Saturday, July 16, 2011

Air Force Summer Camp

 The last week of June I spent a week in the city of Cheongju,  teaching a summer camp at the Korean Air Force Academy. My students were a class of 13 senior cadets at the academy. This week gave me a fascinating inside look a the lives of military cadets in Korea.

Classroom Life:

Finally learned how the stupid ladder game works... and it makes more sense than I thought...

This week was a bit of an easy one for the students... except for the whole English only element. These students go to class every day from 8 am - 5 pm straight with only an hour break for lunch. It seems that more than half the students want to become pilots, but they all have a special major in addition to that. They don't start training to become a pilot until after they graduate. Evidently only 50% of the cadets who wish to become pilots actually succeed.

Their rigorous schedule takes a toll on them. Every break time, as soon as I said the words "Ok, guys, break time..." their heads simultaneously hit the desk (they seem to do everything in sync, seems to be part of the training.. ) and they pass out immediately.

The real trick was to wake them up afterwards. Throughout class they'd be nodding off. Some of them had mastered the "I look wide awake, but I'm actually sleeping" mode, while others didn't even try to hide their desire to sleep and just would pass out for entire two hour class periods. They all apologized profusely, though, and explained that they did this to all their professors, not just me. Their schedule just made them all ridiculously exhausted all the time.

The saddest game of Scrabble I've ever seen played. They did better in pairs than on their own like here...

We tried to make class fun for them, though and we had activities every evening. Movie night, Sports night, Free talk night and Game night.

Andy arm wrestling with the highest ranked cadet in the school. Can you guess who won?

Three legged race in the Mini-Olympics

Learning how to throw an American football ... they caught on quicker than we expected!

Friday was dedicated to presentations. While the students had a lot of trouble writing up their speeches, they had some really fun ideas. Their presentation teacher decided that they should each design a product and present the invention. The students created things like 4D TVs which would allow you to smell and feel air, a cadet hat which had an automatic cooling system and a scalp cleansing system and an amazing cadet uniform with cooling and heating system and armor built in. It was really fun watching them make their power point presentations as some of them are quite skilled at it (and had much better presentations skills than I expected... not sure if it's because they actually listened to me or if it's because they just learned correctly in Korean.

Cadet Life:

As I alluded to earlier, the cadet's life is quite rigorous. They wake up every day at 6 am and run 1 km. Shower and eat breakfast and go to class by 8 am, tardiness is not an option. Class is from 8 - 5 with only a 1 hour break for lunch. Students walk in formation back and forth to the cafeteria at 12 and 5 for mealtimes. After dinner, students either have some kind of training, organized run around campus with all their gear on or a club activity (one sport and one cultural activity) every week. At 6 am and 6 pm the students drop everything and face and salute the center of campus where the flag is raised and lowered while they play the national anthem. 11 pm is a final check for students, but they are up past midnight every night studying. The life of these students is much stricter than the military conscripts. They are not permitted to drink or smoke (or get married) and if they are caught doing these forbidden activities, they can be kicked out of school. The cadets take this seriously because they had to work very hard to get in here.

Every student has a rank and some kind of responsibility. I was lucky enough to have the top student in my school (rank-wise) in my homeroom class. You can see in the photo above that he has 5 silver rectangles, showing he is the highest rank in the school. Some students have 2 or 3, others have none. The colored bands represent various merits that they have received. On their shoulders they have stripes which show their school year. I felt really sorry for the freshmen here. They really seem to take it out on these guys, training them for military life. While the upperclassmen sit anyway they like at mealtimes, the freshmen sit at attention at all times and don't seem to be allowed to open their mouths until they are spoken to.

You can see the Freshmen here by looking at the way they sit. The ones with their arms relaxed on the table are not freshmen. The ones with their arms stiff under the table are the freshmen. Upon asking my friend who is an officer in the Navy, he says that this system is modeled exactly after the American system. For him it was the same. Every day he had to memorize one front page article one sports article of a newspaper and talk about it for 5 minutes to his upperclassmen. He was ordered to "square his meal" meaning lift your fork to your mouth in a square shape. Seems harsh to me, but apparently this is just the way to train a good officer.

The most amazing thing to watch

Then on Thursday, the students got a terrible announcement. The school president had decided that the whole school was going to run around the whole campus dressed in their fatigues and carrying all their gear. The students complained the whole day and I heard them asking each other if there had been any change in plans. They kept checking out the window, hoping for rain, so that the run would be canceled, but the run couldn't be prevented. After dinner, they suited up and all us teachers lined up to take photos and cheer them along.

Enthusiastic waves from our students before they started running
Check out their feet! They all move perfectly in sync!

A few of our teachers decided it would be fun to tag along for the run....

It seems that a cadet's life is just one formation after another. Here they are lined up to say goodbye to some army and navy cadets who had been visiting the campus for the week. I don't think I could ever adjust to living like this!! I guess that's why I'm not in the military!

The Air Force Campus:

There were a number of interesting statues around campus. This was the most striking and every one's favorite.

One part of campus we really enjoyed was the outdoor museum. All sorts of aircraft from Korea's history were on display here to check out.

Next to our dormitory was a small sports center which we were allowed to use. It wasn't big, but it didn't seem like many people used it. A few treadmills, weights, a bike or two... and a ping pong table. The teachers on our last night got together for some games of ping pong and chatting.

I loved that every student had a place for their hat outside the cafeteria. No hats at the table and no one gets their hat mixed up with someone else's. Genius.

I couldn't help it... I had to ask them to try on the hat. They thought it was really funny and graciously took a photo. I think it fits well, don't you?

Lieutenant Wing Commander Tom

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