Quote of the Day

Always behave like a duck – keep calm and unruffled on the surface, but paddle like hell underneath.

Do you ever feel like that?

I know I do.

The paddling like hell part, I mean, not necessarily calm and unruffled.

P.S. I didn’t attribute that quote to anyone because it seems to have murky origins. A Google search gives partial credit to British actor Michael Caine (most recently in Kingsman and Interstellar), partial credit to a mysterious Jacob Braude, about whom nothing can be found, seemingly. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. Who doesn’t have a Wikipedia page these days?!? Not even a stub??

These are the things I find out when I’m deskwarming while my kids take their final exams.

Anyway, there are several versions of the quote to be found online; I picked the wording I liked best. Actually, I think I would prefer “keep calm and unruffled on the surface, even if you’re paddling like hell underneath” – hopefully you’re not always feeling a bit flustered or frantic on the inside, but if and when you are, just act like you’ve got it under control.


Teaching ESL in Korea: A Survival Guide

So you applied for an ESL job in Korea. You’ve been accepted. You (hopefully) threw yourself a mini celebratory party when you heard the good news, and you deserve it! A lot of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears go into applying for an overseas job. But now you might be wondering, “What am I getting myself into?” I know that’s what happened to me after the glow of being accepted started to wear off.

So, I’ve compiled a little list of Dos and Don’ts for all you future ESL teachers out there. Maybe it will help you feel more prepared about coming here and help you get off to a smooth start.

DO: Learn to like Korean food. At least be able to force it down and pretend like you’re enjoying it. Sure, you could come here and bring your own lunch to school every day and endure the teachers’ endless amazement and curiosity over the fact that you don’t/can’t eat Korean food… but trust me, you will have a much easier time and be much more readily accepted into “the group” of your coworkers if you sit down and eat their country’s food with them. Food and mealtime is so, so important here.

DON’T: Sit there with the “ew” look on your face, pick over your food like you’re panning for gold, or bring your own food (barring allergy- or religion-based dietary restrictions; in that case, be prepared to firmly but kindly explain your situation multiple times to multiple people at your school).

Pro tip: In my experience, it is better to take some of everything that’s being offered in the cafeteria, even if you have no intention of eating it, than skip any one food item. You will be asked why you don’t like whatever it is you didn’t take. So, as wasteful as it is (and this may depend on your school’s food waste policy), I recommend taking a couple pieces of that mega-spicy/mega-sour/mega-unpleasant-for-whatever-reason side dish, swirl it around in your tray a little, and then dump it in your soup bowl at the end of the meal and no one will even notice that you didn’t actually eat it.

The highest compliment related to food that you, as a foreigner, can receive from a Korean is that you “eat well.” I find that eating with an air of non-pickyness, at a steady pace, helps. (Obviously this also includes not making faces of disgust when you come across something you don’t like – but that’s basic manners everywhere.) And learn how to use chopsticks. It isn’t hard, and if you can gain at least a basic skill level with them, you’ll receive much praise for it.

DO: Bring deodorant. Lots of deodorant. It’s expensive here, and you have limited options. Koreans simply don’t use deodorant – and before you go “Ewww,” it’s because they honestly don’t need it. Koreans (and some other Asians, such as Japanese people) have been blessed with a gene that ensures a complete lack of underarm odor, while most Westerners of European descent have an all-too-ample amount of it. (This is so unfair.) In my experience, they also seem to sweat less. Sooo… it’s probably best to stock up on a year’s(ish) supply of your favorite kind before you get here.

DON’T: Freak out if you forgot to pack yours or run out early on – you can find it here in the major cities; it’s just a little pricey and you may not be able to find your favorite brand.

Pro tip: Honestly, I don’t think you could bring too much deodorant here, though. You’re a stinky person living in a country of non-stinky people; you’re going to want to slather that stuff on as much as possible, because there’s no blaming that B.O. on anybody else.

