Earthquake!

2:28 p.m. Just a normal Wednesday afternoon. I was in the middle of class with my 3rd graders. We were going along like usual; I was handing out worksheets (I always hand them out myself rather than using the “take one pass one” method because my classes are small and my kids tend to take FOREVER AND A HALF to do the passing part) and thinking about how I had to go grab pens for all the kids who “forgot” to bring one.

2:29 p.m. I reached the back row of desks, and just as I handed a worksheet to the boy nearest me, he leapt up and cried “지진인가?” (Is that an earthquake?)

I heard what he said, but it didn’t register until an instant after the words left his mouth. Then we all felt it. The shaking floor, the rumbling earth far below us. It sounded strangely like when the lunch bell rings and all the students thunder down the stairs at once.

My co-teacher and I stared at each other in shock. We were all silent, frozen in place, just feeling the floor vibrate beneath us, looking at each other’s wide-eyed faces.

Thankfully it wasn’t a serious earthquake, because we didn’t even remotely follow proper earthquake protocol. We later learned it was a 5.4 magnitude, which is at the very upper edge of “minor.” The center (center? is that a thing for earthquakes or only for storms?) was on the east coast in Pohang, so Daegu didn’t get hit quite as hard. (Buildings were damaged in Pohang.)

This is only the third earthquake I’ve experienced in my life, and all of them have been in Korea (which, as a country, isn’t particularly experienced with earthquakes either). It wasn’t powerful enough to do more than shake us up a bit (pun intended).

As soon as it ended, the students started yelling and screaming. “쌤, 나가요?” (Teacher, should we go outside?) My co-teacher and I nodded as we heard similar uproar coming from other classrooms. I waited to make sure all the kids left the room, including the ones who had been rudely awakened from their mid-class nap by the drama. As I was waiting, one of my students gestured frantically to me. “Teacher, go, go! Dangerous!”

We hurriedly filed out of the classroom, down the two flights of stairs, across the hallway, and out into the soccer field to wait out the aftershocks and… just be together where we were all accounted for, I guess.

The whole school was gathering there, united not only physically but emotionally as well, with the buzzing energy of fear and adrenaline and racing hearts thick around us. The kids lined up on the basketball court by homeroom. I huddled against the chilling wind with a few of the English teachers.

We stayed out there in the sunny cold for a long time. Two aftershocks were reported, but they were too small to be felt. We shivered and chattered about how scary it was, but in a lighthearted way, laughing a little nervously, comparing stories of our first reactions. The kids were having the time of their lives, I’m sure, given that they just had their last class of the day cut short by 30 minutes. Still, I couldn’t help but think how grimly different the scene and atmosphere would be if the earthquake had been just a couple points higher.

Hopefully this will inspire a bit more earthquake preparedness training nationwide, but given that last year’s two earthquakes (one of which was a 5.8) didn’t prompt such a thing, I don’t hold out much hope.

Anyway, today I’m just thankful that we’re okay.

*Update: the third aftershock (4.6) almost two hours later was definitely strong enough to feel the vibrations.

*Update 2: I realize I’m dramatizing a relatively minor incident, but it’s definitely scarier when none of the people in the country are used to this kind of thing. What would be just another day in California or Japan, for instance, is quite an event here – and certainly more nerve-wracking because the buildings here are not designed to withstand strong earthquakes.

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Another week slips by

I know it’s lazy of me to reuse the format I used in my last post, but it’s such an easy way to sum up moments from the week.

Monday

First Korean surprise in a long time. Today is supposed to be the first day of the speaking test for 1st & 2nd graders, as my co-teacher and I discussed and confirmed multiple times last week.

3 minutes before class, I happen to message my co-teacher to make sure she has the score sheets printed (because if she didn’t, I would print them).

2 minutes before class, she replies and says she’s moving the speaking test to next week because the students aren’t prepared.

Thankfully I have next week’s lessons pre-planned and ready to go, even at literally a minute’s notice. Proactive-ness to the rescue.


Tuesday

My 2nd graders are unusually cheerful for a Tuesday morning. For fun, I show them some optical illusions before we start the book. This is one of their favorites: Stare at the image below without moving your eyes. Try not to blink. See what happens.

Image result for picture that disappears when you stare at it

(As you stare, the colors should fade and eventually disappear.)

