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.)

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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.)

Ramblings

I am currently on Stage 4 of an unfortunate seasonal cold – the stages being thus defined by yours truly (you can trust me, I hold an M.D. from the University of Google):

Stage 1. The sore throat

This is the worst. I cannot abide a sore throat of any caliber. Like an itch that can never be scratched – lozenges, honey and warm water, painkillers, nothing can make it go away for long. You just have to deal with it, with every breath and every swallow (which you cannot avoid if you want to stay alive).

Stage 2. The nasal congestion

It is a universal law of viruses that in this stage you will only be able to breathe out of one nostril at a time. And that you’ll get a runny nose at the worst possible moment, like when you’re in the middle of a presentation and you forgot to stuff Kleenex in some discreet pocket.

BONUS! Sweating & aching

If your cold is of a particularly nasty strain, you might develop a light fever and begin sweating profusely even though you’re not doing anything strenuous. Like just sitting down at your desk minding your own business, vaguely aching and wanting to curl up in a limp ball.

Stage 3. The sinuses

Here we introduce pounding headaches and the feeling that your eyeballs will burst out of their sockets at any moment from all the pressure.

Stage 4. The chest congestion and coughing

This lovely stage may last for weeks after the other symptoms have faded out. Isn’t that nice? Your cold wants to leave you a little memento to remember it by. As I’m currently in this stage, I now have a 50-50 chance of choking on phlegm instead of speaking every time I start teaching class. It’s great fun.

This is surely the most dramatic description of a cold you have ever read, brought to you by a person who likes to dramatize all things. Especially illnesses. You’re welcome.


In other news, I was trying to tell my student to add a verb to his sentence: “You need a verb. 동사 (dong-sa).” He looked at me incredulously. “똥싸?” Then I remembered that with just slightly more emphasis on the start of each syllable (which is VERY EASY for a foreign tongue to accidentally do, might I add), the word verb magically transforms into the word shit.

I told my student he needed shit in his sentence.

*pats self on back*

His classmate did understand that I, the English teacher, was in fact asking for a verb and not human waste (flawed pronunciation notwithstanding), and the miscommunication was rapidly cleared up.


I try not to be frustrated with catatonic students, or even students who seem to have an attitude, when they tell me things like “I have academy [private lessons] until 10 p.m. today.” I suppose I wouldn’t be in the cheerfullest mood either, if I was literally in school for 14 hours.


Yesterday I asked the students what was for lunch and one of them said “Pizza hotdog!” I thought he was joking. Nope: one of the lunch items was a hotdog (not a full-size American beef frank, but thinner and shorter) on thick-pizza-crust-type bread with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and some sweet corn and raw garlic thrown in for good measure because this is Korea. Paired, of course, with tuna bibimbap (what pro chef wouldn’t pair these culinary delights together?).

Okay but real talk: I ate it all. Not too shabby.


One of my co-teachers was in a car accident – she’s in the hospital with some minor injuries, and as a result I get a substitute co for some classes this week. The poor woman seems to have literally been thrown into this situation. In typical Korean fashion, a “teacher friend” (probably someone of higher rank) requested a favor (favor being “come work at this random school for 3 days”) and she had to acquiesce.

Anyway, after observing my class for the first time, as we walked out together she commented: “The students are so noisy!”*

And here I was thinking we were having a pretty good, “quiet” day.

(cue the trombone: wah-wah-wah-waaaaaaaah)

Nah, it’s okay. I already know my kids are a handful.

*She later explained that she works at a middle school with very studious and quiet students. Okay, but are they cute tho???


We were playing a True/False quiz and I asked the teams to hold up their answers (on their mini whiteboards). One of the teams had written “Talse.” Nice try kiddos, nice try. (This is a favorite ploy of many students to try to cover their bases when we play quiz games; if it’s multiple choice, sometimes they’ll write a HUGE letter A and then sneakily write B, C, and D inside the A, hoping that somehow it’ll fool me.) But anyway I love that class and I want to pinch their cute faces because they’re always so cheerful and happy about everything. Even studying.


Four times a week we have guest teachers come in to teach special after-school classes in math and English. A couple of them use “my” classroom, the English room. I’ve seen the English teacher a few times as I’m wrapping up after my last class. We usually just smile and say hi in passing, but today she stopped me and said, “Do you want one?”, holding out one of the snacks she’d brought for her students.

Occasionally weird situations (for a foreigner) come out of Korea’s culture of sharing, but sometimes it can be really sweet.

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:

blog-pic.png

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.

Beauty and Korea

It’s not exactly a hidden aspect of modern Korean culture: looks matter here. Even more than in the Western world, beauty is favored and beautiful people enjoy elevated social status, the admiration of those around them, greater leniency around making mistakes, and various other benefits. (Seriously.)

Having a “high nose” (meaning, basically, a Western-looking nose with a higher bridge) is considered beautiful.

Pale skin is considered beautiful.

“Double eyelids” (the extra fold or crease over the eye, as opposed to the “monolids” that Koreans have naturally) are considered beautiful.

Hair that is naturally a color other than black and eyes that are naturally a color other than brown are considered beautiful – mostly because they stand out in a largely homogeneous culture.

