Thursday, October 31, 2013

When home starts to feel far away.

I'm currently sitting at my desk at school and The Red Sox just won the World Series.  During the duration of the game I wasn't with my friends and family nervously watching the game.  Instead, I was teaching a classroom full of high school boys about Halloween.

I've always known that I'm far from home, but today is the first time home really feels far away. Today is the fist time I can really feel just how much the distance has removed me from the place where I have the most connections--the place that has made me who I am.

I'm happy I'm in Korea, but I know as the holidays approach, home is going to start feeling further and further away.  I can't help but think--if I'm this bummed about missing the World Series, how will I feel on Thanksgiving day when I'm teaching while my family has Thanksgiving dinner?  Or how will I feel when my family opens presents on Christmas while I'm on the other side of the world?

The answer is, I'll probably feel pretty terrible.  It's probably going to be a lot harder than today.

Living abroad provides you with an abundance of amazing opportunities.  However, these opportunities only come as the result of sacrifices.  The price you pay for the amazing, unique, opportunities of living abroad is missing out on some of these moments with your friends and family.  For all of the amazing highs that come with living in Korea, there are lows as well.

I hope everyone back home is enjoying the win--please celebrate extra for me! Miss you all!


Friday, October 25, 2013

A summary of this week: The School Festival, getting my gas turned off, and canceled classes.

It's hard to believe another week has come and gone.  It's already the end of October, and that alone is blowing my mind right now.   This week was a pretty big mix of everything--especially at school.

Monday and Tuesday I didn't have classes because of my school festival.  Monday I was deskwarming, except for about an hour when I had to host the Goldenbell competition.  Goldenbell is a type of game that is apparently well-known in Korea.  Basically, it's like a competition with random trivia questions that students have to answer.  Students are eliminated question-by-question until finally there is one Goldenbell winner. The questions are all given in English, so I got to host it with two of the other students who have lived abroad, and therefore have really awesome english.

Goldenbell was fun, but the real festival started on Tuesday. There's a lot to say about this day, so I'm going to make it its own post later on.  I have some pretty awesome videos, so keep your eyes open for those!  (Hint: they're mostly of my students signing and dancing like they are K-pop stars....AWESOME)

I didn't get home from school until almost 11 PM on Tuesday night, so needless to say I was exhausted on Wednesday morning.  However, being tired quickly became the least of my worries.  When I wake up I always have to press a button to turn on my hot water.  I usually brush my teeth and by the time I finish the water is hot enough to shower.  But not this Wednesday.  The water was cold...and it didn't get any warmer. I texted my neighbor, who is also an English teacher here, to ask her if hers was working, and she said hers was fine. Luckily, my neighbor has been in Korea for 3 years, can speak Korean, and is probably the most helpful and awesome person I could ever hope to live next to.  She let me use her shower, and she called my landlord to let them know what was going on.

My landlord was supposed to come that evening, which meant that I was rushing because I was expecting friends to come over at 7.  I figured I would quickly make some pasta for dinner...until I tried to turn on my stove and it didn't work.  My landlord then said that they would just send the maintenance person in the morning.

So, at that point I was on day 2 of no hot water.  When the maintenance person finally came they told my friend that my gas was turned off because I didn't pay my gas bill.  Now, the thing is I DID pay my gas bill. I'm not the type of person who is late paying bills, never mind just not paying them.  Additionally, my neighbor knew I paid because my gas bill was the first bill I got in Korea so she showed me how to pay it.  When she got back from school she double checked my bank book, and sure enough it showed that the money had come out.  Ugh!

This morning was day 3 of no hot water.  But alas! My neighbor called the landlord back and told them that I did pay, and they turned my gas back on.  Woohoo! I can cook and take showers again!

It was a little bit of an ordeal, but I am really thankful to have such an awesome neighbor for not only letting me use her shower, but also dealing with all the communication that goes along with solving something like this.  I really don't know how I would have solved this one without her--it probably would have been a lot more complicated and timely.

On a different note, today I went to teach one of my classes, but as soon as I walked in the girls all greeted me with a look of pure confusion.  They told me that they had a test so we didn't have class.  SURPRISE! So I went back to the teacher's room and asked my co-teacher if we had classes and she told me no, there were no classes today.  So, I was desk warming attempting to catch up on work, when my other co-teacher told me to come because we had class.  What?!  So I quickly grabbed my stuff and went to teach a class that at that point I was not mentally prepared to teach.  Oh well.  Apparently 2nd graders had testing all day, but 1st graders only didn't have classes in the morning.

They warn you about this last minute stuff all the time, but this is the first time that it's really happened with classes for me.  Gotta love those Korean surprises.  But still, I only had to teach two classes today.  Not such a bad Friday.

Despite the gas fiasco and the last minute schedule changes, I am feeling really content and happy with my life.  I feel like everyday I am noticing more and more blessing in my life.  I feel grateful for everything that has happened over the past two months, and I feel eager to keep having new experiences and seeing where life takes me.  I know culture shock should be right around the corner, but right now I feel like I am just loving Korea more and more.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Only in Korea: Disposable Bras

After we finished the Color Run this weekend, there was a table handing these out.  Yes, that is a disposable bra.  It is made from a cardboard type material and has plastic straps that attach to it.  They had three sizes to choose from: small, medium, or large.  Now why would you ever need a disposable bra? I have absolutely no idea, and I can't imagine how terribly uncomfortable it would be to actually wear one of these. But of course, we all took one (even the boys, who of course had a great time attempting to put them on...)  This is just the type of thing you can't make up.  Only in Korea.

