Free talking

Had another two hours of free talking with two 2nd grade girls in my office today. I was really impressed with them (both their English level and their general level of maturity), and so here are some of the comments they made that stuck with me.

On books:

“I asked my mom to buy that book. But then I didn’t read it. So, I hid it [to avoid Mom getting rid of it].”

“I want to read. But it’s hard to act. I just think [about reading].”

On hair:

“I think how hair looks is not important. My hair is curly. So I have ponytail and pins. My friends think stewardess.” (She opts for a very tightly-pulled-back bun every day without fail.)

“I think hair quality is very important. I am not patient to grow my hair. My patience is about 2 months. Then I cut it.”

On Adventure Time, the bizarre Cartoon Network show:

“I think that show is very weird and a little crazy. When I see that show too much, I think it is not good for my mental. I think it has a deep view of the world under the weird stuff, and it is scary. I think the creators of that show just write everything they think, no filtering.”

On Korean education:

“I want to study abroad. I hate Korea. I hate tests. We take too many tests.” (Note: the “I hate Korea” comment was strictly in the context of a 14-year-old who is worn out with the constant pressure to study, study, study. Upon further conversation it became clear that she loves her country.)

On social pressures:

“My favorite teacher asked me to join Debate Club. I didn’t want to. But I said yes, because I didn’t want to disappoint her. That teacher asked another student to join and that student refused, and the teacher thought it was strange. So I said yes. But I hate Debate Club! My favorite teacher does not teach the club. It’s a different teacher. I have to debate in front of many 1st and 2nd grade students, and the teacher will grade me and the students will vote who was better. And if I get a bad grade I will be so embarrassed, because 1st grade students will think my thoughts are not good.

“On Club Day we watched a movie. But I didn’t know we had to write a debate about that movie. So I quickly wrote during lunch, just roughly. And the teacher read it and said it was bad. She said it was worse than a 1st grader.

“And I really hate that I don’t have any friends in club. There are only 2 other girls in the club, and they are very close, so I can’t talk with them. Why did I say yes? I was stupid!” (She was almost tearing up just talking about all this, and I felt so bad for her – she is so sweet and bright and smart, and I completely sympathize with her predicament in this club.)

In my mind, these are some very mature and sophisticated thoughts for a couple of 14-year-olds – which they’re expressing in a second language, no less. The conversations I have with my middle schoolers display a very different level of maturity, mindset/outlook on life, and set of values/priorities than I would expect to find in a typical American middle schooler.

An amalgamation of deskwarming thoughts

From Wednesday: Update from the arctic front

Greetings, blog readers. I have returned to my station in the icy tundra. My fingers are stiff with cold but I think I’ll be able to crank out a blog post before I develop frostbite.

Kidding, kidding.

Actually, today it’s quite mild by comparison. The blast is still full force, but the temperature isn’t quite so chilling.

On Monday the bad kids came in to clean. I saw one of the girls taking her sweet time “sweeping the floor” around the Vice Principal’s desk while she took a good long snoopy look at his computer screen. (This is why I turn off my monitor every time I leave the office.)

Today a couple of 3rd grade girls are cleaning, and I must say they’re doing a much better job than any of the kids I’ve seen to date.

There is also potentially a parent-teacher meeting going on with two moms, the VP and another teacher in the office. Serious business.

From Thursday: Update from the introvert’s paradise (an empty office)

The nice thing about my main school is that, although it’s farther away which means walking for almost 30 minutes in stifling humidity and heat, I have the whole office to myself. So relaxing (though by 4:30 it gets a little mind-numbingly boring). Really, though, a quiet, air-conditioned room for 8 hours? Heavenly.

I was interrupted a few times today, though:

From 10 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., two 2nd grade girls came to my office for free talking time. They were in my summer camp and are really delightful kids. We talked about school, tests and stress, K-pop and music, Disney and movies, their elementary school experiences, and where they want to travel or study abroad.

Our chat was interrupted when a teacher from the main office came to get me – “Eat lunch together!” Oh, okay. So the girls were shooed out with confirmation that they’re welcome to come back tomorrow for more chatting, and I went with the music teacher, who explained “Eat together, 3 or 4 teachers.”

But when I arrived, the Vice Principal had a Strong Opinion and decided that the Korean language teacher and I should go eat lunch together (he speaks English fairly fluently) while she and the other two teachers ate elsewhere.

O… kay.

Sometimes the Vice Principal has Strong Opinions, and the other teachers are helpless in the face of it. If her opinion coincides with yours, it’s awesome because no one can argue with her (see: me having the 4th floor office to myself); if not, it’s too bad for you because no one can argue with her. You just go with the flow in these cases. She is one scary strong lady.

So, the Korean language teacher, a middle-aged married man, drove us to a nearby restaurant and we ate lunch together. He was very kind. We could’ve used a third or fourth person as a social buffer (you know, when two people run out of things to say, a third or a fourth person can help with filling in the gaps), but by the end we had some nice conversations. He has lived and worked in many places in Korea, is a devoted Christian who is very involved with his church, and he majored in Korean, German, Theology, and English Literature (holy cow!).

And now here I am back at my desk, T minus 2 hours left in my deskwarming day, then the usual 30 minute Trek of Doom back home, during which I sweat like a pig and desperately wish for the minor relief of a tiny breath of wind. (One of the hardest things about summer in Daegu, other than the crazy humidity, is the fact that the air is so still. Breezy, hot, humid air is better than stale, hot, humid air, but breezes are few and far between here because we’re in a valley walled by mountains. On the plus side, it’s been cloudy and overcast more days than not, so at least I don’t have to bear the full, brutal force of the sun.)

