closing out the week

This is the end of the week of posts. This one, like Monday, is not one of the pre-written, sitting-in-my-drafts-folder-forever posts. It’s just a little update to round things out.

Even though the first three days of the week were final exams and no classes, or maybe because of that, a full day of classes on Thursday was exhausting. We’re not studying from the book, obviously, since it’s post-exams time. But these last couple weeks of school are really dreadful since the kids have been sapped of all motivation to do anything from now till summer vacation.

This week, per my co-teachers’ request, we’re spending the first 20-25 minutes of class getting the kids to make groups and start planning out their “UCC contest” projects – basically, making a short video skit using English expressions. (UCC is user-created content; I’d never heard the term before I came here, but Koreans use it all the time for some reason.) It’s their summer homework, and the videos will be graded and winners announced a week or so into next semester.

Then for the rest of class, I’m just showing them some American 4th of July traditions (red, white, and blue clothes, the national anthem, parade, backyard BBQ, fireworks) and having them answer some questions about it afterwards. Really easy stuff, but it’s been draining nonetheless.

I’m also stressed out because as soon as school is “over,” I have summer camp. And as soon as summer camp is over, I have a week of daily 2.5 hour “after school” speaking classes (um, hello, they’re not “after school” if it’s in the morning AND during summer vacation…).

This obligation was unceremoniously dumped on me on Wednesday with no warning, and no information re: number of students, grade levels, whether it’s the same group of kids for 2.5 hours or different groups, what to teach, etc. etc. Korean surprises get less and less amusing as time goes on, but I try to remember that wise speaker at EPIK orientation who told us to close our eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine the confetti falling down around us for those wonderful Korean surprises.


Still haven’t found a better GIF to express myself at times like this.

And once that week of classes is over, there are 2 weeks until we start the fall semester. Totally different from American summer vacation, right? Hopefully 2 weeks is all I’ll need to recharge these nearly dead batteries. I’d put myself at an iffy 13% right now. Right about when your phone starts beeping at you and warning you to plug it in, like, SOON.

Battery-saving mode: ON.

In other news, we had an earthquake here on Tuesday night around 8:30. It was a really crazy feeling. I’ve never experienced one before, and I was just sitting quietly in my apartment, typing something on my computer when my chair suddenly seemed to bounce up into the air, and consequently I bounced up into the air for a split second. After the initial jarring, everything went sort of wobbly for a few seconds, like I could feel the ground beneath me just… wobbling. I can’t think of a better word to describe it. Super weird. For a minute I thought I was going crazy until people started tweeting about it, and then a Korean site posted the official information.


And the following day, Wednesday, we had the heaviest thunderstorms I’ve ever seen/heard in Korea. It was awesome.

On the positive side

One of the really low-level boys came into my office before class started, textbook and pencil in hand, extremely eager. He set his book on my desk, and I could see he’d written out numbers 1-7 in a column on the first page. After a few seconds of nervous throat clearing and Korean muttering, he said, “Eagles… spelling.” I spoke each letter clearly, with an accompanying tracing of the letter with my hand in the air, and he would pause a second and then carefully, meticulously write it next to #1 in his book.





He’s a huuuuge baseball fan. These are all Korean baseball team names. We continued with Twins, Wyverns, Giants. (He already knew how to spell Daegu’s team name, the Lions, considering he’s written it in huge letters across the front of his school gym uniform with a Sharpie.)

He’s a really sweet kid, and I was glad we found something that motivates him enough that he makes the effort to communicate with me.

Finally, there was this left mysteriously on my whiteboard at the end of the day. Just what a teacher’s heart needs.




Pleasant surprises

Not ALL Korean surprises are bad, you know.

For example:

1. Early in the semester, I scheduled my open class for Tuesday, May 24. Today is Tuesday, May 24. Surprise! No cameras showed up. I realized that my big open class  a couple months ago (the one for new NETs) “counted,” cancelling out my regular open class. Yesssss! It was an especially great feeling because this particular group of students are not the ideal “open class” kids – they tend to be quiet and look like they’re not having fun even if they are. I was kind of worried about it, but all that pent-up nervous energy dispersed into happiness when I realized it was class as usual.

