We went this morning to visit Goyang Foreign Language High School, which is a very good school. It’s for students majoring in English, Japanese, Chinese, or Spanish. High schools here are grades 10-12, though they call them 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year. You have to take a test to get into the school. We saw a musical perfomance by some of the students, and then had lunch. The students took us on a tour of the campus which is very pretty and we had the chance to ask them questions.
Their school day is from 7am to 11pm. They take 8-10 classes a day. There is really no electives, they do some gym in 1st year and art in 2nd year but that’s it. They have a lot of study hall time. I’m sure it’s very stressful. They can only take the Korean version of the SAT once. They also go to school from 8am-noon every other Saturday. We left the high school at 2pm, and I couldn’t believe that those kids still had 9 hours of school left.
They are not allowed to date, or dye their hair. They wear uniforms, most girls wear skirts although they do have the option to wear pants. They are really attentive in class, though they goof off in the halls and on the grounds like regular kids. Most of them speak great English. A lot of them have lived abroad, many of them in the US for awhile. One student (I didn’t get to talk to him though) is getting ready to move to Fairfax. His friend told me he was nervous about it, but the student who is actually moving had gone somewhere else so I never got to chat.
Students have two semesters, and the school year begins in March. They do have sometime off during the summer between semeters, and they have January and February off. They were shocked at some of the things we told them about American students. They also could not believe how short the school day is.
They do have clubs, there are at least 30 at Goyang. The Saturdays they come to school they go to their clubs. It seems very stressful and hard on the kids, and we’ve been told several times that the suicide rate among students in Korea is very high.
Most of them were very nice and talkative and answered all of our questions. We played a quiz game before we left, we had 10 minutes to ask the students about the Korean education system and then the teachers who were hosting today asked our groups question and we had to answer without help from our students. My group did not win, but we only missed two questions.
After Goyang, we went to the Korea House which is a cultural center. We could either take part in a traditional tea ceremony or learn traditional drumming. Only about 15 women got to do the tea ceremony because they only had a limited number of hanboks, the traditional Korean dress. I got to do the tea ceremony, so I got to dress up in a hanbok. Several guys took part too, and they got to wear either light yellow or peach traditional dress.
Before you can even begin the tea ceremony you have to bow. A lot. The bigger your family, the more you bow. It’s very difficult and uncomfortable the way you lower yourself and the way you get up. Lukily we only had to practice it a few times before beginning the ceremony.
About 5 people actually got to make the tea. Then they served 5 people. It’s a very elaborate and specific ceremony, you have to hold things a certain way, place them in certain spots, and the spout of the tea pot has to face a certain direction. You have to pour the water precisely, swirl the cups a in a clockwise direction, it’s very complicated. It also takes a long time to get just 3 sips of tea. After you make and serve the tea the first time, then you do it again. And you can repeat it over and over. Everyone was kind of glad when it was over, because we were all very uncomfortable on the floor trying to sit the proper way.
Tonight was our first night with optional excursions. We could go to th Myeon Dong shopping district, or to N Seoul Tower. I went to the tower because I thought it would be neat to see the city from up there. The tower is on a mountain, so it was a good walk up to it and just being up on the mountain gives you a good view. We had an hour to get dinner before we had to meet to get our tickets. We went to an Italian bistro (I think everyone was craving something familiar.) It didn’t turn out to be all that familiar. I ordered chicken alfredo. It came in a very thing sauce with onions, and red and green peppers. It was very very spicy. But at least I got to eat with a fork.
We went up into the tower after dinner and it was a great view. Seoul is just huge and spreads out in every direction. It was a little hazy, but you could still see enough. On each window around the observatory they have names of different cities and how far away they are.
On the floor below the top observation deck are the bathrooms. It’s important to visit the bathroom. In the women’s bathroom the sinks are by the windows and you can look out at the city. In the men’s bathroom the urinals are right in front of the windows. I know this because the guys told us, but also because they snuck a couple of us in there far enough to peek around the corner. Those bathrooms probably have the best view in the world.
After we got back to the hotel, Elsa and I went to Baskin Robbins to get ice cream. I decided not to get anything, and I sat down to wait for her. We were sitting there talking when I glanced out the window and all of a sudden there was a huge mass of people walking down the street singing and chanting. We got up to check it out. It was tonight’s protest but we could tell right away it was peaceful, not tense like last night. People were walking and holding candles. I’m not sure where they were going, we asked a photographer, but he didn’t speak much English. He did say they were making a big circle though. I asked what they were chanting, he said they were saying Myung Bak (I may have spelled that incorrectly) out. (He’s the current president.) I heard them chanting his name, I just didn’t know what they were saying about him.
This was a huge crowd. We could not see any beginning or end. They just kept walking down the street, blocking traffic. I didn’t see any police, I’m not sure if they were in a differen area or what, but this huge crowd just kept moving. We were out there for at least a half an hour and the crowd never ended or even thinned out.
These protests are very interesting, but I think I may skip it tomorrow night to check out some of the other places in Seoul.
Tomorrow we have three lectures, and are going to see a martial arts production. Then we have the option of going to the Cheon-gye cheon stream (which we have already seen) or a baseball game. I think a lot of people are opting to go to the baseball game. I’m curious to see how it’s different than American baseball games. I especially want to see what kinds of food they sell. We’ve been told that if they go into overtime we could be in for a long night, so I hope that doesn’t happen. But baseball is very big in Korea, so it should be interesting.