Reverse SAD

Ever since the weekend, we’ve had the most glorious cool, breezy, overcast weather here in Korea, a sudden and unexpected and very very welcome relief from the relentless sun.

Always, when the first whisper of fall comes, I experience this strange feeling as though I’ve had my head underwater for ages and suddenly I’ve come up gasping and I can finally breathe again. But I didn’t even know my head had been underwater all that time. Like the frog boiling in the pot analogy, summer s l o w l y tries to drown me, so slowly that I don’t even realize it until it’s over.

In the last few years, as I repeat this experience at the start of every fall, I’ve wondered if I have a mild form of reverse SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

Normal SAD means that a person has a tendency to become depressed in winter because they are heavily affected by the cold, the shorter days, and especially the lack of sunlight. Biologically, this happens because of sudden, prolonged changes in melatonin, serotonin, and sleep cycles, but I think it has a deep emotional component as well.

The lesser-known and less common reverse SAD is just what it sounds like (the complete opposite of SAD) – a tendency to become depressed in summer due to heat, longer days, and too much exposure to sunlight.

Again, that’s the biological explanation. Emotionally, for me, it just feels so oppressive and that makes me feel sluggish and exhausted. (I also frequently get heat/sun-related headaches, so that doesn’t help.)

Let’s just say “Summertime Sadness” is my jam from June-August. (Not the poppy, upbeat Cedric Gervais radio edit – but the original, which actually sounds like its title. Sad.)

I wouldn’t characterize what I experience in summer as depression per se, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have a deficiency of endorphins in the hot months. To frame it positively, I’d say I just have a proficiency of them once it gets cool and cloudy. My optimism, motivation, and energy levels skyrocket. Gray days, rainy days, and cold days get my blood pumping.

Anyway, that’s enough for now about (reverse) SAD. Maybe someone can recognize this phenomenon in themselves. The most comforting part about it is that you know your season of choice is coming if you just hang in there a little bit longer.

p.s. there may or may not be more blog posts coming this week. i make no promises.


Is this a school or a zoo

I kid.

But surely this thought runs through every teacher’s head from time to time.

We’re into Week 2, we’ve picked up speed, we’re diving into the textbooks.

This is only Day 6 and I’ve already come to that desperate stage of being tempted to eat all the candy I bought for the kids. In one sitting, possibly.

I decided to try out some new activities this week (and this semester), and the first has been getting the 2nd graders to brainstorm a ton of “Have you ever~?” questions in groups, then each group takes turns asking me one question. If I say “Yes, I have,” they get a point; “No, I haven’t,” no point. I change up the scoring (Yes = 0 pts, No = 3 pts / Yes = 5 pts, No = -5 pts, etc.) to keep it interesting, and then I have a student come to the front to answer the questions, and we rotate. The kids have been more interested and engaged than I thought they’d be.

Currently, an entire class of 2nd graders is “cleaning” my classroom. Half of them are belting out “Let It Go” at the top of their lungs and one boy is screeching like a hawk. Exactly like a hawk.

Hence the titular zoo comment.

… He came out through my office just now, looked at me and said, “Oh, loudly? Sorry.”

As I finish typing up all the “favorite things” surveys I collected last week, I find a strange entry under “Favorite Computer/Video Game”: “엄마가 내 게임을 숨겼다” – “Mom hid my games.” LOL. Sorry, kid.


And so it begins

This was Day 2, Semester 2, Year 2.

Yesterday my stress-and-heat-induced headache was way too strong to allow me to blog, and when I got home around 6:30 p.m. I literally collapsed into bed and only ventured out of it to get sustenance from my kitchen (so, about five steps).

But today I’m feeling much better and more energetic, perhaps mostly due to the fact that I only have two classes on Wednesdays, which is lovely because every other day of the week is pretty packed (and bottom-heavy, so I’m usually teaching back-to-back classes after lunch straight through till last period).

There have already been ups and downs. The blistering, record-setting heat (apparently the hottest summer in Korea since 1994!!!) is not helping anyone’s back-to-school spirit, but we’re trying.

