Friday, April 27, 2007

A Day in the Life of Bryan

In response to the fast-growing number of pernicious rumors flying about as to my current location and status, I am pleased to present, in multi-media no less, proof positive that I am alive, well, and enjoying life at Myongji University.

Easy to write, you might think to yourself. How do we know that this isn’t really Judy masquerading as her husband, or a very lucky monkey pressing a random concatenation of keys?

Skeptics all! I shall take you through one of my days to prove to you that I am not—repeat not—in some sort of captivity to vile aliens. Quite the reverse! I am a certified card-carrying alien myself, and some of my students could well be complaining that they are in captivity to me, at least for 50 minutes of the day. More on that later.

This being Thursday, Judy starts teaching at 9AM, so we are able to leave together, riding off in our new white Leganza (Note: not an alien spacecraft!) and weaving between moving obstacles—wait, those are students!—before dropping Judy off at the building where we teach,
Hambokgwan. Then Katherine and I drive down to the university entrance where her bus stop is located. This morning we have enough time to indulge in our favorite pastime, buying and drinking a small carton of chocolate milk while waiting for the bus. We talk about the different traffic and buildings that we see before her bus zooms up and whisks her away.

I drive back into the university and park within walking distance of the afore-mentioned Hambokgwan. I have over an hour before my first class, so I stop in at the E-Café to say hi to Jinhee. The E-Café is like a student lounge; it has internet-access computers, a big wall-mount video screen with movies often going, comfortable chairs, a few round tables, and some newspapers and magazines, all carefully tended by Jinhee, who works for our department by running the place. The only rule is that students must use English while they are in this room, and they do. There are a few classes run in this room, one of them by Judy, offered free of charge to the students in order to give them some extra chances to practice their English. As this is midterm season, most of these voluntary classes are quite short of students, who are belatedly realizing that they are indeed going to be held accountable for the knowledge they have been offered.

I help a student with a grammar-based question, chat with Jinhee for a few moments, and then head down to our office. Jisu, one of our office assistants, is there and I chat with her for a while (this would be the Darling Jisu whom Judy has mentioned before.) Then I settle down with my textbook to plan the lesson I will teach to four classes today and another four tomorrow. While the material is the same, the classes are all very different: my first class today is made up of students who work hard but have no sense of humor, the second has a rowdy element who need to be monitored carefully, the third is a wonderful bunch who are quite self-directed, and the fourth love to talk in Korean but need to be encouraged to use English for the activities.

At eleven o’clock I stride into the classroom, setting my books down on the desk and walking up onto the teaching platform, about four inches high and made of a wood on which my shoes make a most satisfactory attention-getting sound. I greet the students while holding a small paper cup of coffee, my favorite baek-oship-won coffee (150 won, worth about 15 cents Canadian). I regale them with the tale of how I bought this coffee and then challenge them to tell the other students at their tables of four what, when and where they last bought something. While they are doing this, which gets them started using English, I take attendance.

Our next activity is a pronunciation session. Today we are focusing on the sound V, which does not exist in the Korean language. Students need to be taught to bite down (very slightly) on their lower lip, and then we practice with some common words. Once they have made the words accurately, we put those words into sentences. Some students are already looking at me expectantly, knowing what I’m going to do next. So as not to disappoint them, I walk up to the chalkboard and write a sentence for them to read.

For the TH sound, I wrote, “The thin thing is over there with those other things.” When we studied F, it was, “Farmer Fred fell four floors but felt fine.” The lesson on R/L featured, “Red lions roar really loudly.” The trick, of course, is to use the sound we are practicing as often as possible. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a good way to use the V sound in a really concentrated manner, so I’ve compromised with “I think that red violins are really very wonderful,” which uses all four of the sounds in a short space.

I do one such pronunciation seminar for each of the six units we cover each semester, focusing on sounds that English uses but Korean does not. Some of the students know how to make these sounds, others do not, but all of them need practice, and my job is to create an environment where such practice is possible and, as much as possible, enjoyable for the students.

I get the students started on the next task, a talking activity in which they need to discuss hypothetical situations such as “What would you do if you found a lot of money?” or “What would you do if you saw another student cheating on a test?” The skill focus of this unit is giving advice and suggestions, so I put up some example sentences on the chalkboard: “I’d keep the money.” “I’d tell the teacher.” Then, as the students start to talk, I begin to walk. Table by table, I stop and listen and correct and encourage. The single most frustrating part of this job is that I cannot make students learn; they need to do the work themselves.

