Tuesdays With Morrie redux

7 07 2013

I’ve wondered if teaching Tuesdays With Morrie for the second month in a row means I’m giving students less passion. Today though, we had a wonderful lesson.

We read The Tenth Tuesday: We Learn About Marriage last night. Today, using the word accommodate and Morrie and his wife Charlotte as examples, we talked about how we accommodate each other in our marriages.

Jason from New York class said he lets his wife go to bed first, even when he’s tired. “She feels scared and alone, if I go to bed first,” he said.

Justin said he does basically everything his wife asks him to do, which led to teaching the expression:

happy wife, happy life

We listened to Ray Noble’s The Very Thought of You, which Mitch’s wife sang to Morrie. The 1934 song echoed the lindy hop we watched on YouTube last week.

Finally, we wrote tributes to our teachers and loved ones. For some, saying “thank you” was an atrophied muscle. Cynical-@$$ London class protested most loudly, swearing they could think of no one to thank. So, a 20-minute writing exercise took 30 minutes to complete, because it took 10 minutes for some of the guys to get into a thankful head space.

In the end though, even the prima donnas thought of at least three people they could think, and this was a good exercise in empathy.

Not a bad way to spend an overcast Friday listening to Al Bowlly and reading about your students’ gratitude.

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Morrie makes em cry

27 06 2013

today is mid-terms today at Samsung Engineering’s English camp.

my student Eric started crying in the middle of his oral interview. again, we are reading Tuesdays With Morrie with a new group of students. Eric drew this discussion question:

“Who is Eva? What does Morrie gain from Eva? What did you gain from your mother?”

If you’ve read TWM, you know Eva was Morrie’s stepmother and the first person to show him love. Eric, I think, suffering from lack of sleep, exam anxiety and sudden remembrance of his mom, was defenseless. His face contorted and his eyes welled up, and you knew what was going to happen next.

He talked about how his mom taught him about love and sacrifice. His father retired early, so their family didn’t have enough money. His mother found a job at a restaurant and woke up every day at 5am and returned at 11pm, so the children wouldn’t be burdened by having to work.

Eric cried for about 10 minutes. He apologized and said he was surprised by this sudden emotion and remembering the restaurant. Eric said many times he’s wanted to visit his mom in Busan and doesn’t know why he hasn’t. I suggested he try to remember this feeling, even when he gets busy and to call his mom to thank her today.





armpits and ESL

4 06 2013

as an ESL teacher, I get to imprint impressionable young minds with my own interests (maniacal moohaha). after Nightmare Before Christmas, HyeonJin’s now watching Mary and Max. she is dead sold on stop motion. win!

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my Samsung Engineering students had to read Miranda July’s Roy Spivey last month. brilliant! we had a blast.

in a nutshell, the short story’s about an OCD woman who meets a famous movie star on an airplane. the main character is so totally fleshed out, you can sympathize with her unique brand of crazy. in one scene, she goes to the bathroom to wash her armpits, so she can smell fresh to this Roy Spivey. oddball antics ensue.

my students were so confused by this.

“why does she wash her armpits?”
“I can’t understand why she washed her armpits.”
“what are armpits?”

so we had an enlightening conversation about bee-oh.
yes students, non-Asians’ armpits smell. there’s this product called deodorant, see…

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we had a lively discussion about why the batsh!t but ordinary woman and the married and famous Roy Spivey might want to stay in touch. this baffled many students.

“she must have been gorgeous,” David said, although July clearly describes the character as undistinguished. i think some of the students could not imagine there could have been something beyond sexual intention between the characters.

some students speculated Spivey felt a flash of normalcy with this crazy woman and wanted to have that experience again. we talked about the expression, “two ships passing in the night.”

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Roy Spivey, also included in The Book of Other People

still other students were put off by the idea of a married man talking to a woman not his wife:

“why did she take his phone number?”
“he’s married.”
“it’s wrong.”

my male co-teachers tell me about how male students take them out when camp ends and try to buy them women at the noraebang. some teachers recognize they’re being used as an excuse for the students to enjoy themselves. I couldn’t help thinking about this duality, as we talked about Roy Spivey. a few male students seemed unable to even engage in the conversation.

I asked them if it was possible to read a story and dislike the main character, even the entire story, and still learn something from it.

next month, we’re writing a 10-page circumspection on the cinematic similarities between Sofia Coppola and Richard Linklater.

