Have introverts overcorrected?

I’ve been rather hard on extroverts on this blog in the past. Perhaps a bit too hard, blinded by my need to vent out all the frustrations of growing up shy and introverted in a pre-Susan Cain world. Without meaning to, maybe I’ve even sounded smug and superior, as many introverts might tend to do when we defiantly proclaim our love of solitude.

But then I happened upon this article from the New York Times today: “Am I introverted, or just rude?” (Full article here.) (As implied in the title, the writer is an introvert herself.)

“I’m shy, yes. But am I also rude? In a contest between my manners and my preferences, am I allowing my preferences to win? […]

A minority of introverts suffer from clinical social anxiety. That’s not true of me. I find parties uncomfortable: I have trouble making small talk, and after I’ve been surrounded by people for too long, I need time alone. But I can set aside my inclinations […]

“Good manners are mere mannerisms, the argument goes, which serve only to put barriers in the way of deeper connections. […] Life is largely lived among acquaintances and strangers. So many fall into problematic categories: some appear different or unapproachable, some we actively dislike, some we’ve failed to connect with in the past. What do we have to gain from even trying?

“A lot, as it turns out. When I skip big gatherings of strangers, I’m not just being a little rude to the individual people around me, I’m being uncivil in a larger sense. The more we isolate ourselves from new people, the more isolated and segregated our society is likely to become. […] We can respect our own introversion, and embrace the ‘quiet’ people among us, without abandoning every challenging interaction.

I may be naturally reserved, and more comfortable alone than I will ever be in a crowd, but I am not at the mercy of my nature. There are many excuses for failing to conduct ourselves with courtesy, for avoiding gatherings and conversations we don’t think we will enjoy, or for just putting on our pajamas and staying home. Too many of them boil down to just that one thing: We care more about ourselves than about the needs of others.

That’s not about introversion. It’s just an ordinary version of selfishness.

I’m willing to bet some extroverts, upon reading the many many MANY articles and memes that have come out of the woodwork in recent years (since introversion became “a thing”), have concluded exactly that – that introverts are using it as an excuse to be rude/antisocial/selfish.

And honestly, if I were an extrovert I’d probably be annoyed at some of the more self-righteous social media posts out there. In a total role reversal, introverts are the ones being obnoxiously loud on the internet and extroverts are kind of just chilling and letting us have our time in the spotlight. In fact, when you type “extrovert meme” into Google Images, the majority of them will actually be introvert memes! And I don’t see extroverts touting around demands like this:

Image result for introvert don't embarrass me

(Pardon the spelling mistakes; I couldn’t find one like this without them.)

Like, okay introvert friends, we are neither special snowflakes nor God’s gift to the world. Chill. We’re just people, and so are extroverts. I’m pretty sure extroverts don’t want to be embarrassed in public either, and sometimes introverts are being a little antisocial when we avoid certain interactions/outings just for the sake of preserving our own energy. (I could pick apart more from that particular meme but I think you get the idea.)

Again, back to the ideas from the NY Times article, introversion is no excuse for being rude or selfish. Because being introverted has become more mainstream, maybe people (including myself) feel justified in blowing off plans or avoiding meeting people because “I’m an introvert.” I’ve even posted about embracing shyness and realizing, for example, that it’s okay not to be good at small talk.

But the article was a good reminder not to indulge my introversion every single time, because it’s not all about me. I think introversion easily lends itself to selfishness (and laziness), much more so than extroversion, so we have to be vigilant against that. What’s comfortable isn’t always what’s best or what’s right.

Also, remember that to enjoy staying home in your pajamas and watching movies is not an indication of being introverted. Neither is being a book lover. I’m sure plenty of extroverts love doing that as well – just as many introverts have a genuinely good time hanging out with friends or socializing (once you give us a good kick in the pants to get our butts out the door, that is).

Anyway, the article was my food for thought today because I do think introverts have overcorrected a little bit, and although I find it super fun to “categorize” people’s personalities (both introversion/extroversion and the MBTI), it’s best not to be so polarizing and to just be people and try to be kind to each other. /soapbox

P.S. In spite of everything I said above, and without detracting from it, I found this chart while googling “introvert/extrovert memes” and it is the truest thing I’ve ever seen. Reading it is a visceral experience as I relive all the extended socializing I’ve ever done in my life. Consider this a guide to being out with an introvert.

Image result for introvert meme

We really do hit that peak around 1 hour, get a 2nd wind when there’s just “one more” [drink/activity/conversation] to be had, and then a slight 3rd wind when we think we see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s all downhill from there until we can get the hell out.

If you engage an introvert after that 3rd wind stage, their mental processes are slowly shutting down, so please be kind if you notice their responses becoming more and more curt and their eyes glazing over or shiftily darting around as if looking for an escape. The need for alone time becomes a desperate one akin to the need to release a full bladder. You reach a certain point where there is literally nothing else you can think about until you get relief.

Sighs of relief (+ ESL speaking games)

You know when something’s been hanging over your head, and you don’t even realize it was burdening you until it’s over and the burden is suddenly not there anymore?

As the first semester wound down for all my coworkers, it heated up for me with back-to-back events from coaching high school book-writing clubs to summer camp to, currently, a week of extra classes, 2 hours every morning, Monday (today) to Friday.

grumblegrumblegrumble.

