Another week slips by

I know it’s lazy of me to reuse the format I used in my last post, but it’s such an easy way to sum up moments from the week.


First Korean surprise in a long time. Today is supposed to be the first day of the speaking test for 1st & 2nd graders, as my co-teacher and I discussed and confirmed multiple times last week.

3 minutes before class, I happen to message my co-teacher to make sure she has the score sheets printed (because if she didn’t, I would print them).

2 minutes before class, she replies and says she’s moving the speaking test to next week because the students aren’t prepared.

Thankfully I have next week’s lessons pre-planned and ready to go, even at literally a minute’s notice. Proactive-ness to the rescue.


My 2nd graders are unusually cheerful for a Tuesday morning. For fun, I show them some optical illusions before we start the book. This is one of their favorites: Stare at the image below without moving your eyes. Try not to blink. See what happens.

Image result for picture that disappears when you stare at it

(As you stare, the colors should fade and eventually disappear.)

After the first one or two students react, there’s an outcry of “What? What?? I can’t see it! What is it?” and then someone explains and there’s a renewed staring effort. The chorus of “Ooh! 와~~!” as one kid after another experiences the illusion is so fun.


My 1st period class pushes my patience to the limits. I’m helping two kids in front with the textbook dialogue and there’s a crash in the back. One of the boys has just “accidentally” fallen out of his chair, and this was far from his first disturbance. My co-teacher is in the hallway lecturing a handful of kids that she’s pulled out of class.

Seeing the look on my face, another boy raises both fists and says solemnly, “Teacher, fighting*.” More or less like this:

Source: dramafever

*As I’ve written about previously, the expression “fighting/화이팅” equates to “you can do it” / I know it’s hard but don’t give up.” I found it semi hilarious coming from a student in this situation. Like, “Teacher I know we are being little terrors but I believe in you.”

On the way home, I stop at the local mart and the cashier, who is usually pretty solemn and stone-faced, starts chatting with me in Korean. She asks if I’m from Russia. Erm, no. I tell her I’m American. Then she explains it’s my eyes that look Russian. That’s a new one, but her next question (“are you married?”) is definitely not. She gives me a thumbs up when I reply that I am not. Awkward questions aside, the unexpected friendliness brightens my day.


It’s the first day of the last part of middle school for the 3rd graders, since they just finished final exams yesterday. I’m holding my breath in fear as I go into my first class with them, dreading an apathetic tooth-pulling experience, but they’re totally cheerful. We’re doing a belated Halloween lesson. They’re more engaged than they have been all semester. One of the low level kids who rarely speaks in class even remembered the name for candy corn from last year.

Later, a 3rd grader comes repentantly to my office to show me that while playing with his friends in the hallway, he somehow knocked off the “O” from the foam letters on the wall outside the classroom that spell “ENGLISH WORLD.”

“He break the world,” his classmate accused.


One of my 1st grade boys who’s usually pretty active in class has his head down on the desk. “What’s wrong?” I ask. “Are you sick? Headache? Or just tired?” (I always ask them this because if they’re sick I let them sleep – kids take way fewer sick days here than we would in the West and if they’re feeling miserable there’s no point in forcing them to study. They’re usually honest with me.)

The student pops his head an inch or two off the desk and says grimly, “I die.” Then he returns his head to the desk. (Translation: just tired. He perked up mighty quick when we started playing a game.)



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

Stage 1. The sore throat

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

Stage 2. The nasal congestion

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

BONUS! Sweating & aching

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

Stage 3. The sinuses

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

Stage 4. The chest congestion and coughing

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

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

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

I told my student he needed shit in his sentence.

*pats self on back*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.


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?)


I wrote this post shortly after coming back from my 7-day visit to America – a 13-hour flight away, and 24 hour journey in total from one home to the other.

Sunday, February 26th.

Do you know why time travel is impossible? It’s not because we don’t have the technology yet or because physics and science say it can never be. It’s because our frail little bodies can barely take traveling across time zones, let alone the time-space continuum. Pretty sure we’d shrivel up and die on the spot if we ever did manage to land ourselves back in 1697 or 1919 or 2015 or whatever.

I spent the last 5 days since my plane landed feeling like I’d been hit by the Korean express train itself. It was the most severe jetlag I’ve ever experienced. In all my trips to and from Korea, I’d never really understood what people meant by this incapacitating jetlag thing until now.

To be honest, the last few days were a fever-like blur of sleep, sleepiness, and wakefulness at all the wrong hours. I recall unpacking everything immediately upon arriving home on Wednesday morning and then promptly sleeping for 6 hours, and from there is a memory montage of nap after nap (almost feeling the need to recover from one nap by taking another), crawling out of bed to eat something at inappropriate hours such as 2 a.m., waking up feeling fine at 9 a.m. but becoming overwhelmingly exhausted 2 hours later.

It really does describe an illness, but I suppose that’s what jetlag mimics at times. Upon googling, it seems there are a myriad of symptoms that can be caused merely by having crossed a few time zones while thousands of miles up in the air.

