Saturday, February 28, 2009

Call for suggestions on what to teach Korean trainees in my "Cross Cultural Communication: Understanding English Cultures" course

Yesterday I posted the brainstorming list of ideas, topics, and issues I am considering integrating with the two textbooks I bought for my cross cultural communication course that I'll be teaching during session one of the 6 month intensive English training program going on at my university.

I'm re-posting my list here with Brian and Amanda's suggestions too so that other people who have suggestions can see what has already been posted.

I'm looking for anything to do with social and cultural taboos that Koreans tend to break fairly often, social norms that Koreans have trouble understanding and have never been exposed to, and anything that you might think Koreans need to learn about daily life in America before they go for a month of English immersion training in ESL teaching methods and English language skills this coming July as a part of the 6 month program.

My ideas (with a few from Julianne too),

- comments and questions about a person's body fat
- "You should . . . " imperatives based on the social hierarchy of Korea's modern Confucianism and how this would NOT go over well in America
- staring at people for longer than 3-5 seconds . . . in pretty much any and every situation, but especially when on the street in America . . . I remember my psychology prof in an undergrad course telling us that studies show that if you stare at someone for more than 7 seconds the fight or flight response kicks in to one degree or another in the person being stared at . . . I can just imagine what would happen if a group of Korean teachers were all staring at some American teenagers, laughing and pointing at them, and making comments . . . I'm not saying there's a guarantee of violence, but I'm pretty sure a negative reaction is safe to assume
- yelling "HELLO!" or "HI!" to strangers on the street and then laughing and speaking to their friends in Korean
- Saying "No" and how the cultural rules differ so much in America for when and how and to who and for what you can say no . . .
- religion, and pushing your beliefs on people who don't share the same views--i.e. Korean Christians (not all, but too many)
- flirting and giving compliments to strangers and/or people you work with--especially the older male Korean teachers (again, not all, but too many)
- drinking and alcohol culture, bar culture
- personal space and touching taboos
- driving and following the traffic laws
- multiculturalism in the USA
- eating habits and manners: no slurping, sharing is done very differently than in Korea, for example the idea of communal bowls and platters that everyone eats out of
- friendship rules: age, gender, and class rules are not nearly as strict as they are for Koreans, for example, not being friends with someone more than a year or two older
- being on time when you make social or work appointments
- speaking up if there is a problem or issue in a situation--many Koreans think that's rude but there are many situations in which it's critical that someone speaks up if there's a problem
- when and how to say 'yes' and 'no' politely and effectively
- Individualism vs Collectivism cultures
- race topics
- sexuality and gender topics
- nationalism/nationalistic views and how cultural conflicts can come up
- in each lecture I'm thinking about having a 20 minute section where I give a topic about Korea, and divide the 20 trainees into 4 groups of 5, let them have 10 minutes to brainstorm and write out the language they need to explain a Korean socio-cultural topic or issue---but something I thought about that I will need to do is to present and deconstruct some of the nationalistic myths that many Koreans try to tell foreign English people about, some examples include the following,
1) kimchi is a cure-all for any and all health issues, especially cancer and SARS
2) the racial purity of the Korean people
3) Korea is the only country in the world to have four distinct seasons
4) there are no gay Koreans
- Julianne pointed out that if the trainees spend a month in the more southern states of the US that they'll need to know when and how to use "ma'am" and "sir"
- tipping in restaurants (not done here) and for taxis (this I found interesting because not everyone does this in Canada)
- doctor/hospital situations and how in Korea many people accept doctor's diagnoses with no questions or requests for a second opinion
- blood types and personality types and the myth that they are highly correlated and should be used as the basis of who one should date and marry

Brian in Jeollanamdo

* Teach how to give a good, firm handshake.

I've been doing this as a regular cultural background info thing in my lessons (in public school and university) since 2006--but didn't include it because I simply forgot to list it with the huge pile of other things I wrote (see above). But thanks to Brian for reminding me about what I refer to as the 'limp fish' handshake.

* Definitely a review of how to refer to black people, and the hazards of many if not all Korean-English dictionaries. (I posted about that back in 2007, and how four out of the five results for 흑인 are woefully offensive.)

* Again, I don't know how relevant this would be for your students, as they'll be spending their month pretty much just studying (right?), but one of the biggest complaints I and others had of Asian international students was that they just stuck together with their own nationals, and made no effort to talk with anyone else. Yeah, could be shyness, but knowing what I know now . . . might brainstorm icebreakers and conversation starters with people from other countries (NOT "I'm from Korea, where Dokdo is.") Try to prepare them for having to deal with other "foreigners."

This was a problem we (the other instructors I taught with in the 2007 6 month program) heard about after they got back. Trips on weekends were spent with other trainees in the group, and we're pretty sure they spoke Korean during that time. We also heard stories about trainees cooking almost all of the meals they ate with their homestay families . . . can you guess what kind of food they were cooking while they were supposed to be immersing themselves in American culture and learning as much as possible about what Americans eat? Yep, you got it, KOREAN FOOD! Sigh . . .


"I think...maybe." No, you don't think maybe, you know for sure. "I can't come" is NOT the same as "I think maybe I will not be able to come" in English-speaking countries.

Closing the mouth while they eat. Covering the mouth to sneeze.

Second Brian's handshake thing.

Will any of them be driving? Something about how people actually PULL over for cops and ambulances would be good if they're going to drive. This still amazes Good Man. "People actually stop! It is so...awkward!"

Making mindless small talk with cashiers and having to ask for help at most stores. I am trying to get Good Man to do this, but he can't stand it.

Good Man says everything is "1.5 times bigger. It's true, McDonald's is bigger, people are fatter, celery is bigger, houses, cars..."

Good Man finds it rather strange that Americans have big yards and then....stay in the house. He doesn't like how empty the streets are.

Oh--another thing--USE PRONOUNS, KOREANS!

Maybe this is just a Good Man thing, but I suspect (knowing what little I do about Korean, and based on my interactions in Korea) that it's a deeper linguistic thing.

I KNOW Koreans don't like using names and subjects and pronouns but "she said to her to give it to her" DOES NOT MAKE SENSE IN ENGLISH. (Especially not since so many Koreans get the gendered pronounces mixed up.)

Well, it should be interesting to see what suggestions are made, and I look forward to reading them. I'm going to be asking the trainees to make their own lists of questions, topics, issues, and taboos they want to learn about in the first class this coming Wednesday . . . THAT should be a lot of fun to see too . . . as long as, of course, I don't see the all too common stares of blankness and mild anxiety when being asked to come up with some ideas not taken from elsewhere . . . sigh.

Wish me luck,

Brainstorming cultural issues and topics for my cross cultural course . . .

Today in Emart I was shopping with Julianne and we ran into some of my students from last year. One of them, a guy, was shopping with a friend, and when he saw me he gave an enthusiastic "Jason!"

I introduced him to Julianne--at which point he told her with great enthusiasm and passion, "I LOVE JASON!" LOL . . . yeah, things that you should not say in America unless you're with extremely liberal people--or in a gay bar, lol.

During dinner Julianne and I were brainstorming different possible ideas for what I might cover in my course. Bear in mind the course will have 50 hours of instruction time, and that the trainees will be living for a month in America this coming July.

Some possibilities are . . .

- comments and questions about a person's body fat
- "You should . . . " imperatives based on the social hierarchy of Korea's modern Confucianism and how this would NOT go over well in America
- staring at people for longer than 3-5 seconds . . . in pretty much any and every situation, but especially when on the street in America . . . I remember my psychology prof in an undergrad course telling us that studies show that if you stare at someone for more than 7 seconds the fight or flight response kicks in to one degree or another in the person being stared at . . . I can just imagine what would happen if a group of Korean teachers were all staring at some American teenagers, laughing and pointing at them, and making comments . . . I'm not saying there's a guarantee of violence, but I'm pretty sure a negative reaction is safe to assume
- yelling "HELLO!" or "HI!" to strangers on the street and then laughing and speaking to their friends in Korean
- Saying "No" and how the cultural rules differ so much in America for when and how and to who and for what you can say no . . .
- religion, and pushing your beliefs on people who don't share the same views--i.e. Korean Christians (not all, but too many)
- flirting and giving compliments to strangers and/or people you work with--especially the older male Korean teachers (again, not all, but too many)
- drinking and alcohol culture, bar culture
- personal space and touching taboos
- driving and following the traffic laws
- multiculturalism in the USA
- eating habits and manners: no slurping, sharing is done very differently than in Korea, for example the idea of communal bowls and platters that everyone eats out of
- friendship rules: age, gender, and class rules are not nearly as strict as they are for Koreans, for example, not being friends with someone more than a year or two older
- being on time when you make social or work appointments
- speaking up if there is a problem or issue in a situation--many Koreans think that's rude but there are many situations in which it's critical that someone speaks up if there's a problem
- when and how to say 'yes' and 'no' politely and effectively
- Individualism vs Collectivism cultures
- race topics
- sexuality and gender topics
- nationalism/nationalistic views and how cultural conflicts can come up
- in each lecture I'm thinking about having a 20 minute section where I give a topic about Korea, and divide the 20 trainees into 4 groups of 5, let them have 10 minutes to brainstorm and write out the language they need to explain a Korean socio-cultural topic or issue---but something I thought about that I will need to do is to present and deconstruct some of the nationalistic myths that many Koreans try to tell foreign English people about, some examples include the following,
1) kimchi is a cure-all for any and all health issues, especially cancer and SARS
2) the racial purity of the Korean people
3) Korea is the only country in the world to have four distinct seasons
4) there are no gay Koreans
- Julianne pointed out that if the trainees spend a month in the more southern states of the US that they'll need to know when and how to use "ma'am" and "sir"
- tipping in restaurants (not done here) and for taxis (this I found interesting because not everyone does this in Canada)
- doctor/hospital situations and how in Korea many people accept doctor's diagnoses with no questions or requests for a second opinion
- blood types and personality types and the myth that they are highly correlated and should be used as the basis of who one should date and marry

