Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Learning to Love Kimchi

Is it weird that its taken me this long to like it? I actually want kimchi sometimes now. Not all the time of course. Not even most of the time, but every now and then...I want it. I'm so Korean.

Since I last wrote...let's see. Mostly just getting back into the swing of things at school. I'm pretty sure that it had been since last September since I had a true full week of classes at school. There was always at least a day where there was a test, or a holiday, or some reason why I didn't have to teach. Kind of nice. But now...the semester is in full gear and I think we're all coping with having to actually work since we've had so much downtime. Rough life ;)

So let's see. Last weekend I went out on Friday in Seoul with Sara, John, Q, and Rebecca. We went out in Itaewon which we almost never do. We'll definitely have to do it more often I think, because we had such a good time. Saturday I went out in Dongducheon with a big group of people who live in my area. We took up the biggest room at the noraebang which was hilarious, and pretty much every song turned into a group sing-a-long. Busted out some old school stuff, which is always fun.

This past weekend a group of us who live north of Seoul rented bikes and rode along the Han River in Seoul. I ended up with this crazy pink bike with a basket on the front. It was a little chilly out, but overall not too bad, and we had such a great time! Renting bikes was really cheap, even though we were late returning them.

Beenish, me and John in Yeouido Park in Seoul

After our long day of bike riding, we went out to celebrate our friend Chrissy's birthday with dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Hongdae and then out to our favorite spot...Zen Bar. This turned into the usual night of tequila and dancing followed by everyone crashing at my place (I'm the cheapest cab ride from Seoul). Sunday once we finally dragged ourselves out of bed we went for a little White Day date out to lunch and then to a movie.

Sarah, Reebs, Anna, and me @ Zen Bar in Seoul

Have I explained this already? I forget. White Day is sort of like another Valentine's Day. In Korea on Valentine's Day, the girls give the boys gifts. On March 14th, it is White Day when the girls receive gifts and candy from the boys. And on April 14th is Black Day, the singles "holiday" when people without that special someone sit around eating black noodles. I think my friends and I will celebrate with beer and tequila but maybe that's just a cultural difference.

I need to start keeping notes of what I want to write about here, because I had a bunch of awesome things I wanted to share but now I can't remember any of them. Sorry.

Came across an incredibly interesting article about the seemingly excessive studying that kids do here. check it out on Matador Abroad. I have to say...I agree with it. Even though I'm learning the ropes here more every day, I still struggle with certain things. Like, why is there "camp" during the winter and summer breaks? Why are the students still forced to come to school even after final exams have been completed? In my mind its a huge issue of quantity over quality, and in Korea - quantity means more. Study more. Work longer hours. Take more classes. Nevermind that these students are spread so thin with everything they're forced to do with the limited time they have. They hardly have any free time.

It makes me sort of sad to compare my high school life with that of my students. I remember spending weeknights at dance practices and cheering on my friends at basketball games, and weekends going on dates with boys or hanging out with my friends testing the limits of our parents' nerves and patience. There were football games, parties, and dances. Things that, in my opinion, define our youth and things that I feel like these kids are missing out on. They have no concept of these things. They literally can't even imagine it because these things don't exist in their society. High school kids partying? What's prom? Forget the fact that they (obviously) don't have football here, but they don't have any real outlet like sports for showing their school spirit. Don't get me wrong, I think studying is important and looking back, I probably should've done more of it both in high school and college. However, after seeing how things are in another corner of the world, I am incredibly grateful for having been raised in a society where the focus is not strictly on academics, but rather on creating well-rounded individuals. I was able to pursue my passion for dance, serve my community through volunteer programs, earn my own spending money by holding down a job, and even travel to Ireland with a group from my high school. The idea of a 16 year old doing all of these things is shocking to a lot of my co-workers and students here because they are so concentrated on the academics of it all that there isn't time for these things.

When we come back from a weekend or a holiday break, I always ask my students what they did the days preceding our class. I am met with 30 blank faces. One or two students will offer a meek "I slept" or "I played computer games" or the most common "I studied". Huh? That's what you did with your time away from school? I know their English isn't very good, but c'mon, they can do better than that right? Even the kids who can't recite those phrases in English will ask for help translating and that's what they say. When my peers and I were asked that same question in high school Spanish class there would be a different response from every one of us. "I went skiing with my family", "I went shopping with my friends", "I had a volleyball game". I think I would be shocked if I heard that from a student of mine.

Sometimes, especially growing up in America, we assume that our way is the best way. Traveling has definitely showed me that this isn't the case. There are things to be taken from every place, every corner of the world. Perhaps in America we should focus a little bit more on academics, although I would never advocate it to the extent that it is here. Would it be wrong to encourage a little less studying here, and a little more time spent with friends just (gasp!) having fun?

New K-Pop songs are out. Here's the latest from 2NE1 called Try to Follow Me (날 따라 해봐요 - Nal Ddara Haebwayo).

I filled out a bracket for the NCAA tournament. My friends and I joined a little pool here...we'll see how that goes. I tend to suck at these things as it is, but now I think it will be even worse since I can't just turn on ESPN and I'm not working in college athletics anymore so I'm not soaking up all that incredibly useful information for situations like these. Also, randomly, I signed up to run a 10K in April. Hm. Not sure what I was thinking with that one, but it will be a good incentive to start running again since I've sort of been slacking this past winter.