No two days are ever the same, and this week—being a midterm week—is a challenge. In my first class I have a student who needs to leave after 10 minutes because he is sick, and another who walks in at 11:25, literally halfway through our 50-minute session. After my second, I have two students appealing a mark I gave them in the midterm tests of last week. In my third, a student is about to fall asleep, and I need to allow him to head to the washroom to splash some water on his face.

Lunch! I’ve included a photo of the midday meal offered by our cafeteria. Soup is a staple and so is the rice. Today we have beef for our protein (as opposed to fish, boiled eggs or tofu) and the vegetables have not been soaked in the fiery red pepper paste called gochu-jang.

I have four classes throughout the day and an office hour to keep as well. Usually I have students coming in for mandatory teacher chats, but I didn’t even try to get them organized for this week since my students are in midterm mode. I’ll get them started again next week. As a result, my office hour is unusually quiet and I can get some relaxation in during this time.

5PM is our normal quitting time, but today we have a teachers’ meeting. I have to zip out halfway through to pick up Katherine at her bus stop again, and I get back just as the meeting is wrapping up. I have, however, arranged for this beforehand, so there is no difficulty. As a bonus, I’m able to get all the teachers together for a group shot, no mean feat in and of itself.Left to right are Katherine (not a teacher!), Mirim, Bryan, Jules (standing), Devon (sitting), Pam, Andrew, Matthew (with the tie) and Grace. Judy took the picture for us, which is why she's not in the photo. But then again, you believe SHE hasn't been kidnapped by aliens...

The teachers all head their separate ways; Judy and Katherine and I have some supper at the teacher cafeteria. On the way home, we pick up our laundry from the student dormitory. We do have a washing machine and a drying rack available to us, but with three of us we prefer to pay about $15 a week to have our clothes washed, dried and folded for us. We’re home by 6:30, and now we can relax for the evening. As Judy may have mentioned, we have our boxes, and our little apartment feels like more of a home to all of us. Katherine sings the songs she has been learning at her kindergarten, and Judy reads some of her magazines. The sun is setting on another beautiful day.

(Cue theme music from The Twilight Zone.)

Or…..this has all been an elaborate hoax, filmed with stunt doubles, and I really am being held prisoner in a vat of noxious Jell-O somewhere in orbit around Plenoxia III. Choose for yourself….


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Blogger Liese said...


Yay, it is Bryan!

Glad to hear from you, Bry. Sound like things are going well for you.
While I was reading, Xanthe was looking over my shoulder (or under my arm actually, but you know what I mean) Xanthe loved the pictures but "I miss Kaferin, Mommy".
We have Skype, as you may know, so you can expect to see us soon. All the kids have been pestering me to "call Aunt Judy". Thomas in particular would like to draw a picture with Aunt Judy again, and Daniel keeps asking to do that as well.

Daniel is improving gradually and feeling much better. I think the increased sunshine, fresh air and warm weather helps.

I too am doing much better--working out regularly, getting fit and even losing some left-over "baby fat". I also have joined a belly-dancing class offered by the gym I attend, and you can stop laughing right now, please! Belly-dancing was originally designed by women, for women, to get their stomach muscles back in shape after childbirth. And after four childbirths, my stomach muscles need to get back in shape. And it is HARD! After twenty minutes of trying to move my upper torso independently of the lower part, while doing complicated arm movements and walking forwards and backwards, I was dripping sweat.
But I lasted the whole hour and will go back next week. Yay, me!

Well, after that shameless self cheering, I will sign off. I need to pick up the boys from school in about five minutes. Thanks for writing and my love to all of you.

Liese and Co.

April 27, 2007 at 12:24 p.m.  
Anonymous audrey said...

Bryan - you're alive!

Wait a minute - that guy in the pictures looks very fit and handsome ... must be a stunt double!
Hope the aliens are treating you well, Bryan!

April 27, 2007 at 12:41 p.m.  
Blogger Ken DV said...

So now that Bryan seems to have reappeared from his imposed exile, how do I get some personal communications with him or Judy? You know, via email so that our communication is not exposed to (and possibly boring) the whole bloggin' world? You know how to reach me, but my methods to you seem to have failed, and I don't think it was because of alien abductions.
While I am collecting new email addresses, can Liese please send me hers?
kendeb a t rogers dot com.
PS I am sure that Caleb would like to communicate somehow with Catherine as well--sometime, somehow.

April 28, 2007 at 7:30 a.m.  

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