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Saturday, 30 March 2013

About North Korea: My Two Sides

North Korea has been playing 'Bad boy on the block' recently, and the male/agressor side of me wants to say, "OK, so you state you are going to nuke my country, well, here's a taste!"



"So you want to unleash a 'sea of fire' on South Korea,which has been nothing but peaceful towards you?  Here you go--BAM!"

On the other hand, I think North Korea is clearly reaching out--in its unique dysfunctional way--and that the world should engage in talks with them.   Maybe this is my more peaceful, feminine side, speaking out, I don't know.

I do know that I do not want the two Koreas to go to war--imagine all of the human suffering that would follow.

(Plus--excuse me for being selfish--I am situated somewhere in the middle of the crosshairs.)

Musical Card

I was sent a musical birthday card from the U.S., the kind the plays a song when you open it.

I took the card to my classes here at our English academy (we're located a bit west of Seoul) to show my students.

Turns out that probably 95% of the students had never--never ever--seen a musical card before.

They were truly fascinated by it, wanting me to open and close it again and again, looking at the back to see where the music was coming from . . . one girl just stared at it with an open mouth for a long time (while I tried not to laugh).

We talked about it in the teachers' room and basically decided that it is one of the things that Korea--in its technological jump forward--passed by.

Kind of like personal checks.  They never happened here.  You can get an ATM-generated check, but basically it's either cash or card or cell phone payment (mostly debit/credit cards).

As I showed the card to more students, I began to feel a bit like a museum curator, showing off a treasured item from the past.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

North Korea

North Korea is acting like a demanding baby again, only this time it seems more serious.

There is worry here, but also a lot of the same, "It's happened before, and it is happening again" type of attitude.

Personally, I would like to see China exert some influence on North Korea, for if China cuts off its support then North Korea will really be alone.

Yet that might make them feel like striking out.

Certainly it seems like NK is going to create another incident, such as last week's apparent hack of SK banks and broadcasting companies.

Blog Annoyance and Apartment Visitors

It bothers me that when I just signed in to this blog, they created an additional step--"just enter your phone number, and we will contact you if anyone tries to hack your account".

This seems to be an increasingly common occurrence, as sites such as Hotmail are asking for the same personal information.

No thanks.

Which reminds me . . .

Last week, late Monday morning, after I had finished shaving my head (come on spring!) and was getting ready to take off for school. there was a knock on my door.


A bit of frustration/anger.

Usually that knock--and fortunately it doesn't happen often--means that there are a pair of religious individuals at the door.

I have nothing against them personally, but when they come uninvited to my home and seek to push, nicely or not, their views on me, then I get annoyed.

But I still open the door.


That's a good question.

Anyway, there was a knock, and I did open the door, and there were two women outside who started to launch into their spiel before they:

A) noticed that I was a foreigner and therefore that English was required and

to them, it seemed, more importantly

B) saw my shaved head.

They quickly said "sorry" (in English), put their palms together in front, and bowed to me.

I closed the door.

It wasn't until later that I realized what had happened.

They apparently thought that I was a Buddhist monk (because of my shaved head) and that they had interrupted my tranquility.


Now I know of one way to discourage missionaries.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Cell Phone Ban Update

I was in the hallway when several 4th grade students approached me and said, "___ was playing games on his cell phone.  Here."

They handed me the boy's cell phone, and, not really knowing what to say--for I haden't had time to process the event--I replied, "Thanks!"

I went to the students' classroom to try to get some more information.

Apparently, one boy in the class had whipped out his cell phone and started playing games (an activity now "illegal" at our school).

The other students, thinking maybe, "If we can't play cell phone games then you aren't going to either", proceeded to confiscate the boy's phone.

Wow--way to go students!

In a related event, a teacher friend in another Korean city told me that--partly based on the encouraging results of the cell phone ban at our academy--his academy will begin a similar ban next week.

New Students

On March 4th our academy--and the Korean school system--began the new school year.

Accordingly, we accepted quite a few new students.

As a teacher, I usually find new students to be a pain, because they need to be trained to our way of doing things, such as speaking English in class, participating in discussions, etc.    There are quite a few academies in Korea that require students to be passive learners.  Ok, well, most are like that.

