End of the semester

And so ends the first half of Year 2. Finally!

I bought probably way more snacks than my students needed for our movie time – chips, the Korean equivalent of cheese Ritz Bitz, fruit snacks (splurged on the expensive imported Welsh’s), choco pies, and juice boxes. But they were excited and appreciative, and that’s good enough for me.

I’d never actually seen Bridge to Terabithia, only skimmed review sites to make sure there’s no weird or inappropriate content. [I’ll be honest- I totally confused this movie with Race to Witch Mountain – hey, they both star AnnaSophia Robb – and spent several minutes wondering when The Rock was going to show up.] Hence I didn’t realize (**spoiler alert**) that one of the two main characters dies towards the end. I was sitting in the back, so no telling whether any of my girls were crying. Nevertheless, they seemed to enjoy it.

I also handed out mini, colorful 90-cent notepads to the team that had won the Tongue Twister challenge. For such a tiny prize, I was touched that the kids oohed and aahed when I presented them.

Then I let them all come back for seconds at the snack table, because goodness knows I don’t want to lug all those boxes back to my apartment.

One of the girls ran back after all the kids had departed and shyly handed me a coffee. (That girl knows where it’s at. heh heh.) But seriously, it was really sweet. She probably picked it out and bought it herself.

Then I went to eat the dreaded fish jjim in the main teachers’ office for lunch – but because it was with my favorite co-teacher, I didn’t mind so much. I only accidentally crunched like 5 fish bones and only had to extract about 20 more while eating. Not too shabby. I also learned that apparently some people actually just eat the bones. wow.

And this is a true measure of how I’ve adjusted to Korean food – I don’t find this particular jjim spicy at all anymore, whereas the first couple times I ate it, I could barely handle two bites without extreme eye-watering, nose-running, and tickly-throat-coughing. Sometimes I think, “wow, they sure have lightened up on the spice factor in this dish” and then I’m like “you big dummy, they aren’t changing the recipe, your taste buds have changed.” Whoops.

Following lunch, I had a lovely hour-long chat with my co-teacher, since today she was assigned to deskwarm in the main office alone because the other teachers had other responsibilities. She suggested that we check out the cooking class in the cafeteria (this was another week-long class like mine, but was offered solely to the low-income students of the school).

When we entered the cafeteria, a bunch of the kids turned around and lit up, “Hi teacher!” They were eager to show me their sandwiches (have I ever mentioned that in Korea, sandwiches can include one or all of the following [usually all]: fried eggs, coleslaw, jam WITH meat, spam, various fruits… sweet sandwiches are very popular, whereas I feel they wouldn’t go over that well in America).

I also inwardly groaned at the “New York style” hot dogs they were making, which consisted of: hot dog, mayonnaise, green leaf lettuce, American cheese slices, and dumpling-style ground beef mixed with sweet chili sauce on top. This is why Koreans don’t think American food is all that great!!! I’m sure if they were visiting America, they wouldn’t trust an American to make authentic Korean food, so why do they trust Koreans to make authentic American food? In my entire time in Korea, I don’t think I’ve had a single meal at any restaurant that actually tastes American (and yes, American cuisine honestly does have its own set of flavors which you maybe can’t really appreciate until you can’t quite find those flavors ANYWHERE). Mind you, I live in Daegu and there is a shortage of foreigner-run restaurants here. I know there are some authentic foreign places in Seoul, but I never go there, so too bad for me.

Anyway, whatever! Minor annoyance.

Bigger annoyance: the weather has been in the upper 90s all week and will continue to be so all next week, seemingly. I got very angry while walking home from work today because NO HUMAN BEING SHOULD HAVE TO SWEAT WHILE STANDING STILL DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. In the 7 minutes of walking home, I became disgusting. Unacceptable, Daegu. /rant

Anyway, weather aside, TGIF and TGIVacation!

More ESL Activities

Since my week of solo-taught English conversation classes with extremely mixed levels has been going really well, I thought I’d write about a few more of the activities I’ve been doing with them that they’ve really liked.

I think it’s good to have a structure in place when you’re teaching daily classes with the same students for any length of time. The routine helps them get through class (knowing what to expect), and it also helps you as the teacher with lesson planning and prepping if a solid chunk of time is devoted to the same set of activities each day, which you can just tweak according to the day’s theme or whatever.