Things to be happy about

– Realizing that in the first couple weeks alone of next semester, several lessons from my various textbooks overlap with key expressions so similar that I can essentially reuse my lessons (be it crossing over lessons from last semester at my small school to this semester at my main school or vice versa, or the fact that the 1st graders at my main school might be learning a key phrase almost identical to the 2nd graders at my small school). Less work for Teacher = happy Teacher indeed.

– Being productive enough during my day of deskwarming to feel satisfied by the end of it rather than lethargic and bored.

– This heavenly creation from the most adorable coffee-flower shop combo I’ve ever seen (okay, the only coffee-flower shop combo I’ve ever seen, but whatever, it’s adorable ‘kay?):

20150728_201422
Yes, a brownie sundae with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and almonds.

– Surviving after eating this:

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Bottom: dried fish. Middle: raw beef. Top left: unidentified squishy cow part. Top right: the 3rd part of a cow stomach, according to Google (and the only thing I would not try).
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Close-up for your viewing pleasure. Question: why is the 3rd part of a cow’s stomach SPIKY? I was convinced it was some kind of venomous sea urchin.

In case anyone is wondering, the raw beef tastes quite inoffensive, even good, and I’m told it’s very high quality, expensive, and famous in Daegu. Foodies would probably love it. I, however, am not a foodie and could not get past the extraordinarily squishy chewiness. Texture is a huge make-or-break factor for me.

The unidentified string-cheese looking cow part was also mild and inoffensive and mostly tasted of the sesame oil sauce it was in.

I cannot speak for the spiky cow stomach. That will have to wait for another day when I’m feeling a bit more adventurous.

K-drama Ratings

The following is a comprehensive list of all the Korean dramas I have watched, along with my rating and a brief description. For professional reviews/ratings from the Queen of K-Dramas, check out dramabeans (my inspiration for this list).

(This list will be updated as I pursue my goal of Watching All the Dramas.)

Note: * = dropped / ** = currently watching

Adolescence Medley (2013) – 8/10

A 3-episode mini drama about high school country kids that packs a lot of heart. Really enjoyable. Also nice that they got an actor who is actually high school age to play the lead – shocking!

Age of Feeling (2014) – 5/10

It starts off strong – love the historical setting, the cute romance, the general vibe – but rapidly loses its storyline and becomes a violent, dull, senseless mess (there were multiple issues during filming, including changing writers and about half the cast dropping out midway through, which could explain things). Somehow I stuck through to the end, but it wasn’t worth it. Disastrous.

Answer Me 1997 (2012) – 7/10

Cute at times, frustrating at others. I really wasn’t a fan of the heroine, Shi-won’s, behavior (that was where most of the frustration came in) – but if nothing else, this drama introduced me to the talent, adorableness, and handsome face that is Seo In-guk.

Big (2012) – 3/10

Ugh, don’t get me started. Such a disappointment. If you’re going to do a body-swapping drama, at least put in multiple body swaps! (See: Secret Garden.) Plus, I’m not really a fan of Gong Yoo; he’s just not my style.

Blade Man (2014) – 8/10

The level of weird and random here was right up my alley. Truly hilarious IMO. The plot flagged a little at the end with unnecessary conflict and angst, though (they should’ve stuck with what was working for them – random hilarity!), and the ending was purely bizarre, which is why it’s not a 9 or 10. Still, definitely worth a watch if you click with this kind of humor.

Boys over Flowers (2009) – 6/10

A classic – the definitive K-drama that every K-drama lover should attempt to get through. If you’ve seen some of the really good dramas already, though, it might be difficult. (Sorry, BoF fans!) I think the main reason this one is so beloved is that for many, it was their introduction to K-dramas – a gateway drug, as it were – and therefore it carries many fond memories and is the object of much affection regardless of the fact that it’s simply not very good.

City Hunter (2011) – 10/10

Definitely in my top 10. Suspense, action, romance, revenge, true love, giants, miracles – oops, that’s something else. But seriously, this drama will make you feel all the feels, and if you’re anything like me, it will also give you a thing for guys in black surgical masks. Specifically, Lee Min-ho in a black surgical mask.

The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince (2007) – 4/10

In my opinion, waaayyy overhyped by the K-drama community. The chemistry did nothing for me, the humorous moments were few and far between (if even existent), and the jajangmyeon eating contest in Episode 1 turned me off almost before I even got started. I honestly actively disliked this show. I’m not sure why I bothered to finish it; I guess because it’s a classic. Not recommended. (I feel like I’m alone in Kdramaland on this one… anyone out there who agrees with me?)

Doctor Stranger (2014) – 9/10

This one is rated highly purely out of my enjoyment in suffering from Extreme Second Lead Syndrome. I shipped the Quack Couple so hard that I fell under the delusion that this drama would break Kdrama Law and bring a non-canon couple into canonship. If not for the great fun of shipping a hopeless ship (and the brilliant zany weirdness of Lee Jong-suk as Park Hoon, at least for the first half), this drama would be a 3/10 for disastrous plot (or lack thereof). Recommended for any Lee Jong-suk fan; otherwise, skip.

