From the BK to the SK
 
OK, Korea, enough is enough.
I come into school on Monday, pass by the same boy who has had a bright,green cast on his arm for the past nine months, wave hello and wonder who else I'll see that day who is suffering from some kind of severely detached limb or something of the like.
Then, I pass one of my third grade boy students with this big boot on his left foot, and he's limping through the hallway. It isn't even a proper cast; I really don't know what was going on toward the toe area, but it looked like the doctor cut the material with a chainsaw it was so ragged and uneven.
"Your foot - it's sick (this is sort of the way to ask what happened)?"
"Yes, teacher. Soccer. Very, very sick," he answered.
I thought that'd be it for the day, because seriously there is a newly injured student every day. I didn't see any other battlescars or anything on my walk to my office, so I thought we were in the clear.
Then, I got to my first period 2nd grade class, and I think my mouth dropped. There was no averting my eyes. It wasn't like that kind of helpess stare when there's a bad accident that you don't want to look at but can't stop; this kid was a bad accident.
He had gauze pads on both sides of his face, one placed right in the middle of his cheek and one placed at the corner of his mouth. These weren't even neatly trimmed and small bandages. Someone just stuck them on his face, covered them with some tape and moved on to the next wound.
From right below his chin to the base of his neck was literally, I kid you not, wrapped all the way around in gauze. I couldn't get over what I was seeing. It just went around and around and around. It reminded me a little of those neck-enhancers the tribal women wear in pictures you see of different cultures.
I had to ask. There was no way I was going to let him sit back and relax in my class without knowing the story behind why his mother or his doctor or whoever it was thought it was appropriate to send him out in public this way.
"SonYang, what happened?"
He is one of my higher level students who was actually a very good student last year in grade 1, but now with grade 2 comes the hormones changes and too cool for school attitude. He started whispering with his friends as if I addressed him in Thai.
I asked him again while the other students worked on their worksheets. I was not letting this one go.
"What happen? Why is neck like this?"
He looked up at me and said, "Teacher, I'm fighting."
All I could think was, "You were fighting? Where? The front lines?"
He made the motions and gestures of being scratched to death, which led me to think that perhaps he had an unfortunate run-in with some kind of large cat - maybe a cheetah that was on the loose. There is no way a simple house cat left him looking the way he did, but I could be wrong. I do hate cats. (Sorry, Lauren!)
I just kind of gave him the, "Owaa...take care your neck," and turned away.
How everyone else in the classroom thought this was normal, or how my co-teacher wasn't in the last bit phased by the state this student was in is something I will not understand.
 
 
For the most part, I've been pretty OK over here for the past nine months. There are moments where you feel down and fed up, and there are moments when you feel like you can never leave. I haven't truly yearned for anything at home, and I can't really say I've felt insanely homesick. March was by far my hardest month here, but before that and since then it's been pretty easy, breezy emotionally (in my opinion).
However, I realized that I never wrote a blog about things back home I miss. So, for all of you wondering (if any items are packageable please feel free to contact me for my address ^_^):

1. Mozzarella. Let's not even go here. I am in mozzarella-withdrawal.
2. Paneantico Salad and the Roasted Pepper and Mozzarella Sandwich
3. Nino's Pizza
4. Peppino's (I had a dream it closed, and I woke up in TEARS) Roasted Pepper and Mozzarella Sandwich
*Basically, I miss good, Brooklyn, home cooked Italian food*
5. Running along the water - I know, this is a weird one, but the weather is so beautiful and the area where I live is not designed for outdoor running.
6. Junky reality TV: Yes, as much as I enjoy watching CNN or reading the New York Times or watching tear-jerking documentaries, one of my biggest flaws is that I love reality TV. I live for shows like the Real Housewives, 16 & Pregnant, Jersey Shore - I feel like so much more of a loser streaming them and keeping up with them while living in Korea than I do when lazily watching them at home.
7. Thrift stores: Downtown BK, I cannot wait to reunite with you. I miss buying super cool bags and funky clip on earrings.
8. Regular shopping: Urban, why can you not exist in Korea?
9. Gum: Korean gum has a flavor that lasts for all but one minute. I feel like I am on some kind of welfare-program with my Sweetmint Orbit gum, rationing it out and making sure I really, really feel like having a piece of gum before I decide to have it.
10. Couches: This might seem really strange, but my friends and I miss having a couch or a spare item of truly comfortable furniture for those nights you just want to veg out or those days when you want to recover.
11. Jujy Fruits (though I think my teeth are a bit happier.)
12. A city skyline: There is no skyline in Daegu. I'm surrounded by mountains. I don't know how I feel about this still.
13. THE STARS! Ok, so there are no stars in Brooklyn really, so it isn't like I grew up camping in beautiful wilderness of my backyard and gazing at these little balls of light in the sky; however, I did live on Cape Cod before moving to Korea, and it spoiled me more than I ever thought possible. There is not a single star in the Korean sky.
14. Book Cafes: I used to love wandering and roaming around in book stores and drinking a coffee and keeping a very up-to-date list of all the books I want to read.
15. Driving: Not that I really drive a lot in BK, but I miss having the option of using a car.
16. Chocolate icing - don't get me started.
17. Penn State
18. Updated music on my iPod: Let's just say it's been the same songs since July 2010
19. Pretzels: these should have been way further on the list. I miss all kinds of pretzels, especially yogurt covered.
20. Getting a good haircut: I feel like I have to hold my breath when I go because the scissors just run wild.

