Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Costa Rica Nostalgia

Going through my old e-mails and stumbled across this concluding e-mail I sent out before I left Costa Rica last summer. Of course I deleted the more humorous of my Costa Rica e-mails. Maybe this habit of mine of constantly deleting messages is a bad thing. Anyway thought I would post this so it's preserved.

E-mail from Aug. 5th 2010

So tomorrow I fly back to the states and I haven´t seen even half of what I would have liked to see in this gorgeous country but the theme of this trip has seemed to be meeting incredible people. The past week has just been a string of amazing experiences revolving around beautiful and inspiring people that I will never forget.
Last Friday Rachel and I and three other people from the farm headed to San Jose for the evening to meet up with Anthony (one of the translators on my Nicaragua trip) and Kat his girlfriend who is a valpo grad. It was so nice to see them and they showed us so much hospitality. Anthony picked out a restuarant in the hills surrounding San Jose (drove us through horrible traffic to get there) where we could look out the window and watch the lights of the city. Soooo beautiful, and so nice since we never would have made it there on our own. It was good to reconnect with Anthony and meet Kat and talk about our Valpo experiences. Its funny how simply graduating from the same college can connect you. I also decided that I think I´m going to come back here and volunteer at their church after I´m done teaching English.
Saturday we caught an early bus to Manuel Antonio for the beach. We couldn´t get seats so we had to stand for the entire trip through winding roads through the mountains. Manuel Antonio wasn´t quite what I expected--very touristy and we didn´t pay to get into the national park so the beaches weren´t the most beautiful I´ve seen, but it was still refreshing to get away from the farm and spend some time on the beach. The owner of our hostel was this little, motherly Costa Rican woman who made us homemade breakfast everyday and made sure we were safe and sound in whatever we were doing. It was so nice to feel cared for by a stranger.
Monday was the last day on the farm. While we were gone five more wwoofers had arrived so it was so crazy! There were two girls from England which was a welcome relief from all the Americans and Canadians we´ve met on the trip. Tuesday we spent a couple last hours in Cuidad Colon at this organic juice bar with yet another amazing woman. The rest of the afternoon/evening we spent in San Jose. We went to the market where Rachel and I met a beautiful, kind Italian woman, who married a Costa Rican, and who has lived in Germany. We had a brief conversation in German and she gave us these beads for good luck as well as goodbye hugs. So funny how you can connect with someone in such a short period of time.
Today, four of us took a day trip to Volcan Poaz--a semi active volcano about 3 hours from San Jose. Once the rain and fog cleared up it was cool to see the crater and it was a fun trip overall but not quite what I was expecting after climbing the volcano in Nicaragua. Back in San Jose we went to dinner at an organic restuarant and met a sweet lady who poured our her life story to Rachel in Spanish.
Tomorrow we´re taking a 4:40 am shuttle to the airport and ending this chapter of travels. It astounds me the random connections we´ve made on this trip and the people I´ve met. While its sad to say goodbye and go back to the insanity that´s awaiting me in the states, I feel like I will randomly meet these people again at some point.

Life is easier when I don't read the news (thanks Korea!)

Dear Protesters around the world (including the US),

I would like to applaud you for your bravery in standing up for freedom and what you feel is right. Dictators around the world are shivering in their boots because of your boldness. Sitting safe and sound in my apartment in Korea it is difficult for me to imagine the courage it must take to protest and demand the rights that you deserve, when the very act of protesting risks your life. To the protesters in Wisconsin and any other American citizens who are confused or upset about some of the proposed budget cuts: 1. Please continue to fight for what you believe in. 2. Please BE INFORMED about these changes that are coming up. 3. Be thankful that unlike other parts of the world, as an American you have a RIGHT to peacefully protest without fear of being killed. I only wish that I didn't live in the little closed off bubble of Korea and could more thoroughly read about these important events and issues.