Flower Boy Next Door (2013) – 6/10

A nice, cute, fluffy drama with plenty of eye candy and little in the way of memorable acting, dialogue, or directing. Still, easy to watch and plenty of humor thanks to Yoon Shi-yoon’s character, “Enrique.” It could be worth the watch just for him and the speaking-Spanish-but-pretending-to-be-the-Italian-mafia scene in Episode 14.

Flower Boy Ramyun Shop (2011) – 9/10

Love this drama. Cute and hilarious in all the right ways. The noona romance is sizzling, the chemistry is sizzling, the flower boys are sizzling… and this is one of the few dramas I’ve seen where the ending was not only satisfactory, but triumphantly perfect and couldn’t have gone better even if I had written it myself.

Gaksital (Bridal Mask) (2012) – 8/10

Prepare for the long haul with this drama (28 episodes! – that’s long for a Korean drama, the average being 16-20), but overall it’s worth the time commitment. It’s a really well-done historical drama, great plot, great acting, that will pull you in and keep you going back for more. Personally, this genre isn’t my cup of tea, but it was still so good that I can’t help giving it an 8.

Healer (2014-15) – 10/10

Healer takes the bar and the legacy left by City Hunter and raises it to a whole new level. This drama is just about flawless, with very little unnecessary angst and just the right combination of action, suspense, humor, romance, and family bonding. Highly, highly recommend.

Heartless City* (2013)

-Want to get back to this one. It just wasn’t the right time, or I wasn’t in the right mood. I’ll try again someday.

Heirs (2013) – 9/10

Rated highly because it was the 2nd drama I ever watched and at the time, I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen. As far as K-drama tropes go, this one has it all. It was a huge flop in drama circles and probably one of the most condemned dramas of all time by drama critics everywhere. However, here are my reasons that you should watch it anyway: 1) Eye candy feast (hello, Lee Min-ho, Kim Woo-bin, Kang Min-hyuk, Choi Jin-hyuk, Kang Ha-neul, Park Hyung-sik – ALL IN ONE DRAMA). 2) Lee Min-ho speaking Engrish. 3) Jay the surfer. 4) Humor. IMO it is a very funny drama, albeit sometimes without intending to be.

High School King of Savvy** (2014)

I Hear Your Voice (2013) – 9/10

Fantastic story. Lee Jong-suk is a puppy and how could you not love him? I recall being a bit frustrated with Lee Bo-young’s character’s hesitancy and lack of affection at times, but given the noona romance, it’s understandable. The main conflict has a great arc and resolution. Really well-done show.

Kill Me, Heal Me** (2015)

Liar Game (2014) – 10/10

Possibly my favorite/the best K-drama I’ve ever seen. Plot, acting, and directing are amazing. I even convinced a couple staunch anti-K-dramaites to watch it, and they enjoyed it. It will grip you and keep you in the edge of your seat each step of the way. Watch it. Now.

Marriage Not Dating (2014) – 9/10

A fun, light romantic comedy that had me laughing out loud. This wasn’t a particularly popular drama, and the actors aren’t well-known, but I really enjoyed it because of the characters and the acting (and, yes, the love triangle – which tends to be a major pull for a lot of K-dramas).

Mask** (2015)

Mr. Baek* (2014)

-Dropped after suspecting that my OTP ship was not gonna happen, looking up spoilers, and confirming my fears.

My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho (2010) – 7/10

If I hadn’t watched You from Another Star first, I might’ve enjoyed this more; however, in my opinion, You from Another Star did the whole supernatural love story thing much better. Nevertheless, it was funny and intense and sweet, and it made me laugh and cry, so it was a good drama. Plus I love the OST (“Fox Rain” is gorgeous).

Nice Guy (2012) – 10/10

My first melo, and it was a gorgeous first excursion into the genre. I can’t recommend Nice Guy enough if you like melodrama and crying and romance and stories of broken love. I love, love, love this drama, and I don’t even have a specific reason for it. It just spoke to me and touched my heart in all the right ways, and so it earns a place on my Top 5. (Also, Song Joong-ki… omg.)

Nine: Nine Time Travels (2013) – 9/10

I feel like this is another drama that could appeal to a broader audience. It’s not your typical romance-y cutesy drama. The time travel plot requires brain work while you watch, and I like that. Also, Lee Jin-wook is so handsome. The only fault I have with this drama is the way it tried to wrap up the ending – too many open-ended questions! – but you can draw your own conclusions about that.

Personal Taste (2010) – 7/10

The hilarity and fun of the first half of the episodes fades towards the middle and the end into tears, angst, unnecessary conflict, and pathetic cliche plot devices. Still, not a bad show overall, especially if you’re a Lee Min-ho fan.

Pinocchio* (2014)

-I just have to say that I really tried to watch this one because I love Lee Jong-suk, and objectively I know it’s a good show… but I strongly dislike Park Shin-hye and I couldn’t get past that. I dropped it around Episode 12.

Playful Kiss (2010) – 10/10

My first K-drama, ever, and hence forever my favorite drama. I might be the only person who thinks Playful Kiss is flawless and perfect, but I don’t care. It’s my first love. I felt like I was Oh Ha-ni and I fell in love with Baek Seung-jo right along with her. I had never experienced such an intense addiction to anything before. I spent all day waiting for the moment when I could watch the next episode. I thought about it constantly. (By the way, these are common symptoms that any K-drama addict will recognize.) I have watched this drama five times and plan to revisit it on a yearly basis, on my K-drama “anniversary” in October. It never gets old.

