Thursday, September 9, 2010


In my experience so far, Korean schools are not especially interested in fostering creativity. Kind of at all. Thus has spurred my new project for the year, inserting creativity back into learning.

The U.S. is certainly not immune to the issue of creativity either. Obviously jobs in the fields of math and science pay more, so why wouldn't you want your child to excel in those areas and set them up for future success (Well, one version of success anyways...)? Of course the arts are something socially acceptable to pursue, but primarily as a hobby. Rarely are you going to look at someone with a Women's Studies or Music degree the same way you do someone with, say, Mechanical Engineering. Be honest...

In Korea, this hierarchy of study is even more pronounced than it is in the states. For these students, their childhood is all about working hard to place into a good high school and then working their asses off in high school to get into one of the top few Universities in the country. Once they're in University, it's pretty much smooth sailing, it's the getting there that's rough. And it infringes on their childhood in a huge way. I teach at a hagweon English school, basically an after school school. Essentially, two or three days a week, after they've already sat in their normal school for 8 hours learning, they come to me to learn even more. And they have all sorts of hagweons, math, science, you name it. Some of my students attend up to 5 different hagweons every week! It's so absolutely ridiculous to me!

If you know anything about me at all, you know that I practically grew up dancing at the Ashtabula Arts Center. Even though I'm retired to dancing in my living room (you know you do it too!), dance for me was a fundamental part of my childhood! It gave me a place to transform my rambunctious childhood energy (of which I had lots!) into a useful and productive form. These kids don't have that opportunity. They sit in classroom after classroom five to six days a week and then go home to a heaping stack of homework from their countless teachers they see each day. Even those who try to incorporate music or sports into their lives do so in, say, private piano or soccer lessons... what ever happened to giving children plain old free time?

I think for the most part, Korean children have accepted the system and learned to adapt to the rote learning required of it. But I can see some of my students struggling, not because they are bad or unintelligent students, but because they have been forced to conform to a system horribly matched for their learning styles. They sit there in class just wiggling, aching to not be sitting in a desk for the umpteenth hour that day. Some of my kids are so artistic, I can tell from the doodles and drawings they do in class. But those drawings will never be valued in this culture, rather their test scores and academic success will determine where they end up, probably not in the same high schools and Universities as some of my more left brained students. I know this happens in the U.S. too, I know it does, but I was able to conform to the educational standards well enough I suppose it never really bothered me. But these kids have really begun to highlight a fundamental problem in education as a whole, and I just want to help them!

So, it's not much, especially coming from just one of their foreign teachers at just one of their hagweon academies, but I make them color. We talk about our topic for the day, then some days I have them draw it for me. As they're drawing, I go around and they tell me about what they're drawing and why (hence conversational English is still technically being taught, win!).

Just take a look at some of their pictures. How fantastic are they!?

We did a lesson on decorating which focused on carpet, tile, wallpaper, and curtains, so I had my students decorate a room for me. This is my "Cleveland Browns" colored room... I was so proud he picked orange and brown all by himself!

This student's ideal carpet in his future home is patterned with an assortment of fruits? We made probably the world's longest list of fruits before he settled on these four.

I love this one. This student made his room into a face, with a nose shaped chandelier, an ear patterned wallpaper and a carpet that looks like a mouth...

I love this one too. Demonstrating that it's completely ok to have upwards of 4 separate wallpapers in one room, including one for the ceiling...

I gave them free time to color while I was conducting their speaking tests. I haven't even talked to them about dancing, but this is one of the pictures I ended up with. Sauté!

One of my students' depictions of my classroom. (Apparently in her eyes I'm blonde?) It's pretty accurate, really... She even included my water bottle, the radio I bring to class every day, my school name etched in the door, every single student in my class, and even my Korean teaching partner, Alice.

I'm not at all sure what's going on in this one, but I know there are ghosts, caterpillars, and a lightning bolt, and it's just adorable!

This one takes a little explanation. Yes, this "Boy from Busan" I keep talking about and I are dating. (Awwwww, shucks!) Of course these children of mine are suuuuper curious about Teacher's boyfriend, and ask about him almost daily. So when I told them he was at least a foot taller than me, their faces all lit up as they shouted, "Teacher, he's a monster!" Ergo, my bf is a monster, and I'm just crazy. And have antennae. I really enjoy it anyways :)

In conclusion, I think creativity is a huge, major, important, fundamental, key, (etc) part of childhood, and I'm going to insert a little creativity into these kids even if it kills me. End.

- Christine -

ps. I was out on a walk this morning and this Korean man I've never seen before comes up to me and says "Where do you go in the mornings? I've seen you before walking in the morning." Awesome. Either a.) I stand out even more than I thought i did, or b.) I have a 70 year old stalker. Horray...


  1. hahahaha! i love the pictures! esp. ones that feature you with antennae and blond hair :)

  2. my kids have a "creativity class" where they do worksheets about creativity. it's so sad. i make them draw all the time :)