Note: The Incheon Office of Education (I think it was them anyway) instilled some program on all Incheon teachers' computers that tracks our internet usage and either blocks or significantly slows down any site that has many pictures or graphics. This means I often cannot read the news and even prior to this annoying little program many news sites were already censored by Korea. But, perhaps this is a blessing in disguise. I can live my happy little life and not be depressed by the upsetting news around the world or be forced to sift through the different sides to a story and think for myself (because thinking is overrated). And this little program has revived the dying American in me. I am outraged that I don't have the freedom to access any information that I want (particularly when I have NOTHING better to do at school). So thank you Korea! You have made me a "happy" American!

Note #2: Tickets to the Philippines and Indonesia for this summer have been booked. Can't wait for the BEACH!!! Too bad I only have about 6 months to wait. Off to Japan this weekend to visit a friend from Valpo, Josh visiting the weekend after--too many exciting things for such a short period of time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Korean metabolisms

I don't think anyone would disagree that Asians (that is people of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Southeast Asian descent) are smaller than Caucasians. And I don't mean smaller just in height. Koreans have a significantly lower average BMI (only about 3% of their population has a BMI over 30) than Americans (perhaps not a fair comparison since 60% of the U.S.'s population is overweight). Before coming to Korea I was curious if Koreans just have insanely high metabolisms, they eat healthier, or people simply exercise more. Now, approaching the 6 month mark in Korea, I would say that all of these hypotheses are at least partially true.

1. Korean Metabolisms

Now any of you who know me well should know that I love eating. A lot. Lucky for me, my mom fed me healthy food so with the exception of my dangerous sweet tooth I really only eat large amounts of healthy food. Probably still not a good habit, but oh well. I refuse to count a calorie (and given the ridiculous amount of running I'm doing at the moment I think it's also unnecessary). So with  my large appetite I am used to "normal" American girls judging my eating habits. I expected this judgement to continue in Korea, especially since I am significantly larger than most of the female teachers at my school. But these teachers can chow down!!! During school lunch, we go through the line and serve ourselves and EVERYONE keeps piling the food on! Even I was shocked! Yet these women are TINY! I've never felt fat but when I'm around them sometimes I do. Here I am eating the same amount as them (if not less) and they are half my size. Conclusion: Koreans have insanely high metabolisms.

2. Korean food

So as I've mentioned in previous e-mails Korean food is delicious and for the most part extremely healthy. Nothing is fried, they eat an excessive amount of fermented foods, and there's tons of variety. Naturally, their stereotype of Americans is that we just eat spaghetti, pizza, steak and hamburgers, foods that I either never or rarely eat. Korean food is a great source of national pride so the fact that I LOVE Korean food ensured my almost immediate acceptance amongst the teachers at my school. But before we jump to conclusions about the healthiness of Korean food let me tell you the flip side. Korea has an astronomical number of American food chains. The only other country I've been to that has more American chains was Mexico which makes sense given our proximity and economic ties to Mexico. Korea is on the other side of the world yet Starbucks, McDonalds, Outback Steakhouse, TGI Fridays, Bennigans, Baskin Robbins, Coldstone!!, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut, Dominos and more...  and all can be easily found in any large Korean city. So with the abundance of American chains what is my prediction? Koreans are going to get fat. I've already noticed the beginnings of this event. Unlike their parents, far too many of my students are overweight. And not just that pudgy baby fat but legitimately overweight. So watch out Korea! Don't love everything American too much or you will begin to acquire some of our less desirable traits (namely obesity) as well.

