Monday, February 28, 2011


Things have changed quite dramatically at Poly School.  We have just finished the school year which means that my wonderful kindergarten class has now graduated and moved on to bigger and better things.  The kindergarten graduation was on Friday and it involved a picture slide show, a handing out of diplomas and awards, speeches by each student, speeches by the three foreign kindergarten teachers and the three Korean teachers, a speech by the director, a speech by a parent, and many emotions and some tears.  I was happy with it.  It was done well.
Here's the slide show (made by Natasha):

Afterward, parents and students came up to the classrooms and I was able to say one last goodbye, pictures were taken, gifts were given, and that was the end.  Some of my students I will see again because they will come back for elementary classes, so that's awesome.  But some of them I will not see again and that makes me sad.
Our new semester starts Wednesday (because Tuesday is a holiday, woot woot), and then I will find out who my next class will be.  I'm curious what age I'll teach.
Then we're also loosing some teachers.  Tim and Natasha have just finished their contracts.  Tim is leaving as we speak, I just heard him clomp down the stairs, and Natasha leaves tomorrow morning.  A new foreign teacher, Annalisa, arrived this week.  She's Canadian and has traveled a lot so I'm sure she's going to do a good job.  Also, four Korean teachers are leaving Poly.  We haven't met their replacements yet.
Tonight, we had a good last dinner altogether and then said goodbye.  I'll miss our group.  I liked them all and I'm never too excited for change.  Also, with Tim and Natasha leaving, I've become the second most senior foreign teacher at Poly, which is sort of different - not the newbey anymore.

And for the weekly Korean culture tidbit, I want to talk about military service in Korea.  Korea is one of only eleven countries who make military service mandatory for all males.  For a period of 21 months all Korean young men have to join one part of the military. Really, all I know about it is  from what I've read on a Korean's blog and the author, who had done his service, seemed to see it as a good life experience.  I think it's pretty interesting and it surely has an affect on the culture.  It also makes me glad I wasn't born in a country where military service is mandatory.

Tomorrow is Korean Independence Movement day where Korea celebrates gaining independence from the Japanese.  It'll be nice not to have school.  I'm hopeful that I'll be able to get the scooter fixed.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sports (and Extra-Curricular Activities)

It's about time I write about a very important part of any culture, Korean included: sports. 
The number one sport in Korea is soccer.  And as a pretty big soccer fan, this suits me fine.  It might have been the 2002 World Cup that was hosted by Korea and Japan, but whatever it is, soccer plays a pretty important role in the national pride and culture of Koreans.  The members of the Korean National team are quite highly regarded in their country in comparison to Canada where most people couldn't name a single player on the Canadian National team (I can maybe name 4).  Also, at least 70% of the broadcast time of two sports channels on T.V. are dedicated to soccer: mostly to the English Premier League, but also to the German Bundesliga and the Scottish Premier League.  Well actually, most of this time is spent playing and replaying and replaying the games of only a couple of the teams in these leagues - the teams that have Korean players on them.  Ask any Korean soccer fan who their favourite English Premier League team is and they'll say Manchester United (because Park Ji Sung plays for them) and Bolton Wanderers (because Lee Chung Yong plays for them). 
But soccer is a big part of Korean's every day life as well (at least if you're male).  Most of my male students have weekly soccer practices and games.  And at school, during every break, there are boys playing soccer either inside or outside.  Some of my kindergarten boys are especially fanatical about it - to the point of planning the teams for each game and then arguing later about how the teams weren't fair.  One student, Brian, sometimes has difficulty paying attention in class because he day dreams and I'm positive he's thinking about soccer.  Each week he asks me if we can play soccer in gym class.
Moreover, Futsal, the version of soccer that is played on a smaller field, is played all over the place in Korea by men of all ages.

