Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Follow-up on the Election

The polls in Korea are now closed. I had the day off today so employees could go and vote. I think for me today is a good day to revisit the post I made in early November about teaching about the election in the classroom.

A lot has changed since then. For one, the U.S. election is over and for those not paying attention Obama won. Software mogul Ahn Cheul-Soo dropped out of the race so that Moon Jae-In could take Park Geun-Hye head on. The election was very close, but Park Geun-Hye has won, becoming the first female president of South Korea.

And, just like in the American election, who was favorite to win depended entirely on who you talked to and what media outlets they were following. According to my language exchange partner, young people get their information from Facebook and other social media and were convinced Moon would win. The older generation were told by the television that Park would likely win. The mock election surveys my students completed at the end also show this trend, but before I get to those I should tell what has happened in class since my last post.

Each of the students filled out questionaires to try to find out whether they would be considered liberal or conservative in America. As I said last time the classes were overwhelmingly liberal, so instead I divided them by what issues they thought to be most important. This way, each political party would have a unique mission to complete. I made sure each class had a group devoted to women's rights, national defense, the environment, the economy, education, and welfare. They could mix other ideas into their party platforms but overall this gave them some focus and originality.

Over the next few class periods they were to outline their party views and then create a speech together. They needed to choose a leader to represent their views and give a speech. Party names ranged from creative and serious to just downright silly. The Green Growth Party focused on economic and environmental concerns. Meanwhile, the Iron Man Party was more militaristic in perspective. The Yuh-dang-dang Party (translated roughly to Women's Power Party) focused on women's rights. Two classes came up with the WEE Party which was an acronym for Welfare, Environment, and Education. I was worried students wouldn't take this project seriously, and indeed, some didn't. But enough students did to keep the project moving and make it worthwhile. Even parties with joke names tried to put some real thought into their speeches. Some candidates really practiced their rhetoric too. When the speech day came, I gave them a little bit of time to practice and create campaign signs.

The last time I had them do a speaking project was for Animal Farm. We had a farm-wide election with each group representing a different animal on the farm. Overall, the election kind of flopped because classes would just vote along party lines. This time I filmed the speeches and showed them to other classes. This cut down on bias. I also had them vote on more than one category. They voted not just on who they think should be in charge, but also who had the best speech. I was hoping this would separate ideas from rhetoric and it seemed to work. For instance, Iron Man Party only had one vote for leadership but many voted for their group for having a great speech.

Purely for curiosity's sake, I also had them choose a candidate for the real-life election. I think this made some students nervous. A few asked why I was asking this question. I told them they didn't have to answer if they didn't want to and a few were left blank. I had one student write a little paragraph on why she was voting for Park Geun-Hye, despite the votes being anonymous. With politics you have to tread softly, and I have to wonder if something I said earlier in the month marginalized those that were of the minority opinion.

After looking over the results of the surveys I gave my students, the results collected from the three classes were as follows:
Ahn: 28
Moon: 18
Park: 6

They were well-convinced that Ahn should win which reflects what everyone told me about young people. Of course, the news that he would leave the race came just before I announced the election results so their informal poll was mostly worthless. Still, it is telling that Park hardly had a following.

I gave the students a final class evaluation on what they liked and disliked about the class. It was quite informative, but two comments about this election stuck out for me. One student wrote:

"The political issues are very sensitive part in schools. Expressing my political inclination should be kept in secret if I want to, such as who I support, so I think talking about political issues in class should be considered carefully."

To the contrary, another student wrote:

"I'm glad that we made the class discussing political affairs. In Korea, teachers couldn't deal with political issues with students. Thank you. I learned a lot. I learned many political systems. You greatly enlightened me."

The exams were administered a couple weeks ago and last class period we reviewed the answers. A lot of the information from the first lesson on liberal vs. conservative and the electoral college didn't stick with them, but truthfully we didn't use that information much. We focused more on speaking and writing ability than the content.

One final semi-related note: After reviewing liberal and conservative values I asked them if they had any questions. A student asked me why the U.S. allowed guns. I had mentioned as an example that gun ownership is a liberal vs. conservative issue in America whereas in Korea it is not an issue at all. The student was familiar with the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and I had mentioned it in passing as I was going over the exam. I have to admit, a lump grew in my throat. I explained as best that I could the historical tradition of the 2nd Amendment and the importance of keeping the government from getting too strong, but I couldn't help but feel foolish. I didn't get into it with them. I only told the facts as I knew them, but when faced with something like what happened last week, it is hard to justify the amount of deadly weapons our country contains. These are difficult times and I hope our nation does what is right. My condolences go out to the Newtown community.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A lot of little things (and Pepero Day)

This last month or so I have been thinking about a lot of little things, none of which felt substantial enough to write a post about, and so now I am going to try to tie a few of these little things together and make a longer article.