(Disclaimer: This drama is widely disliked in the K-drama community for being too bland, too “slice of life,” lacking in plot, bad acting, “not as good as the Taiwanese/Japanese version,” and what have you. I’m aware of these perceived faults, but I refuse to acknowledge them. It will always be the perfect drama for me. I love every character and every bit of every episode. As my sister pointed out whenever I would say “Oh, this is my favorite episode!” – “You say that about every episode.” Yep.)

Queen In-hyun’s Man (2012) – 10/10

Combining time travel with romance is a fantastic idea. Adding humor is even better. This drama is sweet and fun, but with just the right amount of sadness and tears. I love Ji Hyun-woo in the lead role because of his giant calmness and gentleness paired with Yoo In-na’s tiny energetic defiance and attitude. They have lovely chemistry. This is an OTP worth shipping.

Scent of a Woman* (2011)

-I want to return to this one eventually. I want to see the famous tango scene.

School 2013 (2012-13) – 10/10

Absolutely love this drama. The only drama I’ve watched to date with zero romance or even hint at romance, but it doesn’t even matter because you have the greatest bromance there ever was. It’s a very real-feeling show with characters that are relatable and heart-warming and raw. The scenes are simple, mostly shot in and around the school, yet so powerful and moving. And, now that I’m a middle school teacher in Korea, I feel even more kinship with Jang Nara’s character, Jung In-jae. ^^

Secret Garden (2010-11) – 10/10

A must-watch. This show is hilarious. Yes, it is a bit tropey what with the poor but fiercely independent girl and the snobby rich guy who needs a change of heart, but the body-swapping premise makes it so much better. (It takes a while to get going, but once it does the fun lasts for quite a long time.) The chemistry between Hyun Bin and Ha Ji-won is fantastic. The ending gets a little funky, but that’s pretty status quo for Kdramaland.

Shut Up! Flower Boy Band (2012) – 8/10

Worth it just for the OST. Seriously. Also worth it just to watch Lee Min-ki’s cameo as Byung-hee, because he gives a fascinatingly charismatic performance – like a Korean Jack Sparrow, IMO. I enjoy the general atmosphere and the coloring as well, and the fact that they manage to bring each member of the titular band to life and make you care about each of them.

Soulmate (2006) – 9/10

This is such a unique, little-known drama. (If not for Dramabeans, I probably wouldn’t have even known it existed!) At 22 episodes mostly 1/2 an hour long, I easily squeezed this one into a weekend. It utilizes a lot of Western songs, and the connection is so strong that to this day, if I hear one of those songs, it takes me back into Soulmate’s atmosphere and energy. It’s a more adult look at modern relationships and heartache, and a thoroughly enjoyable one. What I love most, I think, is the show’s ability to build chemistry for the main OTP before they meet. It’s a very unconventional drama in many ways, and I really appreciate that.

Surplus Princess* (2014)

-This one was a little too weird even for my standards. Dropped at Episode 4. (And seemingly I wasn’t the only one who thought so, because the show’s planned 14 episodes were cut down to 10 after it started airing.) It’s very campy, but who knows? You might enjoy it.

The King 2 Hearts (2012) – 7/10

At times intense, at times cute, at times bizarre. This drama was kind of all over the place (I guess what would you expect in a drama about modern-day Korea being ruled by a king and a royal family?), but in a lovable way that made me keep watching. This is one of those dramas that I wouldn’t ever watch again, but when I think of it, I get warm fuzzies. My OTP isn’t even Hang-ah and Jae-ha, though; it’s Jae-shin and Shi-kyung.

The Master’s Sun (2013) – 10/10

Love, love, love this drama. Top 10. The OST is fantastic. The chemistry is off the charts. The funny bits are hilarious, the ghosty bits are sufficiently spooky, and the love triangle is expertly done – provides nice conflict without being too frustrating or heartbreaking. (And this is perhaps the only drama I’ve seen where by the end, I didn’t want to kill the 2nd female lead and actually kind of liked her, grudgingly.) Highly recommend.

To the Beautiful You* (2012)

-Dropped after 1 episode. No amount of cute boys could convince me to stick around for such low quality.

Valid Love (2014-15) – 10/10

Top 5. Love this drama in so many ways for so many reasons. It is beautifully filmed, with a lovely OST and lovely casting. Gorgeous to look at (and I’m not just talking about Lee Soo-hyuk.) A truly intriguing, sometimes dark look into cheating and marital infidelity. I could’ve done with a few more episodes of naughty chemistry and fewer angsty ones, but given the subject matter, I suppose angst is pretty necessary. The drama delves deep into the issues that come with cheating, and it takes some unexpected twists and turns that kept me interested throughout. Highly, highly recommend.

(Also, side note, yes this is the drama that introduced me to Lee Soo-hyuk, and for that I am forever grateful.)

Vampire Prosecutor* (2011)

-A bit too campy and vampy for me. Dropped after Episode 2.

We Got Married (Global) Season 1 (2013) – 10/10

This is technically not a drama; it’s a Korean “reality” show in which celebrities “get married” and simulate marriage for the duration of filming. (Which is to say, in between shoots they go back to their normal lives and possibly don’t even think about each other much.) Nevertheless, I think this show is cute and adorable and refreshingly different if you need a break from the drama world. I particularly like the global aspect of having celebrities from two different cultures come together; the attempts at communicating through the language barrier are fun to watch.