Daily Routine

(1-week mixed-level conversation class, 1st & 2nd grade middle school, two 45-minute sections w/ the same 9 students):

Warm-up (5 min): A quick activity that gets their brains or bodies moving, such as the “Word Chain” race I described in my previous post or some kind of brainteaser. Simple “Who/What Am I?” riddles usually work well. I tried toothpick puzzles similar to these, but they didn’t go over as well, since most of the kids were too impatient to try to solve them and it slowed the class momentum right at the start.

Tongue Twister challenge (10-15 min): As described in my previous post. However, if I could do this over again I would NOT show the teams their times each day, because if one team gets significantly behind they might lose hope towards the end. The next time I use this activity I’ll keep the times a secret until the final day, when the winning team is revealed.

Worksheet (10-15 min): As mentioned, I’m using some that I pulled from handy-dandy ESL sites like iSLCollective. I just chose random themes that all middle school students will know some basic vocabulary for by now, such as summer vacation, food, or labeling body parts. I don’t want to teach new vocabulary/grammar in this class so much as review and practice what they already know. Even so, the C level kids have struggled a bit, so I’ve usually modified the work by telling them to complete the first half of the worksheet or working with them in a group while the other kids work independently.

This takes up a good portion of the first period. For the remainder of the first period and through the second period, we’ve done speaking activities and games such as these (reminder/disclaimer- these are not activities of my own creation; they’re easy to find in many many places around the internet):

Minimal Pairs: Listening + Speaking

Time: 10-15 minutes

This is great practice for comprehension and pronunciation. Minimal pairs are two words that have only one different element of pronunciation, such as the vowel sound or the ending consonant sound. These can be really really really really REALLY hard for ESL learners to distinguish and pronounce. Examples: bad/bed, bad/bat, sheep/ship, mouse/mouth, lice/rice, walk/work, glass/grass.

For this activity, you need to print off minimal pairs “tree” charts (see some examples here, or you can make your own either in Word or by hand & make copies).

Start by saying one of the two minimal pair words at the top of the tree. Then say a word on the second level, then the third level, etc. until you reach the bottom. Students should follow along down the tree and circle the correct word at the bottom of the chart. If they circled the wrong word, you can retrace their steps and figure out which word they heard incorrectly.

After a few practice rounds, get the students to repeat each set of minimal pairs after you several times to practice the correct pronunciation. Then have the students do the activity with a partner so they can practice both speaking and listening. They really seem to enjoy this relatively simple activity.

Song Lyrics Game: Listening

Time: ~ 5 minutes per song (I recommend only using 1-2 songs per class even though they might beg you for more!)

For this game, you should choose a number of kid- and ESL-appropriate songs (i.e.: no inappropriate language, not too fast, relatively clear pronunciation).

It may be best to play this game after doing some other activities related to the song, such as talking about new vocabulary or doing a lyric gap fill sheet. However, it can also be played without any prep as a time filler, and the kids love it!

To prep, look at the lyrics and select some of the words that come up many times in the song. For example, if the song is “Eight Days a Week” by the Beatles, you could choose “week,” “babe,” “love,” “you,” etc. Write these on the board. Students choose one word and write it down (they have to write it so they can’t cheat).

Play the song. When students hear their word, they stand up. If they hear the word again, they sit down. At the end of the song, any students who are standing up are the winners (in my case, I gave them a small piece of candy as a prize). Note: make sure to choose some words that show up an even number of times, and some words that show up an odd number! Otherwise everyone will win or everyone will lose. o.O

Alternate version: Select words that are scattered throughout the song, but they don’t have to appear many times (just once is fine). Students choose and write down a word. They begin standing up, and as soon as they hear their word, they sit down and they’re out of the game. The “last one standing” is the winner. Lazy middle school students will like this version much better (haha), but the downside is that students who are “out” early in the song may tune out or get bored. So, especially if you teach elementary, I recommend version 1.

Note: If you have some low level students in class, I recommend tapping or pointing out the words on the board as they come up in the song, because some students may not be able to recognize each time their word comes up.

Telephone: Listening & Speaking

Time: 10-15 minutes

The classic game we all played in elementary/middle school (right?). Have students stand in a straight line. Show Student 1 a written word or sentence, which they memorize and then whisper to Student 2, Student 2 whispers to Student 3, etc. etc., and the final student says the sentence out loud. Hopefully it will get messed up somewhere down the line and the end result will be something goofy and everyone will laugh, but then again if they get it right that’s a good thing too!

For bigger classes (20+), you can make two or more teams and have the teams race to get the correct sentence down the chain, then have the last student run up and say the sentence to you.