And the list goes on . . . if anyone reads this post and has some suggestions I'll be glad to consider them as I make the curriculum over the next few days and weeks . . .

Well, time to go relax with Julianne for a while. Today is our one year anniversary--wow!


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Prepping for semester one in a national university of education in Korea . . . ohhhh, I'm tired

This past Saturday I pretty much decided that I would stay for a second contract at my university in spite of the job description and workload being changed without any kind of discussion at all . . .

I will be teaching 3 classes worth of a course called "Classroom English." This course is intended to prepare students that will become elementary school teachers for teaching English, and to improve their general English language skills, and begin their training in how to teach English using English (as opposed to what the majority of Korean teachers do in Korea--teach English using the Korean language). The lectures for this course run 3 hours a week--in a row--yeah. The first two hours tend to be fairly productive, but the 3rd hour ends up being a grind for myself and the students. Luckily for me, and for them, the way the other instructors and myself have put together the schedule after the fourth week the third hour is comprised of teaching activity presentations in which the 2nd year students get to have their first crack (literally, and it's very interesting to see what potential they have) at teaching a 20-25 minute activity that is evaluated by the instructor. The students during the course of the semester complete two presentations. It's generally a really fun process to see them realize how much skill, preparation, etc, goes into teaching, and for me in particular to see how they interpret the activity instructions when they present--there have been many times where I had to fight from laughing so hard I'd cry. Those days are awesome.

I will also be teaching a "Speaking Methodology" course. The general idea for this course is to help students understand the basic parts of speech in the English language, to improve their own speaking skills, and of course, to get some teaching speaking methodology under their belts in an applied learning context as opposed to other courses that might focus more heavily on theory. This is the first time for me to teach this course so it should be interesting. I have taught courses before with similar content, and have a fair amount of reading and studying about the topics involved so I think it should be a good experience for me. This particular class is a also 3 hour lecture . . . I seriously can't understand the 'logic' behind the length of time, but I don't get to choose that kind of thing . . . .

Next on the list is a non-credit course that I put together based on a book called "Speech and Presentations" put out by Compass Publishing. I will teach this in a 50 minute lecture twice a week to two different classes. These non-credit courses tend to be kind of crappy because the students know that no attendance is recorded, and there is no testing or final grades that go on their transcripts (ironic how the same problem I faced teaching in public school here followed me in a way to the university level, sigh). So they sign up, and most come for a week or two, maybe a month, but once the tests and assignments begin to pile up enrollment drops from 20 to 4-8 if you're lucky. For me, the bizarre thing is that the textbook I've chosen is a really really good one, and I have a blast teaching it. It really helps the students improve giving instructions in English skills (very useful for Korean teachers), and how to demonstrate how to do a game, activity, or any other sort of thing you'd need to demo in a classroom. While other instructors will sometimes have nobody show up for their one hour 'fluff' courses, I generally seem to always have a core group of 6-8 who show up every week. Oh well, I'd rather know students value a course that holds NO TEST SCORE VALUE to them in terms of the academic ranking the university transcripts give--that is huge praise in this country.

The final addition to my course load comes from the newly added 6 month intensive English training course put on by the provincial education office through my university. The focus of the course is to improve the English language skills of the 20 trainees that have been chosen to do the first trial run of the program at my university and in this part of the country.

The 6 month program I taught at in 2007 had elementary and middle/high school teacher trainees. It focused on both English language skills AND how to teach English through English which meant it also had a lot of theory and methodology instruction. It seems like the results of the 6 month program across Korea in 2007 and 2008 must have resulted in some changes to the program because how it's being put on is a little different now, at least for the elementary training. My Korean supervisor used to go to national meetings with all of the other program supervisors across the country and it was VERY interesting to hear about what was going on in other parts of the country in the program.

The 6 month program is not for pre-service (or 'student-teachers') but rather it is an "in-service" program that has trainees who have graduated from university and have been teaching professinally in the ed system for years. Apparently the atrocious English test scores and language ability in the education system, and on TOEIC and TOEFL, etc, when ranked globally, has finally pushed the government to face the fact that native English teachers have known for----ever. The English language skills required to teach English successfully are lacking and more training is needed--though how this problem is being approached is a whole other issue.

The program's total hours of instruction is 750. 600 or so of those hours will be at the university in Korea, with the remainder in the US at a university ESL one month program this coming July. The immersion in American culture and an English environment are intended to force the trainees to use the English they know, and to acquire cultural experience and knowledge while they are living and studying in the US.

The course I chose from a list (and all we had to go on were titles, and 2-3 sentences describing the general purpose of each course in the 6 month program) is called "Cross Cultural Communication: Understanding English Cultures." I was pretty excited that none of the other 5 foreign instructors want the course because this is a huge opportunity for me to expose, and hopefully educate, trainees to a wide range of cultural ideas and issues that probably every foreign teacher in Korea wishes Korean teachers could be taught about in an academic setting . . . none of this guarantees the trainees will open up their minds and 'understand' (oh god, that hyper-abused word is DEFINITELY going to get some air time in my classes) English cultures, but at least the opportunity for exposure and dialogues is going to take place.

Something I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about is how I can give the trainees some simple yet effective strategies for interpreting and understanding cultural differences instead of allowing stereotyped/automatic thinking to shut down any cross cultural awareness and understanding . . . I've already thought about using things like my post about when Koreans say, "Wow, you can use chopsticks!" (The "Chopstick Reaction": foreigners using chopsticks in Korea -- "WOW!!! She can use a FORK!") and another idea I've used before to explain some of my personal feminist philosophy on gender issues to people back in Canada who have never thought about gender equality issues . . .

Right after I finished an exam back in 2003 a bunch of us and our prof went for drinks. During a conversation gender and labels somehow came up. I remember explaining to a guy who thought the term "firefighter" was stupid, and that women should just accept the label "fireman" in spite of the fact that it erases their existence as women, essentially neutering them and assimilating them into the caveman collective . . . I pointed out to the guy that if the history of the word "fireman" was actually that women did the job historically, and men were the ones trying to break into the profession that he'd probably not like it if he was called a 'firewoman.' I told him to imagine going with his girlfriend for the first time to meet her parents. I suggested that he imagine what it would feel like when she introduced him, and then said, "Steven is a firewoman." At this point his jaw kind of dropped as enlightenment flashed through his eyes and he said, "Yeah, I guess you're right. I wouldn't like that." Hmmmm, one point for the feminist, zero for patriarchy--zing!

Anyways, last Saturday Julianne and I went to Seoul and I was able to find a textbook that I could use for the first session in the 6 month course. The program has been divided into 3 sessions. I teach one course in each of the first two sessions, and the third session is when the trainees are overseas for a month in America. In the second session I'll be teaching an intermediate level reading course, and that should be a lot of fun too. I plan to try and find children's stories that the trainees have likely never read or been exposed to for use in the classroom here. I'm hoping to find stories that they will love, and that I know have high potential for teaching English in the elementary language classroom.

Well, this post is getting into mini-novella length so I'll just say that a big reason I haven't been blogging much this week has been due to all of the prep duties one has to do when getting ready for a semester of teaching in a national unversity of education in Korea--on top of which has been added teaching prep for the 6 month program too . . .

I'll close by saying that SOME of my faith in the "individuals with decision making power" at the university has been restored because they made some concessions to help the foreign instructors deal with the heavy workload . . . I'm still not happy that I was never given a choice, but I've decide that one way a foreign instructor can 'understand' Korean culture is to contextualize teaching English in Korea as an adventure in non-sexual S&M--yes, S&M, LOL!

