Skip to content

Hello Pen Pals!

April 5, 2011

Due to having some swanky connections in Maryland and some not-so-passive-aggressive hints from students, I’ve been able to start a pen pal program at Sinwol.

I’m excited to have students on both sides who can’t wait to get started. But as fun as this has been and as easy as it might seem, this program is quite a bit of work.

Assorted by student number, each student's envelope accompanied by a cute label and stickers!

1. I had to gather all the interested students. This was terribly easy at first because i would sit at my desk and students would say “I want a penpal” and that was that. But word quickly spread about the program and I suddenly found myself without much free time between classes. Any time at my desk was game for a bombardment of students to demand pen pals. This is fine by me but I suspect the teachers who sat by me were…annoyed to say the least. I ended up with about 50 names, of which I suspected half would bail or forget by the time I got started. I have about 35 now.

2. Getting information was entertaining in the most boring way imaginable. In order to match students with American pen pals, I asked some of their favorite hobbies and music choices. Almost every student listed “listening to music” and “pop” respectively. This was…fine, I guess until I got the list from the teacher back home. It hadn’t really occured to me that the students would be so different. American students mostly play sports or have extracurricular activities outside of academia. While many of the Korean students play instruments or take taekwondo lessons, most spend their time after school…in school.

3. Meeting. Last Friday, I met all the students to give them their penpal’s name and the low down on what would be happening. Each student is alotted an envelope’s worth of space to fill with gifts, stickers or letters for their penpal. I hope to send the envelopes by this Friday. On Friday, I’ll give them the email address in exchange for the letter. I gave students ideas for what to write about and actually had to define what kinds of things not to send (No, students, I cannot mail mandu). 

4. Managing stuff at my desk has been the most tedious part so far. Because I have indeed learned from what happens when you give students stuff with the hopes they’ll retain it by the next day, I am keeping the envelopes at my desk along with stuff to decorate the envelopes. Word continues to spread about the program which just attracts students I can’t really help at this point but who talk at me anyway. I worry about the English that’s being sent mostly because many students will tell me they don’t speak English and hand me their letters at the same time. I help a little bit on that front…who knows what will really be sent out.

 Anyway, despite the stress, I’m terribly excited for my students. I hope that they can really enjoy this chance to use English and maybe make a friend abroad.

If you’re a pen pal from Sinwol OR Wilde Lake, you can access photos in the page Pen Pal Photos & More! You can ask Kristin or Ms. Berla for the password.


The Sticker System Is Over

March 7, 2011
tags: ,

It was fun while it lasted. Unfortunately, students have figured out ways around my system to get prizes and I just don’t feel like dealing with it anymore. I feel like it might have gone on longer with elementary school kiddies but my middle schoolers are just too clever.

I’ll be happy to give out cool prizes during review games…later this semester. Besides, this year lessons are about 100% from the textbook whereas before it was about 50%. That means I have to get super serious about getting through the book’s activities and making sure students can pass their exams at the end of the term. So instead of stickers…they get wonderful, delightful knowledge! And vocabulary and a sense of self worth! /sarcasm

But really I’m happy to be working with the text books because then I can manipulate them in my favor to get students’ attention. Like this:

The original was "I'm fine, thanks". My students are way too advanced for that boring answer. Thanks to some MS Paint Know How, textbook comics can be a little stranger and more fun.

I suppose context would help you understand this dialogue but I'll let your imagination run wild on it instead. HEY I'M WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE!

I see the same old jobs over and over but I know that deep in their hearts, all my students really want to be Sailor Moon.

What makes me particularly happy is being able to inspire students to deface their own books to make silly comics without any push on my end.  And no, I’m not teaching the book word for word but I am teaching my students to expect the unexpected which is a pretty valuable skill in the world of foreign language.

Hello “Candy” Hearts!

February 23, 2011

Thanks for the Valentine’s Day package, mom. Please know that it was put to good use because, like pixie stix, candy hearts are not indigenous to South Korea. If you’re wondering why then you probably haven’t tasted one in awhile.