Second in importance among sports in Korea is baseball.  I think I've mentioned in an earlier post how past Korean baseball victories over Japan are replayed over and over on T.V.  Well outside of these games and the televised Korean baseball league games, I certainly don't see as much baseball as I do soccer.  My kindergarten students have much more skill in kicking a soccer ball than throwing or catching a baseball (which is what we've been practicing in gym class lately - much to the chagrin of little Brian).  This isn't to say that it's not important though.  I recently met a Korean guy who didn't like soccer (which was shocking to me) but played baseball pretty regularly.

In third place I'm going to put Speed Skating.  If you had watched the winter olympics you might have noticed that this is the only event that Koreans really do well in.  And when I've been to the ice rink, half of the ice is devoted to little speed skating toddlers.

Honerable mentions go to figure skating, basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, and golf.  Basketball and golf especially are growing in popularity in Korea.  There's even a whole T.V. channel dedicated to women's golf.  Also, one of the new buildings built near our school is a ping-pong building, with five or six tables and usually some pretty intense looking Korean ping-pong players inside.

You'll notice that hockey isn't on this list.  That doesn't mean it's nonexistent though.  I have a chubby Grade 2 student who plays goalie for a local team.  And I've seen kids getting ready for hockey practice at the arena.  Also, I've even seen a hockey game that had made it to television worthyness.  Korea beat China pretty badly, which is a good sign, and there were maybe 25 people in the stands.  So it's there.

I should also mention Korea's national sport: TaeKwonDo.  It's a sport that I don't know the first thing about, but that is very popular in Korea.  On top of soccer, many of my students, girls included, also have TaeKwonDo practices.  But I think it's safe to say that, in Korea, it's not as gamorous as the other sports.  It might be somewhat like Sumo for the Japanese - it's very important to the culture, but it's not as noticable.  But I'm just guessing, I don't really know.

Finally, in the extra-curricular catagory, music plays a very important part in Korean culture.  Most of my students, on top of soccer and TaeKwonDo (Korean kids work hard) also take some type of music lesson - usually piano, but also some string instruments (or sometimes both).  I've never heard one of my students play a musical instrument before, but I'm pretty sure they're amazing, I'd love to see it sometime.  And this attention to music has produced another very important part of Korean culture: Kpop (look it up).

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

 Pohang is getting a lot of snow as I write this.  Today we had a snow day (woot, woot) and the snow has come down steadily all day, which causes me to hope for another tomorrow.  But nothing is certain here.  I really like the snow.  I think pretty much all the schools in Pohang had a snow day today because this might be the most snow they've had in hundreds of years.  But this meant that there were children outside playing.  And I liked to see that.
  I've spent my snow day being altogether very lazy.  I took a nice nap this morning, and this afternoon Natasha and I have just been watching The Lord of the Rings, which I'd say, though lazy, is a good way to spend ones time.
  Recently, I've been thinking a little about what I will do after my contract expires in August.  In my head my options are: 1. renew my contract for another six months or a year; 2. find a new job somewhere else abroad. (I really loved Vietnam, or the newest idea is to teach in France.  I think I'd love this and now Alisa has decided that we should do it together - which would be pretty sweet I think - though we shouldn't get our hopes up - we haven't researched it yet); or 3. come home to North America.  At this point I'm not really leaning towards any of these options in particular, except for France (but I shouldn't get my hopes up).  So I'll have to give this more thought.  And if you have any wisdom on the matter, please send it my way.
  On another note, the next two weeks will be the last time that I have with my kindergarten class.  The Korean school year ends after February.  This has snuck up on me and I'm sad about it.  I think a few of my students will take Elementary classes at Poly, so I'll see them still, but many of them I'm afraid I won't see again.  I've come to really love this class and I will miss them.
  Furthermore, I've discovered another difference between Korean and North American cultures - having to do with raising children again.  What I find is that children in Korea are somewhat more independent than children in North America.  I say this because I find children here are less whiny.  Play time at Poly school is a rambunctious and loud time where our children, aged 3 to 6, have a chance to move finally and let out some steam after 4o minutes in a chair.  So our students play hard.  But what I find very little of is children coming to their teachers complaining about another student or even that they got a little bit hurt.  They seem to know that when they play that way, they also suffer the consequences.  Though this sounds like a good thing - that Korean children are more mature (which could be true in some instances) - I think it also might be due to their being raised in a much stricter environment where they aren't given an audience to complain to.  Different.
 I'm going to end this blog with an awesome quote from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Thank you for reading.

