There is a tradition at my school of giving cards signed by all the staff on a faculty member's birthday. Thus began my day.
I usually don't receive much on my birthday; it usually falls right at finals time or the start of winter break. So, often, my birthday is somewhat forgotten among people's busy schedules. So, the birthday card was a pleasant surprise, but not the only one I received.
Over the course of the semester, I've gotten to know several teachers well, including the Spanish teacher. At lunch, she and a group of other teachers brought out little chocolate muffins and began singing "Happy Birthday." We share the cafeteria with all the students, so now every student also knew it was my birthday.
This knowledge resulted in my third surprise of the day, and possibly the sweetest one. At the end of the day, I teach 8th grade English Language Arts. Well, today all the students were late to class. Just as I was about to go ask the school secretary where they all were, they burst into the classroom singing "Happy Birthday," and presented me with a mound of Chocopies topped with a few candles. Apparently, when they found out it was my birthday, they had snuck off campus during lunch to buy the Chocopies. They then used time in art class to make a GIANT card. So, after blowing out the candles, we gorged ourselves on those Chocopies and began our lesson.
I think the lack of birthday surprises from the past few years have been all made up today.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. These days, everyone knows the meaning and importance of these words. However, there are still many people who don't recycle or who have no understanding of how recycling programs work in their cities. This group includes many of our students, so our volunteer day this month involved going to the Gangnam-gu Recycling Center.
Located just outside the city, it took us about 20 or minutes or so to get to the center. Once there, the students sat in a lecture space where a center employee talked about how recycling works in Korea. We watched a short video as well before the students donned vests and gloves to help sort some of the recyclables.
We went to 3 different areas, including one for Styrofoam, all located underground. At each location, our guide explained to the students how to sort and recycle the material. Then, the students did some sorting before moving on to the next location. Most of the sorting occurred at the Styrofoam area.
All in all, the visit took around an hour, which honestly didn't seem like enough time for volunteering. The center also didn't make an effort to involve the teachers. I wish there'd been a bit more to do at the center.
Walking down the narrow streets of the hilly neighborhood, one can see brilliantly colored murals covering the walls and even staircases. One flight of stairs is covered in vibrant gold fish; another has become a floral mosaic. Several walls feature wings to encourage passersby to take a photo. These are just a few of the artworks in Seoul's famous Ihwa Mural Village.
Ihwa Mural Village began as an effort by 68 different artists to transform an older neighborhood (Korea Toursim). The village was actually part of a major trend in Korea to beautify slums, many of which sprang up in the 1950s to house refugees from the Korean War (Lonely Planet). These villages are all over Korea - even in small towns and farming villages. Ihwa Mural Village in Seoul, Jaman Village in Jeonju, and Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan are among the most famous. Today, these villages have become popular tourist sites, usually after appearing in TV dramas.
In art class, our middle school students have been working on a project to create a mural for the school. As part of their research, the art teacher arranged for a field trip to Ihwa Mural Village. I also chaperoned the trip. There, the students made observations about the different methods used in the murals. Then, in their writing class with me, they wrote about their favorite artwork in the village.
Fall has finally arrived in Korea! I've been enjoying the past week as the leaves have changed colors from green to red, yellow, and brown. This time of year, the parks and hiking trails around the country are full of people going out to see the fall leaves. So, naturally, I did the same -- only I stayed right around my neighborhood. Here are the gorgeous results!
Halloween: a night full of costumes and, often, wild parties - at least in America. Here in Korea, where Halloween is not a traditional holiday, things are different. Outside of major metropolitan areas, the night is like any other, but inside the big cities, and especially in Seoul, the parties abound and in several bar districts people clad in cat suits, Captain America costumes, and more, can easily be seen. This year was certainly no different. Though, I have no crazy stories to tell because I did not engage in such festivities. Instead, I joined a small group in performing at SwingPop's Halloween party.
Here in Seoul, there are many places for swing dancing. In fact, if you wanted, you could find a social dance on any night of the week! I chose SwingPop mostly because it's very close to my home. I've had a great time the past few months, but with the way things are progressing at school, I have a feeling it will be difficult for me to come consistently for a while.