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.


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?

Today was a good day.

The best days are when you expected them to be the worst, and then they’re not. And then, even if they weren’t objectively the best, they still become the best.

Highlights include:

Special lunch today: jjajangbap (rice in a black bean sauce with small diced potato, veggies and pork), fried pork with a Korean version of sweet & sour sauce, cucumbers & unidentified other green vegetables, and an apple cider pouch.

One of my classes had to get chest x-rays (a normal thing here; this is how they test for TB and various other problems, from what I understand, and students and teachers get them yearly), so we basically had a 10-minute class in which I introduced the topic/key expression and let them do book work for 5 minutes before they peaced out.

Starting to feel a little more connected to the 1st graders. It always takes a couple months for them to get comfortable with me and for me to learn more about their personalities and ability levels.

Managed to be productive even though Wednesdays are one of my busiest days. In my break times and free class periods I polished up my lessons for the next few weeks and started putting together a pop song quiz for the last week of the semester. It’s become a mini tradition that we play a big “guess the pop song” game right before vacation time, and the kids look forward to it.

My after-school class with a dozen 15/16-yr-olds went surprisingly well today.

— We did a “board race” warmup: 2 teams make straight lines. I give them a category like “Food” or “Animals,” and the first member of each team writes a word on the board that fits the category, then hands the marker to the next team member. We continue for 2 minutes and then count up and see which team got more words. I thought they wouldn’t want to get up and move when I introduced this, but they were into it.

— Then I showed them the oldie but goodie “Where (the hell) is Matt?” from 2008. They hadn’t seen it before, and it was really sweet/amusing to hear & watch them “ooh” and “aah” over the locations and imitate his goofy dance (no, my 16-year-olds are not too cool for that). The follow-up worksheet asked them to list some of the countries and cities he visited, and then I showed them screenshots from the video and they had to guess which country it was.

— Finally, we did a lyrics arranging activity that I learned in my TEFL course. The song was “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars (ideal for middle school ESL because it’s not too fast, only 3 min long, his pronunciation is reasonably clear, vocab is reasonably simple, and the kids know & like Bruno Mars). I’d printed out and cut all of the song lyrics into strips, one per team of 4 kids. While they listened, they tried to put all of the strips in order.

I was really impressed at how well they did, actually. After the initial listen, I played it one more time and they mostly just needed to check or add a line here or there that they’d missed.

This is an activity I tried with an after-school class in my first year and my students really struggled. My mistake that time was breaking up the lyrics into super small chunks. This time I used 1-2 full lines of the lyrics per strip and a bigger font for a total of 22 strips of paper to arrange, and that transformed this activity from semi-frustrating and discouraging to fun and engaging. Sometimes all it takes it just that little tweak.

Oh, and best of all? Two words: air conditioning. Amen.

It’s *that* time in the semester

…when the kids officially reach the peak of Mount Apathy.

The temperatures are rising, the classrooms are breezeless ovens (we’re not allowed to turn on the ceiling fans until they’re cleaned or something lest they shake dust and dirt all over everything… but I’d rather be sneezing and cool than fine in the rhinal region but oppressively hot), and final exams are just a little too far off to care about.

So it’s that time when I have to work VERY VERY HARD to remember the cute stuff my kids do from time to time. So that I won’t be tempted to start flipping desks and yelling “WAKE UP!”

Several weeks ago, I used a very basic game that lets students practice almost any key expression: put a bunch of words on the PPT, every team chooses a word and makes a sentence using the key expression, then random points are revealed. You can change the design or theme of the PPT to whatever the students are interested in (treasure chests, Mario boxes, K-pop idols’ faces, whatever).

In this case we were practicing “Do you know how to~ ?”, so the words were things like “paper airplane,” “microwave,” “cake,” “soccer.” The kids had to combine the correct verb with the treasure chest word, e.g. “Do you know how to play soccer / use a microwave / make a paper plane?”

