TGIF!

The week after a long vacation is always tough.  (I know America, you didn’t have any time off but we had a 5 day weekend for Chuseok)  Doesn’t matter your profession and it apparently doesn’t matter where you are on the globe.  I remember dreading going back to work after a long break in the states for a few reasons.  Getting to sleep on time and waking up early was always my first hurdle.  The crazy students were usually a close second.

The same is true here.  After 5 days of sleeping in and staying up late to explore the city; going to bed this past Sunday and Monday was brutal, waking up on time was even worse.  I like to walk to work but this week I took the subway a few too many times just so I could get those extra minutes of sleep.  I found myself going to Paris Baguette for breakfast rather than taking the time to eat a bowl of cereal before I left.   But, I survived the week and by Thursday actually had enough time in my morning to open a new box of Kelloggs and throw in a banana.

When it comes down to it, getting back into my routine wasn’t so bad and by mid week I was able to get to sleep at a decent hour.  The next pitfall was the students being off their rockers.  Now, that could have been the full moon we just had bur more likely its because they were just as bad at leaving behind the laziness of vacation as I was.  Our “favorite” student had his worst week yet and although the rest of my little munchkins were pretty good by midweek, Monday was just as out of control for everyone.

So what did I do?  I tried to make it seem like all we were doing was playing games.  I made the “crash” game (stole the idea from a coworker) with sight words.  Its a card game with small words that they know and about a dozen “crash” cards.   They keep going until they get a crash or don’t know a word.  They loved it and immediately began to recognize more words in their reading.  In fact by Friday they were playing “independently” (I use the term loosely because I’m pretty sure they just sat in a circle and giggled whenever someone got a crash card.)

In Science we did an experiment with evaporation, condensation and precipitation by boiling water before finger painting our own water cycle.  We read a few extra stories and I let playtime go a little longer than usual.  Combine all that with the typical songs, dances and general ridiculousness that I bring to the classroom and they were actually able to focus!

By Friday we were wiped, students and teachers alike.  Oh, and my co-teacher might be coming down with a cold on top of having to deal with the brunt of the students’ temper tantrums.  Mary, if you’re reading this you are amazing and I couldn’t teach these kids without you!  Even though being exhausted by Friday is standard this time we were literally doing a “happy dance.”  We took regular breaks to sing our phonics song, played spelling games and just relaxed.  We were able to plow through some of our math work but rather than being the “lord at the board” we pushed the desks together and made a giant table.  As an added incentive to finish their work those that were done got to independently play sight word games.

Unfortunately, all this wasn’t enough.  We still had more fighting than our usual  Asian anime action heroes.  We had to split up a few of the boys more than once and there were more tears than in a usual Kindergarten day.  If that wasn’t enough I had to send one little girl to the hospital for what started out as bug bites but by the afternoon her face was all red and puffy in an allergic reaction.

To give everyone a break we sang the banana song and then played on the roof at the end of the day.  Our “favorite student” had to bring up his math packet but suddenly became my most diligent worker.  Everyone got a turn flying around as I carried them and we jumped, danced and had a merry old time.

Now to enjoy some Korean cooking and the rest of my weekend. TGIF!

Chuseok – Korean Thanksgiving

Lucky me, a 5-day weekend already!  Today is Chuseok, althoug perhaps best known for the awful traffic that accompanies nearly half the population of Seoul leaving for their hometown, Chuseok is actually a harvest holiday full of family gatherings and festivities.  I’m looking forward to having some time to explore the city and visit Bukhansan National Park.  The rest of Korea is busy traveling; if they aren’t going home then they are taking advantage of this 5-day weekend and flying somewhere for vacation.  I have students who are going to Singapore, Japan, China, Thailand and even Australia.  Others are staying in Korea and going to Gwanju, Busan or Jeju Island.  Either way it means no work until Monday!

Tuesday at school we celebrated Chuseok with a full day of festivities.  I’ve been teaching harvest & farming lessons for the past few weeks and comparing Chuseok to America’s Thanksgiving.  The kids enjoyed my lessons but definitely liked the games and traditions on Tuesday better.  We started with some traditional Korean games.  Tuho is a game where they thrown 50-60 cm long darts at a bucket.  It was a hit even though most of my little munchkins could barely sink 1 of their 5 darts.  After a few rounds they got better and I even had one little girl hit 4 out of 5!

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After Tuho we went over to Sabangchigi.  This is pretty much the same as the hopscotch I grew up with; the board is slightly different with more triangles where I was used to squares and rectangles but in the end its the same game.  My kids had fun jumping around but always forgot to pick up the bean bag and didn’t quite have the motor control to hop from one foot to both feet.  Either way they had fun.

