Earthquake!

2:28 p.m. Just a normal Wednesday afternoon. I was in the middle of class with my 3rd graders. We were going along like usual; I was handing out worksheets (I always hand them out myself rather than using the “take one pass one” method because my classes are small and my kids tend to take FOREVER AND A HALF to do the passing part) and thinking about how I had to go grab pens for all the kids who “forgot” to bring one.

2:29 p.m. I reached the back row of desks, and just as I handed a worksheet to the boy nearest me, he leapt up and cried “지진인가?” (Is that an earthquake?)

I heard what he said, but it didn’t register until an instant after the words left his mouth. Then we all felt it. The shaking floor, the rumbling earth far below us. It sounded strangely like when the lunch bell rings and all the students thunder down the stairs at once.

My co-teacher and I stared at each other in shock. We were all silent, frozen in place, just feeling the floor vibrate beneath us, looking at each other’s wide-eyed faces.

Thankfully it wasn’t a serious earthquake, because we didn’t even remotely follow proper earthquake protocol. We later learned it was a 5.4 magnitude, which is at the very upper edge of “minor.” The center (center? is that a thing for earthquakes or only for storms?) was on the east coast in Pohang, so Daegu didn’t get hit quite as hard. (Buildings were damaged in Pohang.)

This is only the third earthquake I’ve experienced in my life, and all of them have been in Korea (which, as a country, isn’t particularly experienced with earthquakes either). It wasn’t powerful enough to do more than shake us up a bit (pun intended).

As soon as it ended, the students started yelling and screaming. “쌤, 나가요?” (Teacher, should we go outside?) My co-teacher and I nodded as we heard similar uproar coming from other classrooms. I waited to make sure all the kids left the room, including the ones who had been rudely awakened from their mid-class nap by the drama. As I was waiting, one of my students gestured frantically to me. “Teacher, go, go! Dangerous!”

We hurriedly filed out of the classroom, down the two flights of stairs, across the hallway, and out into the soccer field to wait out the aftershocks and… just be together where we were all accounted for, I guess.

The whole school was gathering there, united not only physically but emotionally as well, with the buzzing energy of fear and adrenaline and racing hearts thick around us. The kids lined up on the basketball court by homeroom. I huddled against the chilling wind with a few of the English teachers.

We stayed out there in the sunny cold for a long time. Two aftershocks were reported, but they were too small to be felt. We shivered and chattered about how scary it was, but in a lighthearted way, laughing a little nervously, comparing stories of our first reactions. The kids were having the time of their lives, I’m sure, given that they just had their last class of the day cut short by 30 minutes. Still, I couldn’t help but think how grimly different the scene and atmosphere would be if the earthquake had been just a couple points higher.

Hopefully this will inspire a bit more earthquake preparedness training nationwide, but given that last year’s two earthquakes (one of which was a 5.8) didn’t prompt such a thing, I don’t hold out much hope.

Anyway, today I’m just thankful that we’re okay.

*Update: the third aftershock (4.6) almost two hours later was definitely strong enough to feel the vibrations.

*Update 2: I realize I’m dramatizing a relatively minor incident, but it’s definitely scarier when none of the people in the country are used to this kind of thing. What would be just another day in California or Japan, for instance, is quite an event here – and certainly more nerve-wracking because the buildings here are not designed to withstand strong earthquakes.

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Another week slips by

I know it’s lazy of me to reuse the format I used in my last post, but it’s such an easy way to sum up moments from the week.

Monday

First Korean surprise in a long time. Today is supposed to be the first day of the speaking test for 1st & 2nd graders, as my co-teacher and I discussed and confirmed multiple times last week.

3 minutes before class, I happen to message my co-teacher to make sure she has the score sheets printed (because if she didn’t, I would print them).

2 minutes before class, she replies and says she’s moving the speaking test to next week because the students aren’t prepared.

Thankfully I have next week’s lessons pre-planned and ready to go, even at literally a minute’s notice. Proactive-ness to the rescue.


Tuesday

My 2nd graders are unusually cheerful for a Tuesday morning. For fun, I show them some optical illusions before we start the book. This is one of their favorites: Stare at the image below without moving your eyes. Try not to blink. See what happens.

Image result for picture that disappears when you stare at it

(As you stare, the colors should fade and eventually disappear.)

