Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why I love low level students …

In an activity with a new class of nine and ten year olds, where I was trying to understand what words they knew, the students all started saying the same word in Korean. I had absolutely no clue.

Eric started flapping his hands.


The students shook their heads. They were excited. Their first class with the foreign teacher. They wanted to impress me. They kept saying the Korean word. They weren't about to give up. Then, suddenly, Max laid down on the chair and put his feet up in the air.

Max with feet in the air

This just confused me. “What?!”

I offered the board marker. Max came up to the board and started drawing an animal. Because he started with the head it looked like a cat … then he drew the wings.

“Oh! Bat!”

I laughed like mad when I realized why Max’s feet were in the air and showed them why I was laughing. Also, the bat was really cute!

“It’s a bat.” I repeated and I wrote “bat” on the board.

Best explanation of bat, ever.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Art class in Ulsan: Robots and Art Show

After finishing their robots on Monday, the boys and I put all their artwork on display. We turned the school into a mini-gallery showcasing our collective hard work. Each project is accompanied by a short description, written so that even the lowest levels should be able to understand.

Since Monday, I have been praised numerous times by coworkers, who have said that the artwork has changed the atmosphere in the school. Students now have something more than “Best Diaries” to look at before and after their classes.

Additionally, the four boys have been showing off their work. They are proud and rightfully so.

Here are the finished robots!

Jacob's Robot with jet packs

Vincent's Robot

David's Robot with a small "stick man" on top

Aidan's Robot with cape

Students are curious. Parents who come in to pay their bills or to consider the school see the work, and I have been told many have asked about it. Questions like, “Where did they make the art?” “What was the class?” … even the delivery guy checked out the student’s self portraits.

My boss stopped me today, and as she does when she wants to communicate something quickly, she had another teacher tell me how wonderful the art display is, which my director keeps calling “decoration.” I am excited that the artwork is well received. The “Mr. Burns” in the back of my head is steepling his hands and saying, “Excellent, Kimberly … Excellent.” Hopefully soon I will have another class!

Links to art on display:


Wire sculptures

Artist's Statements


Monday, January 24, 2011

A Smiling Waygook: The answer to all your problems

The weekends will often find me sitting in Starbucks. While there are many other, smaller coffee shops that have superior ambiance, where I am less likely to be disturbed by screaming children, for some reason I prefer the ever-changing, noisy crowd of people in Starbucks. Often I create my own atmosphere with my iPod, but occasionally, I enjoy the murmur of couples chatting intimately in Korean, the stray English that floats over to my table, and the laughter or cries of small children.

One crowded morning, as I sat reading, the frustrated cries of a young child jerked my thoughts away from the words on the page. Looking up, I noticed an incredibly cute little girl, probably around 3 years old, trying to get attention from her mother, who was busy with a younger sibling. I smiled and shook my head when I saw her mother immediately jump to attention and attempt to deal with her whining daughter.

The girl continued to whimper about something or other. I assumed it was about a pastry because of the gestures and blubbering accompanying the tears. Her mother talked to her a bit but returned to fussing over the younger sibling. Two children and not enough of mom to go around. The girl’s sobbing continued, varying in volume depending on how much attention she thought she was attracting. Huge crocodile tears streamed down her face, but she was fine. I looked back at my book, but continued to smirk because I understood.

This was not a girl in distress because she had hurt herself. Rather, she wanted attention and knew if she was loud enough, her mother would stop whatever she was doing and come running.

As she continued to throw a mini-tantrum, I saw out of the corner of my eye that her mother had finished with the younger sibling and crouched down to talk to her and give her a hug. The girls sobs continued, though a bit softer than before, so I looked up, again.

The girl saw me, paused for a split-second, then continued to sob and rub her eyes with her fists while staring at me. She was being silly, so I smiled at her.

Suddenly, the crying ceased.

The spigot turned off.

She gave me a half-smile.

