Could you pass an Korean SAT English exam?

Though I’m not currently an English teacher, as a past teacher of literature I stumbled upon this video of the Korean SAT English Exam and I noticed a few things about the questions and the teachers reactions.

These English teachers anser question from the Korean SAT exam, raising interesting questions about educational quality and university expectations.

Many of them ask “why” have a test like this for a second language? They don’t understand the purpose or why it’s so hard. The students writing the Korean SAT are trying to be admitted to universities. What will they be reading if they study at a higher level? It doesn’t really matter, because the test isn’t judging whether or not they can necessarily speak or read English, but rather if they are able to process and (quite possibly create) information at an academic level.

Regardless of whether or not they study English, the majority of their thesis work or readings will be in academic English and requires a very high level of vocabulary in order to truly understand academic writing. For the majority of people this might considered “academic dribble” or insanely over-complex, long-winded, and abstract.

Culturally speaking this is a difference between university education in the English speaking world vis-á-vis other areas of the world that follow traditional academic models. Many regions of the world continue to see university studies as elite and a smaller section of society. Why permit barely academics to study at higher levels if their language skills (in their native language or otherwise) are not upp to snuff?

In American, Canadian, and some British universities, the concept of academia really has been transferred to higher levels, i.e. masters or doctorate studies. But wait, why is that? It wasn’t so long ago that university wasn’t a rite of passage, or an exclusive opportunity. Over the last hundred or so years, or maybe even in the last fifty years for some, academia has seen a watered down version of undergraduate degrees. It begs the question, how does my Bachelors degree from 2008 compare to that of 1970 or even now in 2019? Have the requirements or expectations shifted? My gut reaction is, yes… dramatically.

Reactions are “when are they ever going to use this real life?” Well therein lies the cultural misunderstanding; the purpose of university education is specialised, theoretical, and research focused. It’s not supposed to be for everyone, despite it being a populous shift. Upper secondary education has been watered down, which then forces undergraduate studies to be watered down and it trickles down all the way. Where does the puck stop, so to speak? Where does education say “thou shallt not pass”? It’s a tricky question, and as an educator myself, it’s a moral dilemma. It comes down to access of knowledge or access to education.

If many of my former students were to take this Korean exam and expect to study at university, their receipt of a good result would tantamount to them being cleared for study in any area. Without this kind of fluency or at least vocabulary, they would be setting themselves up for either failure at their uni programme, or an immense pressure to increase fluency in a very short period, which all language teachers roll their eyes at, because learning a language takes time.

Going back to what the teachers asked, why would someone need to know this? Well that’s exactly the point! What is the purpose of a university education? Is it to gain knowledge, or to prepare oneself for work? I think I’m opening up a can of worms here, but I think you can surmise the answer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be elitist, but sorry-not-sorry. I can only reflect on my own education, my own experience, and what I experienced at university (in different countries by the way). I tend to be against standardised tests at a lower level of education, but for university studies I’m all for it. Not only does it create a realistic expectation for what is required to study and be successful (not an economic machine of the university, by the way), but also filters out people that might be better suited to study other areas, at least temporarily or until they change their mind and commit themselves in a different way.

It’s easy for me to pass judgement on these people in retrospect, but would I have passed an exam at age 17 like this? I can only speculate, and despite being more than ten years older, I wrote a past exam for fun, and I received a high score. That makes sense, since I was a good student, have taught English at an upper secondary level (both for natives and ELL students), I already studied at university and at higher levels, but I also think I would have been able to pass back then. It might have been hard, but it would have been a real eye-opener for me to see if university really was for me. A good measure of if my language ability is suited to academic reading and more in depth study potential.

Is university a protected places of thinkers, philosophers, researchers, or a rite of passage for a particular culture. What do you think?

Fitting into masculinity

It’s not very often that we find someone that completely matches what we think and have felt our whole lives. This is very much something that happened to me while listening to my weekly podcasts. Famous gay man’s, Dan Savage, podcasts about relationship problems and tips. He recently had a male caller that outlined the following:

My second question pertains to maleness itself. I’ve always felt excluded from traditional masculinity: the discomfort with feelings, the one-upsmanship, the callous jokes, the unquestioned embrace of patriarchal status ideals. I have a hard time making friends with guys because I just don’t trust us to be kind and present human beings. And these days, the message that men, especially straight white ones like me, are hollow, selfish, destructive people who just make everyone else miserable for a living is coming through on all channels.