After the first one or two students react, there’s an outcry of “What? What?? I can’t see it! What is it?” and then someone explains and there’s a renewed staring effort. The chorus of “Ooh! 와~~!” as one kid after another experiences the illusion is so fun.


Wednesday

My 1st period class pushes my patience to the limits. I’m helping two kids in front with the textbook dialogue and there’s a crash in the back. One of the boys has just “accidentally” fallen out of his chair, and this was far from his first disturbance. My co-teacher is in the hallway lecturing a handful of kids that she’s pulled out of class.

Seeing the look on my face, another boy raises both fists and says solemnly, “Teacher, fighting*.” More or less like this:

Source: dramafever

*As I’ve written about previously, the expression “fighting/화이팅” equates to “you can do it” / I know it’s hard but don’t give up.” I found it semi hilarious coming from a student in this situation. Like, “Teacher I know we are being little terrors but I believe in you.”

On the way home, I stop at the local mart and the cashier, who is usually pretty solemn and stone-faced, starts chatting with me in Korean. She asks if I’m from Russia. Erm, no. I tell her I’m American. Then she explains it’s my eyes that look Russian. That’s a new one, but her next question (“are you married?”) is definitely not. She gives me a thumbs up when I reply that I am not. Awkward questions aside, the unexpected friendliness brightens my day.


Thursday

It’s the first day of the last part of middle school for the 3rd graders, since they just finished final exams yesterday. I’m holding my breath in fear as I go into my first class with them, dreading an apathetic tooth-pulling experience, but they’re totally cheerful. We’re doing a belated Halloween lesson. They’re more engaged than they have been all semester. One of the low level kids who rarely speaks in class even remembered the name for candy corn from last year.

Later, a 3rd grader comes repentantly to my office to show me that while playing with his friends in the hallway, he somehow knocked off the “O” from the foam letters on the wall outside the classroom that spell “ENGLISH WORLD.”

“He break the world,” his classmate accused.


Friday

One of my 1st grade boys who’s usually pretty active in class has his head down on the desk. “What’s wrong?” I ask. “Are you sick? Headache? Or just tired?” (I always ask them this because if they’re sick I let them sleep – kids take way fewer sick days here than we would in the West and if they’re feeling miserable there’s no point in forcing them to study. They’re usually honest with me.)

The student pops his head an inch or two off the desk and says grimly, “I die.” Then he returns his head to the desk. (Translation: just tired. He perked up mighty quick when we started playing a game.)

I hate the sun & other tales from the week

Monday

My voice hurts.

It’s been one of those days.

One of my classes got switched over from tomorrow to today, and for some reason the one extra class left my vocal cords aching. I prescribe myself a ban on speaking for the next 18 hours. Works just fine for me because as far as I know, Netflix doesn’t expect you to talk back.


Tuesday

I have officially declared war on the sun. Actually I feel like it declared war on me a long time ago and now I’m finally accepting that I just hate it.

Not only am I at high risk of sunburn because of my severe lack of melanin, but I’m literally allergic to the sun. I break out in hives on my arms and hands when the sun is the strongest, from about April to August.

I hate heat, as has been well-established on this blog. I hate sweating. Summer is a despicable season to me.

But it goes further than that. I just hate how bright the sun is. I hate when it gets in my eyes and makes me squint. I especially hate when it shines directly into my peripheral vision while I’m trying to work, and bakes my small office whose windows so perfectly face west, catching the full strength of the setting sun from 1 p.m. onward.

It’s Just. So. Annoying.

No, I am not a vampire.


Wednesday

Two of my girl students assure me I’m an “angel” (for not losing my mind at their rowdy classmates, I guess).

One of my third grade classes starts super late due to an earthquake evacuation drill in the afternoon. We barely have 20 minutes to squeeze in the textbook pages we absolutely need to cover (since they have final exams on Monday). After we get through it, there’s only 5 minutes left in class. No time for an activity or game, so I ask them what music video they want to watch. (This is an extremely rare treat because usually I make them do a worksheet or something.)