Her mother, whose back was toward me was visibly taken aback. I’m sure she thought, “What the hell just happened?” Then the mother saw her daughter looking at something or someone, so she turned around. Obviously surprised to see a waygook (foreigner), she appeared a tad bewildered. We made slight bows to each other in understanding, though the astounded look did not leave her face.

I laughed to myself …

Having trouble with your children? Are they always crying for attention? Do they scream in public and embarrass you? … Find a smiling waygook! They will entertain your children. They will keep your children from driving you crazy. Imagine silent afternoons at home, while your child “studies” English. If you sign up now, we’ll enter you in a lottery for lessons at three of our sister academies and even more time away from your child!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Repost: A Silent Laugh with Strangers

Perhaps it's too soon to be reposting, but as a tribute to appreciating the small things in life, I'm doing it anyway.

Originally posted November 21, 2009.

A quick note to the reader ... all dialog in this post in merely my impression of what was said. The metro is noisy and my Russian is not THAT good.

Usually, everyone in the Moscow metro wears their serious, worn out, or sad faces. They look through each other. They scrutinize the way others are dressed, and they definitely DON'T talk to strangers.

But tonight was different.

In a good mood and feeling confident and a little talkative, I got on the metro with a sparkle in my eye. I watched others get on, and I noticed a group of three people who sat down across from me - a couple and their friend.

After the train left the station, the woman asked for a piece of gum. Her boyfriend didn't have any, so the friend looked in his bag and pulled out a piece. It was a little crumpled, yet overall, it looked all right.

The girl took it and stared at it like it was something alien, "What is this? What's wrong with it? Why is it all crumpled up?" she accusingly asked the friend.

He sort of shrugged in response. As if to say, "What's the big deal?"

Rather than refusing it, she opened the wrapper, shrugged in about the same way, and stuck the gum in her mouth.

In this midst of this, I couldn't help thinking about a parallel situation from high school. A good friend of mine often had "random snacks" in her sweater pockets and would offer them to people, regardless of the state. Maybe you'd like a Sour Patch Kid? or a saltine? Needless to say, I couldn't hide the smirk on my face, which quickly turned into a giggle when the boyfriend and friend noticed my smirk.

The boyfriend turned to the woman and told her that I thought the situation was funny. We all exchanged entertained smiles and shaking of heads.

Then the friend rooted around in his bag a bit more and pulled out a piece of candy for himself. Further amused, the boyfriend asked, "What else do you have in there?!", looked at me and sort of shook his head.

I couldn't stop giggling. Maybe he had a Sour Patch Kid ...

At this point, the four of us were openly having a silent conversation.

Reaching in his back again, the friend took out another piece of candy and offered it to me.


What was I supposed to do? refuse?!

The whole situation was ridiculous.

Finally, the boyfriend looked at his friend, who had continued to rummage around in his bag ... "What? Do you have more?"

"Nothing. That's it."

The friend turned his bag upside down to show that there was nothing else and shared his last piece of candy with the boyfriend.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Polar opposites: A Russian pop video censored on Korean YouTube

Growing up in Idaho hardly ever exposed me to the overt hyperfemininity I found when I arrived in Moscow. At first, I was overwhelmed.




I felt embarrassed by the amount of cleavage I saw, from young and old alike. I stared in awe at women walking gracefully in stilettos on ice.

“How could they not be in pain?!”

I shook my head at crocheted shirts with only a bra, no camisole, underneath. My jaw dropped when I saw women without bras in the summer. I stared in envy at long legs exposed by “too short” skirts. I admired perfect makeup, Dior, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Chanel adorning the bodies of my students.

After a few months of viewing women’s bodies on display in videos, on the streets, and as go-go dancers, I became quite immune. No longer did I stare in shock. In fact, often I tuned it out.

But before I became immune to women on display, in the fall of 2008, DJ Smash’s “Волна” (“Volna” which means wave) blanketed the club scene.

