From the BK to the SK
 
This month has gone by very, very slowly. I don't know why, but it has definitely felt like the longest of the past 7 months here.
Time is standing still on the Korean peninsula right now. I think I am just feeling eager to travel today.
 
 
My voice might be a bit loud, as I tend to forget the speaker is right by where my mouth is, so forgive me on that end. This was out Saturday afternoon, where we learned the Korean version of chicken fights.
 
 
Where to start?
Perhaps the best way to start is with my least favorite word in the Konglish dictionary: Maybe. Maybe, when your co-teachers and co-workers tell you that are you going out for dinner, that meal includes live entertainment from your very own colleagues who sing their hearts out and dance their feet off while the noraebang. No, I promise that isn't a dirty innuendo - it's the word for Korean karaoke. 
I've been out to eat countless times with my co-workers before, most of which are an aggressive attack they launch at 4:29 p.m. just as you're packing up and leaving work for the day. For the first time in seven months, I was given the heads up for our Tuesday plans, but only that I should make sure to be 'hungry' as there was a giant buffet we could feast upon.
One thing about Koreans and buffets: You're given basically a teacup saucer to pile as much food as you can on while balancing them on your head, elbows and hands as if you were formally a circus worker or professional server. It confuses me a bit, but regardless, they inhale their small plates and are up again before I can even place my napkin on my lap.
I sat with one of the English teachers, my co-worker Nick and a few other of our Korean co-workers, one of whom is the man who sits at the desk beside me and constantly talks to himself in English, saying the same things over and over again. God, give me strength.
Not only is his Konglish a difficult experience, but sitting across from him at the table while he demolishes his crab legs and sucks the meat out of the legs, leaving bits and pieces on his chin in the chance he is still hungry later (which I learned he is constantly hungry). Another interesting fact i learned once more about my co-workers is that they tend to drink in excess, and the 'one shot' beer chugs amongst 60 year old Korean mess is definitely an experience and a half. They'd fit right in at Penn State, and they more than likely would put a good amount of frat boys and proud students to shame with shotguns and funneling.
As the meal came to an end, people had been joking about creating our own singing room that we would use for entertainment after dinner. Let me preface this story by the fact that in high school, my best friend Connie broke the news to me that I was terribly tone deaf. Thanks, Con, for breaking any dreams I had to be become a singer.
Suddenly I had a book of songs open on the table in front of me, and I was told to pick one and get ready. I couldn't comprehend what was going on. My 'loud and good' classroom voice was sure to bring down the house but not in a good way. I could just picture mirrors shattering, glasses breaking, people's eardrums losing all hearing capabilities; If anything was going to get me fired, this was it. 
Nick and our one English co-teacher settled on singing the Beatles, 'Let it Be', to which my lifesaving co-teacher and I were dragged into and handed a mic. I have to be honest, if I was going to sing, there was no way I was doing it alone, so part of me was almost relieved that I was part of the group, no more how reluctantly I was pulled from my chair.
So I did it - I sang as part of a group and faced my fear of public singing. I mean, realistically, with the way some of these teachers sang, there was no way I was going to be embarrassed. They are SO intense - they close their eyes, clutch their hands to chests, throw in some fancy footwork and embrace the melody and the chance to show off what they've got. It's not the best turn on, especially for the one and only teacher at my school I thought was attractive who became so emotional when he  was singing I thought he was convinced he was performing live at Madison Square Garden.
But I hadn't totally cleared the hurdles. The more beer that started flowing, the more the feet started moving, and the more 'Jimney Cricket (my newly developed nickname for the co-worker who talks to himself in English all the time)' wanted to dance with me. Mind you, he's at least 65, was grossly intoxicated and wearing his newspaper boy cap backwards, with a strip of hair delicately falling onto his forehead like he was straight out of Grease or something. 
He kept telling me we were 'Black Swan', and he forcefully whipped and swished me around the room in twists and twirls that did give me some whiplash. I kept my body as far away from his as possible, which many of the teachers mocked me for, but I supposed I wasn't far enough away. He spit up his food on me. I was almost certain I was going to faint on the spot.
It isn't funny, but in retrospect, I can't stop laughing.
But I danced with my co-teacher, the Jolly Green Giant of a man whose moves on the dance floor definitely impressed me given his stature and beer belly. The next night I saw him hitting tennis balls around in a pretty competitive game on a court near my house. He's full of surprises, that one.
But the night soon came to an end, and I was home by 10, tired, in my bed and not sure what I was going to walk into at work the next morning. Would everyone be severely hung over?
Seeing as my co-teacher fell asleep standing up at the front of my class, I'd say that's a yes.
Until next time!
 
