From the desk of a bored person.

Here I am deskwarming in the main teachers’ office again. The minute I stepped in at 8:20 a.m. on the dot it was as if I’d never left, like my whole week+ of vacation had never happened.

The same freezing cold office. Should’ve worn my scarf.

The same voices rising and falling around me as the VP and head teacher chat.

The same computer which is vastly inferior to the computer in my office, particularly due to the lack of browsers other than Internet Explorer and an apparent inability to download Chrome or Firefox.

The same lesson plans and PPTs that have sat ready on my USB for weeks now, since I finished preparing for the February interim week classes and my first-week-of-school classes ages ago. I have looked them over so many times that it nauseates me to even click the folders now.

Students come in to clean. They look older than just a month ago when we finished the school year. Maybe it’s their street clothes instead of the school uniforms. Or that all the girls are wearing bright lipstick and mascara (forbidden during the semester).

I estimate that I am 50% ready to see all of them again in the classroom. Good thing we have another month before the school year starts, because at this rate I should be 100% eager to greet their cute faces when the time comes.

(I realize that I’ll be facing them in the classroom in 2 days for the February interim week, but in my head I’m still pretending that isn’t happening okay?)

My sly glances at the computer of the teacher next to me tell me that she is just as bored as I am. I think she’s browsing clothing sites and stuff but she covers it with official-looking documents as soon as someone comes in the room. Now I feel an unspoken bond with her because I’m doing the same thing (except with my blog instead of clothing sites).

Deskwarming alone = tolerable, even nice in small doses. A room to myself to read, browse the internet, and be exactly as productive as I want/need to be.

Deskwarming with the vice principal and head teachers = very very mindnumbingly unfun.

My VP is cool though. Sometimes she says “bye” to me in English.

Also we ordered lunch from one of those we-have-every-Korean-food-you-can-imagine places and I got dolsot bibimbap (hot stone bowl mixed rice and vegetables; the stone bowl keeps cooking the rice so if you leave some to set onto the edges of the bowl, it gets all golden and crispy and delicious) which is one of my favorite Korean foods, so that’s cool.

In other news I’m considering changing my name’s spelling to Meddy since that’s essentially what my name is here. (The “æ” sound is nonexistent in Korean so they change it to a short “e”, the equivalent of 메디 in Hangul.) Okay not really gonna change it but I think it’s kind of cute.

That is all.

 

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5 things I can’t wait to do when I visit America

As my short & sweet 8-day visit approaches, I find myself getting more and more excited for the following things. Beyond the expected “see my family,” “see my friends,” that is.

1. See my dermatologist. This is not #1 by chance. I have informed my family with about 93% seriousness that if I could choose one American to come live next door to me in Korea, it would be my dermatologist. That man is a miracle worker and the number of times I have bemoaned the fact that he is halfway across the globe in the last 2 years is incalculable.

2. Drive a car. The freedom, control, and relaxation of using a car to get around is so underrated.

3. Stand in a Target. I won’t even need to shop*… I’ll just breathe in the endless possibilities of shopping that exist around me. So many choices. So much useless yet adorable stuff. So many overpriced and delicious Archer Farms snacks. There’s just nothing in Korea that can quite measure up to Target.

*Who am I kidding? I’ll probably buy more than I can bring back with me.

4. Eat cereal. Wait, just eat. Western food in Korea is bound to be disappointing. Some of the cereals taste different or just don’t exist (hello, I need my Multigrain Cheerios okay?). Mexican is rare. “Italian” consists only of overcooked spaghetti drowning in sauce. Once I ordered “lasagna” for nearly $12 and received a shallow circular ceramic dish of meat sauce and cheese, with a single layer of limp, boiled-to-oblivion lasagna noodle in the middle. It was a travesty.

[Disclaimer: Yes, there are authentic places serving really good food in Korea. For example I’ve found a couple of really good Indian restaurants here in Daegu, although one of them has since closed (likely because only foreigners were interested). And Seoul is a whole different story. But the average restaurant in my area claiming to serve a particular country’s cuisine is typically awful.]

5. Shower in a real shower. My current bathroom is quite an improvement from my first in Korea, since it was new when I moved in and therefore I’ve been able to keep it clean and mold-free. Plus the hot water actually works here. But again, most Korean bathrooms are wet rooms with a shower head installed on the wall and a drain in the floor, and mine is no exception, which leaves me longing for the luxury of a separate shower that doesn’t get my toilet, floor, and everything else completely soaking wet.