But as it turns out, at least in the case of this extra class, it wasn’t worth all the extra stress. (isn’t it always worse in your head, though?)

There are only 9 students in this class; about half of them are A level, and half are C level. Thankfully, the activities I picked today were all able to strike a balance where everyone could participate.

I’d also forgotten how nice it is to teach alone. Last year at my previous school, I had several classes which were just “mine,” not co-taught, and it was a really nice environment to form better relationships with the kids and boost their confidence. This is the first opportunity I’ve had this year to teach my “very own” class. I find that not only do the kids focus more on what I say, but I also feel more confident. Maybe it’s because I instinctively… not exactly seek approval, but look for a positive reaction from my co-teachers if they’re in the room with me. And if I don’t perceive a positive reaction (if they look spaced out, bored, bemused, whatever), it immediately impacts my own confidence and therefore my teaching efficacy. It shouldn’t, but it does. I’m working on it.

Anyway, the students actually seemed to have a lot of fun considering it’s 9:00 a.m. on a blistering hot Monday morning during what’s supposed to be summer vacation. We played speaking games that I wouldn’t normally be able to play with my full classes – the kinds of activities I learned in my ESL courses that are meant for exactly this class size, around 10 students.

Since I usually just write goofy ramblings and complaints on this blog, I figure I’ll post something useful for a change and explain what we actually did in my class. Not that any of these are original ideas; like I said, they’re typical ESL activities, and you can find variations of them all over the internet.

“I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing…”

The memory game where everyone picks a word in alphabetical order – apple, baseball, cat, drumstick, etc. – and each person has to remember all the previous words and then add one more word to the chain. It worked for all levels because (A) even the high level kids picked pretty basic vocabulary words, so the low level kids could understand and remember, and (B) they all seemed to enjoy the challenge of rattling off the list when it was their turn.

“Word Chain” Relay Race

I put them into two teams and wrote a word on the board (“tree”). The first person from each team runs to the board and writes a word starting with the last letter of my word (“e”). They keep rotating through their team members. I give them about 1 minute, and then we count which team has more total letters (not words). I let the high level kids on each team help the low level ones who struggled to think of or spell words.

Tongue Twister Challenge

I showed them some Korean tongue twisters first to get them going (they loved that, and were very good at them). Then I showed them an easy English one (Unique New York) and explained the challenge setup: 2 teams, 5 minutes to practice the English tongue twister. Then Team 1 stands up and each member has to recite the tongue twister correctly in order. I time them with my phone. Team 2 does the same. Any mistakes or stumbles, they start over. I record their times. We’re going to have this challenge every day this week, with a different tt every time, and at the end of the week I’ll total up the times and give a prize to the team with the faster overall time.

They really got into this one. At first they all started mumbling, “Unique New York, Unique New York,” but I said hold up there, kiddos, that’s too easy. That was just an example. So today’s tt challenge was “Sally sells seashells by the seashore. The shells she sells are surely seashells.” The point isn’t for them to necessarily understand the meaning (tongue twisters are usually half-nonsense anyway), but to work on the pronunciation. It’s especially hard for Koreans to differentiate “see” and “she” because there isn’t really a “see” sound in Korean.

Then we did a summer-themed cloze worksheet, which was fairly easy for the high level kids but a bit of a struggle for the low level ones. I helped them and translated as many words as I knew in Korean, and then had each of them take turns reading a sentence from the text out loud.

Because I was determined not to work myself to death in planning these lessons, I pulled five worksheets from various ESL sites (which I now have listed on a separate page on this blog, “ESL Resources“). We’ll do one per day.

We were running short on time at that point, so instead of doing the full final activity I’d planned (look at screenshots of a short video, try to guess and write what it will be about, then watch and discuss), we just watched the video and did a brief Q&A, and then I released them back into the wild, until tomorrow morning.

One final note, since I haven’t blogged for a while and have had this thought recently:

I’ve been eating lunch each weekday with whichever Korean teachers happen to be at school that day, including (sometimes) the principal and vice principal. As I sit there, eating quietly and letting the flow of Korean wash around me, I can’t help but feel sent back to childhood. Haven’t we all had the experience, when young, of sitting at the dinner table and listening to the grown-ups talk about things you can’t really understand, and you can’t participate in the conversation, so you just wait there until they say you can go?

At least the vice principal seems to take an… interest…? in me, as she keeps ordering the other teachers (in Korean) to ask me this or that (in English), like “Ask Maddy Teacher if she likes sushi. Ask!” “Is Maddy Teacher going to visit her family this summer? Ask her!” Before the flustered Korean teachers have to stress themselves out over asking me in English, I usually just answer the question in English, and they can all understand my simple answers. It’s amusing for everyone involved.

This may or may not be my last blog post until 2nd semester starts up in mid-August. We’ll see if anything hilarious happens during the rest of my classes this week.

Owning the label

I spent years of my life running from and denying this term. Getting angry and annoyed when people used it to describe me (which was often). Thinking that it was such a bad thing for a person to be. Wondering why it was so hard to avoid being labeled with it. Hating that I was it.

Shy.

Yes, world, I am shy. Okay?