2. No air conditioning is allowed until at least next month, even though the temperatures have been climbing into the 80s with a relentless, scorching sun baking the classrooms every day. Today it’s raining, which is great – no sun (and as someone who is legitimately allergic to the sun, I’m loving that) – but it also means it’s crazy humid inside. My hair is literally reaching new heights of frizziness and everything feels sticky and damp.

The Korean surprise part is that during my last class of the day, the air conditioner in my classroom was mysteriously turned on. None of the kids would fess up, and my CT and I certainly didn’t turn it on, but we decided to quietly accept the boon. I mean, it probably takes just as much energy to turn it off right away as it does to run it for 45 minutes, right? Right?!

So we had beautifully dry cool air for 45 glorious minutes.

3. It’s mid-year self-assessment time for the NETs. Does anyone like answering these questions meant to trap you into egotism or low self-esteem? Rate yourself high on too many things and you look like a freaking narcissist. Rate yourself low and you look like a failure with no self-worth or confidence. Where is that balance? How much of a gap is there between “5 (very true)”, “4 (generally true)”, and “3 (true)”? Just how true can a statement get? True isn’t true enough? I’m confused.

The pleasant surprise was that my principal happened to walk into my office as I was balking at the task. He asked how my Korean is coming along, and I sheepishly explained that speaking is difficult but I can understand some.

[long tangent incoming ↓]

(wince… I know that question will only become harder and harder to answer the longer I stay in Korea if I don’t light a fire under my behind and actively study! I’ve been passively learning more and more vocabulary and grammar structure just by paying attention, and I can frequently understand the ‘classroom Korean’ / simple conversations that my co-teachers and students use, especially with contextual evidence. I can understand what is going on in the conversation in the Level 5 listening test from Talk To Me In Korean (the highest listening test level), even though I can’t understand every sentence. And that’s with zero studying!

But my confidence in speaking is so low. I get frustrated with myself – how can I expect students to put themselves out there and try to speak English if I’m too embarrassed or shy to try speaking Korean?

However, it’s kind of confidence-shattering to attempt to speak Korean and the listener has no clue what you’re saying. I think it has to do with the fact that English speakers are accustomed to so many different accents and ability levels, whereas most Koreans have only ever heard native Koreans speaking Korean. They have a very low threshold for pronunciation or intonation mistakes. Plus, some might not expect to hear Korean coming out of a foreigner’s mouth.

But I’m pretty much awesome at saying “Can I have a trash bag, please?” Sseuregi bongtu juseyo. I do this every time I go grocery shopping. Rolls right off the tongue. I’m a total pro now. So, you know, if any tourists out there ever really need a trash bag in Korea, I’m your woman.)


Then he asked, “How long will you stay in Korea?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “But I’m thinking about staying longer.”

He smiled, “I think you should stay longer and longer and longer!”

Knowing that the head of the school values me as a teacher gave me the confidence boost I needed to fill out the “list 3 strengths,” “what aspects of your work attitude can be improved?”, “list 3 goals,” etc. etc. on the self-assessment.

4. My CT informed me that the kids are all out on field trips and extracurriculars tomorrow. All day. No classes. These are the days when I can bring in my morning coffee and yogurt, pop in my earbuds and get a ton of work done in uninterrupted peace and quiet. I’m so looking forward to it.

not dead but lethargic

In fact, nearly comatose. Intellectually speaking.

I have opened this gosh darn blog post window so many times in the last, what, 2 weeks, and I haven’t been able to produce a single word worth reading.

I’ve just been pushing through, head down, trying to numb myself to the ebb and flow of stress as lesson plans come and go and Korean surprises rear their heads, feeling like a dried-out pitiful little husk at the end of some of the particularly draining days, just pushing, pushing, pushing forward to a vacation that is nowhere in sight. (No mid-semester spring break for Korea, so we’re holding on till mid-July.)

Which is a dramatic way of saying that I’ve simply been tired and working hard. Teaching is one of those professions that hits the trifecta of being mentally, emotionally, and physically draining (albeit emotionally rewarding as well).