3. Exercise

Like many things in Korea there are two sides to exercise: the older generation, and the younger generation. A few times per week I meet my friend at 6 am to go running before school. We run in this tiny (and now EXTREMELY boring) park near our apartments. Many of you are probably thinking I'm crazy to go running at 6 am in the dead of winter. I agree. It is crazy. But what's even crazier are the amount of people also in the park exercising at 6 am in -10 degree C weather. There is a group of ajumas (Korean for old lady) doing some kind of aerobics workout with their music blaring, there are ajushis (Korean old men) and ajumas out for a brisk walk, and there are ajumas and ajushis utilizing the exercise equipment that every park in Korea comes equipped with. These common sights in Korea are extremely uncommon in the U.S. (or at least the Midwest, perhaps it's more common in a state like Colorado) even in broad daylight. In addition to exercise Korean lifestyle demands some kind of basic fitness. Walking to and from the subway, and climbing the millions of flights of stairs in the subway and then of course hiking. Hiking is another Korean national sport (at least amongst the older generation). And this leads me to the difference between the younger generation and the older generation. While finding older Koreans exercising and hiking up cliffs/mountains is a regular sight, I almost never see anyone my age exercising. Koreans want to be thin (it's EXTREMELY important more so even then the States) but don't want to go through the effort of exercising, particularly women (so basically the same as Americans). The younger teachers at my school are shocked and impressed by my "diligence" of running everyday and at Korean road races there are almost no women! Good for me because it means I have less competition and a better chance at winning the awesome prices that they give out. But really there is an absolutely startling lack of women runners. Instead of exercise, the common buzz word I hear among the younger generation is "diet". Ah diets! I wish that word would be banned from all languages. It sucks the joy out of life. So even though I am practically twice the size of some of the Koreans I know, I will continue to enjoy large amounts of healthy Korean food, and continue to run and be active and I won't be caught dead on a diet.

So why are Koreans thin? Because they have crazy fast metabolisms, SOME of them eat healthy, SOME of them incorporate exercise into their daily routine, and unfortunately some go on fad diets and don't eat much at all. But watch out Korea! With the overabundance of American chains and the excessive amount of studying that Korean students do, I think Korea will soon be catching up to the U.S. in obesity (but perhaps not TOO soon). One thing I do know is that you won't find this waygook (foreigner) in American chains (besides Baskin Robbins), I'll eat my kimchi please.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Peace Corps Essay

This is an essay I submitted for my Peace Corps application and I feel like it is a fitting summary of my life in Korea. 

The title of my identification card in Korea could not be more fitting: my existence here defined by an Alien Registration Card. Living in Korea, I am reminded daily that I am an “alien” here.  In a country with a very small percentage of foreigners and an ethnically-homogenous population, there is no way to escape the fact that as a white American, I don’t even need to open my mouth to stand out. From the young Korean men in the meat department of the grocery store: “Hello! Hello! You are very beautiful!”; to the elderly Korean women openly staring at my “unusual” features or petting my hair in the subway, I am beautiful simply due to my Caucasian features. Never before have my ordinary brown hair and brown eyes caused this much commotion. Besides the obvious physical differences between the average Korean and I, I also have to adjust to cultural differences that run deeper than skin, hair and eye color. A quick bow is a standard greeting; the depth of the bow increasing depending on the authority of the person being greeted. I must remove my shoes before entering any dwelling, or swap my outdoor shoes for “indoor” shoes. Living and teaching English in Korea, it would be easy to complain about the endless list of dissimilarities between Korean and western culture.  It would be equally as simple to surround myself with foreign friends and the comforts of western food and culture. However, neither of these tactics result in the rich knowledge I can gain by taking the time to understand and adapt to Korean culture.
             To the casual foreign observer, Koreans may seem rude. They push and shove their way through the subway even when the crowds don’t seem to merit this shoving.  It is acceptable to spit at any time or place, and direct analyses of a person’s physical appearance are also the norm.  But there is also much to be learned from the gregariousness and helpfulness of Korean culture. I once asked (or rather mimed to) a random stranger for directions and instead of simply pointing out the correct route after skimming over the address, the stranger marched to a service center, studied a map, and proceeded to lead me directly to my desired location. This entire transaction was conducted through mime and limited English and Korean exchanges. While hiking, Koreans will invite my friends and I to enjoy lunch with them, immediately rush over to help us set up our tents, and offer us flashlights as we hike down a mountain in the dark.  As a whole, Koreans are the most generous, honest, and hard working group of people I have encountered. While I still find myself somewhat disgusted at the frequent globs of spit that glisten on the sidewalk, I understand that spitting in public is simply a cultural difference, rather than an act of rudeness.  I was taught that spitting in public is rude, and was told to blow my nose – a practice that is considered rude in Korean culture. Neither practice is “right” or “wrong”; it is merely a difference in upbringing. Similarly, while the habit of removing one’s shoes inside is the norm in Korea, removing shoes is a practice that varies from household to household in the U.S. Without accepting and attempting to understand these cultural differences and actively seeking to integrate myself in Korean society, I would become a poor example of a foreigner. And in a country such as Korea, I may be the only foreigner a Korean will ever meet.
             Living and working abroad is an exchange. I will learn and adapt to a different way of life and, in turn, learn and develop as a human being. In exchange, those I encounter can gain insight into my culture and country and I have the opportunity to instill a positive impression of Americans and foreigners. Taking the time and care to show that I am interested in their culture, food, and language goes a long way in bridging cultural differences and forging lifelong friendships. Building face-to-face trust, confidence and understanding in a foreign country helps connect our world in a way that distance alliances and economics ties never will and, ultimately, is a much richer experience than simply encasing myself in a little bubble of familiar faces, foods, and customs.    

