One of my students models my Halloween costume. Can you guess what it is?

I had meant to write about Halloween before, but apparently never got around to it. Oops! Nothing like some Halloween in January though, right?

I never really liked Halloween as a kid, I think because I could never come up with good costume ideas. But then in university I discovered the amazingness that is Halloween in New York, and that I really like to make things, and since then I’ve been all about it. And as far as teaching holidays to my students goes, Halloween is definitely the most fun.

Halloween isn’t really celebrated in Korea, although it seems to be gaining popularity from all the foreign English teachers telling kids about it and throwing parties at school. All of the big supermarkets have small Halloween sections with witch hats and devil pitchforks, but it seems most kids don’t dress up unless they have a Halloween party at their private schools. Most of the kids are aware there’s a Halloween-candy connection though, which is all they really care about. Many of my students came by the English room on Halloween to say, “Teacher! Trick-or-treat! Candy, please!” Haha, nice try kids.

Some decorations from home made for a nice festive atmosphere in the classroom–





I hadn’t put little plastic spiders in cotton cobwebs in years! It’s pretty fun.

In my weekly “English Cinema” class we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas and made Halloween masks. I was a little worried about whether they’d be into the movie or not, as they don’t really celebrate Halloween or Christmas, but they seemed to like it. Especially the music.

The Halloween masks came out pretty cute, and gave me a good use for all the disposable chopsticks I’ve accumulated from over a year of take-out kimbaps and delivery.




We should’ve used some paint or something more vivid, but they were still all right. I especially liked this project because I got to spend my “deskwarming” time making samples:


The best part about teaching in a school is getting to wear my costume there, even if I am the only one.

Last year, I had had a rather raucous Halloween exploring downtown Daegu on a bar crawl with mobs of foreigners. This year, I stayed in Ulsan, where there were plenty of parties at the foreigner bars, but nothing quite like Daegu. I was really surprised to find a Korean-hosted party at one of my favorite bars, Showtime, in Ulsan’s old downtown. I was the only foreigner while I was there, and so forced to play the pass-the-paper-mouth-to-mouth game between two ajosshis, but also got a free cocktail. 아싸!

A Tale of Two Summer Camps

Summer “vacation” in Korea isn’t quite the same as most students and teachers have it back in the US – for most Korean students, it means just as much studying at private schools, and for me and other EPIK teachers it means extra teaching at special English camps. So while Korean schools don’t officially run year-round, students never really get a break from studying – ever (at least until they graduate high school).

Over July and August, I spent three weeks at a school in a remote location in Ulsan and 1 week at my school. Teaching for 6-10 hours a day can be quite stressful, but it’s not all bad. Really, it can be quite a bit better than regular school teaching. At camps, I’ve gotten to plan and teach a lot of my own lessons, and the students are generally much more motivated to learn English. After my overnight 5th grade English camp last winter, I saw my students’ levels transform, as well as their enthusiasm for learning which they still have months later. So when the option came up to teach another three-week overnight camp for summer, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. Although I did try my best not to get assigned teaching grammar this time…which I found to be a rather unfortunate subject to be stuck with for 7 hours a day last camp.

A bit of background on these English camps – 5th and 6th grade students are shipped off to a secluded campus for three weeks (with breaks on the weekends) of intensive English studying with lots of foreign teachers. The camps are organized by the public system, and in Ulsan it’s done by the MOE (Metropolitan Office of Education). They have classes from 9 in the morning to 9 at night or later, only breaking for meals and perhaps a bit of PE time. To me it seems a bit ridiculous to have 10 and 11 year-olds in classes for 10 hours a day, but that’s just because I’m not Korean.

For summer camp, I was working with all 6th grade students off in the very southern corner of Ulsan at Seosaeng Middle School, on a tiny peninsula sticking out into the East Sea. Based on my two camp experiences and anecdotal evidence, the first day of camp generally goes like this: get picked up by a bus carrying a bunch of students. Meet the frazzled Korean teacher in charge of your bus. Make the ~1 hour drive to camp, receive some vague instructions about what to do upon arrival. Arrive at camp, find your room, try to follow vague instructions previously given. Receive different instructions several times while students and teachers wander aimlessly. Wait. Be prepared to be in a classroom of 16-60 tired, shy students eager to be entertained with no planned activities or help from a Korean co-teacher for 1-4 hours. Stay positive! After the first day, everything should settle down into a relatively set schedule.