*    *    *

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miranda july

p.s. FWIW, I’m sorry for bootlegging the Roy Spivey pdf and will be buying a July book next month as recompense. Miranda July, we are spreading your brilliance across Korea.

p.p.s. David Sedaris reading of Roy Spivey:





Samsung Engineering

15 04 2013

fond memories from March teaching English to Samsung Engineering employees~

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some of my students fell asleep. (not really. this is break time.)
Phillip from Los Angeles class

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Kony from my homeroom class Durham

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joined by Steve, who looks just like Sigourney Weaver, but you’ll have to take my word for it.

we were housed in clean dorm rooms with pillows filled with plastic popcorn.

the food, which makes or breaks an overnight camp teaching job, frankly, was awful. one week, the entire staff of five teachers fell ill with what i think was MSG poisoning. three hours after breakfast, vomiting, diarrhea, heart palpitations and rashes ensued and endured for the week. in my best Dave-Chappelle-does-Rick-James-voice: “MSG is a helluva chemical.”

oddly, none of the Korean students were affected. perhaps they are all pickled.

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i had a wonderful birthday celebration, thanks to the students and my co-teachers. the following day was White Day, for which the other female teacher Julie and I were feted with chocolate and other candies from the basement 7-11.

(White Day is men’s answer to Valentine’s Day, on which women are supposed to give their men candy. on White Day, March 14, men return the favor to their ladies. to take it further, yesterday was Black Day, when the unattached are supposed to eat Chinese black bean noodles jja jjang myeon.)

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Tom from Los Angeles class and co-teacher Julie

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this camp was a wonderful cultural experience. i learned

  • Korean men unabashedly love pink.
  • jokbal, marinated pigs’ feet, is not very delicious. but if you dip anything in salty shrimp sauce and place it in a lettuce leaf topped with soybean sauce, it’s going to be edible.
  • lower level students may have the best attitude. oo-rah for underdogs.

Los Angeles class thus practiced for their oral final exam out loud with their partners in class far more than upper level classes did. LA had a mix of personalities led by three no-shame-in-our-game students Jack, James and Tom.

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Eric and Jack from Los Angeles

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Cody (right): “Hello, Lee Automobile. How may I help you?”
James (left): “Hi. I would like to rent a mid-size car please.”

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snowboarding Tom and his partner Richard

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Durham’s incentives board: choco pies for good shiznit, 100W penalties for speaking Korean, etc.

our students came to this camp to learn subjects like Business English, my class, and Conversation Strategies, but the truth is, they were all there to increase their OPIc scores, because their bosses told them they had to. the OPIc test is a computerized language proficiency test with 15-16 different questions about topics ranging from self-introduction to hobbies to sports to pop-up questions like “tell me about a farmer in your country.”

employees whose jobs haven’t required them to have a high level of English proficiency are sent to camp to increase their score by one level in 30 days. then, they can be promoted and/or sent overseas.

the students’ levels do increase, if for no other reason than they are immersed in English for 8+ hours each day, but i wish increased fluency were the goal rather than a score on a computerized test.  it’s a stick vs. carrot approach.

the majority of students weren’t expected to “level up” as the students say, given a combination of the very high expectation and the very short runway.

we saw many of the students back at headquarters after camp finished. some felt good about their OPIc scores; some didn’t. everybody said they were happy to have camp behind them and were positive about the whole experience, so we shamelessly milked them for free coffee~

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teachers Jae, me, Julie and student Sean from Seattle class

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thanks for the coffee, Eric

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Durham’s mascot, perpetually-perspiring Dean

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Richard, who says he will practice English speaking with his young daughter, Eric and Julie

finally, my homeroom Durham class celebrated the end of their month of suffering with, what else? pork neck and pork belly accompanied by several rounds of soju bombs.

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elder statesman Brandon, architectural engineer Louis and his roommate Dean

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Kony, Jae (teacher) and Brandon

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see? Sigourney Weaver!

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Louis, Dean and Julie

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(i take a tiny high five for this night, because i wanted to say “no” to avoid being the only English teacher at dinner. i didn’t want to make my guys uncomfortable speaking English all night and don’t like being the center of attention.

but i didn’t chickensh!t.

then two hours before dinner, teachers Julie and Jae decided to tag along, and it ended up being a wonderful night, one of my favorites.)