One boy could not for the life of him remember the correct verbs, so time and again he would say things like “Do you know how to use ramen? Do you know how to make a guitar? Do you know how to play kimchi?” After about three or four rounds of him doing this completely innocently, I lost it and laughed with the rest of the class (and with him).

I’ve been having the 2nd graders play a version of “Taboo” or “Hot Seat” where a member of each team comes to the front and faces the class, and their team gives them hints about the secret word on the TV.

(They’re supposed to be practicing “Have you heard about (secret word)?” but usually they get too excited and just blurt out the answer without making a sentence.)

So one of the boys was trying to explain “weather” to his teammate:

“News, uh, 뭐지? Ah! Hot, sunny, weather

Then he clapped both hands over his mouth in classic dismay as he realized he’d just revealed the answer, and the class dissolved into laughter.

Today the 3rd graders were playing a “telepathy” game. I make a statement like “Ice cream is better than cake*: Agree or disagree?” Every team has to choose agree or disagree according to what they think my opinion would be. If they can “read my mind,” they get a point.

One of them was: “Fall is the best season: Agree or disagree?” As usual, the kids were trying to squeeze hints out of me by asking questions like “Teacher, do you like cold or hot? Do you like snow?”

But one team decided this was the all-important question that would allow them to read my mind:

Them: “Teacher, you meet boyfriend?”

Me: “Um, yes…?”

Them: “OKAY! We know, we know! DISAGREE!”

Welp, they were wrong since fall is my favorite season. It was especially funny because they were the only team in the class to get it wrong and they were so confident.

*I also find it hilarious (and also very, very sad) that 99% of my kids know immediately that I like ice cream better than cake (or better than basically anything else). Apparently I’ve really driven that point home in the last 2+ years.

Conclusion: my kids are still sometimes cute although mostly they appear to be brain-dead.

Thankfully the speaking test is coming up soon, which is my one chance per semester to have some impact on their school performance and thus perhaps motivate them to pay attention, dammit.


Third year’s the charm: Reflecting on culture shock and expat life in Korea

I spent my first year in Korea being totally enamored with the country – fairly typical for most expats when they arrive in their new home. It would be quite unfortunate for you if you didn’t experience this honeymoon phase, since that’s what makes everything so exciting and cool as you start learning the customs and culture. I was also so busy with my new job, my new students, my new relationship, and trying new things that I didn’t have time to sit back and critique.

I spent my second year in Korea sitting back and critiquing a lot. To be honest, I was frequently stressed out and angry at various things that I deemed cultural shortcomings and flaws. I let the things I couldn’t understand and the things that were different than Western culture get under my skin and bug the heck out of me. Why do it this way when there is clearly a better way (aka my way)? Why do people say this? Why can’t they do that? I let my students stress me out. I let my co-teachers stress me out.

Now, in my third year, I’m adjusting. I’m accepting what it means to live in Korea as a foreigner with a well-rounded, more matured perspective on the good and the bad.

In fact, the anger and frustration I had in my second year are textbook symptoms of culture shock. Culture shock is commonly misconstrued as the initial feelings of confusion and floundering when you first enter a new country, but actually, there are multiple stages, and that honeymoon stage is just the first part.

Culture shock is NOT just “Whoa, Koreans take their shoes off before they enter their homes!” “Whoa, Koreans eat rice, kimchi, and mildly-to-very spicy soups every day!” “Whoa, Koreans bow to each other and they want me to bow too!”

It happens after you learn all that stuff. It happens after you think you know what’s up. It happens after you think you’ve got this foreigner-in-Korea thing all figured out, no problem.

It happens when you realize that you think X, Y, and Z aspects of the culture are annoying or unnecessary or weird. It happens when you encounter (insert somewhat-irritating cultural phenomenon here, e.g. good ol’ street-spitting ajeosshis, or even something as trivial as botched “Italian” cuisine) for the 1,859,374th time and you’re like “Why does it have to be like this?”

After all, how many people can go through an experience that flips their life around and just immediately be and stay happy about it (even if it was a change they wanted in the first place)?

It takes time.