Our dorm situation at camp brought with it some more interesting problems the first day: all of the foreign teachers were in one wing of the building, with one bathroom to share and no where to shower. Eventually, they told us there was one shower room for boys and one for girls, which was an open room to be shared with all of the students! The school dorm management didn’t seem to understand that this was not “OK.” But by the end of the day, they had it sorted out so we wouldn’t have to shower with the students, and we had a “sink shower” room for female staff with some semi-private shower curtains. Having living in Korea for a while and beet to the jimjilbang/public spas has made me a bit more immune to nudity, but I’m not quite ready to shower with all of my students…

Living in a dirty middle school dorm room for 3 weeks was a bit less than ideal, but it did have a very nice view:


Every day the class schedule was two hours of grammar, reading and vocabulary, an hour of speaking and an hour of “song”. That left two hours for “special activities”. I lucked out in getting a pretty laid back arts & crafts activity.


Little paper dragonflies that balance on their nose. It was a pretty simple idea suggested by my co-teacher, and the kids were totally into it! 아싸!!


The biggest obstacle of camp was preparing a song and dance for the Song Festival. Aiiigo, aiiiiiigo. I felt like it was a bit much to expect us to choreograph a dance and teach it and a song to our students within the little spare time afforded by the camp schedule, but the results were actually pretty great. Upon arriving to camp, we were told that the song we selected to teach each night would be our song for the festival. I had “Another Brick in the Wall,” which was quickly vetoed by my class as too slow and boring. They instead chose a song by some awful British pop act McFly, which had been in some Korean drama. It was beyond awful, but absolutely adored by the students. And it’s all for them anyway.

Teaching “Another Brick in the Wall” was an interesting failure… I thought something in it might resonate with the students, who are studying all day and at 12 are starting to feel the seeds of rebellious teenage angst. But it didn’t quite work out. Most students couldn’t have cared less, no matter what I tried. I think I reached about 10 students out of the 100-200 I had, and only had a couple of classes that I felt good about. Eventually I gave up and switched to James Brown “I Feel Good,” because at least it would make me happy and let me get totally goofy. And it actually got an entire class up and dancing! My best 20 minutes of camp.

One of the highlights was “Octopus’s Garden” by the Beatles. So cute! Next time, I’m choosing a song with an animal theme.

The boys from my homeroom class.

So camp was a big difficult, particularly aapting to the schedule hearing “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!” “Teacher! Teacher!” non-stop all day, every day except for the hours you’re sleeping. But then after 3 weeks, it’s over!! And you get all these letters:




And they overwhelm all of the bad memories of camp and you wonder…maybe I could do it again next time!

But apparently that won’t be a question to consider because the camps are no more! Or so I heard. I guess they’re too expensive. Ah well. They were …interesting while they lasted.


A week later, I had my school’s camp. Which was 6 hours a day of whatever I wanted to do with a group of 4th-6th graders. I was pretty excited about this never-before-had freedom, and got to work in a lot of group projects and non-English subjects. Each day had a theme: The World, Animals, Science, Fairy Tales, and Superheroes.

Animal Day:

I ripped off this mask design from something I found online but thought it looked pretty cool.

Summer English Camp
This is from “Oktapodi: the sequel” inspired from this great animated short.

Summer English Camp
There’s an alien fishing with a big worm. She sees the octopi and says, “Lets go with the cosmos.”

I also redid my dragonfly craft, which was great once again!


And I was really excited to do a reading and writing activity based around superhero comics. First we read a bunch of comics that I had made. Then we discussed how to make a comic, and the students had to make their own…


It looks like there’s something inappropriate happening between Superman and Wonder Woman. And perhaps Catwoman is having a wardrobe malfunction?


I like this a lot.

The comic book activity ended up being a bit too much about coloring, and a bit too little about English. But I think it could be modified into something really great. I was quite pleased with the results.

Looking back on summer camps after having started regular classes again, they look good. Even with all the work. And I’m happy that the last thing I do before I leave Korea for good in February will be my school’s winter camp. Oh, the possibilities…

Culture Shock of the Week: Korea and Butts and Lawsuits, oh my!

Sticker prominently displayed on the bus to English Camp...