And a bonus…

6. Be reverse culture shocked. It’s always strange and funny to me when I first step off the plane and hear the chatter of English around me and can make small talk with strangers. The different smells and sounds, the English commercials on TV, the vast, beautiful spaciousness of suburban neighborhoods, the colorful cars (as opposed to the sea of black, white, and silver vehicles here) all contribute to a feeling of reverse culture shock. I look forward to being surprised by other things too.

Language

Of course we all know it’s essential. How else would we communicate with each other? Yes, there is body language and eye contact and gesturing and tone and all that, but words are still pretty darn important.

I’m really making an effort to use Korean these days, particularly with my boyfriend (to alleviate the burden of communication that he upholds every day by speaking in English with me). In doing so I’m realizing just how scary it is to attempt to produce your own thoughts in another language.

Even though I encourage my students to “just try,” to put themselves out there and just say something in English on a daily basis, it’s… much easier said than done.

As a teacher, of course it’s easy to be delighted by the outgoing, bold kids who just shout out whatever they feel in English, even if it makes no sense, because it’s still an attempt at communication and it helps the student to make progress (plus it’s cute). Of course it’s easy to be frustrated or disheartened by the shy and quiet ones who don’t want to say a single word, even though they actually know enough vocabulary and grammar.

But I am that quiet student who doesn’t want to speak for fear of making a mistake. For fear of embarrassment, of saying something wrong, of the awkward confusion that could result from an error in pronunciation or grammar.

Logically I know that it’s better to just make the effort and let the grammar mistakes roll off my back, to just push through and improve by doing – I know this because I’ve seen the benefits in action countless times – but the fear is really a big obstacle.

Part of the problem, of course, stems from the fact that Korean is less forgiving than English (in my opinion) in terms of pronunciation, and less exposed to a variety of sounds since so few foreigners actually speak it.

But mostly it’s fear on my part.

To get back to my original point, I’ve been frustrated as I recognize that the words I choose in Korean (and I have a very limited selection to choose from before resorting to Naver Translate (more accurate than Google)) might have a different undertone or connotation than their English translation. But I have no way of knowing unless I constantly ask, “Is that right? Does it sound natural? Is it too formal? Too stiff? Too casual? Rude? Blunt? Standoffish?”

Do I say “교장선생님이 나한테 얘기했어”? Or “교장선생님이 나에게 말했어”? Technically they both mean “the principal said to me…”, but which is politer? Which is natural in context?

Is it 맞아요, 맞죠, or 맞다? By definition they all mean “Right/Right?,” but there is an appropriate context for the use of each.

HELP.

Not to say that English doesn’t have a similar mess – sure, English is even more confusing in many regards (I’m sure most of us have read “The Chaos“), and uses a ridiculous amount of slang, borrowed words, and cultural context (almost like inside jokes among all native English speakers), perhaps more than any other language.

But still, Korean is particularly troublesome, where you have a bewildering and treacherous interpersonal minefield of the ‘levels of speech,’ ranging from 반말 (banmal, casual language only for friends) to 존댓말 (jondaemal, polite language) with a million levels in between which make it downright terrifying for a non-native speaker to navigate.

I do think personality can have a lot to do with language learning as well. Extroverted people are more likely to put themselves out there in an effort to get the human interactions that will energize them. For me, and I’m sure many other introverts out there, I’m pretty good at listening, reading, and writing in Korean on a basic level. It’s the speaking that can be overwhelming (so basically exactly the same as English… heh heh).

It’s going to be an uphill battle. Wish me luck.

Noobish mistakes in Korea

While I’m sure I continue to commit cultural faux pas on the regular here, there are a few particularly embarrassing ones that I thought I’d share to perhaps help other noobish expats out. Or just for your amusement.

Most of them occurred very early on in my time here, so don’t judge me too hard.

I shall omit the Getting Lost Incident, which has been previously documented.

1. The taxi incident.

I was taking a taxi to an open class observation at another school which was pretty far away from my own. After managing to get the driver to understand my feeble “[school name] ga juseyo“, I was feeling quite empowered by my clearly amazing Korean abilities. So when he asked me something in Korean to the effect of “do you mean THIS school or THAT school,” I confidently replied 몰라요/mollayo,” which means “I don’t know.”

The driver chuckled in a surprised way and repeated, “몰라요?” “네,” I said, feeling oh-so-proud of myself.