I had the idea that men are emotionally and physically dangerous instilled in me from a very young age. And in my eagerness to avoid growing up to be a wife-beating pervert rapist, I developed a fear of my own sexuality that kept me romantically paralysed for most of my adult life. I’ve loosened up a bit, but to this day I am astounded that anyone touches any of with a 10 foot pole, despite the fact that it clearly happens all the time, even occasionally to me. So I could do with a shift in perspective and I thought it might be fun to ask you, a guy who sleeps with and loves other guys: what the attraction? Despite all the shitty things that we are and do, what about men would you save if you could strip us down to nothing and rebuild us from the ground up. Because dammit, Dan, it’s very hard to feel sexy when you hate yourself this much.

Caller from Dan Savage’s podcast Savage Lovecast episode 681

I couldn’t help but not only laugh, but also nod emphatically alongside this caller’s response. Just wow. It’s basically a phone call about toxic masculinity which maybe I’ve written about before. It’s a fairly new concept that is a discussion that sparked from a documentary about American boy’s sinking into depression because of the social expectations placed on them to be masculine and “man up.” It’s called The Mask You Live In, and I totally recommend it.

This caller touches on a lot of things that really I can relate to. I never fit into the mould of the other boys. More emotional and feminine could always describe me, and as a result I related better to girls. I get them, and they get me, mostly because women tend to be better communicators. I’ve always had a hard time making and keeping guy friends, and I think it’s mostly because I don’t know how to be around them.

I find it awkward, stagnant, or toxic sometimes to be in a group. The joking and insulting nature of some guys just makes me uncomfortable, and much like the caller I can’t imagine how women or anyone else for that matter could put up with that kind of attitude or behaviour. I was taught, or rather I learned myself, to treat others the way I wish to be treated. Why would I insult others? How does that help build a bond? Why must one be the best at something and always compete?

Self hate is a real thing and it eats away at you. Little by little you feel less of man, let alone person, and it can lead to you comparing yourselves to others and wondering why those types of people that are so toxic are so well accepted and loved? What is it they have that I don’t?

I think I’ve known for a long time that the nice guy never wins. Sure we all like to have them around, but they aren’t the first person we call. They aren’t the ones that we spend all our time with. They aren’t the ones that we want to date. Nobody dates someone because they are nice or kind, and sadly it’s an afterthought.

So what happens to those men that don’t fit into the mould of masculinity? Truth be told, most of them feel the pressure so strongly they conform and it takes a strong person to be able to stand apart and be something better. This ideal that is held by society is something sought after by women and gay men all around, and I just can’t understand it.

I guess that’s why I’m single, because I’m looking for niceness or kindness and it’s so damn hard to find.

A giraffe walks into a bar

So what happens when a giraffe walks into a bar with a group of friends adorned in glitter, angel wings, and a wedding dress covered in blood? I guess you just had to be there…

I took a trip back to my previous home, Eskilstuna, for a Halloween party. To my own surprise I had a lot of motivation to actually be in costume and do something. It helps that my friends actually asked me out. As I pondered for days over what I could be, I reflected on my past costumes and how they have always been so innocent and not death-related.

I was a bunny, a clown, an M&M, a dark faerie, a light faerie, North Star, Peter Pan, among other things. So needless to say when I was looking through online costumes the first few things that popped out to me were turtle, giraffe, and hippo. All so cute. I chose to be tall and proud.

Photo Courtesy of Ywon Bar & Grill Instagram

So this photo actually was taken by a friend of mine that works at the Ywon Bar & Grill because, well other than the fact that were were the few people there, it was surreal. A drink in a mans hand while he stands more than 190cm tall thanks to heels and a double head, clothed in a onesie is bound to draw attention. It’s proof that I was social and actually connected to someone (rare as it may be).