This is a bit of a blurry picture, but what you may or may not be able to see is a woman from behind, wearing nothing but a thong and high heels and a dragon back-tattoo. This big decal was very prominently decorating the interior of the bus I rode back from English Camp with my sixth grade students. It seems like a bit of an odd choice of decor for your very public bus, but to each their own…I guess. You’d think having this in view of a bunch of 12-13 year old boys would cause quite a commotion, but none of them seemed to pay it any attention. Maybe they didn’t see it? That seems highly unlikely, as they’re 13-year-old boys and it’s a picture of a mostly naked woman…

But butts are really not a big deal in this country. Maybe it’s because everyone goes to the jimjilbang together (well, boys with other boys and girls with other girls) so nudity isn’t really a big deal. In the hospital, there’s hemorrhoid removal posters featuring big extreme close-ups of the point of surgery, and no one pays them any mind. Plastic surgery is advertised with really smooth and firm-looking bottoms. A nurse will give you a shot in the but without any concern for who else may be within view, because no one really cares.

Really though, it’s better that way, right? It’s just a butt. We’ve all got one. We’re so uptight about that stuff in the US. Can you imagine if a bus driver that worked for public elementary schools had that sticker on his bus in the US? I’m sure there’d be a lawsuit in no time. Or at least he’d be fired, immediately. Probably before he even got the chance to pick up any kids.

Today I was thinking about some of the differences between teaching in Korea and the US, at least what I know about teaching in the US based on growing up in the school system. In Korea, I can hug my students or give them a pat on the back and it’s no big deal. I can give students my cell phone number, although that’s not really something I’d want to do (many other teachers do though). I can “threaten” my students when they’re being bad..not that that happens a lot…but if I were to, say, mime kneeing a student in the face, I wouldn’t have to worry about repercussions. Not that that’s a mature way to approach classroom discipline… But the Korean teachers often discipline the students by having them hold their hands above their heads or stay in push-up position for a prolonged period of time.

In the school bathrooms, there’s often no soap at the sinks. I have my own antibacterial hand stuff, but I don’t know what the students do. Yesterday there was a bee hive/bee infestation situation in several classrooms, which still hadn’t been resolved today. Earlier this week the fire alarm went off in the middle of class, but we just waited for it to stop so we could continue. After class, the fire alarm light was still flashing in the hallway, and no one was paying any attention…

I’m pretty sure all of these things could be potential lawsuits in the US. In Korea, it’s no big deal. I was aware, but never really realized how much our sue-anyone-for-anything culture really influences life in America. Actually, I think that’s probably a big reason behind the differences in driving in the US and Korea…but that’s a topic for another post.

Classroom Decorating

The start of a new school year in March brought with it a few big changes in the world of teaching. First of all, I got two new co-teachers, as one of my previous co-teachers had to leave the school and the other one wanted to switch to teaching homeroom. Thankfully, my two new co’s are very friendly and kind. I also switched to primarily teaching 6th grade, three times a week, with one day of 4th grade too.

I’ve also found my role in the classroom significantly diminished, which basically means I don’t get to plan as much and have less responsibility to prepare materials. Which means I have a bit more time on my hands at work. I’ve also found that the more I get used to teaching, the easier lesson planning gets. So this semester I’ve had a lot more free time on my hands.

All of this free time has gone into classroom decorating.


This is The Point Board, for grades 3 and 4. The students are divided into teams, and compete for points throughout the class. Fourth grade is ridiculously competitive. When they were in third grade, the Korean English teacher would give stamps that added up to coupons. Coupons could be exchanged for candy, or they could be used in class as a sort of “trump card” to automatically get to answer a question, no matter who else was raising their hand. All of the students were constantly using coupons in class. So basically, they were competing for coupons to use to get more coupons to use to get more coupons…not adding up to anything. I figured they would tire of that eventually, but the students have brought it back this year in 4th grade, introducing the convoluted system to their new Korean English teacher! I would think by the end of the year, they’ll have some higher expectations in the terms of rewards…

This is 6th grade’s version. Team 3 is the winner! Team 1 was misbehaving and has to stay after class to clean the classroom. 😛

Teachers' Office door decor
This is the door to the office I share with my co-teacher. The sign was her idea. But I was quite pleased with how it turned out.

At the start of the semester in March and April, I was incredibly ambitious with decorating for each unit in the text book. The English center has a big fuzzy board that didn’t get used at all my first few months here, and I was determined to put it to use. So my co-teacher and I put together some rather elaborate wall displays…

Teaching directions
Lesson 2: Is this York Street?

When’s your birthday?