The video showcases scantily clad women eating junk food in sexually provocative ways, and as one of the top pop songs in Moscow, it was viewable everywhere:

In clubs and bars.

On televisions and computers.

And even in malls and restaurants.

In short, it was in eye-shot of everyone at every age.

While there is nothing overtly sexual going on, the messages implicit in the women’s body language can be quite alarming to the sheltered eyes of someone who grew up in Conservative Land (aka Idaho). I knew if the video was plastered everywhere in the States, like it was in Moscow, parents and church leaders would go into hysterics.

Now, I occasionally listen to Russian pop for the dance beat or to get a kick out of what was popular in Moscow two years ago. My perception has changed, and I no longer think scantily clad women are that big of a deal.

A couple nights ago, while enjoying the eccentricity that is tektonik, I recalled Russian pop, flipped back to “Volna” and saw that YouTube had censored the video. On normal “safe” mode, this video is no longer viewable. Even a month ago, this was not true.

YouTube, in Korea anyway, has suddenly deemed the video unfit for eyes under the age of 19, stating, “In compliance with the Youth Protection Act, this video cannot be seen by a person under the age of 19 years.”


I googled “Youth Protection Act” and came up basically empty handed. This has got to be Korean censorship.

Regardless, young people should not watch a sexy woman in little more than a bathing suit eat an ice cream cone … or a hot dog … or a lollypop … or a hamburger…?

Maybe it’s the swinging hips that are offensive.

Or that the only Asian girl in the video makes eating with chopsticks sexy.

Or maybe it's just the word sexy that can be applied to the video.

I would love to hear impressions from “fresh”, “unadulterated” eyes.

I have gone from a culture that inundates the public with images like these, to one that is intent on sheltering the public from them.

Art class in Ulsan: Artist's statements

Vincent, Aidan, Jacob, and David

Soon the student's artwork will be on display around the school. I hope to stir enough envy that another art class happens because today was the last day.

Earlier this week, we reviewed all the projects we had worked on: color wheels, comics, self-portraits, collages, wire animal sculptures, and clay robot sculptures. I asked the students to think about their favorite project and write a sentence or two about it. Then they painted their name and wrote their "artist's statement" on a large piece of paper.

Influenced, perhaps, by the hilarity that was wire animal sculptures and wire dung, my students all picked the same "favorite" project.


"My favorite project is animals because animals are funny."


"My favorite project is animals because my rabbit is running fast!"


"My favorite project is wire animal because my lion is very interesting."


"My favorite project is wire animals because a cat is my favorite animal."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Art class in Ulsan: drawing with wire

I wanted my students to create mobiles, inspired by Alexander Calder, but while I was putting together the lesson, problems kept cropping up. I remembered, as a kid, how frustrating mobiles were. The hanging parts would slide out of place and often the teacher gave too much direction.

As a teacher, who has told my students not to say, "I can't," I kept running into mental blocks concerning the mobiles. Not only, how would we keep the hanging parts from sliding out of place, but how would I allow my students freedom without them getting frustrated by the complexity of the project? Additionally, where would we hang them when finished? Question upon question piled up in my mind, so I got on google and looked up Alexander Calder.

I wanted to know more about his process, but instead, I came across his wire sculptures. Playful, interesting, and turning drawing into three dimensions, I realized this was the solution.

Alexander Calder, Cow, 1929.

Scrapping mobiles, I gathered images of Calder's wire sculptures for the students to look at and talk about before designing their own.

Alexander Calder, Elephant, 1928.

We talked about drawing with one continuous line. I encouraged them to consider if they wanted to make their audience laugh, cry, or get angry. Then they went to work, first sketching out their idea using one continuous line, and finally working in wire.

