English Winter Camp 2010

11 02 2010

Winter Camp started immediately after we returned from Beijing. We were not ready for it! Although, we were aware of how many hours we would work and how long the days were going to be, we still needed a vacation after vacation. Instead, we were overwhelmed with three weeks of 12-hour days and what we thought would be chaos. The first day was a total disaster. None of the native English teachers or the Korean teachers knew where to go at what time, even with the “schedule.” But, after a day or two, everything was on track and we loved the students. Randy and I teach at middle schools, where the students are just too cool for school. Teaching fifth grade students at winter camp was such a blessing and gave me more of a desire to teach. The kids were so smart and motivated, even the low level students. There were about 300 students and 44 teachers, including native English and Korean teachers. The students were split into two levels, higher (A) and lower (B). There were 22 classes and my homeroom class ranked 20 out of 22. But that didn’t matter. They were still super smart and motivated!

Shauna's Homeroom Class

The first week, we were required to teach our students a song and they were required to perform the song at the song festival in front of all of the other students! The students performed “Lemon Tree,” “Perhaps,” “Upside Down,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and more. I taught my students “I Gotta Feeling,” by the Black Eyed Peas. We made up a dance and the students had a blast. It was really rewarding to see the students have fun on stage and my class won fourth place!

During the second week, we helped the students prepare for a debate. Debate is a regular class that some students hate. But I had the ‘smarter’ (A Team) students for debate, so it seemed like the students liked it more because they are able to speak English more. Some of the topics were good, such as “Do you agree or disagree with cosmetic surgery?” Some topics were relevant and fun to talk about for the students, such as the Jaebeom Controversy, in which the lead singer of a famous K-Pop band, 2PM, left to go back to America because he was ashamed of what he said about Korea when he first arrived. He said that “Korea is gay.” But as he learned more about Korea, he took back what he said, but was still regretful.

Debate Contest

Debate Contest

But some topics were ridiculous, such as “Do you agree or disagree that short men are losers?” This was just timely because there was of a TV show about a college student who gave her opinion that she wouldn’t date a guy under 5 feet 11 inches. Click here for more about this. This was the topic that my students had to debate. They were required to argue that they agree that “short men are losers.” It’s really horrible that we were required to talk about this. We just had to explain to the students that it’s just a debate that we were required to do and that it does not have to be their actual opinion. The students don’t even debate about topics in Korean, but I think the MOE (Ministry of Education) requires a debate in English just to get the students speaking, which is a good idea, but I think they should have more relevant topics that don’t degrade people. But, my class won the argument and went on to the second round. Although my class didn’t win during the final round, Randy’s class won first place among Team A!

On the last week of camp, the students had to perform a drama. This was the time to let the students shine. At first they were hesitant and shy to act, but after they saw my Korean co-teacher and I acting silly as well, they got excited and more into the acting. Our class performed “Hansel and Gretel.” Watch the video below. They won third place in the competition! It was really great to see the students do their best and very rewarding to see them so happy about it. Also, it was the last night of camp, so we started to say our goodbyes to the students who we had become close to.

Although winter camp consisted of long days and lots of teaching, the weeks went by fast and the students made the time enjoyable. “Hi, Shauna Teacher!” “Hi, Randy Teacher!” “Teacher, Randy’s girlfriend?” “Sticker chusayo (please)!” My teaching skills improved, even though we taught younger students. I learned how to build a better relationship with students and how to teach better with a co-teacher. The long days and lovable children were worth it.

Randy and his students


A Peak into the North and a Leap into Ice

29 01 2010

As if skiing for Christmas wasn’t enough snow, we went back to Gangwando province for more. The MOE (Ministry of Education) organized another adventurous trip to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and Ice Festival. They took us to the DMZ on the east side of the country. The DMZ serves as a dividing line and buffer zone between North and South Korea. It is 2.5 miles wide, which includes the Han River and some land, according to Wikepedia.

