Tag Archives: chungdahm

“Call Me Maybe, Teacher?” -Phone Teaching with Korean Students-

Tonight I skipped out of work with a smile plastered across my face. I stayed an extra hour and missed my 9pm yoga class because I needed to call a long list of students and administer Phone Teaching. I call all of my students once a month and have a mini conversation with them while their proud parents listen (hopefully) in the background and come away from the call impressed (hopefully) with their child’s English skills. I practice for the monthly calls at the beginning of each class. The students groan when I pick up my fake phone, I usually use the projector remote, and dial ‘their number’ with a series of animated beep sounds and exaggerated button pushing actions. All of my students have mastered the standard conversation greeting and can convey how they are feeling. Common responses include, “I am very good today.” or “I am super happy.” Most will remember to politely ask the same of Teacher (me) and I praise them for doing so. Those who sit silently with blank stares after answering my first question are quickly reminded when I paint a disappointed look on my face. “And you, Teacher?” They quickly stumble to correct their mistake.

The rest of the conversation casually moves past the greeting to simple questions about today’s date, weather, birthdays, lunch time delicacies, favorite movies and seasons, daily fashion (“What are you wearing today?”) or lesson related questions. We chat for about 3 minutes or until I have completely stumped the child and I can sense his or her anxiety through the phone line.

I’ve never been a great phone person. I couldn’t understand the girls in middle school who could chat for hours on the phone. I am always stumbling over my words and talking too fast when I should be listening. I prefer to text about a plan and then meet and talk in person. Or Skype. During my first few months in Korea I dreaded the teaching calls. First there were the dreaded parent answers and immediate hang-ups. The parents would answer in Korean and I would quickly mention my name and school and ask to speak to their ‘Justin’ or ‘Amy’. Some parents wouldn’t recognize their child’s given English name or would be confused by my new foreign voice and I would hear the dial tone before I reached a student. When I did hear a child’s quiet “Hello…” on the other line sometimes the conversation would do downhill from there and I would be left to ask and answer my own questions while the student nervously listened.

Most students are eager to say their goodbyes and get back to whatever I interrupted them from in the first place, but some have come to gain confidence as the conversation proceeds and I have trouble finding the appropriate place to squeeze in my closing, “Great job, I will see you in class tomorrow!” Tonight one student warned me, as soon as he found his way to the phone, that our call would not follow standard procedure. The boy’s heavy breathing told me he had raced from his room to the family phone. Before I could jump in and guide the conversation he loudly interrupted my thoughts, “Hello Devan Teacher. How are you today?” I was speechless and immensely proud all at the same moment. He caught me off guard and I let him lead the conversation for a minute or so before I took back the reigns, although it wasn’t before he told me, “Devan Teacher, I have much time tonight for talk.” 8 minutes later I managed to say goodbye.

The monthly phone conversations have become a fantastic tool for measuring the increasing levels of confidence and understanding in my classroom. Many of my 7-year-olds are far from mastering English and my Korean is pathetic, but we have come to understand each other. I sometimes still hear the occasional annoyed sigh from a student as a parent hands her the phone, but for the most part my students know the routine. They know what I will ask and more importantly they know me. They know my personality on the phone. They understand my silence when I am waiting for them to expand their answer. They gladly accept my clues and helpful jump-starts (“The weather today is…”) when they are stumped. And most importantly, together we have mastered the most critical phone skill: having a sense of humor. My students have picked up on my sarcastic tendencies in the classroom and many have learned to laugh during our monthly calls. I left work tonight smiling  not because a student aced a phone call with perfect English, but because he outright failed to tell me his birthday day and month. The call had started like all the others. He mastered the greeting, told me about the rainy, cold and cloudy day that we had experienced and informed me of his kimchi (surprise!), rice (surprise!) and soup intake at lunchtime. Everything was moving along as expected until I asked the 4th question. “Can you tell me when your birthday is?” I asked routinely. “TEACHERRRRRR. YOU KNOW IT.  IT’S ON THE BIRTHDAY BOARD!” There was a moment of silence and then he broke into a fit of laughter and I did the same. “That is true,” I answered when my giggles had subsided. “Let’s move on.”

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wish you were here – snail mail love

When was the last time your mailbox actually had a letter in it: handwritten and addressed to you from a real live person you know? The newest J Crew catalog does not count, although I know how exciting its arrival can be.

