Friday, September 7, 2012

Pre-vacation Activities

Before leaving for vacation, I taught 2 weeks of English camp, one week at each of my schools, and also desk warmed for another week.  After those three weeks, I was off the Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia! 
Below are some pictures from camp and the World Expo before I went on vacation.

One of the adorable Kindergartners on the bus

English Camp booklets I made for the students- theme was "Our World"

Some kids will do anything for some stickers

Her drawing of me!

We made cheese and cracker sandwiches- he was proud of his creation and his friend was envious, I think.

Peanut butter and raisin crackers- they've never had them before!  Peanut butter is hard to come by in Korea

Practicing their skit
After English camp, Jeremy, Steve, Fernando, and I went to Yeosu for the World Expo.  It takes place every 3 years and this year it was conveniently in Korea!  The concept was "The Living Ocean and Coast" focusing on preservation ideas.  The ones that actually touched on preservation were probably the best pavilions.  We went to about a quarter of the 100 that were there.  It was a great time!

Early in the morning

One of the pavilions we went to.  All of them were different in their own ways

Handmade turtles from Ecuador that showed what happens to them and how they are preventing it

Some of the countries had entertainment outside of their venues- Denmark  gymnasts

Mid-afternoon, it started to get a lot more crowded

Koreans set up shop in the middle of the sidewalk for nap-time

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I'm Famous!

An article was posted in the Chungnam Today news online!
You can view it here:

I was one of three native English speaking judges that took part in an English memorization contest.  Twenty students from grades 3 through 6 stood in front of the audience (of their peers) and repeated one of the five dialogues found in their English textbooks.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

When Kindergartners Attack

Apologies for the hiatus, I caught a Korean virus and just couldn’t shake it.  I was diagnosed with a mild case of Bronchitis, Rhino sinusitis, and a middle ear infection after going to the doctors 3 different times.  I was sick for about a month!  The longest and most exhausting sickness I can remember enduring.  Now, I am finally feeling better and it feels great to have some energy during the days. 
Classes have been fun and eventful since being transferred to my new school.  I have gotten to know some of the teachers and students pretty well.

The English classroom- notice the huge structure in the back.  The students love to sit up there and read...or throw books of it at other students. 
What a welcoming face!  The entrance to my classroom.
When I leave here, I am going to miss the fun moments of the days like lunch.  I seem to be some sort of celebrity with the Kindergartners through 2nd graders- I guess they haven’t hit that stage where they are too cool to say hello to someone.  Going to lunch though, the cafeteria is a small building behind the school that is attached with walkways.  I walk in the door and if I am early enough to catch the young ones eating, they all scream my name and wave.  “Malia teacher!”  “Yeong-go seon sang nim!” (that means English teacher in Korean)  It’s nice to hear and see them get so excited just to see me. 

Some 1st graders brushing their teeth after lunch at the outside water fountain.
Notice the large fish tanks on top.
After lunch, the younger students and I have started a ritual of feeding the animals.  The Vice Principal is a very handy man.  My Principal defined him as someone “who is good at making things from other people's trash.”
A walkway to the front of the school.
He really likes nature so we have a pond with goldfish and handmade boats, a big cage with bunnies and chickens – in there together, all classes have tadpoles, there are fish tanks spread all around the school, and his most recent project has been creating a nature trail behind the cafeteria.  Aside from the enormous trampoline, I think the nature trail is the students’ favorite thing.  
The pond by the cafeteria.
The fish during feeding time.
One day a couple of weekends ago, the weather was very nice.  The sun came out, there wasn’t much wind, and it was hot!  Since then, aside from occasional rain spurts, it has been very beautiful.  There didn’t seem to be any gradual change between winter and spring- just an immediate jump from one day to the next.  I am definitely not complaining about that.
My school from the front.  The space on the left
 is where the new gym will be placed.
Last week, I went outside to enjoy the nice weather and walk around the playgrounds.  There are two playgrounds: one near the cafeteria and one in front of the school.  I walked from one to the other taking pictures and talking with the students.  Little did I know, I was in for a treat.  The playground near the cafeteria is for the Kindergartners.  Two of them ran into each other and one was on the ground crying.  I went to console her by picking her up- bad move.  All of the other Kindergartners saw me do this and came running over to me asking to be picked up.  I soon had about 10 little kids tugging at my legs and clothes to give them attention while they all screamed at me, in Korean.
I somehow got away and started running and they all chased me.  I guess they thought it was a game.

