an interview with myself

(Double post today because the first is not directed at my general audience. This post IS directed at my general audience and particularly dedicated to my few very loyal friends & family who check this blog every day, and who every day have had their hopes dashed for quite some time. Sorry it’s been such a long wait!) (Oh, and this post is also very goofy because I just needed something to start me writing again.)

Q: Where have you been, Maddy? THIS BLOG HAS BEEN DEAD FOR 6 WEEKS. 6 WEEKS!!! What the heck?? What’s your deal?

A: Yes, well, I have been busy, uninspired to write, living my mundane life but the good kind of mundane. I’ve been very Zen this school year. Taking stresses and surprises in stride. Not letting my feathers be ruffled, my mellow be harshed, my buzz be killed, my vibe be ruined. So to speak.

Q: Uh… okay then. So how are your co-teachers this year?

A: One is very sweet and motherly but much busier than last year because she got a promotion and has Bigger and Better Things on her mind.

Another is actually a year younger than me, which was a huge surprise because I’ve never worked with anyone even close to my age at a Korean middle school. Not sure if that’s just luck or if younger teachers tend to go for the elementary school positions. Regardless, we share an office and it’s really nice to have someone to relate to.

Side note: I’ve discovered, upon chatting extensively with said co-teacher, that being surrounded exclusively by well-meaning ajummas (35+ yrs) for my first 2 years in Korea has led me to have distinctly OLD PERSON TASTES in Korean food and culture. Which I find hilarious.

The next is as old as the hills, and he spends every class we have together:

A) intermittently yelling “HEY! CUT IT OUT!” at the kids in Korean when the whim strikes him
B) asleep
C) staring into space with tortured eyes as if by staring hard enough he might Apparate himself out of the classroom

Occasionally he raises a hand from his chair in back and says “Maddy, wait” and lectures them for a good minute. As far as I can tell, “Maddy,” “wait,” and “OK” are the only English words he knows how to speak.

He seems to be a bit of a gruff old dear, though (I have no way of knowing for sure due to the language barrier). The kids who aren’t scared of him seem to like him – but come to think of it, not sure if it’s affection or just a desire to poke and prod the bear because it’s funny and they know he won’t do anything worse than growl a little.

Q: Wow, what entertaining descriptions. That’s fantastic. Bravo. Alrighty. Moving right along, how are the students this year?

A: They’re possibly the same as last year. Possibly better. I’m not sure. I’m too Zen to figure it out. (See answer to Q1) Sometimes they’re cute and hilarious and adorable and lovable, and sometimes I swear they flew straight from the depths of hell into my classroom just to torture me.

But I don’t carry it home with me. All the stresses or disappointments or failures in the classroom stay at school. This may not be something a “regular” teacher can do (i.e. not an expat ESL teacher), but it’s a benefit of this particular job that I’ve finally, in Year 3, learned to enjoy.

Nevertheless, the kids know me well, I know them well (except for the 1st years; we’re still kind of getting acquainted), I know my school, and I know the teaching ropes. So it’s been good, overall. Quite good.

Q: Great, great. You sound so enlightened and cool and stuff. You’re probably like the very first person to ever figure this teaching stuff out. Er… next question… I didn’t think this far ahead…

A: True. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to do this interview, after all.

Q: Well, um… hmm… what’s your favorite color?

A: Blue.

But actually, I just always say blue automatically because that was my favorite color when I was a kid and I never reexamined it as I grew up. Even though maybe I’ve changed my mind and I just never thought about it. That’s got to be a metaphor for something about life.

Q: Stop trying to be cool. What did you eat for breakfast?

A: Coffee.

Q: That’s not breakfast.

A: That’s not a question. And I never eat breakfast. Never have, never will.

Q: Okay interview over. It’s getting weird. People will think you have a split personality or a massive ego.

A: Agreed.

