One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pen Pals

I think we all remember the time in elementary school when our teacher broke out the U.S. or World map and told us that we would start writing letters to kids our age from ____ (as she pointed to another area on the map). It was an exciting time. I worked so hard at perfecting my letters... each "t" had a perfect little hook, each "I" had absolutely perpendicular lines, a heart placed next to my name... a sign of girly sisterhood. I anticipated receiving a letter like a kid anticipates finding the goodies that Santa has brought on Christmas day. maybe I had a uniquely exciting experience writing to my pen pal. I understand if not everyone shared the same enthusiasm. But being as how it was for me, I've gladly brought this tradition from the dredges of my childhood to share with my kids here in Korea.  I teach 4th, 5th, and 6th grade English so I've had to modify the activity a bit. Their English is not bad, but it's not quite advanced enough to write to kids their age in the States. Instead, they write letters to me. I'm the school-wide pen pal. I realize that doesn't sound incredibly thrilling, but I think the kids (or the ones that participate.. it's optional) still really enjoy it.

I'll admit that the idea of pen pals was not uniquely my idea. It started the first week here when a  few kids, eager to practice their English and to get to know the new native English teacher wrote me letters. For ESL learners (English as a Second Language) their are 4 components to learning a second language: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Reading and listening are kind of like input learning skills.  Kids tend to pick these skills up first.  Speaking and writing are output skills and typically come last because they require that students create language.  Between the two output skills, I've found that with a lot of my kids its easier for them to write because speaking takes quite a bit of confidence. Plus, once you say a word or a phrase, its out there and there's no time for them to correct themselves.Writing letters takes away the stress of talking to me one on one AND it gives the kids who really want to practice a chance to read and write.

I've told all of the kids to call me Jessica (it's easier for them to say than Jessie), but some call me "Jessica Teacher" because in Korean they address their teachers as "_(teacher's last name)__teacher"

You'll notice that some of them give themselves English names. The privileged kids go to an English academy that encourages them to do so.

This girls English is very good, but she is not actually in my school. She goes to the neighboring middle school and is the sister of one of the boys who writes to me.

I've loved the letters that I've gotten so far. They're all so cute. Sometimes I get pretty stationary or suckers (!) or chocolate (!!) (these kids have me pegged) or pretty colored pens and paper. It's been so much fun. I try to make my letters just as fun.. which for me has meant learning how to fold my letters into paper cranes (that took a bit of finagling) or putting Disney princess or hello kitty stickers across the page. I need to buy some candy to attach to the letters. What can I say? I want them to write and I've always been partial to bribery!
Very Cute Stationary


  1. i love reading all your blog posts, but especially this one! how adorable are those kids! you are also a very eloquent writer! miss you!

  2. These letters are so touchig...reminds me of my childhood days also...miss those days..can't we just turn back the clock!!!

  3. It's impossible not to love these kids. The letters are wonderful.
    Thanks Alecia! I miss you too, girly!

  4. Titanic stationary?!? Why does Korea get all the cool stuff?? haha!

    These letters are so adorable! And so is your enthusiasm for teaching these kids. They are lucky to have you. :-D

    Love you. Like whoa.