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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Just the Facts, Ma'am, Just the Facts.

It is testing time again, but this time it is my test.  I have time to write because my students are spread out, well behaved, and still right in front of me if I just look over the computer monitor.

My Uncle Bob complimented me on my last post, but asked for pictures of the kids.  Though I am writing this in the afternoon at school, I will post it later tonight from my home PC and tack on some pictures.  They will not match up with much of what I am posting, but that's OK.

No deep thoughts today.  My brain is not working in deep levels right now.  As Friday says, "Just the facts, Ma'am, just the facts."

Right.  As if any human being were capable of delivering facts completely divorced from emotion and interpretation.  Even spreadsheets reveal the expectations of their creators, how much more so our words?

Fact:  Horyon is taking a big, important test on December 8th.  This test is on education in general, and English specifically.  Not the fun kind of English where you communicate ideas and understand the viewpoints of those who have passed before, but phonology, the esoteric specifics of grammar, and the intricacies of translating complicated, stand-alone sentences from English into Korean.  And spelling, I think.

Fact:  Horyon took a big, important test on October 26th, just three weeks ago.  This test was on Korean history, covering... I don't know.  I assume it goes all the way back to when Koreans invented the knife, fire and kimchi.

Fact:  These tests are necessary for her to change positions from a temporary teacher to a permanent teacher.  In Korean schools, temporary teachers can be released from their contracts at the end of the school year for no reason.  Permanent teachers have the metaphorical brass ring, and may continue the ride until they turn 65.  Firing them is difficult unless they have done something very foolish.  Permanent teachers pay into a pension fund that is quite generous, while temporary teachers pay into a giant envelope under a giant mattress, I believe.  (I am willing to concede that this may not be an actual, true fact.)  Permanent teachers get to rock around the clock, shake their booty, feel the noize, get jiggy with it, and produce milkshakes which are indubitably better than yours.  Temporary teachers are low-quality Kenny G. covers.  In other words, these tests are Important with a capital I.

Fact:  Horyon does not take any tests lightly.  She's like the academic equivalent of a hard-boiled detective with brass knuckles in one pocket and a snub-nosed pistol in the other.  She figures out what she needs to know, then grabs its throat like a bull dog, never letting go until it is either limp in her grasp or she is called back by her master, Time: the master of us all.  For these Important tests, she is dialing it up to 11.

Fact:  Studying in the Sack Family home is difficult, due to the affections and needs for affection from the two shortest members of the family.  (Though Maxine may be looking to move up in the height rankings within the next couple of years.)  Our kids play well together for stretches of time, sometimes upwards of ten minutes without yelling, hitting or crying.  However, they frequently do things which seem to require the attention of a parent.  Sometimes this requirement is of an urgent nature, to avoid serious bodily harm or rifts in time and space, and sometimes it is more of an emotional requirement.  There are even occasional nutritional and medical requirements (e.g. snacks and owies).  These requirements can sometimes be stalled by allowing them to view a DVD, but inevitably the period following that viewing is used to make up for the previous 90 minutes without interruption.

Fact:  Horyon's parents' home has a computer room that does not get used much.  It has a big desk.  It is a good place to study.  Horyon has been going to her parents home after work and staying there until 10 or 11 p.m.  Sometimes later.  Since they take care of the kids for some time every day, and feed them dinner three or four times a week, they get to see their mother during dinner time.  Maybe even a little time before and after.

Fact:  By the time Horyon comes home from studying, I have put the kids in bed and tried to get some housework done.  Horyon has been awake for about 45 minutes longer than I have, but I am usually more tired.

Fact:  I am carrying around decidedly more weight than Horyon is, while she is carrying around more cuteness than I am.  I am also trying to do all of the dishes so that she does not have to.  By itself, washing dishes is a soul-draining exercise for me, but listening to podcasts while doing it keeps me entertained enough to not mind the work and dishpan hands.

Fact:  A normal day for us includes about 15 minutes of conversation, most of it just after or before one of is sleeping.  We send a couple of text messages if needed, and talk on the phone if it is urgent.  On a good day we will sit and talk after she gets home, adding another 15 minutes.

Fact:  I miss my wife.

Well, there you go.  How facty was that last one?  Not very.  But my last student is almost finished with her test, and I need to wrap this up.

I'll tack some pictures on before I post this.  Horyon twisted or sprained her ankle on a school field trip, and she took a great picture of her foot while getting acupuncture treatment.  Enjoy.
Quinten's new favorite game: Pregnancy.

Horyon's new favorite game: Needlework.

Maxine's new favorite game: Spying.

She has a combination of Rob and Horyon's teeth.

Scary Monster!  Quinten-made Mask!

We scored us a Christmas tree!

Maxine eating Japanese noodles that SHE MADE!   IN JAPAN!
She was so good they offered her a job!