It’s sad that so many of the traits that are considered ideal are ones that Koreans are not naturally born with (i.e. the “high” nose, the double eyelids, the hair and eye color), which leads to the high rate of plastic surgery for things like nose reconstruction and creating “double eyelids.” (That’s not to say that natural Korean traits are not considered beautiful, but there is this prevalence of idealizing a more Western look.)

It should also be noted that I fit the bill as a Westerner, and traits that get me no attractiveness mileage in America (such as rather large nose and pale skin) earn lots of compliments here.

As a result, sometimes, it’s like we’re having this conversation from The Swan Princess… every. single. day. And not only with my students, but sometimes even with adults.

is beauty all that matters to you

Derek (Korea): “You’re all I ever wanted! You’re beautiful!”
Odette (Me): “Thank you. But what else?”
Derek (Korea): “What else?”
Odette (Me): “Is beauty all that matters to you?”
Derek (Korea): “What else… is there?”
Me: *internal sigh of despair*

For my parents

It’s Parents’ Day in Korea today, Monday, May 8th. Mother’s and Father’s Day are coming up soon in the U.S. too.

My family and extended family (if I may speak for the majority of them, at least on one side) aren’t too big on expressing our emotions to each other. We’re not into that mushy gushy stuff. (Okay, Mom, maybe you are.)

But as I continue living on my own as an adult, I keep thinking of things that I want to say to my parents (but would probably most likely definitely 100% never say in person because it’s too mushy and weird. and also, it would take too long).

So, Mom and Dad, this is for you. Consider it your Parents’ Day gift. Because as you both know, I can express myself much better in writing.

Dad:

Thank you for always working hard to take care of our family, from providing everything we need to immediately fixing all the little things that get broken from time to time.

Thank you for instilling in me a work ethic so strong that, like you, I’m kind of a workaholic (in a good way). You taught me by example to go the extra mile, to work until something is finished and not just drop everything the minute I’m off the clock, to be a person that other people can count on to get things done. Now I understand what a valuable skill that is.

Thank you for teaching me how to keep my living space clean and to take care of the small details, like wiping up that little spot I notice on the counter right away and putting away my clean laundry as soon as it’s ready – even if sometimes it involved calling me back to re-clean the kitchen after “inspection” or insisting that I pick up my clothes right now. Every time I take care of these little things, every time I multitask on my chores for maximum efficiency, and especially when I wipe down the faucet and the sink to make them all shiny, I think of you, and I’m grateful.

Thank you for filling our house with all kinds of music and with “old movies.” Even if it makes us snobs, I don’t care because I can’t imagine growing up without Louis Armstrong or BB King or Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn or the Marx Brothers or Alfred Hitchcock… (etc. etc.) For the rest of my life these things will bring back happy memories of our family coming together for music parties and movie nights.

Mom:

Thank you for being the sweetest, kindest, most thoughtful person, wife, and mother possible (and in doing so, giving me an amazing example of all the above). I have a long way to go before I could ever be as selfless as you are. Practically everything you’ve done ever since I can remember has been for the family, for us kids, or to help other people – not for yourself. I hope I can be like that someday for my own family. (But you deserve to focus on yourself too, Mom! <3)

Thank you for literally being the main provider of all of my education from the time I was born until I went to college. I’m so grateful for the richness and variety of our curriculum, for Latin and Roman mythology and Greek plays and grammar and diagramming sentences and all the other subjects that I probably complained about doing at the time. (But if I ever have to read and respond to that “Schemes of Life Often Illusory” essay again, I might scream. Sometimes little wisps of it float around in my head and threaten to drive me crazy.)

Thank you for also (like Dad) teaching me to properly clean a living space. Don’t take this the wrong way, but every time I scrub the toilet I think of you because every time I’m making my bathroom squeaky clean, I’m thinking of how glad I am that you taught me to be thorough and clean regularly. At the time, I wasn’t too crazy about the “proper order” for cleaning a toilet, but now, as I carry out these habits that have been instilled in me for years, I’m so so glad.

Mom and Dad:

Thank you for teaching me about the Catholic faith through words and through example. Thank you for taking us to church every Sunday, for making sure we prayed together every single night before dinner, for having long conversations about what our faith means, for simply incorporating the faith into daily life and not leaving it as just a Sunday thing. Thank you for teaching us about God in a real way, not a superficial or “lite” way. Some of the things you’ve said and the examples you’ve shown about what it means to follow Christ will always stay with me, for the rest of my life.

Thank you for giving me a beautiful example of marriage. You’ve stuck together through thick and thin, sickness and health, richer and poorer, and I truly hope that someday I will have a relationship as faithful and strong with my future husband.

Thank you for creating a strong, loving, fun family. Thank you for setting a tone of laughter and love and support from my earliest memories up to today. Thank you for setting up boundaries and sheltering us just enough to let us enjoy a safe, innocent, unpressured-to-grow-up-faster childhood. Thank you for encouraging us to do things to stretch and challenge ourselves. Thank you for knowing when to push and when to step back. Thank you for giving us the tools and skills we need to be competent, capable, good adults.

I’m no longer embarrassed or annoyed by you, as was the case for a lot of my teenage years. I’m really proud that you’re my parents.

I love you.

Oh, and one more thing…

Thank you for passing on your cool, smart, awesome genes to my siblings and me.

(Mom, don’t cry, okay? Dad, don’t make a joke about cool jeans and cool genes, okay?)

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.