DO: Enjoy the kids. Please, for the love of all things holy, do not apply for this job if you don’t have some interest in working with children. The majority of teaching positions here involve elementary school aged kids, with a few middle school and high school positions here and there. You will be interacting with children on a daily basis; they are, ideally, the main reason you are coming here as an ESL teacher – to educate children. If you’re not someone who can find daily enjoyment from interacting with kids, I think your chances of being miserable here are much higher.

DON’T: Expect the kids to be little angels all the time. They’re not. The elementary kids are really cute but they can be little horrors, and the middle school kids, while hilarious and fun, also might like sleeping more than listening to you. Be prepared.

Pro tip: Get to know them on a personal level as much as you can. No, you won’t be able to form a personal bond with every single kid – you won’t even learn all of their names. But the more students you can connect with, the more they will open up to you, trust you, respect you, and learn from you. The more comfortable they become with communicating in English with you, the better you are fulfilling your purpose as a Native English Teacher.

DO: Use Waygook.org… sparingly. Waygook.org is an online community for ESL teachers in Korea specifically. It has all the info you could possibly need about life in Korea, with message boards for current news, where the best bars, restaurants, haircut places, and music are, and best of all, thread after thread containing lesson plans, templates, PowerPoints, worksheets, and other teaching ideas and materials. It’s seriously a blessing for new teachers with little or no experience teaching ESL.

DON’T: Believe everything you read or use the “download-and-go” method. As awesome as some of it is, certain threads on Waygook.org can also be a pit of despair, where some very negative people share very, very negative opinions. These are obviously to be taken with a grain of salt, and actually it’s probably best to avoid them entirely because you will find yourself sucked into a Vortex of Horrible, Vast Bleakness that will make you question all your decisions about living here. DON’T GO THERE! It will suck out your soul!

Additionally, although there’s tons of great material on Waygook, you need to use a critical eye with 99% of it. You can’t just grab a PPT and go teach it. First of all, it’s more than likely got some crappy low-quality images, spelling errors, and/or walls of text in it. Second, how can you teach something another person made? Your teaching material has to be your own, so that you can own it when you’re teaching. Trust me, the kids will know right away when you start stumbling over someone else’s words.

Pro tip: Personally, I used some Waygook materials for the first couple weeks of teaching (there is a specific thread for EACH English textbook used here in Korea, which is awesome), but once I started getting the hang of things, I would just go on Waygook for some ideas, maybe borrow a slide here or part of a worksheet there, but mostly make my own. These days I rarely use Waygook at all except if I’m really stuck for ideas (or if I’m feeling brave and want to jump into the Vortex of Doom and read juicy malicious attacks from people who are entirely miserable with their lives here).

DO (this is the most important): Be ready to throw your preconceived notions about etiquette and interpersonal communications out the window. You can’t come to live and work here still wearing your Western Culture Spectacles. Take those things off, tuck them away for future use when you go back to your home country. Approach the people and culture here with a fresh slate. You may not agree with everything about Korean society, but you are here (voluntarily, I might add) as a guest, an ex-pat, a foreigner in their country – so be respectful and try your best to adapt to their way of doing things. If they see that you’re making an effort, even if it’s not perfect, they will welcome you.

DON’T: Give up too soon. You may find it difficult to adjust right away due to culture shock, homesickness, the lack of Pop-Tarts and cheese (oh man, what I wouldn’t give for some real cheese right now… I’m a Wisconsinite! I need my cheese!), the language barrier, maybe even difficult co-teachers or wild unruly children or one too many good ol’ Korean surprises. It’s okay. Give it a week. Give it a month. Focus on one day at a time, and remind yourself of the reasons why you applied for the job in the first place. Look for the good in every day. Hold onto the small things that make you smile, the small kindnesses other people offer you. I promise you, something good is there in each day. Collect those small goodnesses like little lanterns of warmth and light when your heart feels dark and cold.