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year (another e-mail)

E-mail from Feb. 7th:

Back to my cold desk in Korea after the most lovely short trip to Taiwan. I apologize in advance for any typing errors; currently my office is so cold I can barely type. Even though it has warmed up marginally in Korea, somehow my classroom seems to be colder than it is outside, if that is actually possible. But for those of you who think this is reason to return to the Midwest I can still say with some confidence that even though Korea is having the coldest winter in at least 30 years the average temperature has been warmer than MI or IN. Sorry!

The best way to sum up Taiwan is to describe my morning runs while I was there. Currently, there are six weeks to go until the Seoul marathon so I have been ignoring my strong desire to curl up with a blanket in my apartment and have instead been dragging myself outside to run ridiculous distances in sub-zero Celsius temperatures. Not so in Taiwan! For three glorious days I woke at bright and early hours (especially for vacation) to run along the beach in truly perfect weather! J If I didn’t have some vague sense of concern about what people think of me I would have sang out loud during every run just out of pure joy! The Taiwanese people are incredibly friendly so their cheery “good mornings” as they tried to practice their English made my runs even more enjoyable.

My expectations of Taiwan were simply a warmer version of Korea. I heard stories that the culture (Chinese in origin) was very similar to Korean culture so I was intrigued to: 1. Learn more about Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year as they call it in Korea) and 2. Compare Taiwanese/Chinese culture to Korean. Tuesday night I flew into Taipei and spent the night with the most lovely, friendly Taiwanese couch surfing host (if you don’t know what couch surfing is please check out the website—it is the most amazing invention that connects open-minded friendly travelers. I think couch surfing could perhaps prevent many cultural misunderstandings and potential world wars if more people would do it). My host “Sarah” and I had the best chat until 2 am (even though I had to be up early to catch a train south). We discussed differences and similarities between Korean and Chinese culture. Unfortunately, the Taiwanese have many slightly negative ideas of Korea (that are in fact mostly true). My host asked me if it is true that many Koreans “change their face”. I was on the one hand relieved to hear that I am not the only person in the world who finds Korean plastic surgery strange and disheartening, but I was also saddened that Koreans seem to have made a somewhat bad name for themselves in other places in the world. While I would have loved to stay longer with Sarah, especially after her family (through translation) INSISTED that I must stay with them for Chinese New Year dinner I had to meet some friends from Korea the next morning to catch a train to southern Taiwan. I was touched by their hospitality and disappointed I didn’t have more time.

Wednesday and Thursday I spent in Kenting, Taiwan, a beautiful and somewhat rural area of in the southern most part of Taiwan. I wasn’t able to find couch surfing hosts for Kenting and also my friends weren’t too keen on the idea of staying with complete strangers, so I stayed in a simple but friendly hostel instead. While we didn’t do much since transportation was difficult around Kenting, I was content to just be near the beach, and run in beautiful weather. Our hostel owner was so sweet and made us a traditional dinner for Chinese New Year eve and a delightful breakfast in the morning. Thursday afternoon after a sweet hug goodbye from the hostel owner we hopped back on a bus to Kaohsiung—the second largest city in Taiwan also in the south and by the sea.