Only in Korea: Really Questionable Marketing

One of the Korean guys we were with this weekend showed us this promotional card.  He explained it a little, but I didn't understand what is was for or why the heck this baby looks like it has a bloody nose.  Maybe this isn't questionable if you understand Korean....but I don't really see how this one could ever make sense.

Oh, Korea.

Brilliant Korea: Refrigerated Cup Holders

I was pretty hungry when I got to Seoul this past weekend, so we decided to stop for some chicken and beer (which is a surprisingly popular combination in Korea).  Anyway, the place we were at had one of the best inventions ever.  Above you can see a picture of my beer in what is a cup holder built into the table.  Now, don't be fooled--it's not just an ordinary cup holder.  This particular cup holder can be turned on with a switch, at which point it becomes really cold and acts as a refrigerator for your beer.  And just like that, your beer stays cold until the very end.

If that isn't brilliant, I don't know what is.  Well done, Korea.

The Color Run, swing dancing, and staying up until dawn

This weekend was awesome. Like, really all-around awesome.

A few weeks ago I signed up to do the Color Run in Seoul with some of the other people in Jeomchon.  I have some friends that live in Seoul/Suwon, so they also joined our team to get in on the fun as well.  I did the Color Run in Boston two summers ago, so I knew it was going to be a good time.  It certainly didn't disappoint.

I went up to Seoul Friday night with another Jeomchoner.  When we got to Seoul I met up with one of my friends who lives in there, we grabbed some chicken and a beer, and went back to her place to get to bed.  Of course, we didn't actually get to bed until 2 AM....because well, we're girls and we talk a lot.

The next morning came way too soon, as our alarm went off at 6:30 AM.  We mustered up all of our energy and headed to Seoul Grand Park, where the run was being held. We met up with the other members of our group and started to run.  The running didn't really last that long because it became immediately apparent that most Koreans were more concerned about the photo opportunities presented by the Color Run than they were about the actual running. So, the Color Run was in reality the Color Walk...or actually, the Color Walk while taking an insane number of selfies. Not that I was really bothered by that since I really don't care for running and I was pretty tired from the lack of sleep the night before. A leisurely walk in the park was A-okay with me.
At the clean still!

All orange!

Finished product

We had a great time at the Color Run and we were successful in getting completely covered with color.  By the time the run was over we were all hungry and we found a place to eat.  It was really entertaining to see other people's reactions to us on the subway as they saw us covered in colors.  Korea is obviously an image conscious country, and Seoul is pretty much the center of all of that, so the majority of the Koreans were looking at us like we were completely insane for going out in public in such a state.  Oh well.

When we finally got back to my friend's apartment, it was probably around 4:30.  By that point I was exhausted, so I took a 20 minute power nap on my friend's floor while she took a shower. After we got clean, we headed to Suwon, which is a city right outside of Seoul.  Suwon is smaller than Seoul, but still a pretty large city, and home to one of my friends who also is a teacher.

We decided to go to a place that has swing dancing (yes, swing dancing in KOREA!) from 8-11 on Saturday nights.  My friends have been many times, and told me it's really fun and you don't need to have any prior experience.  I was easily sold since I've always wanted to try swing dancing, and I was pretty pumped to give it a chance.

We had a really awesome time swing dancing, and we stayed until the last song at 11.  I definitely never in a million years would have expected to be SWING dancing in Korea, but I'm so glad we went because it was right up my alley and definitely something that I want to do again.

After we finished dancing, we went to a pretty low key bar and got one drink.  After that, one of our friends opted to go home for sleep, but before he left we made plans to watch the sun rise.  The sun wasn't supposed to rise until 6:45, so we knew that it was going to be a long night, but now that it was just us three girls, we were ready for the challenge.

We decided to move on to a dance club next to get some energy for the rest of the night.  This particular club apparently plays old K-Pop from the 80s and 90s. I obviously didn't know any of the songs, but I had to think: how awesome would it be if we had a club in the US that played 90s pop songs? Amazing. Someone really needs to work on that!

We had a lot of fun dancing, and during one of our breaks we sat down at a table and met three other Korean guys. Anyone who has ever been to a club knows that it's nearly impossible to have a conversation with anyone because of the loud music.  This becomes even more of a challenge when there is a language barrier.  The guy that was talking to me could barely speak any English, so I had to keep asking him to repeat what he said, then it would take another minute for him to think of what he wanted to say, and then once he would say it, I usually couldn't hear a word of what he said.  It usually ended in him using google translate, which made sense about 50% of the time.  Oh well.  At this point I was with two other girls--one of whom is Korean, and the other is from Hong Kong, can but speak Korean.  So, despite my inability to speak Korean, things could still be translated through someone else, which made it easier for me to have a clue about what was going on.

We hung out for a while longer with the guys, and eventually we decided to leave with our new friends and go in search of some food.  Of course, it was probably about 3 AM by this time, but you would never know since the city really does not stop in Korea.  Every sign on the street is made of bright fluorescent lights so when you go outside it never really feels dark.  Plus, there is no last call, so people will really just keep drinking all night long.  It's insane.

