While students work…

If I could just write half-blog-posts or first paragraphs of posts, I’d blog a lot more often. There’s a lot that I’ve skipped over, like hiking Mount Jiri with my host family and two women with cognitive disabilities, going on a school trip to the Busan Global village, and visiting Seoul for Support Network training. While I might do a catch-up post later on, right now I just want to feel chronologically caught up. So this week’s topic is midterms, aka the week that sucks for students, aka party time for teachers.

While the weeks leading up to and after exams are extremely stressful for the teachers at my school, exam week itself is almost relaxing. The previous week everyone in the office was busy creating questions for the exam. Occasionally someone would ask me to check over their English, and a couple times we tried to brainstorm alternatives together. Let’s just say writing exams seems miserable, especially with all the standards Korean high school teachers need to meet, not to mention constant pressure from parents, who aren’t shy about speaking out if their children think the test is too hard or too easy. You’d think the kids would keep quiet if the test was easy. Next week (the week after the exam) everyone will be busy grading, and thankfully I’ll have no part in that.

But the past week, this was my experience:

It’s been maybe 15 minutes since the exam has started, and out of a class of 34, only 4 students are working. The rest are soundly asleep, most with their heads down, some awkwardly leaning out of their chairs, and yet others look at first glance as if they are working, slightly slumped, pencil in hand…but their eyes are firmly shut, mouths agape. A technique undoubtedly developed to throw off the principal, who makes frequent rounds, peering into classrooms to catch sleeping students. What happened to the image of the hard-working, meticulous, studying-until-2am Korean high school student that I’ve heard so much about?

While some students finish early and sleep, others don’t even try. The first class in which I witnessed this was a third grade class (third year of high school, or 12th grade) – even more surprising, considering their college entrance exam is looming ever closer. These students, only three in this class, were asleep immediately, far too quickly to have completed the exam. Upon asking the teacher proctoring with me, another English teacher in this case, she explained that many universities don’t require grades from the second semester of senior year.

But sleeping students aren’t unique to third grade classes. When I proctored my toughest class of second-year boys, guess what, the majority of students were asleep within 15 minutes. On the multiple choice scantron, most of the boys have written their names, the date, and marked answers at random. On the writing section, empty spaces were filled with 모름, 모름, 모름. Translation: Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know.

How do you motivate students like this?

Fortunately, I did more than watch students sleep in stuffy classrooms this week. Everyday school got out at lunchtime, so Tuesday, a group of English teachers went out to eat at The Party, a fancy buffet restaurant. This group only included teachers who taught extracurricular classes (though there was no mention of our classes during lunch). But Wednesday, a larger group of English teachers went on a trip to Gyeongju!

Gyeongju is a city known for its historical sites, and is about 1.5 hours away from Gimhae. One of the teachers told me that the residents of Gyeongju cannot freely build houses or structures; they need permission from the city. This is because there’s a good chance of them uncovering historical artifacts if they do so. Incredible! We drove by a park with a ton of mound tombs – I would love to go back and see those as well. Our upcoming Fulbright fall conference in Gyeongju though, so I’ll be back soon enough.

I didn’t get a picture of the tombs, but here’s one from Wikipedia:


During the trip we visited Bulguksa Temple (where I found postcards! At last!), a famous coffee shop called Schumann and Clara, and Anapji, an artificial pond that was part of a Silla dynasty palace complex. Anapji was where royalty gathered for entertainment. The view at night was especially beautiful. And the coffee was delicious. In an earlier post I said Korean instant coffee was pretty good; I won’t change my opinion, but I do miss real coffee.

I’ll just leave you now with photos.

Bulguksa Temple
I don’t know why we’re holding up ones in the photo – I just did what they told me.

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Coffee at Schumann and Clara’s
We tried a bread made with charcoal powder – not bad, despite its appearance!

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The nightview at Anapji

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