After the first one or two students react, there’s an outcry of “What? What?? I can’t see it! What is it?” and then someone explains and there’s a renewed staring effort. The chorus of “Ooh! 와~~!” as one kid after another experiences the illusion is so fun.


Wednesday

My 1st period class pushes my patience to the limits. I’m helping two kids in front with the textbook dialogue and there’s a crash in the back. One of the boys has just “accidentally” fallen out of his chair, and this was far from his first disturbance. My co-teacher is in the hallway lecturing a handful of kids that she’s pulled out of class.

Seeing the look on my face, another boy raises both fists and says solemnly, “Teacher, fighting*.” More or less like this:

Source: dramafever

*As I’ve written about previously, the expression “fighting/화이팅” equates to “you can do it” / I know it’s hard but don’t give up.” I found it semi hilarious coming from a student in this situation. Like, “Teacher I know we are being little terrors but I believe in you.”

On the way home, I stop at the local mart and the cashier, who is usually pretty solemn and stone-faced, starts chatting with me in Korean. She asks if I’m from Russia. Erm, no. I tell her I’m American. Then she explains it’s my eyes that look Russian. That’s a new one, but her next question (“are you married?”) is definitely not. She gives me a thumbs up when I reply that I am not. Awkward questions aside, the unexpected friendliness brightens my day.


Thursday

It’s the first day of the last part of middle school for the 3rd graders, since they just finished final exams yesterday. I’m holding my breath in fear as I go into my first class with them, dreading an apathetic tooth-pulling experience, but they’re totally cheerful. We’re doing a belated Halloween lesson. They’re more engaged than they have been all semester. One of the low level kids who rarely speaks in class even remembered the name for candy corn from last year.

Later, a 3rd grader comes repentantly to my office to show me that while playing with his friends in the hallway, he somehow knocked off the “O” from the foam letters on the wall outside the classroom that spell “ENGLISH WORLD.”

“He break the world,” his classmate accused.


Friday

One of my 1st grade boys who’s usually pretty active in class has his head down on the desk. “What’s wrong?” I ask. “Are you sick? Headache? Or just tired?” (I always ask them this because if they’re sick I let them sleep – kids take way fewer sick days here than we would in the West and if they’re feeling miserable there’s no point in forcing them to study. They’re usually honest with me.)

The student pops his head an inch or two off the desk and says grimly, “I die.” Then he returns his head to the desk. (Translation: just tired. He perked up mighty quick when we started playing a game.)

I hate the sun & other tales from the week

Monday

My voice hurts.

It’s been one of those days.

One of my classes got switched over from tomorrow to today, and for some reason the one extra class left my vocal cords aching. I prescribe myself a ban on speaking for the next 18 hours. Works just fine for me because as far as I know, Netflix doesn’t expect you to talk back.


Tuesday

I have officially declared war on the sun. Actually I feel like it declared war on me a long time ago and now I’m finally accepting that I just hate it.

Not only am I at high risk of sunburn because of my severe lack of melanin, but I’m literally allergic to the sun. I break out in hives on my arms and hands when the sun is the strongest, from about April to August.

I hate heat, as has been well-established on this blog. I hate sweating. Summer is a despicable season to me.

But it goes further than that. I just hate how bright the sun is. I hate when it gets in my eyes and makes me squint. I especially hate when it shines directly into my peripheral vision while I’m trying to work, and bakes my small office whose windows so perfectly face west, catching the full strength of the setting sun from 1 p.m. onward.

It’s Just. So. Annoying.

No, I am not a vampire.


Wednesday

Two of my girl students assure me I’m an “angel” (for not losing my mind at their rowdy classmates, I guess).

One of my third grade classes starts super late due to an earthquake evacuation drill in the afternoon. We barely have 20 minutes to squeeze in the textbook pages we absolutely need to cover (since they have final exams on Monday). After we get through it, there’s only 5 minutes left in class. No time for an activity or game, so I ask them what music video they want to watch. (This is an extremely rare treat because usually I make them do a worksheet or something.)