For some reason, living in Korea has helped me to embrace the term. Until recently, I’d never even considered that “shy” doesn’t have to be a negative thing.

Why is shy so bad, anyway?

First definition on Google:

  1. being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people.

And this is bad because…?

Personally, I don’t feel nervous when I’m with other people (and I assume I don’t look nervous… hopefully), but if I don’t know the people very well, the words reserved, quiet, and even timid definitely apply. And I just don’t see how that earns a negative connotation.

We’re not talking about social anxiety here, which is NOT the same thing as being shy and is, arguably, objectively a bad thing because it creates discomfort or pain for the person experiencing it. Maybe people who have social anxiety are frequently called “shy” by other people, but social anxiety goes deeper than that – but that’s a whole ‘nother topic (and I’ve already done an anxiety/mental health post this week, so for the sake of this post we will talk exclusively about non-anxiety-driven shyness, so everything in the definition except “nervous” because nervous can have a negative meaning).

Anyway, shyness is neutral, people.

A few months ago, I had a lesson on personality with an after-school class. After teaching them a variety of personality trait words (kind, lazy, funny, shy, honest, mean, etc.), I told them to circle the positive or good traits and put a square around the negative or bad traits. When it came to “shy,” a lot of them didn’t know what to do. I told them it’s not good or bad.

I think if I had done this activity with American students, most if not all of them would’ve labeled shy as negative. And that’s sad.

As a child and teen, I had this notion instilled in me that shyness was like an illness or a bad habit. Something I needed to grow out of. Something that would impede my attempts to be successful as an adult.

Well, guess what?

It’s not. It wasn’t. It hasn’t.

I may never be that person networking and getting great job opportunities through my social connections, but that was never a big goal of mine anyway. I want to work doing something I love and enjoy (which, ironically, involves working with people), and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last year and a half, and for 10 years before that in America.

I may never be that person who goes to a new place or event or party and comes away with dozens of new friends and contacts, but that was also never a big goal of mine. I like having my small group of close friends. Do I need friends and family? Absolutely, 100% yes. Please don’t equate shy or reserved with antisocial or hermit. I need people in my life. I want to be social sometimes too. But my social bar fills up more quickly than some others.

I may never be that person who, after meeting someone for the first time, leaves a fantastic first impression and makes the other person think “Wow, what a hilarious, amazing, cool person!” But that’s okay. Do I sometimes wish I could be like that? Of course. I see these vibrant, outgoing people and think, Their social skills are so fluent. I wish I could be so smooth when meeting new people! But again, it’s okay. There are all kinds of people in this world, and we can’t all be outgoing and super friendly and funny – just like we can’t all be introverted and reserved and shy (thank God! no one would ever talk to each other ever!).

I guess I started thinking about this more because since arriving in Korea, many coworkers (English teachers and other teachers/school staff) have mentioned my shyness. But it doesn’t seem to have the same connotation here as it would in America. It’s just like “Oh, you’re shy” in the same way one might say “Oh, you have brown eyes” or “Oh, you’re tall.” The only reason they seem to think it strange is that I break their stereotype about all Americans being boisterous and outgoing. Heehee.

Anyway, if you are a shy person and you want to work on not being shy, I will cheer you on. If you are miserable about being shy, then definitely go for it, challenge yourself to be talkative and outgoing and meet new people. I’ve met really, really outgoing people who have admitted to me that they used to be shy and really worked on it and overcame it. So don’t despair! You can change certain aspects of your personality.

But my point is, shyness shouldn’t be seen as something that must be overcome. It’s not necessarily a problem or a negative. If you’re like me, content with being reserved and quiet in certain social situations, then don’t let other people make you feel like it’s a bad thing. Because IT’S NOT.

If someone accuses you of being shy or quiet (the dreaded “You’re so quiet!”), just own it. You don’t have to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable (easier said than done, I know), because you’re not doing anything wrong. And you don’t need to explain it to anyone. Does an extroverted person ever have to explain why they’re outgoing and like to chat? No? Then you don’t need to explain why you’re quiet.

Best of luck on your arduous path, fellow shy people. And for those who enjoy being outgoing and extroverted, I hope this can give you a little insight and understanding for us strange shy ones.

living alone vs. living isolated

The weather is lovely today, not too hot or too cold. It’s sunny. Birds are singing outside my office window (which I’ve left open in spite of the fact that my allergies are clearly kicking in, in all their sneeze-inducing, nose-stuffing, chest-tightening glory).

ALL my kids are on a camping trip today and tomorrow, and most of the Korean teachers went with the kids as chaperones, which means I have the school all to myself (basically) in glorious silence.

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Well okay not literally but close enough.

It’s perfect timing; later this week, I’ll be reviewing everything we’ve covered till now for the midterm exam, and I’ve been wanting to make some really fun/cool Pokemon-themed PowerPoint games for that. This year I’ve mostly avoided PPT “bomb” games in normal class and tried out other kinds of games with them, but of course the kids love the bomb games the most. Since they’re studying their little brains out for midterms, now seems like a good time for a treat. A lot of them seem to like Pokemon, or at least Pikachu because he’s cute. And themed games (with music, GIFs, and maybe even videos embedded along the way) get them much more excited than a regular “bomb game” template.

Anyway, the point is that staying alone in the office made me think about living alone in general.