Vincent's Lion

Jacob's Rabbit with earring

Aidan's Dog

David's Cat

The project proved quite a challenge for small, impatient hands, but I love the end results, especially the addition of dung inspired by Calder himself.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Korean English students have English names

In Korea, it is common practice to use English names for students at English academies and in English class at the public schools. Unlike in Russia, where it is a choice of the student who might “Englishize” his or her own name, Kate instead of Katya, for example, the school picks the name.

Usually, the English name has absolutely no relation to their real name. Hye-Lim becomes “Angela.” Su-Bin becomes “Amie.” Occasionally, a student gets lucky and Ji-Oon becomes, “June.”

When I first asked about students having English names, the response was, “Foreigners can’t remember Korean names.”

Um, ok. Way to give us credit.

While, I admit, it might be difficult to do at first, with some effort, any foreigner could learn Korean names. But in an extreme underestimation of the abilities of foreigners, the “easy way out” is given. So, in class, the students use their “English names,” and when you meet a Korean in their twenties who took English, they will introduce themselves with their English name, which is only a first name.

This is all fine and dandy until, as a foreign teacher, you run into something concerning first names and last names.

In English Time, the book series my academy picked out for the foreigner teacher, there is a unit that starts with “What’s your first name?” “What’s your last name?” When I first encountered this, I was unprepared. It was during my first week of classes, when I had absolutely no schedule, so I couldn’t plan my classes.

I stumbled through the lesson.

With role plays, I usually have students change some information, and this one seemed easy. Insert your own name.

The problem I hadn’t anticipated: they only have “first names” in English.

“Teacher, Korean name?!” They asked this in a way that made me feel like they had been threatened NEVER to use their Korean names.

After I thought for two seconds, realized they only had a first name in English, and then said, “Yes, use your Korean name,” a bit of chaos ensued.

The students looked baffled and then, because of the order of their names in Korean, last name first, got even more confused.

I tried to explain group by group, “First name in Korean is last name in the West.”

How confusing is that?!

Finally, it dawned on me.

I wrote my own name on the board, and I got everyone’s attention. Then I said, “Cochrane is my family name. Last name and family name are the same.”

If question marks could appear above heads, they would have.

I repeated, “Cochrane is my family name. My dad is Milton Cochrane. My mom is Debbie Cochrane. My sister is Nichole Cochrane. My brother is Nathan Cochrane … Cochrane is my family name.”

Light bulbs started flickering on.

“In the West we put family names last, so it’s last name. Kimberly is my given name, my first name.”

Overload and the light bulbs went out for most students, but after a bit more work with their Korean names, which they kept trying to tell me their Korean teacher said they couldn’t use, my students finally got it.

Now the question occurs to me, why in the world would a book, made specifically for Korean students, use the words “first name and last name” not “given name and family name or surname” …?

My second encounter with this lesson happened earlier this week, and I was prepared. Before the students even opened their books, we talked about family names.

I had the students tell me their Korean names, and (this is where the story comes full circle) as I attempted to repeat their names with correct pronunciation and intonation, they giggled and insisted I was mispronouncing their names. They had me repeat after them over and over until a classmate asked them to quit, and they shook their heads in disgust.

In the end, it seems English names are preferred by Koreans because they don’t like the way it sounds when a foreigner slaughters their name.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Art class in Ulsan: Self-portraits

In high school, I was just as full of angst as the worst of my teenage students. Writing and art served as outlets to my restlessness, and I spent hours in the art room, outside of class, working on art projects.

While I loved art, growing up in a small town in Idaho, I had no idea about art museums. I had no idea Idaho even had an art museum. I had no idea that in University I would develop a passion for art history and volunteer at an art museum. And I had absolutely no idea I would teach an art class in Korea.

Luckily, when I was sixteen, the art club took a fieldtrip to the Boise Art Museum (BAM). We were given a brief tour of the current exhibition, and then we sat in front of this painting.

Gregory Grenon, I am Burning, 1994 (BAM permanent collection)

As a group, we discussed questions similar to these:

What colors do you see? Why do you think the artist chose to use the colors he did?

