Bustling, Hustling

Tuesday 2/13

There is a whole lot of bustling happening around here.

Among the best-known aspects of Korean culture for anyone who lives in it (right up there next to bowing, kimchi, and skincare) is balli balli (빨리빨리), which essentially means “hurry the heck up” / “move your arse.” Even the word itself conveys the imperative of the meaning – the word “hurry” is actually just 빨리, but it is often used in its double form because goodness knows just one 빨리 is not enough.

This concept contributes to, for example, the super-speedy delivery services available in Korea… but also to a lot of needless stress. Actually, a whole post could be devoted to the various benefits of and damage caused by 빨리빨리 culture (and many articles have been written about this), but that is not the point today.

Simply put, the difference between good 빨리빨리 and bad 빨리빨리 is the difference between hustle and bustle. Hustle is motivating and focused; bustle is nerve-wracking and chaotic. Hustle is productive; bustle is inefficient. Hustle is goal-oriented; bustle is aimless.

Today is the teachers’ meeting for the 2018 school year. All the incoming teachers will gather with all the current teachers to, I assume, introduce themselves and talk about curriculum, school events, paperwork, etc. I was not invited. (This is good.) I was, however, brought a leftover donut and Capri Sun. (This is also good.)

In preparation for the 10 a.m. meeting, the first part of the work day involved* phone calls, printing, copying, new lost and confused teachers poking their heads in to ask where the meeting is, and other miscellaneous running around. Hence the 빨리빨리.

*Not for me, of course, but for the Korean teachers.

After the meeting was over, a steady stream of teachers were coming in and out of the main teachers’ office and it felt like a coworker reunion as I greeted old faces returning after a year’s hiatus from work or transferring back from another school. I met the new vice-principal (very briefly) and the teacher who will share my two-person office with me this year.

The whole staff went out to a 감자탕 (pork bone stew – spicy, very tender pork, enoki mushrooms, assorted leafy greens) restaurant for lunch and I sat with my new office-mate, leading to the usual awkward sussing out of English ability and an exchange of questions like “How long have you been in Korea?” “What school did you work at before?” “What grade will you teach this year?” and other pleasantries.

Back from lunch, 3 hours to quitting time and the bustle in here is CRAZY. Probably there’s some hustle too. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Currently: 2 teachers on the phone, 1 feverishly shredding documents, and no fewer than 5 crowded around the head teacher’s computer in frenzied conversation, with occasional chiming in from the new VP. Other random teachers running in and out. There is an insane energy in here. Apparently one of the new teachers has announced an inability to be here for the first few days of the semester, sending those in charge of this sort of thing into a tizzy as they frantically call around to find a substitute, and this is contributing to the chaos.

A very different scene than the usual dull, listless mid-vacation atmosphere.


Wednesday 2/14

Sticking with the theme, here is some bustle and hustle I’ve experienced recently.

Bustle: I’ve had issues with the odor of sewer gas wafting through my apartment the last few days. Doesn’t seem to be a drain issue within my room. Possibly coming from the sewer outside my building. I informed my school just in case it is a drain problem, and a couple of admin people + my landlord promptly bustled right into my apartment, while I was at work, to “check the problem.” Erm, guys? Last time I checked y’all weren’t plumbers. At least tell me next time so I can make my bed first. In an even more bustle-y manner, they told me they “couldn’t find any problem.” Well, yeah. Neither could I, that’s why I want a professional.

Hustle: My favorite coworker, with whom I’ve recently reunited since she just came back to school after a year of studying abroad, heard this story and said, “If you smell that again, call me.” (Implied: “I’ll get this crap taken care of.”) She is the greatest.

Bustle: My school/landlord suggested the following upon my continued insistence that there is a smell: “open the window” and “move to a different room in the same building.” (A direct approach to problem solving is not a thing in this culture, which is very much the opposite of American culture.)

 

Hustle: My favorite coworker swooped in once again to quickly confirm that no, I do not want to drag all my furniture into another room and leave the smell problem for the next unfortunate soul.

