Monthly Archives: November 2007

101 degrees

sorry no post recently

been feelin kind of sick and run down lately

i was bound to get sick sooner or later in this new country, i’m surprised i lasted as long as i did

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The teacher is insignificant: part 2

Authors note: This is a two part description/analysis of an event that occurred in my school that I think highlights some of the differences between cultures and classrooms in America and South Korea. Keep in mind that this is not scientific, or carries supports other then my own ideas and observations. I believe what I say to be true, but in the truest sense of a blog, I’ll let the reader decide if they agree with my perspective or not.

Originally, I intended this to be kind of a short, simple post. However, as I continued writing this piece got longer and longer. I thought of ways I could edit it down, but no ideas came to me. This is part 2, if you haven’t checked out part 1 here it is.

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I honestly believe that it goes back to the way culture affects student behavior. In America, students are taught to act as individuals who happen to be in a group. In Korea they are just more of a group.

Bell curve logic dictates, for the American student then, that since each student will act in a different, unique manner that if I were to leave the classroom unattended about 6 would clean the room more than I expected, 6 would do exactly the opposite of what I asked them, and the rest would just worry about themselves and neither clean extra nor destroy. I’ll give you a guess as to which groups actions would be the most noticeable when I came back to the classroom.

In Korean classrooms there is no such bell curve logic. Or if there is, it’s much thinner and less spread out than its American counterpart. As displayed in the opening quote, following the crowd can be a valued social goal here. It lets you know when you are doing wrong and when you are doing right (at least according to your culture). This would leave all but maybe one or two of the students in the outlying groups that would either do extra cleaning or do extra destruction. And it would seem that if only one or two students would fall into the group of extra destruction, then group dynamics and pier pressure would quickly reel them in.

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The saying in America goes, “it only takes one bad apple to spoil a bunch.” I always thought that was crap, I think it takes at least 6. The 6 students who would quickly ruin the classroom when I was away.

This brings me back to another question I’ve had though. The students actually behaved better when I was out of the classroom then I stay in the classroom when they leave. I routinely am pushing back in chairs and picking up garbage that students leave behind. So what about my presence triggers them to act differently?

I have thought about this for a while now, because I was honestly so surprised at the classroom when I came back. It literally looked as clean as the day they gave it to me.

So do the students assume that when I’m there that I will pick everything up? Could it be that since I’m an American, students assume that American individuality applies in the classroom when I’m there, but when I leave it’s back to the Korean rules?

I doubt the students think I will pick everything up. And I doubt the second theory, since Korean teachers face the same types of behavior when they are in their own classroom.

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So this is what I came up with, and maybe theres a theory to support this or maybe there’s not. But I think that in this group dynamic that we find in Korean classroom that the teacher acts as the only individualistic component. The students are all arranged in nice little lines and do the same work and are expected to act the same, but the teacher is the X factor. The teacher is the only individual in the classroom and it seems to me that, like a virus, their individuality is spreading.

In American school a leader is necessary to reel in those who wouldn’t otherwise do anything, push those in the middle towards greater achievements and cultivate new leaders out of those who already excel. It feels to me that in a Korean classroom, the group dynamic is actually reacting against the intrusion of individuality into their group setting, even when at the same time without the teachers presence the whole class is unnecessary.

It would seem that their should be really creative ways that the teacher could harness this group dynamic for it’s own good. Setting them off on their own path, while the teacher prods them and encourages them in their journey rather than dictating what the class will do next. Or maybe, something like that is completely pointless and eventually the larger Korean society group will swallow the classroom whole. Reeling in, and placing each person into their designated societal roles itself.

Ever since I got here I’ve had the feeling that my presence in the school is incidental. I spent five years of college learning how to create classroom environments and expectations that foster creative learning only to be given 22 separate classes that I only see one time a week here at best. Try establishing routines or working on group projects that harness a variety of learning strategies when you only see the kids for 40 minutes every two weeks. So I wonder, how important I really am here?token.jpg

This could hold true for other teachers at the school as well. Maybe not to the same degree, since they see the students more often than I do, but I get the sense that society will eventually choose jobs and roles for the students to take regardless of what the teacher does. In America the burden of education is placed on the teacher. If the classroom fails then the teacher is to blame, whether this is true or not. Here it is the opposite, if a student fails it’s the students own damn fault. Then, even if the student does fail, they’re is still a place for them somewhere.