Our class clown shouts “Teacher, MESS! MESS! You know MESS?” I do know Mess, actually. He’s referring to Lionel Messi, the soccer (err, football) player. His friends chime in. I comply. We watch this compilation, and I justify it in my head because there are title cards in English. The boys start reading them out loud, eyes glued to the screen – “The volley pass! Golazo versus Man City! Ooh, Man City! Overhead kick assist!”

My class clown is standing up, riveted, and after each clip he yells “Oh! MESS! Wow, MESS!” Needless to say, he is very very into soccer and Messi is his idol. My co-teacher laughs and says it’s the most focused she’s ever seen him in English class.

(The girls weren’t quite as into it, but they watched too.)


Thursday

A few minutes before class starts, I’m in my office and hear one of the kids yelling at the top of his lungs, “MADDY TEACHERS! MADDY TEACHEERRRRRS!” (He’s not the greatest at English and sometimes he likes to pluralize things that shouldn’t be.) I popped my head into the classroom and he said, “Oh teacher! 보고 싶었어요 (I just missed you).”

During lunchtime, one of the first grade boys peers through the crack in my office door and says in an exaggeratedly high-pitched voice: “OH MY CANDY!” He does this almost every day, as if somehow one of these days it’s going to make me actually give him candy.


Friday

The third graders get their speaking test scores back (the test was last week). One of the boys in this class is a student who I’ve watched grow from a very shy first grader who could barely look up during his speaking test, let alone say a word in English, to a well-prepared third grader who, stuttering a bit but looking me straight in the eye with confidence, told me he wishes he had the power of invisibility so he could play tricks on his family and impress his friends.

Today, he smiles quietly and fist pumps when his perfect score is announced (one of only three in the class).

After lunch, my second graders and I have a laugh because the question I put on the PPT was “What is 이유 in English?” but ALL of them read it out loud as “What is reason in English?” – “reason” being the answer to the question. They hadn’t even realized they were auto-translating the Korean word into English.

As I walk home, I notice a new banner that’s been hung up on one side of the intersection near my house. It reads simply: U.S.-South Korea Alliance – “Let’s Keep Dancing!” in Korean and English.

Let’s keep dancing.


For the most part I’ve obviously focused on the good parts of each day, things that made me smile or laugh. There were not-so-great moments as well, but these are the things I choose to dwell on. (I mean except Monday and Tuesday, which possibly reflects the improvement of my actual mood as the week proceeded.)

Let the holiday begin

We’ve made it, in one piece, to our glorious 10-day holiday.

Yesterday the principal strolled by at the end of the day and I showed him how to lock the English classroom doors. He gave me a thumbs up. As I bowed and turned to leave, he said “Bye!”, catching me off-guard. When I stammered “bye,” he asked if I can speak Korean, and chuckled benevolently(?) at my “조금만요 (just a little bit).” I consider this progress.

This morning one of the P.E. teachers greeted me at the school gate, as he always does, “Maddy! Have a beautiful* day!” I answered, as I always do, “Thank you, you too!”, but today he added “추석 잘 보내세요 (have a nice Chuseok [Thanksgiving])!”

*He likes to switch up the adjectives, so sometimes it’s wonderfulgreatfantastic, etc. Then he turns to any students who happen to be walking in and says in Korean “Hey, I’m pretty good at English, huh?”

The 2nd and 3rd graders finished their midterm exams this morning. I had one class with the 1st graders (who don’t have exams in the 2nd semester), and we played a trivia game. Even my occasionally-crotchety elderly co-teacher cracked a few jokes with the kids. Definitely a pleasant anticipatory mood in the air.

The weather is so cool today that I’d almost feel chilly if I weren’t from a state where we know how to handle bitter winters. My students and coworkers are already bundling up in sweatshirts and jackets and I haven’t even pulled out a long-sleeved top yet. “Teacher, not cold?” No, but I’m living for every crisp gust of goosebump-inducing air.

In two days we begin what is in my mind undoubtedly the most beautiful and magical month of the year.

Today, for this one moment if nothing more, all is well.

“I’m so glad I live in a world

where there are Octobers.”

– Anne of Green Gables

 

Just another Friday

Closing out the week with mixed emotions.

We’re now just a couple weeks away from the longest public holiday Korea has seen in ages (possibly ever?) – a 10-day break at the start of October for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving); the Chuseok holiday is normally only 3 days long, but the government has extended it this year for the mental health of the nation and combined it with Hangul Day (celebrating the birth of the Korean writing system) which fortuitously falls on the following Monday.

