Today was a good day.

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

Highlights include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?)

Mood

Teaching.

Confident.

Inspired.

Relaxed.

Happy.

Spring.

Light.

This has been my mood over the last few weeks. Mood isn’t just a feeling like ‘sad’ or ‘happy’. There are so many components to mood. And since I’m taking the liberty of defining it broadly…

AMC’s The Walking Dead.

A bit late to the party, I’m a few episodes into Season 4 now and my hypochondria has me 1000x more terrified of [what happens at the start of Season 4] than the zombies I’m supposed to be scared of. I’m that person who can’t watch any type of horror because undoubtedly I will spend the next 2 weeks lying in bed at night in stark fear with all the lights on, trying to push that darkness away from my mind.

But for me, zombie stories get a pass because at its core, a good zombie story is about human psychology, weakness, strength, good, evil, faith, hope, love, the struggle for survival and/vs. morality.

The fundamental premise of a well-crafted zombie saga is something that applies even to our mundane (and thankfully zombie-less) lives: It’s not about whether you live or die; it’s about what you do with the time you have left. Can you hold on to your sense of right and wrong in the face of stark fear? Can you remain kind and good and human (in a spiritual sense) while every day is a physical, mental, and emotional fight for survival? Can you remain open and helpful to the people around you, even if you’ve lost everything? And can you really blame the ones that don’t or can’t do all those things?

The Walking Dead delivers on all of that immensely.

It’s brutal, relentless, chilling, heartbreaking, poignant, beautiful, and inspiring.

daryl
The real MVP. Love him. Also, I googled this image at my own risk while carefully guarding my eyes against spoilers.

First Aid Kit. (Which, incidentally, pairs well with Walking Dead. Matching moods.) They’re a Swedish sister duo singing American-style folk/country music. It’s so melancholy. I love melancholy.

More specifically, this is my mood these days:

What if our hard work ends in despair?
What if the road won’t take me there?
Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold

What if to love and be loved’s not enough?
What if I fall and can’t bear to get up?
Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold
We could stay gold

(The song references this poem.)

And also:

I don’t know if I’m scared of dying
But I’m scared of living too fast, too slow

Regret, remorse, hold on, oh no I’ve got to go
There’s no starting over, no new beginnings
Time races on
And you’ve just gotta keep on keeping on

Something good comes with the bad
A song’s never just sad
There’s hope, there’s a silver lining
Show me my silver lining

I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I’ve made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won’t take the easy road


postscript. where have i been? after my trip to america last month, i resolved not to blog anymore. the main reason was blogging felt whimsical and unnecessarily vulnerable while i was surrounded by my old life, i guess. it felt silly. so i put it aside.

but today i was brimming with this mood that made me want to write. so, maybe i’ll blog again. maybe.

sunset-gyeongju
Sometimes, the Land of the Morning Calm really is calm.

A Musical Profile

Having contemplated music a couple days ago in passing, I decided to frankenstein this tag together from various “music tag” questions around the internet as a more interesting way for me to write about my own musical preferences.

I’m sure my tastes are a bit polarizing since I tend to stay within a very specific sound and emotional range (i.e. melancholy, grey*, pensive, perhaps existential, angsty and/or lovelorn indie pop & folk). Not that I don’t listen to other stuff, but that’s my home base as it were.

I’m not trying to take myself too seriously here. I’m no music connoisseur. I just like doing these tags, and have ever since my friends and I used to forward them back and forth via email, when that was a thing like 15 years ago. Now they just float around Facebook and YouTube and annoy people, but come on, we all secretly want to fill them out, right?

1. Favorite bands/artists:

Bands: Bastille, Sea Wolf, Walk Off the Earth.

Artists: Gabrielle Aplin, Ingrid Michaelson, Kimbra, Regina Spektor, Sia, Ron Pope.

2. One band you always come back to:

The Beatles.

3. Favorite movie Korean drama soundtrack:

City Hunter, Playful Kiss, and Master’s Sun.