The Kindergartner's playground and trampoline in the yellow and green tent.
From above- one of the Kindergartners wrapped around my legs
begging me to pick him up.
I tried to turn it around and make it so I could chase them but then all of them ran in different directions and when I went to sit down and they all came up to me telling me to chase them.  I got away scratch- free, just a big green marker stain on my jacket that must have been from craft class before lunch time.  Now I know to stay away from that playground and picking the kids up if I don't want to be bombarded with children pulling at me.

 This is one of the awesome parts of playground that the kids can swing on.

The shed.  It's a secret, but my school is actually Hogwarts!

The side garden.  The hut to the right is where the rabbits and chickens live.

Hollow gourds that my Vice Principal painted
and hung on the walkway to the cafeteria.

Finally, my Principal.  She is a very nice woman but boy does she make all of us work hard.  Our school is small and she expects a lot out of all the teachers- so much that many of them work all weekend and stay at work until 10 at night!  She speaks English very well and loves the language in general so she is always pushing the teachers and students to speak it constantly- which is why I now have a class on Friday afternoons where I teach English to the teachers.  She is definitely a tough cookie and has a good reputation because of it.  She is famous in our city because of her ability to speak English so well and for being a leader of an English program established in our city for our province.  She just arrived at this school in about November but has already gotten approved to build a gym for the school because they didn't have one.  It was started in February and should be done in September!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First day back to school

A couple of Fridays ago was the first day back to school.  We arrived home from orientation on Wednesday, celebrated a Korean national holiday on Thursday with relaxing and shopping in the market (everyone had the day off so it was packed compared to most days), and went to school on Friday.  I was just recently switched to a different school because of new districting lines for a new city.  My two schools from last semester both moved to the new city they are building named Sejeong city, named after the man who created the Korean language Hangul.  This city will eventually become the new capital of Korea- a lot closer to us than Seoul!

A stand at the market- we got a mix of different sweets.
My favorite was a crispy sweet seaweed pancake cracker. 
I moved from Uirang to Uidang Elementary school- and saying these with a Korean accent makes them sound the exact same so it’s tough to differentiate the two!  I will be going to this school 3 times a week and my other school, Janggi, 2 times a week. 

Uidang is a lot further out of Gongju city than my previous school.  It's so far, that city buses don’t even travel to it!  So, in the mornings, I am picked up by a church bus along with about 15 other students.  On the first day, we arrived at school about 5 minutes after we were supposed to and I was rushed into the teacher’s room to meet everyone.

Along with 3 other new teachers, I stood at the front of the room to introduce myself.  The other teachers said a little about themselves in Korean, so I tried my hand at it as well.  I practiced a couple of sentences in my head while waiting for my turn.  The only thing I could come up with was “My name is Malia.  I am an English teacher.  Nice to meet you.”  I threw that out there and they all seemed impressed that I could speak at least a little Korean.  Then I was told by the Principal to introduce myself in English- so I guess my stressing over what to say in Korean was not necessary. 

After this, some other teachers said a few words and then we were shuffled outside into the cafeteria for an opening ceremony.  Uidang is a smaller school than my other two schools but they are in the process of expanding.  So, their cafeteria is a smaller building not connected to the school.  I stood in the back of the room as all of the students- grade 1 through 6 filed in.  They sat down and fell silent when the Principal stood at the podium.  She introduced us new teachers, along with the previous ones before the children sang the school song.  We finished the ceremony and walked back into the teacher’s room.  I was given my schedule but wasn’t told when it would go into effect, so I was prepared to start that day just in case.
Kindergarten class with their parents, teachers, and bouquets of lollipops.

Later, one of the teachers rushed in to get me.  We quickly walked back to the cafeteria where they were having another ceremony for the younger children.  The room was now packed with the Kindergartners, 1st graders, 6th graders (only present to sing the school song) and all of their families.  We sang the national anthem and the students sang the school song before starting.  Then, the younger students were called up individually to receive presents.  The children’s faces all beamed while they were given lollypop bouquets and mysterious wrapped boxes.  They all swung their presents around and hit each other with them before saying good-bye to their parents to start the first day of school.

Lollipop Bouquet

I ended up not teaching any classes that day, instead just prepared for the coming week.  At the ceremony and throughout the day, I was introduced to what seemed like the entire city let alone the school.  I had a great first day, and since then, it has just gotten better and better.  My students are all adorable and sweet and my co-workers are very friendly!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chungnam Orientation

Last week, all of the new teachers in Chungnam province attended orientation.  It was held in Cheonan, the biggest city in Chungnam.  Even though it was held in a big city, they set us up in a training facility on the outskirts of town.  I guess they didn’t want a bunch of foreigners running around town together, causing mass chaos.

