Saturday, January 26, 2013

They Say the Darndest Things

They are my sunshine, as well as thunder storms. Students. I've only been in Korea for a little over 5 months, but have watched several of them transition from giggling kids,
to moody teens already!
Last week one of my girls hid her face and fought back tears for the entire class period. Normally outspoken and gregarious, her withdrawal was a dramatic change. But nothing eased or explained her pain. She escaped to hash out whatever was wrong with girlfriends immediately following class. Being the only girl in a classroom full of boys is no small impediment to her too. For this week's class she was back to normal and had a particularly great day beating the boys at nerf basketball during grammar review!
(These are photos of 1st graders playing the game. Rodin took to basketball immediately--see the smug, pleased face below).
She sang and danced happily around the room, somewhat like Tigger; and the boys looked from her to me, incredulously expecting me to mock her silliness as they, both trapped inside "cool mode," did. Nope. I love "Sandy's" craziness as much or more than "Joe's" dry humor, especially since Sandy loves everything I draw and expresses herself with zest! She's sunshine in my life, the bright, shimmering kind. These boys are sunshine too, only of the more diffused, subtle variety. I appreciate all kinds of weather, except cold gray days, which another middle school class emits regularly. Everyone seems to carry the same sleepy, blah attitude into the class with them--like yawning. Try teaching zombies in a speaking class... Maybe I'll take a photo of someone sleeping on their desk--not normally something I try to capture in a photo and getting a decent photo of a teenager isn't easy!! Most HATE the camera. But, no matter the temperature or mood of any particular student on any given day, I enjoy teaching English because I get to read what they write.
Much of it is hurried, shallow and/or unapologetic, regurgitated plagiarism. But some of it's insightful! On "Should Money be Saved or Spent," "Grace" writes (edited, but the ideas and phrasing are all hers): "Saving too much makes us misers and spending too much makes us needs to be rotated, like water...we need [it] like we need water. Money should be saved, but [it] also needs to be used. If not, the economy would stop developing. Also, both saving and spending money makes us happy, so we should both save and spend appropriately for the most delight in life!" Female students in particular write about stress woes (unedited): "I get rid of my stress for play the piano or listen to music. But I'm sometimes cry. I get stress every day...I'm every day tired and angry...I want to be happy...but, sometimes I can't get rid of my stress..I'm ok," she adds, "because my mom sometime [helps] me." Then she asks me directly in the diary, knowing I'll read it to correct it, what she can do about relieving stress more effectively. I felt at a loss...I'm no pro at healthy stress release either! But then another student's insight saved me the trouble of answering on my own(edited slightly): "To get rid of my stress I sleep. It works great. When I get up, I'm okay. Also...I doodle. When I finish doodling, I forget why I was upset. So, I feel fine!!! I hit my doll [too]. It is my favorite way to get rid of my stress." WOW...withholding my source, I shared most of this, (omitting the hitting tip--although I believe in it!), and, "Also, I get rid of my stress by studying hard. Then, I'm very tired, but, I forget about angry things...I almost never get stressed."
There you have it. What a great collection of creative, intellectual, physical, and emotional stress relief advice, w/o one word of the healing powers of chocolate! I must study this further...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Not since I was Four years old...

