Friday, April 13, 2012

Korean Unwed Mothers Families' Association

Wow, KUMFA; what a noteworthy organization.

I'd known of the social stigma faced by unwed Korean mothers before, but never any actual numbers. This group advocates for the rights of unwed pregnant women, mothers and their children in Korea.

There's also the Korean Unwed Mothers' Support Network, which also works with unwed Korean moms. They, as well as KUMFA, welcome volunteers.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Music for your Monday

I am thrilled to have recently come across the sounds of the Amsterdam Klezmer Band, a group known for combining klezmer (Eastern European Jewish music) with dub, jazz and other contemporary sounds.

Here is "The Immigrant Song" from their album Balkan Fever (it ends at just over 3:00). Listen for the "oys" on the backbeats (2 and 4), which is characteristic of reggae and ska.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Grammar Lovers, March Forth Proudly: it's National Grammar Day!

Yes, that's right. Today is actually National Grammar Day!!! (Well, it is in the US, at least). It is imperative we raise a glass to gerunds and infinitives, congratulate the conditionals and send a mazel tov to all the main verbs who agree with their subjects. You can read more about National Grammar Day here.

So, in homage to National Grammar Day (which I believe should be International Grammar Day!), enjoy this 'classic' grammar lesson from Monty Python's Life of Brian. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Jasmine Road: Will this Revolution Spread to China?

The recent upheavals in the Arab world are changing history in an unprecedented way. Sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, the Jasmine Revolution has toppled the governments of Tunisia and Egypt (and, likely sooner than later, Libya). Protests have been occurring in Yemen for weeks now, as the citizens of these Arab states take to the streets to declare that their corrupt rulers no longer have the mandate of the people (if ever they did), and that the people will no longer stand for it. There have been movement and mobilization of people in Bahrain, and there is even a national day of protest on March 11th in Saudi Arabia, where people are seeking "a minimum wage of 10,000 riyals ($2,700), greater employment opportunities, [to] establish a watchdog to eliminate corruption and cancellation of 'unjustified taxes and fees.' Other requests included rebuilding the armed forces, reforming Saudi Arabia's powerful and conservative Sunni Muslim clerics, and "the abolition of all illegal restrictions on women" in the kingdom." And this is coming from a kingdom where unsanctioned public assembly is illegal.

News of the Arab revolutions have spread to China, where they have (unsurprisingly) made the Central Politburo even more watchful than usual, and where coverage of the protests are, of course, heavily censored by the Communist Party. An attempted demonstration last week, launched by "a mysterious call," has put the Chinese government on guard, and when the protesters tried to assemble in central Beijing, they found they were outnumbered by the police. There has, however, been another appeal for gatherings next week in Beijing and 22 other Chinese cities.

Could the revolution spread to China? Personally, I don't think it's as likely, seeing as how the some Chinese are now enjoying some of the highest standards of living they have ever seen, which in turn leaves them more content and secure. In addition, the Chinese population is aging, while the Arab states tend to have a much more youthful, yet disenfranchised demographic. However, the gap between rich and poor in China continues to grow rapidly, and with such a large population, the poor represent a significant amount of the country's people. Here, five experts weigh in with their opinions on the situation particular to China.

Yet, there are some questions that some Chinese people are starting to face with increasing confidence about their rights, especially in regards to basic needs such as housing, employment and food. In the article "Could the Revolution Spread to China?", the author describes a video that was floating around on Chinese webspace around Lunar New Year (the Year of the Rabbit) before all the links to the video were blocked. It describes:
... the opening scene, a small village of rabbits is living happily when a truck selling Three Tiger baby milk pulls up and drops off bottles for all the little bunnies.

But the milk is poisonous – it makes the baby rabbits' heads explode – and soon one mother rabbit is running down to complain at the cave of the tigers (the outgoing lunar year) that rule over them. When she gets inside, the red banner hanging on the cave wall is familiar to anyone who lives in China. “Build a harmonious forest,” it reads, in a clear reference to President Hu Jintao's oft-stated goal of establishing a “harmonious society.”