Sleeping for two.  Don't worry, I took the pillow out after taking the picture.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Where are you from? Really?

This week four of my classes have had to take mock TOEIC tests.  The TOEIC (Test Of English for International Communication)  is a 200 multiple-guess test with a 45 minute listening section and 45 minutes of reading questions.  I don't know about the real deal, but our mock version's listening section is crazy difficult, and the reading comprehension part is riddled with mistakes.

My school sets the value of this test at 10% of the grade I give to my students.  So I do.  I tell them that if they put their name and student number on their paper I will give them 8 out of those 10 points.  I then give 9 points to the students who score in the top 20% of each class and 10 points to those who score in the top 10%.

It is an embarrassing waste of time.  I could be doing so much with this time, when the semester total is only 15 class sessions.  Seems like a lot of time, but then you have to subtract this TOEIC test, the first day of classes with abysmal attendance, the midterm, the week off while the Korean professors give midterms, the final, festival, national holidays, and student field trips. This leaves some classes with a total of six teaching days, though some have as many as nine.

My favorite listening question so far:  "What will kids receive when they sit on Santa's lap?" I'm sure it made sense in the context of the story, but I had to cover my laugh with a small cough.

Yes, I am writing this post in the middle of administering this mocked test.

I decided that it is a better use of my time than just reading on my Kindle, which I've done for the previous three classes.  And so I am writing about Maxine's week off from school.  (Her school has fall break this week.)

Maxine's friend at school is Japanese, and her visa was about to expire, so she had to renew it.  Due to extremely clever planning by Korean Immigration, many foreigners living in Korea can only renew their visas at a Korean embassy or consulate.  Since the definitions of embassy and consulate include being in another country, this means spending the money for a plane or boat ticket and accommodations as well as the visa fee itself.  How is that for friendly and welcoming?

Anyway, Maxine's friend, Macheeyae (not sure of the spelling) has to renew her visa.  She is travelling with her mother, Maxine and Macheeyae's teacher, and her son and mother.  Since three adults were going, the ferry tickets are not expensive, and they are staying with relatives, they invited Maxine to come along.  Horyon was not thrilled with the idea, wondering if the radiation could cause long-term health problems, but they are not going North, and are staying for just 3 days and 2 nights.  I thought it sounded like a fantastic experience, and was actually kind of jealous: I didn't leave America until I was 24 years old, and now Maxine is taking in her third country.

They left Wednesday morning and should be back in Korea just about now (5:00 on Friday).  I am excited to hear about her experience, though the 8-year-old point of view on these things is quite different from a more adult perspective.  She was very excited about going, though she said she would miss us.  I think it was probably more like an extended sleepover, with late nights and giggling and junk food.  Maybe she will have some new favorite snacks from Japan?

Maxine already has some basic ideas about how Korea and America are different.  While I was growing up, the idea of cultural differences was like knowing the difference between conditions on Earth and Mars: all theoretical.  As I got older, the ideas grew as well, but I did not and could not really understand what culture was about until I left my own to live in another.  Likewise, I did not really learn another language until I was in my 20's.  (I don't count the 8 weeks of Spanish I took in jr. high.  Lo siento Senora Elmer!  Thank you Google Translate!)  I consider myself to be more aware of the world at large than most people I grew up with, but Maxine and Quinten are growing up to be seriously international, citizens of the world!  How can that not be exciting?

I imagine that when she grows up and people ask her "Where are you from?" she will either say, "I was just at the store." or, "When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much..."  Because a straight answer to the intention of the question could get pretty complicated.  And what sort of answer will her children give?

It makes me happy to realize that there are more and more people with complicated answers to this question.  It takes me back to my Peace Corps days.

When I joined the Peace Corps in 1993 (20 years ago this month!) I learned that the Peace Corps was established with three goals (if you don't count siphoning off young dissidents):  1) training people to help themselves 2) teaching those people about Americans, and 3) teaching Americans about people in other countries.  Though I haven't been in Nepal for many years, I feel like these goals have woven themselves into my life.  I believe that this blog helps some of you to better understand Korea (3rd goal), my daily interactions help Koreans better understand Americans (1st goal), and one goal of my teaching is to help my students to know how to learn English, so that they can improve on their own.

In the end, the world will be a better place if more people better understand the world outside of their country's borders, because the better you understand someone, the harder it is to hate them and the easier it is to cooperate with them.  That's my dream for my kids.

I believe that they will be attracted to the different because wherever they go they will be the different.  When they see conflict their first reaction is to build bridges, not walls.

My intention is that they will seek out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no one has gone before.  Mostly with their tricorders out rather than their phasers, of course.

And now, the last student has turned in his test, so the essay writing portion of today is finished.



A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.