4. What is/are your favorite song(s) of all time?

Since I can’t choose one or even a few, here are my Top 10 at the moment (in no particular order and I’ll probably change my mind later):

5. What was the last song you listened to?

“The Anchor” by Bastille

6. Most embarrassing song on your iTunes:

Ashley Tisdale 😂😂😂

7. Top 3 most played songs on your iTunes:

I no longer have iTunes on my computer, but if I recall correctly from before I came to Korea:

  • “All You Had To Do Was Stay” by Taylor Swift
  • “October Trees” by Ron Pope
  • “Things We Lost in the Fire” by Bastille

8. Favorite concert you’ve attended:

I have never attended a concert. *oops*

9. First album you ever bought?

I think it was “With The Beatles” on CD.

10. Favorite album of all time?

“Human Again”, “Everybody”, or “Girls and Boys” by Ingrid Michaelson. “Bad Blood” by Bastille. “English Rain” by Gabrielle Aplin. Was I supposed to just pick one?

11. Favorite song that is also the only song you know by that band/artist?

“The Daylight” by Andrew Belle“So Cold” by Ben Cocks, “Where To Now” by Cider Sky, “C’mon Through” by Lasse Lindh.

12. Do you share any musical tastes with your parents? Does it put you off when they like the same music as you?

When I was a teenager, of course I tried to avoid liking the same music as my parents. But considering the wide variety of genres and artists that they introduced me to, especially my dad, we inevitably have some overlap with each other, and I’m finally mature enough to think that’s nice. My mom and I like Taylor Swift (no hate please), and my dad liked Sia way before she was cool. Just as an example.

13. Three favorite genres of music?

Indie pop, indie folk, singer-songwriter (that counts, okay?).

14. Favorite guilty pleasure music?

Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton, ’90s and ’00s pop to remind me of growing up.

15. If you had to choose a song to listen to forever, what would it be?

If this question means only being able to listen to one song, but I can choose when to listen to it: “Strip Me” by Natasha Bedingfield.

“But Maddy, that isn’t even on your Top 10!” No, but my Top 10 songs are all kinda woeful and moody, and if I can only listen to one song for the rest of my life it’d better be something that can pick my spirits up and motivate me.

But if this means I’d have to listen to it on repeat, nonstop, no respite, forever: 4’33” by John Cage.


As I alluded to at the start of this post, the trouble with music is the same as the reason it’s so amazing: it’s different for every person. Each of us experiences music in a totally unique way, and therefore listening to someone else talk about their taste in music is never quite as fun as talking about your own taste in music… or simply experiencing your own taste in music.

Therefore feel free to answer these questions yourself in the comments (I’d be interested!) or on your own blog or in your own head or whatever. Whatever works for you.


*I spell grey the British way because that spelling seems more true to the color than gray. Grey is more grey than gray.

On the embracing of music and the acceptance of irrationality

*Edit: So it’s bugging me that I mixed the use of the verb “embracing” and the noun “acceptance” in the title, but I’m not going to change it. I just wanted to note it. In case it’s bugging anyone else.

So here we are in the midst of another week of deskwarming. (Well, here I am. I don’t know where you are.)

Each morning I half-jog through the breathtaking cold to school. I have enough walking time to listen to about 1.3 songs, so I have to choose carefully. These days I’ve been going through Bastille’s “Wild World” album, song by song.

There’s something to be said for learning an entire album by heart and deliberately embracing each of the songs on it, even if you don’t initially like some of them. Not to force yourself to be a “true fan” of a particular group – I dislike that attitude, personally – but to watch and feel how certain songs grow on you. After X number of listens, the lyrics or an inflection in the singer’s voice make you feel something. (You obviously have to start out with an artist you like, though.)

Plus, through repeated and dedicated listening, you get the added benefit of creating a powerful memory capsule embedded in that album, and even if those memories aren’t purely happy ones…

I attempted to write my next sentence several times before realizing that I’m only trying to paraphrase Joe Henry (“God Only Knows”), and he says it better, so:

The worst of life looks beautiful as it slips away in full retreat.

Yesterday I decided to publish my old Yeongju trip post, and I might publish one or two other lingering drafts as I finish up the first round of deskwarming this vacation season.

Next week I have vacation, which I managed to join with the Seollal (Lunar New Year) long weekend to get an even longer vacation.

After that it’s back to school for one of the more absurd aspects of the Korean academic year: the random February week.