I worked on this comic for awhile and, upon finishing and reading it, couldn’t really find it  funny. Sure, my students mistake one thing for another lots of times. But I think this is really funny because we all know that really candy hearts and erasers probably share 99% of their ingredients. Erasers probably have less sugar, but I can’t be absolutely sure.

The Importance of Snapping Back to Reality

February 23, 2011

It’s been a long, cold winter. Never in my life have I encountered such cold, and the appearance of my toes’ first chillblains was painful evidence of that. Before even opening my gas bill, I winced and shuddered, preparing myself for what I knew would be the most expensive one to date.  And it was. Heck, I wasn’t even home for most of the last month and it was still the highest utility bill I’d yet received.

60,000 won. 60,000

I freaked out immediately. “This is an OUTRAGE. SURELY someone has been messing with my gas!”

My eyes scanned the details of the bill, scrutinizing every line and figure (yes, I pretended my Korean was that good) until I ultimately reached the bottom which noted that my last bill wasn’t paid so actually my bill was 30,000 won. Well, oops. BUT STILL that’s SUPER high for me. But really it’s not even worth all the caps and italics in this post.

30,000 won is about $26.50. Back home, I recall one winter’s bill at $170.00 or so and that was split between 5 flatmates (one of whom had the heat on 90 frickin degrees for two days straight, not that I’m bitter) . It’s also time to consider that my housing is covered here.

So, maybe, just maybe, I need to get a grip.

문어 is like Octopus only more delicious!

February 22, 2011

I’ve gained something of a reputation in my school for being an octopus lover.  This probably started in my first few days here when students and teachers were very curious about my new Korean diet.  They were convinced that all Korean food was too spicy for me so, I must be basically starving at the lack of Western food in our area. I eventually communicated to everyone that I did, in fact, love Korean food BUT I don’t eat octopus. *GASPS*

I don’t feel like I need to point out all the reasons why I don’t like octopus to my family members as I know they feel the same way. However,  I do feel like I have a special connection with the animal that goes beyond my dislike of its taste amd texture. My art thesis for my Studio Art minor in college was on the octopus…you spend enough time carefully defining the complex lines of such a strange animal and you get attached. At least I did.

Anyway, soon my love of the octopus became something of a classroom joke. Whenever food was mentioned in a lesson or even outside of class students would tell me rather sternly that “Octopus is not pet, teacher. It is food. It is delicious.”  In the next month or so I managed to find an octopus puppet and that was just too much. Suddenly, what turned into my “contempt” for octopus food was a punchline for anything.

Scenario 1: Kristin teacher is walking down the hallway. Students shout hello and Kristin asks “Hey, how are you?”. Student replies “Teacher, do you eat octopus?” “No” “IT IS SO DELICIOUS” Students run away giggling.

Scenario 2: Kristin sits at her desk doing whatever. Students approach and stand behind her eerily quietly until she turns around. “Hey, what’s up guys?” “Teacher, octopus is not friend!” Students go back to class.

Scenario 3: Kristin has the octopus puppet on her desk and is doing whatever. Student appears from nowhere “TEACHER why you have octopus doll?!” Kristin is a little frightened and replies quietly “…Because it’s cute and I -” “IT IS NOT CUTE” Student laughs maniacally and runs away.

Twice a week, I am treated to those scenarios which always end in laughter but are still a little off putting.

All that was to get to an octopus related story that happened today. My Vice Principal asked me and some other staf to lunch and I accepted. As always, I asked about the menu …only to be taken aback when he mentioned octopus. Oh boy. I didn’t really care about it being octopus soup or stew, these are served at lunch once a week. Going out for octopus tends to refer to a giant boiling pot of stew and a live octopus or two being pushed in…then clinging to the sides of the pot, then managing to almost escape, then staring sadly at me as it boils alive. So, I politely declined.

It would seem that I do deserve all the trouble I get for trying to protect my beloved octopi. I have no problem eating most other animals but something about the octopus’ intelligence and strangeness endears me to it.


February 18, 2011

Yes, it’s been a long while since I last posted. 

And my mom brought up a good point recently. That since I have been deskwarming like crazy since my vacation two weeks ago, I should be posting more.  I don’t really have an excuse, I’ve just been pondering some of the following things:

Thailand: I went there for 18 days and had a blast which deserves its own lengthy post.  I will be going back.