As far as updates go:

Mentoring/demo open class:

1. I was really proud of the kids (I chose one of my favorite 3rd grade classes because I knew those kids wouldn’t let me down). They were mega amped up because WHOA FOREIGNERS. A few of the NETs were practically pushed into my classroom by overly-excited 2nd graders acting as escorts and arrived looking bemused and slightly scared. heh. Don’t mind my crazy kids, fellow NETs.

2. The class timing was perfect, and as I said, the kids really did well with being active. They cheered for game time, cheered when they got a correct answer, cheered for no reason at all. Even some of the quiet / slightly sullen kids were trying, and I appreciated that (even if it was only because they were being watched by 6 foreigners, the VP, and a camera).

3. Prior to my class, this message was sent out to all the teachers (sketchy English brought to you by Google Translate):

English drawing room today 6period
excellent native speaker the open class
That’s coming from outside to visit ~ 6 external teachers
You come welcomed HR. If you do, gladly greet sounds good.
You are teaching Mr. Mehdi  / Medicare Teacher
Please fighting ^^

Actual meaning (roughly): The “excellent native speaker” (I guess that means me) has an open class in the English Room at 6th period. Six foreigners will observe. Teachers of [my school], please come to watch and welcome/greet the foreigners. “Mr. Mehdi / Medicare Teacher” would be me. The way my name is spelled in Korean combined with the word for “teacher” (메디 선생님) makes Google very confused. And as I’ve mentioned before, “fighting”/화이팅 is the Korean phrase for “good luck, you can do it, we’ve got your back!”

At any rate, it was comforting (kind of) to feel that everyone was supporting me. We all know what a pain in the butt open classes are.

4. My co-teachers, vice principal, and principal were apparently all satisfied with the class, so I guess my job here is done. *dusts hands*

Kidding, but I did feel pretty much the whole school breathe a sigh of relief when the ordeal was over with.

Korean surprises:

Too many to count, but most recently:

1. Yesterday (Monday) I was teaching my 1st graders as usual during 4th period. Around 11:30 a.m., as we were about to start a new activity, a hoard of gigantic strangers walked into my classroom (and by that I mean about three adults from a Western country, plus some official-looking Koreans) and WELL KIDS, LOOKS LIKE WE’RE DOING AN OPEN CLASS! Suddenly their focus was perfect, and luckily for me, the timing was good and the activity they were about to do was very AREN’T WE EDUCATIONAL AND HAVING AN AMAZINGLY GOOD TIME WHILE WE’RE AT IT? LEARNING IS SO FUN! I shudder to think if they’d walked in during one of those “Maddy Teacher could walk on the ceiling while belting out the Korean anthem and juggling fire and we wouldn’t care” classes.

2. I thought it rather strange that I could hear loud music floating in my windows around 7:30 a.m. as I was getting ready for work. I figured it must be a neighbor (perhaps THE neighbor) who had apparently decided early morning was a good time to rock out to Korean folk songs. As I walked to school 30 minutes later, the music was still blasting. It just so happened to be coming from the direction I needed to go, and a good 100-200 meters* later I found the source: no less than FOUR groups of people, one on each corner of a major intersection, holding signs and blasting this music as a way to politically campaign for their candidate. What?! As my co-teacher (who lives near me) commented when we talked about it, “That makes me not want to vote for him.”

3. …which leads me to the last surprise, which is a double-edged sword: all this political campaigning is because Korea’s Election Day is next Weds, April 13. It means a day off, but it also means throwing my schedule for a loop and a lot of stress and hectic scrambling-to-cram-the-textbook-in-before-midterms for the classes I’ll miss.

Anyway, it’s Tuesday now and I’ve already had the thought “Damn it, it’s still only Tuesday” multiple times. Here’s to a speedy rest of the week.

* Korea has changed me. I now speak in meters and Celsius. Who am I?

Nothing in particular

I honestly don’t have much to update on today, but it seemed like I should write something.

Today is the last day of the Easter lesson, and thank goodness for that because I’m getting to the point where just looking at an Easter egg gives me a headache and I only have a few more explaining-Easter spiels left in me. Saying almost the exact same things 18 times gets incredibly boring – I have to keep reminding myself that it’s still new for the kids and I have to muster up some excitement about it so they can get excited too.