The length and purpose of this week varies by school, but for my middle school we will have three random days of class (Thursday, Friday, and Monday in the first week of February) – and not even normal class, but classes that are 10 minutes shorter than the usual time – followed by a graduation ceremony for the 3rd years on Tuesday.

And that’s it. Then we’re back to vacation – “spring vacation” instead of “winter vacation” – until March 2nd.

Why?

WHY, KOREA??

I really can’t fathom the reason for this, as it needlessly breaks up the much-needed vacation time and accomplishes little to nothing in the way of education for the kids, since A) in 3 days with 35 minutes per class, there’s barely time to delve into any topic and B) they literally will not care since these classes have no bearing on their grades and all they’re thinking about is vacation.

I guess I have it easy, since I believe some elementary schools go for a full week or so. And it’s really not the end of the world to teach a few random classes, I suppose.

But I really dislike irrationality, especially when it’s so deeply and stubbornly ingrained in a system.

(If there is a plausible reason for this week being plopped in the middle of vacation, I will stand corrected.)

Thoughts on a Monday afternoon (mostly related to music seemingly)

Postscript which I am adding as a cautionary prologue: This is a heinously long post, and even though I told myself I would write fewer of these touchy-feely “aren’t my students so wonderful” posts and focus more on just quoting the funny things they say… alas, today I was feeling sentimental, and I’m afraid this post became far too verbose. Enter if you dare.

On trust

— As of this week, I’ve officially started to feel that bond with the kids at my smaller school that I felt with the 3rd graders at my main school long ago. I guess it makes sense that it would take longer to build trust and relationship with the students I only see once every 3 weeks.

It’s crazy how important trust is for effective teaching. Maybe you’re thinking, “Why do they need to ‘trust’ their ESL teacher? You’re just going into their classroom once a week / once every 3 weeks for 45 minutes, making them repeat some English expressions, playing a game with them, and leaving again. What part of that involves trust?”

True. It’s not quite the same as trust in the sense of “I’m trusting you with my money” or “I’m trusting you with my deep dark secret,” but it is a sort of trust nonetheless. I think I’ve written about it before, when it started happening at my main school. It’s moving from the vague “Oh there’s the foreign teacher” (on their part) and “Oh there are some B-level 3rd graders” (on my part) to a more personal bond and understanding.

If trust is “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something” (according to Google), I think the feeling I’m talking about can fit into that definition.

I know more about their individual personalities and class needs as a whole now, and so I can tailor my lessons around that. On the flip side, my students know that I have the best intentions for them, even if my activities sometimes flop or my lessons (or parts of them) aren’t always exciting. They give more effort because they trust that I’m going to give them my best, and in turn I produce better and better materials for them, and the cycle continues, building more trust and a more positive environment.

Last semester here, I felt more like an exhibit or a special event – “Every 3 weeks you can stare at the foreign teacher for 45 minutes instead of staring at your usual teachers.” Any progress I could make with them during that time, in terms of building a relationship, seemed completely lost 3 weeks later.

Now, finally, after an average of 7 or 8 classes with each grade/level here, I feel more like their teacher. ‘Bout time.

This definitely also has something to do with the fact that I now have 6 months of teaching experience versus being a complete noob in the 1st semester. Not saying 6 months is a lot, but it’s something. Developing a harmonious, familiar, friendly atmosphere with the co-teachers that I see just as infrequently as the students also helps.

On classroom fun

— On that note, I had my B-level 3rd graders today. Back at the start, I dreaded the week that I had class with them because my experience with them was that they were rowdy, did not listen, did not care, etc. Gradually they have become better and better, and now they are actually one of my favorite levels to teach (due to aforementioned trust/rapport).

Today we played a telepathy game. Their textbook lesson was on opinions and saying “In my opinion, blah blah blah.” So I gave them mini whiteboards and asked them opinion questions with 3 multiple choice options. (For example, “Which food is most delicious? A) Banana, B) Ice cream, C) Cheeseburger.”) They wrote A, B, or C on their whiteboards; I counted down “3, 2, 1, boards up!” They would hold up the board to reveal their answers. Then I’d say, “Ready, go!” and they would say the key expression together: “In my opinion [A, B, or C] is best.” Then I’d reveal the “lucky answer,” a.k.a. the one that matches my personal opinion, which was worth 1 point. (That’s where the telepathy part comes in – trying to read the teacher’s mind.)

