November 30, 2010

Hiking in Korea

As I have mentioned before, hiking is one of the most popular Korean pastimes. Before arriving in Korea I had no idea how mountainous the country was, especially how many mountains were surrounding the city of Seoul. Now being here, I see a mountain everyday of my Korean life, go figure Koreans would love hiking. (I did not take this picture of Seoul, I wish.)
In my first three months here I have ventured to two of Seoul's top mountains. I went on a trip to Mt. Bukhansan in the north with my American friends for a Saturday hike. I also went on a Bugok Middle School teachers trip to Mt. Bugaksan, closer to the center of Seoul. One of the best things about these mountains is that they are accessible to the mass public via the Seoul Subway system.

My trip to Mt. Bukhansan was a blast. A large group of us decided to make our way to one of the largest and hardest hiking mountains in Korea. We got off the subway in a sleepy Korean town that had no signs or directions to the base of the mountain. We decided to follow a older Korean couple decked out in hiking gear down some back alleys and dirt roads (and saw some beautiful fall foliage).
After 30 minutes of wondering around we found our selves at the base of a mountain. There was a map in Korean and we had no idea how difficult or how long the trails were. We decided to just go right and see where it lead us. We ran into an awesome Buddhist temple and some amazing views. The hiking was more challenging than most of us expected; however, we learned later that we did not even come anywhere close to the peak. I guess I am going to have to come back in the spring and fully conquer Mt. Bukhansan.
As I mentioned before, my next Korean hiking experience took place at Mt. Bugaksan on a teacher field trip. 20-30 teachers from my middle school took a coach bus from our school to the base of the mountain on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon. None of the other English teachers signed up, so I was the only English speaker on the trip. It was a little intimidating at first, but all the teachers opened up and were so sweet to me the whole day.
Mt. Bugaksan is a newly opened mountain (2008) because of its proximity to the Blue House. The Blue House is the Korean White House, where the President of Korea lives during his presidency.
Because of the close proximity to the Blue House Korean's need to show a Korean ID and foriegners need to show their passport or ARC card to enter the Mt. Bugaksan area. You fill out a quick form, they run your numbers, and then if you are cleared you must read the mountains directions and sign. For the rest of the time you are hiking you have to wear a tag around your neck. You can only take pictures at certain points and you can not veer off the designated path. The mountain is under high military watch at all times. There are soldiers with huge guns patrolling along you as you are hiking. If they see someone take a picture when it is not allowed they will make you deleted it off your camera. Serious security.
Beyond the high security, it is a beautiful hike along the old Seoul fortress built in 1396.
During the hike, I bonded with my Principal and VP through Korean skinship (hand holding) and giggling. After the two hour hike, our group ate dinner at a new by restaurant that I was told was famous all over Seoul for its Mandu.
With two great Korean hiking trips under my belt, I think I am ready to hit up some more mountains in the spring including Seoraksan National Park.

Thanks for reading!

November 28, 2010

After School Class

4 days a week, I teach a 45 minute after school class comprised of thirty 7th and 8th graders. Their English levels are highly varied, including pretty proficient to unable to read the English alphabet. I also teach the class totally alone, no Korean Co-Teacher in the room to manage and punish the devilish kiddos or translate for me. Therefore, this after school class of mine started out fairly hellish. However, now after roughly 50 classes under my belt I am finally getting the hang of it.

Here is a quick (unwanted) snapshot of my after school class. (you can see some of the girls are covering their faces with their hands, trying to be difficult!)
In the beginning I tried to create educational lesson plans teaching grammar and whatnot, and I quickly learned that was not going to fly. Since it is after school, the kids bring snacks and their cell phones. Once a Korean middle schooler has their cell phone in their hand, learning is out the window. I then moved on to games like telephone and 20 questions and playing them music videos like Beyonce Single Ladies and Michael Jackson Beat it. And with that I finally got their attention and respect. I also promised them a movie with Korean subtitles every Friday. After these improvements to the class I am known as the "Cool Teacher" and I have forged some great friendships with some of the kids.
I have a friend at home in Madison (Ali Kolb) who is student teaching at a local middle school. She was teaching an unit on Asia and we decided to start up pen pals between our two classes. It turned out to be a huge hit. My after school class loves it (and it takes up tons of time.) Their interactions between each other is quite interesting and I think the kids are learning alot about each others cultures.