Last Friday I was given the fantastic(ally horrifying) news that I will be having an open class for other NETs in the area, essentially to show the newcomers what a “more experienced” teacher’s class is like. Um… EPIK? Did you forget that I got here last year? I don’t call 1 year a whole lot of experience to be showing off to new people.

Anyway, I had to choose two date and time preferences on the spot, which I’m not good at doing (I need processing time when people drop these stress bombs on me, not “OKAY NOW MAKE A DECISION QUICK! QUICK QUICK!”) But it’s done now, so the class and date are set and whatever happens, happens.

All weekend and Monday I prepared for this open class lesson, but it was bothering me. An open class (although they say “Don’t change anything, we want the new NETs to see how a typical day would go”) is expected to be smooth, simple, easy for everyone to understand, with fun, engaging activities. I couldn’t get the lesson how I wanted it.

Monday night I had an idea that would be a lot better but that basically required starting from scratch and redoing both this week’s lesson and next week’s open class lesson (since they are both working from chapter 2 in the book).

I have to start this week’s lesson on Thursday morning.

So, yesterday (Tuesday) and today have been me going back to the start and recreating these lessons just in time to teach them (and submit the open class lesson plan well in advance).

Not that this is such an important and entertaining piece of information; I’m sure it’s quite boring. But that’s why I haven’t posted for nearly a week. Busy with the less-fun parts of teaching.

And now, the bell’s going to ring in 4 minutes, and 10 minutes after that my first class will come pouring into my classroom. All the paper eggs are hidden and ready to go. Three more times asking, “Do you know about Easter?” and it’s time to move on.

Dear Thursday, I hate you. (a rant)

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

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

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

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

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

And then there are the textbooks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go

Happy first day of school to all of my fellow English teachers in Korea!

So here we go again.

The school bell song played at 8:15. (Just hearing it takes me straight back to my first day here.) There was a thunder of footsteps and shouting in the halls, then 30 minutes of relative silence as they were corralled into their homerooms, and now they’ve been set free again to roam the halls. At least for another 10 minutes.

It just so happens that I don’t have to teach any classes today, because the kids don’t have any morning class, and only the 2nd and 3rd graders have afternoon class but I normally won’t teach 2nd and 3rd grade in the afternoon. Which means I will be sitting at my desk – but that’s fine, because it gives me time to check in with my coteachers about what the heck is going on this semester. Lord knows I haven’t been given anything but the bare bones of information thus far regarding my schedule and upcoming events.

Through a little snooping of my own (you have to take the initiative for these kinds of things) I found today’s Order of Events on the school website. Ran that through Google Translate, and here’s what I’ve got:

8:20 to 8:30: Class of check-in promotion
8: 30-8: 50: (Congregation) ceremony schedule, weekly training plan, a temporary timetable
9:00 to 9:45
● 2, 3 grade homeroom Introduction – Sympathetic
● HR, class check myeongryeol
● Clean the charge of assignments, classroom clean
9:45 to 9:50: Go to the Auditorium
10:00 to 10:30: Entrance Preparation (large, personnel, sworn)
10:30 to 11:30: Ceremony
1. Dog Meal
2. National rite
3. Bachelor reported
4. Declaration of Acceptance
5. freshmen oath
6. Principal Welcoming Remarks
7. guests barn
8. Teachers transference (sympathetic)
9. About faculty – assistant, administrative implementation (the principal) – Director, teacher (assistant)
10. Personnel freshmen students
11. The proposed school song
12. Waste meal
11:10 to 11:20: Go to the classroom (first grade after attending a school teacher guide the corners with the children admitted)
11:20 to 11:55: Classroom time
– 1 year classroom management Sharing
– Writing personal statement
– Seat assignments, locker assignments, timetables guide
– Textbooks, school supplies, writing the name, workbooks maintenance, slippers using map
– Determine brand personality 1 1 class
– Volunteer helpers such as deciding
12:30 to 1:20: Lunch
1:20 to 3:00: Student Orientation (Audio-visual); Normal classes (classroom curriculum); Senior Curriculum entrance
3:10 to 3:55: Cleanup (1 volunteer)
3:55 ~ : jongrye and school map

Dog meals, guest barns, and jongryes aside, a few things are clear here.

One, I should go to the auditorium by 10:30 to watch the opening ceremony (and chances are I’ll have to get up on stage with the rest of the English department and greet the students with a bow).

