Weekends in October II: BIFF

October 6 and 8: Busan International Film Festival (BIFF)

The Busan International Film Festival…is only one of the biggest events in Busan, the pride and joy of Nampo, where BIFF was originally held, and now the Haeundae and Centum City area. The festival attracts celebrities and film makers from around the world…making it almost impossible for me to get tickets for the opening or closing ceremonies. Still, according to my students, people will flock toward the venue anyway, hoping to catch a glimpse of celebrities on the red carpet.

This year, BIFF fell on the same week as midterms, and at my new school I get exam days off! The timing couldn’t have been better. (So technically this post isn’t about a weekend. Shhh.) I saw BIFF movies on two days, once with the Busan ETA and my partner in crime, Nadia, and a second time with my Fulbright coteacher and aunt.

Day 1

Tuesday, Nadia and I went on a BIFF marathon, waking up early to buy tickets that morning (actually, all that credit goes to Nadia, who got them before I’d even arrived). Between movies we whipped out our laptops to work on preparations for the Fulbright fall conference. The day was a surprisingly effective balance of work and play…we just didn’t have much time to eat. Something to improve upon next time. The movies we saw and their countries (plus stills pulled from a quick google search) were:

Dheepan – France/Sri Lanka


The Apostate – Spain (with a guest visit from the main actor below!)


Tangerine – America (with a guest visit from the director!)


This year I felt like I got the whole BIFF experience, as we got to see not only one but two guest visits! At certain showings, there are special guests who hold Q&A sessions after the movie. I attended guest visits with the main actor of The Apostate and the director of Tangerine. For The Apostate in particular, I came to a greater respect and appreciation for the movie after learning about all the symbolism packed into the movie through dozens of seemingly minute choices. These people are on an entirely different level than Hollywood. The guest visit was actually conducted in Spanish with Korean translations, so Nadia translated from Spanish to English for me. The actor picked up on the fact that there were two foreigners in the audience, and said his finals words in English for us (read: me). Being the only one in the audience who couldn’t understand what was being said, even with two languages being translated, was a funny moment. Just for fun, Nadia and I had planned to have me ask a question in English and have her translate it to Spanish, which the translator would later have to translate into Korean, but they ran out of time. Language trolling: fail.

Day 2

Two days later, my coteacher invited me to see a movie with her and asked if my cousin was free. She was not, but my aunt was, so the three of us met to see a French movie called The Last Lesson (La Dernière leçon). The movie was enjoyable and very well done, although sad (as it was about euthanasia).


After the movie we went out for dinner (bossam, or boiled pork). I think both my coteacher and aunt were curious about each other; my coteacher is actually the same age as my mom. We all enjoyed ourselves and there were no uncomfortable or awkward moments. Dinner was delicious, but the night wasn’t complete until we also stuffed ourselves with dessert.



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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