But, we’re also seemingly inching closer and closer to Something Happening on this peninsula. Thus the mixed emotions.

I will say that the added fear (or at least concern) has once again put things into perspective, though, and even the hard days at school are, relatively speaking, a joy to experience. Because, y’know, we’re all alive to experience them.

Side note: no one is panicking here (far from it), but I don’t know that that’s comforting. I think South Koreans are basically numb to this threat because they’ve been living with it for so long. Also, there’s very much an attitude of “there’s nothing we can do, so just carry on,” which I sense stems from Korea’s long and at times harrowing history of being controlled (often brutally so) by other, bigger and more powerful nations.*

*DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert in Korean history or culture and this is just my opinion.

It’s an interesting phenomenon that the Koreans in my life are extremely concerned about me being home alone on holidays such as the upcoming Chuseok, but nobody bats an eye when I stay home by myself on American Thanksgiving Day or Christmas day.

I know why this happens, of course. To them, Chuseok and the Lunar New Year are mandatory family days, so anyone who doesn’t have family to be with on those days is in a sad and lonely situation – not realizing that to me these are just another nice set of vacation days with no additional meaning.

It’s just a sort of sad irony that no one will ever come to me a few days before Thanksgiving or Christmas and say, “Are you okay? Aren’t you lonely? Will you talk to your family?” the way they do for Korean family holidays.


Covering advice-giving with my first years. I asked them to each write a problem, real or imaginary, on their paper, put them all in a bucket, then pick a random one and write advice for the anonymous person. And  I got responses like this:

20170915_135105

“I want boyfriend… I’m so very lonely…” “You should always live the solo” (a.k.a. be forever alone)

20170915_135117

“My problem is school fight… I want to disappear school fight!!” “You should no fight.” Solid advice.

20170915_135051

“I have a poop accident to toilet #whatshouldido” “Go to you restroom. OK?” Love the use of a hashtag. Hope this wasn’t a real situation.

yep.

Updates

The weather: hot again. shoot.

The students: surprisingly good, for a monday. on the whole. i continue to be astounded by the formerly disruptive and/or comatose (depending on the day) boy who now participates in every part of class and tries to answer questions and use the key expressions. what happened to you child. i mean, i’m not complaining.

a different class was being way too talkative and one of the girls turned to me and said “it’s too noisy to study… 맞죠 (is that right)?” and was very proud of herself for remembering the grammar structure they’ve been learning (too adj. to verb). also incidentally, it was too noisy to study.

My first interaction with the principal: he wandered into my office at the end of the day and asked my co-teacher (who shares my office) how long i’ve been at this school. (safe to say he probably doesn’t speak english.) she answered for me, and i nodded my head and smiled to hopefully show him i know something. he then seemed to ask my co-teacher whether she teaches chinese or english. then he left. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?

My physical state: hot. ridiculously hot. the tease of fall makes it even worse when my un-air-conditioned office climbs towards 90 degrees. also, apparently, tired. one of my students asked if i got punched in the eye. nope, just my dark circles and the lamentable lack of fat around my eye sockets. note to self: get more sleep (or at least do a better job on the under-eye concealer).

My mental state: hoping that peace of a sort is maintained amidst current geopolitical tensions. (knocks on wood in an i’m-not-superstitious-but-also-not-NOT-superstitious kind of way)

Goodbye, hello

On Tuesday, at 8:30 a.m., the whole school gathered at the gym/auditorium for the principal’s short farewell ceremony. Salute the Korean flag, sing the national anthem, a short speech by the head teacher, a speech by the principal, and sing the school song. Dismissed.

On Wednesday, at 1:00 p.m., the principal came to my office to say goodbye personally (he preempted my plan to visit his office later in the day). I had a chance to thank him for all of his support over these three years, and he said he hopes I continue to enjoy working at this school.

On Thursday, nothing happened at all because all the kids had a field trip. (woot woot)

And today, Friday, at 8:35 a.m., all the teachers in our school gathered in the mini-auditorium – the very same mini-auditorium where I was introduced on my first day here. We trickled in, in pairs or groups, and the air was charged with anticipation and maybe apprehension. Honestly, I started feeling a bit nervous without really knowing why. It’s not like I was the one being introduced to a new school, and I’d heard there were good things being said about him (without knowing what the good things were or who was saying them). But still.