(Luckily for me, the driver knew where the correct school was anyway and dropped me off there with another little chuckle as I handed him the money.)

What I found out MONTHS later is that there are two ways to say “I don’t know” in Korean. 모르겠어요 (mollegesoyo) means “I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out/I’m sorry that I don’t know.” 몰라요, which I used, has a connotation of “don’t know don’t care.” LOL. Sorry, Taxi Driver Ajeosshi. Didn’t mean to be rude. At least he found it funny.

2. The bus incident.

I still cringe when I think about this one.

In my first couple days in the city, I decided to attempt to take a bus that I had been told would stop near my school. I wanted to prepare myself for how I would get there come Monday, my first day of teaching. I knew the general area but didn’t know exactly how to get there from my house.

Can I just say that Korean buses. are. terrifying. I can take them now, but I prefer not to for fear of being thrown into the windshield before I have a chance to grab onto something after boarding.

So I got on this bus, and after a couple of stops I realized I was now the only person on the bus. And it seemed like we were going the wrong way (not that I really had any way of knowing).

Worried that I would end up in like another city, maybe, I cautiously approached the bus driver in this empty bus and said in Korean, “Chogiyo, ajeosshi (excuse me, sir),” and then said what I now realize is the Korean equivalent of “Bus go [school name]?”

The gruff bus driver responded with a few grunts and then energetically waved me off at the next stop. He probably thought that I thought that he was some sort of taxi driver who would take me exactly where I wanted to go. Obviously I was just trying to figure out if we were going to get close to my school, but I must’ve seemed like an extremely clueless and/or entitled weirdo with the language skills of a two-year-old.

Anyway then I took a taxi and found my school and was able to work my way backwards to figure out a walking route and it was all fine.

Come to think of it, taxis saved my life more than a few times in the first couple months.

3. The Olive Young incident.

Olive Young is a makeup/beauty products chain and my go-to for buying BB creams and facial masks.

Whenever you check out they’re required to ask a series of rapid questions including “Do you need a bag with handles?”, (if yes) “It costs xyz extra, is that okay?”, “Do you have an Olive Young rewards card?”, and “If you want to return anything, you have to do so by this date.”

Nothing out of the ordinary, but the first time I experienced it, I only understood the “do you need a bag” part. When she said the part about the price, I had no clue what she was saying and just stared at her helplessly, which led to a series of even more confusing attempts at communication as I didn’t know whether to say “yes” or “no” and she didn’t know how to explain it any differently, apparently, so eventually she just charged me for it. Of course, it just so happened that half the population of Daegu was behind me in line, witnessing the whole thing.

Not that this is the most embarrassing thing to ever happen or that it’s the only awkward communication issue I’ve had, but it just illustrates how frequently you can feel completely stupid when you first arrive and don’t know much of the language yet.

Incidentally, I recently had one of the Olive Young cashiers do her spiel entirely in English for me, which impressed me greatly since the location I go to probably doesn’t get many foreigners. I know Koreans have no obligation to speak English to foreigners in Korea, so I always feel warm and fuzzy when they do. Especially in grouchy Daegu.*

*I love Daegu but it’s a little bit of a crusty old man sometimes.

4. The co-teachers incident.

I guess it sounds worse than it is, but it’s still a bit of a faux pas. When I first met my co-teachers I tentatively addressed all of them as, for example, “Kim Seonsaengnim” or “Park Seonsaengnim” (“Teacher Kim”/”Teacher Park”).

Yeah… don’t do that.

I was trying to be respectful, but it just sounds really clumsy and awkward and will probably make your co-teachers feel weird.

Honestly, you should just ask them “What should I call you?”, since some like to go by an English first name, others like to be “(Korean Name) Teacher,” and some (rarely in my experience) like to be “Mister/Miss (Name).”

Personally, when I’m referring to them to the students, I use “(First Name) Teacher” in English, or just the Korean way of referring to other teachers, which is “(Full Name)쌤/Saem.” However ‘saem‘ is technically slang and is a casual, borderline too casual way to say ‘teacher’, so don’t use it right away / unless you hear other teachers using this method. English is the safest bet.

5. The paying incident.

This one is an ongoing cultural muddle for me. In Korean culture, when you go out to eat, traditionally the oldest person pays for everyone in the group (part of the Confucian hierarchy, and I suppose the only beneficial part for younger people, is that older people are supposed to take care of and look out for them). If there’s a round of coffee or dessert after the meal, the younger person can then pay for this smaller bit as a way to say thank you.

