End of the semester

And so ends the first half of Year 2. Finally!

I bought probably way more snacks than my students needed for our movie time – chips, the Korean equivalent of cheese Ritz Bitz, fruit snacks (splurged on the expensive imported Welsh’s), choco pies, and juice boxes. But they were excited and appreciative, and that’s good enough for me.

I’d never actually seen Bridge to Terabithia, only skimmed review sites to make sure there’s no weird or inappropriate content. [I’ll be honest- I totally confused this movie with Race to Witch Mountain – hey, they both star AnnaSophia Robb – and spent several minutes wondering when The Rock was going to show up.] Hence I didn’t realize (**spoiler alert**) that one of the two main characters dies towards the end. I was sitting in the back, so no telling whether any of my girls were crying. Nevertheless, they seemed to enjoy it.

I also handed out mini, colorful 90-cent notepads to the team that had won the Tongue Twister challenge. For such a tiny prize, I was touched that the kids oohed and aahed when I presented them.

Then I let them all come back for seconds at the snack table, because goodness knows I don’t want to lug all those boxes back to my apartment.

One of the girls ran back after all the kids had departed and shyly handed me a coffee. (That girl knows where it’s at. heh heh.) But seriously, it was really sweet. She probably picked it out and bought it herself.

Then I went to eat the dreaded fish jjim in the main teachers’ office for lunch – but because it was with my favorite co-teacher, I didn’t mind so much. I only accidentally crunched like 5 fish bones and only had to extract about 20 more while eating. Not too shabby. I also learned that apparently some people actually just eat the bones. wow.

And this is a true measure of how I’ve adjusted to Korean food – I don’t find this particular jjim spicy at all anymore, whereas the first couple times I ate it, I could barely handle two bites without extreme eye-watering, nose-running, and tickly-throat-coughing. Sometimes I think, “wow, they sure have lightened up on the spice factor in this dish” and then I’m like “you big dummy, they aren’t changing the recipe, your taste buds have changed.” Whoops.

Following lunch, I had a lovely hour-long chat with my co-teacher, since today she was assigned to deskwarm in the main office alone because the other teachers had other responsibilities. She suggested that we check out the cooking class in the cafeteria (this was another week-long class like mine, but was offered solely to the low-income students of the school).

When we entered the cafeteria, a bunch of the kids turned around and lit up, “Hi teacher!” They were eager to show me their sandwiches (have I ever mentioned that in Korea, sandwiches can include one or all of the following [usually all]: fried eggs, coleslaw, jam WITH meat, spam, various fruits… sweet sandwiches are very popular, whereas I feel they wouldn’t go over that well in America).

I also inwardly groaned at the “New York style” hot dogs they were making, which consisted of: hot dog, mayonnaise, green leaf lettuce, American cheese slices, and dumpling-style ground beef mixed with sweet chili sauce on top. This is why Koreans don’t think American food is all that great!!! I’m sure if they were visiting America, they wouldn’t trust an American to make authentic Korean food, so why do they trust Koreans to make authentic American food? In my entire time in Korea, I don’t think I’ve had a single meal at any restaurant that actually tastes American (and yes, American cuisine honestly does have its own set of flavors which you maybe can’t really appreciate until you can’t quite find those flavors ANYWHERE). Mind you, I live in Daegu and there is a shortage of foreigner-run restaurants here. I know there are some authentic foreign places in Seoul, but I never go there, so too bad for me.

Anyway, whatever! Minor annoyance.

Bigger annoyance: the weather has been in the upper 90s all week and will continue to be so all next week, seemingly. I got very angry while walking home from work today because NO HUMAN BEING SHOULD HAVE TO SWEAT WHILE STANDING STILL DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. In the 7 minutes of walking home, I became disgusting. Unacceptable, Daegu. /rant

Anyway, weather aside, TGIF and TGIVacation!


Fresh perspective

I have to remind myself that even though last year I was starstruck and in love with my new life in Korea, there were tough times too. I’ve heard that the 2nd year can be more difficult as life becomes a routine, mundane thing and each day is just there, waiting for you to plow through it… in pursuit of the end of the day, in pursuit of the weekend, in pursuit of the next weekend and the next weekend after that, in pursuit of summer vacation…

Then I sort of internally shake myself because that’s not a good way to look at life. Always living for the next perceived break or the next perceived good thing/reward – which will probably never be as good as you think if you have that mindset anyway. It’s actually quite a depressing way to live because you just trudge along and never appreciate what’s right in front of you.

Last year I was all about appreciating each moment and all the little things.

This school year, I was off to a rough start, mentally and emotionally. Maybe it showed in my blogging as of late. A blackness had sort of settled over my heart in the last month or so as the bleak winter weather dragged on and on, and I’ve been allowing that blackness to stay there and rob me of finding the bright spots in my daily life.

