March 1, 2007

Hey guys, believe it or not I wrote a very longwinded blog entry yesterday and then managed to completely erase it. *sigh*

I’m not going to even try to replicate it.

Anyway, I went to Dongdaemun and Myeongdong today with Alastair and his roommate Ripley. (ummm… I don’t know if that’s how his name is spelled, guess I should ask) They’re two huge shopping areas in Seoul that I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. There’s just throngs of people and vendors selling everything you can imagine (as well as a good few unidentifieds). It was a good day of wandering around and talking.

It was perfect because I’m usually just running around during the week. Today was Korea‘s Independence Day so we all had the day off. Sleeping in was especially exciting since I now have to wake up at 5:45 to make it out to my Chinese classes. Although I love the classes.

Work is going ok. There is some negativity there with the staff but no major issues. Most of the problems I have at work are really typical problems for the kind of school I work for. I work at a hagwon. They are intensive academies that provide extra courses outside of regular school. It is a business above all in a very competitive market. Parents pay a lot for their kids to go to these places in the hopes it will give them a leg up in their exams. School exams determine which high school you go to and which university you will go to, if you even get to go to university. Which university you go to makes a big difference here. Schools cater to what parents want which can make the teaching atmosphere somewhat stressful, i.e. “She said she’s changing schools because your class was boring, what boring things are you doing? Why don’t you make sure the kids are having more fun?” “This parent says there isn’t enough homework, give them double” “This parent thinks the workbook is too easy so make new worksheets on your own time that are harder please” I’m actually lucky since my hogwon invested money in a book system that includes a lot of premade tests and supplements so I don’t have to make too much material on my own unless I want to and my school actually pays me on time and sticks to the terms of my contract. I’ve heard lots of stories of people being coerced into working insane hours, huge classes, not being payed on time or being provided substandard living arrangements. All the same, I do get stressed out, as with any other job.

I feel bad for how much the kids have to study. They wake up at 6 or 7, study, go to school, study, go to 1-3 academies and then study until 11. This is in elementary and middle school, in high school it gets worse. I have a student that goes to academies until 1 am, this is not an exaggeration. Big surprise, this is the same student who wants to run a way and live with me “where it will be fun and I can have friends and talk about things” She clearly sees our conversation class as a big break from her stressful day.

I’m glad that more than half of my classes are upper level one-on-ones now, I have to do more preparation, but it’s more rewarding for both of us. I have one girl that is really interested in world politics but isn’t learning much about it at school, I’m basically doing a history course on the Middle East which has been a blast.

I have a new class that has been particularly fun lately. It’s a mid-level writing and grammar class with four 9 year old boys. They’re friends and their parents send them to all of their academies together. They use their English better than most of my upper level students (meaning they’re more confident and fluid and use the words they have to describe things rather than stressing over the words they don’t know) They are hysterical. We basically have to write as many sentences as we can in an hour with these vocab words they were previously given. I give them pretty free reign as long as it makes sense and is grammatically correct. We end up with things like.
Maybe: Maybe MacKensie will marry a Korean man.
Or: Human or octopus? Who will win?
Poker: He hit me with a poker but I was already awake.
I dunno, maybe you have to be there, but I love the stuff they come up with.

Anyway, spring is well on its way here! Hopefully the cherry trees will blossom early for when mom visits!