We ended up going to a noraebang place, which was perfect because we could order food AND sing.  Awesome.  We spent the next few hours there, and I was going strong until about 5 AM, at which point I totally crashed.  One of the other girls and I ended up crashing in our noraebang room for about 20 minutes....because that is normal?  But actually, I bet we're not the first ones to do so.
This is how the hallways at the noraebang place were decorated.  So awesomely Korean.  I absolutely love it. 

This picture wasn't even my idea.  Koreans must be the only people on earth who feel the need to take more pictures than I do.

Our friend who had gone home earlier in the night overslept, so although we were trying to stay awake until 6 to meet up with him, we ended up not being able to see the sunrise.  I mean, we did actually see the sun come up, but we just didn't have a good place to get a scenic view.

At this point I was so tired it was almost painful to be awake any longer, but we went and got one last coffee before we FINALLY got in a cab and went to my friend's apartment where we went to sleep.

And what time did we finally go to bed, you ask?

8:30 AM.

And keep in mind we only got roughly 4 hours of sleep the night before.

I slept until 1, had some food, and caught the 3:00 bus back to Jeomchon.  Needless to say, I went to bed early Sunday night.

Despite the damage to my sleep cycle, this weekend was one of the best I've had since I've been in Korea.  When I got to Seoul Friday night, I was with one of my Korean friends from Jeomchon and my friend from Hong Kong.  As we sat there eating and talking, I had a moment when I realized just how awesome my life is right now.  Two months ago I did not know any of these people.  In fact, two months ago I didn't have any friends who live outside of the US.  But there I was, sitting and laughing with two people from different countries, all three of us with different first languages.

Sometimes when I am at work I start to question why I'm teaching here. I had to write plenty of papers about my philosophy of teaching social studies when I was in college, but in all honesty my reasons for going abroad were somewhat selfish.  It was the experience of living abroad that brought me to Korea, not my desire to teach English. I've been working in a country whose education system has an educational philosophy that is pretty much the exact opposite of my own. In Korea, many students study English simply for their college entrance exams--they take English because they have to get a good score on a test to go to a good college.  Many of them will forget everything they have learned as soon as they graduate. On some days I've seriously wondered why I spend so much time on lesson plans when in reality, many of my students are never going to become English speakers.

However, this weekend showed me how awesome it really is when English can serve as a common language between people.  Having a common language allows you to be friends with so many people you would otherwise never be able to share experiences with.  This is what I want to be able to convey to my students--they have so many opportunities ahead of them, and if they can think of English as more than something than they need for a test, they open up a world of possibilities for themselves.  I also think it would be helpful if I could tell my male students "Hey, one day you're going to be in a bar and there's going to be a western girl that you're going to want to talk to.  Learn English now so you actually can without relying on google translate."  I'm not sure my co-teachers would ok with me actually saying that...but I bet it would be effective.

Language is tremendously powerful.  When you don't know what is being said you can feel isolated and alone.  But when you can have a common language with someone you can connect and share life's finest moments with other people--even people who have grown up on the other side of the world, thousands of miles away from you. It's fascinating and awesome, and it makes me feel really blessed that just because I was born an English speaker I am able to have this experience.

To say that I am fortunate is a huge understatement.  I have been taken care of ridiculously well throughout this whole process--from the wonderful orientation we had, to my rent-free apartment, to my salary  (which pays me just about as much as teaching in America while doing less work), to the health insurance, to the vacation days, etc.  Just being born an English speaker has provided me with the opportunity to be here and live a comfortable life--if that's not the definition of privilege, I don't know what is.

Of course, I've been really lucky that I've met people from other places who can speak English.  I don't expect everyone else to always learn English just so they can talk to me. I really do want to be able to have conversations in Korean as well so that I can continue to share experiences with people while I'm here.  It's just that you know, Korean is one of the hardest languages to it's going to take some time.

If you would have asked me a few years ago where I thought I'd be at 24, I never would have said that I thought I'd be spending my Saturday night (well, technically Sunday morning) in a noraebang room in Korea with five other people, among whom I'd be the only native English speaker.  Life sure is unpredictable, but right now I absolutely love it that way.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The best invention in the world is...

Today I did a lesson with my second graders that focused on inventions.  After I showed a brief slideshow of some famous inventors and their inventions, they had to work in groups to decide on what they thought are the five best inventions of all time.  The following are some of the answers I got:

Fried chicken
Rice burgers
Toilet paper
PC rooms
Plastic surgery

Yes, that's plastic surgery.  I asked the student why and he said plastic surgery, and he said that it is because people can get plastic surgery and  it will change their lives and they will have more opportunities.  I asked him what kind of opportunities, and I don't think he understood, so my co-teacher stepped in to tell me that in Korea people care more about your appearance than they do about character.

Now, I don't think that is absolutely true by any means--Korean people certainly DO care about character, but lest I forget this country is number 1 in the world for plastic surgery, my students have told me on MANY occasions that this it's a big deal in Korea.

Earlier this week I did a lesson where I told the students a short story about a man who wakes up in the middle of the night and goes down to his basement to an old trunk, takes out an envelope, throws it in the fire, goes back to his room, kisses his wife on the cheek, and goes to sleep.  The students basically had to write a back story to tell me why he threw the envelope into the fire.  I got some pretty entertaining stories, but it was really interesting to see how many of the stories mentioned plastic surgery.  I would say at least a third of the stories had at least some mention to plastic surgery at some point.