I've had fun with Julianne joking about how some days I pretty much might as well be wearing a certain kind of black leather outfit with appropriate mouth piece and strap while I'm at work. And that the higher-ups then become masters and mistresses wearing 'formal power costumes' and shiny dressy shoes with high heels and platforms (wait a second, they already do! lol) . . .

Admitting to myself the 'true nature' of my working conditions has been liberating--in an I-choose-to-submit-myself-to-doing-anything-and-everything my masters and mistresses want me to do . . .

If you live and teach here--think about it . . . lol.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

What will it be like for foreign English instructors in Korea for 2009?

Another site I browse every once and a while for articles related to teaching and living in Korea is

Today I saw two articles about what what it will be like teaching and living in Korea for 2009. The second article also offers an interesting survey of how English teaching has changed since 2001 for foreign/expat teachers.

A Look Ahead for 2009: ESL Hotspots: Korea

Seven Years of ESL in South Korea

I've been blogging now for about almost 2 hours because I can't sleep again . . . so I'll keep my predictions short.

The new E2 visa application process combined with the terrible exchange rates on the Korean won with the American and Canadian dollar in addition to the increased amount of information (positive and negative) for foreign teachers considering Korea as a place to live and work will lead to a decrease in the number of new teachers when one compares the numbers from 2009 to 2008. I think it will also lead to an increase in the number of foreign/expat instructors who decide that it's time to leave Korea and not renew their contracts or look for different positions and contracts . . .

One thing that will be hard to discern is how many of the foreign teachers in Korea actually have completed university degrees and TEFL/TESL/CELTA or a professional teaching license in order to figure out if the numbers of qualified foreign teachers increased or decreased. The reason for this is, as it's pointed out in the articles I linked to (above), and in other news articles online and blogs, Korea has in reality lowered its standards--while claiming to have raised the bar (which in a bizarre way is also kind of true--it's a paradox)--and is allowing people with only 1 or 2 years of university to come over to teach in the public schools . . .

Lately something I've been thinking about is how does change take place in a collectivist socio-cultural environment . . . ? And my conclusion has been that micro-paradigm shifts must be the answer--that, and top-down authoritarian decrees (aka 'policies') have some degree of influence too. But I think that micro-paradigm shifts are the true power. I mean the mad cow hysteria and riots are a great example. Critical numbers were reached and suddenly tens of thousands of Koreans were on the streets protesting . . . and then months later with the Korean won falling in value, jobs being lost in large numbers, and the economy drowning as it's sucked into the global recession you see evidence of another micro-paradigm shift with what previously would have been considered an invitation to suicide: a girl in GS Mart with a special promotion booth stand wearing a cowboy hat and on the front of the stand the words "American Beef" are written in large letters . . . I SERIOUSLY CAN'T BELIEVE I DIDN'T HAVE MY CAMERA WITH ME WHEN I SAW THIS! Argh . . .

A kind of socio-cultural micro-paradigm shift of this magnitude is not possible without something else, however, and I'd have to say that would be the Korean cultural (notice I did NOT use the word 'genetic' here!) trait of collective mass 'amnesia.' Before the shift I'd have been afraid for the lives of the girls working the meat counter if they openly advertised they had American beef for sale--yet when I saw the girl wearing the cowboy hat selling American beef there were several Koreans all buying it up . . .

How does this relate to what I see happening during 2009, and actually for the next five years in the education system? I think that a major paradigm shift is coming for Korea's education system. The numbers of students who became politically active in the mad cow protests, especially the middle school students, created a crash course in how to organize political dissent and activism. These students will be in high school in a couple of years where they will have to endure the nightmare that is the national university entrance exam, and I think that if enough students across the country recall the power and influence the mad cow riots had that a major paradigm shift might take place in the education system . . .

Sadly, I think that the transition period from the current system as it's known today to a truly reformed education system will result in a generation or two of student and teacher 'casualties.' Those that cannot navigate their way through all of the policy changes, testing changes, and teaching and learning changes that will come out of the testing system being reformed will probably not be able to recover in whatever new highly competitive social ranking system emerges from the ashes of the old one.

As for foreign/expat instructors . . . unless salaries are insanely high, and teaching/work/life situations in our home countries are poor, a lot of us will simply leave the coming anarchy that will be the transition phase from one education system to another, and find more hospitable places to teach and live. In a society where parents, students, and teachers rely so heavily on pre-scripted social codes for thinking/feeling/speaking/acting in order to function the transition from old to new will be truly revolutionary . . . and we all know that not everyone gets to come out the other side of revolutions.

Well, that's my sense of what is coming in 2009 and beyond . . . what do you think?


"ilje gosa" or 'nationwide scholastic achievement assessment'

One of the Korean English news websites I occasionally take a look at is The Hankyoreh. Today I saw some articles about the "ilje gosa" or 'nationwide scholastic achievement assessment.' This is a test that was discontinued years ago and was renewed last year amidst a lot of protests by schools, teachers, and students . . .

Something foreign English instructors that are new to Korea need to know is that test rankings dominate anything and everything to do with the Korean education system. It's a constant struggle for expat instructors who have been in Korea for years to find ways to motivate Korean students to learn for the sake of learning, learn for the joy of learning, and just plain learn anything that won't somehow give the student an edge up over his/her peers in terms of their academic ranking. Whether this is in the public school classroom or the university classroom the same problem exists for foreign English teacher classes.

And the problem just doesn't apply to Korean students--it also impacts Korean teacher performance and motivation in the classroom when teaching. Considering the long hours and enormous workload many Korean teachers have to endure each day throughout the school year it's no wonder that many see the foreign English teacher's class (with the mandated focus on English speaking and conversation) as a complete waste of their time. The materials are generally not tested (though I do know some foreign teachers who have actually been able to convince their co-teachers to adjust the grading system to include their class content on tests and/or have some kind of grading take place) . . . so not only do many Korean students see foreign English teacher classes as a waste of time when they are within the crushing exhaustion and stress of studying and preparing for the classes that are tested--the Korean teachers also exhibit a high degree of disinterest too . . . not all, but too many for sure.

So when something like the "ilje gosa" is added to the Competition-Education system here you really have to wonder what the underlying economic and social motivations are . . . because they certainly have absolutely nothing to do with education.

Some of the article that got me blogging about this is here,

Opposition to national scholastic achievement test increases

With the furor about a national scholastic achievement test on the rise following the discovery that the Imsil Office of Education in North Jeolla Province manipulated its test results, there are rising concerns that similar problems with the test could recur in the next three rounds of testing scheduled to take place over the course of the year. Given the complaints about inconsistencies in how the test is scored and the fact that the test will be administered to more than one million students in a single day each of the next three times the test is given, support for eliminating the test, rather than simply improving it, has increased as well.

If an EDUCATION OFFICE run by professionals with decades of experience cannot be trusted . . . wow, I don't know what I'd feel as a parent or student who has to deal with this kind of reality on a daily basis.

The nationwide scholastic achievement assessment (ilje gosa) is a test for elementary and middle school students that covers five subjects: Korean language, English language, mathematics, science and social studies.

Students in the fourth through ninth grades will be tested on March 10, according to an announcement made Friday by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. This means that a total of 2.7 million students, or five times more than the number of students who take the national college entrance exam, will take the test. Students in the third, sixth and ninth grades will take the test Oct. 13. The third round of testing will take place Dec. 23, the ministry said.

I'm kind of guessing that Julianne, and other foreign English teachers in the public education schools are going to have an interesting first week back to school. The schools that are taking this test seriously will all be running around freaking out and trying to get their students ready to take this test--meanwhile new foreign teachers entering the country will likely be sitting at their desks wondering why all the teachers in their office look like trench warfare soldiers from WW I . . .

. . .

Nevertheless, an official at the education ministry said he did not anticipate any further problems because the results of the test scheduled for March will not be disclosed and that students would only be informed of whether they were classified as performing or under performing.

Great . . . 'pass or fail' pretty much is interpreted by Korean students as 'life or death' when it comes to tests and grades here. I wonder how this kind of testing is supposed to 'help improve' assessment of schools and what needs to be changed . . .

Also check out . . .

Education Ministry under fire for faulty scholastic achievement test

Standards for administering and scoring the test were inconsistent in districts nationwide, which led to schools manipulating their results

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has come under fire for its handling of the nationwide scholastic achievement assessment (ilje gosa) following the discovery that the Imsil Office of Education in North Jeolla Province manipulated its test results before reporting them to the Education Ministry. The Imsil Office of Education had announced that no sixth graders in Imsil county were under performing in the key subjects of Mathematics and English and Korean language, but it was discovered Wednesday that the opposite was true, with a significant number of the schools’ sixth graders under performing in those subjects. Several other schools have also been found to have manipulated their results before reporting them to the ministry. Meanwhile, the credibility of the test itself has been called into question because each school used different standards to score the test and the ministry did not do enough to resolve the problem after the inconsistencies were discovered.