Pro tip: I’ve also found that if you start off strong in terms of trying to eat all the food, follow the customs, go out of your way to greet everyone properly, spend time building relationships with your co-teachers, etc., you can ease off a bit after a few months. For example, initially I would always finish my entire tray of food in the cafeteria, even if something wasn’t my favorite. After I had established that I “eat Korean food well” and received compliments from multiple co-teachers and random other teachers in the cafeteria, I’ve now stopped forcing myself to finish things I don’t want, and no one has noticed, because the preconceived notion has been established.

Final thoughts: Generally, just expect the unexpected. Don’t stress out even if stressful things are happening to you. This post isn’t meant to discourage anyone from coming to work/live here, since clearly I love Korea; 95% of my posts are about how happy I am to be teaching here and how much I love the culture and the students. But I hope that some of these pieces of advice are helpful to at least one future ESL teacher out there who will be coming to Korea.

Good luck! 화이팅!

Happiness is…

… the students’ palpable excitement to have me teach them once again (it’s been 3 weeks now because of the speaking test). The levels of rapport, efforts to communicate, and laughter were exponentially higher in all of my classes. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.

… seeing the joy (and sometimes incredulity) on the faces of the kids who did well on the speaking test when they hear their scores. “I’m satisfied,” said one boy contentedly. “I love you,” said another. “Oh! He confessed!” cried a third. (Confess = 고백 = tell someone you love them romantically for the first time.) Laughter ensued.

… not having to say a single word during the review section of this week’s lesson – just displaying the slide with bits of the dialogue or key expressions (some/most words hidden from their view, e.g. “_____ you _____” and they have to say “Could you recommend…”), and hearing my whole class chant the key expressions on their own. No prompting, no direction. I love it.

… finally feeling a spark of kinship with the co-teacher I hadn’t quite clicked with yet, quite suddenly and for no apparent reason. Suddenly our relationship just feels more at ease, friendlier, and far more cooperative when we’re in the classroom together. I have no idea why but I’m not complaining. (To be honest, I think we’ve both felt a bit awkward around each other, perhaps afraid that the other didn’t like us, struggling with communication at times – but we have each been making small efforts to be kind, help each other out, etc., and I think it finally knocked down a barrier.)

… 4:30 on a Friday. I love my kids and my job, but man it’s exhausting by the time Friday rolls around.

P.S. Sadness is when my co-teacher asks to take over my favorite class today because she needs to review with them for the final exam. *cries*


GIF attack (Korean Men edition)

This post is just me indulging myself with some Korean eye candy through the wonderful magic of GIFs. Because I want to. Because Monday.

Click through if you dare…

(Ladies, beware… once you enter the realm of Korean-guys-being-cute-GIFs, it’s hard to leave… and from there you’re only a small step away from being sucked into the addicting vortex of K-dramas. You have been warned.)

Continue reading


화이팅! (You can do it!)

After yesterday’s depressing post, we will now return to our regularly scheduled (cheerful) programming.

Today’s topic: 화이팅!

When Hyun Bin tells you ‘hwaiting,’ you can’t help but feel better, am I right?

The Korean word “화이팅!” (pronounced hwaiting, or sometimes spelled 파이팅 and pronounced paiting) is sort of a comprehensive term of encouragement for when one feels down, discouraged, or ready to give up. The term is Konglish: an English word that the Korean language borrowed, which usually means the pronunciation, and sometimes even the meaning, is different from the original English. In this case, it’s Konglish taken from the English “fighting” (but no, it doesn’t mean let’s start a fist fight). Korean doesn’t have an “f” sound, so they approximate it with either “hw” or “p.” (Try saying “hwaiting” a couple times without moving your lips or teeth much, and you’ll see how it can almost feel/sound like an “f.”)

I love this word. It actually does help if someone says it to you when you’re feeling down. I know from personal experience. My Korean co-teachers and friends have said “화이팅” to me when I had an open class approaching, for example, and it really did boost my courage.

