Last week was my first week back at school after the two-month-long winter break. The school year works differently from the United States, so during this break, the Korean students moved up to the next grade level. For the exchange students in my town though, we haven't switched to move up a grade. Instead, our school has had us change focus from learning Korean during school to participating in the classes with the Korean students.
For school here, the schedule is different for each day. It doesn't get too confusing though, because we are in the same classroom for almost every class, with the teachers moving between rooms. I am required to arrive for 8 a.m. when our "Zero Hour" starts. During this first hour of school, we will sometimes have a class if the school decides that it is needed. Otherwise, this can just be used as free time. At 9 o'clock, we start with first through seventh hour of normal classes, with a break for lunch after fourth hour, which is very similar to my experience in the U.S. In my classroom, there are only 12 students in our grade level.
Each week, I have five classes in English. This has actually been one of my harder classes, not because of the subject material, but because my Rotary Exchange Officer is the teacher, so she knows what level of Korean we exchange students have. Because of this, we have been assigned to study the same vocabulary lists for tests in the class and will be required to give a three-minute speech in Korean later in the year.
We also have four classes each of math, Korean literature, science and social studies. In my math class, I have really discovered how international numbers are. On a test they had, I was able to get half of the questions correct without even using a dictionary. The class is below my level of math though, so I only can get held up by figuring out what the questions are asking me to do. In my Korean literature, science, and social studies classes, I have not really been able to do much, because they all use language beyond my ability. When the teachers give notes, I take them down in my notebook to work through later.
Outside of this main curriculum, we also have classes a few times per week in engineering, ethics, physical education, music, art and Hanja characters.
In the engineering and ethics classes, I usually find myself in the same position as in some of my main classes with the level of Korean I would need. My physical education and music classes have also mostly been lectures so far, but I will definitely participate when we start to do things later in the year. The last two, art and Hanja characters, have been two of my favorite classes. Right now in art, we are beginning to make traditional stamps, which is very fun to do. In the Hanja characters class, we learn the traditional Chinese letters that the Korean language is based on. This has been very interesting for me, because it is something that is just completely different from classes that I am used to.
All of the time that we spend on these classes each day brings us to 4 p.m., but we still have another hour before our school time is over. On Mondays, we have a sports club during which we get learn how to play a chosen sport. The sport that I chose to do was ping pong, which has been rather interesting, because I had never learned much of the technique to play before. On the other days of the week, the exchange students go to the library while the Korean students have classes to prepare them for the standardized tests they take during the year.
After this class, the school day is over, but the school has the exchange students stay after to participate in Korean culture classes. So, we eat dinner at the school, then have free time until 6:20 p.m. when the culture class starts. This school year, we are getting to do classes in dancing, Samulnori and calligraphy. My favorite has definitely been the calligraphy class, because it was something that I enjoyed at Sup Sogui Hosu, the Korean camp I went to last summer before coming abroad.
The culture classes finish at 8 p.m., which means that I have a 12-hour day at school. It sounds rather harsh, but it really has not been too bad. Most of the Korean students even go to private tutoring schools, called hagwon, after the normal school hours to get in even more studying. During the school day, I seem to find a lot of time to work on my own things, and there are also a lot of breaks, during which I get to interact with the other students in my class.
Editor's note: P.J.?Sproule is a Rotary Youth Exchange student from the Houghton Rotary Club living near Seocheon, South Korea, for a year.