The sheer arrogance that must have been behind such a ludicrous cheating plan is staggering--NOBODY HAS AN ENTIRE REGION WITH STUDENTS WHO ALL PERFORM ABOVE AVERAGE/PASS A TEST--unbelievable . . .

The ministry released the test results on Monday, but problems with the testing system were detected early on. The test was called into question after it was reported that some students either submitted blank papers or submitted papers with only one question answered because they knew their test results would not be reflected in their overall grades, a key factor in the university admissions process. The scoring system was found be problematic because there were no clear standards for scoring more subjective questions, which meant that schools in different cities or provinces were issued different standards for scoring by their regional offices of education.

A teacher at a middle school in Seoul asked, “Who would have earnestly taken the exam because the results weren’t reflected on the school performance records?” Supervision of the exam was loose and scoring wasn’t strict,” the teacher said.

Well, the school year hasn't even started and it already looks like it will be full of more stories about the ilje gosa . . . I seriously feel a great deal of sympathy for the students and teachers who are having to deal with this on top of everything else that comes with teaching and learning within the competition system here.


'Audible Drugs' Spreading -- Should we be worried about "sound drugs" testing for our E2 Visas in the future . . . ? FUNNY!

Saw this on the Korea Times site today . . .

'Audible Drugs' Spreading

So-called ``audible drugs'' in the form of MP3 files, which allegedly give listeners similar effects as illegal drugs, are spreading online quickly.

The tracks, called ``I-Dosers,'' have been known among Internet-savvy users as a legal alternative to illicit drugs without the side effects. Several Internet communities have recently been created to share the music files and relevant information.

With no reports of side effects or accidents caused by the ``cyber drug'' yet, police remain inactive, while experts express concern over possible addiction to what they call ``audible drugs.''

The official Web site of the tracks ( states the products can help users achieve dozens kinds of ``simulated states'' through self-developed binaural brainwave technology ㅡ a concept which states that when two different tones are played in opposite ears, a beating sensation is created in the brain and make users feel a state similar to that caused by alcohol, marijuana, sleeping aids, ecstasy, heroin and other drugs, it said.

Many users praise the effects. A user who briefly noted his experience online said, ``It makes me feel as if I'm having an out-of-body experience.'' Some others described the products as ``life-changing,'' and ``inspiring,'' offering incomparably higher excitement than any other recreational tools they've had.

And the article continues . . . I've never heard of Binaural beats but it sounded interesting so I went to wikipedia to check it out . . . apparently "Heinrich Wilhelm Dove discovered binaural beats in 1839" (wikipedia)--cool.

Skimming over the wikipedia entry I saw this,

"Another claimed effect for sound induced brain synchronization is enhanced learning ability. It was proposed in the 1970s that induced alpha brain waves enabled students to assimilate more information with greater long term retention.[32] In more recent times has come more understanding of the role of theta brain waves in behavioural learning[33] The presence of theta patterns in the brain has been associated with increased receptivity for learning and decreased filtering by the left hemisphere.[32][34][35] Based on the association between theta activity (4-7 Hz) and working memory performance, biofeedback training suggests that normal healthy individuals can learn to increase a specific component of their EEG activity, and that such enhanced activity may facilitate a working memory task and to a lesser extent focused attention." (my italics, my bold)

I'm kind of surprised that Korean moms aren't tying their kids to chairs in front of the home computer each day to get their dose . . . lol. I wonder if any students have these files on their mp3 players . . . hehe.

If you happen to have a 'cat gene' as a part of your genome and decide to check this out for yourself--"meow" (did I just make a cat sound? lol)--I highly recommend following wikipedia's warning: "For these examples to be effective, it is required that the listener use headphones. WARNING: play the files _before_ putting on the headphones in order to set a safe volume, as the onset of the sound is quite abrupt and, especially in the second file, quite loud at first." (my italics, my bold)

I think it's safe to say that the Korea Times has become the equivalent of the National Enquirer in my mind . . . Time to go listen to . . . something, lol.


Friday, February 20, 2009

6 month intensive teach English through English program -- I've been hit by Korean lightning now twice in a row!

This past December I signed on for a second contract at my university. At that time nothing seemed to be new in my contract, or the job itself. The basic job description of 16 teaching hours per week as a maximum, with a month off in the summer and winter (and usually more than that in reality), all seemed to be intact.

When life gives you kimchi you make kimchi icecream and learn to love eating it--or get on a plane and leave . . .

Last week I found out that the Gangwon province education office has chosen the national university of education (and two other places: Gangwon university, and a training center out in Yang Yang) that I work at as a trial location for--wait for it, wait for it--you guessed it: the 6 month intensive teach English through English program--the same one I taught in 2007 at the provincial training center I worked at . . . and a group of individuals at my university with decision-making power all agreed to accept this appointment without telling any of the 5 of us foreign profs . . . let alone asking each of us if we'd agree to our working and teaching conditions being dramatically altered.

It looks like the national university of education is getting a language training center hogwan added to its campus (they just haven't built the physical structure yet), and I (along with my coworkers) have been hired to work there, while also working our regular full time job on the main campus, with no interview or even the conscious awareness of the fact that my teaching and working conditions were being radically modified in this manner. I wonder how many other university foreign professors are going through the same thing right now, and in the next few years . . .

I think something every foreign English instructor in Korea has to face is that the country is run primarily by men whose leadership styles are based on the power dynamics and hierarchies of military culture and the modern neo-Confucianism of Korean culture. The confusing thing is that Korea claims to want its universities to become globally competitive, and to draw the top talented professors from all academic disciplines in other countries (especially the US) to the universities here. The thing that completely boggles the mind is that no attempts are made to understand what "professionalism" means outside of Korea . . .

Some people might argue that when foreign English instructors CHOOSE to live and work in Korea that they should 100% abide by the socio-cultural norms--the whole 'when in Rome' bullshit rationalization. I would argue that if Korea truly wants to improve its English education, and the education system in general, that the current cultural norms and practices are the antithesis of the stated goals. It is impossible to achieve these goals within the current Korean socio-cultural definitions, and lived reality, of 'professionalism' and 'quality education'--let me say that again, IMPOSSIBLE. I do think that foreign instructors should adapt as much as is possible, and respect the traditions and customs of the Korean people--EXCEPT WHEN IT DAMAGES THE QUALITY OF LEARNING, TEACHING, AND PROFESSIONALISM IN THE EDUCATION SYSTEM.

After learning a few more tiny details from a Korean professor on the phone this past Wednesday I wasn't able to fall asleep until 5am--and it wasn't due to coughing and my cold. I kept thinking of all of the horrible things that I went through in 2007 during the 6 month intensive teach English through English program. The program is essentially 1-2 years of English as a Second Language teaching methods training and English language skills crammed into six months . . . . simply put, it's trying to get the Korean teachers to learn and master the fundamental English language skills that they should already have mastered back when they originally did their university training, and add to this the agenda of getting the trainees to learn how to use communicative Western cultural style pedagogy--all of this in 6 months.

It gets better . . .

We (the foreign professors) still haven't been told exact numbers in terms of how many extra hours per week we'll be teaching for the program--oh yeah, and apparently now the provincial education office officials say that Korean profs aren't allowed to teach in the program anymore because they don't want any Korean being spoken during lectures (many of the visiting Korean professors that guest lectured at the training center where I worked in 2007 lectured in KOREAN while teaching how to teach English using the English language--yeah, small problem, eh?) . . . so the whole program is being put on by 6 foreign profs . . . (we got a new guy coming this Monday from the US--won't he be thrilled! He doesn't know about the complete redefining of his job description and hours yet).

Some differences from the 2007 program that I did include:

- only one class of 20 trainees, all will be elementary Korean teachers--in the 2007 program I worked in there were four homerooms with 12 trainees in each (2 classes of elementary, 2 of middle/high school teachers)

- each foreign prof will teach their own course--not shared like it was at the training center in 2007, so no dealing with issues of other foreign instructors (some of them lacked training, experience, and general motivation to teach well) messing around with how I teach (it's pretty difficult to teach well when the teacher who previously had the class you're teaching doesn't tell you where they stopped in the textbook, and they didn't effectively cover the previous lesson's material so that you can't move on with the new lesson you thought you could teach . . .)

- we will be paid a reasonable rate per hour -- overtime rate at the training center in 2007 was 25,000 per hour (considering the workload, it was not a reasonable rate)

- there will be no field trips--in 2007 we did several field trips (where tour guides spoke to trainees in KOREAN--argh, so much for an intensive English learning environment, and the foreign teachers had to sit through it with no translation either) at the training center in 2007

- there will be no immersion camp weeks--we did two immersion weeks, and during those we were at the training center 12 hours a day . . .