Photo Scavenger Hunt

Time: 25-30 minutes

Okay, so this isn’t necessarily an “ESL” activity, but it’s really fun for the kids and can be categorized under “immersion English.” This is great for camps, after-school classes, or random extra classes like the one I have this week, and works well for ~5th grade elementary and up. Not recommended for normal class, and not recommended for young kids.

Put students in teams (teams of 3-5 students are preferable). Give the teams a list of items/places/things around school, such as “the library,” “an English sentence,” “the playground,” “the gym,” “a green license plate,” “a black car.” Instruct them to go around school with their team and take pictures of each item (with their phone, which inevitably most of them will have). Each picture must include at least 1 team member. You can also include some fun ones, such as “with an English teacher,” “with another [non-English] teacher,” “jumping pose,” “cute pose,” “[adjective] pose,” “team selfie,” etc.

Stress that teams MAY NOT LEAVE SCHOOL and must stay with their team members at all times. Technically I’m responsible for them during this time period and I don’t want anyone wandering off. My kids have always been good about this.

Assign point values to each item, with more difficult items worth more points. This motivates every team because even if another team finishes first, they still have a chance to win via points.

When teams return to the classroom (I usually give 25 minutes for about 30-40 list items, but you can make yours harder with more items if you want), check their photos and tally up their points to determine the winner. You can give prizes or candy as you see fit.

That’s it for now! Tomorrow is the final day, and we’re watching a movie (they voted for Bridge to Terabithia, which my school conveniently had a copy of stored in the back of the supply closet), and I’m bringing snacks and drinks as a treat. I never let them watch movies in normal class, so I’ve justified watching one with this class. We’re not even going to do a worksheet or a discussion. We’re just gonna watch and eat chips and choco pies and drink juice.

And then it’s time for real summer vacation.

Sighs of relief (+ ESL speaking games)

You know when something’s been hanging over your head, and you don’t even realize it was burdening you until it’s over and the burden is suddenly not there anymore?

As the first semester wound down for all my coworkers, it heated up for me with back-to-back events from coaching high school book-writing clubs to summer camp to, currently, a week of extra classes, 2 hours every morning, Monday (today) to Friday.


But as it turns out, at least in the case of this extra class, it wasn’t worth all the extra stress. (isn’t it always worse in your head, though?)

There are only 9 students in this class; about half of them are A level, and half are C level. Thankfully, the activities I picked today were all able to strike a balance where everyone could participate.

I’d also forgotten how nice it is to teach alone. Last year at my previous school, I had several classes which were just “mine,” not co-taught, and it was a really nice environment to form better relationships with the kids and boost their confidence. This is the first opportunity I’ve had this year to teach my “very own” class. I find that not only do the kids focus more on what I say, but I also feel more confident. Maybe it’s because I instinctively… not exactly seek approval, but look for a positive reaction from my co-teachers if they’re in the room with me. And if I don’t perceive a positive reaction (if they look spaced out, bored, bemused, whatever), it immediately impacts my own confidence and therefore my teaching efficacy. It shouldn’t, but it does. I’m working on it.

Anyway, the students actually seemed to have a lot of fun considering it’s 9:00 a.m. on a blistering hot Monday morning during what’s supposed to be summer vacation. We played speaking games that I wouldn’t normally be able to play with my full classes – the kinds of activities I learned in my ESL courses that are meant for exactly this class size, around 10 students.

Since I usually just write goofy ramblings and complaints on this blog, I figure I’ll post something useful for a change and explain what we actually did in my class. Not that any of these are original ideas; like I said, they’re typical ESL activities, and you can find variations of them all over the internet.

“I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing…”

The memory game where everyone picks a word in alphabetical order – apple, baseball, cat, drumstick, etc. – and each person has to remember all the previous words and then add one more word to the chain. It worked for all levels because (A) even the high level kids picked pretty basic vocabulary words, so the low level kids could understand and remember, and (B) they all seemed to enjoy the challenge of rattling off the list when it was their turn.

“Word Chain” Relay Race

I put them into two teams and wrote a word on the board (“tree”). The first person from each team runs to the board and writes a word starting with the last letter of my word (“e”). They keep rotating through their team members. I give them about 1 minute, and then we count which team has more total letters (not words). I let the high level kids on each team help the low level ones who struggled to think of or spell words.