Among other activities, we’re playing People Bingo this week to talk about our summer vacations. (There was no way I was going to make my kids study the textbook in the first week; I’ve learned my lesson from previous semesters. It’s completely counterproductive.)

The kids have to go to other students (or teacher) with their Bingo sheets and ask questions like “Did you eat ice cream during summer vacation? Did you visit another city? Did you go to a museum?” If the answer is “yes” they can write that student’s name in the box.

Well, a boy came up to me within 3 minutes, confident that he’d achieved BINGO. I glanced at his sheet.

Me: “Did you ask different people?”

Him: “…”

Me: “You have to ask different people each question!”

Him: *taking the Bingo Sheet back in defeat* “Oh, Jeejus. Jeejus.”

Apparently he thought asking a couple of his friends over and over until he got BINGO was acceptable? Not so fast, kid! It’s a mingling activity, not a cliquing activity.

Because the cafeteria is under construction until November, all the kids have to eat lunch in their homerooms with their homeroom teachers. As a result, when I go down to the teachers’ cafeteria at 12:30, instead of a hallway filled with ravenous, squabbling, play-fighting children, there is silence and emptiness. The teachers’ cafeteria room is like a funeral room of hushed voices and silent head-bow greetings as the handful of non-homeroom teachers (teachers on shorter contracts like me, for example) eat together. It’s not necessarily a bad experience. I kind of prefer it, actually.

One of the other activities I’ve been having the kids do is a “favorite things survey.” I have a series of questions like favorite food, movie, music, K-pop group, city in Korea, superhero, sport, candy, color, etc. etc. I’m letting them write their answers in Korean if need be (but encouraging the ones who can to use English wherever possible) – and the reason for that is that I really want every single kid to be able to participate, because I plan to compile all their answers into an Excel spreadsheet, find the top 3-5 most popular answers, and play a Family Feud-style game with all the classes later this semester based on our school’s student opinions. It’s an idea I’ve seen on Waygook and other sites in various formats, but of course it’s more fun and engaging for the kids if they’re guessing the opinions of their own peers and not some random strangers.

Beginning to compile the answers* has tested my Korean handwriting-deciphering abilities, which I’ve discovered are markedly improved but nowhere near great. The process has involved a lot of googling my best guess until something viable pops up.

On a personal note, it’s nice to see what my kids are actually into. Sure, some of the 2nd grade boys have trolled me with their answers – a few have done things like put the name of an erotica drama down for “best TV show” (which I only discovered after googling the title) or “North Korea” for “country you want to visit.” But for the most part, it’s helping me see what they’re interested in (and what candy to buy if they deserve a treat).

Fortunately there have been no Korean surprises yet (other than a few last-minute co-teacher switches), and we can only hope it remains this way.

And we also hope that the air con holds up because yesterday it was struggling to cool the entire school and kept cycling off and on.

Fall, please hurry up and get here.

Love, Maddy

*For anyone interested in Korean pop culture du jour, here are some of the top survey results so far:

  • K-pop (boy group): BTS, EXO, Big Bang
  • K-pop (girl group): TWICE, iOi, Mamamoo
  • Foreign band/singer: Maroon 5 (overwhelmingly so, probably because it’s basically the only Western music they know), honorable mentions for The Beatles & Michael Jackson
  • Movie: Train to Busan (recent Korean zombie thriller), Suicide Squad
  • Game: Overwatch (it’s beating out League of Legends, amazingly)
  • Subject: P.E. (so, so, so many votes for P.E.)
  • Superhero: Ironman far & away in the lead, with Captain America a distant 2nd and a few stubborn votes for The Joker and Harley Quinn
  • City in Korea: Daegu (Daeguites are a loyal bunch), followed by Sokcho (because it’s the only Korean city where Pokemon Go is available)
  • Animal: Two-thirds dog, one-third cat. 1 vote for armadillo.
  • Country to visit: Japan at the top, followed weakly by the U.S. and then Brazil (no doubt influenced by the Rio Olympics)
  • Baskin Robbins flavor: “My Mom Is an Alien” (pretty sure we don’t have this flavor in the U.S.!? But apparently it’s really popular here)

Behold “My Mom is an Alien”, which contains dark, milk, and white chocolate ice cream and is studded with (I think) malted milk balls. I think I need to try this. For like… research purposes. To see if my kids are correct or not, you know.