When some of these students who have been trained to be passive learners come to our academy, they are in for a shock, as we promote active, student-centered learning.  Instead of simply sitting at desks and copying notes, our students move around, write on the whiteboard, engage each other, and ask and answer questions.

(I realize I am preaching here, but there are so many problems with the Korean educational system . . .)

Anyway, in my 6th grade class there are two new students.  The class has been together for a few years, so the new students really stand out.

Last Friday, in the middle of class, one student asked me, "Teacher, are we going to have a test on these vocabulary words?"

As it is the first unit in the book and we are just getting started I hadn't planned to have a test, but, for amusement purposes, I responded, "Ok, sure, let's have a test."

Immediately, as expected, there came a loud vocal response from the rest of the class:

"Teacher, no!"
"No test!"
"Oh my gosh!"
"I don't like tests!"
"Only him!"

I seized on the last one.  "Only him?" I asked, pointing to the student who had asked the question in the first place.

"Yes!" the rest of the class exclaimed.

"Ok," I replied jokingly, "Only a vocabulary test for him."


It was at this point that I looked at the faces of the two new girls in the class, and I almost burst out laughing, for they were amused but also shocked, as in, "What the hell is going on in this class?"

To me that look--that feeling--means learning is finally starting to take place.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Article Summary of NK Situation

Here is a good, brief summary of the current North Korean situation:

Short Animation Website

The following website:

has a number of prize-winning short animation films, a few of which I have recommended on this blog.  Some of the links on the website aren't working, but I think that if you Google the film titles you can probably find them.

On the website, check out the following films:

"French Roast"
"One Man Band"


Saturday, 9 March 2013

Interesting Article about Immigrants and Crime Stats

Hmmm . . . makes me wonder if the same applies to immigrants in South Korea and other countries:

"Alma" Vid

Here's a video I showed yesterday in a couple of classes.  It's a short animation, about 5 minutes long, and is good for stimulating a discussion.  It's a bit spooky, so probably not good for young kids, but has won a number of awards and is well-made:

If that doesn't bring it up then simply Google "watch 'Alma' ".

Sibling Students

One of the middle school classes that I teach has 8 students, and I confirmed the last time we met that 4 of those students have siblings in our academy.

1 of the middle school students has a younger sister whom I just finished teaching.

2 of them have younger siblings that I taught before and now am teaching again, coincidentally in the class right before.

Another middle school student has a younger sister in a class that I don't teach but like to joke with during their break time.

Our English academy has quite a few siblings as students, but the 50% rate in the middle school class surprised me.

Next week, in my phonics class (where the true beginners start--a,b,c . . .) I will have a new pair of twins, a boy and a girl, which will be a first for me.

Maybe the saying should be, "A family that studies together . . .."

Blood and Rain

Before one of my classes a 2nd grade student (limited English) came up to me and showed me her finger.

On the inside of the finger there were some red marks that looked like marker ink, so I pointed out where the tissue was and told her to clean her finger.

She came back a few minutes later and showed me her finger again; the red marks hadn't gone away.

I took her to our classroom where the light was better, and I had a closer look at her finger.

Somehow she had managed to hurt the finger on the inside, on the skin facing her palm.

I said, "Kate, this is blood!"

She looked at me quizzically.

I searched my memory and said, in Korean, "피!"

She said, "Yes!"

After I took her to the front desk to get a bandage (it wasn't serious, but I wanted to cover up the small wound) I asked a Korean co-teacher about the pronunciation of the word, since I knew that "blood" and "rain" sound very similar, at least to non-native Korean speakers.

Here's what I verified:

     "blood" = 피 = pee (or "p")

     "rain" = 비 = bee (or "b")

The problem is that, in Korean, the "p" and the "b" sounds are very close, so, for example, Korea's second largest city, Busan, is sometimes spelled "Pusan".

My Korean boss told me, laughingly, to make sure not to get the two fluids mixed up.

Hotmail Scam

Last week I got an interesting email sent to my Hotmail account.

I primarily use Gmail, but I use Hotmail when I don't want to give out my "real" email address.

Anyway, the header read, "Your account has been limited until we hear from you PP-503-472-593" or something like that.

I know, I shouldn't have clicked on it, but I was bored and it seemed like a scam email and I wanted to see what the ruse was.