These two lessons have really reminded me that plastic surgery is just a fact of life for many Koreans today.  When I turn on the tv and see models in commercials or any of the Korean celebrities on a tv show, it is beyond obvious that they have had considerable plastic surgery.  They simply don't look like the Korean people I encounter on a daily basis (which is really a shame because Korean people really are naturally beautiful).

To finish my lesson today, my students had to create an invention of their own. One group created a cream that lightens your skin.  I told them about how Americans think that it is beautiful to have dark skin and they were perplexed. It is so crazy to me that many people tan obsessively, to the point where they get cancer, when in Korea people want absolutely nothing to do with being tan (they would never want to be mistaken as a southeast Asian).

When I hear my students talk so nonchalantly about plastic surgery, I want nothing more than to tell them that the plastic surgery craze is nonsense.  For a country that values its culture so deeply, I cannot understand why physically they strive for a western ideal instead of valuing what is unique about their identity.  There is a complete contradiction that exists in Korean culture--they are proud of their heritage and the obstacles they have overcome, but do not think their natural appearance can be acceptable without undergoing surgery.  One of my classes voted Hangul (the Korean writing system) as the best invention in the history of the world because "they are Korean and it has kept their culture", but two minutes later the same students were telling me about the importance of plastic surgery.

 I want to tell my students to fight against this notion that they need to change their appearance to have a good life. I want to tell them not to buy into it--to ignore these messages from society.

Of course, it's easy for me to say...I will one day leave Korea, and return to the US.  The majority of  my students will always live in Korea.  Their opportunities for marriage and employment often DO rely on their image. Of course, we have our own image problems in the US. There are plenty of teens in the US who feel the pressure to be something they're not.  But I can without doubt say the pressure in Korea is far more intense.  Or maybe Koreans are just more honest with themselves about the issue.  Maybe it is just as bad in the US, but we don't acknowledge it or we try to bury the subject.  I don't really know, but what I certainly DO know is that there is something incredibly disturbing to me about a beautiful sixteen year old girl telling me that plastic surgery is the best invention ever because it can "change your life and help you get a boyfriend."

I know I can't change this part of the culture, and it's neither my job or place to do so. It's disheartening, but I suppose I can only try to find the little things I can do, like telling my girls that they are beautiful or giving them compliments when I talk to them.

Maybe if they hear it enough they'll actually start to believe it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Korean Surprise: The Yearbook Picture

One of my favorite things about Korea is all the random snacks that suddenly appear in the teacher's room.  At least once a week I will be sitting at my desk and suddenly some food will either be brought to me or put on the table in the center of the room.  Snacks range from grapes, to dried squid, to spaghetti.  You just never know what it's going to be.

Today I was sitting at my desk when my vice-principal came over and showed me to the sweet potatoes and apples that had just been served.  I stood there and ate for a few minutes with the other teachers, unable to understand anything, but trying to be sociable and friendly nonetheless.  Then one of the teachers said something to my co-teacher, and she told me that he said I should have my picture taken for the yearbook.  Of course I said ok, and after a few minutes I went back to my desk, definitely NOT thinking that the picture thing was happening right at that second.

I wasn't at my desk for long before my co-teacher came over and told me that I should go with the other teacher to go get my picture taken.  It was 4:30 at this point, so she told me to take my stuff and go home after.  Of course, when I envisioned getting my picture taken for the yearbook I was thinking more along the lines of how it goes in the US--you go to the auditorium and they take your picture AT school.  This was a different story.  Within five minutes I was in a cab heading to an actual photo studio.

I didn't really know what was going on, and the other two teachers with me didn't speak english.  We went to the same photo studio I had been to when I first arrived and needed a photo for my ARC.  At least this time the lady didn't completely rearrange my hair.  She did tell me I should put on some powder (gotta love that oily skin...thanks, Dad ;) )....of course I didn't have any powder because you know, I wasn't anticipating having my picture taken on a Monday afternoon.

I had lesson plans I had hoped to finish before I left school today....but I guess you never know when having your picture taken is going to suddenly become a number one priority.  Oh, Korea.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Only in Korea: The White Club

As I walking around downtown Jeomchon last night, I saw this sign.  Definitely not something you would see is the US.  Apparently it is a skin lightening place (I have no idea how that works, but apparently that's a thing?)  Although everyone in America is obsessed with being tan, people in Korea all consider light skin to be more beautiful (which figures, because they are all naturally born with the skin tone most Americans would love to have).

This idea of beauty is connected to the idea that only people with money could have light skin because they didn't have to work out in the fields. If you worked out in the fields, you would be in the sunlight and thus have darker skin.  So, while people in America head to the tanning booths, Koreans apparently go to special places to get their skin lightened.

Go figure.

Mungyeong Cross-Cultureal Celebration

Every month, a group of NETs (Native English Teachers) in Jeomchon put on an open mic night.  This is usually held in a cafe downtown, but this month it was going to be held outside.  The co-teacher of one of the people who was planning it somehow got the idea that this should become a larger event, and thus, the "Mungyeong Cross-Cultural Celebration" was born.  What was supposed to be a simple night turned into quite the event, and all of our schools were notified about the event.
Excitement=Mc^3!!  Oh, Korea.

On Tuesday, one of the other English teachers at my school came up to me and told me that one of my first grade boys wanted to perform and wanted me to sing with him.  "So if you can meet him there, you can sing and he will play. Ok? Just talk to him."  That is essentially all the information I got.  Now, to say I confused is probably an absurd understatement.  Did I ever give the impression that I can sing?  Because I assure you all, I cannot.