 
This will be a quick blog, but I feel like I've neglected writing for about a week or so now.
Things have been really good lately with work, and tomorrow my friends and I are going on a 'field trip' with the kids from the children's home. I am insanely excited for it, mostly because I get to use my new birthday present - a Canon DSLR! Thanks to my dad, my aunt lynn and my aunt phil and uncle tony for now giving me a reason to document what I put into words for you guys!
I will make sure to write about my evening on Tuesday with Nick and our Korean co-workers: noraebang central. Koreans loves karaoke and singing, and for some reason my new co-worker Nick loves to put me in in incredibly awkward situations, such as encouraging a slow dance between me and one of the drunkest teachers at the party.
Thanks, Nick, but at least it makes for a good story to tell all of you.
Thursday was one of those days I could see myself signing another contract for a year, but then Friday afternoon rolls around and I have my loudest, most irritating class with which I have a love-hate relationship with. The girls are so annoying, but I love them to death and they can make me laugh in a second flat, no matter how angry I am.
Another little sidenote for my brother, Michael, and my soon-to-be-sister, Lauren - We're almost there! It's three months to the day that you tie the knot! I AM SO EXCITED! It does feel so surreal, though, because it's a reality check that we are all slowly growing up.
And last but not least, Molly and I booked our flight to India/Nepal. I CANNOT WAIT FOR INDIA AND NEPAL. I don't think you have any idea. 

 
 
I said it in one of my last blogs, and I will say it again: The things that go on and occur inside the classroom and inside my office cannot be fabricated in any way, shape or form. It's just impossible to make some of this stuff up, like for example, the teacher who sits beside me and is continously saying 'business trip, office trip, business trip, office trip' to himself for a reason I'm not quite sure of. I guess it's better than listening to him sing Josh Groban's 'You Raise Me Up', no?
There is a new foreign teacher at my school, which is a nice break during the day when you just want someone to laugh with about the insanity that crawls out of every corner. I am teaching my same students this year, who are now 2nd and 3rd graders, and will not have had the chance to meet or get introduced to Nick this week since he is not their teacher. So, last week, out of the goodness of my heart and for no selfish reasons of postponing 20 or so minutes of teaching, I decided to take Nick along to a few of my classes and let him meet some of my students.
Sadly, he didn't have some of the experiences I had with the outlandish questions, like 'What do you think about the mouse that lives in your house?'; 'How about you?'; 'What is your blood type?'; and several other such questions.
Many of these moments may have been 'gotta be there' moments, but I have still been laughing about it to myself and decided to share it.
Nick was walking around the classroom, looking at some of the questions the students came up with when he stopped at one of my favorite third grade boys' desk and asked, "Have you got a question for me?"
The boy's reply was simple and to the point: "Yes. Walk straight, please," he said as he extended his hand to direct Nick to continue walking down the aisle.
I lost it. It was his version of, "get away/no", but instead he chose to ask Nick to walk straight. Ha. It was great.

Yesterday I was teaching my intermediate class about sports, and we played the ever-popular 'bomb game' that they seem to love so much. (I play lots of games with my students.) The question was simple and from the lesson in their books: Who was Wilma Rudolph?
A correct and suffice response would have been, "An American runner" or a "runner" - something to that effect.
This little, mouse of a girl who has the lowest voice and really doesn't speak very much English raised her hand, stood up and recited four paragraphs worth of information about Wilma Rudolph. I kept trying to stop her, trying to explain that it was simple, but she went into some kind of robot-mose and plowed right through.
I tried my hardest not to crack a smile, but I couldn't help it. When I asked her to simplify the answer by asking her, "OK! Good! So tell me only what sport", she said in Korean, "I don't understand."
Basta. Then I had to laugh.
My friend told me that one day he asked his students to draw something but something simple. Simple is the key word when it comes to Koreans and art. When I had them make my family christmas cards, I swear they were opo-up cards and looked like I bought them in a store.
So he must have overly stressed the word simple and while walking around discovered that one of his students had made one of the simplest drawings possible. She drew a circle, and inside the circle she wrote, 'Rock'. He took a picture of it for photographic proof.
I am sure I will continue to say this throughout my year living and teaching in Korea, but within a 45-minute class, there are those moments when you feel bi-polar. It's like one second, you're in love, and the next second, you're ready to rip your hair out.
 
 

Japan

3/17/2011

1 Comment

 
For anyone who is curious, I am OK over here in Korea. Though I am relatively close to Japan, I did not feel or experience any of the catastrophes that tore through Japan over the past week.
I have been watching CNN constantly, and my heart goes out to all those who are in Japan, or those who have family or know someone living there, and most especially for all those in Japan who lost their lives, homes or loved ones in the devastations.
 