Though the creator maintained that his video was simply an “adult fairy tale,” the parallels to real life in China were all too obvious. Predictably, all links to the video were blocked within hours of its original appearance.

Is this the year the Chinese people rise up for the first time since 1989, when pro-democracy demonstrations were crushed by tanks on Tiananmen Square? Could the wave of popular protests that began in Tunis and swept through Cairo eventually reach Beijing? Could fast-rising food costs and the leaping price of oil bring an end to the unspoken pact – economic growth in exchange for stability – between the ruling Communist Party and China's 1.3 billion citizens?

Whatever happens in the end, the process of toppling long-held structures and existing regimes is exciting and refreshing, and can be interpreted very optimistically for a lot of people. However, whether or not the Jasmine Revolution eventually picks up steam in China, and whether or not the bunnies grow teeth this year or maybe the next, it has already changed the face of the Middle East forever, and the process is not yet finished. When the dust settles and the new leaders emerge, who will they be, and how will they rule?

Monday, February 21, 2011

My New Favorite Blog!

I found this blog several weeks ago and have made a point of reading it regularly. The writing is skilled, but the social commentary (I mean good old-fashioned satire, found in the writing and not in the comments section, which, like a throwback to another era, is refreshingly non-existent) is what truly sets this blog apart. Well done, Dokdo Times!

Music for your Monday

A friend of mine introduced me to this music a few weeks ago. Even though it was being played out loud on her iPhone and didn't have stellar sound, the music itself was incredible. It is not often that I hear music this beautiful that so immediately captures my ear. So here is "The King of Spain" by the Swedish folk artist, The Tallest Man on Earth.

Sometimes, you might think back to legendary musicians, folk artists, singer-songwriters whose music changed the world and change the way we think about music, and we think, "I wonder what life was like back then when these legends were in the process of making this music. Were they recognized in their own time for their sheer genius?" This is what I wonder about this song you are about to hear.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It's Good for Well-Being!

Last week, I assigned my class a speaking presentation. Of course, they were horrified. ("You mean, I have to get up in front of my peers and talk about something for three to five minutes in English?! And, oh, God, you'll be listening to my enunciation? And I need to have correct grammar?? And organization?? And transitions???!!!") This is generally the point where their heads explode. But I don't mind. After all, I am ostensibly training them for life in an (Western) English-speaking university, where giving presentations is an important part of many classes, especially in business and commerce, the areas in which many of my students plan on majoring.

So, yes, presentations are an ugly, yet compulsory part of my class.

In the past, the quality of my students' presentations has been entirely underwhelming. In past semesters, I've assigned a general topic, such as "my favourite childhood memory" or "an object that is special to me", but these get really old really fast. So this term, I tried something new. I told them they could choose their topic, as long as it was persuasive; I called it the "persuasion presentation." Of course, when I first introduced it to them, they were lost. Then we started brainstorming where/when/how people try to convince others of something. We thought of advertisements, politicians, religion,  and education, among other things. The point was to show them that persuasion was everywhere. I then modeled my own persuasive presentation, which was "why you should go for a polar bear swim." I organized it with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. My main points were that you should go for a polar bear dip because it was good for your health, and because it was an integral part of Canadian culture. (BS, yes, but it didn't have to be necessarily true, as long as it was well-organized and fit the objectives).

Well, after my model presentation, one of my students, R, decided abruptly that he wanted to change his topic to be fictional, like mine. Now, this student doesn't make waves in class. He's one of my two Koreans, quiet, respectful, and motivated. He's also a good five years older than most of the other students, which gives him a maturity that some of the others lack. When I asked him what he wanted to do for a topic, he proudly answered, with a big grin, "why you should drink your own pee!!!" My response was along the lines of "double-yew tee eff," but he was persistent, even the next day, after I told him to go home and think about it. (All the other students were set on doing "real" topics, like why studying in a western university is better, why playing sports everyday is good, why renting a house is better than homestay, and even why you should eat tuna, etc...). But no, R wanted to talk about the merits of drinking your own pee. So, I relented.