So here I come to my conclusion. The students acted the way I did in my absence because their greater societal instincts took over. The same instincts that one day will determine their future in this society. It really highlights how little influence I have over the classroom, which makes me question how much teaching I am actually accomplishing.

Why was I brought here, since it appears I am really not that important to the overall classroom/school setting? I am getting the increasing sense that I am a personal relations move more than I am a teacher…that’s not how they made it sound in the brochure.

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The teacher is insignificant: part 1

Authors note: This is a two part description/analysis of an event that occurred in my school that I think highlights some of the differences between cultures and classrooms in America and South Korea. Keep in mind that this is not scientific, or carries supports other then my own ideas and observations. I believe what I say to be true, but in the truest sense of a blog, I’ll let the reader decide if they agree with my perspective or not.

Originally, I intended this to be kind of a short, simple post. However, as I continued writing this piece got longer and longer. I thought of ways I could edit it down, but no ideas came to me. So here is part 1, expect part 2 either Sunday or Monday depending on if I get over this fever. Now on with our show.

part 2 is now up

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“I like being in large groups like this. I like feeling like I’m doing what other people are doing.” – Rachel, as we walk through a crowd on the way back from the fireworks festival.

I thought this statement was odd, because I wished there was absolutely nobody else around. My mom told me I was special, and that I should not jump off a bridge if other people are doing it. I hate doing what other people are doing.

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The other day, all the teachers were gathered together to take the group picture that would end up in the school’s year book. At least I think that’s what it was for. Anyways, this sounds all well and good except for when you take into account these few facts.

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A. They summoned us in the middle of class

B. They did not tell me they would summon me until right before they actually did it

C. Every single member of the faculty/staff was out in the middle court yard of the school, in the middle of class, leaving every single student inside the school to themselves.

As for that last point. Now, I have only a few years teaching experience, back in the states, but I seem to recall this exact scenario being seen as not only kind of stupid but on the border of criminal neglect. Whatever, I suppose.

I do understand the necessity of having a faculty picture, but the whole process reeked of the inefficient nature of my school that I discussed here. This is especially true considering that every day all the teachers have 2-3 hours of down time at the end of the day. At this time the students either go home or onto some private institution or club, leaving the teachers this time to plan lessons and gather materials. It seemed to me that it would make much more sense to schedule this picture to be taken during this time.

I asked some of my co-teachers about this and the initial reason they gave for the timing was that the photographer was only available at this time. This excuse upset me.

“So, in a city of over 10 million, this was the only photographer we could find?” I asked them.

Eventually my logic won out and they proceeded to give me a number of other excuses for the timing. I won’t subject you to reading about them because they are so utterly idiotic and ass backwards that I want to club a baby seal just thinking about it. Please, can’t they just admit that this photo was poorly planned and someone at the school screwed up, so I can go on with my day happily?

Having all the teachers in the courtyard while all the students sit inside the school gives me the same feeling that a prison guard must feel when he suspects a prison riot. I keep looking over my shoulder, expecting to see rocks flying towards my head. Luckily, no such riot happens.

Instead, less than nothing happens. When I went back to my classroom, I had expected to find chairs and tables strewn about. Papers thrown all over the floor and posters ripped off the wall. I expected several students to be playing Star Craft on my computer.

But what to my wondering eyes do appear? A perfectly clean classroom, materials put back in order, trash thrown away and the chalkboard even erased so that I could begin my next lesson. I’m not sure what it says about my teaching style when the students actually behave better when I am out of the room, but it is an understatement to say that I was surprised to find my classroom so neat.

I can safely guess that this would not have happened this way in America. So why here? I figure there are 1 of 4 options:

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A. This was an isolated event and this would never happen again.

B. They were afraid that down the line they would get in trouble, or that we would walk in on them before they fully left the classroom

C. One student, or a small group did all the cleaning

D. They really are that respectful of the classroom when nobody is around.

I’m taking out B, because class was almost over when I had to leave and the students could watch us through the windows to see when we were coming back and we obviously weren’t moving through this picture very quickly.