"It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. Because they were holding on to something." "What are we holding on to Sam?" "That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for."
-Sam (J.R.R Tolkien)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Here's a recap of my trip to Seoul this past week.
Wednesday: I took a nice 5 hour bus trip from Pohang to East Seoul with Japan Dan (he's from Texas, but he spent a number of his growing up years in Japan.  He has also taught there).  We then got on the Seoul subway and took it to Itaewon, a neighbourhood in Seoul, where the rest of the Pohang group was.  Now, for us Pohangers, Itaewon is like a completely different country.  It's full of foreigners from all over the world, and we don't see too many non-Koreans that we don't know in Pohang.  So that was somewhat neat to be around.  Then that night we spent a good amount of time wandering around, looking for a good bar that would satisfy everyone.  This turned out to be too much to ask and so a group of us ended up at a great little place called the Music Bar where they took music requests and had great hot chocolate.  Afterwards we went out and found a Love Motel for a good price.  (Love Motel: a cheap hotel with the reputation of being a place for premarital and extramarital lovers. But they're also popular places for travellers because of their low prices.)
Thursday:  Our group headed out around 11:00 and had a late breakfast at a super restaurant called The Frying Pan.  We then walked to the War Museum where we saw Korean and American war planes, helicopters, and tanks left over from the Korean and Vietnam wars; conclusive evidence that it was the North Koreans who torpedoed a South Korean submarine in March; the Korean-famous turtle ship that defeated the Japanese numerous times; and the war history of Korea dating from The Three Kingdoms period (57 BC) to the Korean war.  I liked the historical part of the museum more than the planes, tanks, and helicopters.  And I couldn't help but wonder why we seem to glorify war so much.
After the War Museum we walked around Insadong and then went back to Itaewon where we had an awesome Austrian supper.  It was my first wiener schnitzel experience and it won't be my last.  Then we hung out at a couple of bars in the area.  I think for us, just being in a bar that isn't one of the small few that we have in Pohang was worth the trip.
Friday:  In the morning we went to the Seodaemun Prison History Hall.  This is a prison that was built to hold Korean rebels during the Japanese occupation (1905 - 1945).  I should mention here that an aspect that is quite central to Korean culture is their cold feelings towards Japan due to this period when Japan ruled them (and also other periods of war between the two countries).  Because of this, one of Korea's favourite things is beating Japan at anything.  For example, past baseball victories of Korea over Japan are replayed day after day on TV every once in a while.  So it was very interesting for me to see evidence of this time period when Korea was the submissive culture.  It somewhat explains why Koreans are so proud of their history and their Independence.  It was also interesting to see this place with Dan who has lived in Japan for extended periods of time and thinks that Koreans have held on to their distaste of the Japanese for too long.  Here are some of the pictures I took of the Prison:

One of the prison halls.

One of the dark cells.

This is a room of all the Koreans who stayed in the prison.  Many of them were killed.  I found it to be a powerful room.
Continuing my recap, Friday afternoon I met up with Frank (his English name), a Korean who stayed in Toronto for some time and who I met at our church in Scarborough.  It was really good to spend time with him because he's the first person 'from home' who I've seen since coming here (I think it's ironic, though, that he's Korean).  Then that night I headed home on a night bus and arrived in Pohang early Saturday.

It was a good trip overall.  Yesterday, though,  I was feeling very unmotivated and mostly depressed.  I think the winter has been getting to me.  But today, going back to school and being with my students has made me feel a lot better.  So I'll mention again that I'm very grateful for my super cool kindergartners who make me happy.

Thanks for reading,