It takes a gradually-developed, ever-growing, rational understanding of the realities of life in this culture as a foreign person.

Some people get stuck in the anger and frustration stage, though.* Some people get depressed. Some people start loathing everything about the country and culture, as unfair as it may be. It’s understandable; adjusting isn’t easy, especially for English teachers in Korea, where quality of life can be so totally dependent on students, co-teachers, the school-provided housing, etc.

But if you do get through it, you emerge on the other side. You enter the final stages of culture shock: adjustment and acceptance.

For me, and perhaps for many expats in Korea specifically, acceptance means accepting that in this homogeneous culture, I will always be a bit of an outsider – but this doesn’t mean I can’t have really good connections with Korean people.

It means accepting that there are cultural things that irk me – but I don’t have to let them irk me, and that perhaps they aren’t that irksome anyway. Maybe I’m just blaming my stress, which I would experience from time to time no matter where I live, on the external cultural things around me instead of placing the blame within myself and finding ways to overcome it.

It means accepting my role here:guest English teacher. No, I don’t have the power that a regular Korean teacher has. I can’t discipline and control my classroom the way I did as a taekwondo instructor in America. I can’t form the same bonds with my kids that I could with my students back home because of the language barrier.

Sometimes that hurts. But it’s okay. My job is to give my kids a positive experience with a native English speaker. My job is to teach them things about Western culture that they might not otherwise know. My job is to make English less boring. My job is to spark their interest in learning the language.

I can still show my students that I care about them and their progress. I can still try to inspire them. I can still have a positive effect on my school and my students, however small it may be.

I can still make a difference.

*From what I gather on forums and such, a surprising number of people seem to stay in the country even though they’re stuck in the frustration stage. Maybe they need the money, maybe they just feel trapped or unsure what direction to take next. But conversely, it certainly doesn’t mean that people who only stay in a foreign country for a year or two leave because they’re bitter about the culture. Obviously.

Also, if you’re an expat and you skipped from honeymoon to adjustment and acceptance, well… go you!

A little middle school humor

I gave my after-school class this comic template – it’s supposed to be based on the Disney animated short “Paperman,” which we had just watched. Two of my middle school boys decided to take the story into their own hands.



Man 1: Who are you?!

Man 2: I’m a boss

Man 1: [casually smoking a cigarette] Ah… I’m sorry…

Man 2: Not smoking in company… [throws paper plane directly into Man 1’s mouth]

Man 1: [clearly distressed] Ahk!

Woman: Are you crazy? Don’t eat paper airplane!

Yeah, duh guys. Don’t eat paper airplane.

My last class of the day on Fridays is a squirrelly, goofy bunch of 14-year-olds, with whom class feels much more like a rodeo than an educational environment. As is the case with all classes at this point in the semester (1 week away from midterms), their behavior has been on the decline.

Every Friday, the bell rings and I go into the classroom, and one (or more) of them has drawn a goofy cartoon character on the board saying “집가고싶다…”

But today, the cartoon character’s weekly lament had been written in English: “I want to go home.” I would consider that progress. Of a sort.

an interview with myself

(Double post today because the first is not directed at my general audience. This post IS directed at my general audience and particularly dedicated to my few very loyal friends & family who check this blog every day, and who every day have had their hopes dashed for quite some time. Sorry it’s been such a long wait!) (Oh, and this post is also very goofy because I just needed something to start me writing again.)

Q: Where have you been, Maddy? THIS BLOG HAS BEEN DEAD FOR 6 WEEKS. 6 WEEKS!!! What the heck?? What’s your deal?

A: Yes, well, I have been busy, uninspired to write, living my mundane life but the good kind of mundane. I’ve been very Zen this school year. Taking stresses and surprises in stride. Not letting my feathers be ruffled, my mellow be harshed, my buzz be killed, my vibe be ruined. So to speak.

Q: Uh… okay then. So how are your co-teachers this year?

A: The first I am convinced has no idea that there could possibly be anything but herself at the center of the Universe. As a former psych student I find her fascinating. As a coworker I find her a nightmare err… interesting.