I don’t know whether I was fortunate or unfortunate that I had those 5 days to recover before returning to work, since maybe having the rigor of a schedule and an obligation would’ve helped. Or maybe not. Yeah, probably not.

Regardless, 5 days later I seem to have pulled through. I no longer feel like a toxic fog is eating my insides from the brain down. Whew.

My recollection of the visit itself feels similarly blurry as I scan through the memories that stand out – singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” with my sister as she strums her ukulele… sitting in the kitchen with a bunch of former coworkers who took time after a long day to eat and laugh together on a weeknight… watching my friend walk down the aisle looking like a princess… being surrounded by my extended family for a lunch gathering during which we packed Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and every other missed occasion into an intensely uproarious, laughter-filled, warm, bright, happy few hours… and hugging my best friends and family as I said goodbye again.



Of course we all know it’s essential. How else would we communicate with each other? Yes, there is body language and eye contact and gesturing and tone and all that, but words are still pretty darn important.

I’m really making an effort to use Korean these days, particularly with my boyfriend (to alleviate the burden of communication that he upholds every day by speaking in English with me). In doing so I’m realizing just how scary it is to attempt to produce your own thoughts in another language.

Even though I encourage my students to “just try,” to put themselves out there and just say something in English on a daily basis, it’s… much easier said than done.

As a teacher, of course it’s easy to be delighted by the outgoing, bold kids who just shout out whatever they feel in English, even if it makes no sense, because it’s still an attempt at communication and it helps the student to make progress (plus it’s cute). Of course it’s easy to be frustrated or disheartened by the shy and quiet ones who don’t want to say a single word, even though they actually know enough vocabulary and grammar.

But I am that quiet student who doesn’t want to speak for fear of making a mistake. For fear of embarrassment, of saying something wrong, of the awkward confusion that could result from an error in pronunciation or grammar.

Logically I know that it’s better to just make the effort and let the grammar mistakes roll off my back, to just push through and improve by doing – I know this because I’ve seen the benefits in action countless times – but the fear is really a big obstacle.

Part of the problem, of course, stems from the fact that Korean is less forgiving than English (in my opinion) in terms of pronunciation, and less exposed to a variety of sounds since so few foreigners actually speak it.

But mostly it’s fear on my part.

To get back to my original point, I’ve been frustrated as I recognize that the words I choose in Korean (and I have a very limited selection to choose from before resorting to Naver Translate (more accurate than Google)) might have a different undertone or connotation than their English translation. But I have no way of knowing unless I constantly ask, “Is that right? Does it sound natural? Is it too formal? Too stiff? Too casual? Rude? Blunt? Standoffish?”

Do I say “교장선생님이 나한테 얘기했어”? Or “교장선생님이 나에게 말했어”? Technically they both mean “the principal said to me…”, but which is politer? Which is natural in context?

Is it 맞아요, 맞죠, or 맞다? By definition they all mean “Right/Right?,” but there is an appropriate context for the use of each.


Not to say that English doesn’t have a similar mess – sure, English is even more confusing in many regards (I’m sure most of us have read “The Chaos“), and uses a ridiculous amount of slang, borrowed words, and cultural context (almost like inside jokes among all native English speakers), perhaps more than any other language.

But still, Korean is particularly troublesome, where you have a bewildering and treacherous interpersonal minefield of the ‘levels of speech,’ ranging from 반말 (banmal, casual language only for friends) to 존댓말 (jondaemal, polite language) with a million levels in between which make it downright terrifying for a non-native speaker to navigate.

I do think personality can have a lot to do with language learning as well. Extroverted people are more likely to put themselves out there in an effort to get the human interactions that will energize them. For me, and I’m sure many other introverts out there, I’m pretty good at listening, reading, and writing in Korean on a basic level. It’s the speaking that can be overwhelming (so basically exactly the same as English… heh heh).

It’s going to be an uphill battle. Wish me luck.

Yeongju Festival

Disclaimer: Okay, I wrote this post in September, and yes, that was 4 months ago. I just never got around to polishing it up and adding pictures. But I’m in the process of cleaning out my drafts once again, so I decided to just publish this one anyway. Better late than never.



Last weekend, I joined my favorite co-teacher’s family on a trip to the ‘city’ (more like rural area) of Yeongju (about a 2-hour drive from Daegu – short by American standards, long by Korean standards). They were having an all-day festival, sort of a family fun package deal which included a packed program from 2 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for just 10,000원 (less than $10).

I was really grateful and touched that she invited me, since it was actually the event her extended family had chosen as the location for their quarterly family reunion. Her cousins (or maybe second cousins or cousins once removed? that stuff is confusing enough in English let alone translating from another language) and their kids met us there, 22 people in total. Everyone was very kind and welcoming to me, and I enjoyed being around the craziness that is a group of kids under 10 years old again.

It was basically pure countryside, mountains, and fresh air. Thankfully, the weather was cool and cloudy – perfect for the walking and stair-climbing we were going to do.




It ended up being just our group and a group of high school boys who were on a Saturday field trip with a few teachers and their principal – which was amusing because the boys kept gawking at me (if they’re from a rural area, it’s possible they don’t have a foreign teacher at their school). A few said hello, and one brave soul asked me where I’m from (maybe on a dare from his friends).

