Friday, June 13, 2008

SURVIVED: First Year of Teaching

As of 3PM today, Nana and I are no longer first-year teachers. What's more, we made it through with our health (mostly) and what was left of our sanity when we began. It's been a year of quick learning and even quicker growth, and it's hard to believe that it's over. But for the immediate future, there may not be much time to reflect: we move Monday, fly to China Wednesday, then come back to Seoul for about 48 hours before schlepping ourselves to the other side of the world. After a few nights in Halifax, though, I can promise you the cogent and extremely insightful reflections of a pair of well-rested adventurers. For now, I can only offer another repetitive excuse.

Also, keep your fingers crossed: the air conditioner for our new apartment hasn't arrived, and if today was any indication, moving day is going to be a cooker.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Korean Beef Crisis: Hoist by their Own Petard

{Dork alert: Current events post.}

If you've been following international news lately, you may have heard about the massive (and that's not really an overstatement) upheaval over the new Korean president's plan to lift South Korea's ban on US beef. Over the last week-plus, downtown Seoul has seen several major protests, mostly in the vicinity of the Blue House (the South Korean President's residence) and outside the US Embassy. (Further evidence that God cares for fools: we were supposed to go down to the embassy for a function on Saturday, but flaked out--and managed to avoid some heated protests.)

You can find details from the NYT here. (And yes, as far as I can tell, it's accurate.)

Though the protests so far have been fairly well-contained, the situation as a whole is a complete farce, and entirely the product of longstanding (but short-sighted) South Korean policy. The underlying problem is the current economic slump in the ROK. Traditionally, the ROK has treated economic slumps with heavy doses of protectionism, which had the added benefit for government officials of providing massive kickbacks and monopolies to powerful friends. In doing so, the ROK developed an arsenal of PR weapons that used protectionism and outright xenophobia to blast any attempts at free trade--and first and foremost among these weapons was mass hysteria over the threat of foreign (and specifically American) beef, based in part on the hypothesis that Koreans, having larger-than-average brains, were especially susceptible to mad cow disease. Fast forward to 2008, when the government tries to do an about-face on decades of protectionism: by now, the protectionist panacea for economic troubles, spearheaded by mad cow hysteria, have become so firmly rooted in the public mind that the mere announcement of plans to lift a ban on US beef--months after the World Organization for Animal Health finally branded US beef safe for export--has touched off protests large enough to topple Lee Myung-bak's ruling coalition. (Though it looks like he'll emerge from the storm with a slightly different supporting cast.)

Now--why should we care (aside from the fact that this illustrates the continuing influence of xenophobia and anti-American sentiment in the ROK)? Lee Myung-bak was the golden hope for reformers in the Korean education system, a conservative who wanted to increase school autonomy and student choice. Hopefully this current crisis doesn't mean that education reform has been completely derailed, because let me tell you, the Korean is in dire need of reform.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Something told the wild geese...

The New York Times has an interesting article describing a phenomenon we first heard about from our boss, Dr. Kim, on ski trip last fall: mothers taking their children overseas to attend school in New Zealand, Canada, the USA, or Australia to get them into an Anglophone environment and, not coincidentally, out of Korean schools. "Wild Geese" refers to the "migratory" flight two or three times a year of the fathers to visit the mothers overseas ("Penguin fathers" are, you guessed it, the flightless ones who can't afford to ever travel overseas and visit their families). We do, in fact, have some of these families at APIS, where siblings are currently at school overseas, and we have a couple of kids leaving APIS for U.S. boarding schools next year.

Anyway, you can see why, even as the clock winds down and we lose our minds trying to do everything at once (move apartments! foster the dog! arrange summer travel! finish grades! keep lesson planning! more more more!), we still have a basic belief that APIS is trying to do something important. Some people will always choose boarding schools, and there's nothing wrong with that, but the idea that families feel compelled to make this sort of choice at the risk of destroying their childrens' futures... well, it's flat-out depressing.

Although I'm jealous of the mother in the article who said her kids were speaking English together and actually losing some Korean language fluency. Even after months of crackdown, we still have the opposite problem. Kids who spoke English perfectly on arrival start devolving into Konglish ("I am genius!," or addressing teachers as "teacher," not by name) and some ESL students are still trying to get by on as little English as possible. You just have to try to remember how far they've come.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Harajuku (via Boing Boing)

Link to an interesting photo gallery recently posted on Boing Boing. I was in Harajuku in Tokyo with a school trip a few weeks ago. Wacky place.

In other news, sorry for the continued scarcity of posts. Much time has been spent lately preparing for the end of the year, preparing to move to a new apartment, preparing to go to China (woot!), and preparing to say goodbye to some departing friends. We'll post as we can.