The second is very sweet and motherly but much busier than last year because she got a promotion and has Bigger and Better Things on her mind.

The third is actually a year younger than me, which was a huge surprise because I’ve never worked with anyone even close to my age at a Korean middle school. Not sure if that’s just luck or if younger teachers tend to go for the elementary school positions. Regardless, we share an office and it’s really nice to have someone to relate to.

Side note: I’ve discovered, upon chatting extensively with said co-teacher #3, that being surrounded exclusively by well-meaning ajummas (35+ yrs) for my first 2 years in Korea has led me to have distinctly OLD PERSON TASTES in Korean food and culture. Which I find hilarious.

The fourth is as old as the hills, and he spends every class we have together:

A) intermittently yelling “HEY! CUT IT OUT!” at the kids in Korean when the whim strikes him
B) asleep
C) staring into space with tortured eyes as if by staring hard enough he might Apparate himself out of the classroom

Occasionally he raises a hand from his chair in back and says “Maddy, wait” and lectures them for a good minute. As far as I can tell, “Maddy,” “wait,” and “OK” are the only English words he knows how to speak.

He seems to be a bit of a gruff old dear, though (I have no way of knowing for sure due to the language barrier). The kids who aren’t scared of him seem to like him – but come to think of it, not sure if it’s affection or just a desire to poke and prod the bear because it’s funny and they know he won’t do anything worse than growl a little.

Q: Wow, what entertaining descriptions. That’s fantastic. Bravo. Alrighty. Moving right along, how are the students this year?

A: They’re possibly the same as last year. Possibly better. I’m not sure. I’m too Zen to figure it out. (See answer to Q1) Sometimes they’re cute and hilarious and adorable and lovable, and sometimes I swear they flew straight from the depths of hell into my classroom just to torture me.

But I don’t carry it home with me. All the stresses or disappointments or failures in the classroom stay at school. This may not be something a “regular” teacher can do (i.e. not an expat ESL teacher), but it’s a benefit of this particular job that I’ve finally, in Year 3, learned to enjoy.

Nevertheless, the kids know me well, I know them well (except for the 1st years; we’re still kind of getting acquainted), I know my school, and I know the teaching ropes. So it’s been good, overall. Quite good.

Q: Great, great. You sound so enlightened and cool and stuff. You’re probably like the very first person to ever figure this teaching stuff out. Er… next question… I didn’t think this far ahead…

A: True. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to do this interview, after all.

Q: Well, um… hmm… what’s your favorite color?

A: Blue.

But actually, I just always say blue automatically because that was my favorite color when I was a kid and I never reexamined it as I grew up. Even though maybe I’ve changed my mind and I just never thought about it. That’s got to be a metaphor for something about life.

Q: Stop trying to be cool. What did you eat for breakfast?

A: Coffee.

Q: That’s not breakfast.

A: That’s not a question. And I never eat breakfast. Never have, never will.

Q: Okay interview over. It’s getting weird. People will think you have a split personality or a massive ego.

A: Agreed.

In all seriousness, I have edited and polished some old drafts and lined them up to auto-publish this week. Maybe it’ll boost me back into it, but if nothing else, at least I’ll have a few posts up after a long hiatus.

here today, gone tomorrow

Well, here today, gone next week anyway.

Yesterday the school halls were echoing emptiness back at my footsteps. Today there were stamping feet, loud voices, the whir of heaters doing their best to combat the cold. And soon – in a few days – we will return to the emptiness.

Maybe the purpose is to make all of us remember what our responsibilities are lest we get too lazy during break. To stop us from feeling too relaxed. Get that cortisol flowing again, you know.

The night before a stressful day, I try to cope by making some kind of mantra for myself, typically involving the formula “No matter what happens tomorrow, by [X] time I will be at home doing [Y].”

Yesterday, it was “No matter what happens tomorrow, by 5:00 p.m. I will be at home eating spaghetti and cheesecake* and watching The Office.”

It really does help. With practice.