Mine’s August 27th.

Now that 6th grade has three days of English class a week instead of two, there’s actually a bit of time to do some fun stuff beyond the text book. For lesson 3 “I like Spring,” the students made mini season books. In these pictures you can get a glimpse of the students’ English level…which is not very high. But some of their books were really pretty.

Our display space.


Every 6th grade English class in the city of Ulsan has a one-time trip to the local “English Experience Center,” where they have 2 hours of unique English classes. Last year, my job on these days was to lead groups of students through basic everyday life sort of dialogues. It was nothing short of a nightmare, with students trying to run away, beat each other up, destroy the school’s props and go to sleep on the floor while I tried to get them through dialogues far beyond their level that none of them could read. In hindsight, I probably should’ve created some material more suited to their level. Oh well…

Crazy Animals!

Luckily, this year things were different. I was given 40 minutes to do whatever I wanted with the students in the classroom. The school provided a Powerpoint and activity about ants, but I decided it would be more fun to do a class about strange-looking animals. I tried to focus more on the evolutionary aspect, like why the animals looked the way they did, and what purpose their odd traits served in their survival. Which was a bit difficult to do in English with some of the classes. After looking at several strange-looking animals, the students had to design their own. They had some really cool creations! Overall, I thought it was quite fun.

The class was called “Crazy Animals”, because I knew crazy was a word the students would recognize. I felt if I used “weird” or “strange” not all of them would understand, and I wanted to have everyone together on the same page at least for the subject of the class.

6th grade students' invented animals
A lot of students drew animals that ate people…

Help me! NO!
Help me! NO! – drawn by the sweetest, shyest little girl

This is the "Kiss Dog." It has big lips so it can kiss people.
The Kiss Dog. It has big mouth so it can kiss for person. It live in a Africa.

It's delicious!
It’s delicious!

One last thing – a prepositions picture I put together for 4th grade. I realize the perspective is far from perfect, which is rather unfortunate for a lesson on prepositions, and the position of the box/Spongebob are debatable. But I’m still into it:

The robot is in the bed. The glove is on Obama's hand.
The robot is in the bed. The doll is under the sofa. The glove is on Obama’s hand.

I’m kind of hoping some of these classroom decorations outlast my time at the school, so I can leave behind a bit of a “legacy”…but if not that’s all right too, they’re serving a purpose now. To help the students. Not just to keep me busy in the afternoons. Really…

School Festival

This is a long over-due post from something that took place back in December, but I figured better late than never.

Most elementary, middle and high schools in Korea hold ‘school festivals’ at the end of the year, to showcase all kinds of student performances. Towards the end of November, I started to hear reports and see pictures from my friends’ schools. Many of them seemed to involve some cross dressing on the part of some of the boys in the school, which seemed rather strange, but had me eagerly awaiting what was to come with my school’s festival.

Over the course of two days, each grade, kindergarten – sixth, was given about an hour to perform. I went with my co-teachers to the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade performances. It was very cute to see the kids running around in their costumes throughout the day – first grade girls in glittery tops and fairy wings, sixth grade boys trying to dress like K-Pop stars.

The biggest surprise of the day for me was that each grade put on an English pop song performance. Where did they learn this? I asked my co-teacher, who told me they learned the song in the after school program. Our school has an after school English program I don’t know about? At first I was a bit bummed that I, the native English speaker, was not in on the after-school program that was teaching the kids fun English pop songs, but apparently it’s privately run and just rents a classroom from the school. The best English song performance was “Dancing Queen” by a group of fifth grade girls in red bow ties. For some reason, ABBA is extremely popular here.

Other highlights were a taekwondo-dance hybrid very popular with the boys, and this choreographed routine that involved a big group of students holding up many colored cards to make a big picture that changed to the beat of the music. One of these card choreography routines showed a cute love story between a boy and girl, slowly unfolding through several images. The last one featured two monkeys, butt to butt. No one else seemed to think this was the least bit outrageous. I tried to get an explanation from my co-teacher, but she didn’t seem to think it was odd either.

At one point during the fifth grade show, the lights dimmed and a few students came out dressed all in black wielding neon green glowsticks. They then proceeded to twirl them around in a rave-type show to techno music.

But the most shocking part was the K-Pop performances. Each grade had at least one. The students seemed to just copy the dance routines from the music videos, and everyone seemed to think this was ok, even though it’s fourth grade girls wearing short shorts and go-go boots doing these overtly sexual dance moves… I guess that’s a cultural difference I’ll never understand.

