Visiting Gwangju: Mid-term school observation trip report.

My principal gave me mid-terms off to travel to Gwangju, under the condition that I write a report and take pictures about what I saw.
So, I thought, let’s kill the blog bird and the school requirement bird with one report stone. Idioms. How fun. I wonder if that idiom is on the walls of Sarah’s school? (Read on and you’ll find out what I mean).

Travelling to Gwangju

Travelling to Gwangju was no easy task. Though similar distances, Seoul is a much easier trip with fewer transfers. In order to go to Seoul, one simply takes the Uiseong bus to Seoul available more than 5 times a day–even from a smaller town like Uiseong.

Gwangju was more difficult to travel to than Seoul.

I have heard many reasons cited for this. Some say the mountains make this difficult (though there are mountains on the way to Seoul as well). Others say that the political and cultural divides between the regions mean that development has not taken place to speed travel. Over the course of my travel I did not come across a definitive answer.

Whatever the reason, the travel consisted of first a bus to Buk Daegu. I left at 9a.m. Wednesday. Then, I had to take a intra-city bus from Buk Daegu bus terminal to Sobu Daegu bus terminal. From Sobu Daegu bus terminal, I left at 10:42am for Gwangju. There were many stops along the way. And the journey was much longer than the 3.5 hour trip to Seoul.

Some kind ajummas on the bus insisted I eat their kimbab and peanut-coated duk. I suppose they were concerned because it was a long bus ride and we had no time for lunch. I arrived in Gwangju at around 4p.m. or 4:30 pm. It took me almost a full school day just to travel to Gwangju!


Cultural exchange

Wednesday ended with me visiting the homestay family of my friend, Taylor Kuramoto (she updates her blog very often–check it out!). She is also a Fulbright foreign English teacher. She has a good relationship with her host family and has many conversations with her host siblings–especially the host brother named Tae Jun. He is in 2nd grade middle school and attends the same middle school at which Taylor teaches.

Taylor’s host family had me over to their apartment. Taylor and I made chili. The whole family enjoyed it. The host mother even asked me for the recipe!

I made chili (an American food influenced by Texan and Mexican cooking). It is a thick soup with ground beef, chili, chili powder (pepper and cumin), tomato sauce, onions, and crushed red peppers. It is a popular dish in my hometown in America. We also made grilled cheese sandwiches to eat with the chili. We also put crackers and shredded cheese in the chili.

The family really enjoyed it. The host mother even asked me for the recipe. Unfortunately, chili beans are very difficult to find in Korea. The can of chili beans I used was mailed to me from America by my parents.

Tae Jun is a bright and funny, albeit slightly mischievous, student. He enjoyed the American food I made (chili) very much.



I asked Tae Jun about his school life. He said sometimes he became bored in classes, but he liked seeing his friends. He had come home late for dinner because of an after-school punishment. He had to write the same sentence repeatedly. This punishment sometimes exists in America too. You can see it in the show The Simpsons, when Bart Simpson is writing a sentence repeatedly on the chalkboard in the opening scene of the television show.

Tae Jun told me about his travels and studies in English. His family is Catholic and he went to America for three weeks through a program operated by the Catholic church. Two weeks were spent in English study and one week was for sight-seeing. Tae Jun’s English was quite advanced. I was very surprised that Taylor did not slow down her speaking at all when talking to him. He was very willing to speak and to interact with both me and Taylor. He was a slightly mischievous, but very funny and bright young student.


Thursday- School Visit with Sarah Hulsman at Jeonnam Middle School

On Thursday, I went to the school at which Sarah Hulsman teaches. She is another Fulbright English teaching assistant. She teaches at Jeonnam Middle School which has around 800 students.

The grounds of Jeonnam Middle School which houses 3 grades and around 800 students. Gwangju. Sarah Hulsman is the resident Fulbright English Teaching Assistant here.

Sarah teaches 3rd grade weekly and 1st and 2nd grade every other week (biweekly).

Her office is not just an English office. There is also a Chinese teacher and a foreign Chinese teacher (two days a week). All third grade students take Chinese as well as English language classes. There are around 800 students in the school. Another interesting fact about the school is it has a very competitive swimming team.

One of the classes I observed was a 2nd grade co-ed (boys and girls) class. It had 28 students.

The students were well-behaved and many were at a fairly high level. Sarah does not travel to other classroom. She teaches exclusively in the English multimedia room.