I didn't get to see him until Thursday, and at that point he basically told me that the teacher had volunteered him to perform, but he didn't really want to.  I obviously felt badly, and tried to tell him that he didn't have to, but I think he felt like he had to because his teacher wanted him to.  So, I told him to meet me there and we could decide what to do from there.

Sure enough, I met up with him on the day of the festival and he was pretty nervous.  There were lots of people there, and he was nervous about performing in front of some of his friends.  I again told him he didn't have to perform, but he felt like he had a "responsibility" to do it. Eventually, it was his turn, and he did a good job, especially given the fact that he didn't want to do it in the first place. Poor kid.

The rest of the day had all sorts of acts from musical performances, to skits by younger english students, to a magic show (during which I was called up to be part of the act), dancing, traditional Korean drums, noarebang style group singalongs, and of course a group dance to Gangnam Style to end the evening.  It was perhaps the most random mix of events I've ever seen, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

Above you can see the traditional drumming and a clip of the dancing to Gangnam Style (note that at the end of the Gangman Style video we are all being told to get up and dance...which obviously we did)

Afterwards, I went out with a bunch of the other English teachers.  It was a pretty laid back night, but I was glad to be able to sleep in this morning.  Since I've been in Korea, just about every weekend has been really busy with trips to different places.  It's been a lot of fun, but I feel like everything is just catching up with me, and I'm exhausted.  I'm heading to Seoul this weekend, and the weekend after that is Halloween, but after that I'm looking forward to laying low for a little bit in Novemeber.  I love seeing and doing things, but I'm realizing that I need to balance things out and take some time to relax as well.

Seasons change and school goes on

Believe it or not, I just finished my eighth week in Korea. Those oppressively hot summer days during orientation feel a lifetime away.  The cool air is moving in, the leaves are starting to change, and there is no doubt about it, autumn is upon us.  In some ways, it's only been the changing of the seasons that has made me truly feel like this is where I am living now.  At first, when everything was new and exciting it felt like a trip, or a place I was just visiting.  I've never seen the seasons change any place besides NH, but admist the blur of the beginning of my time in Korea, nature is reminding me that life is continuing, just as it always has, despite the fact that my entire daily life has changed tremendously.

My routine is pretty much solidified at this point, and I think it's safe to say that honeymoon stage at school is coming to a close.  I don't quite have my rock star status like I did in my first weeks at schoool.  Don't get me wrong, my students still treat me way better than my students in America did (well, mostly), but some classes are now having more behavior issues. Actually, I should clarify, it's really just my second grade boys.  The majority of my classes are the first grade boys, and they are pretty good, but I don't know about those second grade boys--they can give me a run for my money.

However, I can't even begin to complain because I know that my students are WAY better behaved than the students in the other schools.  I get almost daily reminders about how my school is the best in the area, so I know that I am lucky to be there, but sometimes teenagers are teenagers, regardless of their academic abilities or ambitions.  Just because my students can study and get good test scores doesn't mean that they're always perfect angels.

I've been enjoying teaching, but it is very clear to me that teaching EFL is not my passion.  I still like teaching, but my passion is definitely teaching social studies.  I'm really thankful to be here, and I have no doubt that this is where I was called to be to learn about myself, the world, and teaching.  However, is this what I want to do with the rest of my life? No.  Does that mean I don't enjoy teaching here? No.  I've learned a lot in a short amount of time, and it's been extremely eye-opening to teach in a country whose educational philosophy is on the other end of the spectrum from my own.

I remember when I started teaching at Nashua last year, I would talk to my friend that I interned with, who was also starting her first year at a different school.  In the beginning, we would talk about how we almost felt homesick for Marshwood--we missed the comfort of our old teaching routine, knowing the other teachers, and having our intern support system.  I feel like I'm going through a similar process now.  I enjoy being here, but I miss the comforts of my old classroom.  I miss having students who could understand what I was saying to them.  I miss being able to read school e-mails and knowing what is going on.  I miss knowing what is expected of me. I miss being able to communicate with my co-workers.

Having teaching experience is obviously a great asset as an EPIK teacher, but it can also be a little bit of a curse. My brain constantly wants to compare my experiences even though they are in completely different realms.  It's essentially like comparing apples and oranges.

I'm sure it won't take long for me to become completely attached in my new job.  I'm sure in a few months I will look back and laugh at myself for being so confused at school.  Until then, the seasons are changing, life goes on, and I will continue to learn more about how to be a better ESL teacher.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Adventures on Nami Island and wasp attacks

This past weekend I went on a trip with some of the other English teachers to Chuncheon.  Chuncheon is the capital of Gangwon Province, which is the northernmost province in South Korea.

We all had Thursday off as a Korean holiday, but some (most) teachers didn't have school on Friday either, so a few people went up to Chuncheon on Wednesday night.  Of course, I had school on Friday still, so I headed up Friday afternoon with one of my friends who had had to stay behind because of a teacher's trip.  Luckily, I got out of school early because of midterms, so we caught an afternoon bus to head north.