Bustle: Another old coworker who’s coming back to my school this year informed me, beaming, that all the students like me… “because you are young and beautiful.” *sigh* Are my personality, connection with the kids and teaching ability (modest though it may be) worth nothing? Is beauty all that matters to you?

Hustle: I had to do my Korean taxes for the first time (Americans have a 2-year tax exemption in Korea, but this is the 3rd year). I had no idea how to go about this, but one of the English teachers drove me to the tax office to get things set up, then to the bank, then to my house to get my passport, then back to the bank, then back to school – essentially sacrificing her entire morning to help me take care of my own responsibility. For all the idiosyncrasies of culture here, you never know when you’ll have experiences like this that warm your heart (and/or make you feel guilty).

Okay, so this list turned out to be more of a good/bad list than hustle/bustle. Oops. I’m all about misusing lists to make my posts easier to write. Because I am lazy.


The new English textbook for the 1st years has finally arrived. There’s a nationwide mandate this year for all schools to roll out updated textbooks starting in 2018, so Grade 1 is this year, Grade 2 next, and so on.

My school has chosen an appropriately “easier” book (old book totaled almost 300 pgs and the new one is half that, just as an example), and I can see that the key expressions are better suited to our kids’ level and the layout hopefully will be more appealing to them.

However, this also means redoing all my lesson plans around the new book. I’ll be doing quite a lot of frankensteining new lessons together from pieces of my old ones. Why couldn’t the books have arrived last month, when I had hours upon hours of deskwarming with nothing to plan? I have asked myself that many times already, but that’s just the way it goes. Needless to say, I will be hustling.

빨리빨리!

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The perils of staycations (as told by an anxious person)

Let’s see, how to summarize the past 3 months of blog silence?

December

School life: an easy downhill slide to the end of the year filled with English pop song games and fun trivia quizzes containing such categories as “guess the celebrity from their baby picture” and “which of these countries has the larger population?” Students: generally cooperative and respectful. Personal life: simply put, unexpectedly stressful and emotionally draining.

January

Two days of half-successful, half-disastrous English camp. Then mind-numbing deskwarming (especially mind-numbing since I’ve already planned a lot of lessons for the coming school year), cleaning and organizing my living space, and a “staycation” in which I avoided the bitter cold and the terrible air pollution by remaining indoors. (In Korean, the pun is “Where did you go on vacation?” – “방꼭”, which sounds very similar to “Bangkok” (방콕) but means “I just stayed in my room”.)

Sounds like an introvert’s paradise, right?

It turns out that this is not a very restful activity. At least, not for the anxiety-prone. Even the anxiety-prone introverts of the world.

Or maybe it’s just this anxiety-prone introvert.

Anyway, with all of my productive activities taken care of and no travel plans, I spent a week ‘staycationing’ with mostly just my own thoughts. Even though I thought I was relaxing – sleeping in, reading, watching Netflix, etc. – it turns out I was also developing a massive internal stress factory, deep within my consciousness. Each morning of sleeping in prompted later and later nights of sleeplessness, racing thoughts, old anxieties resurfacing and new ones cropping up out of nowhere – for no apparent reason other than that I was too well-rested, aimless, and un-busy to relax.

It seems I had way too much free time, and in the vast emptiness of it I unwittingly allowed anxiety to take over my mind and my body (which, thanks to my disposition, it is wont to do anyway, but under normal circumstances I don’t feed it and it remains small, weak, and manageable).

Admittedly, the anxiety might have also been pent up during the previous stressful month, just waiting to burst through the surface when I no longer had to be “on.”

By the end of the week, I started noticing tightness and some pain in my chest. By the end of the following week, it got so bad that I went to the Korean ER fearing a heart issue (which was quite the experience by itself*). (Also, this is the constant conundrum of the hypochondriac: go to the hospital and look like an idiot for being worked up over mild symptoms, or don’t go and die of a serious disease??? In this case I decided I didn’t want to take any risks.)

After 4 hours in the ER, a blood test, a chest x-ray, no less than three ECGs (at first they thought they spotted an indication of angina which needless to say was not very reassuring), and a consultation with the hospital’s heart specialist, the doctor concluded that everything looked normal and the most likely cause was stress. (Story of my life. Literally.)