In all seriousness, I have edited and polished some old drafts and lined them up to auto-publish this week. Maybe it’ll boost me back into it, but if nothing else, at least I’ll have a few posts up after a long hiatus.


Things that still throw me off (re: English communication in Korea)

1. “I see” as a response.

In Korean, you can use “알았어” (alasseo) to mean “Gotcha” or “Okay, sounds good” or “okay, I acknowledge and acquiesce with what you’re saying,” whereas in English (at least in my experience), “I see” as a response to someone typically has a connotation of “I’m uninterested” or “I get what you’re saying but I don’t approve/I don’t care” or “I’m annoyed with your words. Let’s end this conversation.”

So when Koreans say or text “I see” to me, I can’t help feeling strange at first, like, Did I annoy them? Was what I said boring? WHAT’S GOING ON HERE? Then I remember that in their minds, it’s the equivalent of 알았어, a.k.a. “oh, gotcha” or “sounds good!”

2. Misuse of the word “embarrassed.”

I’m not 100% sure, but I guess the Korean translation for “embarrassed” is a word that includes connotations of “shocked/surprised,” or “taken aback/caught off guard” – things that have nothing to do with feeling humiliated, mortified, or ashamed, all of which are certainly synonyms of “embarrassed” in English.

Therefore, I’ve had several instances where, after explaining an unexpected situation to a Korean acquaintance, they respond with “I think you were embarrassed.” And even though I now kind of know what they mean, it still throws me off, like Wait… why would I be embarrassed? Did I do something embarrassing? Should I be humiliated right now? I actually question my behavior for a second before I remember it’s a translation issue.

3. Misuse of the word “maybe.”

“Maybe” is supposed to mean “possibly,” “it might be,” “potentially,” right? Well, not in Korea. People say “maybe” but they mean “definitely / you must / you should / it will happen.” As in, “Maybe you will teach this class” means “You WILL teach this class, and you don’t have a choice.” “Maybe you will come with me” means “Come with me now.” “Maybe he is not at school today” means “Yeah, he’s definitely absent.” I still sometimes hear the “maybe” and think it means “maybe” (silly me), then realize (perhaps minutes or hours later) that it wasn’t a “maybe” at all.

(A somewhat related misuse is “You should.” For some reason, some Koreans seem to use “should” when they mean “must / have to,” like “I think you should come to the meeting” might actually mean “you must come to the meeting.” Or “You should teach a 3-day camp” probably means “You have to teach a 3-day camp.” I’m not quite sure why this happens. It’s not everyone, but just some people.)

4. Incorrect question syntax.

Countless times I’ve been caught off-guard by conversations like this:

Co-teacher: “You are doing XYZ.”

Me: “Oh, okay.”

Co-teacher: “You are?”

Me: “Oh, I don’t know!”

Co-teacher: “I don’t know either; I am asking you!”


Students: “Teacher, [XYZ Korean Teacher] is more than 30 years old.”

Me: “Oh, more than 30?”

Students: “OH! TEACHER, REALLY?”

Me: “Wait… what? Nonono, I don’t know! I thought you knew!”

To ask a question in Korean, you simply use a rising intonation with your statement (e.g. “There is a meeting” and “Is there a meeting?” uses the same words, but you make your voice higher at the end for the question). We do this in English too sometimes, but I think we use certain facial expressions or tones to make it clear that it’s a question.

Since the question format of starting with the verb (“Do you / Are you / Is she” etc.) is more complicated, I find some Koreans just use rising intonation to ask questions in English – but when they do it, it’s barely noticeable (to me at least!). Thus it ends up sounding like a statement, leading to much confusion for everyone involved.

Communication is an endless quest (or struggle, depending on the day). The end.