Two, we’re having lunch at 12:30.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s all the information I need.


the last few days were a maelstrom of change.


Go into the office as usual, expecting to stay my usual 8 hours and come back Weds and Thurs to deskwarm as well.

At 10 a.m., Coteacher 1 comes in and surprises me with the news that this is my last day at my main school, and that I should gather my things, go say goodbye to the principal, and wait for Coteacher 2 from my other (now my only) school to pick me up.

I rush to stuff old folders and documents into my bag, thankful that I had already cleaned and organized my desk last week. I lock the office door for the last time and walk downstairs to the principal’s office. For the first time since the start of the semester (when he invited me to his office for coffee and a chat), I knock on his door.

“예” I hear from inside (“ye” means yes, but is also a handy dandy response for a variety of situations including “I acknowledge your knock, please come in”)

I crack open the door cautiously and greet him with the usual bow. He instantly knows why I’m there. “Maddy, I am so sad,” he says. “I’m sad too,” I say. He tells me he was happy to meet me. He asks, “May I call you sometime?” I say yes. (He won’t.) He says, “How can you understand me so well?” Still ever-convinced that his English pronunciation is incomprehensible, apparently. I want to say how grateful I am to him for being so kind and chatting with me all year and supporting me, but it’s too difficult in the moment to think of how to express those thoughts without making a complicated sentence that will be hard for him to understand. So I just smile and say thank you, and he shakes my hand, and I say goodbye.

Then Coteacher 2 picks me up, and her energy is contagious. She is here to help me start moving right away, so we go to my room and I thank the Lord that it’s mostly clean even though bags and suitcases are everywhere. She helps me take some of the biggest stuff to my new place. Her tiny, barely-5-foot-tall-in-her-4-inch-platform-sandals self hauled my 40+ lb suitcase up three flights in spite of my protests. She is a bundle of energy. I’m so thankful for her.

We meet my landlady. I pass a few other tenants on the stairs and to my amazement, instead of solemnly passing by, they make eye contact and say cheerfully “Hello! Nice to meet you!” in English. Whoa.

I meet the landlady’s sister. Apparently she is visiting from New Jersey where she lives. Her children live in Boston. She tells me animatedly that if I have any problem or question, I can ask her (and she’ll translate for her sister). At least until she goes back to the U.S. in a few weeks.

Coteacher 2 and I finish unloading her car. We go to lunch with the staff of my school. (from here on when I say school, I mean my former “small school” and now the only school I work at) It’s bossam and it’s amazing. I discover that the Korean language teacher from my old school has transferred to this school this year, so she and I greet each other in surprise and that strange joy that comes from seeing even a semi-familiar face in a new place. (She doesn’t really speak English, but it doesn’t matter.)

That night, I prepare all the rest of my bags to be moved and give my room one last sentimental look as I remember moving in a year ago.


8:50 a.m., my (technically former) Coteacher 1 calls me – “Maddy? I’m outside your building. Please open the door.” Good thing I was up and ready. I let her in and endure the few minutes of weirdness while she surveys my room, eye-snooping as one does when seeing somebody else’s room for the first time. The gas man arrives and checks the meter. I have to pay about $130. I don’t know why. I’ve never had to pay that much for my gas bill. Oh well. I pay it.

The electric company says I have to pay $9 for electricity. Well that’s more like it. I pay it.

Coteacher 1 explains that Coteacher 2 can’t make it this morning because she has to take care of her kids, so Coteacher 1 will go the extra mile and help me finish moving, even though I’m technically no longer her responsibility.

We load her car. We unload it at the new place. We come back for Round 2 and a guy from administration and a guy from security are waiting at my old building. They have to inspect my room. We let them in. Security guy sits on the bare mattress (definitely leaving that thing behind) and bounces on it a few times. Administration guy checks a few things. Then all three of them help me load the rest of my stuff into the car (including 3 pairs of boots and 4 winter coats… I have a problem okay?).

Coteacher 1 helps me unload one last time and has to hurry off to a meeting. I thank her. She says she doesn’t want to say goodbye, and she’s sad. I say we’ll see each other again. “Yes, see you again,” she affirms.