There is a “Dutch pay” concept (a.k.a. splitting the bill; somehow “going Dutch” got Konglishified into “Dutch pay”), but it depends on the circumstances and who you’re with.

However, deeply ingrained Western norms about splitting the bill when out with friends or coworkers plus confusion about what is expected from me, as an often-younger yet also foreign person in Korea, make this such an uncomfortable situation for me.

I’ve had many an awkward half-conversation, half-skirting-around-the-topic with my Korean co-teachers, something like “Oh, I can -” “Oh, next time -” “Can I -” “I invited you -” “Half? -” “Don’t worry -” *awkward silence*.

I honestly still have no idea whether I’m supposed to keep completely quiet and just thank them, offer once and then shut up, or continue protesting. I suppose I should try to figure that out.


Okay, there are my Top 5 Embarrassing Moments in Korea. (I’m sure there are others that I’m forgetting at the moment.) Thankfully these days I’m a bit better at remembering to avoid most of the faux pas.

Also, though I’m grateful to all the taxis that saved me in the early days, I now avoid taking any form of transportation that is not my own two legs whenever possible. Walking is the one method of getting around that is guaranteed not to stress me out.

A Musical Profile

Having contemplated music a couple days ago in passing, I decided to frankenstein this tag together from various “music tag” questions around the internet as a more interesting way for me to write about my own musical preferences.

I’m sure my tastes are a bit polarizing since I tend to stay within a very specific sound and emotional range (i.e. melancholy, grey*, pensive, perhaps existential, angsty and/or lovelorn indie pop & folk). Not that I don’t listen to other stuff, but that’s my home base as it were.

I’m not trying to take myself too seriously here. I’m no music connoisseur. I just like doing these tags, and have ever since my friends and I used to forward them back and forth via email, when that was a thing like 15 years ago. Now they just float around Facebook and YouTube and annoy people, but come on, we all secretly want to fill them out, right?

1. Favorite bands/artists:

Bands: Bastille, Sea Wolf, Walk Off the Earth.

Artists: Gabrielle Aplin, Ingrid Michaelson, Kimbra, Regina Spektor, Sia, Ron Pope.

2. One band you always come back to:

The Beatles.

3. Favorite movie Korean drama soundtrack:

City Hunter, Playful Kiss, and Master’s Sun.

4. What is/are your favorite song(s) of all time?

Since I can’t choose one or even a few, here are my Top 10 at the moment (in no particular order and I’ll probably change my mind later):

5. What was the last song you listened to?

“The Anchor” by Bastille

6. Most embarrassing song on your iTunes:

Ashley Tisdale 😂😂😂

7. Top 3 most played songs on your iTunes:

I no longer have iTunes on my computer, but if I recall correctly from before I came to Korea:

  • “All You Had To Do Was Stay” by Taylor Swift
  • “October Trees” by Ron Pope
  • “Things We Lost in the Fire” by Bastille

8. Favorite concert you’ve attended:

I have never attended a concert. *oops*

9. First album you ever bought?

I think it was “With The Beatles” on CD.

10. Favorite album of all time?

“Human Again”, “Everybody”, or “Girls and Boys” by Ingrid Michaelson. “Bad Blood” by Bastille. “English Rain” by Gabrielle Aplin. Was I supposed to just pick one?

11. Favorite song that is also the only song you know by that band/artist?

“The Daylight” by Andrew Belle“So Cold” by Ben Cocks, “Where To Now” by Cider Sky, “C’mon Through” by Lasse Lindh.

12. Do you share any musical tastes with your parents? Does it put you off when they like the same music as you?

When I was a teenager, of course I tried to avoid liking the same music as my parents. But considering the wide variety of genres and artists that they introduced me to, especially my dad, we inevitably have some overlap with each other, and I’m finally mature enough to think that’s nice. My mom and I like Taylor Swift (no hate please), and my dad liked Sia way before she was cool. Just as an example.

13. Three favorite genres of music?

Indie pop, indie folk, singer-songwriter (that counts, okay?).

14. Favorite guilty pleasure music?

Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton, ’90s and ’00s pop to remind me of growing up.

15. If you had to choose a song to listen to forever, what would it be?

If this question means only being able to listen to one song, but I can choose when to listen to it: “Strip Me” by Natasha Bedingfield.

