Korean students are obsessed with school supplies and considering the average high school student studies for an average of 16 hours a day, I'm guessing they go through a lot of them. Even in the smallest of neighborhoods, there is always at least one stationary shop that sells colorful and cute supplies from the early mornings to late at night. Said stationary and supplies aren't exactly what I used growing up in the States and I was surprised by the differences as soon as I started teaching in Korea.
Perhaps one of the most shocking differences is how Koreans sharpen their pencils. Sure, there are manual pencil sharpeners which require a lot of pulling, squeezing, and twisting parts to get the job done, but many students carry around a razor blade primarily for the purpose of creating the perfect pencil point. I almost had a heart attack when one of my first graders pulled a blade out of her backpack last year. Knowing one could be arrested for such an offense in some American schools, I immediately brought her to the office. It was only when my supervisor gave me a "Yes, what's wrong with a six-year-old having a razor blade at school?" look did I realize that it was the norm.
Something that isn't exactly a supply, per say, but is found in many Korean classrooms is flag blocks. On each block is a flag and the name of its respective country, written in both English and Korean. Korean kids are shockingly good at knowing the flags of countries, many of which I didn't even know existed. One of these days, I'm going to get a video of my kindergarteners reciting them and shock the rest of the world.
Finally, no Korean student above the age of kindergarten leaves the house without their nametag, which is often sewn on or pinned to the breast of their uniforms required by all Korean schools. It is believed that these nametags instill a sense of accountability in the students and subsequentally keep them out of trouble. Not a bad idea if you ask me.
Ancient Korean scholars used to call brush, ink, paper and inkstone the "the four friends of the study," essential items to cultivate the mind. I guess in some ways, things haven't changed. Sure, Hello Kitty might be plastered across the paper and the ink might be sparkly and purple, but school supplies continue to develop students in the area that Korea values most: education.
BONUS PICTURE TIME! I found this awkward match-the-straining-animal-to-its-poop-in-the-toilet puzzle in one of my school's Pre-K classrooms a few weeks ago and just had to share in this somewhat related post.