And last summer, when I was visiting Korea with my tae kwon do school and we were at an intense training session with a local high school, one of the high school boys saw me struggling to breathe (um yeah that room was like 95 degrees and so humid that the mirrors were fogging up. literally) – so he raised his fist encouragingly and murmured, “화이팅!” I felt a smidgen less like death after that.

You can do it, don’t give up, keep trying, do your best, it will be OK, I believe in you – all of these phrases are encompassed by the simple “화이팅!” (often accompanied by a raised fist of encouragement).

TOP from Big Bang demonstrating the ‘hwaiting’ fist

The bestower of this phrase offers sincere sympathy and a sense of solidarity with the distressed party, while the recipient feels supported, motivated, able to go on or try again or whatever the case may be.

Anyway, the reason I was thinking about this topic is because I want to encourage anyone reading this that you really can do things that seem impossible or way too scary or way too difficult.

I remember about 3 weeks into teaching, I was walking home from school one afternoon feeling incredibly discouraged and near tears because I felt there was no way for me to reach some of the kids. I’d had a particularly difficult class that day, where it seemed that none of them would listen or understand me, and I felt useless and ineffective and helpless. No one likes feeling those things, so naturally I was upset. I feared that I wouldn’t be able to move past that point, that I would forever be an ineffective teacher who was wasting my school’s time, money, and space.

But you know what? I kept a “화이팅!” spirit. I didn’t give up. I pushed through and I kept trying to improve my lessons and think of different ways to reach out to the students. And things got better. I formed bonds with my co-teachers and my students. I figured out more effective ways to teach. I’m by no means perfect now, but things are much better than they were 3 months ago. Now I can look back and laugh at how clueless I was about teaching and about my students back then (and I’m sure I’ll say the same thing in 6 months about my current knowledge).

So… if you’re going through a rough time, please stop to look at all these GIFs and feel encouraged.

Don’t give up.


Oh, what’s that? The last GIF has nothing to do with ‘hwaiting’? Oops. Sorry. Got carried away. Google Imaging Korean celebrity GIFs is a dangerous thing.


MERS Scares

EDIT 6/26/15: This is a really good video from Eat Your Kimchi to calm everyone’s fears. I must say that even my Inner Hypochondriac and I have calmed down about it. The outbreak seems to already be slowing down here, and I’m pretty sure within a month or two it will be wiped out completely.

My original post follows below.

Hey, that rhymes. (Koreans pronounce it like “Mare-iss” for some reason.)

So, MERS is a thing. That exists. In Korea. In Daegu now, officially, as of yesterday. (The Daegu government website has a warning up, but when you switch the language to English, the MERS warning disappears… hmm…)

A wedding in Seoul last week. Because masks can save us from MERS. Don’t you just love that one maskless guy though? He’s so happy.

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome. A coronavirus of deadly proportions, with no cure or vaccine to date and a 40% mortality rate. It’s spreading more rapidly in Korea than it ever has in the Middle East, supposedly for “unknown reasons.” But I can tell you why (prepare for The Rant of the Hypochondriac):

A) Lack of basic public hygiene. I have addressed this before, in my post about what I dislike about living in Korea. The spitting, the peeing, the coughing/sneezing into the air without even attempting to cover it, the lack of soap and towels in restrooms, the throwing of used toilet paper into garbage bins instead of flushing it… I feel like Korea is more than a little behind in terms of 21st century health precautions in spite of their state-of-the-art medical technology. Puzzling to say the least (although, granted, their economic development has occurred so rapidly in the last few decades that I think some other aspects of society are still catching up – and I mean that in a completely non-condescending way, not like “hurry up and be like America, Korea.” America has its own problems).

B) Selfishness. From Patient Zero to Patient 150 (the current number of infected as of yesterday), way too many people are only thinking of themselves. The person who brought MERS to Korea was a middle-aged businessman who took a business trip to the Middle East. When he came back and started feeling sick, he neglected to tell anyone where he’d been traveling. He bounced around to different hospitals, leaving MERS infections in his wake. Okay, maybe those mistakes could happen to anyone (does anyone ever really believe they’re going to get a deadly virus like that?) (although I’d like to know what the heck he was doing in Saudi Arabia that led him to catch MERS… kissing camels or something?).