Tongue Twister Challenge

I showed them some Korean tongue twisters first to get them going (they loved that, and were very good at them). Then I showed them an easy English one (Unique New York) and explained the challenge setup: 2 teams, 5 minutes to practice the English tongue twister. Then Team 1 stands up and each member has to recite the tongue twister correctly in order. I time them with my phone. Team 2 does the same. Any mistakes or stumbles, they start over. I record their times. We’re going to have this challenge every day this week, with a different tt every time, and at the end of the week I’ll total up the times and give a prize to the team with the faster overall time.

They really got into this one. At first they all started mumbling, “Unique New York, Unique New York,” but I said hold up there, kiddos, that’s too easy. That was just an example. So today’s tt challenge was “Sally sells seashells by the seashore. The shells she sells are surely seashells.” The point isn’t for them to necessarily understand the meaning (tongue twisters are usually half-nonsense anyway), but to work on the pronunciation. It’s especially hard for Koreans to differentiate “see” and “she” because there isn’t really a “see” sound in Korean.

Then we did a summer-themed cloze worksheet, which was fairly easy for the high level kids but a bit of a struggle for the low level ones. I helped them and translated as many words as I knew in Korean, and then had each of them take turns reading a sentence from the text out loud.

Because I was determined not to work myself to death in planning these lessons, I pulled five worksheets from various ESL sites (which I now have listed on a separate page on this blog, “ESL Resources“). We’ll do one per day.

We were running short on time at that point, so instead of doing the full final activity I’d planned (look at screenshots of a short video, try to guess and write what it will be about, then watch and discuss), we just watched the video and did a brief Q&A, and then I released them back into the wild, until tomorrow morning.

One final note, since I haven’t blogged for a while and have had this thought recently:

I’ve been eating lunch each weekday with whichever Korean teachers happen to be at school that day, including (sometimes) the principal and vice principal. As I sit there, eating quietly and letting the flow of Korean wash around me, I can’t help but feel sent back to childhood. Haven’t we all had the experience, when young, of sitting at the dinner table and listening to the grown-ups talk about things you can’t really understand, and you can’t participate in the conversation, so you just wait there until they say you can go?

At least the vice principal seems to take an… interest…? in me, as she keeps ordering the other teachers (in Korean) to ask me this or that (in English), like “Ask Maddy Teacher if she likes sushi. Ask!” “Is Maddy Teacher going to visit her family this summer? Ask her!” Before the flustered Korean teachers have to stress themselves out over asking me in English, I usually just answer the question in English, and they can all understand my simple answers. It’s amusing for everyone involved.

This may or may not be my last blog post until 2nd semester starts up in mid-August. We’ll see if anything hilarious happens during the rest of my classes this week.

closing out the week

This is the end of the week of posts. This one, like Monday, is not one of the pre-written, sitting-in-my-drafts-folder-forever posts. It’s just a little update to round things out.

Even though the first three days of the week were final exams and no classes, or maybe because of that, a full day of classes on Thursday was exhausting. We’re not studying from the book, obviously, since it’s post-exams time. But these last couple weeks of school are really dreadful since the kids have been sapped of all motivation to do anything from now till summer vacation.

This week, per my co-teachers’ request, we’re spending the first 20-25 minutes of class getting the kids to make groups and start planning out their “UCC contest” projects – basically, making a short video skit using English expressions. (UCC is user-created content; I’d never heard the term before I came here, but Koreans use it all the time for some reason.) It’s their summer homework, and the videos will be graded and winners announced a week or so into next semester.

Then for the rest of class, I’m just showing them some American 4th of July traditions (red, white, and blue clothes, the national anthem, parade, backyard BBQ, fireworks) and having them answer some questions about it afterwards. Really easy stuff, but it’s been draining nonetheless.

I’m also stressed out because as soon as school is “over,” I have summer camp. And as soon as summer camp is over, I have a week of daily 2.5 hour “after school” speaking classes (um, hello, they’re not “after school” if it’s in the morning AND during summer vacation…).

This obligation was unceremoniously dumped on me on Wednesday with no warning, and no information re: number of students, grade levels, whether it’s the same group of kids for 2.5 hours or different groups, what to teach, etc. etc. Korean surprises get less and less amusing as time goes on, but I try to remember that wise speaker at EPIK orientation who told us to close our eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine the confetti falling down around us for those wonderful Korean surprises.

Still haven’t found a better GIF to express myself at times like this.

And once that week of classes is over, there are 2 weeks until we start the fall semester. Totally different from American summer vacation, right? Hopefully 2 weeks is all I’ll need to recharge these nearly dead batteries. I’d put myself at an iffy 13% right now. Right about when your phone starts beeping at you and warning you to plug it in, like, SOON.