On the day of the presentation, he set up his image (only two students took my advice and included an image with their presentations; the other student's image was of a can of tuna), and proceeded to launch into this amazingly well-organized, well-supported presentation, full of details, transitions, lecture language, etc... in short, everything I had told my students I expected of them. His image was hilarious, and I have included it here. His main points were as follows, and they correspond to his image accordingly: new research in the field of urine therapy, nutritional information, health benefits, and last, how it increases your lifespan. ("Do you know how old these people are? They're sixty years old!!! Drinking your pee can make you live to 120!"). It was especially funny because he appears so normal and straight-laced. Verdict: best student presentation ever!

(Later, when I told some of my co-workers about it, one said, "Hey, did you know that in Mongolia, drinking your mother's pee is believed to have amazing health benefits?")

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Move Over, Korean Blood Myth

Gasp... choke... could Korea be on the move to a multicultural society? May it start having to redefine its notion of Korean culture, the Korean one-blood myth, its nationalism? There is an interesting demographic shift on the way: one in ten South Korean men and women get married to a foreigner, most of whom are made up of brides from China and Vietnam. My question: when will the "waygooks" who have made Korea their home, indeed who have "mixed-race" children, no longer be known as foreigners, nor be treated in an inferior way to Aryan "pure-blood" Koreans?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

This is what democracy looks like!

The other day, I did a little discussion activity with my class. We started off by talking about Egypt and what was going on there (thanks, BreakingNewsEnglish, for the pre-made lesson). We brainstormed together about reasons that might cause people to demonstrate in the streets (war, crime, poverty, corruption, etc). We did some vocabulary, some listening, and then I asked them what would cause them to protest, so they talked in small groups for a little bit.

One of my Chinese students, as he was talking, was searching for a word: "what do you say when the government/media tells you one thing, but you know they only give you some information, and some of that information is missing or false?" My response: "censorship." He then proceeded to tell me that the formula for Chinese news, or CCTV, was as follows: one third talks about the Chinese leadership and how hard they've been working, the second third talks about how happy the Chinese people are, and the final third finishes by describing how unhappy the rest of the world is. The other Chinese students generally concurred.

We then talked a little about the history of pro-democracy rallies and demonstrations in their countries. It was a very interesting class because my students are from China (Tiananmen), Korea (Gwangju), and Iraq (need I say more).

I was surprised. Often, when I try to talk about current events in class, the students don't really seem to care, but they were surprisingly engaged and focused.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Grammar Rules!

I make no qualms to hide the fact that I think English grammar is really interesting, and I think my enthusiasm for it comes across in my teaching. (In fact, I'm the grammar teacher for my level at work... that is, I teach grammar to my own class in addition to two other classes).

Before I taught in Korea, and even after teaching there, I had no idea how to explain anything in regards to grammar. I had no idea about verb tenses, parts of speech, or any formal terms to explain the process and the practice of grammar. After I completed my TESL certification at the U of S, however, I realized halfway through my grammar and phonology class that I am actually one of those people who really get enthused about the underlying structures of the language.

I think that anyone who has struggled with learning a second language has probably sat through innumerable grammar classes with a teacher droning on about irregular verbs or some kind of impossible tense, but I take a different approach. I present the grammar structure we're studying, and have them take notes (so they can also practice their listening/note-taking skills), then I make them explain to each other (in partners) the concept I just taught them. I will then usually do a quick drill or worksheet to reinforce the concept before doing a class activity (role-play, discussion, game, etc) that requires more thought and creativity with the grammatical structure than a simple drill or worksheet.

When I first started teaching at my university, I had very little experience teaching grammar and not a lot of knowledge as to how to teach it. However, my amazing co-worker John, (also a former ESL teacher in Korea), created a handout for a presentation he did at a conference a while back which clearly explains all the verb tenses. Check it out here! (It won't make you tense, I promise).