C is out because I came back too quickly after the bell rang for only a small handful of students to do all this work. The time I was gone gave the students the perfect amount of time to finish their work and clean my classroom as a whole group.

So this leaves A or D. For the sake of argument I’m going to assume it was D, they really are that way. Which leaves us with the question of, Why?

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Somewhere a Korean college student is reading a book and wishing he had more cell phone minutes

It has to do with the basic cultural difference between self independence taught in Western cultures and the giving of yourself to a society that is taught in Eastern cultures.  It would seem probable that this would have an immense impact on the way advertisers can approach customers.

One thing I like about television in Korea is that they don’t stop shows constantly for commercials. One thing I don’t like about television in Korea is that they make up for the lack of commercials during shows by putting 20 to 30 minute breaks between the end of a show and the start of a new one.

Freed from the “30 seconds or less” time slot that keeps most American advertising in check, Korean commercials have a bit more opportunity to be creative and do commercials that border on actual entertainment.

Exhibit 1: The big cell phone campaign right now is “Talk, Play, Love.” Everywhere I go I see posters and had been consistently bashed over the head with 30 second time slots. But then, about a week ago I stumbled across this music video…but it wasn’t on MTV. It was on whatever channel it is that shows ten episodes of CSI everyday (by the way, David Caruso must be stopped at any cost! Please, before someone gets hurt!).

It turned out to be an extended, ten minute music video/commercial for cell phones. I guess it just goes to show you how well I’m adapting to the culture that this didn’t even really surprise me at all…eh, culture.

The video contains some of the biggest artists in Korean pop music, including (stay with me now) Boa, Xiah Junsu, Tablo, and Jin Bora. I know that Boa is the girl, but past that I’m not sure who is who. But I guess this is the equivalent to Justin Timberlake, John Mayer and Rihanna doing a ten minute cell phone commercial.

How much would that ad campaign bomb in America? We’re already hyper sensitive to advertising and I can’t imagine any company spending the money to go as over the top as the “Talk, Play, Love” people have with this video. People in America would almost be offended by the blatant crossing of art and advertisement that is so readily seen in this video. Not to mention the parallels with 1984. I could probably write a thesis based around all the connections.

To save you some time, though, let’s just say I don’t think Orwell saw his savior in big business cell phone companies. That is definitely a difference between South Korea and the western world I would say.

Anyways, here’s the video. I highly suggest watching the entire thing. It’s pretty entertaining, in the most ironic sense, and the song actually grows on you.

Leave any comments in the comments section. (by the way, I’ve seen these phone…they’re pretty sweet…fyi)

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Michael Myers Wrote a Song and it Just Won’t Die

A crowded market place in Seoul. Shops on either side, motorcycles weaving between pedestrians and cars simply forcing them to move. People yell discounts over and over for hours at a time, a few lucky ones get a microphone. Babies cry, people eat in the streets and above all this you hear music. Shops have a tendency to all play the same music at the same time. I’m not sure if it’s planned or if they are all just listening to the same radio station by coincidence. But either way, it makes for a pretty cool soundtrack as you walk down the streets.

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Until recently.

I’ve linked to this video before in my 2nd MTV post, almost two months ago now. At that point this song was all over the Korean MTV channels. Then for a while I didn’t hear it. But suddenly, in the past month, I can’t even recycle improperly without hearing this song.

Yes, it’s Wonder Girls – “Tell Me” and I am here to provide you with everything you will ever need to know about this song.

if you forgot what the video is like…well…here you go…

wasn’t that fun

Anyways, this song has swept the nation. If you are in the fifth grade and in Korea at this moment this is your Chumbawumba “Tubthumping.”

In the past 24 hours alone I have listened to not 1, not 2 but 3 variations of the lyrics made up by students. I have been taught and forgotten the actual words. I have been taught and kind of remember the dance. Students in 4 separate classes tried to fit this song into today’s lesson and I have basically given up asking if anybody would like to “tell me” the answer to a question…it never turns out well.

If that all was not enough, at the end of one class we had 5 extra minutes to kill.  Some of the girls begged me to let them play the song and do the dance. I had just downed half a bottle of Nyquil and it was the last class of the day so I decided to let them. On the condition that I can record it.