There is no direct bus from Jeomchon to Chuncheon, so we had to take a bus to Seoul, and then take the subway to Chuncheon.  When we arrived at the bus station in Seoul I was immediately overwhelmed.  There were people EVERYWHERE.  I have grown accustomed to living in Jeomchon, and it was quite intense to all of a sudden be surrounded by SO MANY PEOPLE.  We had a little time to kill because we were waiting for one other member of our group to meet up with us in Seoul, so we walked around the subway station for a while.  There was a HUGE food court that had all kinds of western foods.  It's been six weeks since I've had much access to any western food, so I felt a little bit like a little puppy that has just been let out of its kennel after a long day.  My eyes were bouncing from place to place and I felt like I couldn't quite fight my way through the crowds quick enough. We ended up getting a little bit of everything, which is actually pretty disgusting, but hey, I usually eat I guess it's ok to binge every once in a while?
Binge eating at its finest

After our eating adventures, we caught the subway, which took us to Chuncheon.  It's actually quite amazing that the subway goes all the way from Seoul to Chuncheon, because Chuncheon is in a different province from Seoul--it's really quite the distance.  It's kind of like if the T went from Boston to Manchester.  Which, by the way, I would love.  The more I travel around Korea, the more I am left wondering why the US can't have better public transportation....get your act together, America!

Anywho, when we got to Chuncheon, the owner of our pension picked us up and gave us a ride to the pension where we stayed for the rest of the weekend. The other members of our group were already there, and beyond ready to eat dinner.  We did some grilling, had a few drinks, and hung out for the rest of the night.

The next morning, we had some breakfast and then headed to Nami Island.  To get to the island, you take a short ferry ride, which was quite lovely since the weather was fantastic and we were surrounded by some beautiful mountains.

Nami Island is a very popular tourist destination in Korea.  Actually, Nami Island is its own you can buy souvenirs of the currency and once you're on the island.  A famous Korean movie called "Winter Sonata" was filled on Nami Island, so many landmarks on the island relate to that movie and provide photo opps for people who know the movie (but none of us had ever seen it...)
View on our ferry ride

The island kind of reminded me of a big park with random photo opportunities everywhere. There were really random statues located throughout the island, and many things that were there were clearly placed with the intention of creating places for people to take pictures.  Regardless, it was a beautiful day and we couldn't have had better weather to walk around in.

Oh, Korea.

This is just so Korea.
Kind of scary..

Eventually we were got quite hungry, and we got some lunch at a Chinese restaurant (think real Chinese food, not the kind you get in America). After lunch we walked around some more, got some more snacks, and then a few of us decided to ride some swan boats out on the lake.  This was hands down my favorite part of the day.  The weather was beautiful, we had an awesome view of the mountains, and we could just sit back and hang out on the water.  It was lovely.
Beautiful view out on the boats

After we got off the boat, it was already around 5:00, so we had to get back to our pension.  We had some confusion about where we were supposed to meet our pension owner, but eventually we made our way back to the subway station, where he picked us up and brought us back.

That night we grilled (or should I say braaied) again. This is where the fun began.

The previous night we had noticed that there were some wasps were in our pension.  They were all up on the top window and were pretty inactive, and we thought it must be because of the cooler weather.  We hadn't worried about it much because they didn't seem to leave that top corner.

However, on the second night while we were eating dinner one flew up and landed on a pile of radish.  We slightly freaked out and came up with the solid solution of throwing the radish over the edge of the deck.  Problem solved.  Kind of.

Now, if you know me at all , you are aware of my bee-phobia.  I hate bees, wasps, hornets, really anything that stings.  If you're ever outside with me while a bee comes by, I WILL run away as fast as I can. It's a completely irrational fear, but when I'm in the situation I can't quite control the impulse to run away.

Needless to say, once the wasp flew up in the middle of our dinner, I was on heightened alert.

As I was eating, I thought I felt something on my back. Naturally, I freaked out, and had my friend check my back.  He assured me there was nothing there, so I continued to eat.

That's when things got worse.  I was eating and all of a sudden I felt something in my hair.  I KNEW it was a wasp.  I started to freak out and essentially went into the fetal position as my friends tried to get it off of me.  I was anticipating the sting, because I thought it was inevitable as they tried to remove it from my hair.  It the midst of the jumble, it somehow moved down to my thigh...I had my eyes shut the whole time in absolute fear, but they somehow got it off of me.  By this point my skin was absolutely crawling and my freak out was at its prime.  I was afraid to be outside because I thought it was going to happen again, and afraid to be be inside because of the wasps that had been in there for the past few days.

We decided at that point to go ask the pension owner if he had any spray to kill the wasps.  I went downstairs with one of the other girls and since we don't know how to say "do you have wasp spray?" in Korean she pulled up a picture of a bug on her phone then used some acting skills to get across the spray part.  It was quite hilarious, but he understood what we were trying to communicate, thank God.

Thankfully, he had spray, and the fearless members of our group started the wasp rampage inside while I tried to calm my nerves with some soju.

The rest of the night was thankfully wasp free, and we spent the evening hanging out and playing some games (we made up a few of our own, complete with getting to use chopsticks as wands...can't go wrong!)  We were up until about 5 AM and closed the night with some Lion King....don't ask.  But it was a really fun night all around.

The next morning we packed up our stuff and headed back to the subway station.  Two members of our group got an early start back, and the rest of us headed to Dakgalbi Street.  Dakgalbi is a type of meal with chicken, cabbage, potatoes, and rice cakes, all cooked in a spicy sauce in a large pan in the middle of your table.  I had it once in Jeomchon, and LOVED it, so needless to say I was excited when I found out that Chuncheon is famous for its dakgalbi.  Dakgalbi Street is an area of Chuncheon where they have plentiful options of dakgalbi restaurants, so we knew we had to check it out before we came back home. Naturally, we picked the restaurant with the Wonder Woman in front of it....because what could say "great dakgalbi" better than Wonder Woman?  I love Korea.
Because nothing makes you want to eat at a restaurant like Wonder Woman!
Absolutely delicious

Lunch was fantastic, and once we were full we were on our way back home.  We decided to go a more roundabout way home to avoid the Seoul weekend craziness.  We were home by 6, and after a fun weekend, I was ready for bed!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Not so bad.