For someone like me, living alone is pretty much THE BEST. Peace and quiet, no interruptions, setting your own schedule and your own free time and meal times. I have hermitish tendencies that can make me forget entirely about the need for socialization sometimes.

And it is a need. I would go crazy if I never went out of the house. It’s just that A) my need for social time builds up much more slowly than in, say, an extrovert, and B) even when the need to socialize or at least GET OUT OF THE DARN HOUSE is making me stir-crazy, sometimes it still takes an extra self-administered kick in the pants to actually go out.

Not because I feel depressed or anxious about it. I know logically that going out, even if it’s only walking to the grocery store and looking around and not buying anything (except ice cream because you know, I can’t just walk past the ice cream), will give me a little dopamine brain boost for changing up the scenery and the routine. But being alone at home in yoga pants is so much more comfortable.

Until it’s not, because if I allow myself to stay in that comfort zone too long, it becomes isolation rather than solitude, and loneliness instead of peace.

Maybe you’d think that living in a foreign country is enough to push you out of your comfort zone – and for a while, it is – but honestly, we will all build and rebuild our comfort zones no matter where we are. I can stay in my little bubble of introversion every day if I want to, but is that really what I should be doing while I’m living as an expat?

Today was one of those days that I had push myself not to take the isolated path. When the VP sent a message to the handful of teachers deskwarming at school (including me), “식사하러 오세요~” (Come and eat lunch) – instead of hiding out in my office with the excuse of “I couldn’t understand the Korean” (which I could’ve gotten away with even though it’s not true), I put on my brave grown-ass woman pants and went down to the 2nd floor office, where a group of teachers welcomed me kindly.

While we ate, I taught them that “jjim” means braised, and braised is the word for the kind of cooking used. (Because of course we had 해물찜, fish jjim, for lunch today. See “The Bad” in this post for more of my thoughts on fish jjim.) And that “shikhye” can be called “sweet rice drink” in English. Not that we have anything close to this sweet-tasting, watery concoction with paper-like grains of rice floating in the bottom. I’m actually kind of a fan of shikhye, but some foreigners hate it because of the weird rice texture – probably like how some people dislike bubble tea because of the tapioca ball texture.

sikhye-korean-sweet-rice-punch-c
Shikhye (kimchimari.com). Usually the rice all sinks to the bottom, though.

When I tried to help clean up afterwards, they shooed me out good-naturedly (“OK OK, yes, bye bye!”), and so now here I am back in my office, playing with Pokemon GIFs, with a very confused fly buzzing drunkenly around the florescent lights to keep me company (and/or drive me crazy with his incessant buzzing).

I guess this rambling post was an attempt both to give insight into the mind of an introvert and to remind myself that one massive leap out of one particular bubble of comfort (i.e. moving to Korea 1 year ago) does not adequately cover the rest of my life. It’s much easier to learn and grow when you’re pushing yourself than when you’re sitting in your pajamas in your comfort zone.

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.

grateful

I had a housewarming party today.

The party consisted of my two closest co-teachers and myself. They pretty much invited themselves over, which is totally cool because they’re the best. I’m most comfortable with them out of any of my coworkers here.

I will say, though, that my apartment has never been cleaner.

(in the process I found a spider in the corner of my closet. 10 minutes, a rolled-up newspaper, and half a Kleenex box later, the issue was resolved but I spent the next 15 minutes googling and image searching “venomous spiders Korea” just in case. (it wasn’t deadly.) (regardless, I then had a case of the creepy crawlies for the next 20 minutes.))

Anyway, they arrived at 7 p.m. and brought gifts: dishes and tissues and laundry detergent (the latter two are traditional Korean housewarming gifts).

We ate jjimdak (which is NOT evil fish jjim, but a mildly spicy chicken, potato, carrot, and onion stew which is delicious – picture at link) and strawberries and cinnamon cake and chatted for over 3 hours. One of these two women no longer works at my school, so we caught up on her school and compared notes re: students, coworkers, schedules, principals and vice principals. We talked about how school went last year. About our stress. Our insecurities. Our future goals.

These women are 10+ years older than me, but somehow – and this is where the gratitude comes in – the three of us have formed this friendship of sorts.

[[In Korean culture, it is actually impossible to be “friends” with someone who is not the exact same age as you. You can be “close” with them, but the Korean word 친구 (chingu) is only for people born the same year as yourself. If there is an age difference, even of just a year, you have to use different titles to refer to them rather than the word “friend.”]]

But anyway, as we sat cross-legged on my floor eating strawberries and chatting up a storm, I just kept reflecting on how grateful I am for them. They are two amazing women: kind, strong, honest, smart, considerate, and very supportive of me in and out of school.

As the night came to an end, we shared mutual relief that tomorrow is Sunday, not Monday, and promised to try to meet once a month like this amid our busy schedules.

so.

i am grateful.

the end.

vacations are wonderful things

Particularly in the education field, I feel, but just generally speaking, who doesn’t need a vacation once in awhile? I think we don’t even realize how the daily wear and tear is affecting us sometimes, but coming back to work after a good vacation is so refreshing (provided you like your job at least a little bit, I guess).