*In short, the Korean healthcare system = extraordinarily cheap, but also extraordinarily overcrowded and unhygienic, striking extreme distress and disgust into my hypochondriac / microphobic soul.

February

The first week of February marks the start and end of the “3rd semester” (trimester?) in the Korean school year, culminating in the 3rd graders’ middle school graduation ceremony on the 5th day.

My symptoms improved while I was back to teaching, further indicating stress as the underlying cause and that the distraction of work kept my anxiety at bay – which is both a relief and a concern. Exactly who does my brain think it is, exercising so much un-/subconscious power over my body?!? Obviously my conscious mind did not request a simulated heart attack. My symptoms are real and yet not “real” at the same time.** It’s a frustrating cycle in which anxiety creates symptoms which creates more anxiety in response to the perceived health threat, leading to even more exaggerated physical symptoms and even more crippling anxiety and hypersensitivity to the slightest bodily sensations… and on and on. Self-imposed torture. Very difficult to control and not spiral.

**But I’m still not willing to 100% commit to saying that it’s not a serious health issue, because, my anxious mind whispers with an unsettling little nudge, you just never know. (my superstitious mind knocks on wood) (my rational mind rolls its eyes and attempts to speak logically but is immediately drowned out by the much louder voice of irrational fear) (I am much sounder of mind than I’m making myself out to be, I assure you) (really though, shouldn’t I just hire a personal doctor to follow me around and check my vitals all the time? wouldn’t that be easier? makes total sense, right?)

giphy

*laughs nervously* (via)

Time capsules

Last year in March, I asked my 2nd and 3rd graders to make “time capsules” – to write down all of their favorite things, their hobbies, their best friends, and to write a short letter to themselves. For the whole year, I kept their carefully-folded time capsules, labeled by class and student number, in a box on my desk.

This week, almost exactly 1 year later, I asked them to answer the same questions and write briefly about what they did or accomplished last year, and then handed out their time capsules. I was tickled to see that a lot of them were excited to get them back and immensely amused at the comparison of their opinions then and now. Most of them had forgotten all about it too, so it was a fun surprise.

Sometimes simple is best

We also played what I called an “alphabet challenge game” – which I thought they would think lame (especially because NO ONE cares what happens during this week and a lot of the other teachers just show movies and let chaos reign supreme), but they actually loved it. I give them a letter, and their team has 30 seconds to write as many words as possible starting with that letter. Spelling mistakes are allowed, but not abbreviations or Korean words written in English. 1 point per word.

After a few rounds I make them stick to a particular category as well, like food, animals, or countries. Then I tell them to only choose ONE word in that category and starting with that letter, but it has to be different from all the other teams or they don’t get a point (like Scattergories). They loved this. Which, as a teacher, is like…

A happy farewell…

I was particularly thrilled that my 3rd grade students (15-16 years old) were, overall, really wonderfully behaved this year right to the very end. My previous experience with middle school 3rd graders has been at times traumatic, struggling with apathy and disrespect at the end of the year to the point that even my “good” or “favorite” classes left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. But this year my kids were truly SO good, sweet, and cheerful, and I will remember them fondly as the first set of kids I taught for the entirety of their middle school life, from 1st year through graduation.

…and a second attempt at relaxation

The graduation ceremony was yesterday, and today I’m back to deskwarming. Next Thursday is the Lunar New Year holiday, after which I’ll have one final week of staycation before the 2018 school year begins. This time I’ll hopefully give myself enough to do to keep the ever-creeping anxiety at bay and avoid any more ER trips. (But also, hopefully I don’t contract any life-threatening illnesses.)

Perhaps my fellow anxiety-filled humans can relate.

And for those who are most definitely not hypochondriacs, right now you’re probably like:

I know. Trust me, I know.

Disclaimer: As I have mentioned before, my hypochondria is real (although self-diagnosed… is that ironic?) but typically not strong enough to interfere with my daily functioning. My attempts at humor surrounding my anxiety are not intended to trivialize mental or physical illness. If illness anxiety disorder, or any form of anxiety or mental health concern, does interfere with one’s ability to work, interact socially, or generally enjoy life, it is best treated by a professional.