There was a mix of different teachers at orientation.  Some of us have been in Korea for up to 5 months, and the others were fresh off the plane a day before orientation started.  We were split into elementary and high school/middle school for our lectures.  The days consisted of lectures from 9 in the morning until 8 in the evening, stopping for lunch, dinner, and snack breaks (those were the best times of the day).

I had heard so many horror stories about orientation that my first expectation was poor. So, the first couple of days were dreadful.  Hearing some of the lecturers drone on and on while being exhausted was not what I considered a fun way to spend my time off from school.  The only time we had off was at night between the last lecture and our 11 PM curfew.  This time was spent playing ping pong, card games, or hanging out- anything to keep our minds off the daily lectures.  After the first couple of days, it started to get better.  The lecturers had interesting ideas, I was learning new things, and I was used to the schedule.

We finished off orientation with a Korean competition, some ice cream, and a closing ceremony.  The Korean competition was called the Golden Bell- a popular game in Korea. We played it to answer questions about the Korean language.  We wrote it down on paper and if we got it wrong, we were done.  Jeremy and about 10 other people from our program made it to the end!  I, sadly, got out about half way through on a simple word- bus.  I mixed up my vowels! 
Elementary school teachers 

We received certificates and were scurried out the door. The new teachers were picked up by their co-teachers and taken to visit their schools.  Us teachers, who had been there for a while, were on our own.

A handful of us caught the city bus back to the bus station- but we weren’t able to have a calm and relaxing ride back of course.  The next couple of stops were loaded with ajummas (old Korean ladies) and the whole bus became filled.  The guys and I made a strange and unexpected acquaintance.  An older Korean man saw us all on the bus and tried to make conversation, except his way of making conversation was very different than what we are used to. 

He started off asking if we were from Russia- laughing devilishly all the while.  Then, he grabbed onto Steve’s arm and pretended to pluck hairs off of it.  Moving from his arm to his chin, the man continued to pluck- or pretend to pluck.  He moved onto Jeremy and continuously told him he had a "good nose." Then, he drew a picture of Jeremy's nose to show us all.  Before we know it, he’s gotten up to go grab Jeremy’s nose like a parent would to a child when saying “got your nose!” Thankfully, settled down for the rest of the 1/2 hour ride. 

Before getting off the bus, the old Korean man jabbed Jeremy in the neck as a last good-bye.  When he stepped off the bus, he waited while waving until the bus pulled away.  We took this whole ordeal as very odd but I think we made his week by putting up with it all.  I could only imagine how one of the teachers that just arrived to Korea would have taken this situation!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Graduation ceremony

Since Thailand, we have had an on and off work schedule.  The students came back to school for a 1 1/2 weeks to review.  I played games and did crafts with the classes I had to teach.  On the last day of classes, a graduation ceremony was held for the 6th graders.  It consisted of the 6th graders, their parents and family, and the 4th and 5th graders sitting and observing.  We all watched while students were called up to receive awards and wrapped gifts for various reasons.  The only time I understood was when one of the teachers told me "They maked good grades in class," said one of the teachers.  The good students got about 8 awards each and I think some of their uniforms were paid for and given to them for their middle schools.

After about 3 or 4 awards, they would switch award givers.  It all seemed very unorganized and time consuming (they obviously didn't prepare who would give what until that exact moment).  I was told that each of the people who gave awards also donated money for scholarships so they wanted everyone to be recognized.

My co-workers and I.  Can you spot me?  I'll give you a hint, I'm the only one smiling.

After all of the awards, two chairs were placed with their backs facing the audience.  Students and their parents walked up in pairs to the stage.  The students went to the microphones while the parents sat in the chairs facing their children.  Each child recited a speech.  Thank you for raising me, I'm sorry I didn't do well this year, I promise I will do better next year, I love you etc.  It was very cute- and something like this should be implemented in America!

Once the last student finished thanking their parent, we all quickly broke down the tables, put away the chairs, and within minutes, the gym was cleared.  The ceremony was only a couple of hours and after it, the students and parents seemed to have bolted like lightning.  I guess the 6th graders were desperate to be done with elementary school- I know I was at that age!  The teachers and I went out to lunch before retiring back to our offices to prepare for the new semester.

6th grade graduation yearbook.  They got to do two poses- one fun and one serious.

The next day was the closing ceremony.  We all crowded into the gym like the day before for graduation except this time, it was freezing!  They didn't turn the heat on and the below freezing weather crept into the gym overnight through the thin windows and doors.  We all stood in our winter coats nonchalantly moving our legs so we could continue to feel our toes.  Awards were given to a few students, the Principal, VP and head of teachers spoke, and then we quickly scooted out of the gym and back into the teacher's office.