How does the woman in the painting feel? How do the colors help convey this emotion?

How was it painted? (Oil on plexiglass)

The discussion will forever be etched in my mind. During my first exposure to really sitting down and analyzing a work of art, I did what anyone would do as a broken-hearted teenager, I projected my own emotions onto the painting.

After the discussion, we went to the art education room. We each sat by a mirror and worked on self-portraits inspired by the technique Grenon used. Like Grenon, we painted on the back of plexiglass. The whole experience was new for me, and I loved it. I loved my finished self-portrait, and I still have it in the basement of my parents’ house.

So, when I ran into plexiglass at the art supply store while shopping for this art class, I seized the opportunity to have a last minute lesson plan change. I bought the materials. I got a digital image of Gregory Grenon’s portrait to show my students, and I used the whole lesson as I remembered it.

The results are stunning.

Vincent, David, Jacob, Aidan





MANY THANKS to those who inspired me and developed this lesson plan: Melanie Fales, Shawn Phelps, and Terra Feast.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Art class in Ulsan: Comics

When I signed up to teach English in Korea, I thought I was putting my dreams of teaching art on hold. I thought there was simply no way I could combine teaching art and travelling without a teaching certificate in art education.

Amazingly, due to the astonishing Korean ability of inferring what will make you happy (I believe they are just as good at the opposite), I was given the opportunity to have an art class during winter break. The class meets three times a week, for one hour each class, and so far, it has been a blast. Hilarious. Challenging. Fulfilling ... and sooo much fun!

To give the students some footing, because I planned to have them paint quite a bit, our first project was a simple color wheel. Our classroom is at the end of the hall, the furthest classroom from the sink in the bathroom, so when it was time to change the water, I pictured a fiasco. In order to avoid this, I took all four boys, as a group, with their dirty paintbrushes and dirty water in hand and showed them the ropes. How to clean a paintbrush. How to not make a giant mess in the bathroom. And surprisingly, after the first week, I haven't had complaints from anyone about the state of our classroom or the bathroom.

Surprising because the boys are … well … boys.

Our classroom

They do seem to be aware of the fact that I am a bit paranoid about messes. It may be because every time I send one of them to go change the dirty water, I send them with, “Now, be verrry careful. Walk slowly.”

Today at the end of class, when I sent a couple students to clean brushes, while the other two helped me clean the classroom, the students who took the brushes and water came back with nothing.

I paused, looked at them, and asked, “Where are the brushes?”

They looked at me and giggled.

That made me smile, but worry a bit about the state of the bathroom.

I looked at them again, with a half-smile, arms akimbo and said, “What did you do? Where are the brushes?”

Finally, they achieved their goal. They got the other boys, and me, to go to the bathroom with them. The brushes were fine. The sink was nearly spotless. There was no mess. But when we got there, they headed right back to the classroom. Tricky boys, playing on my fear of a mess to get out of carrying the brushes back to the classroom.

What did it teach me?

A) They probably won’t make a mess.

B) They know that I’m afraid they will make a mess. Perceptive little buggers.

C) This may turn into the story of the boy who cried wolf.


Ok, Ok.


I want to see the art!

After color wheels we worked on a close-up of a comic book frame, inspired by 1950s style comics and a general interest in animation that is expressed by most Korean students. To begin, I showed them black and white print-outs (unfortunately not color) of an action shot of Robin, of a plane crash, and of a close-up by Lichtenstein (my personal inspiration for the project).

Inspiration ... though, keep in mind, without the privilege of a color printer, they only saw them in black and white.

Guidelines: Use bright colors (red, blue, yellow, green, orange). Outline everything in black. And, for action, include a word like "Pow!" "Bang!" "Wham!" "Zing!"

Here are the results:

The finished products

Vincent - Bullet (or torpedo) in the side

Jacob - Fire!

David - Car crash and Zombies

Aidan did not want to pose with his painting, but it is my absolute favorite.