“But Maddy, that isn’t even on your Top 10!” No, but my Top 10 songs are all kinda woeful and moody, and if I can only listen to one song for the rest of my life it’d better be something that can pick my spirits up and motivate me.

But if this means I’d have to listen to it on repeat, nonstop, no respite, forever: 4’33” by John Cage.


As I alluded to at the start of this post, the trouble with music is the same as the reason it’s so amazing: it’s different for every person. Each of us experiences music in a totally unique way, and therefore listening to someone else talk about their taste in music is never quite as fun as talking about your own taste in music… or simply experiencing your own taste in music.

Therefore feel free to answer these questions yourself in the comments (I’d be interested!) or on your own blog or in your own head or whatever. Whatever works for you.


*I spell grey the British way because that spelling seems more true to the color than gray. Grey is more grey than gray.

On the embracing of music and the acceptance of irrationality

*Edit: So it’s bugging me that I mixed the use of the verb “embracing” and the noun “acceptance” in the title, but I’m not going to change it. I just wanted to note it. In case it’s bugging anyone else.

So here we are in the midst of another week of deskwarming. (Well, here I am. I don’t know where you are.)

Each morning I half-jog through the breathtaking cold to school. I have enough walking time to listen to about 1.3 songs, so I have to choose carefully. These days I’ve been going through Bastille’s “Wild World” album, song by song.

There’s something to be said for learning an entire album by heart and deliberately embracing each of the songs on it, even if you don’t initially like some of them. Not to force yourself to be a “true fan” of a particular group – I dislike that attitude, personally – but to watch and feel how certain songs grow on you. After X number of listens, the lyrics or an inflection in the singer’s voice make you feel something. (You obviously have to start out with an artist you like, though.)

Plus, through repeated and dedicated listening, you get the added benefit of creating a powerful memory capsule embedded in that album, and even if those memories aren’t purely happy ones…

I attempted to write my next sentence several times before realizing that I’m only trying to paraphrase Joe Henry (“God Only Knows”), and he says it better, so:

The worst of life looks beautiful as it slips away in full retreat.

Yesterday I decided to publish my old Yeongju trip post, and I might publish one or two other lingering drafts as I finish up the first round of deskwarming this vacation season.

Next week I have vacation, which I managed to join with the Seollal (Lunar New Year) long weekend to get an even longer vacation.

After that it’s back to school for one of the more absurd aspects of the Korean academic year: the random February week.

The length and purpose of this week varies by school, but for my middle school we will have three random days of class (Thursday, Friday, and Monday in the first week of February) – and not even normal class, but classes that are 10 minutes shorter than the usual time – followed by a graduation ceremony for the 3rd years on Tuesday.

And that’s it. Then we’re back to vacation – “spring vacation” instead of “winter vacation” – until March 2nd.

Why?

WHY, KOREA??

I really can’t fathom the reason for this, as it needlessly breaks up the much-needed vacation time and accomplishes little to nothing in the way of education for the kids, since A) in 3 days with 35 minutes per class, there’s barely time to delve into any topic and B) they literally will not care since these classes have no bearing on their grades and all they’re thinking about is vacation.

I guess I have it easy, since I believe some elementary schools go for a full week or so. And it’s really not the end of the world to teach a few random classes, I suppose.

But I really dislike irrationality, especially when it’s so deeply and stubbornly ingrained in a system.

(If there is a plausible reason for this week being plopped in the middle of vacation, I will stand corrected.)

Yeongju Festival

Disclaimer: Okay, I wrote this post in September, and yes, that was 4 months ago. I just never got around to polishing it up and adding pictures. But I’m in the process of cleaning out my drafts once again, so I decided to just publish this one anyway. Better late than never.

 


 

Last weekend, I joined my favorite co-teacher’s family on a trip to the ‘city’ (more like rural area) of Yeongju (about a 2-hour drive from Daegu – short by American standards, long by Korean standards). They were having an all-day festival, sort of a family fun package deal which included a packed program from 2 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for just 10,000원 (less than $10).

I was really grateful and touched that she invited me, since it was actually the event her extended family had chosen as the location for their quarterly family reunion. Her cousins (or maybe second cousins or cousins once removed? that stuff is confusing enough in English let alone translating from another language) and their kids met us there, 22 people in total. Everyone was very kind and welcoming to me, and I enjoyed being around the craziness that is a group of kids under 10 years old again.