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After these games we went back to the classroom to make songpyeon.  They are little rice cakes which we’ve had a few times for snack;  it starts with a ball of dough. You dig a little hole into and fill with premixed spices and sugar.  Well I always thought they were rice cakes but maybe its a rice dough because we didn’t actually add rice to the center.  You close them up similarly to a dumpling but as my principal, Mrs. Yi, pointed out they are not dumplings.  She popped in and demonstrated for us explaining that they should be like a half moon shape and are much smaller than dumplings.  We loaded our raw songpyeon into a tray and sent them up to the kitchen; next up we make jegichagis!

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These are really fun to make.  Its a little craft that turns out to be basically a hackey sack.  We made ours with strips of colored paper and a bottle cap filled with coins to give it some weight.  The kids really enjoyed ripping the strips to give it a little more flair.  I even got to make my own!

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Before lunch we had an arm wrestling session.  Their competitive side came out and the screams of strength and encouragement were suprising from these little guys.  With a broad grin the winners moved on in a mini-tournament.  Everyone had a good time and we declared Brandon my class’ champion.  We did a few more matches when Mary came in to inform me that our champion was going to face another classroom’s winner.

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This is where the cheering really went nuts.  It was nearly 5 minutes of hooting and hollering and whenever Doyun (from the other class) looked like he was about to win, Brandon would let out an anime style scream and bring their arms back to center.  It was hilarious and amazing at the same time.  Eventually Brandon couldn’t muster the strength anymore and Doyun was able to pin him.

After lunch we got to bring our new jegis up to the roof and play some jegichagi.  I kept trying to show the kids how to get more than 1 kick out of it but they preferred to just kick it as far as they could.  While on the roof we danced Ganggangsullae, a traditional Chuseok circle dance.  We had some music while chanting “gang-gang-sullae.”  My coteacher told me it was a meaningless phrase but helped bring in a bountiful harvest. Meaningless or not the kids loved jumping around on the roof.  I took a break from the circle to snap a few pictures and take in the skyline around us.

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After our dance we had some time for gijisijuldarigi aka tug-of-war.  Traditionally the game is all about teamwork and working together.  It symbolizes the hard work required to bring in a bountiful harvest.  Koreans would work together to make the rope out of rice straws.  Lucky us there was an actual rope waiting and my students went absolutely bonkers over it.  I’m not sure they really know what they were doing but they are ultra-competitive and I let them do a few rounds switching up the teams.  After a quick break I decided to see if I could face all of them at once.  Its only 10 of them and I was pretty sure I had more strength in my little pinky than they did combined; plus half of them got distracted and let go or ran to a different spot on the rope.  I kept it going for a while pulling them back to center and laughing all the while.  They loved it and the activities were done for the day so I dragged it out for as long as I could.  Eventually I gave in and pretended to fall down; after winning they decided to pile on me screaming “Mike Teacher.”  We all laughed and played on the roof for a little longer before heading down to the classroom for a quick Super Why video and “home time.”

One aspect of Chuseok that I really enjoyed is the gift giving.  This is in many ways like the way we celebrate Christmas & Hannukah (Christmas here is apparently more of a couples holiday so most people don’t give gifts).  In the days preceding Chuseok I was lucky enough to get a few gifts from my students.  I got some expensive rice cakes and other snacks, a gorgeous silver chopstick & spoon set and bottle of cologne.  I gave hugs and thank you’s for all and bought ice cream for my after school students missed out on our morning festivities.

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On a lighter note

Aside from my school’s financial woes I really am enjoying being here.  My students, albiet unorthodox compared to what I’m used to, are great.  They are fun to work with (and I only have a few “problem children”).  Planning and grading has been pretty straitforward; the school gives us a curiculum I’m teaching my native language.  It all makes sense to me and we work on pretty basic concepts.  Last Friday I got my first “gift” (shhh don’t tell my principal) when my afterschool student brought me a beautiful chopstick & spoon set, possibly even silver, we think for Chuseok.

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The field trip last Tuesday was a ton of fun, even if I couldn’t understand anything.  We saw “You Are Special,” a musical derived from a children’s book that helps teach that everyone is special and you shouldn’t worry about what others think, merely what you think about yourself.  The costumes and music were great even if it was all in Korean and the random disney songs beforehand sparked a mini sing-a-long (even if it was just Americans). Not sure what the “Truman Tower” was but here it is!

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Meeting people is turning out to be a little tougher than I thought, mainly because I don’t speak Korean.  I have had a handful of Koreans introduce themselves but the majority of the people I talk to are coworkers.  That should get a little easier once I get my Alien Registration Card in 2 weeks and can get a local cell phone.  I’ve got a party through my recruiter this weekend and hope to enjoy the company of lots of ex-pats.

I’ve settled into my apartment and enjoy exploring my neighborhood (check out some of my previous posts for more on that).  I’ve got a 5-day weekend in 2 weeks for Chuseok, aka Korean Thanksgiving, and plan on checking out Bukhansan National Park and some of the more popular areas in Seoul.  All in all I’m really enjoying it here.   I’ve even found a fencing club and planning on checking it out on the 16th !  For those wondering dinner tonight was a hodgepodge of leftovers and some dumplings I made.  Stay tuned for more!

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