Then I am alone with my bags and bags and BAGS of stuff. I start cleaning. The building is brand spanking new, so instead of cleaning mold and layers of dirt from other tenants, I’m cleaning construction dust and debris. I take a shower, one which actually stays hot and maintains a steady water pressure. It’s heavenly. I go to the local supermarket, 2 minutes away on foot, and it is actually super, full of everything I could possibly need. This is incredible.

My bed hasn’t been delivered yet. I sleep on the floor.


I spend most of the day unpacking and organizing. It feels like way more than 24 hours since I moved.

I sleep on the floor.


Although it doesn’t quite feel like home home yet, I’m so happy with the new place. I have four – FOUR – windows. My old place had a tiny one in the bathroom and one in the laundry room, about 3 feet away from anther building, letting in next to no natural sunlight. Even on the sunniest days, if I turned off the lights it was pitch dark in my room. Having sunshine and seeing the sky is so luxurious.

The closet is bigger. The kitchen is bigger, new and sparkling, with brand new appliances (fridge, gas range, microwave – all provided with the room). The bathroom is bigger. Basically everything is a total upgrade but it’s still within the budget for school-provided housing according to my contract.

When the bed arrives (which should be later today) and I have everything more organized, I’ll post pictures.

Happy Friday!

don’t we love surprises

Today has been a series of unfortunate surprises. Thus far:

— Current main coteacher visits my office, informs me that the landlord said I can’t start moving into my new place early. Everything must be moved in and moved out on one day, and that one day is Tuesday. (Earlier I’d been told I had 3 days to move in.)

— My computer is broken and won’t even tu– oh, wait, that’s not a surprise.

(So how am I posting this, you ask? The coteacher who shares the office with me said I could use hers.)

— Current main coteacher revisits my office, informs me that she has bad news. My heart drops because right before the start of a new semester and a move, this is never ever good. She says she can’t be my main co this year because admin changed her position to coordinator of welfare or some crap like that, instead of head of the foreign language department. One of the two new English teachers will be my main.

Outward me: “Oh~~ okay. I understand.” (nodding and smiling)

Inward me:


This is awful news for so many reasons. She and I already have a strong relationship, classroom rapport, and trust. We came in brand new to this school last year at the same time, but now we both know the school well. We know the events that we planned together last year (speech contest, essay contest, speaking tests, global market, etc) and we know what should be done this year. We know our students and the specific areas they need help with.

Why on earth would anyone decide to shake up all the positions just 1 year in? Don’t they realize that people learn and improve on the job through long-term experience? If you move everyone around every single year, no one will ever maximize their potential for a particular position or skill set. I want to pull out my hair. It’s beyond frustrating.

— The two new English teachers who will work here this year arrive (one of whom will be my main). My main coteacher ushers them into my office, and I awkwardly greet them. It’s been a whole year since I had to do this clumsy getting-to-know-you-in-your-2nd-language-but-my-2nd-culture thing.

They seem kind and their English seems pretty good. Thank God.

One says “I heard you were beautiful” and stops there.


Sorry to disappoint you.

The one who will be my main co is in her 30s, quieter, solemn, makeup-less. This could be a good thing, maybe. Not sure yet. The other is perhaps slightly older, with a kind round face and cheerful smile. But she’s the one who I disappointed with my looks, so who knows. (kidding kidding)

I sat down with them, mind buzzing with questions for my new main co – are you going to follow my previous main co’s lead? Do I still get to teach the same pages of the textbook? (Dear lord, please don’t make me throw away ALL the work and lesson plans and PPTs I did last year.) Are you going to let me take the lead in class?

(Incidentally though, my now-former main coteacher, the awesome one, told me in private that if I feel hesitant to bring up a problem with the new teacher, I can talk to her about it instead. So that’s nice!)

— And you know what we had for lunch together, we English teachers?

Just guess.




Not just any jjim. As soon as they opened the box, I saw the silvery scales peeping out.

fish jjim.

my nemesis.

I should’ve known when I wrote yesterday’s post that this would happen. It’s Korean karma for speaking ill of spicy fish.

— To finish off this day of surprises (well, hopefully), my coteacher from my other school texted me and said we have hweshik tonight at 5pm, and she’s coming to pick me up at 4:40. heaven help us.

let’s just hope we’re not having jjim.