Our class clown shouts “Teacher, MESS! MESS! You know MESS?” I do know Mess, actually. He’s referring to Lionel Messi, the soccer (err, football) player. His friends chime in. I comply. We watch this compilation, and I justify it in my head because there are title cards in English. The boys start reading them out loud, eyes glued to the screen – “The volley pass! Golazo versus Man City! Ooh, Man City! Overhead kick assist!”

My class clown is standing up, riveted, and after each clip he yells “Oh! MESS! Wow, MESS!” Needless to say, he is very very into soccer and Messi is his idol. My co-teacher laughs and says it’s the most focused she’s ever seen him in English class.

(The girls weren’t quite as into it, but they watched too.)


Thursday

A few minutes before class starts, I’m in my office and hear one of the kids yelling at the top of his lungs, “MADDY TEACHERS! MADDY TEACHEERRRRRS!” (He’s not the greatest at English and sometimes he likes to pluralize things that shouldn’t be.) I popped my head into the classroom and he said, “Oh teacher! 보고 싶었어요 (I just missed you).”

During lunchtime, one of the first grade boys peers through the crack in my office door and says in an exaggeratedly high-pitched voice: “OH MY CANDY!” He does this almost every day, as if somehow one of these days it’s going to make me actually give him candy.


Friday

The third graders get their speaking test scores back (the test was last week). One of the boys in this class is a student who I’ve watched grow from a very shy first grader who could barely look up during his speaking test, let alone say a word in English, to a well-prepared third grader who, stuttering a bit but looking me straight in the eye with confidence, told me he wishes he had the power of invisibility so he could play tricks on his family and impress his friends.

Today, he smiles quietly and fist pumps when his perfect score is announced (one of only three in the class).

After lunch, my second graders and I have a laugh because the question I put on the PPT was “What is 이유 in English?” but ALL of them read it out loud as “What is reason in English?” – “reason” being the answer to the question. They hadn’t even realized they were auto-translating the Korean word into English.

As I walk home, I notice a new banner that’s been hung up on one side of the intersection near my house. It reads simply: U.S.-South Korea Alliance – “Let’s Keep Dancing!” in Korean and English.

Let’s keep dancing.


For the most part I’ve obviously focused on the good parts of each day, things that made me smile or laugh. There were not-so-great moments as well, but these are the things I choose to dwell on. (I mean except Monday and Tuesday, which possibly reflects the improvement of my actual mood as the week proceeded.)

Semester 2, Part 2

As so often happens, the holiday has come and gone in such rapid fashion that it makes one question whether it actually occurred at all. How can everything just be so normal after we were gone for so long?

The weather, as if possessing some perverse desire to punish us further on this return to the daily grind, has relapsed into sticky summer temperatures. By the grace of some unknown education overlords, we are still allowed to use intermittent A/C in the classrooms… but let it be known that I waited for my co-teacher to turn it on herself to make sure we wouldn’t get in trouble.

It seems I really like to talk about the weather on this blog. Scintillating, I know.


It’s an anxious habit of mine to not even try to get to sleep early the night before a stressful day (such as a return to school). I already know I won’t be able to sleep much, so why force myself? Why toss and turn for hours? Why stress even more about the fact that I’m not getting enough sleep?

So instead I like to re-watch old GMM videos or something equally relaxing until I fall asleep in the wee hours, then wake up feeling like I’ve had a refreshing nap and power through the day with coffee and determination.

After that first day, it’s so much easier to fall back into a normal schedule. The first day is like releasing a held breath as everything clicks right back where it was before and you remember that this is, like, a Thing You Do to Earn a Living, and you’re not actually bad at it.


We have resumed business as usual in the classroom, if an earlyish Halloween lesson counts as business as usual. (As I’ve said before, trying to buckle down the day/week after a break is very no jam.) (No jam = Konglish for boring, “no” being English and “jam” shortened from the Korean word for fun.)

The 1st years are new to my surprise ending (pretending that only the winning team will get candy, then giving everyone candy as long as they come up to me and say “trick or treat”), while the 2nd years might have suspected it was coming because of last year but were equally delighted at the outcome. 1st years learn the word “spooky,” 2nd years the word “terrifying.”

The 3rd years will have to wait a few weeks for their fun, though. Their final exams are 4 weeks away (yes, they just finished midterms before the break), so it’s all studying and speaking tests between now and then.