But then more people did more stupidly selfish things. The person who shared a room with Patient Zero caught MERS, and so did his son – who then promptly left for Hong Kong and China, thus endangering two other countries simply because he didn’t feel like staying put in quarantine. If I were China or Hong Kong, I’d be pretty ticked. In my mind, that guy is damn lucky that China put him in a hospital and is treating him.

More recently, Patient 141, who I can only hope is a legitimately crazy person with mental health issues, reportedly got all worked up while waiting for his MERS test results, told people that if he had MERS, he was going to “spread it around,” and broke the lock on the hospital door so he could escape the hospital. (So that he could then go to yet another hospital the following day… and be confirmed as MERS Patient 141.) Who does that?!? Psychopaths, that’s who.

And finally, and most disturbing of all for me personally due to my current situation: a Daegu man decided to go visit his mother in Seoul – who had been diagnosed with MERS. After visiting, he returned home to Daegu… and returned to work in his district government office job for more than 2 weeks, hence coming in contact with who knows how many Daegu-ites… and he is now officially diagnosed with MERS and is in one of the hospitals here. His home is not 20 minutes from where I live.

Okay, wait. Just wait a minute. Let me make sure I heard this right. He visited his mother, whom he knew was sick with MERS… okay, fine, he can take that risk if he really wants to, although I recommend Skype or FaceTime instead. But why wasn’t his mother quarantined at that point? And then no one stopped him from coming back to Daegu?? And once he got back to Daegu, he didn’t think “Hmm, maybe I should wait a couple weeks and make sure I’m healthy before I go coughing on people at work”??? This guy’s son is currently attending a Daegu public elementary school. Children have proven to be highly susceptible to MERS after their parents become infected, yet the child is still going to school. And you know how kids are – they are the least likely to cover their mouths, ever. Selfishness, foolishness, and honestly just plain stupidity. Yeah, I said it. My Inner Hypochondriac is not always a nice person. There are few things that infuriate me in this world, but this type of thing is one of them.

C) The collectivistic culture. If it’s not selfishness, it’s the deeply ingrained, but in this case really unwise, practice of family members visiting and caring for their sick relatives in the hospital. Many of the current infected patients got sick because they were exposed to the virus in the hospital while doing what should have been left to nurses and doctors. Please note: I am NOT criticizing the collectivistic nature of Korea as a whole. I really do appreciate many things about this aspect of society here, and I think it has many benefits. Just not when there’s a deadly virus going around. Sometimes you have to draw a line, you know?

D) Hospital and government flubs. Samsung Medical Center, the TOP hospital in Seoul, has been confirmed as the leading source of the outbreak, with more than 70 cases stemming from within its walls. To which I say, what the hell?! Come on, Korea. Your best hospital can’t keep things sterile and sanitary enough to prevent the spread of a deadly virus? Patients were sharing rooms with MERS patients, family members were visiting, and the government didn’t release the list of MERS-containing hospitals until weeks after the first case. There is also a tendency to “hospital shop” here, to go from hospital to hospital to find the best one.

So basically, if this were a more severely contagious disease, half the population would be dead by now. Potentially.

… But don’t worry, friends and family! MERS can be avoided via simple hygienic practices and basic preventative measures such as washing your hands with soap and hot water, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding close contact with potentially sick people!

… Oh.


We’re screwed.

I’m partly being facetious with this post, partly venting to release my hypochondriacal stress. Logically, I don’t exactly think it’s time to panic yet (although my Inner Hypochondriac really, really wants to). The Korean government claims they’re tightening the quarantines (but I’m skeptical on that based on the Daegu guy, and the apparent mentality people have that quarantine is optional anyway). The WHO has urged the thousands of Korean schools that closed to reopen, and to those that stayed open, to carry on as usual. President Park Geun-hye has urged the public to continue their normal lives so the economy doesn’t take a huge hit. Many people don’t seem overly concerned about it, in spite of all the fear-mongering in the news. Some experts are predicting that the outbreak will die down within the next few weeks.

