Posts Tagged ‘service’

When I was 13, I went through a brief but strange illness.  One night, I had a dream that I had leukemia, and the very next day my mother told me that the doctors were going to test me for leukemia as I had similar symptoms (this was in the days before Internet self-diagnosis).  I didn’t have cancer, but at that time I made a promise to myself and God that when I was of legal age, I would add my name to the bone marrow registry.  When we turned 17, my friend K and I went to an information meeting, gave blood, and put our names on the list.  I’ve only been contacted once for further testing (unfortunately the patient and I were not a close enough match), but I’ve always hoped that my marrow would be of use to someone who was not as fortunate as me to receive a negative test result.

As a white woman with Scottish-German ancestry, I’m a pretty ‘normal’ candidate for bone marrow donation in Canada, but I just read a very important post over at HapaMama about multi-racial/ethnic bone marrow donation.  I’ve never thought about how our future children’s mixed heritage might put them at greater risk in terms of not being able to find a suitable bone marrow match in the hopefully unlikely event that they would need one.  The article talks about how parents of multiracial/cultural children should not only investigate cord banking, but also encourages adults from mixed or underrepresented backgrounds to register themselves.  I’m not sure how I feel about cord banking as I haven’t done a lot of research on it, but the issue of bone marrow registration and the increasing numbers of people from mixed backgrounds is something many people would benefit from researching further.

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Back in October, I watched a video a friend had posted on Facebook where Imam Khalid Latif, a relatively young Muslim chaplain for NYU and the NYPD, gave a talk to Muslim students at the University of Pennsylvania. He was speaking on the topic of domestic violence within the Muslim community. The point of this blog isn’t to discuss contemporary problems in Muslim communities, so I won’t directly discuss the issues he broaches in the speech, but I was struck with the way in which he dealt with a controversial topic. Instead of discussing whether or not domestic violence happens in the Muslim community, or whether or not certain practices are or are not justifiable in the Qur’an or Islamic tradition, his basic point was, Domestic violence happens in the Muslim community, and it is unacceptable and unjustifiable in Islam. Therefore, what are we going to do about it? (You can watch the lengthy speech and question period on his blog) I want to also note that I in no way attribute domestic violence to being a ‘Muslim’ problem. It is a HUGE problem in Canada, Korea, and the rest of the world, but that was the topic of Imam Latif’s speech.

So if this blog isn’t about Islam, why am I bringing up Imam Latif and his speech on domestic violence? Well, because as I’ve noted before, the longer I stay in Korea, and the more my life becomes embedded in this culture, the more I begin to question what my place is in shaping this country for the better. I am a Canadian, but Canada is not my place of residence. Many people argue that ‘foreigners’ are ‘guests’ here. We shouldn’t become involved in controversial issues or even acknowledge them. To do so is cultural imperialism or unwarranted criticism or just plain unwelcome. But what if you are not a tourist or a short term worker? What if you are slowly and painfully becoming part of the social fabric of this land and you worry about the issues your marriage, your career, your health, or your future biracial children will face under the enormous stress and social changes Korea is undergoing? And what if…you live in a Confucian country as a professor, where teachers are not only knowledge facilitators but also supposed to teach and engender ethical behaviour? What then?

So during the period when I watched Imam Latif’s speech, I was developing the final 30% group seminar project for my mandatory-to-graduate English presentation class. It was supposed to be an argumentative seminar, and like many teachers, I was planning on teaching it based on the very basic persuasive structure of modal verb + counterarguments + refutations because students need to live and breathe this kind of structure for the many English tests they take. But the thing that really struck me about Imam Latif’s talk was at the end when a student asked a question like, ‘We’re students – what are we supposed to do about domestic violence.’ The Imam answered that the students had just finished Ramadan where they had not eaten during the day for an entire month. As they were used to this kind of fasting, if they had no money and wanted to start a women’s shelter, they should fast 2 days a week, combine their saved lunch money, rent an apartment, fill the fridge with food, and open it to women in need.

That’s what my presentation assignments were missing…REAL TANGIBLE SIMPLE solutions to big problems. I’m honestly sick of ‘should abortion/capital punishment/divorce/euthanasia be allowed? topics. Or, ‘is domestic violence/suicide/the low birth rate/pollution/environmental destruction/loss of traditional culture/financial crisis a problem’? Yes Korea has a problem with suicide, abortion, divorce, pollution, depression, domestic violence, corruption, stress etc. There is no need to talk about the problem anymore. What is needed are solutions – not ‘the government should…’ solution, or ‘if women would just go back to their traditional role as wife or mother’ solution, or ‘if we could just recover the lost traditions of pre-Japanese occupation’ solutions…but REAL TANGIBLE SIMPLE solutions that my students can actually do as individuals, campus organizations, and future leaders. The problem of course, was how, from a pedagogical approach, to teach this kind of grass roots-solution-based-persuasive-seminar.