I spent the last 2 weeks in America on a surprise visit. It was so fun to surprise family and friends, lovely to spend time with them after a year apart, and strange but nice to feel things clicking back into place almost as if I’d never left.*

*With a few exceptions, mostly related to social interactions.

– Weird: Within 5 minutes of stepping off the plane onto good old American soil airport floor, a random stranger made small talk with me about the crazy length of the customs line. I was weirded out. Why is this human I don’t know talking to me? Then I realized how handy it is that everyone speaks my language when I asked another random stranger a question about the customs computer check-in. Then I eavesdropped on 5 different conversations because I could actually understand them and felt weird again.

– Troubling: I was never pro at small talk or glib conversation, but after a year in a country where small talk is nonexistent and I get by speaking in fragmented sentences which nix all parts of speech but the most essential, simplified nouns and present-tense verbs, I find myself to be much more awkward and not-ready-with-natural-comebacks than usual.

– Encouraging: I noticed that I am no longer too timid to ask questions of doctors, hygienists, and store clerks (I was always the person who would rather search around for 20 minutes than ask where something is). I also no longer rehearse what I’m going to say before making a phone call, which is truly progress. Phone phobia is a real thing, people.

The problem with expat life, though, is that once you’ve established a home in a foreign country, you will forever be missing your other home no matter which country you’re in.

So, it was nice to arrive back in Korea yesterday. It felt like coming home – a completely different experience from arriving here a year ago, when I had no clue what I was getting into or where I was headed.

And today, the first day of February 2016, here I am back at my desk and back to blogging. This is an interim week between “winter break” (month of January) and “spring break” (month of February), so all the kids are back today. Apparently I don’t have to teach any classes, but the other teachers do. Friday is graduation day for the 3rd graders, who are moving on to high school in March.

This arrangement is beyond nice for me, since this week I can use the deskwarming time to start planning for next semester (if my productivity levels stay as high as I want them to), and then I get more vacation days for the Lunar New Year (Seollal) from Feb 8-10.

My only complaint this morning was that the school apparently maxed out our electricity limit or something, because every office and classroom was getting about 5 minutes of heat followed by 10-15 minutes of no heat whatsoever (on a rotating basis). Believe me, that 5 minutes of heat was not doing much good for my frozen fingers and toes.

But now, post-lunch, we seemingly have our act together and the heat is staying on. Woohoo!

To return to this post’s title, I have to say that this mundane Monday felt fresh for me because of my extended vacation away from school (and away from Korea!).

The greeting song that blares through the loudspeakers (like, you can hear it from the street…) every single morning at 8:15 a.m. filled me with nostalgia, recalling my first day of teaching and hearing this song that morning.

Here’s the song so you can also experience the EXTREME CHEERFULNESS!

Everything today is great – the school smell (my school has this smell that, if I pay attention, takes me directly back to my first day here – not unpleasant, not a specific odor from a food or something, just a smell which I can’t describe!), the other teachers, lunch in the cafeteria.

Lunch was that spicy yet bland soup that is just spiciness and bean sprouts, which is normally tiresome, but today I ain’t even mad.

image

For one thing, I haven’t had school lunch in like a month since the cafeteria was closed for winter break during January, even when I was at school to deskwarm. I missed the hot lunches.

Plus, forget about that spicy-bland sprout soup, we had potatoes with chicken. I love me some potatoes. Just give me potatoes with whatever the rest of the meal is and I’ll be happy. And rice! After eating rice on the daily for a year, 2 weeks without it starts to feel like a nutritional deficiency. Rice is da best.

Getting a little sidetracked here (when am I not?), but I’m really grateful that the school lunches force me to eat at least one healthy meal per day (meaning lots of vegetables, some protein, and little carbs or sugar). One major thing I did notice in America was that I had headaches every day and felt kind of sluggish and tired (and I don’t really get jet-lagged, so it wasn’t that). I’m pretty sure it was diet-related, either the high carbs or the excess dairy or sugar or something. I think it’s something you definitely have to get away from and return to in order to notice the difference that diet can have on your energy levels and general wellbeing.

Okay, signing out for today.

having adventures before 9 a.m.

But when is it not an adventure for an expat living here? I mean really.

This week I had camp at my small school, and I went there every day. Except today, Friday. I was scheduled to deskwarm at my main school today. Because where I’m parking my butt to surf the web and potentially plan future lessons (but mostly idly pass the time until 4:20 p.m.) matters, dang it.

The vice principal here had told me (via my co-teacher) that today, rather than sitting alone in the 4th floor office as I usually do, I should join her and a few other teachers in the 2nd floor office. Okay, no problemo VP. I got this.

8:15 a.m. – I arrive at the 2nd floor office. Most of the lights are off. A lone teacher wanders about inside looking lost. She asks me in Korean if I know where the light switch is. Nope, I do not. Do I know when the VP will arrive? Don’t know that either. We sit in the dark. We wait. She brings me coffee, black. I grasp it for warmth.

8:22 a.m. – VP arrives. Knocks on the normally automatic sliding doors. Lone teacher goes over there. Doors won’t open. Power is off? VP has to sheepishly go around to the other set of sliding doors that are actually working (the ones I fortuitously came through already). This is not a promising start for the VP’s already-normally-unhappy mood.