I got to leave school at 1:00 today (after having yesterday off and leaving school early every day this week).  The sun is shining and it's the perfect temperature outside. I'm heading to Chuncheon in a few hours for a weekend trip with some friends.

Life is good.

I'm sure I'm going to head into next week completely exhausted after this weekend trip. Not to mention the fact that it's going to be a rude awakening trying to get back into a routine with my classes after being essentially off this whole week.

Still, I can't complain about my life right now.  I'm trying to enjoy these restful days because we will have essentially no days off in November and December (yes, no Thanksgiving break in November and only one day off for Christmas!)

So for now, Cheers, Korea!   Let's hope for smooth traveling this weekend.

Love you all and will update when I am back and have some time.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Chuseok Hike: An experience I will always remember

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I'll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you'd like to contribute to next month's Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at, and he will let you know how you can start participating! 

Topic: Tell us about an experience you've had while traveling that you will always remember.

I have only been in South Korea for about a month and a half. In comparison to most people I have met here, I have done very little traveling.  Many people I've met here have been all around Asia, Europe, you name it.  I haven't been many places yet, but within my first month of being abroad I have already managed to see some incredible things and gain some unforgettable memories.  

Over Chuseok break last month, I went to Ulsan to visit some of my friends form orientation.  The first night I was there, we had a great time enjoying the nightlife and were out until 5 AM.  This would have been fine, except that we had already established plans to go hiking the next morning.  

After four short hours or sleep we rolled out of bed, still determined not to change our plans. We slept until the last possible minute, but we still made it on time to meet up with a bunch of other EPIK teachers and head to a mountain about an hour outside of the city.

While we were on the bus, we met another group of westerners who were headed to the same location for the weekend.  The difference between their group and our group was immediately apparent. While we were just a group of twenty-somethings looking for a little nature, they were going for a full on weekend in the woods.  They had backpacks filled with food, water, and camping supplies.  They had all the fancy equipment that only LEGIT outdoorsy people have.

We started talking to them a bit on the bus, and when we reached our destination one of the girls offered to show us to a short hike to a waterfall.

Now, everyone in our group was tired on account of the four hours of sleep we got the previous night. Some people in our group (and thankfully, I was not a part of this group) were still feeling the effects of the alcohol they consumed the night before.  

The girl told us that it would be about a 40 minute walk to the trail from where we were, and another 40 minutes to the waterfall.  

Now, to a group of over-tired and somewhat hungover people who had not exercised since arriving in Korea, this sounded like the PERFECT day for us
.  We could do a little hike, see a nice view, and be back in the city by a reasonable hour.  We were thankful to her, and assumed that since she had been there before (and had all the legit hiking gear to boot), she must know her way around.  

We gladly accepted her offer to show us to the waterfall, and started to walk along the main road of the mountain.  

And then we continued to walk....

And we walked some more.....

And more......

The "40 minute walk" quickly turned into an hour, but we thought we HAD to be close to the trail. Every time we got to the stop of a particularly steep part of the mountain, we would tell ourselves we MUST almost be there.

If we were just walking along a flat road, this hour probably wouldn't have seemed so bad.  Of course, we were climbing up a full-fledged mountain in the blazing hot sun, on hot pavement.  As cars passed by us, we could see their faces in dismay as they wondered why the group of foreigners was walking up a road that was CLEARLY not meant to be walked along. 
At the beginning of what we thought would be a short hike
At least we had a beautiful view!

Unfortunately this picture really doesn't capture the hill....

As we continued to walk, an hour turned into two hours, and we had no idea when we would even get to the trail.  As we were walking, our group got split into two main groups.  Somewhere along the line, the girl who was supposed to show us the way got in a cab with one other girl to get to the entrance of the trail.  

WHAT?!  Our guide had left us and we had no idea where we were.  Needless to say, we were not thrilled.

However, we had no choice but to keep walking up what seemed to be the steepest and most excruciating hills in Korea.

After two and a half hours, we finally approached what we thought was the entrance to the trail.  Yes, that's right, our "40 minute" hike turned into two and a half hours.  

Much to our dismay, we still had to climb up another road made entirely of pavement.  This road was potentially even worse than the main road--it was so steep that it almost seemed like Korea was playing a cruel joke on us.

Second round of hills when we were finally getting closer to the entrance of the trail

After about another 45 minutes, we finally made it the trail.  Needless to say, we all rejoiced when we were FINALLY WALKING IN THE WOODS!  It had never been so hard just to BEGIN a hike.

The hike to the waterfall was indeed only 40 minutes, and when we got to the waterfall, it was, as promised, beautiful.  
It took a lot of work to get there, but the waterfall really was beautiful

I was in the first group to get to the waterfall, so we sat back and enjoyed the beautiful scenery for a while.  The second group was about 30 minutes behind us, and the people in the first group wanted to get headed back home.  However, the girl I was staying with was in the second group, so I stayed behind to wait for them.  

Eventually we were all reunited at the waterfall, and after relaxing for a while, we headed back to the bus station.  