For one, a few days back a student told me that I looked "really American." I was wearing my green plaid long-sleeve shirt and jeans. My beard has been getting longer for the winter. This is not the first time a student has said this to me and I can only speculate on what it means. I guess there is a stereotype that Americans look somewhat like Paul Bunyan or George Lucas?

I learned one of my head teachers has a nickname for me. I am "Call Van." A call van is a service you call to pick you up and drive you someplace, sort of like a taxi. Since his English isn't great and "van" and "Ben" sound virtually identical in Korean, the joke is a lot funnier for him I think.

In other naming news, I was given a Korean name. I did not ask for one, instead a Korean teacher just gave it to me. She held her hands above my head in a mock ceremonial pose and pronounced me "Park Yong-chul" (박용철). She gave me Park because it approximates the first letter of my first and last name. Yong-chul translates to "Iron Dragon." It is a strange name for a modern Korean I am told. A lot of the students liked it, but one told me I should change it because it is a "country person name." I've got a Korean hillbilly name! I suppose it might be like Virgil or Jebidiah in English, still used but considered anachronistic by most. Personally, I am happy to have a Korean name. It is like I am a made man in the mafia now. I am also happy to have a country name. I might as well since I am from the country.

Does your name conjure this image?

I asked my new language learning partner about the name. My suspicions were confirmed. My new name is quite analogous to Jed Clampett. Through videos of Jeff Foxworthy and the Beverly Hillbillies I taught her words like "hillbilly", "redneck", and "hick" and after some pressing I was able to get her to confess that, yes, Koreans have words for these people too. She taught me a few but told me I shouldn't repeat them.

We then continued to discuss swear words. I taught her the big bad ones and some of the minor swears too. I learned just a few Korean bad words. I have been told before that those are some of the first words you should learn but I haven't bothered with them until now and I am not sure why. We talked about how a lot of these words have levels of severity in English. For instance, I would rank the following words from harmless to severe in this order: dung, feces, poop, turd, sh!#. There are certainly more but I'm sure you get the idea. She tried to tell me at first that swears in Korean were all really bad and there were no differences in severity. An intriguing concept, but I suspected it wasn't true. As the night wore on and I introduced her to some nasty words for women she finally admitted that yes there were differences in severity. That being said she simply doesn't swear much at all, but she does make a common offensive sound that sounds something like "ieessh." Like "doh", albeit more offensive, it has no meaning other than something you say out of frustration. Part of me wonders why I waited so long to learn this stuff, but at the same time it is fun to learn from someone who barely swears at all.

They come in all shapes and sizes.
And finally, I will mention something I meant to commemorate over a month ago on 11/11, but seeing as it is 12/12/12 today I am cashing in my wish and turning the clock back a month. Every year on 11/11 in Korea is Pepero Day. Pepero (빼빼로) is a kind of chocolate stick candy that is sold all over Korea. It is super cheap and is more or less the Korean version of the older and perhaps more familiar Japanese candy Pocky. However, Pepero Day is no copycat but a genius marketing holiday developed by Koreans. 11/11 was chosen as the date for the resemblance of the ones and the slash mark to sticks in a box of Pepero. It has blossomed into a holiday for everyone, but mostly couples. Students give Pepero to teachers. Adults give Pepero to kids. Romantic fools buy large gift wraps of Pepero boxes for their lovers. There is no price drop, except for a savings of a few won if you buy in bulk.

My favorite grocery store became Pepero central for the day.
I read that most of the money Pepero makes now is made in November. I am a sucker for holidays and commercialism too, so I bought a large box and gave them out to my classes on that day. My favorite Pepero is almond, but there are also plain, peanut, strawberry, and nude (chocolate on the inside of cookie stick). Pocky Day is now celebrated in Japan but I read it is not as successful.

Even 7/11 gets in on the action.

On a side note, the Chinese teachers told me 11/11 is Singles Day in China, which started as a college holiday for young single men (most of China, really) to celebrate their bachelorhood. This holiday instead uses the shape of the date to symbolize not Pepero but four singles. What started as a fun joke holiday between four college friends has boomed into a huge commercial holiday. This year it was reported that Singles Day may be the largest online shopping day ever.