Is my school actually a cult

Because according to the school messages run through Google Translate, it is:

Once you receive payment requisition is printed regardless’ve even any director, manager who is close to God,
Time to leave this little (at least 2 to 3) sounds good indeed delivered us Print ~

I mean… okay, close to God, that’s fine…

It’s normal for the vice principal to send out funeral announcements for teachers in the area, but these sound strange…

Castle 0 kinds of teachers working in the school garden will be notified of the death of his father he hath (general public).
1. Funeral Home: Special dresser Hospital No. 101
2. to In: May 21, 2016 3:00 09
Chapter 3. paper: Youngcheon hogukwon
4. Contacts: 0 kinds of sex teacher (<– wut?)
Bakhuitak social Chairman (010-2738-2758)

It said the mother of binary facing teachers (English Department) who worked in Foshan High School Please note that hath passed away March 19.
1. The unit group: and the ranks (electronic announcements, PE)
2. Empty Place: Civil Awards funeral.
3. to person: Tues., March 22nd
4. Contact: Binary facing teachers (010-5417-1367)


Inform the window body. The current master club less than our entire school students. I will ask the Lord to cooperate aggregate. So a lot of the hassle is over …

Does this not sound cultish.

Now is the vice-principal business trip. God will be the overtime minutes (you go on business trips affairs manager 4:30.) Ask God affairs director to cast 4 ~

so wait, are we worshipping the Director? (who even is that?)

The principal has the right did you prepare for the Teacher’s Day ‘Will’
Enjoy it – did you send the minutes to bring his disciples bread ^^
It is the bread back one level in one room. ㅎㅎㅎ (<– this is the Korean version of “hehehe”… why are we so tickled about this bread?)

Disciples? is there something I should know, guys?

And this last one reads like a straight-up passage out of a cult’s holy book:

– >> General cleaning ask ~~
Especially in charge of a class suites do not often use the children he sent me a lot, thank you focus on cleaning.
I’m begging you please to better placement, because all children are given an hour to serve time, so that no child roles –
Have you there is insufficient anti-cleaning tool asks God songsukja Director, He gives us yet, as even one year shall not enter this year came because the cleaning tool.


p.s. no cultish elements in this one, but it’s just funny:

A state which is covered with a booklet reports on the toilet stool(<– um, what kind of stool are we talking about here?)
With literally dumped the trash went here.
Students often say this behavior in many bathroom.
It seems to require a map. (<– we need maps to use the bathroom?)
Homeroom teachers are using the map and gave it to the toilet, dump map, (<– a dump map? o.O) since these pictures are appreciated strongly so please come again stamped. (Vice Principal ask)
Use the ‘big smile’ paper cup and sip French Cafe Mix, please notification in the lab and gave the strawberry milk and slippers. (<– this sentence has apparently no relevance to any previous part of the message)
Thank you for your report to the responsible student. (<– you’re welcome)

Ode to a Neighbor

O Neighbor

You are truly a wondrous human being

You who are capable of emphatic conversation and raucous laughter in the wee hours of the night

and who can continue such marvelous noise straight through to 6:45 the next morning

when I awaken and wonder how anyone is capable of such a feat

Truly I envy your vampiric lack of need for sleep

Also your talent for finding the right time to make loud sudden noises

just as I’m drifting off

such as (I can only assume) pounding nails into your walls with great vigor and determination

It is also indeed incredible that you can fill all the hallways and all the stairwells of this building

with your powerful pungent cigarette smoke fumes

To say nothing of your fantastic penchant for washing and clanging dishes in the sink at 1:30 in the morning

Truly your diligence is enviable sir

Though I shall never quite understand why

when our door key codes are but simple 4-digit PINs

it is so difficult for you to recall yours

such that you must always enter and re-enter it many times before you get it right

Perhaps your intent is to create a lovely symphony of beeps and boops resounding through the thin walls of the building

to let all of us mere quiet residents know that

you have arrived

O Neighbor

You are truly a mysterious human being

아이고! Lost in translation

Korean schools have a school-wide messaging system that all the teachers and administrators use to keep each other updated. Of course, everything is in Korean, but I always scan them to see if something seems important. Sometimes I run them through Google Translate… as if that helps any.

