Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pen Pals

Well, I'm waiting on one more student to drop-off his pen pal letter and then these babies (which I've artfully laid-out in the above photo) will go in the mail.

If I'm being completely honest, this little project actually began as a last-minute attempt to wrestle a lesson plan out of my sleepy Sunday night brain about a month ago. A dialogue from the textbook which encouraged students to work-out an email exchange with a foreigner caught my eye, and the idea of doing pen pals was born.

All students answered a series of questions on a worksheet (many of which we brainstormed answers for together as a class) and some of these questions have been incorporated into next week's speaking test.

Just to keep things realistic, the top two students in each of my 11 grade 3 homeroom classes (determined by the quality of their responses) were selected to have a Canadian pen pal. They would attend a lunchtime meeting the following week to go over letter writing details and expectations. Other students who weren't selected but were really eager to have a pen pal were invited to come along as well.

In the end, 4 out of 22 selected students weeded themselves out of the equation by apparently not wanting to bother, while 6 more joined. Those 24 plus the 10 from my after-school club then wrote original 4-5 paragraph introduction letters which were edited by me and now they have returned their final drafts on funky Korean stationary inside cool envelopes. I'm pretty pleased with the result, and I've been very mindful of letting those who don't want to bother, simply bow-out. Well, this is true with a couple of exceptions as some of my best students are also some of the most absent-minded when it comes to handing-in material to me (homework is something that's rarely required in my class as I try to not make a habit out of marking and editing worksheets from over a thousand students). I have had to chase-down a handful of students who are enthusiastic, just bloody busy and with other things on their minds.

Anyway, I've got 34 lovely little letters to send to Canada on Monday. I attempted to get something smallish and fun from the Seoul Tourism bureau downtown (I figured they'd have bookmarks etc.) but to no avail, so I instead found a fun little sheet of Korean flag stickers in Insadong for around 3,000 won - believe it or not, with exactly 34 stickers on it.

They are all ready to go, and our good friend Lego (from a previous post) who is hoping to snag an international relationship included this set of photos for his as yet unknown beloved...

I do wonder how middle school students in Canada will react to to stationary here - especially from some of my boys. Here, it's quite normal for the most platonic of friends to receive letters that have pictures of the Eiffel Tower with inscriptions like "The moment I saw you, I knew yours was the love I'd been searching for." The boys' stationary is mostly filled with rainbows and cupcakes - which I personally think is great. Here's hoping the Canadian students don't take things too literally and take a cue from the Korean kids, who might not actively acknowledge that any of their countrymen are gay, but who also have no problem being kids for a little longer or embracing their feminine side by using bright pink Hello Kitty stationary.

I'll be sending these early next week and expecting a return package sometime in June, so I'll keep you posted. It was a lot of extra work, but completely worth it and hopefully something that will create a memorable experience for my students. This is what it was like before email, after-all.

Oh, and the letters will be sent to ESL students at a middle school in North Calgary, who I'm sure will be delighted to have a chance to speak with someone far away who is also learning English as a second language. A small percentage of my letters may also be sent to teen volunteers with my old job at Calgary Public Library. PPTs and paraphernalia will be sent along with the letters to explain a little bit about Korean middle school life. Can't wait to hear what Canadian kids think about after-school academies...

* As a side note, after having assigned, edited, corralled, explained, collected, and edited, returned, tracked-down, and edited again (all of which was done in my free or after-school hours), I was inquiring as to how this package of letters might be send to Canada. Should I just drop it off at administration and they would take care of it? A call was made, and administration said "no". I apparently have to pay for postage myself. It won't be much, but it's the principal of the thing. I guess administration doesn't see this as a worthwhile activity. Colour me surprised. I guarantee that my friend's school back home will not only pay for postage with no questions asked, but will also likely jump on board by adding cool stuff to the envelopes for free.


Rock Steady said...

This is so awesome Dave! Maybe in the future if you're ever looking to do something similar, your kids could become pen pals with some of the kids I work with. Well, the younger youth I work with anyway. :)

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Thanks, Roxy :) I can't believe I didn't think to ask you if the kids in your program wanted a pen pal :(

Well, you know I'll be here in Korea for a while, so I'll definitley offer it to your organization next time.

TJ said...

Hi there fellow blogger,

I do not know your name nor anything about you except that you are an English teacher/blogger in Korea. I normally don't comment on any blogs, but after reading your article on 'dok do' island and a few others, I became a fan of your blog!

As for me, I'm a globalized Korean guy pursuing music/food-related work all the way out in the Dominican Republic. I left Korea back in 1996 and have lived in 6 countries thus far.

I hope you don't mind me reading your blog entries, as it is a real treat to read about life in Korea from a foreigner's perspective.

By the way, pen paling assignment sounds awesome! I remember when I in 5th grade in Korea, our teacher made us write letters to 국군 아저씨들 (military officers). At 28 now, in retrospect, I think it was a very valuable experience. I'm sure your students will thank you for all your effort!

TJ Kim-

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Hey, TJ - thanks for reading. I know this is a bot of a mixed bag of a blog, but it's always good to know that there are others who stumble across it and get something out of reading it.

I'll be expecting the Pen Pal letters from Canada sometime around the end of June, so I'll be sure to post about my students' reactions :)