It was basically pure countryside, mountains, and fresh air. Thankfully, the weather was cool and cloudy – perfect for the walking and stair-climbing we were going to do.

 

 

 

It ended up being just our group and a group of high school boys who were on a Saturday field trip with a few teachers and their principal – which was amusing because the boys kept gawking at me (if they’re from a rural area, it’s possible they don’t have a foreign teacher at their school). A few said hello, and one brave soul asked me where I’m from (maybe on a dare from his friends).

The first item on the program was a brief introduction by the program’s leader/tour guide inside what used to be a tiny countryside high school, but has now been converted into a sort of cultural building to be used for programs like this. We then watched a “Little Red Riding Hood” puppet show, performed live but with a blaring prerecorded voice-over / soundtrack. What relevance this had to the rest of the day I’m still not sure, but the young kids seemed to enjoy it. The poor high schoolers were pretty bored, though.

Next we walked to a soybean museum, which was literally just down the road. A brief tour yielded some interesting facts about the different uses of soybeans in Korea vs. in China and Japan. Koreans use A LOT of soybeans in many traditional dishes.

For whatever reason, this museum also had a giant outdoor spiral slide attached to it, starting at the 2nd story roof. Instead of normal slide material, it was called a “roller slide” and the surface was a bunch of rolling metal bars. For anyone in the martial arts world, imagine sliding down a series of metal nunchuks.

My co-teacher convinced me to try it with her against my better judgment, but I was wearing shorts and quickly experienced one of the more severe friction burns I’ve ever received – red, itchy, burning welts from my calves straight up the back of my thighs, and yes, also my bottom (though these were not visible obviously). Whoops. They were fine the next day, mostly.

There was an apple museum practically next door, because I guess Yeongju is famous for really sweet apples.

*Sidenote: Every city or even village in Korea seems to be “famous” for something. It’s a popular and somewhat endearing catchphrase among Koreans when they speak to foreigners – “You will go to Busan? Busan is famous for hwe (sashimi/raw fish).” “If you visit Cheongdo, you must eat persimmons. They are famous.” “I will visit Jeonju. Jeonju is famous for the hanok village.” “Do you know that Daegu is famous for makchang?” I don’t know just how famous all these famous things can possibly be, when there are so many of them, but it’s fun to try all this famous stuff anyway.

Next we headed to one of the highlights of the program: Buseoksa Temple. There were over 120 steps to climb on the way up, and one of my ears was plugged by the time we reached the top of the small mountain. But if you come to Korea, you should be prepared for intensive stair-climbing at just about any temple you visit, so it wasn’t a surprise.

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They were really steep though.

 

And the view was amazing.

The tour guide/program leader had a Polaroid camera and took pictures of every family and small group. My co-teacher insisted I be in their family photo. He took two and gave me a copy.

We stayed at the top for about an hour, because dinner was scheduled at the traditional restaurant just at the bottom of the mountain at 6 p.m. On the slightly-treacherous trek back down (not only because of the very steep, railingless stairs, but also the steep, gravelly path after the stairs), we stopped to buy the aforementioned famous apples from the ajummas selling them on the side of the path. They were indeed very sweet and fresh.

Dinner was mackerel (also apparently a famous dish in Yeongju – not sure why, since it’s not a seaside town), 된장찌개 (soybean paste stew, much better tasting than it sounds), rice, and a variety of vegetable side dishes. We sat on the floor, traditional style. My co-teacher’s 8-year-old son was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to eat because it was all Korean food, which was cute.

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After dinner, it was back to ‘base camp’ (the abandoned high school) for a traditional drumming lesson.

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In which Maddy discovers she has Absolutely Zero Drumming Ability.

After hardcore failing at learning to drum, I slowly backed away and sat on the sidelines with my co-teacher and a few of the other adults who were over it as well, and watched everyone else.

Now it was 8 p.m., the sun had set, and it was time for the highlight of the evening: a bonfire and lighting Chinese sky lanterns. I got to release one of them with my co-teacher. So pretty.

Then, apparently because I was a special guest because I’m a foreigner, the tour guide announced that the high school principal and I should do the honors of lighting the bonfire. At the same time. Holding the same flaming torch stick. It was about as awkward as it looks.

While we ate the barbeque (which I honestly wasn’t that hungry for considering we’d just eaten a couple hours ago!), a C list magician performed some weak magic tricks (but for 10 bucks, what can you really expect). The adults drank beer. The kids ran around. I found it odd that we kind of abandoned the bonfire right after lighting it – rather than sitting around it, we were facing the opposite direction to watch the magic show.