Battery-saving mode: ON.

In other news, we had an earthquake here on Tuesday night around 8:30. It was a really crazy feeling. I’ve never experienced one before, and I was just sitting quietly in my apartment, typing something on my computer when my chair suddenly seemed to bounce up into the air, and consequently I bounced up into the air for a split second. After the initial jarring, everything went sort of wobbly for a few seconds, like I could feel the ground beneath me just… wobbling. I can’t think of a better word to describe it. Super weird. For a minute I thought I was going crazy until people started tweeting about it, and then a Korean site posted the official information.


And the following day, Wednesday, we had the heaviest thunderstorms I’ve ever seen/heard in Korea. It was awesome.

On the positive side

One of the really low-level boys came into my office before class started, textbook and pencil in hand, extremely eager. He set his book on my desk, and I could see he’d written out numbers 1-7 in a column on the first page. After a few seconds of nervous throat clearing and Korean muttering, he said, “Eagles… spelling.” I spoke each letter clearly, with an accompanying tracing of the letter with my hand in the air, and he would pause a second and then carefully, meticulously write it next to #1 in his book.





He’s a huuuuge baseball fan. These are all Korean baseball team names. We continued with Twins, Wyverns, Giants. (He already knew how to spell Daegu’s team name, the Lions, considering he’s written it in huge letters across the front of his school gym uniform with a Sharpie.)

He’s a really sweet kid, and I was glad we found something that motivates him enough that he makes the effort to communicate with me.

Finally, there was this left mysteriously on my whiteboard at the end of the day. Just what a teacher’s heart needs.



Owning the label

I spent years of my life running from and denying this term. Getting angry and annoyed when people used it to describe me (which was often). Thinking that it was such a bad thing for a person to be. Wondering why it was so hard to avoid being labeled with it. Hating that I was it.


Yes, world, I am shy. Okay?

For some reason, living in Korea has helped me to embrace the term. Until recently, I’d never even considered that “shy” doesn’t have to be a negative thing.

Why is shy so bad, anyway?

First definition on Google:

  1. being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people.

And this is bad because…?

Personally, I don’t feel nervous when I’m with other people (and I assume I don’t look nervous… hopefully), but if I don’t know the people very well, the words reserved, quiet, and even timid definitely apply. And I just don’t see how that earns a negative connotation.

We’re not talking about social anxiety here, which is NOT the same thing as being shy and is, arguably, objectively a bad thing because it creates discomfort or pain for the person experiencing it. Maybe people who have social anxiety are frequently called “shy” by other people, but social anxiety goes deeper than that – but that’s a whole ‘nother topic (and I’ve already done an anxiety/mental health post this week, so for the sake of this post we will talk exclusively about non-anxiety-driven shyness, so everything in the definition except “nervous” because nervous can have a negative meaning).

Anyway, shyness is neutral, people.

A few months ago, I had a lesson on personality with an after-school class. After teaching them a variety of personality trait words (kind, lazy, funny, shy, honest, mean, etc.), I told them to circle the positive or good traits and put a square around the negative or bad traits. When it came to “shy,” a lot of them didn’t know what to do. I told them it’s not good or bad.

I think if I had done this activity with American students, most if not all of them would’ve labeled shy as negative. And that’s sad.

As a child and teen, I had this notion instilled in me that shyness was like an illness or a bad habit. Something I needed to grow out of. Something that would impede my attempts to be successful as an adult.

Well, guess what?

It’s not. It wasn’t. It hasn’t.

I may never be that person networking and getting great job opportunities through my social connections, but that was never a big goal of mine anyway. I want to work doing something I love and enjoy (which, ironically, involves working with people), and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last year and a half, and for 10 years before that in America.

I may never be that person who goes to a new place or event or party and comes away with dozens of new friends and contacts, but that was also never a big goal of mine. I like having my small group of close friends. Do I need friends and family? Absolutely, 100% yes. Please don’t equate shy or reserved with antisocial or hermit. I need people in my life. I want to be social sometimes too. But my social bar fills up more quickly than some others.

I may never be that person who, after meeting someone for the first time, leaves a fantastic first impression and makes the other person think “Wow, what a hilarious, amazing, cool person!” But that’s okay. Do I sometimes wish I could be like that? Of course. I see these vibrant, outgoing people and think, Their social skills are so fluent. I wish I could be so smooth when meeting new people! But again, it’s okay. There are all kinds of people in this world, and we can’t all be outgoing and super friendly and funny – just like we can’t all be introverted and reserved and shy (thank God! no one would ever talk to each other ever!).