We’ve been to the DMZ on the west side, where the U.S. military is based and which is more dangerous because it’s easier for the North Koreans to enter because there aren’t as many mountains as there are on the east side in Gangwando. My good high school friend, Quentin Willard, reminded me of good southern hospitality and took us to Camp Casey, a U.S. Army base where we had Taco Bell! (They have McDonald’s and KFC everywhere in Korea, but not Taco Bell!) He took us to the DMZ, which had an eerie feeling because they had a small amusement park, the tracks for that train that took South Korean workers to the North to work and a few sights and memorials from the war, such a steam locomotive that had hundreds of bullet holes. He also took us to another observatory where we had a clear view of North Korea. Across the Han River, we could see a small village with just a few houses and no lights. This village was definitely a traditional North Korean village where they had no electricity or cars. They lived off of farming and hunting, while they could see the bright lights across the river in South Korea.

The other side of the DMZ was totally different. It’s located at a Korean Army base. It took a long time to get there because there was so much ice and snow. But it was definitely a beautiful scene when we got to the top of the mountain. This part of the DMZ wasn’t as commercialized because not many people go there. The mountains are too hard to get around, which is also the reason why it is not as dangerous as the other side of the DMZ. (So, why are the Americans on the more dangerous side?) The mountains can protect South Korea from the North. Although there are huge mountains on this side, the river is much narrower. Some native teachers, who we went with, said that they saw some North Korean soldiers on the other side. Both sides are definitely worth seeing if you get a chance. But, they also used to do day trips to Pyongyang, North Korea. They recently opened the borders to Americans. That would be an interesting trip. Click here to find out more.

Again, the MOE never ceases to surprise us. Because that was the first weekend of the Ice Festival, there weren’t any hotels in the small downtown area. So, we got lost in the snowy mountains trying to find our “hotel.” We actually stayed in log cabins with 20 other native English teachers. It was a blast! We got up early the next morning because our day was filled with being on ice. We were told that we would go ice fishing and fishing with our bare hands for freshwater mountain trout. They gave us the poles and string, but no bait. They said the fish don’t need the bait. We just had a small fake fish with a hook. It worked for some people who caught a fish. But some of us were just freezing our toes and fingers off. After warming up in a rest area, we had an appointment. There was a lot to see and do at the Ice Festival, including an ice castle, ice sculptures and games on the ice such as ATVing, ice soccer, ice skating, etc. But, we had to hurry because we had an appointment to go fishing with our bare hands! I had just realized that we were supposed to do the polar bear plunge and catch the fish!!! They gave us shorts and a t-shirt and we shakily walked to the pool area where others were sitting down, preparing themselves to be freezing. The announcer tried to warm us up to jumping into the freezing cold water, so he asked someone to dive in! A Korean man dove and then one of the native English teachers dove! He’s SCUBA diver, but the water was freezing cold. He did the count off. Everyone jumped in! But, Randy, two other native teachers and I took a few more seconds to have the courage, but we did it! I didn’t even try to catch a fish with my bare hands because all I wanted to do was get out of the ice cold water. While our toes and bodies are freezing, they led us to a hot foot bath. The water was extremely hot, it took a few minutes for me put my feet in all the way. After a while, we were all fine. Some teachers caught one fish, two fish and even three fish! But, needless to say, bare-hands fishing and polar bear plunging is a one-time experience. Thanks to the MOE, we can check that off of our list of things to do before we die – wait, that wasn’t even on my list!

Hanji and more in Andong

22 12 2009

The Ministry of Education (MOE) in Ulsan, South Korea has treated us like royalty. They take care of everything. When we first got here, we had orientation for 10 days that somewhat prepared us for teaching in Korea. But of course, learning to teach is something you have to practice to actually learn how to do it. Since we’ve been in Ulsan, we have been on two overnight trips with the MOE. The MOE pays for everything on these trips. They take care of transportation, food and the hotel room. It’s such a blessing that we get to experience different parts of Korea that hardly any Koreans get to experience themselves.

We went to Andong for our first trip. Andong is a small city in the Gyeongsangbuk-do province. It took about three hours to get there from Ulsan. Andong is known for its traditional paper making factory and for the mask festival, which was canceled this year because of the H1N1 flu. After the bus ride, they provided us with lunch at a bulgogi restaurant.

