Thursday, May 24, 2018

May Summer Camp Reflection

Our first 5th and 6th-grade summer just took place last week at the Moobongsan Camp in northeastern Pyeongtaek. It was a smashing success. We started working with the Pyeongtaek Youth Center last year to make these camps a reality and they have done smashingly. In 2017 we did two camps: one grade school and one middle school. This year we are doing four camps: two 5th and 6th grade and two middle school camps. All of them are overnight camps a Moobangsan camp facility and then a day near or on Ca

The first camp kept the kids running from morning to night. We don't know if we have ever seen kids run so much. The campers are provided with both structured and unstructured play time with activities ranged from tag games to Nurf archery wars to pony rides. Eight counselors supported 34 young Korean and American campers in their quest for adventure and new friends. It was delightful.

Check out the video below to for a quick peek into what the camp was like:

We have another 5th & 6th Grade camp coming in June! You can get signed up here:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Goodbye to an SOS ROK Star: Sara

A year ago when Sig Flips the Table convinced me that SOS needed to grow and take on volunteers, Sara immediately came forward and stepped up to handle the tedious task of organizing a Pyeongtaek calendar. Honestly, you have no idea how complicated this is. Most information we find has no location, sometimes to clear times, and other times it's simply wrong - plus most of it needs translated from Korean. The amount of effort it takes to find, clarify, simplify, and notify is shocking. Yet Sara never gave up. She kept working with me to find solutions, build better graphics, and create consistency. It's been a challenge but it's coming together and more information is getting to more people accurately and on-time. You can thank Sara for that.

In addition to helping with the calendar, Sara has worked to support South of Seoul, the community, and myself in ways that aren't even quantifiable. She has been a sounding board, a cheerleader, a resource, and a confidant. Most importantly, she has been consistent and reliable through the stress and struggle of starting something as complicated as South of Seoul. Her joyful, positive spirit has helped motivate all of us to solve problems when might not have tackled alone.

We wish her every success as she moves on to her next adventure. We know that she will bring joy and light to where she lands next. Big hugs and best wishes to a true SOS ROK Star.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Living: Hard Water Solutions

Problem: Hard water causing hair loss and dry skin
Solution: Filtered shower head

Not sure about the rest of you, but we have struggled with the hard water in a few different places we have lived in the US and then again here in Korea.  You see, although there are actually many potential inner health benefits to drinking hard water, it often tastes terrible and always causes major hair loss and dry skin issues. So if your hair has been falling out or breaking off since you arrived in Korea, this might be the culprit.

For the longest time, we just ignored the issue because we didn't want to spend crazy amounts of money to solve it. However, at a certain point, our vanity kicked in. No matter how much effort we put into our hair, it looked limp and dull and we were starting to worry we might just go bald with the rate our hair was falling out. We were hot messes.

Before investing our money in any expensive systems we decided to try something from Emart. We had found an affordable (13,000 won at the time we purchased it) and simple showerhead with a built-in filter. Since our shower was so nice, it seemed like a bit of a downgrade when we looked at it but we bit the bullet anyway.

As usual, we were completely wrong to doubt the simple Korean solution. We feel stupid for not having done it earlier. We noticed a difference after the first shower. Our skin and hair improved immediately. Not only that, it turned out that the inexpensive Emart showered head actually has higher pressure and is more comfortable than our old "fancy" version that came with our apartment. Showering feels like a luxury again. We have now replaced both our showers with this type of filtered shower heads. No looking back.

We do still have some questions though. Like, how long it will last? We started using it a few months ago and it's still working great but the filter system will eventually wear out. When that happens, can we just replace the filter balls or if we will have to replace the head when they wear out? We don't actually know. Either way, even we have to replace the entire showerhead regularly we think it's worth it since it's still cheaper than a full system for the house.

With that said, where is a closer look:

It's not fancy but it works brilliantly.

You can see the little filter balls inside.

It as a spray switch with two settings and off.
We have also seen similar shower heads at Daiso, Home Plus, and Lotte Mart but we haven't tried those. If you do, let us know how they work out. All we can say is this particular shower head has made a huge difference in out day-to-day lives and our skin and hair look better every week.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

University Life Update

When we started at Namseoul University this spring we truly had no idea what to expect. It's a new program and we didn't know anyone who had attended before so we had a million questions:
  • What exactly would studying in Korea in an English language program look like? 
  • What kind of professors would there be?
  • Were we going to be cramming for exams like we see them doing in Korean high school?
  • What are the students going to be like?
  • How big were the classes going to be?
  • What would the workload be like?
  • Would we have regrets?
  • Would the material be relevant to our lives?
And the list just goes on from there. So many unknowns. It wasn't an easy decision to make and we wondered if we would regret taking the chance on grad school outside of an educational system we were familiar with.

We are now 1/3 of the way through our first semester and we can honestly say that we love it. Every week we look forward to waking up on Saturday and going to class because the professors are interesting, the classes are relevant to our lives, and the other students are enjoyable to study with. We had no idea that we would actually enjoy graduate school. In truth, I think we both just thought it was something we would suffer through for two years like a weekly dental appointment. However, that's not happened. We legit love studying at Namseoul and feel it's value in our lives.