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In my last entry, I noted my inspiration for a major assignment revision in my English presentation class last semester.  I explained that I was interested in finding a way to both teach persuasive seminars to my students while motivating them to become socially conscious and socially active citizens who engaged in the world around them instead of only concentrating on developing their career paths.

Just prior to watching the Imam Latif video, I had attended a workshop where a colleague did a presentation on Monroe’s Motivated Sequence which also focuses more on the solution than the problem.  I decided to integrate my own inspirations into a newly revamped persuasive group seminar.

The students were given a list of topics relevant to current issues in Korea; for example, abortion, divorce, the physically challenged, discrimination against non-ethnic Koreans, pedophiles, school bullies, and the homeless to name a few.  Then, they had to plan a presentation with 3 or 4 other students based on this structure.

Introduction – Students briefly introduce themselves, their topic, and their focus.

Problem – Students spend 10-15 minutes as a group explaining the particular part of the problem they wish to focus on.  They must use statistics, data, studies, examples from verifiable sources (must hand in said sources and a bibliography at the end of the seminar.)

Reading – The audience then individually reads an article about the topic provided by the seminar group.

Discussion – Each seminar member then leads a discussion with 3-5 of the audience members in small groups based on questions provided by the group.  Questions can be about the reading, related to student’s own experiences with the topic, or general discussion about the issue.

ie:  On the topic of the homeless

When you see homeless people on the street or in a subway station, what do you do?

Do you think it is okay for homeless people to be removed from subway stations by the police?  Why or why not?

If you saw a homeless person being assaulted, what would you do?

Solution Brainstorming – Each seminar member then leads a brainstorming solution with their small group of audience members.  The audience members must come up with real, tangible, solutions that they themselves can leave the classroom and do.  They must also create an action plan.  Students cannot say that the government or some other organization should become involved or give more money. 

 ie:  Solution 1:  Collect money to donate to a charity working with homeless people.

Action Plan: 

1) Ask businesses around campus to donate small prizes

2) Set up a table at the spring festival.  

3) Create simple games that students have to pay a small fee to participate  

4) Collect money and make a donation to a local charity

Solution Presentation:  Seminar group asks a representative from each small group to explain one of their solutions. Then the seminar group presents their ideas to the rest of the class.  Since they are the ‘experts’ on the topic and have had longer to develop their solutions, their action plan(s) must be very well developed with specific agencies/activities/websites/phone numbers etc.

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So in my second post on the topic, I tried to explain the different steps for my persuasive solution-based seminar assignment I created for my students last semester.  In this post, I would like to explore the results of those presentations and discuss the effectiveness of this kind of assignment.

At the beginning, many students were adverse to the assignment.  They did not want to debate in English, they feared a 60 minute presentation, they initially resisted publically acknowledging any sort of connection to controversial topics, and they believed that topics such as the low birth rate were far too large for them to tackle as individual young adults. 

However, after a great deal of coaching, a number of interesting solutions began to take shape.  A group of girls, who at first declared they had never heard of anyone having an abortion despite Korea’s astronomical amount of both reported and unreported procedures, came back to class one day discussing the issue of birth control.  They told me that they believed the number one problem with unmarried women having abortions is that they had no idea about birth control (Korean schools teach reproduction but nothing about contraceptives).  I asked them where they could find birth control around campus, and they admitted that they had no idea.  The next day they came back with a PowerPoint which included a map to the Student Centre, a phone number for said centre, and a list of services provided regarding sexual health and counselling.  Most of the students didn’t even know such a service existed.  Sometimes it’s really that simple.

In another class, a group focusing people with disabilities, found a website devoted to selling products made by locally developmentally and physically challenged people and explained how to order the products in order to support the livelihoods of people with disabilities.  Another group, noting the large group of Chinese students on campus who they never took class with because Korean and non-Korean students are often placed in separate classes, went out and did a survey asking Chinese students themselves what they wanted in order to reduce discrimination and facilitate more Korean-Chinese interaction.  The answer was disappointedly unattainable to them – the Chinese students simply wanted to take classes with Korean students.  My students felt they could not achieve this goal by themselves as it was a university administration issue.  However, they showed students how to lodge complaints and make course suggestions on the university website and proposed making Chinese-Korean study classes. 