Actually, this is a quite fair and balanced explanation of the situation from my favorite Korean language learning resource, Talk To Me In Korean:

However, knowing that the first case in Daegu has been confirmed, and that said patient had contact with countless others before being diagnosed, is unnerving. I won’t be stocking up on food supplies and hiding out in my room or anything, but maybe it’s time for me to go buy my own mask.

P.S. Here is how my school is responding to the MERS risk – based on a school message system notification received this morning which I popped into Google Translate:

Administrative matters

1) class public and meeting schedules after June 26 are hoping you promote as scheduled, it should guide future changes when a separate memorandum

2) pursue a legitimate foreign public and if such an event Homers observe the instructions thoroughly before preventive group dedicated to the precautionary wind

3) consider the attendance at the event must be fully prepared to hand sanitizers, keep each other clean, polite guidance

4) After a public event data relating to inward website with such measures to be shared

5) Assist school staff, external trips refrain. End.

Preventive groups dedicated to the precautionary wind should do the trick. Keep each other clean, folks. End.


Art in short films

Happy Monday!

I’m always searching for high quality short animations with little to no dialogue that I can use in my classes for various activities. Today I stumbled across some really lovely films that are more art than animation. I doubt I’ll be using them with my classes (most of my kids aren’t quite at the level to be discussing complex themes and ideas), but I thought I might as well share them here.

“Gravity” by Ailin Liu

I love the ambiance and art style. The description says the piece is about “temptation and addiction.” If you’ve ever experienced struggling to resist a temptation of any kind (which I suspect most of us have), perhaps you can relate. The only thing I wish I could change about it (me being my optimistic self) would be the girl taking a stand against the temptation in the end, instead of being whisked away (consumed?) by it. Although I suppose that’s sort of the harsh reality about some addictions.

“Thought of You” by Ryan Woodward

Sweet and sad. The song is beautiful and the animation style is beautifully simple. I think it’s so cool to combine four art forms – drawing, animation, dance, and music – into one piece.

“BLIK” by Bastiaan Schravendeel, Jean-Paul Tossings, Sander Kamermans, and Piebe van der Storm

A bit longer and a very different style from the previous two, but I like it. I enjoy the choice to leave the characters’ faces blank; instead of reading the emotions plainly from their expressions, we absorb those emotions from the body language and the context. I also think the blank faces give it more of an artsy feel, rather than a cartoony feel. (And perhaps also give the viewer a bit of a blank canvas, so the emotions are open to individual, subjective interpretation.) And the story is so cute and relatable. Young unrequited love.

There are many more similar animations on that YouTube channel, Mad Artist Publishing, but these three were my favorites of the ones I watched.

That’s all, folks. I’m back to grading speaking tests. Enjoy your Monday, and I hope some of these animations give you a little upliftedness.


Speaking tests and feeling needed

Today was the last day of the first week of the speaking tests. I’ve tested approximately 180 kids thus far, and I’ll be testing about 540 more over the next 2 weeks.

Thoughts on the process:

— It really isn’t a fair test when all is said and done. Since they’ve been given the possible questions beforehand, it’s more of a memorization test than a speaking test (at least in terms of conversational English, which is what I’m supposed to be teaching).

— Additionally, I have about 10-15 seconds between kids to process what they said and decide on a score. If I don’t firmly decide right then and there, by the time I sit back down at my desk 45 minutes later, the kids and their answers are all a blur. To cope with this, I’ve been writing little notes to myself next to their (potential) score, so if there’s any doubt in my mind, I can go back to it later and remind myself of why I was on the fence. Still, I’ve been agonizing over their scores.

— I can totally tell when:

(A) the kids are “reading” their answers in their mind (their eyes see past me as they struggle to recall each word they wrote down)


(B) an entire class has been fed a cookie cutter answer by one of my co-teachers.