We Got Married (Global) Season 2 (2014) – 10/10

See above. I actually watched Season 2 first and particularly ship the Hee-chul/Puff Guo pairing. I just love them. But Key and Ari-chan are cute too.

You from Another Star (2013-14) – 10/10

Undoubtedly Top 5. At first I was put off by Jeon Ji-hyun’s rough character in Song-yi, but within a few episodes she’d completely won me over. I think many would agree that Jeon Ji-hyun’s performance is one of the biggest pulls of this drama. She’s so lovably flawed and independent and stubborn. Then add Kim Soo-hyun as Do Min-joon into the mix and you have one of the best OTPs in K-drama history. (Oh and did I mention the supernatural alien love plot? And the fact that the ending is oh-so-perfect?) This is absolutely a must-watch. Like, go watch it right now. You won’t regret it.

You’re Beautiful (2009) – 8/10

Cute and sweet, probably the only Park Shin-hye performance that I’ve actually liked. Jang Geun-suk is what really sells it, though, with his hilariously immature, sulky, lip-pouting performance as Tae-kyung. And of course the whole gender-bender plot line is great fun (although sometimes a little frustrating – come on, guys, Park Shin-hye looks NOTHING like a guy. NOTHING.). While it’s far from my favorite, I do remember getting some good fluttery heartbeats and cathartic crying out of this one, so it earns itself a solid 8.

Fantastic K-drama websites

For watching dramas…

Viki – You can watch any of the dramas for free, but a subscription means no commercials.

DramaFever – Same deal as with Viki, but occasionally the selection is different.

Hulu – Just another good place to find dramas (and my preferred site, actually, due to the least number of glitches and technical problems in my experience).

For reading hilarious recaps and discussing dramas…

Dramabeans – This site is THE place to go for all your latest K-drama news. Recaps are plentiful, witty, and well written. The comments section is always buzzing if you feel like gushing (or ranting, as the case may be).

Kdrama Laws – In case you want a more detailed understanding of how things work in the Kdrama universe, here you go. The laws are all laid out for you in very professional legalistic terms.

Problematic of the Unproblematic – These ladies’ recaps (or squeecaps, as they call them) are hilarious but probably NSFW. Particularly hilarious if you’ve suffered through some of the disastrous dramas that they’ve capped, such as Age of Feeling.

On the particular appeal of K-dramas to Jane Austen fans…

Check out this blog. I totally agree with this theory. If you like Mr. Darcy, you’ll probably like Joo Joong-won in Master’s Sun and Do Min-joon in You from Another Star. Makes sense, then, that I’m a huge Jane Austen fan and a huge lover of K-dramas.

Keeping those desks cozy, part 2 (in which I brave the icy tundra)

Well, it’s Day 2 of deskwarming for me (I’m not counting my 3 days of summer camp since I had something to DO on those days). Here’s a little play-by-play of the action around here. Mainly temperature-related, since the “action” consists of the other teachers and me sitting at our desks, clicking idly away.

Hour 1: Hmm, it’s a bit uncomfortably warm in here.

Hour 1.25: The Vice Principal is always very concerned about ensuring that I get some coffee in the morning. Not gonna complain about that.

Hour 1.5: This office is officially a sauna. Nobody else is sweating like a pig? Just me? Okay.

Hour 2: OKAY, PEOPLE, NOW THIS IS JUST RIDICULOUS. You can wipe my puddly self off the floor later, after you decide to turn on the a/c.

Hour 2.5: Ah, look, students are here to vacuum and dust the office. I’m sure that’s exactly what these kids want to be doing on their summer vacation. Did they get detention or something? Is this a punishment? No, those are good kids. Why can’t they get the window-evacuator in here to clean something?

Hour 3, Minute 1: Aaah, yes! Thank you Teacher-who-I-don’t know. Crank that a/c. It’s so nice…

Hour 3, Minute 2: …and cold… oh, wow, that is some cold air.

Hour 3, Minute 3 and beyond: Cold air is blowing directly into my eyeballs. I’m squinting like a bag of nails, to use an obsolete phrase. My eyes are watering like a dog lover watching Marley & Me. The hair on my arms is standing straight up. No joke. Feels like I’m navigating the icy tundra in here.

Pretty much me right now.

Maybe it’s some kind of therapeutic spa treatment… you know how they make you sit in the sauna, then plunge into ice water, then sit in hot water again? So I’ll just step out into the hall a few times and come back in, and it’ll be good for my health. Or something.

That’s all for today, folks. Hoping your day and your circumstances find you more moderately climatized. TGIF.

On summer camps and the warming of desks

My summer camp is finished, and it went quite well in my opinion, mostly thanks to the fantastic bunch of kids. I was lucky in that my camp was only 3 days long, 3 hours per day; I know many teachers, especially elementary, are stuck with 1 or 2 week camps for 6 or more hours per day. I can’t begin to imagine the planning and prep work that go into that.

My camp consisted of 21 students (1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade) – thankfully, all fairly high level. I chose a detective theme (after scrolling through many ideas on the internet, this one seemed the most doable for me at the time).

