A Korean Hall-O-Ween

Every year on the Friday nearest to Halloween our school throws an all day Halloween party.  The students start collecting coupons mid September and save them up to spend at the party at the end of October.  Students earn coupons by turning in homework and class participation.  We’ve heard that more students do their homework in September and October because it is coupon season.   At the party everything costs X amount of coupons. For example:  Spaghetti= 3 coupons,  Dance Dance Revolution= 3 coupons, and a whole stationery store with all kinds of trinkets to buy with your coupons.  It’s a big deal to them!

Now, Halloween is not a Korean holiday; that’s why our school celebrates it.  With that being said, the kids “know” about Halloween but not exactly.  Our food wasn’t typical Halloween food.  It was lots of fried Korean food + spaghetti and tukbokki (a spicy saucy dish with chewy rice tubes and compressed fish tofu called ohdang).  Also, at the party there were only a handful of costumes, mostly capes and hats.  Ethan and I were stretched to find costumes of our own, too.  I had the grand idea of being a middle-aged married Korean woman, they are called “ajummas.”

Ajummas are kind of big deal in Korea.  I could probably do a whole post on just them but I am on this train of thought now.  So, we will take just a little side trip.  These woman have a reputation of having a certain look and attitude.  The look is made up of a tight perm, floral mis-match prints, bright colors, a neck scarf, long-sleeved shirt, large visor, and possibly a face mask or umbrella.  All of the attire is in attempt to block the sun.  Their attitude demands respect and basically whatever else they want.  It is customary for older people to cut in line at the supermarket, convenient store and so on.  However,  Ajummas may also be characterized by their pointy elbows or glare.  You learn that you don’t want to get in their way.  It is also common for them to congregate together.  Here is the best picture I could find.  Notice the face mask pulled down on the woman on the far right.  Sadly, they have coats on that are covering up their floral print shirts.

Needless to say, I thought I would run my costume idea by my boss Piggy.  Her and the other Korean teachers were less than thrilled at the idea but they didn’t exactly come out and say it.  I talked with Brad, the foreign teacher Ethan replaced but he still works part-time, and he put it simply, “Yeah, they don’t want you to do it.”  Although, Piggy did say, “You should be something from your country.”  We have learned that Koreans aren’t typically straight forward…”maybe” means “no” or “that’s a bad idea.”  We are starting to pick up on it more.

So, I was supposed to be something from “my country.”  Fine, I will order a cowboy hat and be a cowgirl.  Easy enough.  My other options were to order a “naughty maid” or “sexy vampire”  costume from the Korean Amazon.com, Gmarket.  Ethan didn’t know what he was going to be until the day of.  It was inspired by a ninja but you couldn’t really call it that.  It involved black clothing, a black head wrap, a fake knife through his head, and a child’s gaudy gold pirate mask he wore backwards cause it dung into his face.  Nobody knew what he was, including him.


Ethan borrowed this costume but decided it would be too cumbersome.

Above is the fried food station I manned all day. Below is the big pan of tukbokki that Hera manned (one of our co-teachers).  Piggy (our boss) was outside frying and cooking more food all day!

Ethan was in charge of this room with the “claw” games and Dance, Dance, Revolution (DDR).  Some students spent hours and almost all of their coupons on the chance to snag a dinky keychain. DDR didn’t get popular until the older kids started coming later in the day.  Here is a group of Sandra’s students playing DDR.  They rarely passed a level even with 4 people playing on single player.

Here is one of my cuties, Bonita (funny she has a Spanish name right?).  She is has the sweetest smile, so I am sad she wouldn’t share it with you.  I had to pay her a coupon just to take a picture with me.  You notice all the peace signs/bunny ears…  we’ve heard it means victory, chopsticks, or it makes their round faces look smaller…not really sure, just one person decided it was cool so now everyone HAS to do it.  That is how a lot of things are in Korea.

Monica and Annie, super cute and sweet girls.

There’s a little smirk from Bonita.  Now,  that little guy on the left with the baby nerf gun is Jake.  He may be pretty cute but he is the  biggest delinquent I have. 🙂

Here is the stationary store.  Look at all those goodies!