After a few minutes, the new principal walked down the sloping aisle to the podium, and I wondered if he felt as uncomfortable as I would walking through all these people with all eyes on him. He looked calm. I guess that’s why he’s a principal and I’m not.

He greeted us with a bow, and gave a short speech introducing himself (I assume). He seems friendly and speaks in a hearty baritone. That’s about all I can ascertain for now.

Then we transferred to the main auditorium (the gym) for his greeting to the students. Salute the Korean flag, sing the national anthem, a short speech by the vice principal, a speech by the new principal, and sing the school song. Dismissed.

Other than that, it was business as usual at school today. My kids were sleepy. Very very very sleepy. Nevertheless, the rallying cry “but today is Friday!” tends to rouse them from their apathy for a brief few moments. I’ve said it often enough now that sometimes the kids will say it first, and then we all cheer.

Small victories

Sometimes our school schedule gets crazy. There are field trips and camping trips and violence prevention classes and fire drills and nationwide tests and unexpected miscellaneous stuff that can mess up the curriculum schedule. I’m not complaining, of course, because cancelled classes = more time to work on whatever I need, but it does do a number on my neatly-laid-out, semester-long master plan for all my classes.

So, sometimes I throw in random lessons for the classes that get too far ahead of the others.

Today was one such random day. All the other classes are still on Lesson 6, part 1, and I don’t want to start Lesson 6, part 2 with my Monday classes because later on it’ll mess up the pre-midterm-exam-review flow.

I crafted a personality lesson for my 2nd and 3rd years.

1. Vocab: Learn some personality traits (‘honest’, ‘brave’, ‘kind’, ‘shy’, ‘outgoing’, ‘helpful’…). I tried to mostly stick to positive ones so they don’t call each other bad things (I know my students all too well), but I did do ‘lazy’ and ‘mean’.

2. Apply the Vocab: Make a Venn diagram comparing your personality + your best friend’s personality and write a short paragraph about that friend using the words learned.

3. Personality Questionnaire*: Heavily modified version of one of those pop psych “personality quizzes” that we’ve all probably taken at one time or another. We’re not talking MBTI here, just a 10-question, multiple-choice, very simplified questionnaire about daily habits and preferences:

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The answers themselves were on the PowerPoint (to prevent certain kids from blazing ahead while others were trying to figure out what the question meant)

4. Quiz Results: Based on point values of each A, B, C, or D answer. I assigned an animal to each 10-point score range, so for example, 21-30 points is “The Cat,” 31-40 points is “The Dolphin,” 41-50 “The Fox,” 51-60 “The Lion,” etc., with a brief description like “you’re confident and brave” or “you’re quiet and smart.” Again, I chose only desirable/cute/nice animals so no one would feel bad. Also I didn’t totally make up the results since higher scores are supposed to indicate a bolder/more confident style while lower scores come from quieter/more reserved answers.

Anyway, the small victories here are:

>> Every class enjoyed taking the quiz and finding out their results. I mean, who doesn’t like answering questions about themselves? Even in a language that you (potentially) despise learning.

>> Even better, one of the notorious troublemakers completed his entire worksheet and quiz, patiently asking for help/translations with the questions so he could answer accurately.

>> Best of all, there’s this one really really quiet/shy girl who has spent over a year totally shut down in my class, barely able to lift her eyes from her desk much less write or speak. But today she was quietly listening to/reading the personality questions and circling her answers, the whole time. SUCCESS.


*The quiz questions I used were compiled by another teacher who posted on this thread on waygook.org, but modified by yours truly.

Saying goodbye with raw fish

Tonight the teachers had a special 회식 (staff dinner): a goodbye dinner for our principal. He’s been promoted and will be abruptly leaving us next week, just three weeks into the second semester. The following day the new principal will arrive, and word on the street (or word in the classroom) is that no one knows what we’ll get. Man or woman, friendly or standoffish, lenient or strict. It’s all luck of the draw.

I’ve got to pull the formal Korean introduction phrases from the back of my brain and dust them off in preparation for meeting this new principal. It’s been quite a while, since our current principal has been at my school since I arrived.