Even a group of male students, working on the very-difficult-for-university-students-to-solve-topic of the low birth rate in Korea came up with a simple but attainable solution.  After much discussion, they surmised that a large reason for women not wanting to have babies in Korea is the lack of housework and childcare men perform.  Their solution, since they didn’t actually do housework, was to encourage males in the class to go home and actually DO housework, even a little bit for a change.  They explained that if unmarried men learned these skills now, they would be better prepared for married life and sharing household responsibilities in the future. 

Now, did any of the students actually go out and put into practice the solutions that either they or other students proposed? Not to my knowledge.  This is an area that I would like to develop in future semesters.  However, most of these students had never brainstormed solutions in their lives and had never seen how they themselves were related to the solution of the problems discussed over and over again in society.  In the case of my students who looked at the issue of connecting Chinese and Korean students, they actually made a tentative connection with Chinese students which would not have happened otherwise.  Not only that, but statistically, there might have been a pregnant student or a student experiencing domestic or dating violence in the class.  A student in class might have been contemplating suicide and found out the phone number of a counsellor in class or learned to read the signs of depression so that they could approach their friend and get them help.  This year I had a student who discussed his mental health issues with me, and I was amazed to see that the little time I took to listen to him and give him a bit of advice resulted in a massive boost of confidence and a whole new shining personality by the end of the semester.  You never know exactly what seeds will be planted or what difference a positive discussion on positive changes can make in an individual student’s life.

And there were also other positive outcomes.  Students who struggled to brainstorm, struggled to debate in English, struggled to make topics relevant to their lives suddenly began engaging in very high level discussions and debates after just two weeks of this project.  I also saw students who led small groups blossom and develop their leadership skills.  In the case of one of the abortion groups, the small group member asked the uncomfortable question ‘Do you know anyone who has had an abortion?’ (Later as a class we discussed how to make questions less invasive).  Immediately all four students replied ‘no!’  The small group leader then turned on her charges and said, ‘Yes you do! You do! Think harder! In my seminar group we all thought the same thing and then we thought a little harder and realized…oh yeah…we do know people.  Think back to your high school – your circle of friends at university.’  Five seconds later, all the small group members admitted that they did know people from high school – or even middle school – who had had an abortion.  Then the dam was broken and suddenly one of the best discussions on abortion that I have ever heard of in Korea happened in that group.

I too had a revelation.  I think that I have been looking outside of myself and my context to find a way to work for positive change in Korea, to be part of the solution just as I have done voluntary service in Canada to address issues I am interested in.  However, as a teacher I have a fabulous opportunity to create situations which foster solution-based discussions.  I have had teachers who push an agenda on their students, but my best teachers were the ones who fostered a safe environment and created engaging assignments to creatively delve into issues and work out ways to address them.  It is in the classroom where I can begin to address the social issues which break my heart.  It is in the classroom where I can give students the time and space they lack in other areas of their lives to make society relevant to them and to make their actions accountable to each other.  And it is in the classroom where I can begin preparing my students to take their English skills, their research skills, their argumentative skills, and their writing skills, and apply them to real problems.

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For two hours I’ve been sitting on my couch writing about this assignment experiment I created and conducted with my students.  And all the while, my adorably mischievous kitten has been curdled up next to me snug in his blanket and content in his surroundings.  But his life has not always been this way, and now as we come to the end of my posts on my student’s persuasive seminar assignment, perhaps it is appropriate to share the mock seminar I did for my students as an example of what I wanted them to do. 

 And so we start with the problem:  the treatment of dogs and cats in Korea.  This seminar could be focused on Canada.  There is certainly a problem with animal abuse in my home country even among the people given the responsibility of caring for animals in need.  But I don’t live in Canada anymore, and I am not connected with any organizations there related to saving, sheltering, and finding homes for animals in need.

 The Problem:

 So I started by showing my students Thunder, the tiny kitten rescued around the time I adopted my own kitten.  Thunder was not only a homeless kitten separated from her mother, but she was also grossly abused by humans.  Her eye was gouged out, her tail was cut off, and one of her back and front paws were cut off.  I saw her with my own eyes struggling to survive her injuries and various maladies.


I showed my students two cats, rescued by Koreans from the meat market in Moran…


One Moran cat, who after a bath and some TLC became this gorgeous feline.


 I also showed them Tiffany, a dog subjected to hideous torture in the process of being beaten to death before she was able to escape. (Many people believe that unlike other animals, dogs must be tortured in order to have tastier meat – not to mention the purported properties of adrenalin filled dog meat on men’s sexual abilities). 