I think my favorite is the hand on elbow and face like he's crying.

We went to lunch, and then came back for more preparing.  That afternoon, everyone came to the teacher's room for a meeting.  We all sat down and discussed the next semester- where all of the teachers were told what grade they would be teaching in March (teachers can choose what grade they want to teach, whether to stay with their students, stay with their grade, or change it up completely).

Korean schools start at the beginning of March, go until the end of  July, have summer vacation until September, and then continue school until the end of December.  From December until March, they hold winter camps for the students in between winter breaks.  So the classes before March are still considered part of the previous semester even though it is after exams which are held in December.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Holiday in Thailand

For winter vacation, Jeremy and I ventured south to where the warm weather was beckoning us, Thailand.  Complications with vacation schedules caused us to minimize our time there, but after spending a week there, I have decided it is definitely a place worth visiting again.  We took so many pictures and experienced so much that Jeremy and I decided to split up the work- I wrote the blog post and Jeremy posted and labeled the pictures.  For those stunning pictures, go to and on the top of the page are the pictures.  If you click on them, it will take you to his Flickr account where all of our pictures from Thailand and also South Korea are. 

For Thailand, we skipped from China to Bangkok arrived late in the evening on the first night.  After waking up in our hostel, the very friendly owners cooked us breakfast before we headed out the door.  We congregated with some fellow English teachers that we met in Korea.  All four of us headed off to explore the amazingly warm and bustling area, after consuming a morning snack of coconut milk- chopped right before our eyes.  Tuk-tuk was our preferred form of transportation.  If you don’t know what that is, you have probably seen one and just didn’t know what it’s called.  
Inside the tuk-tuk

It is a motorcycle with a bench seat behind it for passengers and covered on top. 

First stop was the Grand Palace.  

One of the many stops in the Grand Palace 
We walked around and gawked at all of the buildings covered in gold and jewels.  Aside from being worn down from the immense heat and wear and tear from the high tourist frequency, the buildings and art surrounding it were kept in good shape.  They had men working on touching up the paint and tending to the grounds. 

After the Grand Palace, we scrunched back into a Tuk-tuk and scurried back to our hotels.  The heat was already affecting us.  When we left Korea, it was about -12 Celsius, so the temperature was a drastic jump from what we had been used to.  We all re-grouped before meeting up for dinner. 

A stall in Chinatown selling just about any type of dried products you could ever want
Flattened duck.  A delicacy in Chinatown?
Dinner in Thailand mostly consisted of walking down the street and choosing what looks most appealing from the street vendors.  Price was of course a major factor.  Haggling is how Thailand operates.  Dinner was an array of different Thai cuisines from different stands.  While looking for a place to eat, we browsed in Bangkok’s China Town as well.  The roads were packed and the sidewalks were crowded with tables set-up outside of restaurants and workers trying to lure in customers.  We haggled to get cheap Thai leg massages, which I didn’t know were supposed to be so rough until about 5 minutes in. 

The next day, Jeremy and I left to head up north.  We arrived in the city of Chiang Mai.  The weather was a little bit breezy and the streets were much calmer compared to Bangkok.  After arriving we were immediately taken to a Thai cooking class that we booked in advance.  We arrived to find ourselves welcomed by the hosts, Nancy and Pot (both spoke English well).  We chose 3 meals (appetizer, main dish, and dessert) to prepare and cook ourselves.  

The ingredients for making curry paste- a tough task. Men choose wives depending
on how well they can make curry paste, something that takes a lot of muscles.

Nancy would tell us what to use, and show us how to prepare the ingredients before throwing them into the wok.  The hardest part of the meal was preparing the curry paste.  I think that’s something I will leave to the experts from now on.  The food we prepared was indubitably the best Thai meal we ate all vacation.  The taste was on point, and creating it ourselves was even better.

Carrot flowers we made during our break between our
appetizer and main dish.  Can you tell which ones are ours?

After the cooking class, we headed home and relaxed before heading out to the famous night bazaar which was just a short walk away.  There were stands lining the sidewalks on both sides of the street for miles. This was our first taste of Thai markets, soon would we find out that most of the things sold all across Thailand are the same (they even sell t-shirts that say “same same, bit different.”  We made our way through the stands and collected some interesting souvenirs. Dinner consisted of grilled prawns and Pad Thai at a large seafood restaurant. 

The next day, we rose bright and early to be escorted to an elephant farm located in the mountains.  This isn’t any old elephant farm- it’s highly acclaimed and even Samantha Brown did a piece about this place on her show.  Patara Elephant Farm was where we would be elephant caregivers for a day.  We arrived and hopped out of the vans in front of an area where a 3-week old baby elephant and his mom lived.  We fed them bananas before we headed down to meet the other elephants.  The morning started off with some introductions, information about the farm itself, splitting into groups (about 15 people in our group), and getting dressed for the day ahead (they supplied clothes for us to wear over our own).  The day was full of exciting events and once in a lifetime occurrences.  