Side note – my favorite thing in Winter camp was to play this song in class. All of the girls would immediately stop what they were doing to sing and do the dance that goes with the chorus. “You don’t know me! You don’t know me! So shut up, boy! Shut up, boy!” So adorable.

Also adorable was a group of fifth grade boys who did a dance to another popular K-Pop song. Dressed in their fanciest, hip-hoppiest clothes, they did an obviously very well-rehearsed hip-hop-styled dance with utmost intensity and seriousness. The other students went crazy for it. It reminded me of my middle school talent show in sixth grade, when a band made up for eighth grade boys covered that Eagle Eyed Cherries song “Save Tonight” and we all thought it was the. coolest. thing. ever.

While my school festival didn’t have any cross-dressing, it had more than enough cultural oddities for me to ponder. I did ask my co-teacher about the cross-dressing, but the only explanation she gave me was “it’s funny.” These kinds of things make me feel like I could live here for years and years and years and years, but some things I would never fully understand.

January = Winter English Camps

The school year ends in December in Korea, which gives students January and most of February off for winter vacation. In theory. What really happens is that students are sent to all-day and overnight academic camps, so they can study hard and get ahead for the next school year. What this means for us foreign English teachers is that while the rest of the teachers in our school have vacation time, we’re teaching English camps!

Most public school teachers are assigned to a winter camp. Those that aren’t are contractually obligated to be at their desk anyways. I was given three camps to fill the work days I didn’t take off as vacation. My first camp was an all fifth grade, three-week overnight camp in Gyeong-ju, one city north of Ulsan. The camp was 21 foreign teachers, just as many Korean teachers, and hundreds of students, all living and working together in a university dorm for three weeks.

Early Monday morning, I headed to my elementary school to board a bus full of fifth graders to take me to English camp.

(A few of these pictures I borrowed from Kerry, another foreign teacher who did a much better job at documenting things than I did.)

The best part of this place was the view:

Unfortunately this view was only possible after going up the crazy steep hills we needed to climb to get between the dormitory and classrooms.

My assigned subjects: grammar and ‘pop song’. I was none too please to learn that I would be teaching grammar to 7 classes a day, five days a week for three weeks. Boooooooring. But as it turned out, grammar can actually be quite fun! For me, at least.

The challenge of camp was teaching without a computer. This turned out to be a really good thing though, as I had come to rely pretty much exclusively on computers in my normal school teaching. It was also an excuse to draw lots of silly pictures.



It also required a bit more thought to come up with games, other than the typical powerpoint games I was used to using. Most of the games were just answering questions competitively, with rock-paper-scissors or a giant red plastic hammer thrown in there somewhere. But the kids didn’t seem to mind.

My co-teacher for the camp was Eui Hwan.

I have to say I quite appreciated having a male co-teacher. All he had to do was open his mouth or stand a little too close to keep them in line. The kids were much better behaved than what I was used to, but still, he seemed to get a lot more respect just by being a male. Which was frustrating, sure, but it made my job much easier.

Together we had a 16-student “home room”. These are most of my girls:

5th grade Winter English Camp

They drew my portrait:
5th grade Winter English Camp

They also drew my portrait as a snowman:
5th grade Winter English Camp

By far the best part of English camp was the students. At first it was a bit overwhelming to be around so many students for so much time every day without any breaks. But they were all so sweet!

5th grade Winter English Camp

My favorite singer is ...Beyonce, but my family is:
“My favorite singer is…Beyonce, but my family is:”

The students had one hour of non-studying time a day, during which time they had gym or game time. Gym time was typically thrown together a bit haphazardly at the last second. Usually it just involved jump rope competitions. Korean kids are absolutely amazing at jump rope.

Teaching the ‘pop song’ class proved to be quite a bit of a challenge. After dinner, there was a two hour ‘culture class’ that combined two classes of students and put two foreign teachers together to handle them on their own (it was the Korean teachers’ time off). Some of the teachers really lucked out and were given ‘movie’ as their subject. ‘Pop song’ doesn’t seem so bad at first, but when you take into account that soon-to-be sixth graders have absolutely no interest in singing, and are totally exhausted after a long day of studying, it proved to be quite a bit of trouble.

We decided to teach “Yellow Submarine,” switching it up with “Lemon Tree” occasionally (which is very popular in Korea for some reason).

