Blue and Pink

How did we end up with two teams: pink and blue, aka boys and girls? The history of this tradition is very short, because it didn’t take off until the 1940s. According to the Smithsonian magazine, “color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers.” However, this newly acquired tradition of buying children either pink or blue merchandise mandates much more than just dress codes in our society.

Experts say that children become aware of their gender between the ages of 3 and 4, with the full awareness hitting them by the age of 6 and 7. A quick look around a toy store in the developed world shows who sets the trends of gender conventions, who reinforces gender expectations, and how little choice parents have if they want to protect their children from being the subjects of sophisticated and pervasive gender messaging. Before our children learn their letters, numbers and shapes, they know that a female is someone with long hair, cute nail polish and a pink dress, while boys are the car experts, first responders, doers, and savers. Why do we parents allow marketing giants tell our children who they are and how they should act?

Take a look at the toy store choices in the slide show below. Follow the blue and pink color-coding scheme to see personal and professional expectations that toy manufacturers are setting for your children.

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School Lunches in Korea

A heated debate was created when First Lady Michelle Obama took up an initiative of improving school lunches and steering the kids towards healthier diets. Working at various public schools in WI I observed firsthand what food is served at an elementary school cafeteria. I would name that food “an orange lunch.” Somehow the food would be orange in color – fried potato, pizza, hot dog, carrot, applesauce, etc. Some other colors could include green (for pees) and red (for pizza sauce).

This winter break I was running a winter English camp for elementary school children at a Canadian International School in Seoul. It is an expensive private foreign school with more than 90% of students being Korean natives. The school follows the curriculum of the British Columbia educational system. The lunches served for students were typically Korean. For two weeks I had a smile on my face trying to imagine what the American media would have said had this food been offered to American schoolchildren. Take a look at my photo gallery and judge for yourselves.

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Paperwork in Korea Part 5 – Getting a teaching job in Korea while in the US

Luther University, Chapel Building

Luther University, Chapel Building

And just a few notes are left on the topic of Paperwork in Korea that I started 4 months ago, specifically “a job application in Korea.” I know it can be a nerve-racking experience applying overseas online and providing sensitive information about your identity and background to people you have never met, and may never meet. So, here is a list of typically asked papers. Something beyond this may (or may not) be suspicious. In general, if you feel uncomfortable with the request – it is OK to say that to the potential employer.

If you ever decide to apply to a teaching position in Korea, be prepared to provide the following documents:

  1. Diplomas to confirm your degree – notarized copies with the Apostil stamp. (In some states it takes up to a month to receive Apostil.)
  2. Some schools will want a teaching certificate. In Korea, unlike Hong Kong or Taiwan, many schools will not care if you are a certified teacher, as long as you have a BA.
  3. “Work passport” – a list of all places and dates you worked to gain your teaching experience. Resume can suffice here.
  4. TESOL certificate is a major boost to your possible salary and job placement. So, invest into one before applying for a job. It will have to be a notarized copy with the Apostil stamp.
  5. Transcripts.
  6. References.
  7. And a photo. Why? To see what color you are and if you look good. I kid you not, so smile on your photo!

If you go through the application and get offered a position, the school will require the same papers for the immigration clearance and a few more. Here is the list of additional things.

  1. FBI background check certified in Washington DC! (Takes about 3 months to obtain this)
  2. US Passport
  3. Visa related papers.

Be prepared that the Korean side will ask you to mail these documents tomorrow ASAP. It is very common to wait until the last minute before proceeding to the next step. So, be proactive and prepare these yourself.

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Luther University, May 2012

Luther University, Rose Festival, May 2012

Luther University, Rose Festival, May 2012

Paperwork in Korea Part 4 – Public library

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Yesterday I signed up for a public library access card. I can tell you upfront – do not even attempt to do it without a Korean interpreter. This is a 3-step process where the first step takes 45 minutes with the last one only 5.

A new Bora-dong library opened in our area. It has a children’s room, an adult section, a media section, a quiet study room, and a cafeteria. The library is only one week old and they are working on enlarging their selections of children’s book in English. Besides, this is a well-conditioned modern technological over-equipped building where children can enjoy themselves on a hot summer day. In short, I was pleased to try to enroll.

Step #1: Get an ID by applying online. The good news – the page was in English. This step asks a foreigner to input all immigration numbers, work place info, cell phone number, work phone number to verify against the immigration database. If everything checks out – the library system will allow you to continue.

Step #2: During this step one has to create an access ID, password, login name, security questions and security question hint. I bet the security requirements to create these things equal to the security requirements on a nuclear station. For example, Login name has to have minimum 4 letters and 4 digits and at least 1 capital letter. By the time you go through inventing all four items, they lose any meaning for you, and so, there is no hope to ever remember how to log back in. By the way, this page is in Korean only.

Step #3: The librarian will print and issue your library card.

I tried to register at a local much smaller library that is hosted in one of the apartment complexes near our place. We were denied. I did not ask, but I bet it is because that small library had no way of running our background check. Again, I want to underline a parallel of how much easier it is to be a foreigner in the US. All you need in order to open a library card is your Driver’s license and a bill sent to your mailing address.