On Day 1, after introductions, the kids took little personality-type quizzes to determine their “detective type” – e.g. Spy, Hacker, Bodyguard, Police Officer – and created Detective ID cards. Then they formed a team that they would work with for the rest of camp. (This is always difficult given that everyone wants to be with their own grade level, and girls only want to be with girls, boys only want to be with boys. I should’ve had four groups of 4 and one group of 5, but instead I ended up with two groups of 5, two groups of 4, and a group of 3. Frustrating when trying to make partners, but whatever. It’s near impossible to get them to work with the opposite gender.)

Then I gave them a mission: “Sherlock Holmes” had left them several audio messages (thanks to this site and the British male voice option) asking for their help – Doctor Watson was kidnapped and they need to save him and catch the criminal. Cheesy, yes, but it worked. The kids got a kick out of the sometimes-goofy-sounding computer voice – which, for some reason, always insisted on pronouncing “Watson” like “Wat-SEN.” lol. Each audio file was accompanied by a gap-fill transcript where they had to fill in the blanks.

Throughout the 3 days of camp, they solved mini puzzles and challenges (running dictation, vocabulary matching, drawing pictures based on the description they heard, identifying various sounds and smells, a clue hunt around the classroom…). After each completed challenge, I gave them a clue about the kidnapper. They recorded all their clues in a little “Detective Diary” that I made for each of them.

On the last day, we watched Episode 1 of BBC’s “Sherlock” – initially, I had some qualms about showing it because of the murder/suicide theme, but I don’t think it fazed them a bit. (Considering that one of my 1st grade (13-yr-old) boys told me he’s watched the “Saw” movies, I suppose this is quite tame.) And most of them stayed riveted throughout the episode, although I’m not sure how much they comprehended of Sherlock’s fast-paced deductions, even with the Korean subs. Heck, I could barely understand the dialogue at times because of the rapid speech and the British accent. Also, the dry humor of the show went over most of their heads, except for a couple high-level kids who caught a few jokes and chuckled a bit.

Then my co-teacher cruelly (not purposely cruelly, but cruel all the same) asked me to choose 4 students to win the “big prize” – a multicolor pen – one 1st grader, one 2nd grader, and two 3rd graders, according to the proportion of each grade in the camp. So difficult, so unfair. I agonized over the decision and still don’t feel right about it. If I had planned a measurable individual achievement into the camp, such as an individual contest with a clear winner, that would be one thing; however, all of our activities were team-oriented, and this felt like choosing favorites more than anything else. What do you think is going through the other kids’ heads at that moment? “I guess I didn’t work hard enough”? I hate it. Ugh.

Anyway, as I mentioned before, all the kids were incredibly sweet throughout the camp. Classroom management of 21 ESL students by myself (co-teachers typically don’t help out with camps) was a breeze. I feel truly blessed to teach at this school, because I know not all middle schools have kids this well-behaved and respectful.

One of my favorite parts about teaching a camp or an after-school class is the ability to form true relationships with the kids, and the opportunity for us to work together to cross the language barrier (which is what we want to encourage them to do – just try to communicate, even if your words/pronunciation aren’t quite right). They can’t automatically turn to the Korean teacher and go “Huh?” after I say something confusing. They have to look at me and go “Huh?”, and then I can break it down and simplify my speech instead of letting them be spoon-fed the Korean version.

One last thing:

One of the 1st grade boys, every time he solved a puzzle or asked me, “Teacher, is this right?” and I said yes, would exclaim, “Oh, Teacher, you genius! I genius too!”

I have greatly disturbed the general State of Things at my schools this week. I have been instructed to camp out in the main teachers’ offices rather than my usual office during summer break – I assume to save energy and resources, since a couple teachers and the Vice Principal are also required to complete The Warming of the Desks during vacation time.

(Side note: Pretty sure we’re all just sitting here browsing our social media site of choice, watching weird videos on YouTube, and/or pulling up lesson plans for next semester and pretending that the mere act of having them up on the screen will count for something. Maybe they’ll magically write themselves. I mean, really, who wants to start working on next semester’s materials in the first week of summer break? Exactly zero people.)

Evidently the other teachers were not informed about the office change, because when I came strolling in at 8:15 a.m., there was a great flurry of movement and flustered Korean (things like “I can’t speak English… can you speak English?”) I was then plied with coffee and gestured to a spare desk.

…At my main school, this lasted all of 15 minutes before my Vice Principal decided it would be better and “more comfortable” for me to work in my office (i.e. alone). I’m not sure if she meant more comfortable for me or more comfortable for her, but either way she is right and I mentally high-fived her for it as she made my co-teacher change the arrangement. (My co-teacher clearly wanted to disagree, and feebly attempted to explain her reasoning for putting me in the main office, but of course couldn’t do anything about it because of the hierarchy of authority. In most cases I would support my CT and wish that she would/could stand her ground, but in this case it worked out in my favor.)

There is a teacher here at my small school who periodically comes into the office (from some apparently exhausting work – I think there might be summer school classes going on here), pulls out two wheelie chairs from the big meeting table, and lies across them with the body language of a dying person finding an oasis in the desert. After about 5 or 10 minutes, she gets up with great reluctance and goes back to what I assume is a nightmarish class. No one else seems to notice.

I have been scheduled for “free talking time” with my students at my main school during the summer break. From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. each day, students can come and talk to me about whatever. Apparently this is supposed to take the place of after-school classes, which supposedly most teachers have to teach during summer vacation. Hmm. At any rate, I’d much rather have free talking time during vacation than structured classes, plus it breaks up the monotony of my desk-warmy day, so I’m cool with it.