This is the point of the semester around which the 3rd graders become Zombies of Misery because the majority of their final grade is already accounted for via the midterm (the final exam being more a formality than an actual assessment). Thus, they no longer really care what happens in class or on tests.

I’m cautiously hopeful that this change won’t be as dramatic and soul-sucking as it was with last year’s 3rd graders, though, because I’ve been with this particular batch of kids for their entire middle school careers. I’ve been teaching them since they were wee little 12-year-olds, and I feel they’re much more open with me. Getting them to open up a bit and bonding while they’re still unjaded pre-teens seems to make a real difference.

I hope.


P.S. October, please get cold again.

Let the holiday begin

We’ve made it, in one piece, to our glorious 10-day holiday.

Yesterday the principal strolled by at the end of the day and I showed him how to lock the English classroom doors. He gave me a thumbs up. As I bowed and turned to leave, he said “Bye!”, catching me off-guard. When I stammered “bye,” he asked if I can speak Korean, and chuckled benevolently(?) at my “조금만요 (just a little bit).” I consider this progress.

This morning one of the P.E. teachers greeted me at the school gate, as he always does, “Maddy! Have a beautiful* day!” I answered, as I always do, “Thank you, you too!”, but today he added “추석 잘 보내세요 (have a nice Chuseok [Thanksgiving])!”

*He likes to switch up the adjectives, so sometimes it’s wonderfulgreatfantastic, etc. Then he turns to any students who happen to be walking in and says in Korean “Hey, I’m pretty good at English, huh?”

The 2nd and 3rd graders finished their midterm exams this morning. I had one class with the 1st graders (who don’t have exams in the 2nd semester), and we played a trivia game. Even my occasionally-crotchety elderly co-teacher cracked a few jokes with the kids. Definitely a pleasant anticipatory mood in the air.

The weather is so cool today that I’d almost feel chilly if I weren’t from a state where we know how to handle bitter winters. My students and coworkers are already bundling up in sweatshirts and jackets and I haven’t even pulled out a long-sleeved top yet. “Teacher, not cold?” No, but I’m living for every crisp gust of goosebump-inducing air.

In two days we begin what is in my mind undoubtedly the most beautiful and magical month of the year.

Today, for this one moment if nothing more, all is well.

“I’m so glad I live in a world

where there are Octobers.”

– Anne of Green Gables

 

Ramblings

I am currently on Stage 4 of an unfortunate seasonal cold – the stages being thus defined by yours truly (you can trust me, I hold an M.D. from the University of Google):

Stage 1. The sore throat

This is the worst. I cannot abide a sore throat of any caliber. Like an itch that can never be scratched – lozenges, honey and warm water, painkillers, nothing can make it go away for long. You just have to deal with it, with every breath and every swallow (which you cannot avoid if you want to stay alive).

Stage 2. The nasal congestion

It is a universal law of viruses that in this stage you will only be able to breathe out of one nostril at a time. And that you’ll get a runny nose at the worst possible moment, like when you’re in the middle of a presentation and you forgot to stuff Kleenex in some discreet pocket.

BONUS! Sweating & aching

If your cold is of a particularly nasty strain, you might develop a light fever and begin sweating profusely even though you’re not doing anything strenuous. Like just sitting down at your desk minding your own business, vaguely aching and wanting to curl up in a limp ball.

Stage 3. The sinuses

Here we introduce pounding headaches and the feeling that your eyeballs will burst out of their sockets at any moment from all the pressure.

Stage 4. The chest congestion and coughing

This lovely stage may last for weeks after the other symptoms have faded out. Isn’t that nice? Your cold wants to leave you a little memento to remember it by. As I’m currently in this stage, I now have a 50-50 chance of choking on phlegm instead of speaking every time I start teaching class. It’s great fun.

This is surely the most dramatic description of a cold you have ever read, brought to you by a person who likes to dramatize all things. Especially illnesses. You’re welcome.


In other news, I was trying to tell my student to add a verb to his sentence: “You need a verb. 동사 (dong-sa).” He looked at me incredulously. “똥싸?” Then I remembered that with just slightly more emphasis on the start of each syllable (which is VERY EASY for a foreign tongue to accidentally do, might I add), the word verb magically transforms into the word shit.

I told my student he needed shit in his sentence.