Age of School Admission in Korea

“Strawberry” Kindergarden

My son is a December-born child. In the US he was attending his last year at a daycare center. He could not go to pre-K because in September he was still 3 years old. I was happy about my son staying in a daycare environment with naps, story time and daily playground runs. Like many moms of December-born kids, I felt he was just not ready mentally to go to pre-K with a backpack. Besides, we lived in a school district where the resources of public schools were severely cut by a new state legislature, which resulted in large teacher-student ratios and stiff competition for open spots in “good,” “safe” schools. Three months ago, when we came to Korea and began looking for daycare arrangements for my son, it turned out that in Korea he is 6 years old, and he should be in Kindergarten with kids who have already completed their first year of kindergarten. Kindergarten kids take yellow buses to school at 8:30am (a homeroom teacher is present on the bus collecting and bringing kids back). Students have 2-3 classes per day plus many daily activities such as crafts, story time, field trips, walks, birthday celebrations, 3 meals, etc. There is an option of keeping a child at school till 3:00 or till 6:00 pm for working parents.

Overnight (quite literally), my son grew 2 years older. We quickly had to get used to the idea of sending him off on a yellow bus with a backpack. Now he has to work on projects with the kids who have been using crayons and scissors at school for the past two years. Add to that the fact that kids learn how to use chopsticks and you will have almost perfected fine-motor skills and the kids here are basically ready to write at the age of 4. I will be the first to admit the sad truth that, having come from a different environment, at this point my son’s skills of holding a pencil or working with small objects are lagging behind.

My Korean friend tried to cheer me up after I shared that my son is not good at coloring. Hoping this will make me feel better, she said, “This means nothing that he does not draw well, because in Korea parents usually know what the upcoming curriculum for the next year will be like, and they hire tutors to learn it in advance, a year ahead.”

Kindergarden entrance

Perhaps it means nothing on some level, or maybe it does. I noticed my son gets unusually frustrated when he colors in the presence of children. In fact, he refuses to try when other children are around him. However, when we practice at home alone, he is more tolerant of this activity. Go figure, what means what and at what age it becomes important.

Life and work in Korea of two English teachers from Wisconsin

Boarding a school bus. Classroom teachers ride in the same bus to pick up and drop off students.

To be honest, we are really happy here. I am afraid to admit this because I do not wish to jinx our feelings towards the place, besides, this can still be just the “honey-moon” stage, but as English teachers we are so much in demand here with all people we meet. This is a very refreshing feeling after years of being treated like a screw inside an invisible yet grandiose machine that knows best what’s good for others.

Here I found more evening hours to teach at a local English school. In Korea, beginning with middle school the life of a child becomes very competitive in the academic sense of the word, and parents sign up their children for after-school schools. Typically, students take extra classes in English. (Taekwondo and music classes are also very popular). So, I now teach 3 nights a week at such a school. The owner is a Korean woman of Japanese descent. She graduated from Harvard (USA) with the degree in Linguistics. Her half-brother is an engineer (an MIT graduate). She is very helpful (like most of the people we meet here) with all our Korean language needs. For instance, she took me to a doctor’s office this past Saturday. I was losing my voice for the second time since coming here. I think this is allergy, and this time we caught it in time to save my voice from being wiped out for 3 days. So, it was all due to Noel’s help.

There are many other reasons why I am also very happy teaching at this evening school. Having an appropriate informative and useful textbook for every course is one of those reasons. In Korea schools are very big on textbooks, especially when it comes to English classes. Pearson, Longman, McGraw Hill and Oxford publishers are the most popular textbooks. Even parents judge schools based on the names of textbooks and their respective publishing year. It is preferred to have the latest edition. Textbooks are a part of tuition, and all students enjoy smooth sensations of silky textbook pages. As a teacher I absolutely love having a solid textbook for Grammar or Writing or Speaking or Reading classes. No more photocopying papers that students will lose before the day is out. The structure of a course is set. I only control the pace at which we walk forward. I also bring many games to supplement the monotony of working with a textbook, especially since my classes run from 7 pm till 9 pm.

The long hours at various schools should serve you as an illustration of the great length that I see this new Korean generation is willing to go to in order to compete in the world job market of today and tomorrow. This is absolutely remarkable. There is a growing solid job market for English teachers who can teach ACT, GRE and TOEFL test prep courses. Rates are generous. Again, I am not boasting, I am just in such a dismay seeing how determined this nation is when it comes to education as compared to how things are in the US. My older university students told me last week: “We are a small nation with no natural resources. All we have is Korean people. That’s why we need to invest in our people.” And they surely do so.

Observable differences in educational approaches start before middle school age. Overall school age and curricular activities are different from the US. For instance, in America our son was going to a day care, because there he was 4 years old. At that daycare kids had breakfast, lunch, 30 minute run on a playground, story time, craft time, phonics games and warm caring daycare teachers. In Korea Ronan is 6 years old (Korean age is different). He is in Kindergarten with the students who started pre-K last year. The schedule has 2 classes a day: English everyday, then once a week he has Korean Traditional Music, Science, Dance class, Physical Education plus lots of other activities to fill in the day, such as: forest exploration (rain or shine), etc. Last week they were planting sweet potato. Once a month a petting zoo comes with 2-3 animals to encourage animal awareness. Students have a field trip once a month. Ronan is learning Korean letters. However, he is laughing very loudly at the way Korean words are pronounced.

We got our fair share of warnings that starting with the middle school life of a child becomes much harder due to the fierce competitive nature of Korean school system. I guess, my observations to be continued…