Hope everyone has a great St. Patrick's Day! My friends and I will be celebrating in Seoul this weekend at an Irish festival. Apparently there's Guinness and face painting. Sounds like an awesome combination. Later!

"I often think about the world in which I live today, of animals and plants and nature's gifts set on display. But the most amazing thing that I've seen in my time are all the different people and all their different minds and different ways. It would take a lifetime to explain." -- No Doubt

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Reebs This One's For You

Hello. So, Rebecca brought it to my attention that I completely suck at keeping up with my blogging (which speaking of, Reebs, when was the last time you updated your blog??). But she has a point, and if anyone still reads this, I'm sorryyyy.

The new school year started on Tuesday. Monday was a holiday, I think it was the Korean independence day or something. All these holidays - I really have no idea what they're for, but I don't complain. Anyway, new school year started on Tuesday, and so there is a whole new batch of kids, which naturally - I never see and don't get to teach. High school in Korea has 3 grades, but since my school was new, there were only 1st and 2nd years when I arrived. Now that the new year has started, there's nearly 270 new 1st year students. This is a HUGE number because the other 2 grades have about 150 students each. I'm really disappointed I don't get to work with these new students. From what I hear they're WAY better behaved than my current students. Plus I was hoping I could reuse some lesson plans instead of having to make all new ones but no such luck.

So Tuesday after work I came home and was relaxing and minding my own business when my co-teacher Sang Jin called me. I was a little worried, because she rarely calls me outside of school, and if she does need to get ahold of me, its generally by text. About 10 of the teachers were near my subway station having "hwaeshi" which is a teacher's dinner gathering. I think it was sort of an impromptu thing. But I threw on some clothes and met up with them. OH. MY. GOD. The first day must've been rough on them because when I got to the restaurant around 8:30 I was shocked to find most of my superiors completely trashed. I mean....they were on an entirely different level than I expected anyone to be on a Tuesday night. Totally untouchable. I couldn't even begin to catch up.

One of my (new!) neighbors in the noraebang :)

Sang Jin and me after leaving our mark on the restaurant wall

What else... Ooh I no longer have to take the bus to school in the mornings, which is totally lame to be excited about, but believe me its awesome. Two teachers from my school moved into my building and one of them has a car and drives us now. Saves time, and money. How efficient. Ew. I sound old.

Also, since its a new school year and we have a bunch of new kids and all...there's new teachers! Including 2 new English teachers (and a third who I'm pretty sure worked at the school last year teaching something that was definitely NOT English because she can barely communicate with me, so I have no idea what running a classroom with her is going to be like). One of the new teachers is really soft spoken and seems really intimidated by the rowdiness of the students. I told her she better get used to it because the kid have been bad this week already and I can tell that's their "good" behavior and its only going to get worse.

I've been dancing a lot - which has been great because after being with those crazy kids all day, its soooo nice to be able to go to the studio for a few hours and dance it off. The weather is slowly getting nicer - I was even able to go for a run outside this past weekend. There's a great running/walking/biking path along the river near my apartment, and I don't feel all the judgmental eyes on me the way I do when I walk around other places.

I think tomorrow (Friday) I'm supposed to have another teacher's dinner gathering thing. Unfortunately I was only just informed of it today, and already have plans to hit the dance studio and then go out in Itaewon with everyone. People here sort of don't get the concept of preplanning - they just do everything on the fly when they feel like. Sorryyyyy but I have a life, you gotta give me some warning! Itaewon is a part of Seoul where the US Military base is, so there are lots of foreigners and most people speak English pretty well because they're used to dealing with the military. I generally try to stay away from it all, but I could use some diversity.

BIG NEWS: There is a Taco Bell coming to Seoul - in Itaewon! I almost died when I found out because there is no other fast food I have been craving more than that greasy fatty fake mexican yummy goodness. I don't know when it opens, but the sign said "Coming Soon". Life is complete.

Did everyone watch the Olympics?! Kim Yuna!! I'm sooo happy and relieved that she won gold. Poor girl has a lot of pressure on her over here. She's in every other advertisement on TV and like I mentioned before, a small country like Korea gets (in my mind) unusually proud of their celebrities who make it outside of Korea. I was definitely cheering for her. But now...people are still talking about it. She's on a million different TV specials. SBS replayed her performances over and over and over. They even played her performances with the commentaries from different stations around the world - including NBC so i was able to hear the English. Its a little overdone - a concept which Korea doesn't seem to understand, but regardless - I'm still happy and excited for her!

I won't even go into the whole hockey thing, but needless to say - that was incredibly disappointing Team USA - shape up! Also, I couldn't stop laughing during the closing ceremony when the big beaver came out, not only because it was so categorically Canadian and random, but because the commentary said "ahh and the always enjoyable giant inflatable beaver..". Whaaa? Always enjoyable? I'm pretty sure that was the first giant inflatable beaver I've ever seen, but thanks Bob Costas for your amazing commentary.

Here's the latest K-Pop song, its called "Change" by Hyuna. I learned some of the dance in class last week actually. Well the parts that can actually count as dancing anyway, which is only a little bit, but still fun.

Waiting for warm weather!

"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home." -- James Michener