Then, they took us to the hanji or paper factory where we made our own traditional Korean mask out of paper mache. But, this wasn’t just any kind of paper. This type of paper, that they call hanji, is handmade. It’s such an old tradition that I hope the owners will carry on the art of paper making to the younger generation. Unfortunately, these factories are hard to find these days.

We took a tour of the factory and saw how hard the old men and women (ajoshis and ajummas) work. Hanji is all-natural and made from mulberry bark. It is steamed in water and then two women separate each piece of the bark individually. Another job for the ajummas (old women) is to dry the piece of paper on a hot very piece of metal. Then, the ajoshis (old men) dye the paper with all kinds of beautiful colors.

Old women individually separate each piece of the mulberry bark after it is steamed.

Old women dry the paper with their bare hands on a hot metal structure.

Old men dye the paper many different vibrant colors.

Not only is it beautiful how they make hanji, but fall in Korea is so beautiful! The national tree, the ginkgo biloba, starts changing colors from a vibrant green to a deep yellow. We had the privilege to see the fall season in a traditional folk village called Hahoe village and on our way to Bongjeongsa temple.

Another perk to going on these trips, is that we get to meet and get to know more people in our program. There are two organizations that the MOE is responsible for, EPIK (English Program in Korea) and TALK Scholars. Most of the time TALK Scholars are still taking classes in college. EPIK teachers must have a bachelor’s degree. But people from both organizations are equally great people. Though, I was really surprised to meet a girl from Oklahoma who went to a college near my hometown! She is currently a student at University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS). There is another guy who goes to UAFS as well! And a girl from Conway, Arkansas. This is just proof that the world isn’t as big as it seems and as we try to explore more, we are able to find a taste of home anywhere.

Beginning in a Bubble

25 08 2009

As we got off of the 13-hour flight from one of the best airlines (Korean Air), one of the first things we saw was a Dunkin’ Donuts! But, it definitely felt like we were in Korea because everything else was in Korean. We were starving after we got our luggage and after meeting some fellow English teachers, so we stopped by a convenience store to get a bite to eat. A small meal with stir-fry pork, rice and kimchi cost only 1,800 KRW, which is equal to about $1.50!!!


We then boarded the bus for another four hours to go to the place where we attended orientation

at Jeonju University. There, we met the most diverse and interesting people who we would embark with on this adventure for the next year. The teachers in the English Program  in Korea (EPIK) came from seven countries, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom including Wales and the United States of America.

For the next 10 days we will be at Jeonju University, “A Place for Superstars,” which is their slogan, and a place that we consider to be a bubble while we transition into the Korean culture.

The EPIK staff, who is mostly Korean, has introduced us to many customs of their culture and have treated us like kings and queens. They have provided a very nice dormitory for us to stay and they fed us every meal, which consists of at least five different servings, including their staple dish, Kimchi. EPIK StaffWe never go hungry here. We have learned that education is very important in South Korea and that is why teachers are highly regarded and why the government provides us with such luxury. Just FYI, about 98 percent of Korean high school students graduate, making South Korea the country with one of the lowest illiteracy rates in the world, according to the Korean government.

We are very lucky and privileged to be an EPIK teacher. They have done an exceptional job preparing us to be great English teachers and for the real Korea. But, they have sheltered us here because we are surrounded by 500 other EPIK teachers who speak English. We have only a handful of experiences interacting with native Koreans. But, because we have somewhat studied some basic survival phrases, we were able to order food at a restaurant. In Korea, servers at a restaurant don’t immediately come to your table to take your order. You have to call on them or push a button for them to come over to take your order. In addition, the entire menu is written in Korean. Thankfully, the first restaurant we went to had pictures. We were able to say “this, please” in Korean, which sounds like “ega, chusayo.”

The count down has begun. All 500 EPIK teachers will be dispersed into their corresponding locations in South Korea in T minus four days! We will be faced with the real Korea and being on our own, learning the language, understanding the culture and getting acclimated to our new home for the next year.