*Not, like, mixed together. Ew.

The day wasn’t as dreadful as anticipated.

Classes have been shortened to 35 minutes. I waste spend the first 10ish minutes on a group memory game (they memorize the picture, then I hide it and they try to remember all the items). Honestly it really isn’t that much of a waste of time since they often seem to be mute after not speaking English for over a month. I consider it a nice easy way to remind them what English even is.

Then we talk about New Year’s Resolutions. I have them guess the Top 10 most popular resolutions for Americans (based on an article I found) and if we have time they write their own resolutions for this year.

Yes, it’s February, but talking about the new year isn’t that belated in Korea since the Lunar New Year was just last weekend.

Anyway it hasn’t been too bad. We all know no one cares what goes on in class during this mini semester, and the kids were as nice as could be expected in the circumstances. Except for the one truly evil class in today’s crop, who were consistent with their general behavior throughout the year (evil).

But all that matters is I survived it for the very last time, and since they’re graduating to high school next week, now I can truly say:



There were a few other nice things about today as well.

  • The science teacher came to my office – “Maddy, I have present for you. Name stickers!” She ordered every teacher at school a personalized sticker set as a little new year’s gift and she didn’t forget me!
  • Before I started one of my 3rd grade classes (not the evil one), their homeroom teacher came in and requested a few minutes of my class time (purely with eye contact and body language, that is). She had just received their high school placements, which made them cheer and gasp in anticipation. I guess it’s kind of like getting into college, since they have to apply and might not get the one they want. Anyway, it was cute to see some of them get excited about their new school.
  • Two 1st graders came in at the end of the day to deliver some traditional rice cakes. Another boy popped his head in and said, “Maddy… Maddy? Is it really Maddy? Oh my God. We again meet.” Apparently he’d been convinced he would never see me again after the end of the semester.

I suppose the best part is that after we grind through these few days, there’s more vacation until March!

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.

Lists of 3

Reasons I haven’t blogged:

  1. I was having a rough week… repeatedly
  2. Everything I think of saying feels redundant
  3. Did I mention rough weeks?

Things I’ve learned (been reminded of?) in the last few weeks:

  1. Focus on that one student or class that remains sweet and attentive till the (bitter) end of the semester, and don’t stress about the ones that don’t
  2. You should probably just do that thing you don’t wanna do
  3. There IS light at the end of the tunnel

Abandoned titles in my Drafts folder:

  1. thankful
  2. Today was a good day.
  3. noobish mistakes in Korea

Reasons I’m blogging today:

  1. Yesterday was a good day. So was today.
  2. I haven’t posted in a month.
  3. Lists feel easier than posts.

Things that have happened since my last post:

  1. We got our cafeteria and old school lunch back (the difference between freshly cooked food and food that tastes like preservatives and is of questionable age and origin is tremendous, and does wonders for everyone’s mood)
  2. We had our first snow in Daegu, which lasted approximately 2.37 minutes; it has not returned
  3. I signed a renewal contract. My Korea saga isn’t finished yet!

Christmas-themed acrostic poems composed by my 14-yr-olds of varying English abilities today:


Only one
I eat
Delicious food. However,
Amazingly not delicious food
Y? Because my mother makes it.


And Rudolph make
A… very delicious meal


Snowy day
Not comes easy*
Wet if you touch it
Melt when sun come out
white person**

*This line is a reference to the fact that in Daegu, it barely ever snows.
**Please note the poem’s title so as not to misunderstand.

