Thursday, December 17, 2009

School (pronounced Schoor) is Cool (pronounced Coor)

From what I have seen, Korean children do four things: They eat, they sleep, they play Starcraft, and they go to School. Mostly school and Starcraft. Of those two... mostly school. In conversations I have had with others here from the West, topics frequently tend to gravitate towards just how awful we feel for these kids who seem to be totally deprived of a childhood.

They go to school Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 3 PM to learn traditional subjects, very similar to Western style schooling. From 3 to 5 they have a break, which it seems is mostly filled with homework and studying. At 5 they go to a Hagwan, which is a specialty school which is said to be centered around their interests and talents. It seems, however, that their attendance at Hagwans is more based on the wishes of their parents than their own interests. There are many different types of Hagwans. It seems like the most common Hagwans focus on English, Math, Science and Taekwando, though I am sure there are many more options. These students generally attend classes at their Hagwan until 10 PM, at which time they go home, study for the next day's classes, and go to bed sometime after midnight.

Though so much of their young lives have been packed full of schooling, these children are still children, and act very much like kids do in the West. I have been shadowing another English teacher for the past few days and have observed students leaping out of their seats, breaking into song, laughing hysterically for no apparent reason and jumping at any opportunity to distract the teacher from lesson plans with off topic conversations. They really enjoy class time with their Western teachers because they know that this is when they can get away with this kind of behavior. We are told that if they misbehave we should make them stand in the corner for the remainder of the class with their hands in the air. This seemed unusually harsh to me until I found out what their Korean teachers do to punish them. In each class there is a long wooden stick used to smack these students on the hands whenever they misbehave. We are not allowed to hit the students, not that I ever would, but are told to report the misbehavior to a Korean teacher who will carry out the punishment. What a crazy difference from the warm fuzzy schooling of the West!

The students are very friendly and seem to love their Western teachers. They are in constant awe at our appearance, and at 5'11", I have frequently been told that I am really, really tall. Yesterday I noticed a student fixating on my feet for nearly 5 minutes. Finally, he broke his stare and said, "Teacher! How big are your feet?!"

Their English is pretty great and communication with them is relatively easy. The challenging part comes in when you are attempting to correct their papers. It is extremely difficult to correct one's grammar when you have absolutely no idea what they are trying to say in the first place. Here is an example taken from the workbooks of one of my students...

The town in the Jacks name the child is be bored so grandfather and mother and the like family afflict and Jack cry you can't catch me! and go away the Jack did grandfather afflict and mother afflict and do not know a man play racingbicycle in the pool and not know grandfather is Jack Look try a tree run bump the go road ingo and a forest pathingo but Jack in the pig a cage and Jack is dirty Jack go a house a bath time!

Working with these kids is really fun, though it is going to be very difficult to assign them the massive loads of required homework and then berate them for not completing assignments. I feel so bad that they have to spend so much time studying and would love to be in a position to give them a break, but that is not what I have been brought here to do. I am really going to need to learn to be a hard ass.


This is the main square right outside of the building that my school is in. This area has a ton of great places to eat, a Dunkin Donuts and actually has a bar called Denver that is supposed to be Colorado themed. There is no place like home, but this isn't too far off!


  1. I think you are funny and I'll be dieting before I arrive:)

  2. This is among the most interesting shit I've read all year. I love it! I would have NO IDEA what to tell that student. Ummmm.... this makes no sense.
    And I would HATE the appearance thing. I like dressing up- occasionally. But wow. I can't imagine what Koreans must think when they come here!!!

  3. i want to play racingbicycle in the pool!

    i love this. please post more of their stories!

  4. Kate! I wrote down a few good ones and keep forgetting to bring it to the internet cafe with me. A really good one the other day was about a young girl befriending her elderly female neighbor. It said something along the lines of "I like being intimate. It is good be intimate with neighbor. Always be intimate with neighbor."