Then it was time to go. I hovered near the dying bonfire, part of me feeling cozy as I watched my co-teacher’s extended family planning their next reunion and saying their goodbyes, thinking of my own family gatherings and that safe warm feeling you get as you joke around – the other part feeling alarmed that 7-, 8-, and 9-year-olds were being allowed to throw things (plastic bottles, soda cans, grass, whatever else they could find) into the fire to see what would happen. Just as I was sure they were going to set the whole field and forest on fire, it was time to bundle into the cars.

“Bye!” shouted a few of the adult cousins cheerfully as I climbed into the back of my co-teacher’s SUV.

After a sleepy and quiet drive home, including a couple of bathroom/rest stops, we arrived back in Daegu near midnight. A long day but a fun one, and a nice chance for me to experience a more casual side of Korean family and culture.

uncollected thoughts

 

The number of barely-attempted posts in my drafts folder grows.

My lack of inspiration wrestles against both my desire to write something real instead of a list of life updates and my itch to do something productive while deskwarming (having already planned future lessons as much as my still-recovering-from-last-year brain will let me).

But not everything in life has to be structured and “just so” and exactly according to the plan in my head.

Various people have tried to tell me this since I was about 2 years old. I think it was only after my prefrontal cortex became fully developed that I started making a conscious effort to relax my own standards for perfection, organization, rigidity, structure, schedules.

Coming to Korea was simultaneously a cause and effect of that relaxation, I suppose.

Okay, so I still have a to do list and I still plan things about a week in advance, but compared to 5 or 10 years ago when I would be consumed with anxiety if I didn’t have everything perfectly ready 2+ weeks ahead of time, I’m doing much better.

in other news

It’s cold. The cold snap hit this week finally. It had been downright balmy here the last few weeks.

The carpenter who lived and worked (emphasis on the worked, and by worked I mean attempted to break the sound barrier with his power tools on a daily basis) next to my apartment has moved out. A shoe cleaner has moved in.

Goodbye whining and grinding at all hours of the day and night. Goodbye sawdust and wood shavings floating in through my windows. Goodbye weekends spent gritting my teeth to stop from screaming out the window “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, STOP IT!” Happy New Year to me!

Speaking of which, I don’t intend to post about my goals for this year because the act of publicly declaring a goal can have the unintended psychological side effect of making your brain pat itself on the back (er, pat itself on the cerebellum?) and say “Well done, well done, mission accomplished.”

Essentially it releases similar endorphins to those you would get from actually completing a goal, and so, feeling satisfied and happy with yourself, you immediately lose all motivation to pursue those aims.

Nevertheless, I have high hopes for you, 2017.

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Handmade card from one of my sweetest 3rd grade girls, who is starting high school in March.

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I’ll miss her!

Korea Level 2: CLEARED

Or almost, anyway.

The school year is basically done. There’s a week in the beginning of February during which the 3rd graders will graduate to high school, and we may possibly have some random classes thrown in, but then we continue our winter vacation until the new school year starts on March 2nd.

We just finished up the English camp for Winter 2017.

After some teeth-pulling moments in last summer’s more academic-themed camp (I made the mistake of focusing too much on vocabulary and sedentary projects and not enough on energetic games and activities), I was determined to keep this one in the “fun with a dash of English” zone. The kids at my previous school would’ve been just fine with the sedentary stuff, but my current kids NEED ACTION AND THEY NEED IT NOW.

As always, although 21 students signed up, only 15-18 appeared at any given day or period. Flexibility is the key to teaching ESL in Korea. Or just… the key to life in Korea.

I put them into teams (with their friends, unlike in normal class when they can’t be with their friends because they’ll talk too much) and gave them a series of challenges. Winning or putting in great effort earned them stickers, and at the end of camp, the team with the most stickers earned small gift certificates (provided by my co-teacher).

Fewer English-focused games are nice for mixed level because even the lower level kids have a chance to win at something while there’s a bit of English practice/learning running in the background.