5th grade Winter English Camp
Some days we had a submarine drawing competition.

Towards the end of the week, we tried playing a game that went over extremely well. It went like this: one student is sent out of the room, while another student is secretly selected to be ‘it.’ The class has to sing the song, and the closer the student gets to the selected student, the louder they have to sing. Having 32 Korean fifth-graders screaming “WE. ALL. LIVE. IN A. YELLOW. SUBMARINE!” at the end of each class made my night, every time.

These poor students though. Many of them missed their families, and were apparently crying at night. They were also studying from 9am – 9pm every day, with only a few breaks for meals and a snack. I had to read their English journals, and the first week they were all writing “I don’t want to study. Mom, dad, help me!!” I suppose it’s beneficial for them to get so much practice with English, and to be spending so much time around native speakers, but at what cost??

The end of my overnight English camp brought on my elementary school’s week long, just-during-the-day camp. It was something I had been dreading ever since learning about the existence of these winter camps, as the students at my school are so poorly behaved and I would have to be teaching them solo, without the support of a co-teacher. This seemed rather impossible, as my students don’t really speak English.

But as it turned out, it wasn’t nearly so bad as I thought. Being able to teach more or less without a text book allowed me some creativity to give them different class activities, which I enjoyed immensely. And I think they did too. The students were also rather miraculously much better behaved than normal. For the most part. The lower level class of mostly young students and one sixth grader proved problematic, but with my advanced class I found we could actually do a variety of activities, that involved partner work! And writing! Such things I could’ve never attempted in my normal classes.

I was very excited to give them a more “creative” assignment of designing their own animals to practice writing about ability using can and can’t.

Samil Winter English Camp - Design an Animal

My favorite was “Spicy”
Spicy Farts
whose farts are so ‘spicy’ they either kill fish or smell like dead fish. I like to think it’s that they kill fish.

The lower level class was at first absolutely hopeless. I had one cursing sixth grader, a bunch of boys constantly fighting with each other, a totally spoiled brat, and most of them knew minimal English and couldn’t read. The second I walked into the classroom, they demanded “Game! Teacher, game!” My first subject to teach them was ‘reading,’ which was where I found out most of them couldn’t read. The book I was given to teach from didn’t really take that into account. It was a tough 40 minutes to recover from, but luckily the rest of the week I mainly taught them vocabulary, and we mainly played games to practice new words.

Samil Winter English Camp

Samil Winter English Camp

Ultimately I decided that so long as they were speaking English and occasionally writing, why not play a lot of games? It was vacation, after all.

I decided to turn our ‘play time’ game hour into a team building exercise in a desperate attempt to get the boys to stop fighting so much and work together. Although it was also kind of an excuse to revive one of my elementary school favorites:

Samil Winter English Camp - Game Day
Toilet paper mummies! This activity had little-to-nothing to do with English, but I did teach them the word for mummy. And they seemed to enjoy it as much as I did.

And in the end, everyone worked together to make their mummy, including my most troublesome:
Samil Winter English Camp - Game Day
They look so cute and innocent, but don’t let it full you! 🙂

The camp concluded with a two-hour cooking class, in which we managed to concoct the worst monstrosity imaginable. My co-teacher decided we would make garlic bread. Which sounded great, at first. The ingredients were minced garlic, butter, sugar and mayonnaise. Heaps of chopped garlic went onto this bread, as well as way more mayonnaise than I would’ve ever thought was a good idea. Then, this all went into a normal toaster. It wasn’t long before toasters all over the classroom started smoking and it smelled like we were going to burn the place down. Luckily, one kid had a toaster oven, and so that crisis was averted.

Samil Winter English Camp - Garlic Bread Making

However, the heaps-of-raw-garlic-on-the-bread problem had not been alleviated. “Spicy, teacher, spicy!” the kids were all complaining. And with mountains of raw garlic, it tasted pretty gross. I tried to show them how to scrape off the garlic. But they instead opted for putting mounds and mounds of sugar on top.

Samil Winter English Camp - Garlic Bread Making

Samil Winter English Camp - Garlic Bread Making

So the students ate white bread piled high with garlic, butter, mayonnaise and tons and tons of sugar. I almost felt bad letting them eat it. But they were working together so well, almost entirely on their own, to get each slice in and out of the toaster oven, covered in sugar, and distributed to every student…how could I stop them? I’m sure there’s worse things for you to eat, anyway.