And there he stood, for at least 1,5 to 2 hours talking to a stranger that was sitting at the bar. It was my friends that pushed me into this situation so I just went along with it. Drinks were shared, informal and personal topics discussed and the whole time I was thinking, “why did my friend push me onto this guy?” I mean he was a 39-year-old punk loving hipster with non-matching socks. Totally not someone to whom I would normally find myself talking, let alone with whom I would be flirting.

It didn’t actually occur to me that my behaviour or his behaviour would have be considered flirting, and given my clueless history of people hitting on me, in retrospect I wonder. He did offer me a drink and shared his own with me. He did continue the conversation and asked questions. It didn’t even think about flirtation until he made a comment about a ring on my finger and asked if I was married. I remembered stopping, looking at him and formulating an answer. And even after that, I still had my doubts. Everyone that knows me, knows that I would never make a move. It seemed safe, but there is always some obliviousness that prevents me.

We joined the group after a long time and he bought everyone a round. It was very generous and I was definitely feeling warm fuzzies, despite the sinking feeling and my doubts about his intentions or interest. And then a casual comment was dropped, and I thought “AHA I knew it!” and I felt vindicated that I was right. We all departed and he even asked me for a hug and mentioned how genuinely good of a time he had. It made me smile and I drunkenly stumbled out the bar.

Between the double cab rides and walking through town, not much of me being a giraffe was noticed or said until the evening ended. We walked down the bar street and suddenly drunk adults approached us. One harassed me, then started crying because she felt bad. A guy named Andreas felt the need to talk to me about how he can tell if people are gay by the shape of their eyes (I think he was too drunk to notice that I had huge heels on).

My friend departed and I walked down the street, fearing for my life, as my previous lone-walking home experiences in Eskilstuna resulted in being chased, harassed, or otherwise accosted in some way. But instead I was complimented by women and men alike. Even two women approached me for a photo and wanted a hug to say I was so fabulous. Their costumes were lame, like wearing bunny ears and a slutty dress lame.

And so I got back to my hotel, laid down and hoped to sleep and awake to have a delicious breakfast. Even after all that happened I still think back and wonder… What if I had said something, or did something, or did I come off as a frozen cold bitch that I feel I am? The jury is out, but at least I had fun.

The invisible man

In these days of the internet and personalised everything, we often forget about what is real and what is fake. We spend all this time and money to experience life and new experiences, but when we take it all away we are left with reality.

But what happens when you stick out like a sore thumb, and you’re still invisible? I often find this to be case when it comes to my fashion choices, or general individuality. I walk down the street or stand in a commuter train and I turn heads; people agape at my choice of scarf, or pants, or cardigan, or even a nice wool sweater that suits the autumn weather.

Why is it that you can turn so many heads, whether negative or positive, but when it comes to moments when you actually do want to turn heads, you’re invisible? Is it one of those opposites situations where things always appear most when we least expect them? Oh wait, that can’t be right. In order for that to be appropriate the attention you get would have to be positive.

At any rate, being invisible can be somewhat hurtful. I suppose when some people are wrapped up in their own worlds, they forget how their actions or inactions might affect others. No matter, they are unlikely to read this, thus will never really understand.

I’m the weird one, that awkward one that people sort of notice but then fades into the background. How do I know this? Because I feel it and I can see it. I went out to a club for the first time in at least 6 months, all with the goal to see one of my favourite bands perform. Finally they perform, and I wiggle my way to the front. I felt like I was there, but painfully on the outside. Others peering in looking at the awkward one, the only one without a beer in hand and the one that knows all the lyrics for all the songs.

And that’s where it hit me. I stood there bouncing gently up and down, smiling and singing with them and I felt the burning eyes of both judgment and indifference. Peripheral vision can be very hurtful sometimes. And that’s where it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been at this club for 4 hours, dancing away and have a good time with my friend. Little did I know, but I was completely disconnected from everything and everyone. I was the invisible man. Irrelevant, abnormal, and even worse… not noticeable.

I won’t go out of my way to stand out, I just do me. I won’t change how I present myself, because I like what I wear and how I look. Just because others don’t, doesn’t mean I have to conform to them.

So back to being me, the invisible man.

