Archive for hyewon middle school

At my school, there’s a handful of mainstreamed kids, some who are lucky (supportive classmates and teachers) and some who are not so lucky (merciless teasing, uninvolved teachers). When I first came to the school, it took me awhile to even realize that the classes had such a wide range of abilities – teachers tend to be mum on if there’s something ‘wrong’ with a student. Disability isn’t really a word that used – or understood? I’ve seen a lot go on with the mainstreamed students that have made me uneasy, but today (I say this without hyperbole) I saw the best thing ever.

Last year one of the high needs students (let’s call her Hyewon) had a rough time. I knew that English was her favorite class, but her classmates would almost never work with her, and the Korean co-teacher told me “You know why they won’t [work with her]. Let’s not make them.” She spent class either smiling at me, or with her head down on her desk, embarrassed whenever I made eye contact with her. She’s one of the bubbliest students that I have, but only at a distance. If you get close, she closes up like a cute shy clam. I think things are a little different now, with different classmates and teachers. Kind of… more nurturing?

Today, to prepare for the midterm, we played vocabulary Pictionary. The class of 36 is split into 3 teams, and they each take turns sending up one girl to draw. I choose the vocab pretty randomly out of an envelope, but if I know the students levels I try to adjust. The words are a mix of concepts (extinct, unusual), short sentences (“do you need help?”) and things (panda, pollution, envelope).

On Hyewon’s second turn, the draw-ers got the word “pollution.” It was a little bit more abstract than her first word (panda), but she was totally into the game and excited to just be in class, playing. As they started drawing and the teams started yelling out answers, I didn’t really pay attention to what they were drawing.

As Hyewon’s team called out the winning answer and I clapped and yelled that they had the point, the two other drawers put down their markers and stepped away from the board towards their seats. Hyewon looked at me, and back at her drawing, and back at me and back to the board, unmoving — She had made a car with smoke rising from the back, and a cloud overhead. Then, with incredible deliberation, she drew the Korean character-face ‘woo woo ㅜ.ㅜ’ in the cloud. The crying face.

I think I must have smiled about the biggest cheese ever. The whole class erupted into this wonderful laughter – that Hyewon had clearly made the best drawing about the impact of pollution to ever grace the school – or the world. I just about died. And Hyewon’s face? Like bliss. Everyone clearly loved her drawing, no one was making fun of her… it was just so 180 from when I first met her.

Honestly I’m a little teary writing this. This makes everything worth it. The next time I want to kill my students, I’ll try to think about Hyewon’s sad cloud, and her face as she turned around to look at me, glowing. Seriously.


I just watched one of the older, male teacher at my school pluck his eyebrows at his desk. While he talked to the older, male teacher next to him.

This is about 12 different levels of awesomeness. 🙂

full loop

I resigned my contract. Next week I’ll go back to the states for a quick vay-cay, and then return to Seoul.

I keep reflecting on my time here. A lot of it’s been good. I like how varied my job is, and I love worthing with my students. Sometimes the solitude gets to me. Sometimes all I want is some macaroni and cheese, or another small, unimportant comfort item.

This might sound dorky, but what’s really exciting to me is that by spending two years in Korea, I will have seen THREE classes advance onto their senior year. My first years (7th graders) that I teach now will be third years by the time that I leave. I feel all mushy inside thinking about that, watching ’em grow up.

This weekend, I was exiting the subway station when I saw one of my first years with her father. She yelled “teacher!” and ran over to me, gave me a hug, and then ran back to her dad. I dunno, I’m a huge sap. It made me smile.

I’m really happy that got placed at Hyewon. I know the system is random, but teaching middle school (at an all girls middle school) is amazing.

4 weddings and a funeral

World Cup fever!!! Korea just won the game against Greece, and I yelled with the best of them (much to the chagrin of my Korean friend) at the Hongdae Jazz bar where we found ourselves.
It was there that I told my friend, Hyung, about what on did on Friday.

On Friday, all of the teachers at my school on an email message that a mother-in-law of one of the teachers had passed away, and anyone who wanted to could some to the funeral service.

I’ve been to 4 weddings in Korea, all of varying size and religion, but a funeral? That’s a very different experience. With some help from Seolah, (the art teacher) it was arranged that I would go with my ‘district’ head (Mr. Kim, who is in charge of the area where I sit in the office) and Jess, one of my fellow English co-teachers — after I went home to change. My outfit of the day (think watermelon: a neon pink shirt, black dress slacks, and neon green sneakers) would only just barely fly as appropriate, even on a foreigner.

Just like one of the weddings were the same, I don’t think one funeral is representative of Korean funerals as a whole. ‘Funeral’ is maybe not even the right word- in all intents and purpose, it was quite similar to the Jewish Shiva ceremony.

Mr. Kim, Jess and I filled into a small room and removed our shoes. The closest family members to the deceased stood at attention, receiving guests. At one end of the room there was a framed picture and some flowers. Jess nudged me, and told me to take a flower from the big vase and lay it in front of the picture. Then the guys bowed in respect.