So yah, obviously there is no sound on that but just believe me when I tell you that they were in perfect time to the song. For the full effect try syncing up the two videos on this post…just make sure you roll a fat doberst first…

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Some general reactions to this song so far (all from people above the age of 12 and totally paraphrased from memory)

Stephen – It reminds me of cheerleaders in middle school.

Justin – I think they’re hot and it makes me feel bad, but also kind of good

Emily – If I hear that song one more time I will shoot myself

Rachel – It reminds me of little kid music. Very Japanese.

I thought the very Japanese comment was a little off since I thought it was the most quintessential Korean thing I had seen. Especially when the girl waves at the camera. Rachel however is the only comment I have from a Korean person, so I guess that probably makes her opinion the most valid.

Anyways, here’s the Babel Fish translation to the lyrics for “Tell Me”

“You day it likes and it decreases

not to know to be good

to be good only dream

it is same possibly and and too much

or it pinches it sees,

inside oneself repeatedly and and and.

I Will not like day too much and well maybe to see alone how many

Ae Tae Oon Ji it did not know and ni loved day

but U is distant but one time

it talks again and it sees,

The Tell the me, tell me and tell tell tell tell tell tell me

it will carry and that it loves, day it waited and

Tell me, tell me and tell tell tell tell tell tell me

I am necessary to talk and it came,

the Tell me to talk, tell me and tell tell tell tell tell tell me

it wants listening to repeatedly, continuously it puts out and it talks and it gives and and

Tell me and tell me,

to talk it talks and and and the tell tell tell tell tell tell me dream knows,

I always love those.

Well, to finish off, since I know you can’t get enough of this song and are probably tearing your hair out now trying to figure out the intricacies of the dance steps here are a few links to get you started.

A sketch of the dance…with circle figures…not quite stick figures, but still pretty cool

And the Wonder Girls themselves teach you. The one wearing white, standing in the back looks cold, someone get her a jacket.

What more could you want?

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Kwangju Massacres: A Video Follow Up

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about the Kwangu massacres of South Korea in the 1980’s. Recently I was looking around in youtube and came across a couple videos regarding the tragedy and thought I would share with you.

Here are various news bulletins about the massacre from various American media sources.

Here is part 1 of a 3 part series documenting the massacres. At first the music makes it seem a bit cheesy, til you realize that this is all live footage of rallys and the governments violent suppression. It reminds me watching video of police reacting to the African American demonstrations on Birmingham in the 60’s.

Here is part 2 of the series. No music, and actually around the 2 minute mark it breaks into English. Also, we get to see tanks.

Here is part 3.

If you thought that all seemed kind of like a movie, well so did the South Korean entertainment industry. Here’s a clip of a movie that recently came out about the massacres.

It’s amazing to think that this all occurred less than 30 years ago. Up till then South Korea was not even close to the democracy it is today. I have to admit that I am fairly impressed with the strides the country has made (I attribute this greatly to the investment the country has made in education).
It would be blindness on my part however if I pretended that it was all perfect. The country champions wealth and beauty among all else and caters to it’s upper social classes. Granted everybody is given a decent chance with education, but if you do not do well during your early years and do not come from a wealthy family then you are pretty much stuck in the same place the rest of your life. Second chances on life are not freely given.

It has only been 30 years, and the country still has a long way to go. But then again, what country doesn’t?

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5,7,5…because I knew you’d ask

In honor of its Buddhist heritage

Here are my observations of Seoul in Haiku

hopefully they can be as good as this

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Soju one dollar

Jacket pocket carries ten

cigarettes cost two

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feeling very tall

others around appear short

such big nose I have

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Garbage litters street

trash circumvents street light post

the ol’ reach around

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red lights and whistles

cars buses bikes for me don’t stop

move tall white man…move

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motorcycles fast

on sidewalks safety not found

sidewalks are short cuts

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apartment one room

bathroom faces television

C.S.I and dook

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“hi, nice to meet you”

Students say everyday

met ten times before

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please don’t speak so fast

sorry I don’t understand

I know like 5 words

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Golden archways loom

hamburger none discover

bulgogi? the hell?

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eat no chalupa

taco bell behind closed doors

only serves G.I’s

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Pass out in subways

foreign initiation

awoke, people stare

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take indirect path

I know you know what I say

cab drivers screw you

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