Korea: I’ve been here quite awhile but I can’t stay here forever. I used to feel like I could but recently I’ve been told explicitly that Actually, No, I Cannot. One came from a Korean teacher from the school next door. The conversation:

Teacher, innocently: So when are you going back home? To America?

Me, sighing dreamily: Oh, I don’t know. It’s so nice here sometimes. I might leave next year or just stay on for awhile.

Teacher, bluntly: No, you can’t stay here. You have to go home.

Me, nervously: I guess…hehe. I do miss my family but-

Teacher, cryptically: Yes, you do.

Anyway, I didn’t take it too seriously. My time working with Asians has taught me that it’s usually not the intent of the speaker to come off so blunt, but direct translation tends to have that effect. Also, there’s a really honest culture here that you just have to take with a grain of salt.

Moving along, another weird PLEASE LEAVE encounter I had was yesterday as I went to the gym to renew my membership. I was happy to return to Jamaica Fitness, knowing the staff would recognize me and welcome me back. They were happy to see me and have a chance to practice their English and the renewal went over smoothly…until I had to leave. As I turned to leave, one of the female trainers nervously called out to me in English “See you tomorrow!” and blushed and watched the other trainers laughing at her English. I told her that she said it perfectly and said nay-eel-bah-yo (See you tomorrow) back to her. Before she could get another word out, some old, sweaty Korean man appeared out of nowhere and told her, in Korean, not to speak English to foreigners. DUDE! I am right here! All I could do was stare at him, mouth agape, brows furrowed, wondering why he thought he could just tell someone what to do. The ride down the elevator was probably wakward for him as a result.

So…I can’t stay here forever I guess.

Korean: However, I would like to take more than teaching skills away from my experience here. I’ve made a greater effort in learning the language – which serves to get me more customized Korean meals and to understand when certain people are dissin’ me. In addition to Pimsleur and my Korean language exchange friend, I’ve been getting help from my co-teachers. Perhaps I’ll even be able to make a post in Korean one day…

THE FUTURE: What will happen in it? Where will I be? Will I get LASIK? I don’t know. My plans still involve grad school and teaching to some extent but when and where are the bigger concerns.

That’s it for now! Happy New Year/Seollal/Chinese New Year/Valentine’s Day!

Hello Cold Weather!

December 28, 2010

It snowed overnight and left a couple inches this morning of premium building snow. As I made a killer snowball on my walk to school today, I thought to myself  Why don’t I just let the students play in the snow after the lesson? We’ll make a snowman and an igloo  and everything!  As I got to the school, I realized that this wouldn’t fly. Not because I wouldn’t be allowed to but because my students just don’t like playing in the snow.

As much as I hate the cold, I have pretty fond memories of playing in snow until my fintertips went numb. I can’t be completely sure, but I imagine students don’t have a comparable feeling toward snow because they don’t dress appropriately for it. The temperature has been dropping below freezing for quite a few weeks now and yet students persist in not taking accessories like scarves, mittens, and hats seriously. I’ve seen students in my area wearing nylons with converses and thin blazers over their fall uniforms. It just irks me because I know for a fact that they have heavy duty coats and gloves that they just simply don’t wear.

Almost every day since October, I’ve had this very same conversation with at least one student.


“Hey, student, how are you?”

“Teacher, I am cold.”

“I know! Where is your coat?”

“At my house.”



Sometimes I get this fantastic dialogue, except I don’t get to list out all the reasons why they’re cold.

There are other issues with cold weather. Winter Camp started yesterday and I think the very first thing I said was to close the door to keep the heat in. I can’t be sure why closing the door is such an issue in Korea but it is.  Some part lies in simply not noting that it was left open, letting the cold air rush in and causing the heater to whir through ungodly amounts of electricity. Another part may be from Koreans desire to have fresh air everywhere, all the time. I have nothing against fresh air mind you, but opening every window in the classroom then complaining about the cold just hurts my brain.  I dunno, Sinwol Middle, I’m having a really hard time empathizing with problems as easily solvable  as these.