*pats self on back*

His classmate did understand that I, the English teacher, was in fact asking for a verb and not human waste (flawed pronunciation notwithstanding), and the miscommunication was rapidly cleared up.


I try not to be frustrated with catatonic students, or even students who seem to have an attitude, when they tell me things like “I have academy [private lessons] until 10 p.m. today.” I suppose I wouldn’t be in the cheerfullest mood either, if I was literally in school for 14 hours.


Yesterday I asked the students what was for lunch and one of them said “Pizza hotdog!” I thought he was joking. Nope: one of the lunch items was a hotdog (not a full-size American beef frank, but thinner and shorter) on thick-pizza-crust-type bread with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and some sweet corn and raw garlic thrown in for good measure because this is Korea. Paired, of course, with tuna bibimbap (what pro chef wouldn’t pair these culinary delights together?).

Okay but real talk: I ate it all. Not too shabby.


One of my co-teachers was in a car accident – she’s in the hospital with some minor injuries, and as a result I get a substitute co for some classes this week. The poor woman seems to have literally been thrown into this situation. In typical Korean fashion, a “teacher friend” (probably someone of higher rank) requested a favor (favor being “come work at this random school for 3 days”) and she had to acquiesce.

Anyway, after observing my class for the first time, as we walked out together she commented: “The students are so noisy!”*

And here I was thinking we were having a pretty good, “quiet” day.

(cue the trombone: wah-wah-wah-waaaaaaaah)

Nah, it’s okay. I already know my kids are a handful.

*She later explained that she works at a middle school with very studious and quiet students. Okay, but are they cute tho???


We were playing a True/False quiz and I asked the teams to hold up their answers (on their mini whiteboards). One of the teams had written “Talse.” Nice try kiddos, nice try. (This is a favorite ploy of many students to try to cover their bases when we play quiz games; if it’s multiple choice, sometimes they’ll write a HUGE letter A and then sneakily write B, C, and D inside the A, hoping that somehow it’ll fool me.) But anyway I love that class and I want to pinch their cute faces because they’re always so cheerful and happy about everything. Even studying.


Four times a week we have guest teachers come in to teach special after-school classes in math and English. A couple of them use “my” classroom, the English room. I’ve seen the English teacher a few times as I’m wrapping up after my last class. We usually just smile and say hi in passing, but today she stopped me and said, “Do you want one?”, holding out one of the snacks she’d brought for her students.

Occasionally weird situations (for a foreigner) come out of Korea’s culture of sharing, but sometimes it can be really sweet.

Just another Friday

Closing out the week with mixed emotions.

We’re now just a couple weeks away from the longest public holiday Korea has seen in ages (possibly ever?) – a 10-day break at the start of October for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving); the Chuseok holiday is normally only 3 days long, but the government has extended it this year for the mental health of the nation and combined it with Hangul Day (celebrating the birth of the Korean writing system) which fortuitously falls on the following Monday.

But, we’re also seemingly inching closer and closer to Something Happening on this peninsula. Thus the mixed emotions.

I will say that the added fear (or at least concern) has once again put things into perspective, though, and even the hard days at school are, relatively speaking, a joy to experience. Because, y’know, we’re all alive to experience them.

Side note: no one is panicking here (far from it), but I don’t know that that’s comforting. I think South Koreans are basically numb to this threat because they’ve been living with it for so long. Also, there’s very much an attitude of “there’s nothing we can do, so just carry on,” which I sense stems from Korea’s long and at times harrowing history of being controlled (often brutally so) by other, bigger and more powerful nations.*

*DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert in Korean history or culture and this is just my opinion.

It’s an interesting phenomenon that the Koreans in my life are extremely concerned about me being home alone on holidays such as the upcoming Chuseok, but nobody bats an eye when I stay home by myself on American Thanksgiving Day or Christmas day.

I know why this happens, of course. To them, Chuseok and the Lunar New Year are mandatory family days, so anyone who doesn’t have family to be with on those days is in a sad and lonely situation – not realizing that to me these are just another nice set of vacation days with no additional meaning.

It’s just a sort of sad irony that no one will ever come to me a few days before Thanksgiving or Christmas and say, “Are you okay? Aren’t you lonely? Will you talk to your family?” the way they do for Korean family holidays.