In addition to enjoying the classes, we have found its a program that is designed for the path we are following. Some of our educational/career goals are:
  • improve our connections and opportunities in the educational field.
  • improve our knowledge about international education programs and experiences.
  • enhance our teaching skills to be more useful in a variety of teaching environments.
  • gain experience working with an international workforce.
  • research educational theories and policies we are interested in.
Even this early in the program we see how our goals are being met. We are currently taking two classes (Assessment and Policy) and studying with students from South Africa, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan. The insight has been invaluable. Discussions are VERY lively and often filled with plenty of laughter and insight. When we enrolled we hadn't realized how much value this would add to our learning experience.

Admittedly, at first, we had wondered how it would work studying in English with students who mostly speak English as a second language. Students who have never lived in an English speaking country. We thought it might not lend itself to graduate level study. Looking back, that was a foolish concern. Yes, there are times when things can be confusing and we struggle to understand something a classmate is trying to articulate. Turns out that's not a problem, its a beneficial and important part of the program.

"Why is that?" you might ask. It's because this is what our future (and current) workplaces will be like. It's real life practice for our current AND future careers. This is what international teaching looks like. You have to know how to understand cultures from around the world with people that may not speak English as a first language. These are the exact conversations we need to be having about policy and assessment practices. It's friggin educational gold.

Dealing with these communication and cultural issues force us to find better ways to express ourselves more efficiently and develop our communication skills. We can't be lazy because the other people in the group don't know our cultural views. We can assume they know what we mean, and we can't assume their opinions either. What I'm trying to say is that the ESL issues we face with our classmates haven't been a distraction from the program - they are a distinct benefit that we deeply value. They are why Harry and I keep saying to each other, "Thank goodness this was our choice."

The professors are also a key part of what makes all this work. They are well educated and have plenty of experience working in international education. They understand the skills that we need to succeed. Funny enough though, our first two professors happen to be from the US. They teach in a very western style with lots of workshopping and question asking. Instead of lecturing they facilitate. We feel supported, encouraged, and pushed to internalize what we are studying. It will be interesting to see what classes will be like with different professors from other countries

At this point, we have found the workload to be exactly what we can manage while keeping up with our jobs. I'm a public school teacher and Harry works in a hagwon. When we aren't working our week is full of reading, working on group projects, and writing papers. We aren't pushed to our breaking point, but we certainly can't afford to slack off either and we don't have time for extra socializing.

So that's where we are at this point in the program: confident about our choice, happy with our cohorts, challenged but not buried, enjoying our professors, excited about what we are studying, and looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.

Since we aren't very far into the program we still have questions about how it will all shake out. Will we love our future profs this much? What will the comprehensive exam be like next year? What will it be like to write our thesis in English in a foreign country? Will we have access to the articles and research support we need? So many things still bounce around in our minds but the support we have received so far from the GEI offices helps makes us feel confident it will all turn out ok.

Current Status: Extremely happy with our life choices.

If you would like to learn more about the Namseoul University Global Education Institute visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Announcing! Grade School Camp May 19 - 20

Registration Deadline: May 4th (Or until full)
When: May 19th and 20th
Where: Moobang Camp
Who: 15 English speaking students in 5th & 6th grade

That's right, the Pyeongtaek Youth Center Camps are back! 

Last year South of Seoul worked with the fabulous Pyeongtaek Youth Center on two camps and this year we are helping with 4! Two for grade school and two for middle school. This year all camps will be overnight, weekend events at Mu Bongsan in northeastern Pyeongtaek. This place is fantastic. We can hardly believe we are lucky enough to make camps like this free for our community.

Last years was our first-time out-of-the-gate and we were nervous about how it would go. We shouldn't have worried, the kids loved it! It was an honor to see so many happy, smiling, excited kids building friendships and having the time of their lives. At times we might have even become a little teary. It was a bit of magic. Since it worked so well, Pyeongtaek Youth Center came back to us again this year and asked if we would be interested in having 4 camps this time around and of course we jumped on the opportunity.

The first two weekend camps of the year will be for grades 5 and 6.
They will be hosted at Mu Bongsan on Saturday and stay there through the night. There will be:

  • tons of fun indoor activities to get to know each other
  • outdoor activities like nurf archery war. (There will be two activities but they are not set in stone yet. The "nurf" archery is the one that's solid)
  • plenty of food and snacks
  • a coffee shop for when they want a bit extra (They will need won for this. We hadn't expected kids to take advantage of the coffee shop last year but many did so send 10,000 won along for their hot chocolate or strawberry shakes.)
  • lots of space to play and express themselves

What we loved about the experience was how much effort Pyeongtaek Youth Center put into the details. They had:

  • excellent, caring counselors who helped the kids cross the language barriers
  • a schedule that was a nice balance of busy and relaxed
  • stunning modern camp facility
  • comfortable rooms for all the kids
  • kids were always occupied but also had time to get to know each other.
On Sunday students will get up early, eat breakfast and head over to Anjeongri to take part in the One Heart Festival. This will give the Korean students a chance to learn more about where the English speaking students live and experience the community together. Parents will pick-up their kids from there.

You can read more about last years Middle School Camp by clicking here.

If you have any questions you can also message us at