Thoughts while walking home

– Am I experiencing “pretty privilege” here? My overall experience in Korea and my interactions with everyone from students to co-teachers to shopkeepers to crusty old taxi drivers have been lovely. Everyone is friendly and kind. However, (almost) everyone also comments favorably on my appearance. It’s easy enough to bask in the glow of all this praise and admiration, but if I just peek under the surface of things, troubling thoughts begin to arise. Would it be harder to build relationships if they considered me unattractive?

(By the way, I assure you that in America I am by no means close to the ideal standard of beauty for women. I’m just an ordinary-looking female person. But in Korea, my pale skin, for example, rather than a liability, is considered perfect. You’ve no idea how nice it is to hear “Your skin! So white! Beautiful!” for a change, rather than “Are you a vampire? Do you ever go outside?”

How crazy is it that what one culture considers ideal (tan skin) is something to be ashamed of in another culture, and vice versa? Of course, it has to do with socioeconomic status and the country’s age and history – in Korea, tan skin is still associated with heavy labor, working out in the sun, lack of education, poverty, whereas in America tan skin is associated with being rich enough to afford fake tanning and/or the leisure time to sunbathe. But that’s a separate topic that I could write a whole different post about.)

– It is absolutely adorable to see a brother and sister, maybe 8 and 6 years old respectively, walking hand-in-hand down the street, singing cheerfully together.

– Daegu in summer is that distant relative who always gives you an awkwardly long, uncomfortably close, disgustingly sweaty, so-tight-you-can’t-breathe hug… except Daegu hugs you in a sauna. And doesn’t let go. All. Summer. Long. Although temperatures only reached about 82 degrees Fahrenheit today, our humidity levels climbed to 89%. Eighty-nine percent. And we’ve only just begun the hottest period of summer here.

You should see my hair. It has reached insane levels of frizz. Something like…

This is what WOULD be required to make my hair smooth… if I ever got my lazy butt out of bed early enough to have time for it
Change the cauldron to a computer, and this is me trying to prepare lessons while swimming through the humidity
Me contemplating the long walk home through that sweaty Daegu hug.

– The 1st and 2nd grade students (13-14 year olds) at my main school are so freaking adorable. I have a bunch of them in my summer camp right now (post on the camp to come later this week), and they are so sweet, polite, bright, and attentive that I feel significantly better about switching to them next semester. It doesn’t take away the heartache from leaving my 3rd graders, but it soothes the sting.

A heart divided

Have you ever felt this way?

Half of your heart in one place, half in another.

I didn’t have this problem until… now. I mean, when I was living in America, through my plane ride to Korea and my EPIK orientation, and up until my first week in the classroom, my heart was fully in America. After I started teaching here, I put my heart and soul 100% into my teaching, my students, my coworkers, my new life here. I think it’s the best way to make yourself happy, whatever your situation. If you’re going to transplant your heart, so to speak, do it right and do it completely.

And by that I don’t mean to forget the people, places, and things you love back home, or whatever you’re leaving behind – I just mean that you can’t really be happy if you’re living with your body in one place and your heart/mind in another.

So, I turned my full attention, my focus, and my love towards Korea because I want to have a lovely, love-filled year here, even though I know things aren’t/won’t be perfect.

But now…

The semester has come to an end. I’ve had to say goodbye (prematurely) to some of the sweetest, funniest, most wonderful kids I’ve ever met. Big changes and much stress loom in my future (next semester: new kids, new co-teachers, new curriculum, and the crazy flurry of lesson planning that comes with the start of a new semester – oh boy, it’ll be like starting from scratch again). And quite suddenly the wind seems to have been taken out of my sails. I’m working with a tiny breeze here.

And yesterday I started listening to Bastille’s “Bad Blood” album again for the first time since March. (Sorry, T-Swift, Bastille took that title first.) I was listening to it almost nonstop in the months leading up to my departure (fantastic album by the way), and so, in the way that music has of transporting one’s soul back to a place or time or even just an uncapturable feeling, I am now feeling a strong longing for home and family and friends.

Nostalgia possesses a dangerous and addicting kind of beauty. I feel I’m particularly susceptible to it, being a lifetime diary-keeper who stores up memories like a hoarder stores up newspapers and cats. It’s quite nice to pull up old memories, whether through photos, writing, music, or conversation, and feel all cozy and nostalgic about them and remind yourself of what a great time that was… but it’s so easy, from there, to slip into loving what has already come and gone too much and forgetting to love the now.

Yesterday was the first time since coming here that nostalgia reached out to me, drew me into its tantalizing depths with that almost-here-but-not-quite feeling – like the way you can see a bright object in a dark room out of the corner of your eye, but when you look straight at it, it disappears into the darkness.

The thing about that is, it can leave you chasing a tangibility that can never be there. It can also set you up for disappointment when you return to that place/time/situation/whatever and things are just not the same as they were in your idyllic nostalgic memory.

So, just a little more indulgence in these feelings, and then it’s time to rein that other half of my heart back in, bring myself back to the present, and prepare to find as much joy and love in the second half of my year as I did in the first.

heart = broken

And so it ends.

This week has been simultaneously the most joy-filled and most heartbreaking of my entire time in Korea thus far.