Like the rest of Taiwan, Kaohsiung once again blew away my expectations. It is a large city but with a relaxed more slow paced vibe. There was tons to do so I spent my full day there walking ALL over, enjoying the weather. Again my hostel owner was so friendly, helpful and kind. The hostel I stayed at was small and simple but the hospitality of the owner made up for any lacking amenities. The stories I heard of Taiwanese hospitality and friendliness are 100% true! For the two mornings I had in Kaohsiung I woke up early to sunny blue skies and ran up the mountain near my hostel and along the ocean near a university. Training for a marathon in that kind of scenery and weather is pure joy! I actually looked forward to my runs instead of dreading them.

My last full day in Taiwan I spent in Taipei with a different couch surfing host! I met her at her apartment and was greeted with a full spread of Taiwanese cuisine prepared by her mother. I am not one to turn down any food and I’m always up for trying new things so I did sample some soup with pig brain, fish skin, and pig stomach. Not my favorite food but the rest was delicious! Lynn, my host, spent the rest of the day showing me around Taipei, we visited the 101 building which used to be the tallest building in the world, explored temples, sampled street food, climbed a mountain to see views of the city, and finished up the day with a stroll through one of Taipei’s many night markets. By the end of the day I had tried a wide variety of new and interesting foods: dumplings, fish balls, sticky rice dipped in pig’s blood, stinky tofu (it is in fact named stinky tofu for a reason), a rice tortilla with shaved peanuts and ice cream, the most amazing bubble tea I’ve had in my life, oyster omelets, strawberries dipped in some kind of syrup, and almond milk. Street food is the best invention ever! Fast, convenient, and best of all CHEAP!!!!! I think in total I spent $4 on all these foods!

It was sad to say goodbye to Lynn and her sweet family and the country of Taiwan in general. I could write so much more about all I learned about the history of Taiwan and their connection with China, Taiwanese versus Korean culture. I am still determined to further understand the reason for some of the things I find so frustrating in Korean culture. I’ve been searching out books on the subject and I will continue to report my findings. In the meantime in just three short weeks I’m off to spend a long weekend in Kyoto, Japan, visiting a good friend, and exploring more of Asia.

Miss you all and hope those of you in the Midwest are not too deeply buried in all that snow!

Positive thoughts on Korea/saving some of the e-mails I sent out

Mass e-mail sent out to friends and family a while ago (unedited). I'm trying to preserve some of these e-mails before they all get deleted. 

As I feel I may have come across as too negative in my last e-mail I want send some positive things about Korea your way. First, I don't retract any of my statements in the last e-mail. My frustrations and observations are not uncommon among foreigners and Koreans alike. And I don't believe any of my informations and observations are faulty. In fact I recall having coffee with my well traveled 6th grade co-teacher after being in Korea for two months and she told me flat out that Koreans are racist. I was shocked and horrified at the time until a month or so later when I began to notice this. She mentioned the lack of creativity and critical thinking in Korean education and her frustration with it. Unfortunately much of this pressure to do well on tests can be traced back and connected to the No Child Left Behind act in the states. The States is much like a role model in many ways for how things are done in Korea (to my displeasure). So a few years ago the Korean president decided to create a smiliar law in Korea that based school funding on the performance of students. Just like in the States this law zapped any flexibility for teachers to let students be creative and explore their interests. Teachers suddenly felt extreme pressure to have their students perform well on the tests (that are conducted at the SAME time in all of Korea for each grade level). Their students' performance determined funding for the school and also job security for the teachers. All so sad! While I was critical of Korea's lack of creativity in school the same thing is beginning to happen in the States. I know many schools in California (and I believe elsewhere) are cutting art programs and things that are considered to be nonessential. I've come to the conclusion that every education system is faulty in some way so I think we should take advantage of globalization and begin to learn from each country's strengths and weaknesses. 