For the 2009 program it looks like each foreign prof is going to have to teach 5-6 hours each week on top of their regular contract 16 hours. This might seem like a small number but if you consider the prep time required, and other administrative duties, and test marking, etc, it all adds up really really fast! We also usually get one day a week off for prep and other things--but this may and very likely will be canceled in order to fit the teaching hours for the 6month program into the regular weekly schedule.

For those of us who didn't have a full 16 regular classes per week schedule, and we're missing 1-3 hours of our required 16, they are still making us do non-credit conversation classes with the regular university students to make up our 16 thus guaranteeing that we will be working 5-6 hours of OT each week. The thing about these non-credit courses that have no tests and don't show up on Korean student transcripts is that for the first month or so the majority of students (of the 20-25 students per class) show up for the class . . . but as the semester progresses attendance usually drops to 3-8 students showing up, and sometimes only 1 or even no one shows up for the class--but as instructors we have to prepare teaching materials and be available for the scheduled class time and wait at least 15 minutes of a 50 minute period to see if anyone late will show up . . . this tends to demoralize and demotivate you as a teacher a little bit when you waste preparation time, etc.

We also usually have from mid-June until the last week of August off unless you are asked to teach in a 2 week in-service teacher training camp during the summer . . . but not this year. Instead we'll be lucky if they give us the one month off in the summer the contract states we must be given--this is in the process of being 'talked about.' Oh yeah, and the two week regular in-service Korean teacher training camp program (that they do ever year in the summer and winter) is still on while the 6 month program is running . . .

To make the summer vacation period even more interesting the second regular semester at the university begins on August 24th, and not the first Monday of September--this will make fitting a one month vacation in before the semester rather difficult because of the teaching hours for the 6 month program before and after the trainees are overseas for one month, possibly in July (one month vacation would be July 16th-August 16th if we're to be back in time for the one week of prep before semester 2).

One reason scheduling vacations will be problematic is that the six month program involves one month where the Korean teacher trainees go to America (the most preferred choice, surprise surprise) for more training and to be immersed in an English speaking environment outside of the classroom. A second reason is that the foreign professors usually need at least 5 days to prep before the beginning of the semester . . . the problem here is that because the university has just found out about the 6 month program it has not contacted a university in America and gotten approval for the trainees to attend a one month summer language and teacher training program . . . so the actual dates of this one month in America will wreak havoc with each foreign professor's vacation plans for the summer . . . nice.

Other things that haven't been addressed are, for example (one of several), how the 3rd year regular students in the university's education program use the foreign profs for teaching demonstration test English script editing (many students just write out a script of what they say while doing the teaching test, and memorize it--rather than practicing how to speak English while teaching using the English language--in their defense I will say that the workload put on them by their courses is beyond anything I've ever seen in Canada, and they simply do not have the proper amount of time to prepare for a teaching demonstration test where they must only speak in English). This is a part of our regular unpaid contract duties at the university. Typically, we have to put up sign-up sheets for 10 hours a week over four weeks--40 hours of unpaid time for script editing and all of this on top of our regular duties--which have now been dramatically increased because of the new 6 month program. Nobody has said anything about how we will manage to do this regular semester teaching duty over the course of 4 weeks while also having added 4-6 hours of OT teaching each week during the 6 month program . . .

Anyways, I could go on but you get the general idea. We have 8 days before the program begins, and no one has even made a schedule yet (this is not due to incompetence, however, and simply due to the fact that nobody knew this 6 month program was coming until this week). No courses have been planned, and no textbooks selected let alone even ordered to be there on time (forget giving us time to study them--though I'm going to fight to use textbooks I already know well) . . .

After already having gone through the nightmare that is this 6 month program at the training center in 2007, I seriously believed that I'd never have to deal with the program again for the remainder of my time teaching and living in Korea. Wow, was I ever dead wrong about that. On the positive, glass is half full perspective, I think that the foreign and Korean professors I work with can make this program achieve a reasonable degree of success as long as the education office does not throw insane curve balls at random intervals throughout the six month program. Adding on new requirements after the planning has been done, and the course is already in session is something I'm very very worried will happen . . .

The political agenda of the current government's administration has an enormous focus on expanding and improving the quality of English education in Korea. Yet the policy makers seem to lack the professional training in education policy research and design that are needed to make this dream become a SUCCESSFUL reality.

I would liken how the education policy is being implemented to putting soldiers (read as 'teachers') through a foreign country's basic training and specialized trade training in 1/4 of the regular quality time it takes to learn and master the skills and knowledge needed to be a competent professional who can survive and overcome the enormous obstacles and challenges that the battlefield (read this as 'schools and classrooms') hold . . . oh yeah, and the soliders/teachers also have to do all of this in a langauge that they are not fluent in--nice.

I also have to consider that the government provincial office of education usually/always has . . . how shall I put this . . . people in key leadership positions with 'reality issues'--so I not only have to worry about the fact that no one at the university has ever designed and implemented the 6 month program, and must do this in ONE WEEK while also doing all the other regular education department programs, but I also have to watch out for what the education office people (for who it is also the first time) who think that issuing orders makes those orders as good as done because they are operating under the authority of a national education policy . . . or as I put it in another post of mine about education in Korea:

"The fundamental structure of the Korean education system is one of competition, not education, and it is maintained in this manner to allow the upper class rich and elite families to send their children to S.K.Y. which guarantees they continue their status as the elite of
Korea. As long as students must use hogwans to compete within the public education testing system that relies too heavily on rote memorization of facts there is no real possibility of reforms being made, let alone a foreign teacher who has been in the country for a year or less being listened to when they try to share their opinion [about how to improve things].

Another major factor [for why foreign instructors are not listened to] tends to be simple ignorance. If the listener has never traveled to an English speaking country, had some training or exposure to the education systems there, they cannot comprehend the problems that foreign teachers see and are trying to communicate about. If the listener has not had up to date, quality teacher training, and education administration training and experience, they also cannot understand the problems foreign teachers see. When the native teacher is saying that the snow should be white, and it is green, and the person he/she is talking to thinks the natural color of snow is green . . . communication becomes impossible.

In Korea, the general consensus on the education system with the people who have the power to change it seems to be that the snow is green."

Well, now the choice for me is to see if I can deal with another 6 months of crazy hours and amounts of work--or if I should just pack it in, go home, live on an insanely low budget for a while, and then find another job in Asia somewhere. The major problem that fucks all this up is Julianne is here with me, and we don't want to be apart or for me to have to quit and go home to Canada . . . we'd deal with it if that's what I decide I have to do--but it would suck big time . . .

When life gives you kimchi you make kimchi icecream and learn to love eating it--or get on a plane and leave . . .

Kimchi ice cream is definitely an acquired taste. It is also something that you can love one day, and hate the next . . .

Lately, I've not been feeling the desire to eat anything at all . . .


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Intensive 6 month teaching English through English program -- Reflections Part II: Mad Preparations at Lightning Speed

At the end of my last post I wrote, "My face must have been ashen white, and I remember feeling like I was going to be physically ill. I think the Korean supervisor saw this, and probably the most deafening message that reached her was my silence . . ."

At the end of that meeting everybody left with a sense of impending doom. We had 25 working days, or so (I forget the exact number, but around that much) with half or more of the foreign team of 10 instructors away on vacation during the whole time, and some of them leaving and returning, and then leaving and returning again for various reasons. Add to the equation that two of the foreign teachers' contracts were ending and they had no motivation or interest in making lesson plans for the teacher training course and things were just utterly ludicrous.

How can quality education take place under the following conditions? 1) foreign English instructors with non-English/education/linguistics related university degrees, 2) foreign English instructors with no TESL/TEFL/CELTA instructor certificates, 3) foreign English instructors with no aptitude or natural talent in teaching = tourist-party 'teachers', 4) poor to absent leadership, planning, and communication in the foreign teacher office, and 5) poor to absent leadership, planning, and communication in the Korean office, 6) major problems in both the foreign teacher and Korean teacher office working together effectively on joint projects with very short time limits, and lastly, 7) last minute new details and requirements being sent to the training center office by the provincial education office that tended to undo work that had been done for different criteria . . . and the foreign teachers who had to do most of that work not being informed immediately but usually later when there was only a day or two before the deadline . . .

It was a recipe for disaster in the coming 6 months--and knowing what I know now I would never have stayed . . . hindsight, yeah.

So the meeting ended and everybody went to their desks . . . the next day, I think, the supervisor came in and said that my (and I think a few other instructors) suggestion to use professionally made textbooks was a good idea.