8:23 a.m. – VP comes in through the working doors. We greet her. She doesn’t know where the lights are either. What the hell? Is there a designated turner-on-of-lights in this office? VP goes to hide out in the break room until help arrives. There is no computer at the desk I was offered. It’s going to be a long day. I sip my coffee as slowly as possible to pass the time.

8:30 a.m. – The turner-on-of-lights arrives. He is one of the head teachers, and he can speak some English, and he and I have had coffee and conversations in the past. I am glad to see him. The lone teacher is glad to see him, too. She tells him how she tried for 30 minutes to find the switch. (Turns out it’s outside the office door. Strange.) He turns on the power for the other sliding doors. She tells him how the VP was locked out. He laughs. She quickly tells him the VP is in the break room (out of sight but not out of hearing range). He laughs again. Brave.

8:35 a.m. – A woman from administration arrives. I’m so relieved. She is a really kind person. I was hoping she’d be working today. Maybe she’ll let me use one of the trillion computers in this office.

8:36 a.m. – VP emerges. She talks to the teachers. She sounds angry. I’m not sure if that’s her normal voice or if she actually is angry. It’s scary. The teachers look like they’re used to it. I look around. I wonder if I can fill the hours and amuse myself by observing the interactions between VP and teachers and analyzing the psychology of it all.

8:45 a.m. – The head teacher who knew how to turn on the lights approaches me. He says I can go to the 4th floor if I want. I murmur quietly, afraid that the VP knows the words “vice principal” in English: “The vice principal told me to come here today.” He understands. He pauses, then dares to ask the VP in Korean whether I can go upstairs. She doesn’t deign to respond. He bravely pushes on: “It doesn’t matter?” She snaps a response. Fear strikes my heart, but the head teacher gives me a knowing nod and gesture. “Go?” I mouth. “Go,” he mouths back. What a hero. I scurry out like a mouse before the VP can change her mind.

8:48 a.m. – I head downstairs to pick up the 4th floor office key from the security/admin office. Usually there is just 1 admin person in there. Today all 5 of them are in, and they’re having a little party and one of them is cutting mangoes. They wave me over and ply me with mangoes and coffee. I say I already drank coffee. “One more,” laughs the older man with salt-and-pepper hair. I accept.

8:50 a.m. – They’re so jovial and friendly. This is in complete contrast to the atmosphere of the 2nd floor office. I feel sorry for those teachers. I feel that working in admin and security here must be nice. They chat in Korean and English. They ask me how old I am, how tall I am. “I’m Tom Cruise,” grins the salt-and-pepper man. “If you’re Tom Cruise, I’m Angelina Jolie,” scoffs one of the women in Korean. Everyone laughs. They ask about my boyfriend. They ooh and ah when I say he’s Korean. They tell me I have Korean mannerisms (I would hope so, after living here this long). The main admin guy, the mango-slicer, explains to them that next year I will only work at my small school. They groan and pout. I’m surprised, since I only see them for 15 seconds at a time, on these deskwarming days of vacation, to pick up the office key. I guess they see me around. I guess they like me. I like them, too. Like a student, the salt-and-pepper man says to me, “I will go to [Small School] next year.” The oldest man in the group repeats in Korean, “Did you say you’re going to [Small School] next year?” Everyone laughs again.

9:05 a.m. – Finally I take the key and bow out of the office. They wave goodbye. What a lovely group of people. I almost wish I could deskwarm in the security office today. But then I get to the 4th floor, and sit down at my quiet desk and remember that it’s pretty nice to have an entire office to myself.

9:15 a.m. – Adventures are not quite over yet. The head teacher (a.k.a. the hero who saved me) knocks on the door. He checks to make sure the heat is on (it is). He says, haltingly, “Maybe… you will be more comfortable here.” I agree. He laughs. He chats with me for a moment about his teacher training this week. I want to thank him for getting me access to this office, but I think he knows I’m grateful. He says, “Enjoy your time,” and leaves me to the silent, comfortable office. As he closes the door, I turn to the keyboard and begin furiously typing up this blog post before I forget the details.

Always an adventure.

On 회식 and other matters, again

I’m back, people.

I’m not here to talk about Christmas and all that – although mine was nice and I hope yours was too. Especially for those expats in Korea who feel glum at the general lack of Christmas cheer here compared to, say, America.

But today, my friends, we are talking about 회식*. A bookend post, if you will, to complement the one I wrote so very long ago, at the start of the semester.

*회식 (hweshik): A basically mandatory company/staff dinner. Usually accompanied by one, two, or all of the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Karaoke
  • “Round 2” (second drinking/karaoke location)
  • “Round 3” (third drinking/karaoke location)
  • etc…
  • Shared hangovers the next morning at work

I’m extremely lucky in that my school is the classy mature one that goes out for a quiet dinner, with Chilsung Cider (Korean Sprite) as the main beverage, and wraps it all up within an hour and a half. Little alcohol, no hangover, and for heaven’s sake no singing.

This was a bookend 회식 of sorts, after all. We had one to ring in the new school year, and today we had one to bid it farewell (or perhaps just to say “good riddance, took you long enough to be over”).

This was a main school dinner, and I worked at my small school today, so my main co-teacher picked me up after work. We went to a sushi and pasta buffet place, which was perfectly okay with me. I’m totally up for Korean food, but knowing that I’d be able to A) choose my own foods and B) not sit on the floor was a plus.

