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.

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