I don’t know this little guy’s name but he was cracking me up with his hat, mask, and blanket cape.

Two more of my favorite students.  Hena and Hayley, these two are little smarty pants.  I love this picture for the background action, too. Annie is perched on the very top on the stool chowing down on some spaghetti. Then, Alice, one of Ethan’s students, is brushing her teeth.  Another fun fact:  Koreans brush their teeth after every meal (at least 3 times a day).  So, after lunch at their school, all the students have toothbrushes and go to the bathroom to brush their teeth.  Most kids have anywhere from 2-5 toothbrushes in various places.

This little one is not a student but belonged to a lady that was helping out at the party.  I couldn’t get a smile from him either but look at that little bow tie!

3 more of my  students.  Sarah, Minji, and Lucy.  The two on the left are sisters.  I love the array of names!  🙂  

This is Zack, Mathew, and Zack’s little brother (he is too young for our academy).  Some students brought their little siblings.  Zack was so sweet to his little brother!  He held his hand everywhere and shared all his coupons!  That was one of my favorite parts of the party, making the connections between siblings.  During classes, all our younger kids come earlier in the day and the older ones later on.   However, at the party, they all overlapped and interacted.

Hope you enjoyed our Halloween party!  So glad we finally got to introduce you to a few of our kiddos (really just mine).  Ethan was either too busy  to take pictures or just doesn’t like his students as much as I do. 😉  …just kidding


Teaching little Koreans

So, we didn’t really know what to expect when taking a job to teach Korean children English.  I know we got lots of questions of how we would teach English without knowing Korean.  Well, now that we’ve been in the groove for a month we’ll give you a little taste.  Our class ages range from 8  to 15 and their English levels from basic words and phrases to debating various issues.

I (Sandra) have a class that is quite the handful.  It is only made up of  5 kids but the 3 boys make up for the small number.  It is hard to be stern when the kids don’t understand what you are saying and then on top of that they can say whatever they want to about you because you don’t know what they’re saying either!   Those boys come in at least 30 minutes early everyday and play hide and seek.  Then they come in to class sweaty, you would think they would have gotten all their energy out…think again.  Sometimes they stampede me up against my desk, trying to get me to grade their assignment first.  I am still trying to figure out the best way to handle those little boogers.

Pronunciation is something we work on quite frequently.  They have trouble  with letters like W, L,  P, V, F plus many other combinations.  They also like to add a hard “ed” or “a” on the end of most words.  For example wood is “ood” and finished is “finish-id” or house is “house-a.”  We are constantly saying, “It’s not house-a, just house!”

Another funny communication barrier comes up when we ask them questions and have to clarify.                                   Example:  Teacher-T/  Student-S

T:  Do you have your notebook?

S:  No, I don’t?

T:  You don’t?

S: Yes.

That confuses us every once in a while but in Korean I guess that’s how you would answer that kind of question.  So, we’ve had a few mini lessons on how to form a consistent English response.

Now, I know we are ragging on these kids but they have an even longer day than we do.  They get up and go to school; then after school come to see us and possibly 2 other hagwons (private afterschool academy).  So, they have their regular school homework plus ours!  I understand if by the time they get to us they are done sitting in a classroom.  Other hagwons they attend could be math, Korean, music, science, art and so on.  It is a tough balance wanting to do a good job but cutting these kiddos some slack.

Another big shocker was that swats for kids are still given here.  Our students have “listening time” at the end of every class.  During this time, they hear various conversations or monologues that they are then required to memorize.  At the end of the 2 week period if they did not do their minimum requirements,  they get swats on the palm of the hand or arch of the foot.   I think swats are given out for behavior issues too.  However, our whole grading system is based on an incentive program.  They get points for homework and participation and then can turn them in for prizes.

Ok, finally we will leave you with a little journal entry, one of Ethan’s 12-year-old students wrote about his favorite family event.

“My Family Event is

many read book is reading

so game plese  and birstday

party but, birsthday  is a sometime

and many reading a book

a game cash give

And I love a reading a book

but no watch a tv

And a night go to the

mom At a home math ak home

very happy”


Some diaries are even harder to understand and consequently, harder to grade. 🙂   We’ll try to get some pictures next time to go along with our stories!