We did things like:

  • Flip Cup. Yes, the drinking game – but instead of drinking I put slips of paper in each cup with questions on them. The students had to read and answer the question before trying to flip their cup. Two teams competed at a time and then we had a final champion round.
  • Balloon Popping Race. Maybe some of us played this as kids at birthday parties. Normally you’d tie a balloon to each kid’s ankle and they try to stomp on each other’s balloons, but I wanted to avoid the possibility of someone getting kicked in the ankle or shin. Instead, we had the kids blow up all the balloons themselves and, before tying them, slip a piece of paper inside with an English word on it. Then we put all the balloons in the center and everyone tried to pop them with their feet. After collecting as many words as possible, they went back to their teams and tried to make the longest grammatically correct sentence they could using as many words as they could, at 1 point per balloon word (no points for filler words).
  • Running Dictations. The classic ESL game. You can find explanations and variations all over the internet, but essentially one student runs to the wall, where an English sentence or story is posted, then back to their teammate to dictate the sentence. Since we had teams of 4-5 kids, we rotated who was running and who was writing after each sentence. *My 1st graders, who also happened to be the lowest level, did have a harder time with this. So for low level students, I’d recommend very simple, short sentences. However, the high level 2nd graders had no problems and really loved it.
  • Paper Airplane Contest. Maybe it sounds too simple, but they had fun with it. I told them they could make their plane however they wanted (showing a step-by-step for the basic paper plane, in case they didn’t know how), then let them decorate it, and then we went out into the hall and took turns throwing them to see whose could fly the farthest.
  • Alphabet Hunt. Some of my kids have already done the ‘photo scavenger hunt’ from previous camps or after-school classes, so I decided to mix it up. I told them to find something beginning with each letter of the alphabet, take a picture of it and write the word down (such as “S”: Student, ” I had some very creative entries for the less common letters, such as “X”: “Xerox” copy machine, “X-Canvas” brand TV, and “xenophile” (one of the girls, unbeknownst to me, made a heart shape with her hands in the foreground with me, the foreigner, in the background inside the heart). (And no, they did not know the word “xenophile”; they looked up “X” words in the dictionary.)

We also did “cooking” for the last part of the last day – and I say “cooking” because we didn’t have access to the cafeteria or any actual cooking tools, so it was more “making snacks.”

We did dirt pudding cups and PB&J sushi rolls. I wanted to keep it simple for the purposes of: A) budget, B) ease of completion, and C) clean-up.

Thus, I chose the dirt pudding recipe that doesn’t involve Cool Whip, milk, powdered sugar, etc. but is literally just Oreo crumbs and pudding. However, to make it more interesting for the kids, we did it parfait style and included the options of layering in granola cereal, strawberries, and bananas with the pudding, then topping with crushed Oreos and gummy worms.

Meh, it’s no Top Chef material but the kids seemed to have fun creating their own combinations.

When it came to the PB&J rolls, the crucial element is, of course, the flattening of the bread via a rolling pin. My co-teacher was only able to procure one rolling pin, and logistically it is just not feasible to have one rolling pin among 18 kids who all need to flatten two pieces of bread… so we improvised. The kids put their bread in a Ziploc bag and smushed it with their hands. It kinda worked, especially for the more determined kids, but I definitely recommend rolling pins. (Or at least soda cans or something.)

At any rate, it was probably their first taste of PB&J as a combination (it’s just not a thing here), and they all seemed to like it, except for the few who don’t like peanut butter and opted for just strawberry jam.

Also, I’ve mentioned this before but it’s worth saying again: Koreans just don’t have peanut allergies, so this wasn’t a concern. In fact it’s often quite surprising to them to think of someone having an allergy to nuts (especially a life-threatening one).

TL;DR: If you want your camp to be well-loved, plan lots of active games and always include food.

New Year, New Theme

I had no words left for 2016, really, so I just gave up.

But now it’s 2017 and we’re off to a promising start! I gave my blog the revamping I’ve been wanting to for a long time. I semi-hated my old theme because the posts felt so in-your-face and expansive, with no functionality for a proper sidebar even though there was tons of blank space on either side.

Now I’ve got the blog look and feel I’ve always dreamed of (or occasionally pondered, anyway).

I mean, just side-by-side screenshots of the old vs. the new clearly tells you which is the superior theme. Am I right? (just say I’m right)

I’ve also changed the fonts and now they’re much more to my liking. Heck, my header font is called Abril Fatface. You can’t get much better than that. I know the ‘face’ refers to ‘font face’ and the ‘fat’ refers to ‘bold,’ but come on, it’s a funny name.

I won’t say I’ve made any resolutions to blog more this year (because I haven’t), but 2017 is giving me positive vibes already, so let’s stay optimistic.

Happy New Year!