Things that have made me smile this week (so far):

  1. Chatting and playing strategic thinking games like Rummikub and Da Vinci Code with some of the 16-year-old girls for 2 hours on our last day of English Club.
  2. Surprise cancellations of some of my less-than-lovely classes
  3. Upon the sudden cancellation of an actually lovely class (perhaps my favorite… shhh), two boys vehemently protesting the cancellation: “No! Teacher, I want you English class! I want study English!”, and the rest making hearts over their heads with their arms and crying “Teacher, I love you!” as they rushed out of the classroom to their new destination (this is why you’re my favorites)

Things I’m looking forward to:

  1. The end of the school year! (Christmas is on Sunday, so there’s no Christmas break for us, but we finish school on the 28th)
  2. The start of my real vacation (after winter camp and winter ‘after-school’ class)
  3. Going home for a quick visit before Korea Year 3 begins

Getting sick in Korea

This week I developed one of the more intense colds I’ve had since coming to Korea. I’ve only had a handful of them (which I’m sure would be a different story if I were working in elementary), and they’ve never been an impedance to my general routine.

On Saturday evening I could feel it coming on – the dreaded sore throat. My boyfriend and I ate the Korean version of chicken noodle soup (닭 칼국수) for dinner, which was absolutely perfect:

Chicken, thick chewy noodles, 김 (dried seaweed), zucchini. mmmm

On Sunday the virus hit me hard enough to keep me in bed basically all day, surrounded by various electronic devices, eating Haagen-Dazs (which recently made a miraculous and pricey appearance at the convenience store), and watching Big Hero on TV (in Korea they change Hiro’s brother’s name from Tadashi Hamada to Teddy Armada because Japan is bad, rabblerabblerabble). My boyfriend also brought me 죽, which is rice porridge and something basically all Koreans eat when they’re sick. (Have I mentioned Koreans are excellent caregivers?)

Picture from this travel site. I was too sick to remember to take a picture, and besides, theirs is much prettier than mine would’ve been.

Monday was survival mode. After one of my kind co-teachers witnessed my voice give out on me multiple times while I tried to teach the 3rd graders about Thanksgiving (at one point helplessly gesturing towards the turkey on the PPT and whispering, “What is it?”, which everyone found hilarious), she bustled me down to the nurse’s office, where I received Ssanghwatang (also called Ssanghwa Gold):


This traditional Korean herbal medicine drink first tastes faintly of molasses and orange peel, then very abruptly tastes like tree bark and dirt. I don’t know how much good it did me but I suppose it can’t hurt!

The nurse also gave me a Lifesaver-shaped eucalyptus lozenge and a vitamin C pill. Koreans don’t do pain relievers. Good luck finding ibuprofen around here, even in the pharmacies.

Today, Tuesday, my voice decided to leave the building (err, my throat). For each of my classes today, I told the kids that they would have to listen very carefully. Their reactions to hearing my scratchy voice were very sweet, as many of them burst out with the textbook expression “That’s too bad! I hope you get well soon!” One class yelled “AWWWWW!” when I tried to raise the pitch of my voice and achieved only a squeaky sound. hahaha. And later, as I was walking around, one of the kids said, “Teacher, are you okay?” in an I know you said you’re okay for appearances’ sake, but are you REALLY okay? tone, which was cute.

On the downside, disciplining is much harder when you actually can’t raise your voice and you sound like a mouse.

In summary, while being sick in Korea certainly has its unique cons:

  • sick days aren’t really a thing – I mean, you have them, but unless you’re on your deathbed you should really come to work feeling like death just like everyone else, you lazy bum;
  • outside of Seoul, you probably need a trusted coworker or friend to come with you to the doctor / pharmacy to translate;
  • and if you’re really sick and need to visit the hospital, just… make sure you wash your hands… a LOT… if you can actually find soap and hot water… and don’t touch anything… and watch out for people carrying around their uncovered Dixie cups full of urine that could spill everywhere at any moment;

… it also has its pros:

  • everyone will try to take care of you (if you let them know you’re sick);
  • if you need to see a doctor and get some medicine, it will probably cost you less than $5, and if you’re good enough at acting and learn a few key Korean words, you might not even need a translator friend;
  • if it’s cold outside, you can come in and turn on the ondol floor heat and lay on your delicious warm floor.

Thankfully I was ahead enough on my lesson planning that I could afford not to do anything the last few days except focus on teaching class and getting through the day. But now that I’m recovering (except for my vocal cords), it’s back to the grindstone.

Stay healthy, everyone!