Here are a collection of school messages I’ve received and attempted to translate.

If you have lost a thumb or student transportation card, please send a three-layer jinhaksil

Take minutes to find items ordered

1. Notes et al 15 kinds
2. Peanut, Peanut Caramel
Find the key ㅠㅠ>

Some of the key depends itgoyo clustered ~
A key chain character Lisa Simpson’s up ~
Where ever I think yesterday I shed picking up new minutes heulheul give me im me

Main Office: Sheep playing teacher.
Most, but … if there ever been carrying this lack of self-troubled student
I’m afraid, so throw the extra characters, please send me your parents
I am in the Main Office, 4th Floor

I love ^^
Yoo-jung’s yesterday once will guide Sinmungo app installed safety related messages sent to you again.
Reported until Monday because I want to finish the day ….
Check sludge will send it as an attachment to an example, we will appreciate it if you answer me.
Fighting is always fighting always ^^ ^^

Missed the received content.

Maybe you saw a small wad of keys’re not from around here?
There are six keys on the square flower pink key chain, this is a very important key ㅠㅠ
Each key has ‘green, purple, gray, 2,3’, etc. They said there’s written.
I went to that place Where the spirit …

I’m begging you saw minutes at ambient ~~ ~~~ Contact

Hey ~
Application receives milk feeds.
Students Family Letter (Form) is indeed doable distributed each year.
Prospective milk feeding of staff sent to geupsiksil please fill out the attached file ~

Knysna program when connecting Freeze, when attaching files stored down, the conflicts these men HOT!
I appreciate your patience, director of information I am going to spend 2011 to buy computers this year …. Haut.

These men HOT, people.

vacations are wonderful things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Okay, signing out for today.

having adventures before 9 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always an adventure.

The principal

Just a little update for those wondering about yesterday’s close encounters of the fourth plate kind. (heh heh) (Look at me being all cultural referencey. I haven’t even seen that movie.)

Today the principal strolled into my office, plopped into my unfortunate coworker’s chair (she grabbed her laptop and went to work in the corner), and said he didn’t think I understood his pronunciation yesterday.

I assured him that I did.

He asked me if “It seemed you didn’t understand my pronunciation” was correct grammar.

Then we had one of our confusing half-conversation, half-English-lesson episodes, where I’m never quite sure whether I’m supposed to respond to his statements conversationally or with the grammatically correct repetition of his sentence.

The head teacher brought us both coffee.

I watched the coffee slosh treacherously around the rim of his cup as he gestured with the cup-holding-hand, hoping he would not spill hot coffee on himself and make it awkward for everyone, but also feeling a little morbidly fascinated by the imminent disaster.

He kept standing up to go, then sitting back down as he remembered one more thing he wanted to ask me. Up down, up down.

It was a little comical and a little endearing.

He left the office and was back again 2 minutes later.

Him: “Maddy. ‘I’m cold in here’ and ‘It’s cold in here.’ Which is correct?”

Me: “Just ‘I’m cold,’ or ‘It’s cold in here.'”

Him: “Ah, on the airplane, I told the staff ‘I’m cold in here.’ That is wrong?”

Me: “Just a little unnatural.”

Him: “I will say the full sentence. ‘It’s cold in here.’ Is that correct?”

Me: “Yes, right.”

He left. 5 minutes later, he returned.

“Maddy, I’m sad that you will go. I’ll miss you next year,” he said. And before I could really respond, he added his usual phrase – “Is that the correct expression?”

Such is my relationship with the principal.

He is a nice person, and I’ll miss him too.

On 회식 and other matters, again

I’m back, people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “Jake*.”

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

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


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

Ha. Ha ha ha.


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

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

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

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

She gets me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principal: *ignoring our plebeian desires*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

strange aloneish thoughts in crowded places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sitting alone with my aloneish thoughts.

Thoughts like…

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

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

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

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

– Dang it’s hot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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