I’ve reached that awkward stage of language learning where I can garner meaning from about 50-80% of the conversation around me (provided there’s a little context and/or they’re about simple everyday things like school, family, food, etc), but don’t have the grammar / vocabulary / courage to contribute.

Tonight, there were quite a few conversations revolving around my school transfer next year. My co-teacher had to keep explaining how I really really wanted to stay with my main school, but the Office of Education’s decision was non-negotiable.

Then there was a weird moment when one of the head teachers sat down and talked with my co-teacher for a good long while. He was talking about me, and then about the previous native English teachers at the school:

Him (in Korean): “Anna*, and what was his name…”

My co-teacher (in Korean): “Hmm, what was it…”

Me: “Jake*.”

Them (in Korean, barely noticing my helpful interruption): “Ah, Jake*!” (continuing their conversation)

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Kidding, but it seems like the right thing to do.

Sigh.

Seriously, though, they talked for a long time, blah blah blah Madeleine Teacher, blah blah blah Anna and Jake Teachers, blah blah blah… and after all of that, when he walked away, my co-teacher said, “He said he wants to invite you to his home to tutor his daughter.”

Ha. Ha ha ha.

No.

If he wants to pay me for it, it’s illegal. Public school NET contracts explicitly state that there are NO tutoring-on-the-side type jobs allowed. You work for the Korean government, and that’s it.

And if he thinks I’m going to do it for free… well, sorry, dude, but no.

Also, I’m not even going to be working for his school in a few months’ time!!

But I politely smiled and said, “Maybe,” and my co-teacher said, “If you don’t want to, I can tell him.”

She gets me.

Also, there’s no way that that’s all he said during that lengthy conversation, but guess I’ll have to let that one go.

After two buffet plates (and a beer which was kindly forced upon me by the same head teacher. oh, how I hate beer), I was beyond full. My co-teacher and I made eye contact like Let’s get out of here. Our two tablemates had already gone. (Instead of all sitting at an enormously long, low table, which is Korean style dining, we had scattered throughout the back area of the restaurant in groups of 4, 8, and 12.)

Just then, the principal walked up to my table. I hastily pushed away the beer, not really sure if it’s better to be seen drinking or not drinking or maybe just placing a casual hand on the glass as if to say “Yeah, I might drink a little” or maybe – oops, too late, he was upon us.

This principal is fond of practicing his English with me. He and I have been kinda like buddies this year. (As much as that is even possible within the Korean hierarchy. My being a foreigner helps break the hierarchical barriers a bit.)

Principal: “Maddy, you know something? We must eat four plates.”

Me: “Oh. Really?” (Then, as he walked away beckoning me to follow, I realized what he meant. Then I wondered how he knew I’d eaten three plates, if you counted the plate of fruit and dessert that my tablemates and I shared. Then I wondered whether that’s creepy stalking or just pure chance. And then I felt the food pushing against the inside of my stomach and thought about how awful it would be to add another mouthful of sushi to that bloated feeling. And then I realized he was coming back to see why I wasn’t following him.

Principal: “Maddy, did you understand me? We must eat four plates. Come with me.”

Co-teacher (in a desperate attempt to save me, awesome person that she is): “Oh, she’s full…”

Principal: *ignoring our plebeian desires*

Me (to my co-teacher as I got up from the table): “Oh no…”

The principal led me to the buffet line. “Ladies first,” he said. I took a plate, and just as I turned to the rows and rows of sushi and wondered just how much he expected me to eat for this mandatory fourth plate, he said:

“Maddy. We tried really hard to stop your transfer. But they said, ‘What’s done is done.’ Do you understand me?”

I understood. And then I understood that it was not about the fourth plate at all, but about wanting to tell me, privately, that he did want me to stay and he did try to make that happen. And that was confirmed when I watched him wander about the line, put nothing on his plate, and then go back to the table.

(Honestly, I’m not sure why he couldn’t have told me with my co-teacher there, but nevertheless I appreciate his effort, dramatic though it may be.)

And then I went back to the table, and my co-teacher and I dashed out of there super quick, before anyone else could make us eat any more food or drink any beer or goodness knows what else.

All in all, it was a bit of a strange evening, but when I was dropped off at my door by 6:45 p.m. and was in my pajamas 5 minutes later, I can’t really complain.

strange aloneish thoughts in crowded places

Prescript (as in Postscript, but before not after): Please note that if you want to read about the title of today’s post, you need to scroll down. A lot. I kind of rambled. Sorry.

Today I signed a piece of paper (several pieces, actually).

Those pieces of paper state that I will remain in Korea as an ESL teacher (working with EPIK) for another year.

Ultimately I knew I would regret staying here at least 1% less than going home this spring. So, I’m staying. The “adventures in Korea” chapter of my life isn’t quite finished yet.

Of course, my decision wouldn’t be complete without a good old Korean surprise. Just 1 week prior to contract signing day, I received the news that I will teach exclusively at my small school next year.

You know that tight, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you get unexpected bad news?

This means that I won’t be able to teach my lovely, bright, hilarious, sweet students from my main school next year.

Hence the “change is hard” post from a few days ago.