I guess I started thinking about this more because since arriving in Korea, many coworkers (English teachers and other teachers/school staff) have mentioned my shyness. But it doesn’t seem to have the same connotation here as it would in America. It’s just like “Oh, you’re shy” in the same way one might say “Oh, you have brown eyes” or “Oh, you’re tall.” The only reason they seem to think it strange is that I break their stereotype about all Americans being boisterous and outgoing. Heehee.

Anyway, if you are a shy person and you want to work on not being shy, I will cheer you on. If you are miserable about being shy, then definitely go for it, challenge yourself to be talkative and outgoing and meet new people. I’ve met really, really outgoing people who have admitted to me that they used to be shy and really worked on it and overcame it. So don’t despair! You can change certain aspects of your personality.

But my point is, shyness shouldn’t be seen as something that must be overcome. It’s not necessarily a problem or a negative. If you’re like me, content with being reserved and quiet in certain social situations, then don’t let other people make you feel like it’s a bad thing. Because IT’S NOT.

If someone accuses you of being shy or quiet (the dreaded “You’re so quiet!”), just own it. You don’t have to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable (easier said than done, I know), because you’re not doing anything wrong. And you don’t need to explain it to anyone. Does an extroverted person ever have to explain why they’re outgoing and like to chat? No? Then you don’t need to explain why you’re quiet.

Best of luck on your arduous path, fellow shy people. And for those who enjoy being outgoing and extroverted, I hope this can give you a little insight and understanding for us strange shy ones.

Things that still throw me off (re: English communication in Korea)

1. “I see” as a response.

In Korean, you can use “알았어” (alasseo) to mean “Gotcha” or “Okay, sounds good” or “okay, I acknowledge and acquiesce with what you’re saying,” whereas in English (at least in my experience), “I see” as a response to someone typically has a connotation of “I’m uninterested” or “I get what you’re saying but I don’t approve/I don’t care” or “I’m annoyed with your words. Let’s end this conversation.”

So when Koreans say or text “I see” to me, I can’t help feeling strange at first, like, Did I annoy them? Was what I said boring? WHAT’S GOING ON HERE? Then I remember that in their minds, it’s the equivalent of 알았어, a.k.a. “oh, gotcha” or “sounds good!”

2. Misuse of the word “embarrassed.”

I’m not 100% sure, but I guess the Korean translation for “embarrassed” is a word that includes connotations of “shocked/surprised,” or “taken aback/caught off guard” – things that have nothing to do with feeling humiliated, mortified, or ashamed, all of which are certainly synonyms of “embarrassed” in English.

Therefore, I’ve had several instances where, after explaining an unexpected situation to a Korean acquaintance, they respond with “I think you were embarrassed.” And even though I now kind of know what they mean, it still throws me off, like Wait… why would I be embarrassed? Did I do something embarrassing? Should I be humiliated right now? I actually question my behavior for a second before I remember it’s a translation issue.

3. Misuse of the word “maybe.”

“Maybe” is supposed to mean “possibly,” “it might be,” “potentially,” right? Well, not in Korea. People say “maybe” but they mean “definitely / you must / you should / it will happen.” As in, “Maybe you will teach this class” means “You WILL teach this class, and you don’t have a choice.” “Maybe you will come with me” means “Come with me now.” “Maybe he is not at school today” means “Yeah, he’s definitely absent.” I still sometimes hear the “maybe” and think it means “maybe” (silly me), then realize (perhaps minutes or hours later) that it wasn’t a “maybe” at all.

(A somewhat related misuse is “You should.” For some reason, some Koreans seem to use “should” when they mean “must / have to,” like “I think you should come to the meeting” might actually mean “you must come to the meeting.” Or “You should teach a 3-day camp” probably means “You have to teach a 3-day camp.” I’m not quite sure why this happens. It’s not everyone, but just some people.)

4. Incorrect question syntax.

Countless times I’ve been caught off-guard by conversations like this:

Co-teacher: “You are doing XYZ.”

Me: “Oh, okay.”

Co-teacher: “You are?”

Me: “Oh, I don’t know!”

Co-teacher: “I don’t know either; I am asking you!”


Students: “Teacher, [XYZ Korean Teacher] is more than 30 years old.”

Me: “Oh, more than 30?”