Today, for whatever reason (maybe because it finally feels like spring outside?), I woke up and reminded myself of this. I poked and jabbed my inner joy which has been lazy and dormant for a while now. I yelled at it, “Hey, external situations are not the source of happiness, remember?”

Make a choice today. To find joy and happiness in whatever happens, or whatever doesn’t happen. Find the richness in life, even in the mundane, the stressful, the dull. Don’t wait for “good” things to come to you, but make the everyday things into the good things.

And even just making that choice, I can feel a little joy bubbling up in my chest. Because even if I’m not where I want to be now, I know I can get there. With God’s help.

Now, enough sentimental navel-gazing and on to updates…

Tomorrow, April 16, marks two years since the horrible Sewol Ferry disaster in Korea (in case you don’t know about it: click). Tons of political, cultural, and moral commentary has already been made about this tragedy, so I won’t say much other than that it was a horrific and 100% preventable tragedy – which is why it’s so infuriating and depressing. Because of the Confucian hierarchy [don’t get me started on Confucius…], horrible decisions, and lack of common sense, among other things, nearly 300 people died that day – the vast majority of whom were children. Children who were just obeying their elders as they’ve been taught to do. It’s unspeakably sad.

Note/Disclaimer: While the Confucian element is certainly specific to Korea / Asian culture, and it did play a role in the events on April 16, of course I’m aware that Western countries have also experienced awful and preventable tragedies due to poor foresight and decision-making. I’m not condemning all of Korea because of the Sewol disaster. I’m expressing outrage and sadness over a terrible chain of events.

Anyway, I was teaching class at 2nd period, when at 10:00 an announcement came over the PA for a moment of silence in remembrance. I was expecting it because I Google Translated the school-wide message about it this morning. As music played over the speakers, my co-teacher made all the kids stand up, and they stood there, eyes closed, heads bowed. At 15 years old, all of them are old enough to remember the day the ferry sank.

Two minutes later, it was over. As they sat down, I felt strange about continuing with the lesson – I’d been about to show them an OK Go music video, and that seemed such a stark contrast. Is it really okay to go back to having fun seconds after remembering how hundreds of children died?

Just so I don’t end on a sad note, something I’ve noticed for a while but particularly today: in my Friday 1st grade class full of 13-year-olds, some of them are noisy. Some of them have not-so-great attitudes. Some don’t want to practice English. Some struggle to write simple words, some use vocabulary beyond a middle school textbook.

There is one boy in this class who is particularly smart. Quiet and shy, but always knows the answers and can read, write, and understand better than most of the others. I’ve noticed him since our first class.

There is also a boy who has a learning disability. He is very friendly, always smiling, always waving extra big when he sees me in the halls with a huge grin. In class, he can’t do much but he doesn’t cause any disruptions. (Sadly, this is often the case with special ed kids in a NET class – the co-teachers often let them be rather than give them extra help. But that’s another issue for another day.)

The smart boy always sits next to this other boy. When we do our textbook work, he checks his partner’s work for him. When we do speaking practice, he writes Korean in his partner’s book under the English sentences and guides him through pronouncing the English words.

Today, I happened to catch Boy 1 raising his head triumphantly after getting Boy 2 to speak the entire dialogue with him. His expression was full of pride, not in himself, but in the fact that his partner had done so well. It was so sweet. He can honestly do more to help Boy 2 than I can, since I can’t speak Korean.

Secondly, I’ve been helping my favorite co-teacher with her English Reading Club. It’s a group of 11 3rd grade girls, 15 yr olds, and they read books and do projects. My role is merely to sit in their bright, airy classroom upstairs (in my experience, the top floor is always nicer than the lower floors), and if they have questions while reading or writing, they come to me. My ct brings me tea. I chat with her and with the girls. It’s absolutely the loveliest and most stress-free thing I’ve ever done in a school in Korea.

And these kind of things are what I want to focus on. A fresh perspective and a fresh season.

Battery: 0%

And it’s only Monday.

Let’s just say Year 2 is throwing me for a loop.

I kind of knew what to expect, having worked at this school twice a week last year, but coming here day after day with no respite (of going to my other school for the rest of the week) is wearing me down.

I’m still unsure whether I’m holding the kids or myself to too high a standard. Or both.

I rode the (negative) emotional waves today, from frustration to anger to annoyance. I obviously need to learn to let go of what I can’t control. If a CT simply isn’t going to support me in the way I’d like to be supported in the classroom, so be it. I have to work around it. (You’d think I’d have learned this last year. Obviously it didn’t sink in well enough.)

As for the kids, for the ones who don’t care about English and for the classes that feel like pulling teeth, I just cry on the inside and smile on the outside and slowly make my way to each table, making sure they practice at least once anyway, trying to help them understand what they’re saying. Even if as soon as I turn my back, they’ll start chatting in Korean again.