They got really into this game, like way more than I expected. It’s simple enough for the lower level kids to play along and have fun, but engaging even for the higher levels. When they realized that in order to get the “lucky answer,” they had to try to guess which option I would choose, they got very excited and had intense debates with their partners.

Some of them have been paying attention when I constantly tell them that I love ice cream more than life itself (okay, I don’t tell them exactly that…), so they get that question right.

One question is “Which shirt is best?” with a red dressy blouse, a plain blue T-shirt, and a simple black long-sleeve. The answer is the black long-sleeve. Almost all of them have gotten this one right, because, as they proudly proclaim after the big reveal, “they know Teacher’s style.” (And honestly, my wardrobe does consist of mostly whites, grays, and blacks. It’s hard to find formal wear in flattering colors here.)

They become outraged when I reveal that in my opinion, 2NE1 is better than EXID and Big Bang is preferable to PSY.

When I ask, “Which game is best? A) Sudden Attack, B) Starcraft II, C) League of Legends,” the boys get very excited and choose C (I swear every Korean middle school boy plays LoL), then get very indignant and let down when I reveal the answer as A, and also that I haven’t actually played any of these games. Hehehe.

On music

— My soul feels very ’90s grunge/alt rock today. Do you experience this? Days, or at least moments, when you just need to listen to one particular type of music, not necessarily by the same artist, but in the same genre and with the same general mood? So today has been a day for “Creep,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Black Hole Sun,” “Zombie,” “Wonderwall,” and “Where Is My Mind” (technically not ’90s, but close enough).

These types of songs are the ones that surrounded my childhood without actually entering it much, since during the first decade of my life I mostly listened to whatever my parents were listening to, particularly my dad – which was in itself an eclectically healthy blend of genres, eras, and styles, from Peter Gabriel, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, R.E.M., Cake, and The Go-Go’s to Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, B.B. King, and Duke Ellington to Van Morrison, The Beatles, and Steely Dan to Mozart, Handel, and Beethoven. (I’m sure my dad will read this and point out that I missed some quintessential artists in this list!)(Because he is one of maybe 6 or 7 people who read this blog consistently. Heh heh.)(Hi Dad.)

Those are the artists that can bring me directly back into my childhood, with warm fuzzy visions of cozy nights at home after dinner… of “music parties” that lasted long past bedtime* with my dad acting as DJ and pulling out his record collection to introduce my siblings and me to a new band or singer… of parties with my parents’ friends and their kids, when I would be waiting for everyone to just go home already (yes, I’ve always been an introvert).

*Who am I kidding, we didn’t have “bedtime” in my house! As a family of homeschooling night owls, it just made more sense to keep our days and nights running a few hours later than those of everyone else. And it was awesome, might I add.

The ’90s pop and alt rock, then, became the cushioning around my memories of childhood – always there at the edges in a general sense, but not attached to anything specific. Many of the most popular artists at the time – Britney Spears, Jewel, Christina Aguilera, No Doubt, Backstreet Boys, Third Eye Blind, Nirvana, Oasis, and the MANY one-hit wonders of the ’90s (I’m talking “Ice Ice Baby,” “U Can’t Touch This,” “What Is Love,” “Stay (I Missed You),” “Closing Time,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Save Tonight,” “MMMBop,” “Tubthumping”… seriously, the ’90s has to be the decade with the most one-hit wonders ever, right?!) – were not particularly popular in our household. I never owned a single Britney, NSYNC, or Backstreet Boys album (were my sister and I possibly the only ’90s kids who didn’t?).

But even so, those songs bring me back to my childhood in an equally nostalgic but different way. I think everyone has songs that fit into these two categories: the kind that gives you specific strong memories, and the kind that gives you general nostalgia feels.

I guess this post turned into a music post. But that’s okay. Music is so universal and yet so personal that the discussion of it is endless. I think many people can almost tell their life story through music, whether chronologically or emotionally or whatever, and the varying ways that different people are touched by different genres and artists is fascinating. So go listen to some music and brighten up your Monday!