Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Teaching children really pulls on my emotions. I go from feeling very loving and sympathetic toward them to feeling totally run down, exhausted and annoyed by them. The kindergartners and most of the elementary school children are just little kids, yet hardly have a chance to be kids because of the education system in Korea. When I was four or five I think I was still in preschool, or maybe it was afternoon kindergarten, but either way, I was only going to school for around two hours a day. Kindergarten here goes from 10-2 and it's pretty intense. Actually, the newest kindergarten kiddies have signed up for extra classes from 2-4 as well. Of course it isn't that bad. I mean, we are simply reading, coloring, eating and speaking basic English with them. But it is only the beginning of their jam-packed scheduled childhood that will follow their kindergarten years.
In February, What really amazed me was that the kindergarten children graduated from kindergarten and started a regular school schedule with a Hagwan(private after school classes) or two after only a week later! They went from a four hour chunk at school in which they'd spend time in the ball-pit before and during lunch, singing songs and doing crafts for at least one or two classes, and then go home at two. Then all of sudden they're thrown into regular school starting at 8:30 in the morning until 2:00, then going to an English hagwan for an hour or two and another Hagwan for Taekwondo or piano lessons after that, and maybe if they're "lucky" a math Hagwan for more math practice...meaning that they'll get home between 6 and 8. After arriving home it's dinner time, followed by homework time, followed by bed at around 11 or 12 for many of them.
How do they have any chance to be children? I get SO frustrated with them for being talkative and antsy in class, but I would be the exact same way. They're tired, hungry, though ready to burst from being force-fed information, and want to get outside and play. What a depressing, monotonous childhood, with the only pay-off (and that's debatable) being their passing the national exam with a good enough score to get themselves into one of the few worthy universities. Once in the university, many finally have some time to do what they want and spend much of their time pumping themselves with alcohol and partying it up. Once they graduate (if they graduate) they will often times go on to a job where they work the same if not longer hours than when they were children stuck in school all day. The working hours here must rank in the longest of anywhere in the world, as we're getting a little taste of it working at our school. We thought our time at the school would be six hours a day and that we'd find private lessons to teach, but we're actually here a minimum of 9 hours, with it many times having been 12 or more.
Oh what a life to be a Korean child...only to grow up to become a Korean adult plagued to work long hours your entire life! But there are positives to this culture-for sure! The people here are ready to please, befriend and serve you! They are loyal and very generous which is apparent even at age 5 and 6. If ever a child brings a delicious snack to class, he-she will usually reach out with their sticky hand to offer you part of their snack as well :) On two occasions we have also been on the receiving end of generous Koreans. We have joyfully been invited to a few families homes, and twice the mother and father have given us THEIR bed to sleep in for the night as a sign of hospitality and generousity! We felt a little strange excepting this, but on both occasions they let us know that they WANTED this, and it was what they do, so we accepted. What kindness!
Another positive is the quickness of mail :) Above there is a photo of us two after receiving a package from Terese Hunt...and it was Garrette's Chicago Mix Popcorn (cheese and caramel...OUR FAVORITE IN THE WORLD) and it arrived in 4 days and still kept it;s freshness! Thus we savored every bite! mm mm mmmm! Thank you Korea for having a reliable postal system!
Also, the koreans seem to pride themselves in the very thing that we as outsiders look down on them for. Their work ethic is unbelievable. Working long hours day after day after day...and almost never having a vacation. The previous cultures we have seen have not been this way. Ethiopians took life slow, one day at a time. It took about 6 months to install the most basic solar panels at the Champro school in the village of Karsa. In Paris, yes there are the businesses that do work long hours, but the French seem to pride themselves on their long lunch hours, and vacations. Their school year goes a bit longer than the US, but every 6 weeks there is a two week vacation! Oh my! But back to Korea, life is diligent, quick, work work work....and they are good at it! They are STRONG as bulls! Many many Koreans work until 11 or so, and then go out drinking many nights a week as a form of social comradary with their fellow workmen only to awake the next morning at 6 or 7 for another LONG day of work!
Now after a long day of work, it's time to get to bed!
Over and out, Hunts in Korea March 19th