My last class today was 2nd grade, one of the most mixed level I have – meaning, some kids are at the top of the A level (could debate large-concept topics), others at the very bottom of the C (can barely read). I tried to balance, tried to have the A level kids help their C level partners, tried to chat a little about other stuff with some of the high level kids so they wouldn’t get bored, tried to encourage the ones who felt lost.

After finally getting to the end of this exhausting routine for the last time today, I sat down at my desk feeling drained in all ways possible.

A CT told me we have hweshik on Wednesday directly after school. Another CT asked me to help her record and be in video lectures for the students to watch at home. None of my CTs are on the same page as to what I’m teaching in each of their classes. A student asked me to help her friend study for midterms. Another group of students are expecting me to hold an English Club with them, and I’m all, hold up kids, I haven’t heard a word about that from any of the other teachers. Don’t you come marching into my office on Friday wondering why I’m not ready for English Club. (They will.)

Then I got a message from a teacher in the 2nd floor office about my health insurance documents, so I stepped outside my office to head down there and pick them up.

And as soon as I opened my office door, I was surrounded by 2nd graders – “Oh, hello teacher! How are you?” “Teacher, [in Korean] my brother found you on Facebook! Please accept my friend request!” “Teacher, you are so beautiful! Wow!” “Teacher,” and this boy offered both his hands to shake mine respectfully, “Teacher, I love you. I love you, Teacher.” “TEACHER I LOVE YOU!” crowed his two friends behind him.

Maybe it seems dumb, but these little moments help me hang in there. It’s something positive to focus on when these difficult, new-school-year, new-coworkers, new-schedule, new-curriculum times come along.

Dear Thursday, I hate you. (a rant)

I don’t like to rant too much on my blog because it’s on the internet forever and chances are whatever I’m ranting about will improve with time anyway. But Thursdays are kind of awful this semester, and yesterday was particularly awful, so here is my rant (partly written yesterday, but I decided to cool down a bit before editing and posting).

Just in case any of you were thinking it’s all flowers and rainbows over here.

Walking to school in the morning, I was the victim of witnessing an older (but not too old to know any better) man peeing in broad daylight IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PATH. This is the third time I’ve encountered this (from different men). Nothing like seeing an old man’s… ahem… ‘nether regions’ to start your day off right. (Had I written this yesterday, I would’ve gone on to rant about the many ajeosshis with mighty egos who act like they own the place [and by the place I mean the whole country] just because of their age and gender and Confucianism blah blah blah… but today I won’t.) (Thanks a lot for your actually sexist, classist, younger-people-oppressing “ideology,” Confucius.) (Oops.) (But that seriously is a topic that can make my blood boil.)

Anyway. Who knew men peeing in public is all Confucius’ fault, right? That’s what I’m here for, folks.

As I mentioned last week, Thursday is a five class day, back to back to back, and it’s also the day I start a new lesson with every grade since the first day of school was a Thursday. The stress of trying out new things combined with a busy day and the fact that my new co-teachers and I still aren’t used to working together in the classroom does not make for a happy mood.

And then there are the textbooks.

Why the hell are we, and many Korean schools, using these horrendous, poorly-written and poorly-organized textbooks full of useless, overly formal English “conversation”? I’m particularly infuriated by my school’s textbooks (compared to the ones I used at my old school last year, which were decent and simple enough for the kids to actually learn some useful phrases) because they are just horrible and often barely decipherable even for ME, the native speaker.

Yesterday, as I’m asking the kids “What is Hana going to do in the band?”, I see that the CD version of the textbook, displayed on the TV screen, says “play the drurms.” The DRURMS. Really? Drurms. Okay. Fine, so a typo slipped through.

Oh wait… then we get to the listening part. I play the audio and wince as an F-list voice actor LITERALLY SAYS in the most obnoxious voice ever “Which do you pre-fore?” PREFORE?!? That is NOT ENGLISH. THE WORD IS PREFER. Pree-ferrrrr.

But don’t worry, at least when they’re supposed to be listening for where the girl can apply to join the badminton club, the robotic voice actor says “You can apply ot website.” Not “on the website,” not “AT the website,” not even “ot THE website,” but just OT WEBSITE. Like maybe the voice actor had a small stroke and forgot how to speak for a second. OKAY. GREAT. THANKS FOR YOUR HELP. I CAN ALWAYS COUNT ON YOU, [STUPID TEXTBOOK PUBLISHING COMPANY].

If you can’t tell, this really gets my goat.

Edit: Yesterday when I drafted this, I called the publisher out by name. Then I feared getting deported for criticizing a major Korean company, and a main provider of English textbooks in this country. If you’re curious… “why bee em.”

To top everything off, my new main co-teacher’s idea for how I should be teaching the textbook and planning my lessons is completely different from my former main co-teacher’s ideas. And since the latter and I are quite close and on the same page, it’s extremely stressful trying to figure out what on earth I should be doing.

The only good thing about Thursday is that the next day (which is today) I can sincerely say, TGIF.