I’m fine with (A). I really can’t fault them for pre-writing and memorizing their answers because it’s exactly what I would have done when I was a student.

Actually, I did this for probably my first three years of college whenever I had to give presentations – wrote and memorized everything I wanted to say, word-for-word. The main issue with memorizing answers or presentations is that as soon as you forget one little word in the sequence, it throws you off completely. Your mind goes blank and you sit in horrible silence as you try to get yourself back on track. I know because it’s happened to me. When I finally gained the skill of speaking freely from notes instead of a script, the problem disappeared – because I didn’t have to follow this set order I’d created for myself.

Now, throw a second language into the mix and you’ve got a whole new set of challenges, but I still wish there were a better way to test my kids’ conversational ability. Rather than counting sentences and listening for grammar and structural mistakes, why can’t I just talk with them? So what if they skip the articles of speech, use the wrong verb form, or say “berry” instead of “very” as long as they can get their message across in a way that I understand?

But that’s a very open-ended / gray area for an academic setting, especially in Korea. I get it. The kids need to be tested, and they need to receive a grade. Sigh.

— As for (B), the being-fed-answers-by-teacher part, it irritates me a little. At least let the kids try to come up with their own answers first. I know many of them are plenty capable of it, so why kill their creativity? It was particularly frustrating if I heard the first kid give what I thought was a good and interesting answer… and then about 5 minutes later, a different kid gave almost the exact same answer.

— I’ve also been trying to put myself in their shoes as much as possible. Three years out of college, it’s easy to forget the special kind of extreme anxiety surrounding test-taking (especially when it involves speaking!). But as one of my Korean friends said when I mentioned that I only have a minute or two to test each kid – “For the student, that’s the longest minute!”

And I can see that. Some of them are visibly shaking, their lips quivering between words, voices unsteady. I try my best to calm them down and make them feel relaxed in those cases. Of course, some of them are also bursting with confidence (usually the boys), which is really cute. A few have tried to give up immediately – “I don’t know” – but I’ve been prompting them until they say something so that I can give them a few points. (The answer “London. Beautiful. Famous.” in response to “Which would you prefer to visit, New York or London?” is better than “I don’t know”!)

I’ve also discovered which kids are the quiet-in-class-but-actually-really-good-at-English students. I was completely floored on Tuesday when one of my girls started answering my question. I kid you not, she sounded like a native speaker. I was sure she must’ve lived or studied abroad at some point, but she said she hasn’t. I mean, the girl is fluent. She speaks without hesitation, barely a trace of an accent, and with all the natural fillers that a native speaker would use. It’s insane. Prior to this week, I’d known she was smart because of her occasional participation in class, but this was a revelation. To my knowledge, she’s the only one at that level in the entire school.

The other trend I’ve noticed is that the girls tend to be much better prepared than the boys and have overall been scoring higher; however, they also tend to be quieter and more reserved, while the boys are more likely to be expressive and enthusiastic.

Thankfully, so far there have been no tears.

The last thing I want to say is that if three weeks ago was the time I really felt all my classes open up to me, then this is the week that they embraced me as their teacher. I suddenly feel much more a part of the school, probably because I’ve developed more personal connections with students and staff alike. I can identify which students belong in which class and know more of their names (especially thanks to the speaking test… I’ve been making note of as many names + faces as I can).

Walking through the halls, I’ve been inevitably swarmed with students asking for their scores (I’m not giving them out until all the tests have been completed; I feel like giving them on the spot would be very unwise for several reasons – any teachers out there who do give immediate grade feedback?).

I suddenly feel needed in the school, not just as a foreign entertainer who comes in once a week to show them pretty pictures and speak natural English, but actually as a teacher to them. This week, for the first time, students started coming to me in the office or before class to ask questions about the speaking test, and about other English-related things as well, which makes me so happy.

And from feeling needed, it’s a very short jump to feeling loved.


