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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Teacher Talk

I am so angry right now.
No, actually, beyond angry.... I'm in a blinding blogging fury of rage.
I expected academic standards to be different studying abroad of course.
I expected university life to be different.
I expected grading systems, assignment guidelines, classroom rules, all of these to be different.
But never did I expect that I would be treated as though I have no rights as a student.
At what point is it okay for professors to become so critical, that they shoot down any dreams that student might have?
Maybe I'm being overdramatic, or maybe I'm just angry, but in my opinion, teachers and professors are put in place to help their students, to inspire them to succeed, to give them motivation to one day become leaders themselves. Constructive criticism is welcomed when needed, but it should be complimented with positivity on the students strong points, not a constant berating of their inability to accomplish the teacher's impossible requirements. I could let this make me bitter and angry, and take it as a sign that I'm not cut out to teach English as a Second Language, and I should just give up....but I won't.
I won't because I believe there is a reason I came here, and while that reason isn't completely clear to me just yet, I'm almost positive it wasn't to be told that I'm not good enough.
Therefore, I will take the criticism with a grain of salt, and keep it as a reminder that if ever there comes a day where I put my ego and self-importance over my students success, not just in my classroom, but also in their life pursuits, I should put away teaching and pursue another career..... maybe debt collecting? a mercenary? or becoming a bounty hunter?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Pepero Day!

Happy Pepero Day! 
What is Pepero Day you may ask? 
Well, it's like a combination of Halloween & Valentine's Day....what a wonderful combination!
No one is exactly sure how or when Pepero Day came about, one story states that a group of girls in middle school in Busan exchanged Pepero sticks as a wish for each other to grow "tall and slender" as the Pepero stick. Pepero sticks are the Korean version of the Japanese Pocky stick. 

The original version is basically a cookie stick covered in chocolate, but other flavors include almond, strawberry, cheese, and more. 

As you can see, Pepero Day occurs on November 11 every year, the 11/11 resembles a row of Pepero sticks. The holiday has become quite popular here in Korea, not just for romantic couples, but also for friends, teachers, neighbors, family, and just random people on the street! 

Lotte, the conglomerate company that makes Pepero sticks (and almost every other product in Korea**) contributes about 50% of its sales from November alone. Japan has attempted to start a similar holiday for Pocky sticks, but unfortunately it hasn't caught seems that Love is in the air here in Korea <3

my favorite flavor of Pepero- almond :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Do what nobody else can do for you. Omit to do anything else."

How long does it take to live in a place before it becomes your home? I've been here only a little over two months, yet it is sort of starting to feel like home to me. I have started a life here, if only for a short period of time. The word "nomad" comes from the Greek word nomas: roaming in search of pasture. Truly, isn't that what we all are doing? We may not all be travelers, but everyone is roaming, searching for something. The most common question I've gotten since I've been here is this: "Why did you choose to come to Korea?" I often find myself fumbling for an answer, trying to explain the intricacies of my situation, and how the school was ideal for my major, and how I received a scholarship, and so on, and as I explain...I find myself coming to a conclusion; I needed to come here, not because of my major, not because of job opportunities, not because of scholarships (although these were wonderful incentives & reasons!) the bottom line is that something deep, down inside of me compelled me to go. It took me a year from the time I made the decision to come to Korea, to the act of actually getting in the plane...but in a way, it has taken my entire life. The wanderlust was set in from a very early age, I knew that I needed to go. I needed to explore, I needed to feed my soul with the wonderment of the world. My reasons for coming here cannot be summed up as simply as wrapping a brown paper package and tying it with a string....the reasons are continually growing, expanding in my mind, and though I am not completely sure what impact this single journey will have on my life, or how it will affect me, but I am assured every single day of the necessity and significance coming here has for me, and I have become even more convinced that this journey is only the beginning. 

"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives....All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hours toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one characteristic we must posses if we are to face the future as finishers."

-Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Choong: What's mine is yours, and what's yours is what I have to have

Okay, so let's get to the heart of Korean culture. I'm not going to pretend that, after being here for two months I am by any means an expert on the Korean mindset, but there's something that's become overwhelmingly obvious since I've been here: Korean do everything to the extreme! I'm not exaggerating when I say this, extremism is a huge part of Korean culture, basically it comes from the mindset that mediocrity is not acceptable. What sort of things are Korean people extreme about you may ask? Many of the things I've mentioned in previous blog entries can easily be explained by extremism. 
For example, as I mentioned, Korean people are quite materialistic. The mindset comes from the concept of choong,  which I will talk about later in this blog post, but basically it is related to the idea of egalitarianism. A Korean would prefer that he is equal to his neighbor, so if his neighbor runs out and buys a new 60" television, he should get one too so he isn't behind. It's sort of similar to the American idea of "keeping up with the Joneses"....but of course, more extreme! Keep in mind too that many Koreans live in incredibly small apartment complexes, so everyone's business is out in the open so to speak. This explains why so many Koreans are adamant about getting their children the best education possible. If Mr. Kim hires an after-school English tutor for his daughter, then his neighbor, Mr. Park should probably get one for his daughter too. 

It would seem that Koreans are in a constant struggle to one-up each other, but in reality, they are actually just trying to keep up with their neighbors! 
When it comes to drinking culture, Koreans are by far one of the most extreme. One common Korean toast is: "Mashi-go chuk-ja" literally meaning, Drink or Die. Extreme you say? Well....yes! It's considered extremely rude to refuse a drink when someone offers, especially for men. There is a large amount of macho associated with this, each man has to drink enough to keep up with his peers. Once I asked my Korean guy friend how much he can drink, and his response was, "real men don't count
Soju is Korean rice wine, similar to vodka.... it's ridiculously cheap, and deadly!

Another thing foreigners will notice about Korean extremism is the food.... almost all of it is incredibly spicy! Koreans have a huge affinity for red pepper, which they use to flavor almost all of their food. The problem is that, for Koreans, eating this kind of spicy food all the time is sort of addicting, so when they go back to regular (unspicy) food, it simply tastes bland to them. 
Kochujang, a spicy red paste made from red pepper...Koreans love it!

Yet another area in which Koreans are extreme is religion. While I don't want to discuss too much about his subject in this blog post (we'll talk about that more later...) suffice it to say that in a mere 30 years, almost 40 percent of the Korean population has converted to Christianity...that's a huge jump! Korea has over 50,000 churches spread around the country (but mostly concentrated in Seoul) and they are easily recognized by the bright red neon crosses hanging overtop. 

So what does all of this have to do with choong? Basically, choong is a Confucian ideal which permeates all of Korean culture. Basically, choong translated means middle, emphasized by the Confucian saying: "To know choong one must know the middle." As I mentioned before, choong is strongly associated with the idea of egalitarianism, but going further, it is at the heart of many other Korean ideals such as fairness, righteousness, loyalty, justice and uprightness. It is also related to the common Asian ideal of putting the community before self.  So, as long as everyone in Korean stays equal, it will be better for the community. While on the outside Korea seems like a fiercely Capitalistic country, under the surface it is deeply affected by Socialistic principles. It's sort of counterintuitive really, the Socialistic Korean mindset of keeping equality consequently results in Capitalistic materialism.