Here are some letters that were exchanged. The first two are from Sconnie middle schoolers, the second two are from Korean middle schoolers.

Everyday I teach them and they teach me about Korean culture and now I am starting to learn some Korean.

Here are a couple of words "Sophie" taught me today:

귀엽다 gwi yub da (cutie)
바보 ba bo (stupid)
똑똑해 dokk dokk ha da (smart)
사랑해 sa lang hae (I love you)

So pretty much I got a jump start on the Korean language today and my vocabulary is of a 13 year old.

I will leave you with a quick conversation between me and one of my students "Kevin".

Me: What will you do after school?
Kevin: Go home and eat.
Me: What are you going to eat?
Kevin: Cereal.
Me: I love cereal. What kind? It is really expensive here.
Kevin: Kellogs, Special K. Yes it is very expensive in Korea. But my family buys it for me because of my deit. I am a husky boy. I need it.
Me: Okay. Bye Kevin.
Kevin: Bye Teachuh Chrisa.

November 25, 2010

한국 그림 (Korean Pictures)

Here are some pictures I have been taking over the past couple of months. They are mostly a hodgepodge of my Korean life. Hope you enjoy them! (Click to enlarge.)

November 23, 2010

I Wish North Korea's Soul Would be Happy

Yesterday afternoon, around 2:00 pm North Korea fired shells at South Korea near and on the island of Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea. South Korea responded with firing back. This dispute left two young Korean soldiers dead, 16 soldiers injured and 3 civilian injuries. The BBC says that this is one of the worst disputes on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War. To read more articles about the dispute on Yeonpyeong please click on the images bellow.
I am completely fine and safe, just to put that out there. The action was however, definately too close for comfort considering I live in a western suburb of Seoul. On the map below you can see the City of Incheon (which is 90 km from Yeonpyeong island). I live only a 25 minute subway ride from Incheon in Bucheon.
Yesterday afternoon, everyone was listening to the radio and watching the news on their phones, their eyes and ears glued. However, there was no panic and life went on as normal. I did received a direct message on twitter from one of my students Son Sam (9th grade) concerning the North Korean firings. See below.
As you can see, many Koreans feel that this is a tragedy and all they want is peace between the two separated countries. Many of my students when asked where they would like to travel the most in the world answered North Korea. Also many of the Korean's I have spoken to about this issue would like to see their peninsula reunified in the future. There is hope in the South Korean's eyes for a unified Korea.
Life goes on in South Korea like the day prior; however, I am very interested to see how this North Korean firing plays out. There is no sense of panic, but I know people are seriously concerned. "North Korea is simply a fact of life that South Koreans have learned to live with for many years" from the BBC.
Watching this dispute from the South Korean perspective is extremely fascinating and I will be continually updating you with more of my thoughts and experiences.

November 18, 2010


Happy Friday!

I have a couple of great things on my plate for this weekend. Tonight I am going into Gangnam with the gang to meet my friend Olivia's Dad who is visiting her in Korea! (Hint Mom and Dad you should come visit me!)

Tomorrow I am going to head into Seoul on a "tour bus" with some teachers and parents of students of my school. I believe we are going hiking and maybe visiting the President's house. I was invited to go on this outing by my Vice Principal; however, our communication that day was spotty. I was told to wear comfortable clothes but bring my ID card for police to check and he said something about the White House. So, I am not really sure what I am getting myself into!

For this Friday's KPOP I am going to leave you a song called "With U" by Big Bang. Big Bang is one of the most popular boy groups in Korea. I recently purchased a pair of socks with a member of Big Bang on them.
Enjoy "With U" by Big Bang. Happy Friday!

November 16, 2010

Stills From Field Day

Here are some pictures I took on Field Day, during the two day Festival extravaganza at Bugok Middle School. I hope you enjoy them!