 
So, for those of you who don't know, my 24th birthday just passed on March 16th.
I will admit, I wasn't excited for this birthday. There is just something about the sound, the look, the thought of 24 that catapults you into adulthood more than any other birthday. I know - for all those 24+ who are reading this and rolling their eyes, hear me out.
When you're 20, you're a baby. When you're 21, you're a lunatic. When you're 22, you're a graduate, but you're still really a baby. When you're 23, you're at that perfect age: People don't necessarily look at you like a baby anymore because you're not in college, but at the same time you are still a baby because you just finished college. And then 24 comes along, and it slithers up and strips you off truly feeling like you can ever look at yourself as 'just a kid' again. You're officially mid-20s, with one year left to enjoy it before you're supposed to be figuring out what it is you want to do in life.
It isn't really encouraged back home to 'explore' the way it is in other countries. It is so focused on getting out of college, getting a job and starting your career; sometimes, I'll be honest, it makes me feel like a joke. Yeah, I'm 24 and need new passport pages, but there is that ever-present question that, even though it can be said in good fun, can knock the wind out of you: When are you ever going to come home and get a job? You can't travel forever.
Correction. I can travel forever, but I can't BACKPACK forever. Maybe when I'm 45 years old, I won't be able to ball myself up into the fetal position to sleep in the crawl space of an outdoor closet at some hostel with no vacancies, but I can still travel and enjoy all the world has to offer.
As a birthday present to myself, my friend Molly and I booked one of our tickets during our trip, which we extended to last a period of 5 months. That's right, everyone. I'll see you in ten months.
On Dec. 21, 2010, I will be leaving Delhi, India, and heading for Paris, France, with about an 8-hour stopover in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia? Like, what? I'm going to get myself into tip top shape, so I can sprint in and out of the city center just in time to catch my flight onto Paris.
It was honestly one of the greatest feelings in the world. I couldn't stop smiling, and my body felt positively weightless. I was so excited, and I'm sitting on the edge of my seat trying to contain myself over the next five months.
We've narrowed down a plan, and though it's shifted and changed a lot, I think that we, for the most part, have put together a good itinerary. It's hard, because there is no perfect way to travel unless you have all the time and the money in the world. 
We've decided to do Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos from Aug. 27th to Nov. 1, with no particular set anything. On Nov.1, we're making our way to Nepal for about 3 weeks before crossing the border into India, spending a month in India and then heading out to Paris for Christmas and New Years. From there, our plan is to finish our trip off right, making our way into Italy and eating like there is no tomorrow. I'm sure that after 4 months in SE Asia and the Indian subcontinent, our bodies will be more than pleased with us.
My only fear, though, is that I'll never make it to Italy because I will instead sit myself down on the doorstep of the International Herald Tribune until they decide to hire this maniac girl from Brooklyn that won't leave them alone.
Hopefully Molly never reads this blog!
 
 
My friends always say that once you've seen one part of Korea, you've seen it all: Everything looks the same.
I do agree with that to a degree I guess, because if there is anything Korea lacks, it's diversity. The people here aren't brainwashed like they are up North; I find that they are generally very receptive and accepting of any foreigners. Sometimes you get that glare like you're some kind of villain loose on the streets as you pass someone who is trying to make sense of you, but those do (in my experiences) come few and far between.
I have a group of students that always come and visit me and talk to me at my desk (one of the advantages of working in middle school and not elementary school). One student was telling me how she wants to go to America more than anything when she graduates university and get a job in the USA. She wants to teach Korean in middle schools, and she was heartbroken to hear that students in the States don't study Hangul.
She said to me, "Many different peoples in USA, right teacher? White, black, brown, yellow - many yellow like me?"
I told her yes, that there are many people from all over the world who live in the United States. She seemed happy with this response, but then something else crossed her mind.
"Teacher, white likes black in America? All all? Everyone?"
Her question threw me for a minute. How do you answer something like that? And it's just incredible how closed off Korea is from the rest of the world. There's just no diversity whatsoever. Everyone looks the same - same clothes, same hair, same glasses, same sneakers, same everything. Every car is black, white or silver, and they're all made by about 6 companies, so every car is the same. Every apartment building reminds me of the desert, just soaking up the heat and parched for life. I rarely ever even see someone with a handicap in Korea, and to be honest that's a bit unsettling. 
They always comment on my big, green eyes and my long hair (they can't wear theirs too long), my white skin, my makeup-less face (I think the fact that I never wear makeup intrigues them more than anything). Even after almost 7 months, it still makes me appreciate where I've come from and all that I've been exposed to.
 