In a short 4-1/2 months, I’ve experienced so many emotions while teaching my classes – from fear to happiness to self-doubt to despair to happiness again, and then to joy and love. And now it’s time to break away, to close the chapter and start on a new (but similar) path.

Goodbye, 3rd graders!

From Day 1, I started keeping “class notes” – just a little document where I could type notes on the class in general – their attitude, behavior, any student names I’d learned – things to remind me of which class I was headed for the following week. As time went by, my class notes became longer and longer, growing from a couple rushed fragmented notes to detailed paragraphs about the kids and their progress.

My perception of each class changed as I began to recognize individual students by face, by name, and by personality. Class notes were no longer a way to remind me of who the heck I was about to teach and whether or not I should dread it; instead, they were a place for me to write the funny things they said and did or things I wanted to remember about this or that student – who might need more attention, who might be higher or lower level, etc.

Essentially, my class notes went from “Quiet. Not much participation” / “Noisy and unfocused” to “Omg I love them. They were engaged and willing to participate. Student XYZ is so cute/hilarious/fun. Student ABC fell asleep but maybe next week I can get him to stay awake,” etc. etc.

And now, it’s so heartwrenching to say goodbye to them.

On Tuesday, my awesome co-teacher told the kids in advance that I won’t be teaching them next semester, so when I walked into my classroom for our last class, I was greeted by a decorated board – “Maddy teacher, I love you” – and 38 Post-it notes with goodbye messages from each student. Best surprise ever.

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The cute decorated board – yes, they drew ice cream because they know I love it
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20150714_180457 “I do love you.” That might be my favorite thing ever.
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“You love students. Students love you.” Probably the most rewarding thing any of them said. Also, apparently I “look good on black clothes.” And I “must be meet great man.” hahaha.
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To the kid who wrote the top note: I, too, hope we will meet again, “somewhen and somewhere.”

20150714_17542020150714_18110020150714_175937These notes alone make every single difficult moment and late night of stressful lesson planning worth it for me.

So, how did I spend my last class period with them?

First, I broke the news. This was usually met with varying degrees of sadness ranging from slightly bothered to full-on despair. Some classes cared more than others. One boy cried, “샘, 가지마요! Don’t go!” (Saem, kajimayo = Teach, don’t go!). Another said, “I will be 1st grader” (upon hearing that I’m teaching 1st grade next semester). Another said emphatically, “Teach 1st grade? Not good idea. Why? Why?” Still another said, “Teacher, don’t go. Two semester… stay.” My co-teacher told me that the girl with the highest English grades in the school (100% on every test – reading, writing, speaking, listening) said that she studied hard because of me, and that now she doesn’t feel like studying. My co-teacher thinks most of them will stop putting in effort next semester because I’m not there. Oh my gosh. Just tear my heart out already.

Then, hidden pictures. I’ve mentioned this game before. It’s easy and fun. Usually we’d play it with pictures related to their key expressions from the textbook, but today it was just fun pictures of things we’d talked about in class casually – pictures of Obama, Ormie the pig, the idioms “Time flies” and “Don’t give up” (two of our collective faves/running jokes this semester), Twix (since I always give it out in class), Homer Simpson (they love him for some reason), and Daegu – a picture I took myself and they had seen on my laptop background several times. So, like an inside jokes hidden pictures game.

Next, Quiz. Not a scary quiz, just a fun partner quiz. Four rounds – Random, Who Is It? (close-up picture of a person), What Is It? (close-up picture of an object), and The First Class (questions about my self-introduction on Day 1). I chose this because it’s not just another bomb game (even though they love those) – it felt a little more personal and something special and different for our last day.

When they finished, I made them check each other’s scores and pretended like I would give Twix to the top 3 scores or something. Then, of course, I revealed that I’d brought enough Twix for everyone, and they would clap and whoop in excitement. One kid refused to eat his and told me, “Teacher, keep. Treasure.” (Makes me wish I could’ve given each of them a more personalized, non-edible, lasting goodbye gift.)

5 giant bags of Twix: $75

2 taxi rides to lug those giant bags to my school on two separate occasions: $6

Seeing my kids’ faces and hearing their cheers when I pulled out enough Twix for everyone: priceless

Finally, goodbye and group picture. I told each class that I was so happy to have been their teacher this semester; that they are really great students; and that I will miss them so much next semester. They “aww’d” in response, and eagerly agreed when I asked them to take a group picture. I would post them here but I want to be careful about privacy and such. (Believe me, I’m dying to show everyone how cute they are! If you know me personally – friends and family – rest assured you will be seeing them at some point.)

And that was that, and I would slowly walk out of the classroom and some of them would say “I’ll miss you Teacher!” and I would say “I’ll miss you too!”

*sigh*

Now, to cheer myself up, I will remind myself of some of the funny things they’ve said lately.

Me (in my goodbye speech): You are all great students.

Boy: Oh, yes! I am good student!

He’s one of the most mischievous, actually, and he knows it. Haha.

Me: Who is this? (It was a picture of Harry Potter)

Boy: Hell-ee-copter! (helicopter)

That works, I guess.

Me: Who is this? (Picture of Captain America)

Boy: Captain Americano! Where is Captain Korea?

Dang, I’m going to miss these kids.

P.S. In case you’re wondering what Korean middle schoolers do on their last day of school… they clean the classrooms top to bottom, watch the closing ceremony / principal’s speech over the school broadcasting system, and go home before lunchtime.