Speaking of him, one thing is certain: the new one can’t possibly be kinder. This principal was always supportive of the teachers and did everything he could to make our work easier, not harder. He went out of his way to make me feel comfortable and supported, both figuratively and by literally walking two stories up and all the way to the end of the hall to my office several times a year to ask me if I have “any problems in my Korea life,” and that if I ever did, I should tell him so he could help me.

My first memory of him is being ushered into his office on my first day of teaching ever, gripping the paper coffee cup he’d offered me for dear life, awkwardly wondering what to say or do beyond “Annyeonghaseyo, bangapseumnida (hello, nice to meet you).” Then he smiled and told me in English to “sit comfortably” (I was already sitting, but he probably noticed my death grip on the coffee cup or my general tension) and asked where I was from and told me that the class size at this school is small compared to other middle schools. Eventually a co-teacher arrived and rescued me, taking me up to my office.

Tonight at dinner, he stood and gave a short speech to all of the staff, and I sat there wishing that I could feel the meaning of his words like all the other teachers could. I know from what I could catch that he was saying things like he’s glad we all persevered through the stress and rough times of teaching and he’s sorry to leave us, but it’s different when you can absorb the nuance of the chosen words. I want to be told that I persevered through hard times too, dangit.

On another note, the restaurant of choice tonight was a 횟집, a.k.a. a raw fish/sashimi place. This is not what the average American pictures when someone says “let’s get sushi tonight.” This is straight-up whole baby octopi (about the size of a quarter, kinda cute but not exactly mouthwatering), an enormous platter of thickly-sliced, very sinewy and chewy raw fish (that’s how they like it here), strips of eel, an entire larger boiled octopus (about the size of a fist) whose rubbery legs and head must be cut into pieces with a kitchen shears, revealing its little heart or brain or whatever is in there… and so on.

It was my great fortune to be sitting with probably the only other three teachers in the school who also dislike raw fish: my young co-teacher, the IT teacher, and one other teacher. Other than my co-teacher, no one around us could speak English, but I quickly gathered from their conversation, body language, and laughter that we were all on the same page. (A page of commiseration.)

We amused ourselves by covering up the gaebul with rice because nobody wants to see that unholy site at the dinner table. (Check the pictures at the link and you can probably guess this wormy fish’s unappetizing nickname [hint: male anatomy]).

Then we picked at a few side dishes, tried a few pieces of this or that to see if our tastes had changed (spoiler alert: they hadn’t), drank a lot of Coca-Cola and Sprite, and slipped out as a group in raw-fish-hating solidarity after just enough time to not be totally rude.

And let it be known that I truly appreciate that this was a fancy and probably quite expensive place. I mean, we had a large room reserved to ourselves (separated from other areas of the restaurant by traditional sliding doors). It was traditional-style dining, so we all sat on the floor around long low tables, three full tables of teachers, probably 30-40 of us. Each table of four people was served dish after dish after dish of fresh fish and countless side dishes, plus sodas, plus ice buckets full of beer and soju (of which my table did not partake).

I appreciate it, but I appreciated being able to leave at a reasonable time even more.

We’ll see what happens next week as the big change occurs. I wish it didn’t have to happen now, mid-semester. Maybe I’ll update on the situation, but – as has become clear I think – no promises.

It’s Friday

About to clock out on this sunny Friday. Another week completed in our educational marathon towards summer vacation – unfortunately still very far off even though we’ve already had our second wind and are waiting on a third that will probably never come.

Thank goodness for air conditioning.

Next week is the speaking test, and I no longer trick myself into thinking that means a week of taking it easy for me. It means a week of staying extra late to review the audio recordings and check all of the grades and make sure I’m being fair.

anyway.

A short anecdote for today:

Yesterday I left school a bit late, and our elderly security guard/janitor had just locked up the back exit. He saw me try the door, and I gestured that it was okay, I’d just go around to the front doors.

I turned the corner and heard him yelling frantically “HELLO! HELLO? HELLO!” to make me come back. I went back and he waved me over and showed me, “This. Push,” electronically unlocking the door. I thanked him in Korean. It was quite hilarious and adorable. I’ve greeted him in passing a few times before. He has to be like 70ish years old; who knew he had a couple English words tucked away in there?