Surprisingly, it wasn't the typical "Your winning Lotto number is . . .", and it wasn't from a bank in Nigeria.

It was an official-looking email from PayPal (complete with logo, etc.), and it said:

"Someone from the ip address 63.501.80.92 tried to access your account!  Please click on the link below and enter your account information to confirm that you are not currently away.  You have three days to confirm account information or your account will be locked.

Click the link below to activate your account.


PayPal Member Services"

I laughed, since 1) I don't have a PayPal account, and 2) I would never deliver up personal account information.

Nice try though.

North Korea in the News

If you haven't read about North Korea's new threats, then you should, for, among other things, they have threatened to "launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike" against the United States.



That was quite a morning wake up, as I live not too far from Seoul, the South Korean capital, reportedly targeted by thousands of North Korean artillery tubes.

Yet I think North Korea is playing a game--a very dangerous one--in which they are betting that cancelling the peace agreement with South Korea might give them an additional bargaining chip in the continued six-party talks which are surely to resume.

The role play would go something like this: "If you want us to reinstate the peace agreement, then you need to send us 500,000 tons of cooking oil."

With respect to the U.N. sanctions, China is finally on board, though whether or not they will seriously pressure North Korea remains to be answered.

China has, by most educated accounts, wanted North Korea as a buffer-zone between the U.S. influenced South Korea and China's own territory, yet now that North Korea is an unstable zone with nuclear weapons, China may be changing its view of North Korea.

Meanwhile, some experts think that the U.S. should try to engage North Korea in dialogue, though the fact that North Korea will want concessions is difficult for many to stomach.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

First Reaction to "The Ban"

Starting this past Monday our English academy instituted a school-wide ban on cell phones/electronic devices, due in large part to students' break time fixation on playing games and/or watching other students play games.

So far the new policy has been tremendously successful.


Perhaps because of a letter to parents that was sent out prior to the ban, our students' attitudes towards the new policy has been great.

Contrary to my expectations, there has been no grumbling or other outward signs of discontentment.

Students have nicely surrendered their phones

One unexpected result (though in hindsight it seems only natural) is that the academy is considerably noisier during our breaks between classes.  Students are conversing instead of playing games, texting, chatting on phones, etc.

The teachers are happier and, frankly, it seems the students are happier too.

So far so good:)

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Teaching Moments

Since tomorrow is a new day of school, I find myself reflecting on some of the teaching moments that I have had here in South Korea.

The students, for the most part, are great, and I appreciate all of their hard work and dedication (I am only one of their many teachers, for most of my students attend multiple private academies--like the one I work at--in addition to their regular public school).

At the first hagwon (private academy) that I worked at, I had a student named Julie who was always cheerful and outgoing.

During the second year that I taught her class, mostly 4th grade girls, it happened that a new student joined, the first to do so in a long time.

Julie was eager to help the new student, and I appreciated the "mentoring", especially as it involved classroom language such as, "This is the homework sheet and we write . . ."

It wasn't long, however, before the new student felt like Julie was offering too much help, and a friction developed.

"You should always do your notebook writing like this . . ."

The new student complained in class, and I told Julie that her help was appreciated, but that if the student had any questions she could ask me.

Julie's efforts at "helping" continued, and the new student complained again, and I talked to Julie about letting the new student find her own way.

Julie was so eager for the new girl to be a part of the class, yet she didn't realize that her "mentoring" could be taken the wrong way.

The third time the new student complained--and it was a valid point--I asked Julie to step outside the class.

I knelt down to talk to her.

"Julie, I said, "The new girl needs to learn what to do for herself.  You have done a great job helping her, but  . . ."

Before I could finish, tears were pouring down Julie's face.

My heart broke.

The next week, when I was reading and correcting my students' diaries, I came to Julie's.

It read something like this:

"Today is the worst day.  Teacher made me cry . . ."

I have a copy of that diary entry somewhere.

I try to remember how students might feel when I ask them to do something or when I scold them.

Thanks, Julie, for teaching me a lesson.

The Eyelash

Another teaching "moment":

I was in a class with some 4th grade intermediate-level students, and we were practicing reading.

All of us were sitting at a u-shaped table, with me, the teacher, on the inside, and the students sitting in a semicircle on the outside.