The first item on the program was a brief introduction by the program’s leader/tour guide inside what used to be a tiny countryside high school, but has now been converted into a sort of cultural building to be used for programs like this. We then watched a “Little Red Riding Hood” puppet show, performed live but with a blaring prerecorded voice-over / soundtrack. What relevance this had to the rest of the day I’m still not sure, but the young kids seemed to enjoy it. The poor high schoolers were pretty bored, though.

Next we walked to a soybean museum, which was literally just down the road. A brief tour yielded some interesting facts about the different uses of soybeans in Korea vs. in China and Japan. Koreans use A LOT of soybeans in many traditional dishes.

For whatever reason, this museum also had a giant outdoor spiral slide attached to it, starting at the 2nd story roof. Instead of normal slide material, it was called a “roller slide” and the surface was a bunch of rolling metal bars. For anyone in the martial arts world, imagine sliding down a series of metal nunchuks.

My co-teacher convinced me to try it with her against my better judgment, but I was wearing shorts and quickly experienced one of the more severe friction burns I’ve ever received – red, itchy, burning welts from my calves straight up the back of my thighs, and yes, also my bottom (though these were not visible obviously). Whoops. They were fine the next day, mostly.

There was an apple museum practically next door, because I guess Yeongju is famous for really sweet apples.

*Sidenote: Every city or even village in Korea seems to be “famous” for something. It’s a popular and somewhat endearing catchphrase among Koreans when they speak to foreigners – “You will go to Busan? Busan is famous for hwe (sashimi/raw fish).” “If you visit Cheongdo, you must eat persimmons. They are famous.” “I will visit Jeonju. Jeonju is famous for the hanok village.” “Do you know that Daegu is famous for makchang?” I don’t know just how famous all these famous things can possibly be, when there are so many of them, but it’s fun to try all this famous stuff anyway.

Next we headed to one of the highlights of the program: Buseoksa Temple. There were over 120 steps to climb on the way up, and one of my ears was plugged by the time we reached the top of the small mountain. But if you come to Korea, you should be prepared for intensive stair-climbing at just about any temple you visit, so it wasn’t a surprise.


They were really steep though.


And the view was amazing.

The tour guide/program leader had a Polaroid camera and took pictures of every family and small group. My co-teacher insisted I be in their family photo. He took two and gave me a copy.

We stayed at the top for about an hour, because dinner was scheduled at the traditional restaurant just at the bottom of the mountain at 6 p.m. On the slightly-treacherous trek back down (not only because of the very steep, railingless stairs, but also the steep, gravelly path after the stairs), we stopped to buy the aforementioned famous apples from the ajummas selling them on the side of the path. They were indeed very sweet and fresh.

Dinner was mackerel (also apparently a famous dish in Yeongju – not sure why, since it’s not a seaside town), 된장찌개 (soybean paste stew, much better tasting than it sounds), rice, and a variety of vegetable side dishes. We sat on the floor, traditional style. My co-teacher’s 8-year-old son was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to eat because it was all Korean food, which was cute.



After dinner, it was back to ‘base camp’ (the abandoned high school) for a traditional drumming lesson.


In which Maddy discovers she has Absolutely Zero Drumming Ability.

After hardcore failing at learning to drum, I slowly backed away and sat on the sidelines with my co-teacher and a few of the other adults who were over it as well, and watched everyone else.

Now it was 8 p.m., the sun had set, and it was time for the highlight of the evening: a bonfire and lighting Chinese sky lanterns. I got to release one of them with my co-teacher. So pretty.

Then, apparently because I was a special guest because I’m a foreigner, the tour guide announced that the high school principal and I should do the honors of lighting the bonfire. At the same time. Holding the same flaming torch stick. It was about as awkward as it looks.

While we ate the barbeque (which I honestly wasn’t that hungry for considering we’d just eaten a couple hours ago!), a C list magician performed some weak magic tricks (but for 10 bucks, what can you really expect). The adults drank beer. The kids ran around. I found it odd that we kind of abandoned the bonfire right after lighting it – rather than sitting around it, we were facing the opposite direction to watch the magic show.

Then it was time to go. I hovered near the dying bonfire, part of me feeling cozy as I watched my co-teacher’s extended family planning their next reunion and saying their goodbyes, thinking of my own family gatherings and that safe warm feeling you get as you joke around – the other part feeling alarmed that 7-, 8-, and 9-year-olds were being allowed to throw things (plastic bottles, soda cans, grass, whatever else they could find) into the fire to see what would happen. Just as I was sure they were going to set the whole field and forest on fire, it was time to bundle into the cars.

“Bye!” shouted a few of the adult cousins cheerfully as I climbed into the back of my co-teacher’s SUV.

After a sleepy and quiet drive home, including a couple of bathroom/rest stops, we arrived back in Daegu near midnight. A long day but a fun one, and a nice chance for me to experience a more casual side of Korean family and culture.

Getting sick in Korea

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

… it also has its pros:

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

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

Stay healthy, everyone!

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.


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.


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.