Sarah Hulsman teaches her 2nd grade co-ed English class. The pictures on the board represent sandpaper (sand + paper). Side note (not included in the report): students at both schools frequently inquired if I was Sarah or Taylor’s boyfriend. A boy and a girl FRIENDS? That’s madness.

Here is an outline of what occurred during class.

Warm-up activity: Students began in pairs at tables. The teacher instructed one person at the table to get supplies. The supplies included a white board and markers. This was for the warm-up activity.

The warm-up activity included showing compound words to answer the pictures’ suggestions.

For example, a picture of a chair, and that of a wheel were shown. The answer was the compound word: wheel chair. Other words included lipstick and screwdriver among others.


Some students made “smart errors.” These are errors which are logically understandable. For example, instead of “screwdriver” one team said “nail car.” Instead of “toothpaste” one team wrote “teethpaste.” These errors make sense, but are still errors.

This was a warm up to “get the students thinking in English,” Sarah explained.

speak of the devil cropped
The stairwells of Sarah’s school are filled with English idioms and translations. Some, like this “Speak of the Devil” are relatively conventional. Others are more unique (Ex: “He has a big belly”) or old-fashioned (“Mend the barn after the horse is stolen.”)

Main lesson: Direction and location.

The teacher introduced vocabulary, next to, beside, near, in front of, behind, across from, etc.


The teacher showed examples to demonstrate the vocabulary.

Sarah’s office. It houses a Chinese teacher, Sarah, and Sarah’s co-teacher. Unlike my school which uses desktops in every teacher office and classroom, Sarah carries a laptop between her school office and her classroom. Neither Sarah or Taylor travel to student’s homerooms.

The co-teacher translated–focusing on words that students were less likely to know. Sarah has the same co-teacher for all of her classes.

Sarah, similar to my own Balmer Bucks system, offered a “dollar” reward system after guided practice. That is, students answered questions and received a dollar which can later be redeemed for a reward.


Main activity: Where’s Waldo? (Waldo has a different name in Korea).

Students were to write 3 sentences on where Waldo is.

The first team to write correctly received “Sarah Stacks” (money reward system).

Students rushed to the board to find Waldo. Then they rushed back to write their sentences.

This was done around 5 times.


The final check for the activity was a drawing activity. This checked student’s understanding on locations words. The teacher said things like “Draw a triangle inside the circle.” By the end, students were supposed to have drawn a smiley face. The teacher checked for understanding, revealed the answer, and dismissed class.



Friday- School visit with Taylor Kuramoto at Jongwon Middle School

Taylor and her students after lunch. You can see a new apartment building being built in the background, as this area of Gwangju is growing.

On Friday, I saw my friend Taylor again. She teaches and Jongwon Middle school. It is a Buddhist-affiliated middle school next to a private Buddhist-affiliated high school.

It has around 650 students. Taylor teaches 2nd and 3rd grade only.

Taylor also does not travel to student’s classrooms or have an office with the teachers. She spends all of her time in her classroom.

Taylor has 5 different co-teachers, 4 women and 1 man. There are a large number of younger teachers at her school.

I visited her lunch conversation class. It had about 25 students.  They asked questions about me and I asked questions about their school and their interests.

Taylor’s English classroom. Taylor does not have a desk in a teacher’s office. She spends her whole day in her classroom.

The school has meditation classes taught by a school Buddhist monk. The school has a large soccer field shared with the high school and a school store frequented by students. Decorations were being put up in commemoration of the Buddha’s birthday which is upcoming. A statue of Admiral Yi Sun Sin was near the edge of campus.

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Reflection: It was very interesting to see a very different part of Korea, as I had never been to the East. I learned about the Gwangju unique political culture, I learned of Kia motors and other large industries, and I had the opportunity to see school life and lessons in larger middle schools–both regular public school and a Buddhist school. The trip was very educational, as a language teacher and as someone learning about Korean culture.

What I did not include in the report:

I had a great time visiting Taylor and Sarah (and Jenna–she was at dinner one night with us though I could not visit her school!).

Also, I went the wrong way on the bus on the way to Taylor’s school. I had to ride through 57 stops and finally got to her school around lunch. But that was the only travel snag over the whole trip, so I consider myself pretty successful.

Then, during the weekend, I visited my friend Abhik in Daejon. We saw Captain America: Civil War in IMAX (a full week before America gets it!). Here are some select pictures.



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