Thursday, April 19, 2012

Adding Visit to South Korea

I am so excited to report that my initial four hour layover in Seoul on the way back from Changsha has been changed to four full days.  I have always wanted to see Seoul because I have close friends who are either Korean (Jeounghoon "Johnny" Oh and Jee-Young Chung) or Americans working in Seoul (Jezreel Kang-Graham).  I collaborated with Johnny on a research project a few years ago about the newspaper coverage of the Korean presidential election and am thrilled to have the opportunity to see the culture first hand.

Apparently Jezreel, Johnny, and Jee-Young will all be in South Korea during my visit, so we should have a good time together.  I will be staying at Jezreel and his wife's apartment in Seoul and they plan to take me to whatever sites they think I should see.  I'm really hoping it involves more than Karaoke bars because I don't drink and there are few things in this world I do worse than singing.  I guess that's the whole point of Karoake, though.

Jee-Young asked me what I wanted to see while I was in South Korea and I told her I mostly want to see the DMZ (The Demilitarized Zone).  She gave me a puzzled look, but I love history and would love to simply "feel" what that place is like.  I also indicated I wanted to see the Blue House (which is where the president resides).  I find it amusing that we have a White House and the South Koreans have a Blue House.

I hear Seoul is a vibrant city and very modernized.  I'm looking forward to being there, but I would also like to get out of the city and see the countryside.  One of my biggest regrets about my visits to London and Amsterdam was that I never made it out of the city.  How shameful is it to go to the Netherlands and not see a single windmill?  Well, that's my story!  This time, I WILL venture outside of Seoul and see some of the more traditional-looking parts of the country (whatever that means).

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the 38th parallel serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea

The Blue House in Seoul

Aerial shot of Seoul, Korea

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Continuing Preparations for China

I'm now three weeks away from my trip to Changsha and couldn't be more excited.  I now know I will be staying in the foreign student building and that it will be equipped with television, phone, internet and personal western-style bathroom.  I guess there is a community kitchen, but I don't anticipate I will be doing much cooking while I am there.  The food is supposed to be very cheap and so why not enjoy the local cuisine?  

My classroom will also be fully equipped with a projector and sound.  My usual teaching style in the U.S. is to bring into class an outline of the major concepts I want to address.  I systematically go through those and then illustrate them with either examples from my own life or video illustrations from news or popular culture.  Often, I will engage the class in discussion about these topics.  I hear from my Korean friends that my style is not going to work very well over in China.  For one, I tend to introduce topics in just lecture format before I illustrate them and we discuss.  With English being the second language of all my students, I'm not certain how easy it will be for them to listen to me without visuals.  So, I will put some of my material up on a power point, even though I am worried about powerpoint "overkill."  

Also, I sometimes access online content on the fly because not all of my videos are stored on my hard drive.  I am frantically trying to ensure that all my illustrations are saved and ready to go.  I likely won't be able to gather any that I forgot to bring with me later because of what is known in the Western hemisphere as "The Great Firewall of China."  I also need to be ready for moments when I think I've got some good material and I just get stares because I am big-nosed, bald, overweight (by their standards), and a little hairy.  Oh yeah, I'm 6 foot 2 inches as well, which will make me a giant over there.  I doubt the students will participate much in the beginning, but I'm going to make every effort to help them to get to know me and to feel comfortable with me.  I expect I will need to adapt much more than they will, however.

(I know it's a small thing, but the fact that I see "Welcome" and "Information" on the signs at the Changsha airport makes me feel a little better)