Jeremy and I's elephants drinking water before getting baths in the river
The first task was to check the elephant’s health.  There were certain steps for this which included: checking for flapping ears and tail (good sign), seeing if they had slept on their sides during the night (checked for dirt on their sides), counting the number of droppings they had (6 or more is healthy), and actually smelling and touching their poop.  Elephants are constantly eating so their bodies chew up and spit out their vegetarian diet quickly- meaning the poop smells like wet hay, not bad at all. 
Fun fact: Elephants only excrete sweat from one part of their body- their cuticles.  We crouched down to feel the moist skin around their fingernails which concluded our health check. 
Jeremy and I by the waterfall where we swam with the elephants
(wearing our caretaker outfits)

After the health check, we dusted the dirt off their backs (which they threw on themselves to keep cool in the heat) with palm leaves- which we fed to them after we finished, led them to the river, and bathed them.  After they dried, we mounted them with no saddle, just a rope for support.  We stomped up and down hills by steep mountains and through the forest before we arrived at a waterfall.  Lunch was situated on the rocks by the water, which was some of the best food we had in Thailand (aside from what we made ourselves of course) filled with fruits and scrumptious homemade croquettes and pastries I have never seen or tasted.  After we finished, the clean-up crew came in.  The baby elephant trudged over and slurped up everything he could before the rest was given to the other elephants.  We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming with the elephants in the river, riding them back to camp, and saying our goodbyes.

Us and our group who camped on Maya Beach
That night, we skipped down to the southern beaches via air.  We arrived late at night and went straight to our hotel after grabbing a midnight dinner of street vendor kabobs.  We woke up early the next morning the grab the morning ferry over to a small island named Koh Phi Phi.  The morning was spent walking the crowded streets, basking in the sun, and wading out to sea.  Mid afternoon, we clambered onto a Rasta-colored boat with about 20 other people.  We were all headed to a one-night stay on the island where Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie “The Beach” was filmed.  We started off with a little snorkeling, exploring the beach, 
and playing games before the hosts treated us to a fire-throwing show and a couple full meals.  They used flaming sticks and nunchuck-like balls- one of their younger (probably about 12) family members marched his chubby behind out and did a couple of tricks himself.   We broke out some sleeping bags and pillows, for the night ahead of us would consist of a blanket of stars and the soothing sounds of the waves to send us to sleep. 

On the beach just before leaving.  An extremely beautiful place.

 We woke in the morning to a quick breakfast before the other tourists arrived.  It seemed to hit 8 o’clock and about 10 boats puttered onto the island at the same time.  We headed off to sneak a peek at Viking caves- occupied by islanders but are not allowed to be entered by anyone else and another snorkeling spots filled with jellyfish big and small.  This wasn’t enough to coax Jeremy and I out of the boat.  From there, it was a straight shot back to Koh Phi Phi island- where we spent all but 20 minutes picking up our luggage before getting onto another ferry to take us to Krabi.

Aonang was where we ended our trip around Thailand.  We arrived at our hotel from the Krabi pier in the afternoon and hung around there for the rest of the day- Jeremy was feeling pretty sick from what we think was the chicken liver he so bravely ate in Bangkok.  
A lantern being sent into the sky at sunset

Jeremy and I at the beach on the last day's sunset
The next day we ventured out into the city.  We walked up and down the streets shopping and eating before going down to the beach for some more much-needed sunning.  The small amounts of rain didn’t deter us from staying there for the afternoon.  

Sunset off the coast of Aonang

We spent the night walking the stand-filled streets before retiring to our comfortable hotel room.  For meals, we ate some delicious western food that seemed to be the only thing we were craving after having Thai food all week. 

We couldn't resist getting some grilled corn from one of the many people
walking the beaches trying to sell things.  This was so cheap yet so delicious!
 During the day, when we weren't on the beach, we would walk the streets and look at the shops lining the sidewalks.  Every building was either a restaurant, souvenir shop, or pharmacy (like in Korea, there can never be enough pharmacies).  The last day was more beach lounging before packing up and leaving for the airport.
The main road in Aonang at night

We set up our trip perfectly.  Large amounts of activities in the beginning of the week and ending with some relaxing on the beach.  If we were to ever journey back to Thailand, the northern cities and the southern beaches is where we would spend our time.  One week in Thailand definitely was not enough!