This week I went through a very mild version of the 5 stages of grief.

  1. Denial- First, a mix of emotions rising up in my chest without words, then “No way, this can’t be right.” I felt dazed, like someone hit me in the head.
  2. Anger- “Why would they change it? Why didn’t they tell me earlier? Why don’t I have a say in this?” (sidenote: it’s in my contract. I’d already agreed that I don’t have a choice about where I work before I even arrived in Korea. this was the crazy desperate voice in my head.)
  3. Bargaining- Emails and messages sent to the Office of Education, my co-teachers, and anyone else who would listen, asking if there was some way to change it (there isn’t).
  4. Depression- Considered backing out of my contract for a minute. Consumed with the sadness of not seeing my main school kids next year, of being replaced by some other random person, of them forgetting me within the year.
  5. Acceptance- Thankfully I managed to pass through to this stage within a week, since that’s all the time I had before contract signing day.

I’m exaggerating a bit to make light of my situation. Obviously this is a first world problem and I know it’s time to suck it up and move forward, commit myself to teaching at the school that will now be my only focus.

The most painful thing is thinking of the 1st graders. Although I stopped teaching them in the middle of this semester (so that I could teach 2nd grade), I never said goodbye to them properly. I (foolishly) assumed that I would be back next year to be their 2nd grade teacher.

The fact that they said to me, “Come back next year!” and I said, “Yes, I will!” kills me. It also kills me that a new NET will be teaching “my” kids. Sigh.

Anyway, let’s get to the actual title of this post.

So I went to the Office of Education Center of sorts for the contract renewal meeting. I found myself sitting in a small auditorium in a sea of foreigners (about 40 of them). I felt extremely strange and uncomfortable.

Korea, you are not doing anything for my casual socializing ability.

Not that I had a great deal to begin with. (See: introversion)

I mean, walking around the streets, and even going to work each day, I never ever ever have to make small talk. I never even feel pressure to say a single word most days. In fact I think I’ve actually had days where, outside of teaching class, I haven’t said a single word to anybody except hello and goodbye. It’s not antisocial, it’s just not necessary – and sometimes it’s too much work. I’ve written before about the comfortable bubble of protection that the language barrier creates for an introvert.

So here I am, watching people find their cliques and chatter loudly (why are Westerners so LOUD?! I suppose it’s just because I can’t easily tune out their English conversations like I can with Korean).

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Me, essentially. P.S. if you love Mr. Darcy raise your hand. *raises hand*

Sitting alone with my aloneish thoughts.

Thoughts like…

– Other than the slightly humiliating stigma of being a loner when everyone else seems to have a friend group, I prefer this. It feels superficial and daunting to chat with people who clearly already have a clique. Do you know how hard it is to break into people’s cliques?? To me, it’s just not worth the effort, especially considering that in my daily life I have little opportunity or desire to meet up with them at clubs and bars. (Sidenote: I understand that other people may disagree. Kudos. I envy your mad socializing skills.)

– Why is the heat blasting. It’s not even that cold outside.

– Oh, look, there’s that guy. He was at my orientation. Oh and apparently he knows that girl from that one training seminar. Wow, guess they’re a part of that one clique. Who knew all these people would be renewing.

(after frantically scrabbling my fingers around in the bottom of my huge laptop bag) YES! I do have a pen! I’m not that person who forgot to bring a pen to an important contract-signing meeting! I AM THE BEST!

– Dang it’s hot.

– Should I avoid making eye contact with this person whose name I know because she was in my orientation group but she probably doesn’t know who I am anymore? Oh shoot we made eye contact. What do I do? Awkward tight-lipped smile, yes. That’s the way to go.

– I am SO glad I don’t have to meet an entirely new set of CTs and adjust to a new school. However, it’s amusing as names are called and foreign teachers and Korean teachers have to find each other and have that anxious, awkward first meeting.

– Oh thank goodness my amazing CT finally got here. I AM NO LONGER ALONE.

At this point she and I had to sit in on a quick meeting specifically for the Korean teachers about paperwork, and then we skedaddled out of there as fast as possible. And she drove me home because she’s awesome like that.

Hopefully this doesn’t make me sound like a social outcast. Or a sociopath. I promise I’m not. Well, I’m not a sociopath anyway.

Honestly, the expat scene in Korea is just not my style. Making friends with people who will only be here for 6 months or a year seems like a whole lot of effort.

Also, there are well-established cliques. I’ve already stated my feelings towards cliques. It’s great when you’re in one, but when you’re not it’s just kind of vaguely annoying to be around them.

Also, most (not all) foreigners like to party hard in the downtown areas. I like to watch YouTube in my pajamas.

So those are my excuses. Poke holes in them if you want. I’m content with my life here, and I’m certainly not unfriendly or unkind to the foreigners I do interact with.

Just do your own thing, people. Socialize and be outgoing if you want, or don’t. Dance to the beat of your own drum. Don’t worry too much about what other people think of you. (Don’t do mean and stupid stuff either though.)

If you need me I’ll probably be at home, wearing my pajamas and a fleece blanket, watching my Christmas tree lights dance on my ceiling and eating ice cream.

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Both GIFs in this post are from that simultaneously wonderful and horrible place, tumblr.