To get back to the bus station, we had to walk through an area that seemed pretty much completely stranded.  We finally found the bus stop....when the people in the first group called to tell us that we had just missed the last bus.  

Normally the bus would still be running, but it was Chuseok, so the buses were running on a different schedule.  

So there we were.  Completely exhausted, wanting to do nothing more than to take a shower and sleep, but we were stranded in the middle of nowhere.  In Korea.  Where none of us speak the language.
Where we were stranded after missing the last bus

Luckily, the bus stop was right next to a convenience store, which thankfully was open.  We had to use our best gesturing to ask the store owner to call a cab for us--we had no idea where we were, so trying to explain where to get picked up would have been impossible.  

Thankfully, the store owner called us a cab, and we waited for about 30 minutes wondering how we would get back home once we got to the bus station.  

The cab ride was an adventure of its own, and for a bit we were convinced we weren't going to even make it to the bus station alive.  Driving rules in Korea are pretty much non-existent, and our cab driver apparently thought it was a good idea to drive down the mountain in the middle of the road at approximately 100 MPH.  
Our cab driver eventually brought us to the bus station (after ALMOST taking us to the KTX station....), and we met up with the other members of our group.  

Alas! We were happy to be a bit more in civilization, but we still had no idea where we were or what bus we needed to take to get back.  We spent about the next half hour trying to use our minimal Korean skills to figure out which bus we needed.

As we were standing in the bus terminal, a bunch of people got off of one bus.  One of the men that got off the bus was obviously extremely intoxicated, turned to the wall of the station, and started to pee only about 10 feet away from us. 

It really just added to the atmosphere of the day.  

After he relieved himself, the drunk man started to talk to us, and needless to say we were beyond thankful when our bus arrived and we could escape that situation. 

We hopped on, and eventually got dropped off at the center of the city.  From there it was another half-hour drive back to my friend's neighborhood.

It goes without saying we all couldn't be more excited to take a shower and get some sleep.  Originally we had planned to go out with friends at night, but it was past 9:00 by the time we got home, and there was no way we had an ounce of energy left to do anything. 

We went to bed at 10:00 and slept straight for 11 hours.  I slept on my friend's floor that night, but I think it was still one of the best nights of sleep I've ever gotten.

This day was obviously far from perfect.  In fact, just about everything that could have gone wrong, did.  It wasn't the day any of us had imagined, however it is a day that we will all NEVER forget.  

Since I've been in Korea, I've had days that have gone perfectly.  There have been trips where no issues arise, and there are no surprises.   

However, when you travel, sometimes things do go wrong.  Sometimes you seem to get the worst of luck, but that's just part of life.  The surprises that come along the way are what make traveling exciting and unforgettable.  

While this day way trying and exhausting, it is in the toughest situations where your character is tested and you learn just what you are capable of.  Sometimes it's great to have a day where everything goes perfectly and comes easily, but in the end, days like the one of this hike are what really test what you're made of and make you appreciate all of the accomplishments of the day, whether it be climbing up the side of a mountain, or finding your way back home.

When I was younger and I had tough moments in life, my dad would always tell me that "it builds character."  This used to infuriate me, and I used to tell him I didn't need any more character.  However, now that I am older, I realize that he was right.  Without the tough moments, life would be boring.  I'd much rather live an interesting life where I am learning from challenges, than an easy life that it boring. 

Midterm week

 In America, midterm week is one of the busiest weeks for teachers.  Not only do teachers have a crazy amount of grading to get done in a very short amount of time, they also have to get final grades entered and add comments for each student.

Well, this week is midterm week for my students in Korea, and it's been quite a different story.  Midterms thus far have essentially entailed me sitting at my desk from 9-12:30, eating lunch, and going home. Today I was sitting at my desk and around 12:45 my co-teacher came over to my desk and asked if I had plans for the afternoon.  I said I did not, and she told me that "Usually after the exams teachers go home. In your case, maybe not, but if the Principal or Vice-Principal ask you just say you have plans for the afternoon.  If not, just say nothing."  In other words, she told me to lie to the principal if he mentioned anything, and otherwise just don't bring it up.

I mean, I appreciate her letting me go home--not all EPIK teachers are so lucky.  It's common to hear EPIK teachers discuss "deskwarming."  Our EPIK contract specifies a certain amount of weeks and hours we have to be at school, regardless of whether or not we have any work to do.  In fact, there will be times when we have to go to school while everyone else is on vacation.  I've heard plenty of stories about EPIK teachers going into school when there is literally no one else in the building but them....just because their contract says they have to be IN school a certain amount of hours.  

I have been enjoying this week, nonetheless.  It's an easy week for me, which I will not complain about, especially since the regular school weeks are so stressful.  Now, I'm sure the other teachers have more responsibility than I do (grading is not typically a part of an EPIK teacher's responsibilities), but the majority of their exams are multiple choice, so the teachers typically just run the exams through a scantron and their grades are done.

We did have a few short answer questions on our exam, so I think I will eventually end up grading those?  But still, nothing compared to the HOURS I used to spend grading last year.  I don't think I can even begin to count the hours I spent on my Sunday afternoons and nights sitting in Panera, attempting to make a small dent in grading....

All in all, not a bad week.  We don't have school tomorrow because it's a Korean holiday, and then Friday after school I'll be heading to Chuncheon (a city in a northern province) for the weekend.  Can't wait!