grammatically correct manner, whenever comments such as this arise.  So now, I respond with, "Ok Jan, I will be certain to shave, and moisturize the skin on my face in such a way to make it worthy of being kissed."

Sometimes I can be bad at remembering names.  I've gotten better, but there are some that I can never seem to remember.  I have a sixth grader named Elaine.  For some reason, I always call her Olivia.  To me, she looks more like an Olivia than an Elaine, and the two names register similarly in my mind, so I always call her that.  We'll be in class, and I would ask a question from a random story that was read, "How did So and so do such and such?  Olivia," I would say pointing to Elaine.

She would look at me with a playful scowl.  She would say absolutely nothing for what would seem to be a very long time.

"Teacher, my name is not Olivia,"  She would say very calmly in a Korean accent with a hint of playfulness, and a little bit of agitation.  "My name is Elaine!!"

I do the same thing in another sixth grade class, one of my larger ones.  I have three girls in that particular class who all look sort of similar.  Their names are Sherry, Penny, and Lucy.  For some reason I call all three of them Sherry.  The names, Penny and Sherry, register similarly in my mind, so I always call Penny the name, Sherry.  Sherry and Lucy have a similar height, build, and demeanor, so I call Lucy the name, Sherry, also.  On a random day in that class, I would ask a question, "What did So and so do during such and such?  Sherry!"  As I look directly at Penny.

Penny is laid back and quiet, but still extremely sharp, and attentive.  She would stare at me with her Korean eyes behind a pair of glasses with blue frames.  Apparently, from my experience, all Korean sixth graders react similarly when called the wrong name.  Penny is so calm, as she doesn't move in the slightest bit.  She would give me a blank stare with a hint of playfulness, and slight agitation for what seems to be a very long time.  She would say calmly in a Korean accent, "Teacher, my name is not Sherry.  I am Penny."

Then Sherry would chime in.  "Teacher!  I'm Sherry!"

Whenever I call Lucy the name, Sherry, she would say nothing.  I would know, when I hear an, "AAAAWWWW?!  Teacher!  I'm Sherry!" from Sherry.

I would, later that night, call Lucy during our required telephone interviews, "Hello.  May I speak to Lucy please?"

There would be a pause where nothing is said.  I would continue, "Lucy?"

After the long pause, she would finally speak calmly in a Korean accent, "Teacher, my name is not Sherry..."  There would be another pause and she would continue, "Today, you called me Sherry.  My name is Lucy."

"Ok Sherry- I mean Lucy, I'll remember that,"  would be my response.

I've gotten to the point where I no longer do it accidentally.  Now, I never call the mentioned girls by their actual English names just to get a rise.      

Monday, February 27, 2012

Thoughts on The Alchemist

The Alchemist, by Paulo Cuelho, was the first physical book with pages that I bought in years.  Lately, I've been downloading ebooks, but my debit card from the States expired last January, so I can no longer make purchases on it, and I've yet to figure out how to make online purchases with my Korean bank card, much less link it to Itunes.  I've also tried to download the pdf, which is free, but for some reason, I haven't been able to do it.  My coworker, Kelsey, was raving about it, so I became intrigued.  I grew impatient, as I always do when I really want something, so I went to the English section of one of the bookstores here in Gwangju, and purchased a copy.  I guess, for some reason, I was meant to possess it.

The Alchemist was a wonderful read.  It chronicled a shepherd boy in his refusal to settle for mediocrity in life, as he pursued his dreams.  In his pursuit, he learned numerous lessons, and encountered a lot of interesting people, and situations.  The main concept that the book portrays is, "When you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."  It's a beautifully encouraging message that reveals that, contrary to popular belief, attaining your deepest desires is a possible endeavor.  The book explains they appear in it's purest form during childhood, and as a person grows older, they become suppressed and discouraged for many reasons.