Part way through the reading one of the students, a girl, and a favorite of mine, looked up at me and said,"May I have your eyelash?"

The question was so out of context that my brain went into "pause" mode.

"What?" I responded.

"May I have your eyelash, please?" the girl repeated.

"Why?" I said.

She stated, "I want to show it to my friends."

Um . . . "No," I replied gently, "it hurts."

"Do this," she said, running her fingers over her own eyelashes.

Just to humor her I repeated the gesture, and, lo and behold, an eyelash appeared in my fingers.

She held out her hand and I gave it to her.

It seemed like some significant transaction was taking place, but I wasn't sure what it was..

She took the eyelash, put it on a square of tissue, and gently folded it up.

"What are you going to do with it?" I asked, intrigued.

She said, "I want to show it to my friends, because it's so long."

A clash of cultures . . . I wasn't sure whether to feel proud or not about my "long" eyelashes, but something in the request to share my eyelash moved me.

Meanwhile the other students were practicing their reading . . .

More Vids

More short vids for weekend entertainment:)

You'll have to preview these before showing them to kids.


"Pigeon Impossible":

"The Black Hole":

And my students' favorite, "Dragon Baby":

Saturday, 2 March 2013


Some humor is required I think, to lighten things up.

So, family friendly videos (served up before):




And two vids that I would not show young kids, but that's up to you (also posted before):

Trunk Monkey:

Crack spider (adult humor):

Nonsense Rhyme . . .

. . .or contradictory poem, depending on how you view it.

My younger brother asked me and my older brother about it, and we both remembered the poem from our childhood.

You can view the whole thing here:

but the way we remember it is like this (condensed form):

One bright day in the middle of the night,
Two dead brothers got up to fight.

Back-to-back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other.

A deaf policeman heard the noise,
Came and shot the two dead boys.

If you don't believe this lie is true,
Ask the blind man--he saw it too!

A bit gruesome, isn't it?  Yet it could be used for teaching . . . hmmm.  Na, I think I'll pass, at least with most of my second language students.  They'd have to be pretty good to understand the humor in the verse, based on contradictions as it is.  That bit could take a whole lesson/class . . .

Plus I don't think I want to teach that to my students, especially my boys--the ones I just complained about acting out violence in class.

Violent rhymes, violent games . . . what's next?

Hunger in America

Check out this article about hunger in America.

Alternatively, you can search for the documentary it discusses, "A Place at the Table".

The Ban

On Monday, aside from beginning new classes and using some new textbooks, our academy has decided to institute a ban on cell phones/electronic games.

In the past students have not been allowed to use phones in class--they are supposed to be turned off.  Personally, I don't even want to see them.

Sometimes my students ask if they can use their electronic dictionaries when they are working on vocabulary or writing assignments; sometimes I let them, but usually I require them to use printed dictionaries.

The reason for this new policy is that before class, and especially during the break times (10 or 20 minutes) between classes, the majority of students focus their entire attention on playing games on their phones.  If a student doesn't have a phone, they watch other students playing games.

(Students at our academy attend either MWF or TuTh, and on the days they attend all students have 2 classes, usually one with a Korean teacher and one with a foreign teacher.)

It's not unusual to see 4-5 students huddled together watching one student play a game.

Sometimes it happens like this: students have a class, then they have a break time, during which they play games.  Then they have a second class, and some students will tell the teacher they didn't do their homework, or they forgot it, or they will fail a vocabulary test, or they will ask to use the bathroom or drink water at the beginning of class.

All things that should have been taken care of during break time.

We like our students and understand that they are kids and want to have fun--especially when they are attending our academy into the afternoon/evening/night (we finish at 9:30 pm with middle school students).

However, we are an educational institution and the game-playing seems to be taking over our students' lives and, in some cases, minds (I have some boys who act out video game violence throughout my classes).

So a letter was sent out to parents last week to tell them about "the ban", which will probably happen like this:  Students in the first class will place their cell phones in a basket, and the first teacher will give the basket to the second teacher, who will return the phones when the second class ends and the students leave the academy.

That's the plan.  Clearly there will be some hiccups, and I am interested to see how this endeavor plays out with students, both short-term and long-term.