Students: “OH! TEACHER, REALLY?”

Me: “Wait… what? Nonono, I don’t know! I thought you knew!”

To ask a question in Korean, you simply use a rising intonation with your statement (e.g. “There is a meeting” and “Is there a meeting?” uses the same words, but you make your voice higher at the end for the question). We do this in English too sometimes, but I think we use certain facial expressions or tones to make it clear that it’s a question.

Since the question format of starting with the verb (“Do you / Are you / Is she” etc.) is more complicated, I find some Koreans just use rising intonation to ask questions in English – but when they do it, it’s barely noticeable (to me at least!). Thus it ends up sounding like a statement, leading to much confusion for everyone involved.

Communication is an endless quest (or struggle, depending on the day). The end.

week in the life of a hypochondriac

The following semi-fictitious post is directly based on my true personal life experience.*

All diseases and health problems mentioned are actual true things that can actually happen to you. Probably even like a whole 1% chance, probably. All links provided for your reading pleasure. Some have pictures. Click at your own risk.

Warning: If you are yourself a hypochondriac, I strongly recommend not reading this post, as it will only give you further material to freak out about. Seriously.

Monday- Odd pain in my lower right abdomen. Definitely appendicitis. See the doctor at once to prevent instant death. Doctor says the appendix is fine? Well, it’s obviously the lesser known chronic appendicitis, which comes and goes, unlike the acute appendicitis everyone thinks of. Doctor clearly has no idea what’s going on here.

Tuesday- Strange throbbing sensation in the center of my chest along with a weird pain towards the bottom of my right side rib cage. No worries, a quick Google search will sort things out. Oh God, I have an aortic aneurysm just waiting to rupture AND it’s clearly comorbid with an infected gallbladder! Lie in bed clutching my phone, clinging to Dr. Google and awaiting certain death. Surprised relief when I survive the night.

Wednesday- A small bump on the side of my nose that wasn’t there before. Definitely not a pimple. A search for “small bump on nose” is warranted, which obviously narrows it down to basal cell carcinoma or angiofibroma (never mind that the latter usually affects teen males; there’s always an exception). Either way, I’m clearly going to lose my nose. Obviously they’ll have to chop the whole thing off. Try to reconcile myself with living like Voldemort in exchange for not dying.

My future.

Thursday- What’s this small pink bump on my arm? Look, there’s another one. And another. Three pink bumps. Kind of itchy, too. Must Google this in case it’s some infectious disease. Oh, oh my God. They’re bed bug bites. Bed bugs bite in threes. I have bed bugs. I can feel them crawling on me right now! Isn’t that another bite? Must scan every inch of every surface in my room. Must identify every bug I find. Must check my body every 3-5 minutes for new bites. They’re totally crawling all over me and biting me. Wait, do I have delusional parasitosis? Am I going crazy?

Friday- Drank some alcohol (not excessively, because no way am I going to risk throwing up because along with hypochondria comes emetophobia), and then noticed a weird tingly/exhausted sensation in my arm muscles. Clearly a sign of alcoholic myopathy, never mind that I don’t drink often, and before long all my muscles will atrophy and I will be a useless blob on the floor. And die.

Saturday- Really weird tingling shooting pains in my head. Well, now, this is definitely not temporary nerve pain due to my (actual, not imagined) TMJ. It’s far more likely that I have trigeminal neuralgia or brain cancer or something and will need surgery to survive.

Sunday- No pains or mysterious symptoms today. How odd. Go to bed. What if the fan starts an electrical fire if I leave it on while I’m sleeping? Turn it off and lie there in the heat. What if the room overheats without the fan and I die of being baked in an oven? What if a regular old fire starts in some other person’s apartment? What if someone climbs up three stories and crawls in my window if I leave it open for fresh air and kills me? My chest starts to feel tight. Maybe I’m having a heart attack. Maybe… maybe… maybe…**

*Hypochondria is a real anxiety disorder, now classified as “somatic symptom disorder” and/or “illness anxiety disorder” by psychologists. It’s characterized (similar to OCD) by obsessive thoughts (thinking you have an illness or health problem) and compulsive checking behaviors (checking Google, researching all kinds of diseases to rule them out, going to the doctor for reassurance) which continue in a vicious circle. The brain continuously seeks that temporary relief from its anxiety via the checking behaviors, but the relief never lasts as there is always a new symptom to cause anxiety and restart the cycle.