A major planning issue that had been brought up in the first meeting was whether or not we would have two different levels of program curricula--one for the elementary Korean teachers, and one for the middle/high school teachers. We were told by professional Korean teacher-supervisors, with decades of experience, that we didn't need to do this--myself and two other teachers argued ferociously, by this point politeness had pretty much put a white flag and then fallen over dead on the conference room table--that this was utter insanity and grossly ignored basic teaching methodology and COMMON SENSE! Our points were dismissed outright . . .

Even after the decision had been made to purchase textbooks to be used in the different courses of the program, there were still dozens of hours of teaching time that had to have original teaching materials and lesson plans made by the foreign instructors, or rather, by the four homeroom instructors as the other 6 foreign teachers would be teaching middle school and high school camp programs while the 6 month teacher training program was running. It was assumed by the Korean staff that those 6 teachers would prepare their own materials plus help us with the training program . . . uhm, yeah, not.

During the planning in the month leading up to Day 1 of the program we realized that we'd be short 2 foreign teachers--the training center didn't realize that within Korea it had a horrible reputation. They didn't realize that foreign teachers network and talk, and that if a training center/school/hogwan/university treats its foreign teacher poorly word spreads.

Not only would we be short of a full team but now the Korean staff was assuming that the four homeroom teachers of the 6 month training program would be willing to fill in the missing teacher slots/hours for when the children camp programs were running . . . unbelievable.

Add to all of this Crazy Teacher X. CTX had arrived about 3 months before all of the insanity began at the training center. He was in his late 30s, from NZ, and seemed to know his TESL really well. The problem was that CTX couldn't work with other people--at all. CTX also had an inferiority complex of gargantuan proportions, and oh yeah, he wore deoderant that didn't work so people could smell him from about 10 feet away . . .

Crazy Teacher X brought a whole category of his own to the planning with the stress and problems he'd create. If anyone disagreed with the tiniest thing he'd suggest he'd make everything everyone said after into a battle even if we knew he agreed with it--he'd disagree just to make everyone pay attention to his 'wounded' self-esteem.

Crazy Teacher X was assigned to be one of the 2 middle/high school homeroom teachers--I was the other. I had to work closely with CTX on an hourly if not daily basis . . . and between the insane stress levels of the 6 month program, and working closely with CTX I nearly lost my mind.

So with CTX in mind, imagine finding out that you'd have ONE DAY to choose 3 novels (for reading classes), a listening textbook, a speaking textbook, a vocabulary textbook, a writing/essay textbook, and a few other things. Also add to this that you'd have two Korean supervisors and two Korean teachers who didn't understand communicative teaching methodology who wanted to have the final say on what textbooks we would choose, and CTX who would go nuts if we didn't accept his suggested titles . . . and those are the conditions we to work under when choosing the textbooks.

Since the day for choosing the textbooks was going to fall in the next week, and it was the weekend, I decided to head to the Incheon foreign language teaching bookstore ahead of time to do some scouting on my own. Having 4-6 hours of time to choose textbooks you'd be using for MONTHS was riduculous and I knew that I'd just have to use my own personal time to do more research. I found titles that I thought were good and hoped that I'd be able to convince CTX and the Korean supervisors to agree with my suggestions.

Just a general note it's worth mentioning that Compass Publishing produces some of the best EFL textbooks, and workbooks, in the Korean market. I have yet to pick up a book of theirs that I thought was not well put together, and they often have English vocabulary with the Korean definitions beside them in the vocab sections of each lesson, etc. Oxford, Longman, and a few others are also really good. I'm considering doing little 1 minute videos in the near future where I talk about some of the best books I've bought and USED consistently when teaching in Korea.

Back to planning the six month kill Jason through previously thought improbabe and impossible situations . . .

Just traveling to the bookstore from the island by AREX took an hour and a bit.

. . .

And I'm going to stop writing about what happened in 2007 because the same thing is happening to me right now in 2009--unbelievable . . .

In my next post I'll write about what's been going on for the last week or so with my job.


Saw Tom Cruise's "Valkyrie" Tonight

Julianne and I went out for dinner and a movie tonight. When we got to the theater (we didn't look before going) there was only one English movie on display: Valkyrie

The movie as a whole is a masterpiece. I am not exaggerating. The soundtrack alone should be billed as one of the leading stars in the movie. The drums and staccato sounds create an unceasing pulsating emotional tension that supports the powerful performances and story of the movie.

The ensemble cast was a huge surprise. Tom delivers a spectacular performance--but it would have been completely unappreciated without the large number of amazing supporting actors.

The cinematography uses close-ups in an interesting way that emphasizes human features of the perspective from which we, as the viewers, are engaged in the story. It creates a realism of 'being there' right behind the human being telling the story . . . it was awesome.

I am a little disappointed with the female roles in the movie, and the amount of screen time and script space they are given. They are there as secretaries, wives, and background . . . not exactly the roles that I'm sure they had in real life.

WARNING -- SPOILER COMMENT HERE -- Please stop reading if you haven't seen the movie.

At the end of the film there is an incredibly human moment with the adjutant (Lieutenant Werner von Haeften) to Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise). They are about to be executed. General Friedrich Olbricht goes first, with Stauffenberg encouraging him to "look them in the eyes" and make them remember us.

Then it's Stauffenberg's turn. He walks into the street to stand in front of the firing squad alone . . . and then his adjutant suddenly walks over to stand in front of him with his back to the firing squad in a symbolic gesture of defiance to Hitler and the SS, and defense of the man he follows and is friends with--it's a movie moment that I would put on par with scenes from Band of Brothers, Saints and Soldiers, and Saving Private Ryan.

Finally, the thing that makes this movie a masterpiece is the story itself--without a story there is nothing but special effects and the plastic surgery-based superficiality of Hollywood's regular gruel for consumption. Historians and WW II experts will probably poke holes in some of the revisionist details in the movie, but I think that as a piece of historical drama writing that the script is fantastic.

Wikipedia has this picture of Tom Cruise and the real life Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg . . . the similarities are uncanny, literally. It's almost like this is a role that Tom was 'meant' to do . . . I also have to wonder what role Scientology played in Tom choosing to act in this movie given the importance of past lives in his religion.

The ensemble cast, as I said before, is a huge key to this movie's success. They were so amazing that I'm putting the list of them from wikipedia here (see below).

Julianne and I walked out of the theater actually feeling like we had just witnessed a great story and performances of the highest level--how often can one say that?

p.s. Wow, I haven't seen Branagh in a while--his role contributes a great deal to the development of the momentum and tension in the story. I hope he does more work in the near future.

Other cast members:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Got a cold and cough like me? Try Chinese Herbal Cough Medicine

For over a week now I've been fighting the cold and cough that's been going around . . . and tonight I finally broke down and decided at 2am to try the Chinese herbal cough medicine Julianne took when she was sick a while ago . . . in case you missed it the first time, here's her video.

Now I really have to wonder what Julianne was thinking when she tries to reassure me by saying, "Just swallow . . . an' bear it!" . . . yeah, reassuring words . . . not!

To add to my apprehensiveness I also juxtaposed Julianne's video with this girl on youtube taking Buckley's . . .

It's not a good idea to psych yourself out before you take medicine by remembering the contorting faces of two people taking cough medicine!

My cough is bad enough that I decided to power through the stuff in spite of the very evident misgivings you'll see flash across my face. I mean, seriously, if you look at the facial contortions Julianne made when she took the stuff wouldn't you be apprehensive too?

Julianne says, "Nice biiiig swallow, baby." My face does this,

Then we have a slight miscommunication about how much I'm supposed to take--I'd seen her take just the plastic cap before . . . she tells me to take two and my face does this--

Here's the video of me taking a shot of the stuff . . . (I'm too tired to search for them right now but I think my facial expressions kick Roboseyo's expression pics in the butt!!)

I think it kind of tastes like "Makgeolli, also known as takju, is a traditional alcoholic beverage native to Korea. It is made from rice (referred to in English as "Korean rice wine") which gives it a milky, off-white color, and sweetness. It is made by fermenting a mixture of boiled rice and water, and is about 6.5–7% alcohol by volume. It was originally quite popular among farmers, earning it the name nongju (농주 / 農酒), which means "farmer liquor". Dongdongju (동동주) is a drink very similar to makgeolli, and both are commonly imbibed alongside Korean "pancakes" called pajeon (파전) or bindaetteok (빈대떡)." (from

Anyways . . . to compound my misery I've also been staying up late at night because I can't lie down--I cough too much--and I'm still up right now at 3am blogging because my body clock is also whacked.