Okay — I feel like I’m writing this out too detailed. This ain’t no anthro study – I’m just another waygookin (foreigner) in Seoul. Point is, we showed our respects.

Then comes the Shiva part: we headed into a different room and had a meal of stew, cookies, sweet drinks and beer, rice and other light snacks. The family members mingled with guests, laughing and talking about their memories. It wasn’t sad, and it wasn’t exuberant; a celebration of a life more than anything else.

And that’s it. We ate a bit and headed out our separate ways.

I guess in some ways I feel lucky to have been allowed in that space as an outsider. Most of the time, I feel very welcome in Korea (despite that pubic opinion of America may be) but I can’t ignore that I am not family/community/etc. And that’s cool.

As I drank makkgoli tonight and cheered Korea on to victory, shooting fast texts to my coworkers about the game highlights, people joked that I’ve become Korean. Maybe a better of of saying that is that between weddings and a funeral, Korea has let me fit myself in.

I just spent my WHOLE weekend working on ONE lesson plan. Now, I know I’m slow, but this is ridiculous. My last three weeks of teaching have been pretty strong, so in some ways I feel this equal obligation to ‘Bring It’: the most fun, the most awesome, the most speaking activities, equal parts entertainer and educator. And this lesson mostly delivers that, all in preparation for parent’s observation week.

But I don’t feel like I had a weekend. I don’t feel relaxed. I didn’t even have time to go to the gym or kick back with a choice beverage.
When I was a senior in university, a professor told one of my friends that he was too good of a student. “Be a bad student, just for a bit.” I feel like I should take next week easy – pick up a lesson plan and secondary material from online, and enjoy my weekend. Live my life. Is that fair to feel as an educator? Probably not. . .

There’s about three more weeks till the kids take finals and the semester winds down into sumer vacation. I’m sure all of my fellow english teachers are waiting for it as eagerly as the kids. 😉

best email ever

I sent one of my hike girls some pictures of her, and I got this message back-

“Thank you Naeohmi
You are the best
Pretty cute, sexy and charming and lovely kkamjjikhago bourgeois women and the teachers love the chic (students’ name)
I am writing now to English Google Translator
Naeohmiui ppogeulppogeulhan naeohmiui good head voice is the best”

Ah… ppogeulppogeul means “curly” 😉 Made me grin.
I wrote back to her nothing but “ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ”
(The Korean laugh sound~ haha I feel like my typing is getting konglish-ized.)

Hiking in Seoul

Last week one of my co-teachers asked me if I wanted to go hiking on the weekend.
After my disastrous attempts on the teachers retreat, I figured I’d never have to encounter another ‘san’ in Korea, besides my daily climb up the Hyewon Hill.
(SIDE NOTE: My kids hate it more than I do. Why? They’ve built monster calf muscles, haha.)

Turns out this optional weekend climb is on one of the easiest mountains in Seoul. But what me say yes was who else was going: The Bad Girls. Oh yes.
The way that school works here is that each grade is broken up into 8 or 9 homerooms. The homeroom teacher acts as kind of a parental figure. If a class of girls is especially awesome, tell their homeroom teacher – if a class is especially horrific one week, I tell their homeroom teacher. In every homeroom class, there are about 3 ‘bad’ girls. This isn’t an arbitrary number, the school evenly divided these students up.

What is ‘bad’ in Korea? I guess about the same as in the States – these are the kids who have been caught stealing, who get into fights, who have the worst attendance, who are disruptive in class and who have some of the lowest grade averages. The funny thing is, MOST of them behave decently in my class. Most. Well, no more worse than their peers. Anyway, in an effort to bond these girls with their homeroom teachers, Hyewon Girls’ Middle School presents: hiking.

Now, I ain’t no homeroom teacher. But I each every 3rd year class and every 1st year class, so out of the 25-ish girls that where chosen for the trip, a lot of them were my kids. A good chunk at least. So, strapping on some sneakers, I found myself on yet another hike in Korea.

SangAe is actually her class president~ She just wanted to go hiking!

You can't even imagine how much I was sweating. . .

The hike was promised to be easy. While there’s a difference between the Korean idea of an “easy hike” and MY idea of an easy hike (my idea involves walking around an air-conditioned mall) this was easily my most enjoyable hike ever. I didn’t trial behind everyone, I didn’t get hurt, and even though I was leaking tons and tons of h20, I still had fun. It was great to get to know some of the girls better – like that one of the toughest ones is afraid of dogs. And having them share their candy with me. And having them trying out their english skills outside of the classroom.

So yeah. All kinds of awesomeness being had here! 😀
In other news, I bought a plane ticket to go back to the states for vacation. Two weeks of Ben n Jerry’s ice cream, driving and forgetting all of the korean I have creamed into my head —- hopefully not on that last one! It’ll be nice to be back, for a little bit at least.