I have it, but it’s mild enough that I don’t need any professional treatment. It doesn’t interfere with my life or make me miserable (most of the time). Although this post details daily occurrences, for me it only happens a few times a month to a few times a week, depending on my overall stress levels and mental state. (However, all of the examples are actual things I have experienced and feared.) I typically handle it with humor (poking fun at my irrational fears, such as through this post) and/or telling my mom every single perceived symptom and the diseases I probably have (sorry, Mom!) and get reassurance from her. That’s usually enough to subside my fears in time.

I’ve definitely improved, since for example when I was 12 years old I had anxiety about vomiting to the point of developing psychosomatic stomachaches every single night (out of the fear/anxiety of throwing up – how ironic, right?). Only after multiple scans and being told there was absolutely nothing wrong with me did they subside. I’ve certainly learned to cope with the anxiety and recognize psychosomatic symptoms much better over the years.

Important (lengthy) note: I am very aware that there are people who actually suffer from these diseases and other serious diseases. To them, I’m sure hypochondria seems petty and ridiculous and even cruel and selfish towards those who have real health problems. In a way, that’s true, and I think that focusing on that can help someone with hypochondria to put things in perspective (by getting out of their own head and having empathy for another human being).

However, do keep in mind that (certainly in more severe cases than mine, anyway) hypochondria [just like any mental disorder] is a health problem in its own right. It’s caused by neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain. People with illness anxiety aren’t intentionally belittling the experiences of people with actual illnesses; they’re just overwhelmed with and trapped by fear.

And even though rationally speaking some of these fears might seem ridiculous, I assure you they can become very real at the time – and the increasing anxiety only serves to intensify the symptoms or even bring on new psychosomatic symptoms. That’s where the need to develop coping skills comes in (or possibly seek professional help if the anxiety becomes severe).

**Since hypochondria is a type of anxiety disorder, it can be comorbid with other anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety, OCD, panic disorder, etc. That’s why in the “Sunday” entry, I wrote about general anxiety (unrelated to illness) – which then leads to illness-related anxiety. It’s pretty typical.

Final note: My goal in writing this post is to somewhat humorously introduce the experiences of someone with mild hypochondria / illness anxiety and how I personally deal with it – nothing more! Please don’t take offense.

A week of posts?

Yes. It’s happening.

This week.

During my ample deskwarming time, I spruced up / edited down several of the more rambly, less event- or experience-specific posts that have been sitting in my drafts folder for days, weeks, or months. And since now is as good a time as any, I’ve scheduled them to be published one per day, at 9:00 a.m. Korean time on the dot, from now to Friday. (Well, today I already published a post, so from Tuesday to Friday.)

No turning back now.

Stay tuned for really exciting fantastic insights and stuff. or something like that. for those of you who care.

some of you care, right?…


heh heh…

that’s okay if you don’t care. i don’t really care either. i just want these posts to get out of my drafts folder.

monsoon season

The rain has been almost nonstop since Friday until right now, 8:30 a.m. Monday morning as it pours outside my office windows. This is monsoon season in Korea.

I can’t complain.

I love rain, and rain brings the added benefit of cool, fresh air, breaking the feverish heat.

Today is the first day of that blessed three-day event, the Final Exams. I have my office to myself, no classes, and since I’m a foreigner I’m never expected to proctor exams. I wouldn’t really mind proctoring (I guess it would be boring to just stand there for 45 minutes though), but apparently they don’t trust me. Or don’t want to burden me. Half-empty, half-full.

My co-teachers have already come running into my office to ask me to last-minute approve the clarity of the test questions. That pre-test atmosphere hangs over the school, an unnatural silence as the minutes tick away towards 9:00 and the start of the first test period.

English is the first today. There are three subject tests today, three tomorrow, and three Wednesday, all finishing before noon. After lunch, the kids can go home and rest their brains (at least until it’s time to go to their private after-school academies). I will remain in the office, (hopefully) Doing Productive and Important Stuff until 4:20 p.m.

Things such as planning for some kind of fun lesson after the tests are finished (because Lord knows the kids won’t put even 5% brain power into studying anything post-tests), planning summer camp, even… planning next semester’s lessons? (Am I crazy? Possibly.)(Hopefully by saying it here, I haven’t jinxed myself into totally not doing that. They say not to speak your goals out loud – or even write them down? – because it tricks your brain into feeling like you already accomplished something. Stupid brain.)

The forecast for the whole rest of the week is rain and storms and more rain. I couldn’t be happier with this arrangement.

Bring it on, monsoon season.