I don't know whether or not Paulo Cuelho is a believer in Christ.  It can even be argued that The Alchemist has some pagan undertones.  Regardless, this book teaches a beautiful lesson, which states that the pursuit of our dreams is a God given right.  God also gives each of us the choice of whether or not to make them a reality.  

God puts all of us on this earth for a single purpose, and that is to please him.  He gives each of us a unique way to do so.  Much like the noble man who gave a different amount of talents to each of his servants in the Parable of the Talents in Luke 19:12-28, God gives each of us different portions of "talent," and it's up to us, as his servants, to make the most of what he gave us to make a profit for his glory.  And the best way to do that is to pursue our dreams, and deepest desires, as they are clues given to us by God as to what he put us on this earth to do.  And as we begin to understand those clues, and make the decision to actively pursue our dreams, how could the universe not conspire to make it become a reality when the one who created the universe sees a piece of his creation actively pursuing that which he/she was created to do?

Paulo Cuelho states in the introduction that a dreamer will encounter four major obstacles in achieving his/her dream.  The first one being that a person is told from "childhood onward that everything is impossible."  The second obstacle is love, in the form of a fear of abandoning everything and everyone in order pursue it.  The third obstacle is the fear of defeats that will be met along the path.  The fourth obstacle is the fear of actually realizing that dream.

The first three are all obstacles that most dream pursuers would expect to encounter along their respective paths.  The fourth obstacle isn't.  It's rather perplexing to think that a person would feel unworthy after experiencing all the pain and sacrifice associated with such a decision, and to feel unworthy when the dream is within grasp.  Cuelho suggests that the mere possibility of receiving what we want fills us dreamers with guilt, as we "look around at all those around us who have failed to get what they want, and we feel that we do not deserve to get what we want either."

The first three obstacles can only be defeated by the combination of sheer determination, and a dissatisfaction with living a life filled with discontent, unhappiness, and untapped potential.  The fourth obstacle seems to be the most difficult, and also the most unexpected, but can be overcome through a trusting in the forgiving power that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We all have that which is worthy of causing us to experience extreme guilt.  Christ frees us from that, and enables us to feel worthy of grasping God's most wonderful gift for each of our lives, the possible reality of our dreams.  Moreover, Jesus is the one who enables us to not only feel worthy, but to "go boldly to the throne of grace" and expect the best of what God provides.  Through him, we are able to feel free of our guilt and fear, and feel entitled to blessing, provision, and moreover the deepest desires of our hearts.

The shepherd boy honestly acknowledged his deepest desires, and mostly nurtured them, rather than suppress them.  Through his honesty with himself, he was able to recognize omens given to him by God in order to direct him, which made remaining determined and motivated easier.  Through Christ, we are free of all the guilt that clouds our ability to see the true desires that we have for our lives, and are free to be honest with ourselves about them, and to thus feel worthy of pursuing the notion of making them a reality.

Christ does more than encourage us to pursue our dreams.  He mandates it.  As portrayed in the Parable of the Talents, the servant who was afraid to invest his only talent had what little he was given taken away from him by his master.  He was left with nothing, and his only talent was given to the servant who had the highest return.  The fourth obstacle to achieving our dreams is rooted by that same fear that Christ warned us about, and was put on this earth to enable us to overcome.  

Paulo Cuelho states, "If you believe yourself worthy of the thing you worked so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, and you understand why you are here."  To become one of those instruments is the greatest desire that I have for my life, and that is a wish that I have for you as well.                  

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I am antipop in most realms of modern media.  I dislike most popular movies.  I have never seen Wedding Crashers.  Nor have I seen Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean, or The Hangover.  With the exception of The Office, I dislike most popular TV shows.  I hate Friends.  I think it's extremely corny and trendy.  I've never gotten into Seinfeld, nor have I ever seen an episode of Lost.  Honestly, I don't regret having missed out.  I am a self-admitted elitist regarding modern media.

I can understand people's sentiments regarding my taste in movies.  Not everybody understands the genius behind Wes Anderson's work.  Not everybody can enjoy a good movie by the Cohen Brothers.  A lot of my friends found Lost in Translation to be boring.  Not everybody likes Lord of the Rings.  These movies are for a certain type of person, and not everybody gets it.  