Julianne has to go into her school tomorrow and also on Tuesday and Wednesday for the ridiculous 3 days that mark the end of the 'winter vacation' and beginning of the Korean 'spring break' period which is just before the new school year which begins in March . . . this is when schools do a lot of the graduation ceremonies and a few other odds and ends so there will likely be no classes for her to teach, and she'll just sit at her desk. If she does get told to go to a classroom full of students there will be no teaching--the students know it, the Korean teachers know it, and veteran foreign teachers know it . . . luckily Julianne works with Korean coteachers who actually communicate with her what is going on as often as possible so she knows that she should just bring a game or DVD to the class and let the kids do whatever they feel like . . . the 'real' classes don't begin until March.

Well, I should try and get some sleep . . . I'm still coughing a little--so much for the magic of Chinese herbal cough medicine. I hope it keeps the cough down enough that I can get some sleep . . .


Saturday, February 14, 2009

News Media and Shaping Perceptions: An alternative view of the Israel-Palestine Issue

A lot of expat bloggers criticize the Korean news media, myself included, and some of us also criticize English news media--but more often we accept our home countries news as 'truth' and question foreign news media without hesitation . . . I will say that often, especially in the case of the Korea Times, it is warranted. I think what I'm trying to point out is the lack of critical discourse on blogs about western English news media . . . and the more sophisticated methods used in the productions of truth and perspectives that take place . . .

After having read a fair amount of writings by Homi Bhabha and Edward Said as part of my studies in English literary theory, and for my own personal interests, I often find it interesting to see how one-sided English western media is (especially in North America) about what goes on between Israel and Palestine . . .

Anyways, here's a thought provoking article I saw today online.

Israel is committing a holocaust in Gaza: Norman Finkelstein
By Selcuk Gultasli

BRUSSELS -- According to Finkelstein, Israel, a state built on the ashes of the Holocaust, is now committing a holocaust against Palestinians in Gaza. In a telephone interview with Today’s Zaman, Finkelstein said Israel was a “terrorist state” created by the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948. Praising Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish people for their courage in supporting Palestinians, Finkelstein referred to Israel as a “satanic” and “lunatic” state. Finkelstein’s parents survived the Nazi camps in World War II and then immigrated to the U.S.

After his book “The Holocaust Industry,” in which he accused many prominent Jewish leaders of abusing the victims of the Holocaust, was published, Finkelstein was almost declared persona non grata by America’s influential Zionist circles.

The rest of the article/interview can be found by clicking on the link/title.

It's interesting to me that I rarely to almost never read any English media online that is printed by countries outside of North America (the interview above comes from an Iranian news website). I think that if I did the contrasting views that I'd expose myself to when reading news articles about the same issue/event might help me to diversity and further improve my own reading and critical thinking skills--something to think about.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Intensive 6 month teaching English through English program -- The horror, the horror . . . reflections on the first time I taught in this program

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the fact that this is the start of my fifth year in Korea . . . and the path that has lead me to where I am right now.

I originally began considering what I would do to pay off my student loans in my first year of university (2000). I basically had three options: go back to retail management (nope, I went to university to avoid working there as a career--not really an option), go back into the military for a 3 year contract (nope, apparently I "think too much" to do that--I was told this often during my basic training, and on many other occasions to which I'd always reply, "Thank you, master-corporal/sergeant"), and lastly to go and teach English overseas . . .

I also had considered that with student loans and some credit card debt that going straight to teachers college right after graduating with a BA wouldn't be a good idea. I'd need to work a job while doing teacher training and didn't think I could manage that. I also knew that I wanted to do an MA in English, and possibly a PhD after that . . . so going to teachers college right away wasn't going to work.

I decided that going overseas to teach was the best option--my long time (ex)girlfriend strongly disagreed and a lot of ugliness ensued over the issue during my fourth year of university when she began to realize I was serious about following my plan . . .

Anyways . . . the 'original plan' was to come to Korea for 2-3 years, pay off my student loans, and save some money. Then go back to Canada and do the MA . . . things haven't gone exactly the way I had planned.

I found that in order to survive in Korea during my first year that I had to get off of Ganghwa Island (where I taught at 3 different middle schools for my regular 22 classes a week, and did extra classes at an elementary school and a girls high school for a total of 34 classes a week--talk about a baptism by fire!) almost every weekend so that the Monday to Friday isolation of living in a two-street village next to a mountain was bearable. Needless to say that required a fair amount of spending instead of putting more money into the loan.

My second year was in Incheon city teaching at an all girls academic high school, but still in a relatively isolated place--the closest foreign teachers that I actually knew and wanted to spend time with were at least 30 minutes away by subway . . . so, yes, more trips to Seoul where I'd meet up with people I knew--and, of course, more spending of capital that should have been . . . well, it's at this point I began to realize that "should" is a word that is incompatible with life in Korea--any time I've made "should" statements here I generally find that I am just banging my head against a wall in a futile effort to impose my own reality-matrix on a situation that uses different 'reality laws' . ..

The third year, after leaving the all girls high school I taught at, was a move to a different island--Yeongjongdo, where the Incheon International Airport is. After a long discussion with the Incheon education office's director I agreed to do something that I never should have even though the salary was really really good--some things are just NOT worth the money! I thought it wouldn't be that bad because the island has the AREX train that connects with the purple line of the Seoul subway station (a two hour trip), and I was going to be working with 9 other foreign teachers.

I quickly realized I was in another form of isolation as I really didn't connect with more than 2 of the teachers, and even then it was really only a good working friendship, and not one of more substance and meaning that I generally tend to prefer. So, yep, more expenditures to help deal with the isolation and general crappiness that was year three (the last 6 months of which were the worst I've had in Korea).

The training center is privately owned but also under the umbrella of the Incheon provincial education office. The training center runs 4 night/5 day English immersion programs for middle school and high school students from the Incheon area. Over the first six months that I was an instructor there we did about 2-3 camps a month with down time in between where we just came in to the training center and did whatever we wanted to (some of us would do prep for coming camps, while most would watch TV shows, movies, play computer games, use the Net, chat with friends, recover from the previous night of drinking, etc) . . . not exactly what 'should' have been going on, but the foreign teacher office was on one side of the main building (the training center has 2 buildings, and a large dormitory behind it), and the Korean teacher and supervisor office was on the other--and traffic between the two was infrequent at best due to problems in professionalism both on the part of the Korean staff and the foreign staff--and the cultural differences were so amplified (and not managed well by either the foreign head teacher nor the Korean office manager) that it became impossible for the two teams to work well together. You could almost say there was a whole North and South demilitarized zone lying between the two offices (you decide who is which country) . . . that's how bad it was.

Anyways, I guess one positive thing that came out of the first six months at the training center is that when I combine all of the camps I did during my first year's summer and winter, second year's summer and winter, and then the third year's first six months . . . I pretty much feel like an 'English camp in Korea' expert. Of the 10 foreign teachers at the training center, only 3 of us (in my opinion) had the training, experience, and TALENT that is required to make good quality lesson plans, activities, and all of the other things you have to prep for a camp . . . the bizarre and crappy thing about the training center that I absolutely hated when I first arrived was that new foreign teachers were expected to use the same lessons and materials that the other teachers used in the camp programs so that all the students 'have the same experience.'

***Making original and quality English teaching lesson plans requires not only teacher training but ALSO a TALENT for it.***

I didn't make many friends on my first day at the training center when I opened up the first camp lesson plan manual, scanned through it, and then said out loud, "This is crap! I can't use this . . ." Everyone in the foreign teachers office froze--but I didn't care. I knew in that moment that I would likely NOT be friends with anyone there when the kind of lesson plans I was looking at were being given a thumbs up by the majority in the office. Even more shocking was that a professionally trained and licensed teacher from Canada was the head teacher, and she directed the curriculum production . . .

I think this story illustrates a truth about foreign teachers in Korea that not many people talk about. It takes a lot of teacher training, experience in the classroom teaching, and a specific kind of TALENT to produce original quality lesson plans for whatever level of school/student you're teaching. The training center was doing camps for MULTIPLE levels of students in different kinds of programs but the Koreans running the center never addressed the issue of how to assess which foreign teachers were CAPABLE of making quality lesson plans and camp programs, and who would do curriculum development COMPETENTLY. They also never considered that maybe using professionally made textbooks would have been a better idea to begin with . . . though if I remember correctly I think the reason I was given when I broached that question at one point is that the 'originality' of the training center comes from the fact that it only uses native English speaker 'original' materials . . . meanwhile almost all, if not 100%, of the Korean teachers/supervisors would use textbook materials when they would teach . . .

This is something that blows my mind about foreign English teachers and the working conditions in Korea. A fresh off the plane, recent graduate of BIOLOGY (a lot of people don't have degrees related to English, linguistics, or even education--and even when you DO have those they generally don't do shit for you because the teaching/education system is so radically different here), without a TESL/TEFL/CELTA teacher certificate, will go to a public school job with usually a poor to crappy orientation (some of them are improving, but still have a long way to go) and on arriving at their new school with usually no teaching methodology books or resource books they are told to produce 'authentic original native English teacher lesson plans' (whatever that means), and oh yeah, don't expect help from your co-teachers as they're all usually too busy and also don't have the training, experience, or talent to make original lesson plans too . . . the game is over for many new teachers before it even begins . . .