The Monster Book

And finally, I had a two day, 4-hour/day storytelling class for 3rd and 4th graders. This was awesome because I was given absolutely no guidelines other than ‘storytelling’ and no movie for more than 2 class periods a day. I was quite pleased with the ideas I came up with and so I’m going to share them with you.

The theme was monsters. Day 1 was visual monsters, in which we read Where the Wild Things Are and learned about words that describe monsters and how they are different from humans and animals. And not to brag, but my reading of WTWTA got applause. Then everyone designed their own monster, and had to write about where it lives, what it eats, and what kind of personality it had.

I realize this is the same as my design-your-own-animal activity, but I was working with all new students, and I was quite a fan of how the animal one had gone over so I figured I could do it again.

This was my favorite:
Crazy Toilet monster eats American parents
“Toilet” monster eats parents in America 🙂

Day 2 was auditory monsters, and we did a lesson on onomatopoeia. We read Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? and talked about different onomatopoeias in English and Korean. Korea totally beats the English language for onomatopoeias, by the way. The word for the noise your stomach makes when you’re hungry is my favorite (kind of goh-ruu-ruu with a rolled r-ish sound).



After that, I had everyone choose a sound and a complementary action for their monster, and we all stood in a circle and had to practice everyone else’s monster sounds. Then I helped them translate their sounds into English/the roman alphabet, and we put together The Monster Book. Ultimately, the lesson would’ve been much more productive if the students knew how to read, and could’ve practice translating sounds on their own. But I think it was still rather successful anyways.

Having to teach for so much, mostly on my own, and develop more of my own content was definitely a learning experience. A lot of it was kind of off-the-cuff, figuring out what was working and what was failing on the go. At least I really hope what I did worked. Being so inexperienced, it’s difficult to say, and I did have a moment towards the end of my first camp worrying that maybe I hadn’t actually taught them anything (but my co-teacher seemed to think otherwise). Having had no camp counselor experience, trying to get a group of kids just to work together and not hate being there was challenge enough.

If any teachers happened to have read this and want to leave me any feedback on anything, it would be more than appreciated! 🙂

An epic post about EPIK teaching

The first thing I ever heard about the EPIK program (from a couple of Australians who had just completed three years of EPIK teaching) was how easy it was to be an EPIK teacher – you hardly had to do any teaching, they told me, and the students were little English-loving angels, who couldn’t wait to come to your class every day. Ha! Boy were they wrong! It’s not like I was actually expecting to find classrooms full of angels when I got here, but I also didn’t expect to find the exact opposite…

Asian discipline? What discipline?

It certainly doesn’t exist in my school in Korea! Although apparently my sixth graders are renowned in Ulsan for being especially loud, rude, and low-level. It’s pretty much a constant struggle to try to get them to pay attention, stop throwing things, and stop punching/kicking/slapping/strangling their desk partner. They also curse (in Korean and English), and make each other cry. Little angels, indeed. A lot of the time, when they do actually pay attention, they tend to be incredibly whiny, and can find no shortage of things to complain about – even when I’m giving them specially imported candy corn for Halloween.

But before I sound too whiny (too late?), I should probably say that I do really like my students. A lot of them are absolutely wonderful! And adorable! And the “bad” ones aren’t all bad, obviously. Some of my classes are totally great! It’s just been surprising how much of this job is just disciplining and classroom control. Really, I should have known better. But my view of how classes should behave is certainly skewed, as the only schools I know are the ones I went through growing up, which were very good public schools in some of the nicest suburbs in one of the nicest areas of Michigan. So I wasn’t really prepared through prior experience or anything.

Interesting fact about disciplining in Korea: corporal punishment isn’t illegal! It’s illegal in Seoul, but not here in Ulsan, according to my co-teachers. One of the fifth grade homeroom teachers walks around with a cracked bamboo rod! I haven’t seen him use it, but I think I can probably assume what he uses it for…One of my co-teacher’s frequently has the students hold their hands over their heads for uncomfortable periods of time, but that’s (thankfully) the worst I’ve seen.

So I don’t know what kind of Utopian Korea these Australians had been teaching in, but it’s hard to believe they were in the same place I am!

Lucky for me, the severest disciplining is usually left up to my co-teachers.

What’s a co-teacher?