The realm of media that I feel the most strongly about is music.  I realize that you can't get away from an extremely catchy song, no matter how moronic it is, but I do my best to shield myself from the everything associated with the mainstream popular music industry.  

I don't understand why people are so closed minded regarding their taste in music.  Most of my friends don't like music that isn't played on the radio.  They dislike anything that is heard for the first time via an avenue other than the radio, a movie, a tv show, or a tv commercial.  I especially don't understand people's closed mindedness in this modern age of the internet where everything is at our fingertips.  There are an uncountable amount of artists and bands out there who are more talented than those who are part of the mainstream.  There are all types to suit all tastes, so regarding music, people have no excuse in being so closed minded.  

It is such a good feeling to play something amazing for somebody who has never heard it before, and to hear them say, "I'm going to download his/her/their music when I get home."  It's even better when they begin to talk further about it in later conversations, and to have them later recommend good artists that they discovered, because their minds were opened, and they were exposed to something artistic and intelligent that opened their eyes.

Currently, I am feeling like such a hypocrite, because I have grown to kind of...  sort of...  (gasp)... enjoy K-pop.  And as I've stated in a previous post, it goes against everything I stand for musically.  I still fight it, but I can't help it.  The songs are so catchy, even though I don't understand most of the language.  I like it despite the fact that the music is corny, generic, manufactured, and overproduced.  I can't help it.  With some of it, I can't help but like it, despite fighting the feeling.  By "some," I mean the music sung by artists that are extremely attractive.  

I was hooked the moment I saw the music video for the song, "Gee" by Girls Generation.  That particular video is absolutely ridiculous in terms of how beautifully its extremely attractive members are portrayed.  It possesses the deadly combination of an extremely catchy melody matched with a group of femininely gorgeous women.  The melody in that song is uniquely Asian.  It is something that would be impossible for somebody from the west to create, and that contributes heavily to its likability.  There is no doubting the fact the the members of Girls Generation are all extremely alluring.  Any man with a pulse would agree with that.  But the addition of a catchy song makes them very likable, and I find myself singing their music more and more.  I really do hate myself sometimes...  

The funny thing is that in Korea, groups like Girls Generation are mostly popular with the men.  Men openly listen to this.  I've been in the cars of some of my male Korean friends while they blasted songs like "Gee."  On one such occasion, because I hear a lot of my female students talk about them, I asked my male Korean friend, "Do you have anything by Beast?"

He gave me the strangest look.  It was one that screamed, "Why would I have anything by them?!  What kind of man do you take me for?!"  And this was despite the fact that the song that he was blasting with his top of the line stereo system was a little less than masculine.

In America, men would never openly admit to enjoying music by girl groups, or feminine artists, no matter how beautiful they are.  Back home, females are the ones who openly listen to such music.  Men would only blast such music in their cars when they are alone.  They would only play such music on their ipods when the chances of somebody asking, "Hey, what are you listening to?" are as slim as possible.  When they play it on their computers, they would erase the history, so nobody would see that they were actively searching for such music.  They go to such lengths because they know, if caught, they would be made fun of by friends who share the same guilty pleasures, and do the same exact thing when nobody is around.  

In Korea, generally speaking through my experience, the men enjoy the girl groups, and the women enjoy the boy groups.  As with everything, there are exceptions, and correct me if I am wrong.  Men openly enjoy girl groups like Girls Generation, and the Wonder Girls.  Women enjoy boy groups such as Beast, Big Bang, and CNBlue.  An exception to the rule is the group, 2NE1 (pronounced 'twenty-one').  They have sort of a rebellious "bad girl" image that really appeals to Korean girls.  I like them too.  I find them to be the most unique, and artistic of all of the K-Pop artists.   

I'm really hating myself at the moment...  I need to blast some AC/DC to remind myself of my manhood...  like, now.