Back to the training center situation . . .

The most common rationalization of the curriculum's poor quality that I heard from both foreign teachers and Korean teachers and supervisors was that the primary purpose of foreign teacher-Korean student interaction was to 'have fun' and expose the students to English with native speakers.

When I responded by asking, 'Then why are we teaching them, for example, how to write a paragraph in English in FOUR CLASSES (an impossible task, by the way), and doing academic lessons with the students if that is not the GOAL you've stated . . . I got blank stares and idiotic responses . . . I think this is when I began to lose my mind . . . the sheer and utter unfairness I experienced of having to try to ask students to learn how to write a paragraph in English (when many can't write simple sentences in English) made me want to die because I'm one of those teachers whose heart simply bursts into flames when I see the majority of my students willing to do something in spite of the fact that it is beyond their language abilities yet I'm tied to a curriculum that I had no say in and have to teach the students, and that was produced by people who have no business making lesson plans, let alone teaching . . .

BUt this is the situation a lot of people get put in whether they choose it or not in Korea, they come here thinking they can do it, with or without some training, and the realities are far far far different than what they imagined before getting on the plane . . . and the hard realization I came to is WHO THE HELL AM I TO JUDGE THESE PEOPLE? They have their own set of reasons and motivations for coming here, and every teacher (or 'edutainer') has their own set of capabilities, degrees of training (or lack thereof), and degrees of talent for teaching . . . and to impose on them my own standards and idealized notions of what 'should' be this, and 'should' be that . . . I was being an IDIOT--I learned this lesson too late, but at least I learned it.

In one of the books I bought to do research before the 6 month program began I read about research studies done to see how a school's general atmosphere influences the quality of teaching that teachers do. It said that if a school's general atmosphere is one of mediocrity and settling for doing the bare minimum, that when a new teacher arrives at the school they just get assimilated into this collective attitude. And if you're the principal, and want to make changes to how things are run, and the school's atmosphere is counter to this, that it's very difficult. I knew this intuitively before I read that book, so when I arrived at the training center on that first day I knew that the only way things were going to change was to create a 'tsunammi' that would rock the boat in such a way that it would force people to engage in dialogues about how things were being done--instead of just accepting the status quo . . . maybe not the best strategy--but suggest another way to get changes taking place in a short period of time if you know of one . . . the bugger is that the social penalties are huge for the boat-rocker, but I couldn't stomach not doing anything, either.

A lot of us get put into teaching/educational/learning situations by people who are more concerned about putting a native English BODY in the room with Korean students over anything else that might be related to something like doing an actual assessment of what the native English teacher has in terms of teacher training, experience teaching IN Korea, and the kinds of talents the person/teacher has in general . . . and all too often the person in charge also lacks the criteria you'd think their job title would require, and they're doing whatever it is that they're capable of doing . . .

Anyways . . .

Later on at the training center I established enough credibility with the director to begin to demand some respect from the supervisors who were there to put in the time required to earn points towards getting a promotion to become a vice-principal in the regular school system. When the supervisors realized that I would follow the chain of command, raise issues, and that when no progress was made in a reasonable period of time after having communicated an issue and tried to proactively suggest solutions, that I would talk to the director of the training center and tell her the TRUTH about what was going on . . . they began to take me seriously. I had one really good day when one of the Korean teachers in the KT office told me that the director had told all of the Korean staff to 'listen to Jason, he knows what he's talking about.' That was ONE good day . . .

So, after having worked with the Korean teachers and supervisors, and the foreign instructors, for close to 5 months or so we began to hear rumors about the training center being chosen to teach the intensive 6 month teaching English through English program that I'd read about in online news about Korea . . . I began asking some basic planning questions because knowing the Korean supervisors at the training center and how they had 'planned' things for the first 5 months of the contract year that I'd been working there I was already worried about what I imagined was going to happen in the teacher training program due to lack of careful planning, poor team work between the two offices, and poor communication too . . .

Leading up to this point I had been pushing for improvements to the foreign teacher office so that if the space was made more professional it might help to shape and alter the attitudes and behaviors of the people in that space. One small victory was getting a massive white board put on a wall so that we could put upcoming dates and projects that needed to get done so that everyone in the office (especially those that wouldn't turn away from their computers when there was an office 'meeting') would at least somehow, maybe, see this info . . . and indeed they did begin to take an interest in the board, and engage with the day to day issues of working there--a little.

I put up on this white board everyone's upcoming vacation dates spread out over the late spring and summer--and then wrote stuff about how many hours it takes to do X-number of lesson plans that we were anticipating the Korean staff would come in and tell us to make for the 6 month program. I wanted to stress to them that after a certain date there would only be 4-5 foreign teachers actually at the training center at any given point in time, and that it would never be the same foreign teachers throughout the duration of the summer as some of us left for vacation, and some would return--I was told the dreaded phrase, "Don't worry about it." I SERIOUSLY HATE THAT EXPRESSION when it's used in Korea . . .

Eventually, I think about a month before the start date of the program (the first Monday of September), myself and three others were 'appointed' (gotta love how they inflate the meaning of something like that) as homeroom teachers for the program. There were four homerooms with 12 trainees a piece. Two classes were made of 12 elementary Korean teacher trainees, and two were comprised of middle and high school Korean teacher trainees. Four of us were going to be doing the majority of all the teaching, while the other 6 would continue teaching the camp programs, and occassionally they would be asked to teach a conversation class on the teacher training schedule--needless to say the people still teaching the camps were relieved when they saw the hours we homeroom teachers were going to be doing . . .

I got assigned the homeroom with the oldest Korean middle school and high school teacher trainees . . . and while I appreciated the vote of confidence in my teaching abilities, I did NOT look forward to the idea of me, a 33 year old unmarried foreign guy with almost no social rank in the Korean scheme of things other than being a teacher, negotiating the teacher-trainee power relationships that I knew I'd have to do with each of the older trainees. I had taught Korean teachers before in one hour a week conversation classes at my public school positions, and had also taught them in two 60 hour teacher training summer courses I had made on Ganghwa . . . and had some idea of what I was in for--or so I thought--man was I wrong!

I actually grew my hair back (I'd been shaving it then too) in order to not have to deal with the stereotyped thinking that seems to dominate so many minds here--especially older Korean teachers, though NOT all. I didn't want to be already fighting an uphill battle the second I entered into contact with the trainees in my homeroom simply because of a shaved head. I didn't like that I felt like I was compromising my self-image in order to conform to the 'norm' here, but also saw that I'd be saving myself some unnecessary stress by giving up a small thing for 5 months (and I did shave my head again later on after the program was finished).

Back to the 'planning' . . . myself, and couple of the other foreign instructors, began pushing to become involved in the planning, or, at the very least, to be given some of the basic info about the course so we could begin preparing in whatever way each of us needed to . . .

After several weeks of pushing, pleading, and arguing with the Korean supervisor in charge of the program, we finally got her to have a meeting with us to let us know what was going on. It was horrible . . .

After hearing that we needed to make over 200 original lesson plans for speaking classes, listening classes, writing classes, and how to teach speaking, how to teach listening, how to teach writing, and how to teach reading (and all of the tests and evaluation forms to go with that too)--all of this in the context of how to teach EVERYTHING in English . . . I nearly started crying--literally. It was the middle of July, I think, maybe even closer to the end of July, and there were only about 6 of us in the meeting. The program would START the first Monday of September, and we basically had about 25 working days to complete the work with very few teachers--most were on vacation--and of those in the training center the issues of what training, experience, and talent they had for making lessons was a major obstacle, on top of which one could add that what kind of quality is there in a lesson plan made by a teacher who is NOT going to teach that lesson and has no personal investment in the materials or teaching of it? NONE . . . and yet the Korean staff thought it would be okay to ask the non-homeroom foreign teachers to help with making the materials . . . nuts!

My face must have been ashen white, and I remember feeling like I was going to be physically ill. I think the Korean supervisor saw this, and probably the most deafening message that reached her was my silence--I had just pretty much mentally collapsed and given up after hearing the number of teaching hours per week and throughout the course, and how much work they wanted us to do without all of the foreign teachers even at the training center--never mind the fact that only 2-3 of us could produce quality work . . . add to the mix that to do teaching methodology on top of the English content would also require a lot of research, reading up on, and refreshing our minds with the information needed in order to even begin making the lessons needed, etc, and I was completely and utterly crushed by the impossibility of the task being put in front of me and the other foreign teachers . . .

To be continued . . .

I need a break. Writing is a form of reliving the past . . . time for a break.