Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gruesse aus... Seoul?

Yesterday we found ourselves downtown around dinnertime, so we decided to coddle my poor belly and take it out for some foreign food in Itaewon.

Itaewon is the foreign district in Seoul, historically, I believe, sprung up because it's right by the US Army base. It's not just American, though - all the expat communities hub around Itaewon (except, of course, the expats affiliated with APIS, because we live over an hour away). It's where you go for African hair stylists, Pakistani restaurants, international grocers and the like.

As we left the subway, Justin spotted sort of a shabby-looking ad for a restaurant called Chef Meili, which promised authentic Austrian food. (Amusingly, the picture on the review is of the dish Justin actually ordered - the beef roulade). I wasn't completely confident but I didn't have a better idea so I went along with it.

Nobody was in the restaurant when we got there, which added to me being nervous, but it turned out to be a huge success. The prices were a little high for Korea, which seems to be standard for foreign food, but I would say it was worth it. I had smoked salmon on a potato pancake, and we got a vanilla ice cream/berry sauce dessert that was really amazing.

None of that, though, was as awesome as talking in German to the Austrian chef. I think he got a kick out of it - he says he's only been here four months, and there are about 150 Austrians living in Seoul, so it was probably nice to talk to somebody new in his own language. But for me? It just felt good not to feel so stupid.

Being surrounded by these kids who speak Korean whenever our backs are turned and then coming home on a Korean bus with Korean speakers everywhere - well, it's not like I didn't expect that, coming to Korea, but it really does make me feel like an idiot not to have a clue what's going on. The school did promise us Korean lessons, but that hasn't started yet, and it'll take a long time to get anywhere with them. So we can certainly look forward to months of more cluelessness.

Anyway, I just felt a lot better about myself after a nice reminder that no, I'm not a language-deaf moron American - I just don't happen to speak this one.

PS. Put a hold on the optimism regarding having only one class with student failures. I forgot the one sixth grader getting a 42%. Which I suppose is fair, since by all indications he's forgotten about my class.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Short and mediocre post

Just pointing out that we're alive.

1. The slingbox is down again, inexplicably.
2. The weather has been spectacular lately--very clear, very cool.
3. Visited a big info fair for foreigners down at City Hall and finally got in touch with the Royal Asiatic Society. Hopefully, we can rescue a weekend or two here or there from the clutches of schoolwork and actually get out and see some of this country!
4. There's a possibility we may finally be able to ditch our awful internet service provider.
5. I (Nana) now have only two students failing my class in all grades! Two students have reached the magical 60%! Grades are due a week from Monday and I will do everything in my power to keep that D- alive.
6. We miss our dog.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Hi all,

In the event that anybody has noticed that we haven't been posting as recently, I apologize. To the rest of you who didn't realize we were missing, carry on. There's nothing to see here.

It's been pretty hectic lately. We went into the school yesterday (Saturday) for four hours and Justin's entering hour six or seven of work today. The depressing cause of all of this is that our kids just don't seem to be able to write.

It's very odd. Yes, there's the whole ESL barrier problem, but it's more than that. Some kids whose English is just fine are totally incoherent on paper. The concept of "paragraph" does not seem to exist. After a heavily plagiarized assignment on Alexander the Great, I made all the seventh graders keep a research notebook as they worked on a project about Rome, but some of them have submitted a typed version of their notes in place of an essay. We can't figure out if they're honestly confused or if they don't actually think they need to bother.

On that note, I read a disheartening quote from a Korean mother in one of the English-language papers, where she essentially said that she condoned her high-school child buying papers online because homework wasn't as important to getting into college as his exam grades, so she wanted him to buy the papers and focus on studying for the tests. Of course, given some of the test scores we see, they're not doing that either. But can you believe it? I sincerely hope no parent at our school feels that way.

I hesitate to say TOO much about the Korean school system, seeing as everything I know about it is hearsay from our students who have been in it, fellow teachers who went through it, or from deductions based on experiences (students are constantly surprised when I ask them to stay awake in class.). But I guess I will say that American newspapers rhapsodize so much about the glories of the "Asian educational system" and stereotype the kids so heavily that I couldn't have helped but come here and be surprised.