postcards

 I have really come to love snail mail in Korea – receiving and sending mail – it is my new favorite thing. During my first few weeks in Korea as I unpacked and settled into my new life of teaching and finding my way around a foreign country, I stayed in touch with friends and family through Facebook, Skype and email, but it was when I received a postcard from my aunt that I got emotional (in a good way, of course). I think I startled the Koreans who work at my school. I have my mail sent directly to my school, so if I get any mail I am greeted with it when I walk into the Chungdahm building at the beginning of my work day. One day I stopped by the front desk to greet the staff and they curiously handed me 3 postcards from my aunt. I giggled loudly like a child and skipped off to my classroom only after proudly showing my Korean friends the postcard pictures. I don’t know what it is about getting personal mail sent to you…it is just wonderful. Maybe it is the thought, time and effort that you know the person on the sending end went through to get the mail to you. Who even knows anyone’s mailing address anymore? I can barely remember my new Korean cell phone number…

postcards in classroom

 My friends and family have continued to send postcards and odd pieces of mail and each delivery to my school has made my day. My aunt continues to send me postcards weekly and my students eagerly await each new snapshot of life in the United States. Postcards from Washington D.C., New Hampshire, Colorado, Florida and New York have helped to spark many classroom conversations and curiosities. Another aunt who lives in Florida sent me a dozen or so postcards of animals who reside in the southern state. It is fantastic to be able to point to a postcard picture of a dolphin while I am teaching a lesson on ‘Animal Communication’, or refer to the postcards depicting the White House when my students ask questions about Obama and the United States. Each postcard includes a small note on the back that gives me a peek into family life that I am missing during my year abroad and the picture on the front is enjoyed by all of my students.

Snail mail seems to make its way into your life when you need it most. One rainy and gloomy Monday morning I was tickled to open a letter from my cousins. They had enclosed a take-out menu from one of our favorite pizza places in New Hampshire. On Memorial Day, when I was picturing all my friends at home celebrating the start of summer with cold beers, hot dogs and bonfires, I was handed a card from a close college friend – the cover: “ME? MISS YOU? the inside: “ONLY ALL THE TIME.”

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The unspoken rule of snail mail is that you must send if you receive. I reciprocate the communication with postcards and cute Korean stationery that I enjoy picking out each time I visit the streets of Seoul or my favorite store, Artbox. I look forward to keeping the lines of communication from Uijeongbu to my friends and family back home in the US open and active. I recommend snail mailing it when you can, I promise it beats a Facebook ‘LIKE’ any day.

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back to the beach – BUSAN!

I had no problem hopping a plane from Boston to Korea in the middle of February to teach English in Korea. I love New England, but I have never been a fan of winter. I was born to swim and I live for summers at the beach, as short as they may be. As summer made it’s way to Korea I admit I was a bit homesick for NH beaches and my favorite summer spot, Martha’s Vineyard. I quickly reached out to my friends in Busan from Chungdahm Training and planned a beach weekend. Little did I know, the weekend happened to also be the Busan Sand Festival. Traveling to Busan was simple – I left my apartment early on Saturday morning and made my way into Seoul on the subway and then caught a KTX train to Busan. I was dipping my toes in the water by early afternoon and spent the rest of the day and evening at the beach catching up with friends and swimming as much as possible.

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On Sunday, I spent time exploring the sand castles that were on display all along the beach and listened to live music booming from a gigantic stage set right on the sand. I think most of Korea joined me in Busan for the weekend, but I really didn’t mind the crowds. I loved watching the cute Korean kids squeal with delight as they chased waves and intently constructed sandcastles at the surf’s edge. In the sea of Korean families I felt very much at home – I knew that just across the world there was a very similar beach scene taking place. It was all too familiar – a mother lounging on her towel trying to skim her novel while keeping an eye on her kids, a father chasing the little ones into the waves and children making seaweed delicacies for all to try – oh summer I love you – wherever you are!

If you know MV you will appreciate this beach restaurant/bar we went to – SHARKYS’! What!? Where am I?

Cheers for now…posting this back in my room as my fan blows warm air in my face…missing the beach!

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it’s a small world after all

Barbara Kruger, It's a Small World, but Not if You Have to Clean It, 1990

Barbara Kruger, It’s a Small World, but Not if You Have to Clean It, 1990

So as the annoying Disney song states:

It’s a world of laughter
A world of tears
It’s a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all

It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small, small world…

And it is!

Today as I was prepping for one of my classes I realized I needed to pull up a certain YouTube video to use during class. The video was a short news clip that would assist in our story break-down discussion. My students would watch the video and then answer the Who What When Where etc. questions and also explain the opening, body and conclusion of the video.

One of the great things about teaching for Chungdahm is that the teaching materials and curriculum are constructed for us. Teachers all across Korea use the predetermined materials to teach many different levels of Chungdahm students. So when I am teaching a Sprout 2 Level class on Monday April 2, countless other English teachers are teaching the same class to different Korean students. So of course, my YouTube video link was the same one used today by all the other Sprout 2 Level teachers.

You can imagine my surprise when I realized the video was of a bank robbery that occurred in 2010 in my very own small  hometown of Rollinsford, NH. Crazy, right?? As I watched, I recognized the police officer, the exact location of the bank (across the street from the pool where I spent a majority of my childhood/teenage life), and I also distinctly remember this news story.

So this was my ‘wow the world REALLY IS small’ moment.

Enjoy the video and please know that, although I am thrilled this video is from my hometown, in no way am I proud that it was a bank robbery news story.

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