As an EPIK native-teacher, I’m legally required to work with a Korean co-teacher. I guess I lucked out, because I ended up with three of the nicest co-teachers possible! They were extremely helpful in getting me set-up in the country when I first arrived, and helped me set up a bank account, internet, a cell phone, go through the immigration process, etc. It would probably be impossible to do all of that without the help of a native Korean speaker,

I’m pretty sure this country has a shortage of English teachers. Two of my co-teachers told me they were randomly assigned to teach English by the principal when they transferred to Samil (teachers switch schools ever four years in Korea). I don’t think they had any previous English training or education, beyond what they studied in school. Their English is good enough that we can communicate most of our ideas about lessons, although I don’t think either of us comes across as clear as we’d like. So there’s a bit of a communication barrier, but nothing too bad.

Working with a Korean co-teacher means I’m never entirely in charge of the classes I teach, although I am mostly responsible for lesson planning and running the classes. My co-teachers are relatively open to my ideas for classroom activities, but seem to feel really bound to teaching from the government-mandated textbook. This textbook is very unfortunately lacking (the students’ books have probably 3-7 English words in them per unit, for starters). Any students that don’t study English privately and have been learning solely in these classes, out of this book, have essentially no English skills.

Many of the students do study English privately after school, at “hagwons”. A lot of parents start sending their students to hagwons as early as kindergarten or first grade! My students that study at hagwons know most everything I teach in class already, while the other students seem to hardly know the alphabet! It’s pretty difficult to try to teach to both levels.
I think a lot of my students would benefit from going back and studying phonics and extremely basic reading, but there isn’t really time for that when they’re racing to finish the books.

Another interesting thing about Korean education: Parents have a huuuuuuuge say in what goes on. Much more so than in the US. At our orientation, it was described to us like this: in the US, the parents are on the side of the teachers in getting their kids to do the work the teachers assign. In Korea, the parents are on their kid’s side, and if their kid isn’t learning it’s the teachers fault. Last week I got in trouble because parents had been complaining that we weren’t doing every activity out of the book in class. As if their students would learn anything working just out of the text book! sigh…

Anyways, a lot of my lessons present new information using PowerPoint presentations. This is what those look like:

Teaching weather and clothing

Teaching weather and clothing

This was my accidentally too-graphic Halloween game for 5th grade.
Zombie game that was too scary for my fifth graders

Sorry, kiddies.
Zombie game that was too scary for my fifth graders
There’s a head in/on/under/above the sink.

I taught 5th grade Thanksgiving to tie-in with Chuseok, a Korean holiday that happened at the end of September.
Teaching Thanksgiving

I need to get more acquainted with Korean culture. My cartoon references are a bit dated…
Teching with Pinky and the Brain

I like that this job involves drawing pictures and being creative. I get to play a version of pictionary at least once a week! Last week I even made a tiny animation for third grade.


Ultimately, I find teaching to be infinitely challenging and infinitely interesting. I hope that I’m an effective teacher, although sometimes it’s hard to know for sure. I get absolutely no feedback from my co-teachers, which I think is rather unfortunate, and perhaps partly tied into cultural differences. I’m learning quite a bit just by teaching and messing up, seeing what works and what doesn’t. As the year progresses, I hope that I find new ways to be creative and continuously challenge what I think I know. Some of the teachers I’ve met that have been here for a while seem pretty bored with teaching, and are just here to fulfill their contracts or because they’re not sure of what they want to do next. It’s almost like they’re stuck.

I’d really like to avoid this stuckiness, and so far, I think I’m doing a pretty good job. When we first got here, a fellow new teacher told me that the more you put into your job, the “more they expect from you.” She said it like it was a warning – don’t try too hard! I thought that was an interesting take on things, because I feel like the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. But to each their own.

And finally…

The day I realized I would be really unhappy if my job were just being a human tape-recorder:

The first weekend I was here, I worked at an English Festival put on by the school district. Please note the impressive balloon art.
'English Together' festival

My school’s booth was a ‘Food Market,’ lovingly decorated by myself and my two co-teachers. That’s 400,000 won (almost $400) worth of decorations and cookies/candy!
My School's Food Market booth

Ballin’ student volunteers:
My School's Food Market Booth

And this is how I spent most of that Saturday, running hundreds of kids through the silly ‘food market’ dialogue so they could get their cookie. It was pretty draining, and made me realize that despite the difficulties, I’m really glad I’m not just a human tape recorder in my classes.
My School's Food Market Booth