When I saw Fantasia the first time I felt the way I did today, seeing Life of Pi. I went with some new Korean friends. The 14 year old, "Julia," is in one of my classes. Her English, along with the rest of her family's, is superb, since they recently returned from living in Canada for years. Sharing many ideals, and with the language barrier removed, we've decided we need to start hanging out together. I'm thankful that our first outing was to see this incredible film. I'm listening to the movie trailer sound track while I write.
Last week I didn't know to purchase tickets ahead of time, so the Life of Pi was sold out. Les Miserables was sold out too. I chose something else with my Cambodian friend, Ahnkheng, based on its star-studded cast. Forgetting how it had really Earned its R rating and a dismissive review from my son (who's movie tastes are the only ones I trust), and desperate to not waste a bus trip to Jinju, we saw Cloud Atlas instead. Ugh. It's a film that tried desperately to impress and amaze, but only succeeded, in my opinion, with those who have only a partial grasp of the English language, and don't know when they're being purposefully manipulated by an immature story. All the bells and whistles were there--with extra helpings of violence and sex, like it or not. But there was no revelation, no point...I'm sure there are many who will argue with me on that, but what else is new? Nothing in Cloud Atlas.
Today's Life of Pi, on the other hand, took my breath away, moved me to cry for the departure of a tiger and all he represented, and to believe that anything and everything remains possible through faith and gritty determination. I've always been fascinated by animals and no film has ever managed to meet and exceed my hunger to watch them up-close.
I've always known tigers were beautiful, but not like I know it now. The movie is about a whole lot more than animals, but the wonder and awe of this movie, on every conceivable level, will, if I'm lucky, haunt me from this day forward.
I'm a cynical/optimist. I've become jaded toward most of what the world offers up in the name of imagination. It's difficult for a movie to even meet, much-less exceed my expectations. I saw the visual beauty in The Hobbit, but shuddered at it's cliche ridden execution--such a horrible disappointment.
I love that book! It took a significant lack of talent to mess up such great raw material. And Avatar's an applauded film I've never actually succeeded in stomaching an entire viewing of. Seeing comparisons of Life of Pi to Avatar on the internet is an insult. Avatar is nothing more than a colorfully rendered telling of a horribly predictable, politically charged plot, which arouses no sense of real wonder, unless you mute the thing and wipe the judgmental, smug and/or stupid expressions off of the CG animated characters.
I know, I know. Many people adore these films. The optimist in me WANTED TO. I really, really did, so I tried. Repeatedly. But to no avail. The Life of Pi, breaks away from every trendy norm, to completely, quietly, and powerfully tell its own story. Secure in its message, viewers are left free to interpret and take away for themselves from a rich banquet of images and messages. The cinematography astonishes and elevates without cheaply resorting to shocking and/or revolting the viewer. In every way, missing the Life of Pi is on par with missing a valuable experience. It's a story worth seeing and hearing--again and again. Who knew anything could so thoroughly restore my sense of wonder in a matter of minutes and raise my heart to flights of nearly forgotten fancy by the end? The optimist in me feels recognized, validated and encouraged to thrive.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Toys, Joys and Educational Ploys

At first she wouldn't touch it. Many of the girls shrieked when they saw the new toy I brought, the first of a suitcase full, sent from my dear, oldest brother Tom. This thing is squishy, bulgy, and tentacled. A week ago it was a bright fluorescent yellow color and I'm sooooo very happy Tom sent 3 of these; the other 2 are purple and orange. It's been laughed over, fought for, stretched, squeezed, probed, thrown, and coveted since I brought it to class. All I did was tape an "X" on the white board, pull out the ball and have student throw the thing at it--AFTER they'd memorized and/or recited what they needed to. Since it doesn't feel or respond like a normal ball, the X is difficult to hit, so cheers abound when someone succeeds; and everyone, EVERYONE wanted to get their hands on the "alien" ball!
It was winter break for them. So, like me, no one really wanted to be in school, including our private academy. They were freed from public school, but still had to attend hagwon--private school. Some even had to take extra study courses during the "break." Missing my own son, sick, and overly tired...I struggled to have patience, since I didn't really want to be there either. Jordan was back in the U.S. with most of my family, still celebrating Christmas, and a dear Uncle passed away at the conclusion of December--it was really hard for me to be in Korea for a little while. But, that crazy ball had everyone laughing hysterically and forgetting about the fact that we were in a classroom!
What's this got to do with speaking English? More than you might think. As I mentioned, more than the usual number of my students were down right sullen the week before, resisting the need to learn the "fun, grammatically relevant" English story I'd compiled and illustrated. Some refused to put forth the effort to memorize or stand up and recite a thing.
As soon as the ball came out, however, all boredom disappeared, along with inhibitions. In order to get a shot at handling the strange new toy, even the quietest students participated with more zest than usual. Quite simply, laughter, curiosity and enthusiasm over the ball pulled everyone outside of themselves and led to full class participation and some of the all-time best recitals I've seen.
Which just goes to prove the old adage--laughter really is the best medicine. Thanks again, Tom!!