 
Right now, it’s a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon, and my friends and I just got back from the orphanage. Every weekend, without fail, my friends and I manage to have the times of our lives, laughing with these little kids who are about 10 years old and under.
When I arrived, one of the little girls there who is one of my favorite kids ran up to me and gave me a hug, gave me a high five and then held my hand and wanted me to be on her team. She’s about 5 years old, and she’s tough as nails, no matter what sport we play. She manages to hold her ground against the boys, who are much bigger than she is, even if she gets hit with the ball or knocked right on her butt; she always gets back up, brushes herself off and attacks without fear.
There is another little girl there, maybe around 10 years old or so, who I can tell thinks the world of me. Anyone who knows me knows I’d never say something like that about myself in a vain way, but I can just tell how excited she gets to see me every week. It’s like when I was younger, and my best friends Laura, Vicky and I thought Siohban Howe, a girl who was probably in like 6th grade or so when we were in kindergarten, was the coolest person we had ever met in our lives. We’d be so so excited to see her, and I still remember one day she gave us all these little clay  nameplate presents she made for us that she decorated with glitter and wrote our names in purple letters.
It’s such a nice feeling to know that we can brighten up their days so much, and that even though we don’t speak the same language, they look up to all of us, collectively and individually. One of the little boys there has such a boy crush on my friend, Jake, who comes with all of us every week.  He absolutely ADORES Jake – hanging all over him or sitting on his lap or just following him around.
I’m so inexplicably happy that my friends and I started doing this volunteer work  every Saturday, and though I write about it a lot, and probably write the same thing, each time I walk away feeling different. I just feel more complete than the week before.
I am definitely at a time in my life where, though I am only 23 – well, almost 24! – I need to seriously contemplate what it is I think I will do.
Like I said in some of my past blogs, this is probably the hardest month in my soon-to-be 7 months here. This was my first week back at teaching, and it was honestly better than I had imagined it would be. Sure, there were those moments with the students when they were super rowdy and loud and talking incessantly, but then I walk into the classroom, and their faces light up and they’re so happy to see me – it just makes it all feel worthwhile. It makes my life feel like I actually did something.
OK – so I might not be teaching them English per se, so I can’t necessarily say I am going to walk away from here knowing I instilled the knowledge of power and English in the youth of Korea. Fat chance, seeing as after almost 7 months they still tell me, ‘Alexandra teacher! Nice to meet you!’ Haha.
I don’t know where I was even going with this blog other than to say that it was a great first week back. Seeing all of my students made me feel so happy and excited, and seeing my favorite students filled my heart with laughter and smiles at any little thing they did or said.
It’s funny – more often than not, my favorite students are boys. I have a few girl students who are super cute, but maybe it’s because I am a girl teacher. I always used to wonder why Mrs. Downey seemed to love Matty and Joey and James and Ralphie and all the other boys in my grade more than any of the girls, and now I think I can understand. The boys are just funny.
What’s even more difficult is that there are so many funny moments and situations that happen inside of the classroom, but there is no way I can re-tell them and have anyone back at home understand the way my friends here would understand. A lot of my greatest memories are those sort of ‘gotta be there’ memories, in that you have to have lived and taught in Korea to truly appreciate the humor in these stories.
My friends and I are definitely ‘those’ people who could sit for hours on end, whether we’re all out to dinner, shopping, hanging out, even out at a bar when you’re either dead sober or properly drunk, talking about our students and our co-workers. It’s bad, I know, but I guess it means we’re all enjoying it, right?
But do I think of myself as a teacher? To be honest, I don’t think I am. I love my students, but I don’t get the same adrenaline rush from teaching that I did when I was writing stories or news articles or making multimedia videos (minus the endless hours I spent in the Carnegie lab during finals week). Every morning when I turn on CNN and I watch the breaking news, I feel myself fill with envy and wish more than anything I can magically transported to where ever the news is happening and be reporting on each moment as it unfolds. Sure, teaching gives you a high when the students are really into whatever game it is that you’ve created and they’re getting competitive and shouting and everyone is having a good time. Then I walk away with a little bounce in my step because everything went rather smoothly while having lots of fun.
But I do miss the rush of excitement that swims through your blood when you’re writing a story on deadline or meeting a source and talking about some kind of sensitive issue or topic. I guess what you’re meant to do in your life is different from what you’re meant to experience, if that makes any sense at all.

 
 
The past few days have been a bit hectic, so there was no greater feeling than receiving cheers and applause from your students when you walk into the classroom.
I am so happy I was able to teach my same students again this year. I love them!