Education is what got Korea where it is today. 60 years ago Korea's GDP was the same as Pakistans and yet today Korea's GDP is in the top twenty in the world. What is the biggest difference between these two countries? Korea recognized that they lacked natural resources so instead chose to invest in their people. Some recent statistics on Pakistan: Male (15-24) literacy rate: 80%, Female (15-24) literacy rate: 60% (taken from UNICEF), overall rate (all ages): 54%. Korea's literacy rate: 99%!!! One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

This quote sums up why I enjoy teaching and what I ultimately think will start to bring about change in the world. I encourage everyone to read Three Cups of Tea (about a man who began starting schools in rural Pakistan). In the book it brings up some interesting conclusions about terrorism and education and how with proper education (not the oil lord funded madrassa schools that teach radical Muslim ideas and that are widespread in much of the middle east). This is a bit off the original topic but I think that education is what brought Korea to where it is today and improved education is what will change Korea. Recently on CNN there was a story about a man (a mixed race Korean) who started a "rainbow" school, a school where children of mixed races could learn and feel comfortable, because unfortunately in normal Korean schools they are often made fun of since Korea is incredibly racially homogeneous. Google the article. It was an excellent and inspirng story. 

As for the obsession with appearance--I think this is a problem worldwide but Korea takes a different approach. Here is an interesting article on this topic:

I use the word blessed a lot but it's the best word in the English language to describe how I feel about this experience and the opportunities I've had so far. While I'm not exactly overjoyed to be living in this cold weather right now and there are many things I find frustrating, Koreans are definitely the hardest working people I've ever met, most generous, and by far the most honest (probably why this country has virtually no crime). I'll leave you with some quotes from my students today while we learned about Europe (they made my day):
"Goodbye Teacher! Ahhhh! I don't want to go home! I want to study more!" He was so excited about what we learned today :) 
After teaching my 6th graders about wind turbines in Denmark: "Teacher! You so smart! Engineer!!!!" haha! Sometimes the amount of reverence I get is a little scary. 
"Teacher you are world traveler!!" (I want to be!)
My 6th graders are brimming with enthusiasm about traveling and the world. It's so exciting to share some of my passion about traveling with them. If all Korean students can catch the travel bug and bring this back to their home country I think everything will change!

Hope this e-mail corrected any negative thoughts anyone was having about Korea. Every place in the world comes with its good and bad. If we were all the same, the world would be an extremely boring place. Traveling teaches you to more closely examine your own country for its strengths and weaknesses and tests your ability to adapt to and understand a different way of life. 

Winter English Camp: Around the World in 10 days

After spending the past four years of my life in college busy taking too many credits a semester, completing seemingly endless engineering assignments, being involved in too many student organizations, running competitively for three years, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, living and teaching English in Korea is often WAY too easy and mindless for me. So often my main job is to just to drill correct pronunciation into my students by making them repeat useless sentences after me. This task I could do in my sleep. Needless to say I was thrilled about winter English camps! I had free reign to choose the theme, plan lessons, and I had the challenge of having no co-teacher to translate for me. Naturally, my theme was "Around the World". American and Korean students have an alarming lack of knowledge about the world outside the borders of their own countries, so my goal was to give them a small taste of the world while learning English. Plus I'm a dork and enjoy learning about the world myself so it was my secret way to be a student again and learn new information.

I always go into new experiences with low expectations to eliminate any risk of me being disappointed and so it was with winter camps. But, my 6th grade students blew my low expectations out of the water (5th grade not so much but we won't talk about that). I had my students plan a dream vacation and expected destinations such as Korea, Japan, and China to pop up frequently. But no! My students' dream vacations: France (to see the Eiffel Tower), Germany (eat food and drink beer haha), Spain (to watch a bull fight), Greece (to see the Parthenon) and many more! Not only did my students choose non-typical Korean vacation spots but they used good English sentences to explain their reasons why they wanted to travel to these locations. Impressive!