Monday musings

Sometimes I get a bit bored with my own blog posts. Hopefully my readers do not feel the same way.

I had a rough C-level 2nd grade class today. There’s a joke in Korea about “2nd Grade Middle School Syndrome,” and whatever that is, this particular class definitely has it.

But my point here isn’t to complain about squirrelly 14-year-olds, but rather to share something that is neither cute nor funny – something quite small, but which I found troubling and sad. I was helping the kids think of a hypothetical problem so their partner could give them advice, and I went over to check on a really quiet boy and saw that he had written (to my knowledge, without any prompting or help):

“I can’t see well.”

Granted, I have no knowledge of whether this problem is his actual personal problem or not, but for some reason it just broke my heart. I don’t know if it will strike you, the secondhand recipient of the story, the same way – however, in that moment I wanted to give him a hug or something, and still now I’m sitting here mulling over it and worrying about him. It’s quite possibly true, and also quite possible that his family can’t afford / doesn’t care enough to get him glasses.

Sometimes what pains me the most about this job is the very reason that I was hired to do it – I speak a different language. I can’t always connect with them in meaningful ways when they need it.

So as not to end on that sad note, I’ll finish by saying that I really love my small school main co-teacher. She’s one of those brightly efficient, smart-as-a-whip, always-busy-but-never-too-busy-to-smile-and-say-hi people. She’s barely 5’2″ with her three-inch platform sandals – a tiny firecracker of energy and intelligence. She also gives me fantastic support in the classroom and knows when to jump in with a Korean explanation if needed. I had the great fortune of teaching with her during my very first class on my very first day as an ESL teacher, and I feel like she set me on the right track from there. Love her.

… speaking test at main school starts tomorrow. T minus 10 hours. It feels strange not to be able to do anything to prepare for such an important, weighty event (other than to visualize all my students acing it, of course ^^).


착시 (Optical Illusions)

This optical illusions video was extremely popular with my kids this week. And it is pretty cool. (There will be spoilers below the video, so watch first before reading the rest of this post!)

Did you watch?

Last chance! Trust me, it’s worth the 2 minutes. Watch it!

Okay. I hope you watched it.

I absolutely loved showing this in class because the reactions of each of my classes inevitably followed this pattern:

Video begins. Chorus of “뭐야?” (“What the heck?”) as we zoom in on the globe. When the big reveal shows that it’s just a drawing, exclamations of “우와!” (“Wow!”). They’re impressed.

Second illusion. The baseball is presented, and there are murmurs of “그림, 그림” (“it’s a drawing”), and then a satisfied chorus of “역시” (“I knew it!”) as the drawing is revealed. No big surprises there. (Which is what makes the final illusion so awesome.)

Final illusion. There’s always a heated debate as the sunglasses are presented – drawing or real? Usually the conclusion (in Korean) is that they’re real, and hence I hear more outbursts of “역시” when the glasses are removed from the table… and just as they’re feeling pretty happy with themselves for guessing correctly… she lifts the entire table up, and I hear the loudest, most astonished, and longest chorus of “우와” yet. I love it.

Side note: Korean kids are probably the best, most appreciative audience you will ever find. Showing them cool stuff is the best because they never just scoff at it like, “Teacher, this is dumb.” As long as the video is reasonably cool or adorable (think extreme sports, baby animals, or illusions like this), they will be suitably impressed, and you will feel awesome just for showing it to them.

I love the artistry in this video because they build up to the final payoff perfectly. By showing two single-item drawings like that and then making it seem as if the sunglasses will possibly be the third illusion (centering all of our focus there), they catch the viewer completely by surprise when it turns out that the backdrop itself is the drawing, and that makes the illusion that much better.

It’s psychology and an optical illusion, and that’s pretty cool.

P.S. My kids loved it when I included the Korean word for optical illusions, 착시, and more especially when I attempted to say it out loud. “착시, right?” I’d say. “, 착시,” they’d respond (and then laugh at my Western accent – not in a disrespectful way, but in an affectionate way).