Yeongdo Girls High School Festival

Or Holidays, part 1.

I can only wait so long until it seems awkwardly late to be posting about the holidays, but to cover all the festivities, I really need to start from the beginning. My holiday season can be broken up into three parts for me this year, starting a few days before Christmas at…

The school festival! Something I had only a vague idea of from Japanese manga and anime. If it was anything like my school’s sports day last year, it would be a blast. A day of celebration and fun, a chance to get to know my students on a different level, and perhaps see a side of them I couldn’t see in class. Last year I caught a stomach bug and missed my school’s festival, so this year I was really looking forward to finally experiencing one.

My school’s festival was on December 22nd and the 23rd was my last day before winter break. I’d been caught in a weird limbo for a couple weeks, not really teaching but just trying to keep students occupied in that awkward space between final exams and winter break. Teachers may need that time to get grades out to students, but let’s be honest, no one wants to be in school during those two restless weeks. In my classes, I opted for games, since my coteachers had already been showing movies in their classes. In the past, “movie time” has always seemed to devolve into “sleeping time” anyway. I chose wisely; the “Sleeping Elephants” game was been a huge hit and kept students shockingly engaged. (Shout out to David Stewart for sharing the template!) My coteachers and I sat back in amazement, watching students putting more effort into this game than any other class this year. I wasn’t sure if I should feel pleased or exasperated…

So after a week of filler classes, it was time for the school festival! However…none of the teachers were even remotely excited about it. “It’s not exciting,” “Don’t expect too much” and “All the students do is dance” (referring to the student performances) were common responses to my inquires. I was determined to appreciate the festival anyway.

But I soon understood their lack of enthusiasm.

The morning of the festival, everyone at the office was hard at work. I too busied myself with menial tasks that needed to be done…or did I just browse news sites and Facebook?  Regardless, I had no trouble keeping myself busy.  I received a festival program from another teacher, and as the opening would only consist of speeches, I opted to stay in the office like everyone else. This contrasted quite a bit with my time at Gimhae Jeil, where the teachers in my office appeared obligated to make an appearance at all events (and sit through all the principal’s speeches). Not so at Yeongdo Girls. The morning dragged on, and still, no one moved from their desks. It appeared to be an ordinary day, just with no classes taught. I left on my own to browse the student art gallery that had been set up on the third floor, before planning to head over to the gym on my own.

Naturally, I spent more time than I thought I would at the art exhibit. The students’ work was so impressive! There were wacky self-portraits, shadow-box-type drawings of their future dreams, a bucket list section, 3D models of buildings and animals, and other categories with Korean too difficult for me to understand.


The funny thing is I could recognize these two immediately:



So cute! While I was a little disappointed that this school didn’t have its own gallery space like Gimhae Jeil, at Gimhae I was disappointed in the student artwork I did see. Most of it seemed like direct copies of famous artists’ works. The art curriculum at Yeongdo Girls must be more substantial.


Finally, I headed over to the school festival, just in time to catch my host sister’s class performance. Each class seemed to do a series of different small group performances – dances, skits, singing – and then a whole class performance where everyone came together at the end. I later learned that they were also being judged by a panel of teachers. My coteachers hadn’t been wrong; almost all of the classes performed multiple dances. But that wasn’t the defining part of the festival. Maybe it would help to describe the atmosphere.


Upon entering the gym, I took a second to let my eyes adjust to the nearly pitch black expanse. From the back of the gym, I could see a few teachers and students standing in clusters, and in the first half, a sea of students sitting on yoga mats, eyes on the stage. Classes set to perform next were lined up on the left side of the room, more teachers and judges on the right. The brightly lit stage revealed class 1-2 doing some sort of skit, my host sister immediately apparent as the host (haha) and the only one wearing a hanbok – long, traditional-style Korean dress. Of course she would, I thought to myself, amused. Her class’s performance was innocent enough…compared to some of the others.


The word of the day for students that day was “freedom.” Hardly a school uniform in sight, except for the occasional track suit, students donned tight dresses, the shortest skirts, and lathered their faces with makeup. The experience was startling and confusing, and not only for me, as another teacher in my office remarked that she’d already mistaken a couple students for teachers. See, in high school, almost everyone is taller than me. But I could always pick out students by their plaid skirts or track suits. Or even their silly slippers. Not today. I suppose the same is true when I run into students outside of school; I’m always startled to see how much makeup they’re wearing. If only appearance was the only thing that stood out that day…

Going back to the atmosphere in the gym, inevitably, there was a fair share of Kpop dance numbers. Probably in the majority. The thing is, none of the dances by girl groups were school appropriate. Yet here they were in school. I cringed more than once, bombarded with far too many hip thrusts, body rolls, and that one dance move where you jerk your hands downward in a V-shape over your crotch. Seemed to be a popular dance move. And when a song was especially popular, you knew it, because a swarm of students gathered in the back, screaming and bouncing up and down. Sometimes there were multicolored flashing lights, making me wonder if this was supposed to be some kind of club for students. Given that students from another school were caught trying to sneak in, that seemed like an accurate assessment.

Way to kick off winter break!



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