We also discussed how many people believe that it is okay to adopt a dog (or in a very small amount of cases, a cat), and then abandon it once it pees on the floor, or eats a lot of food, or needs medical attention.  Many pets are abandoned on the street or near construction sites for these and other reasons.


These problems are compounded in that, unlike Canada, there are very few public shelters for homeless animals or pets people can no longer keep for a variety of reasons.  The shelters which are available are usually kill-shelters which are only able to keep animals alive for a limited amount of time to make room for incoming animals.

 Brainstorming Solutions (Student Style)

 After a reading and small group discussions, students began to brainstorm ideas of how they could address the issue of homeless animals.  One student, who had a cat, said that her apartment complex had a homeless cat problem, and many older people wanted the cats removed or killed.  Instead, she proposed creating an educational flyer campaign to let residents know the problems faced by homeless animals and trying to rescue the cats herself before taking them to a no-kill facility.  Other students who were in film studies proposed making a short youtube documentary in conjunction with a website to be set up by students studying computers.

 After the students had their first crack at brainstorming, I gave some of my solutions.

 My Solutions

 The first was adoption and/or fostering.  My older cat was the very first cat rescued by what is now called Nabiya, a shelter for cats in Korea.  They have a cyworld page, but it is difficult to view outside of Korea, so I suggest accessing their Facebook page.  Nabiya is run by two Korean women and a small army of Korean and ex-pat volunteers who rescue cats, shelter them for as long as they need to stay, and find homes for them. 

My second cat, my now 7 month old kitten, was found by an elementary school student. Somehow separated from his mother and very sick, he was nursed back to health before being given to the shelter where he was adopted by … me!


Nabiya also sets up foster parents for kittens or special needs cats.  Many expats are only here for a year, or they cannot return to their home country with an animal unless the pet goes into a lengthy quarantine first.  Therefore, expats are the primary foster parents for these animals, providing short term comfort, a chance to learn how to socialize with a family, and/or special attention to needy cats.


Animal Rescue Korea is also a fabulous network of Koreans and expats who educate people in Korea about homeless animals and resources for people with pets while also setting up adoptions, fostering, fundraising activities, and volunteer opportunities for interested parties.  For example, one great webpage explains the exact location volunteers can meet every Saturday morning in order to travel together to the Ansan Shelter, a huge private shelter devoted to rescuing, rehabilitant, and finding homes for animals with an emphasis on dogs.  Since many expats living in Seoul are unfamiliar with traveling outside of the city and do not have access to a car, this is a very very simple way to give people an easy way to volunteer.


There is also a great page devoted to 13 Korean phrases expats can use to approach a person who has a dog which is always tied up and never allowed exercise (a common sight), and ask them if they can walk their dog.  Sometimes expats see a problem or a place they want to help out, but do not have the linguistic abilities to actually make their wishes or their solution known.  This is another extraordinarily simple and effective way for people concerned about chained and neglected animals to get involved in a positive an non confrontational way.  My coworker for instance, who has used a great deal of her own hard earned money and more time than I can imagine to rescue ???? an enormous amount of dogs during her 7 months here.  Her last rescue was a pug who was caged for the majority of the day.  She was obese from lack of exercise, and in the winter, her owner actually taped up the cage with electrical tape and plastic to ‘keep her warm’ but actually prevented the dog from seeing sunlight.  Using her Korean phrases, my colleague began walking the dog regularly until the owner realized that she cared for the dog much more than he did.  The pug has now been successfully adopted by a couple into a forever home.


Apart from these opportunities, I also explained to my students that they could donate things like used blankets to shelters during the winter season to keep cats and dogs warm.  Here is a blanket I donated as part of a Nabiya blanket and pillow drive.


At the time of the presentation, there was also a fundraising event offered online by a department store chain where individuals could log in and leave a message on the event homepage. For every 50 messages, the store donated a bag of food to a shelter.  Even if students were allergic to animals or could not have one at home, spending 2 minutes typing out a message and pressing the send button could actually feed a homeless dog.  So simple right?


In Conclusion

It was exciting to share my own interests in homeless animals with my students, but even more thrilling to see that, despite their varying opinions on pets, the dog meat industry, homeless animals, and their responsibility, my students had their first chance to really delve into a problem and the possible tangible solutions that go with it.  And now as I’ve finished writing this, I realize that this post itself is a solution.  That perhaps, just perhaps, an expat or a Korean with the slightest of interest in animal issues in Korea will stumble upon this page and learn how to get connected with organizations helping these animals.  It really really is that easy and that simple to make a difference.

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