Each day I enthralled my students with knowledge about each continent. I showed them pictures from my travels which drew responses such as: "Teacher! You very richy! You travel so muchy!" On Africa day I was very nervous about how my students would respond to the abundance of "black people" on this continent. In the past many of my students will gasp in horror when they see a black face, but I have tried to be optimistic that this response is only due to shocking lack of diversity in this country. To combat this lack of diversity and prove that Africans really are okay I intentionally overloaded my powerpoint on Africa with pictures of me and my African friends from my travels. Instead of gasps of horror the responses were:
-"Teacher! Boyfriend?"  "No, not boyfriend. Friend."
"Teacher! Husband? You have many husbands."
"Teacher! Children? Oh teacher you have many children!"
"No, no. No children." (me laughing and turning red which encouraged my students even more)
"Oh teacher! Your children miss you very muchy! Do you miss your children? Does your husband miss you?"

I take these responses as a victory! If my students are okay with me having African children and an African husband than they must be okay with Africans as a whole. Africa day was of course my favorite because I have such a personal connection to this continent (NOT country). I drilled into my students where my family lives and where Botswana is on a map. I can now proudly say that my Korean 6th graders (well 9 of them at least) know more about Africa than the average American. Please feel bad about yourselves now Americans and do your research on Africa. You should at minimum know where South Africa since they did just host the world cup.

The culminating activity for camp (besides the movie) was having my 6th graders write simple letters in English to the students of a school in Tanzania that our Engineers without Borders chapter worked with and Valparaiso University's SALT (Social Action Leadership Team) is raising money for this year. I showed my kids these two videos:
The first video includes an interview with me so my students were convinced that I'm famous. I guess having your face in a youtube video classifies as fame, right?

With the letter writing activity I was once again blown away by my students. I gave them a very simple template to follow: what they like to do, their name, which school they go to, etc. However, I left the activity open. I told them they could write about Korea because the students in Tanzania don't know about Korea. One student in particular took this advice to heart. Instead of simply using the ample class time I gave my students to finish the letters he took his letter home and showed up the next day with a crammed (literally every inch was filled) full A4 paper sized letter. I was speechless! He was so shy about his extra work even when I praised him for all his efforts. This kid wrote about kimchi (Korea's national dish), how Korea is a divided country, how quickly Korea developed in the last 50 years, and how he wants to travel Africa (YES! :) ). Gold star work for sure and pat on the back to his great English teacher! ;)

These students and moments like these are the reasons why I do enjoy teaching at the end of the day. Yes, it's often mindless and I don't foresee myself teaching Korean elementary students for the rest of my life, but to risk sounding cliche--teaching is often about making a difference in just a few students' lives. I think winter camp fueled my growing passion to be a professor since I enjoy the act of teaching so much but find myself frustrated by the limited knowledge I can actually successfully impart on elementary students.

On the last day of camp my students left with sad faces to leave me which made me of course feel VERY good about myself. One of my favorite students: "Teacher! I don't want to go home! I want to study more!" Awww! How many teachers would give anything to hear that?

Blogging revisited

So after much thought and deliberation I am revisiting the blogging world. I have been opposed to blogging for a while because I think it is by nature selfish, and everyone and their mother seems to be starting a blog these days, but I have decided to return for three reasons:

1. I enjoy deleting e-mails so most of the mass e-mails that I've sending to friends and family about Korea will never be saved and I think eventually I will want to look back at my experiences here.

2. People keep asking to get added to my e-mail list (makes me feel good about myself I guess), which is kind of defeating the purpose of the list being close friends and family. So with a blog anyone and everyone can read updates (another reason why I don't like blogs).

3. I think writing on a blog where anyone on the internet can view my writing will hopefully motivate me to give more care to my writing, and grammar (although rereading my posts from Germany proves this was not the case--they are embarrassing!).

So here it is. My re-entrance to the blogging world. These posts will likely be less of just updates on my life in Korea, but rather more of my impressions of Korea (and wherever else I wander off to next). I think I will post some of my better mass e-mails (if I can still find them) on here as well to preserve them before I go on an e-mail deleting rampage.