Hweshik (회식): Redemption Round

I should’ve known that I couldn’t finish up my first year in Korea without a more traditional style 회식 dinner.

Tonight was my first time attending 회식 with my small school. (I’ve written two posts about 회식 with my main school, which is an orderly, quiet affair.)

This was the closing dinner, basically – all staff gathering to eat, drink, congratulate each other for surviving another year with these crazy kids, and say goodbye to the teachers who will be leaving (transferring to other schools, which is mandatory every 4-5 years for Korean teachers).

We went to a smoked duck bbq restaurant. The seating was traditional – long, low tables, charcoal grill in the middle of each table, and everyone sits on the floor. Once the meat came out, so did the beer and soju. Cups were filled and we had three or four toasts in a row, not including a speech by the principal which ended in a toast.

Curiously, a few of the men (as far as I could tell, one head teacher, one security guard, and one janitor-type-guy) began coming around to each table, sitting down, pouring a round and taking shots. I stopped calculating how many shots they must be taking if they were going to visit every table, but it was a lot.

The head teacher came to my table, where I was sitting with two of my co-teachers. We were drinking beer and soda. I had beer still in my glass (because I hate beer). He said, “Maddy, Maddy!” and indicated that I should bottoms-up the rest of my beer so he could pour me a new one. I obliged (did I mention that I hate beer?), and we toasted each other and he moved on.

After we had mostly finished eating (although drinking continued), two teachers came out dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and plastic tiaras and put on a show. They introduced themselves as the “Ijang Sisters” (one’s surname is “Lee,” which is pronounced in Korean as “ee,” and the other’s is “Jang”). Apparently they are the star act of every 회식 at my small school.

Spoons stuck into empty soju bottles became microphones. There were jokes. There was a quiz, and winners received 5,000 won gift certificates (about $5).

There was a raffle, and in spite of my internal mantra of “please not me, please not me,” the principal reached his hand into the box and called out my number. Of course! (Perhaps I am one of the only human beings on earth who would rather not win a raffle to avoid going up in front of everyone to receive the prize.) I had to go up and say thank you into the microphone (a real microphone this time, not a soju bottle).

Then there was singing. Not noraebang (karaoke), thankfully. I might’ve seriously considered an Irish goodbye at that point. The Ijang Sisters were doing the singing, but they also handed out the lyrics and invited everyone to sing along.

And then suddenly everyone around me was singing and crying and I felt emotionally out of the loop. Although I can totally understand why enduring a long hard school year with a group of people and then singing a moving, nostalgic song together would produce tears and feels, I couldn’t participate really. Language and cultural barriers, all that.

This was the song, by the way (a song that most of them grew up listening to, and has now been brought to the cultural spotlight again by a very popular current TV drama):

And actually, now that I’m reading all the lyrics translated into English, I can understand why they all cried.

Anyway, then there was a funny song, an original composition by the Ijang Sisters, specifically referencing situations and hardships of teaching at my small school, which made everyone laugh.

And then I started laughing, not because I could understand the song (I couldn’t), but because the head teacher was clapping in time and waving his song lyric paper around, and he was smacking it right in the face of the security guard sitting beside him, but the security guard was so drunk that he didn’t even seem to notice – his eyes were closed, face beet-red, and he was swaying and clapping along to the song (completely offbeat). It was among the more hilarious things I’ve witnessed.

Thus ended the entertainment for the evening. The Ijang Sisters made their exit amid thunderous applause.

The head teacher gave one more speech, and apparently decided that I should make the final toast of the evening. Why? I have no idea. He passed the mic my way, with an instruction that included the word “Eng-uh-lish-ee.” So I stood up and said quickly, “For happiness in 2016. Cheers” and they all said “Cheers!” which was cute. It was also somewhat comforting that most of them probably couldn’t really understand what I said anyway (due to lack of English or excess of alcohol).

And then my co-teacher drove me home, and hence I had survived 회식 yet again.

I’m not saying this was wildly crazy. It was pretty tame, really. But it was the most hweshik-y hweshik I’ve attended yet (out of the whopping three I’ve been to).

I’m just grateful I didn’t have to sing.

The end.

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.