South Korea 2013: School & Hapkido in Sangju

Shadowing Scott for an entire week at his schools in the countryside was an eye-opener for me. South Korea uses a different education system from what I grew up on- elementary, middle, and high school, and I got to experience every level during the week. It was an experience that I cherish for learning about how other people live beyond tourism.

Scott’s co-teacher YY would pick us up at our place in the morning for the half hour drive up the mountain, through scenic views and rows upon rows of farmland. It was grape season, and Korean grapes are the best I’ve ever had, like eating wine. Since a large majority of the students’ parents are farmers, I got fed so much grapes when I went there. Each teacher even got to take home a box of grapes (containing about ten to twelve bunches of grapes) whenever a truck came by. I even started accidentally calling it poodo after overindulging in grapes (podo)…
The schools’ facilities were so new and clean. The school population was so low that each class comprised of the entire cohort, and even then, I doubt any class actually had more than thirty students. Also, while the schools had uniforms, none of them were so strict as to enforce them. I’d see middle and high school kids switching out parts of their uniforms for home clothes, while elementary kids were free to dress as they chose on normal school days.
Even the school canteen had seats that could be pulled down or extended outwards during lunch.
Elementary school canteen.
High school students were rostered to serve food, but sometimes it was buffet style as well.
Most everyone were religious in brushing their teeth after meals.
I also participated in a sports day at the elementary school and ran a circuit in my platform shoes lol.
I was a guest speaker for a class and really enjoyed talking to the kids and learning about them at the same time. They called the Statue of Liberty, Freedom Lady. It’s so cute! I miss them already.
Teacher feasts were taken seriously. I still remember when we had lunch with the principal of one of the schools and was surprised that we indulged in beer when we still had the rest of the school day to get through after.
After-school feast.
I also participated in my first ever martial arts experience, Hapkido, for a week. Which meant that it was a week of terrifying somersaults, muscle aches, and abject humiliation in front of amazing black belts who were at least a decade younger than me.
Here is Kwan Jang Nim (school instructor). He looks fierce, but he’s a good guy. One evening after a session, he pressed a piece of bread from Tous les Jours because he thought that I needed to fatten up.
Kids testing for their belts. On a side note, I still haven’t gotten over how kids in Korea have dyed and permed hair at such a young age.
Scott, Peter, and I hung out with two awesome black belts and a soon-to-be brown belt one day after Hapkido at the nearby convenience store, and we played Kkeutmalitgi (or Shiritori). It was fun. That cute kid in the middle was younger than the two black belts flanking him, but his English seemed way better than theirs. So cute!