German construction at its best

When one thinks of Germany, one would think of a few things right off the bat: chocolate, efficiency, punctuality, beer, and the autobahns. Much of Germany’s successes are related to their infrastructure, modernisation, collective traffic, as well as general tidiness. But when I refer to German construction, I’m not talking about its roads and buildings and history of Protestantism, I’m referring to German construction workers. Let me explain.

Construction worker

I’m a teacher, and as a result on a daily basis I rarely come into contact with the trades or jobs that would be considered blue collar. Perhaps parents of kids I teacher, or the odd handyman here or there I see, but I rarely interact with people in this world in a social way. Most of the people I know are teachers, academics, doctors, or lawyers or somehow connected to those professions.

Odd as it may be that I have a semblance of a social life, I was invited to attend a cultural night in nearby city of a friend of mine. A bunch of people would be gathering at his house in the afternoon, and they were bringing their spouses and such, and then we would continue on to the downtown core. Knowing that I would have to work the following day, I figured and assumed that I would be heading home early and this was a great way of getting the chaos of work out of my head.

I arrived, and immediately was enthusiastically encouraged to contribute to the artistic collaboration of all the guests on the table. Cut out some pictures and glue them, draw what you like, or be controversial; no rules. I elected to draw a small portion to represent the harmony of nature; the joining of the four main elements: earth, air, fire, and water. A simple yet beautiful oil pastel spot on the canvas was juxtaposed by the contrasting political messages and generally offensive diagrams of sexual freedom, random penises, and general anarchy. This describes aptly the crowd I was in, and how much my rainbows and unicorns didn’t fit in.

People get to talking and getting to know each other as I have only two common connections, and a friend of a friend of a friend was attending from Germany. Drink in hand I was approached, of course while I was fixing some delicious cheesy garlic bread. Chitchat ensued and it was rather nice to talk to someone that was outside of the pedagogy world: a construction worker.

Everyone gathers on the balcony patio to play a game of Waterfall. A drinking game, so lightweight as I am, I only pepper my afternoon with a single cider, drunk indiscriminately slow. The people getting drunk around me were unable to discern my ninja ways to protect my feeble body from drunkenness.

Rule masters create rules: firstly, when you have to drink you must gently rub the leg of the person to your right. Okay, no big deal right? We are all strangers and what’s wrong with a simple rub on the leg to warm up each other? I guess that’s until the construction worker, who ironically was sitting to my left, started having to drink (in the drinking game), and I found my leg being rubbed quite a bit. The rubs seemed to linger, but I thought nothing of it. Oblivious.

Secondly, the next rule requires all people to compliment the person their right after they drink, thus compounding the rub with a compliment. No harm, no foul. Pleasantries were exchanged, and the game developer to my right was peppered with some nice compliments of their nice haircut, stylish shirt, and well proportioned ears, of course complimented with a gentle touch on their leg. I elected to touch rather than rub, as to not appear creepy.

Finally, the third rule happened but truth be told I don’t remember it. It was hard enough to keep track of all the other rules and events that were going on. Chip chop, game ends and we start migrating towards the door to head into the city centre for the festival.

I’m casually putting my shoes on when I find myself cracking a joke about something and suddenly a construction worker laughs, and then gently grazes my beard with a hand. It was so quick and subtle, I barely noticed it nor did anyone else. And yet I was confused enough to pause and think about it, laugh, and chalk it up to friendly banter and descend the stairs.

Standing outside, putting on my coat, I get a wink out of the blue. It was at this moment that I realised that maybe I was being completely oblivious to the attention I was receiving. Being approached by a stranger, the lingering leg pats, the compliments (which were attributed to the game rather than interest), the face touching, and the wink. So rare as it is, and, truth be told, coming from a drunk German didn’t make me think it was anything serious of if there was some hidden intention. However, I was confused. Was the construction worker flirting with me?

I guess I’ll never know for sure. As it turned out the group fell apart and we never found each other by the time I called it a night. Was it a fleeting connection? Was there something there I didn’t notice? I suspect it’s too late, and the dear construction worker is on the way back to Eastern Germany, bound to needs of German infrastructure and greater improvements.

A missed connection, if I’d ever seen one.

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