Covering advice-giving with my first years. I asked them to each write a problem, real or imaginary, on their paper, put them all in a bucket, then pick a random one and write advice for the anonymous person. And  I got responses like this:

20170915_135105

“I want boyfriend… I’m so very lonely…” “You should always live the solo” (a.k.a. be forever alone)

20170915_135117

“My problem is school fight… I want to disappear school fight!!” “You should no fight.” Solid advice.

20170915_135051

“I have a poop accident to toilet #whatshouldido” “Go to you restroom. OK?” Love the use of a hashtag. Hope this wasn’t a real situation.

yep.

Updates

The weather: hot again. shoot.

The students: surprisingly good, for a monday. on the whole. i continue to be astounded by the formerly disruptive and/or comatose (depending on the day) boy who now participates in every part of class and tries to answer questions and use the key expressions. what happened to you child. i mean, i’m not complaining.

a different class was being way too talkative and one of the girls turned to me and said “it’s too noisy to study… 맞죠 (is that right)?” and was very proud of herself for remembering the grammar structure they’ve been learning (too adj. to verb). also incidentally, it was too noisy to study.

My first interaction with the principal: he wandered into my office at the end of the day and asked my co-teacher (who shares my office) how long i’ve been at this school. (safe to say he probably doesn’t speak english.) she answered for me, and i nodded my head and smiled to hopefully show him i know something. he then seemed to ask my co-teacher whether she teaches chinese or english. then he left. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?

My physical state: hot. ridiculously hot. the tease of fall makes it even worse when my un-air-conditioned office climbs towards 90 degrees. also, apparently, tired. one of my students asked if i got punched in the eye. nope, just my dark circles and the lamentable lack of fat around my eye sockets. note to self: get more sleep (or at least do a better job on the under-eye concealer).

My mental state: hoping that peace of a sort is maintained amidst current geopolitical tensions. (knocks on wood in an i’m-not-superstitious-but-also-not-NOT-superstitious kind of way)

Goodbye, hello

On Tuesday, at 8:30 a.m., the whole school gathered at the gym/auditorium for the principal’s short farewell ceremony. Salute the Korean flag, sing the national anthem, a short speech by the head teacher, a speech by the principal, and sing the school song. Dismissed.

On Wednesday, at 1:00 p.m., the principal came to my office to say goodbye personally (he preempted my plan to visit his office later in the day). I had a chance to thank him for all of his support over these three years, and he said he hopes I continue to enjoy working at this school.

On Thursday, nothing happened at all because all the kids had a field trip. (woot woot)

And today, Friday, at 8:35 a.m., all the teachers in our school gathered in the mini-auditorium – the very same mini-auditorium where I was introduced on my first day here. We trickled in, in pairs or groups, and the air was charged with anticipation and maybe apprehension. Honestly, I started feeling a bit nervous without really knowing why. It’s not like I was the one being introduced to a new school, and I’d heard there were good things being said about him (without knowing what the good things were or who was saying them). But still.

After a few minutes, the new principal walked down the sloping aisle to the podium, and I wondered if he felt as uncomfortable as I would walking through all these people with all eyes on him. He looked calm. I guess that’s why he’s a principal and I’m not.

He greeted us with a bow, and gave a short speech introducing himself (I assume). He seems friendly and speaks in a hearty baritone. That’s about all I can ascertain for now.

Then we transferred to the main auditorium (the gym) for his greeting to the students. Salute the Korean flag, sing the national anthem, a short speech by the vice principal, a speech by the new principal, and sing the school song. Dismissed.

Other than that, it was business as usual at school today. My kids were sleepy. Very very very sleepy. Nevertheless, the rallying cry “but today is Friday!” tends to rouse them from their apathy for a brief few moments. I’ve said it often enough now that sometimes the kids will say it first, and then we all cheer.

It happened

The heat broke like a fever. From dawn to dusk today there was no hint of muggy uncomfortable warmth. I write this as I sit in front of my open window in my apartment, letting the breeze wash over me like the healing balm that it is. I haven’t felt this in months, this perfectly pure, immaculate, untainted cool air. It smells like fall. As always, I didn’t realize how much I needed this until it came back.

I know the heat will return before it’s gone for good, probably with a vengeance. But this day is a promise of so many better days to come.