Fears (and also 1 exciting thing)

While organizing my room a bit over the (all-too-short-and-nearly-over-now) summer vacation, I stumbled across a list of fears I wrote just weeks before coming to Korea. [Writing down your fears, including the irrational and improbable ones, can truly be calming.]

Here is what I wrote:

What if…

  • E2 visa application isn’t done on time?
  • Flight trouble?
  • Lost in [Incheon] airport?
  • Sick during [EPIK teachers’] orientation?
  • Lesson presentation [during orientation] flops?
  • EPIK sends me home?
  • Assigned school is horrible?
  • Coteacher hates me/is mean?
  • Can’t find (insert important place here)?
  • Make no friends and spend an awful lonely year?

Fear is such a weird and normal part of being human.

Coming to Korea was probably definitely the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s so easy now to forget the deep, stomach-knotting fear that sometimes overwhelmed me prior to arriving. I think it’s good to be reminded of your past fears sometimes, because it gives perspective and shows that like 98% of the things we fear never happen, and the stuff that does happen, we can usually overcome.

So, of course, basically none of the fears on my list were realized. (I did get lost though. Legit lost. On my first night. So that fear came to be, but hey, I didn’t die… unless you count dying of embarrassment. hehe)

Currently I’m facing the mild but imminent fear of starting Semester 2 on Tuesday – more dread, really, but I suppose dread is a type of fear. With 4 days to go, I still have no idea what my schedule is or where my classroom will be. Of course. (Praying that they’ll allow me to keep my English room even though there’s semi-noisy construction going on 2 floors below in the cafeteria. I so do not want to share classrooms with other teachers.)

Then there’s the much broader but much vaguer fear of my life direction next year and beyond… but that’s still far away enough to comfortably push to the side.

So for now, my most pressing fear will remain facing a classroom of highly unenthused, overheated, mentally-checked-out teenagers.

And I guess if that’s my biggest fear at the moment, I should be grateful.

P.S. Totally the opposite of fears, but this is way too exciting not to mention:

I had to come into the office today because I’d run out of vacation days and there’s just this one random Friday stuck between vacation, Korean Independence Day (this Monday), and the start of school – but to my complete delight, while I was gone the tech guy came in and installed a BRAND SPANKING NEW computer, complete with new widescreen monitor (I have never seen a widescreen monitor in this school, much less a computer less than 3 years old), new keyboard which I love because it makes satisfying typing sounds, new mouse and new mouse pad.

It is lightning fast.

It doesn’t freeze and crash when I use the “Save As” feature.

It doesn’t take a million years to load a browser page or download something (in fact, it takes less than a second).

The screen is so wide I can multitask with two documents or windows open side by side.

IT HAS WINDOWS 8. Like, WHAT? I didn’t think school computers existed in Korea that had anything newer than Windows XP. No joke. Plus the full Office 2013 suite. O…m…g.

Am I in public school heaven? What benevolent administrative fairy godperson bestowed this wondrous gift on me? I’LL LOVE YOU FOREVER, ADMINISTRATIVE FAIRY GODPERSON! I want to send you a box of donuts as a token of my eternal gratitude. Or a box of caffeine or a box of puppies or whatever floats your boat.

(seriously though is this a mistake? like did they confuse “foreign teacher’s office” with “Principal’s Office”?? is this coming out of my paycheck? i feel guilty. i’m the lowly foreign teacher. how am i worthy of this expensive technology? i don’t know if anyone else got new computers, but the one other teacher in my office hasn’t yet. *pledges to create fantastic and awe-inspiring powerpoints to show everyone this was definitely a worthwhile investment*)

(in case anyone is wondering, i’ll take this over a reliable supply of toilet paper, soap, and hot water in the bathrooms any day. heck i’ll take this over almost anything any day. my school relationship meter just skyrocketed to “warm & fuzzy.” i guess now we know the true way to my heart.)

(also kind of really wanting to buy a desktop computer for my home now because i so miss having one. laptops are just no match.)

(don’t worry, i won’t.)

(but i want to though.)