I put together the best list I could. I thought long and hard and these are, aside from all of my family and friends, the things I miss most.
 
 
One of my other side effects is saying the word "Owaaa", a word that my friend and I would jokingly use at home but has become something I use daily while living in Korea.
One of my favorite students in one of my favorite classes that I teach, HaeSong, sat at the seat right in front of my desk the other day. After nine months with these kids, though I don't know all 600 names, I know each student. And, as I've talked about before, working in a middle school is incredibly rewarding because you watch your students grow and change throughout the year.
Anyway, HaeSong went to ask me a question, and I noticed she got her braces off.
"HaeSong - when?" And I tapped my finger against my teeth.You would have thought I just offered her 1,000,000 won or something.
"OWAAA! OWAA!" and a smile stretched across her face. She started speaking a whirlwind of Korean, explaining that Alexandra seon-sang-nim (teacher) noticed that she had her braces taken off and was so thrilled that I recognized something so small. She turned back to me again, "Owaaaaaaaa," she let out once again, genuinely still so amazed and flattered that she forgot to answer my question.And, in turn, whenever a student greatly impresses me, or I find something to be very interesting or fun, I can't help but say "Owaaaaa!"
 
 
So, during my time in Beijing in the summer of 2009 as an intern for China Daily, one of the most shocking experiences was probably the first time I witnessed a child going to the bathroom on the street. I remember thinking my eyes played a trick on me, only to realize that this was in fact no joke: There were specially made pants for children that let it all hang out, providing an easy opportunity for children to relieve themselves on the streets.
I witnessed two grown men within a three day time span peeing on the streets, one masked by the dark night and one masked by a car door.
I came home late Wednesday night from a long day of work and some after school classes. My co-worker dropped me off on the corner by my house, where I patiently against my will waited for a traffic light to change (even though there were no cars) so as to avoid sending my co-worker into cardiac arrest. (They do NOT cross against traffic signals.)
As I stepped out of the car, there was a man right in front of my face facing a wall and peeing. For the entire five minutes - no joke - that I waited for the light to change, wondering whether my co-worker saw the man about 4 meters behind me as he continued to let loose, casually resting/passing out against the wall. This man definitely drank a fair amount of soju, at least that was what I told myself in his defense.
But then Saturday rolled along, and my friends and I decided to go bowling for a friend's birthday after having a party at the orphanage for him (SO MUCH FUN!). So we grabbed a cab and headed to meet some of our other friends. As we got out of a cab, another cab zipped right by us, hitting my door as I opened it. Thank GOD it wasn't knocked off its hinges, and thank God neither driver really had much of a reaction. The driver who hit my door got out, ran around to the other side of his cab and opened the side door just as we were passing him. That's when I heard the splash against the concrete and saw the stream he started: The cab driver was peeing on the street at 4:30 in the afternoon, his body faced in toward his car, the door as his shield and his back all the passerbys.
I am pretty sure my jaw dropped. I was in a state of shock. Was there no law against public indecency?
Korea, you never fail to amaze me.
 
 
"I think bull will win because bull is chic."

Again, the end.
 
 
I went on a field trip with my third graders today to an arboretum about an hour from my house. They had to take pictures for the yearbook, so the school decided to have the kids travel an hour away to these immense gardens while the sun was shining and the heat was pouring down and the students sweaty bodies were dropping like flies.
They absolutely love their poses and aren't in the least bit camera shy. Enjoy the slideshow ^_^
 
 
Dear Korea,
Happy Nine Months, and there was no better way to celebrate our anniversay together than some Korean BBQ, Soju-saturated co-workers and a noraebang.
Last week, my gentle giant co-teacher suggested that he, Nick and I go for some beers and Korean BBQ together on Monday night. When Monday morning rolled around, Nick and I both crossed our fingers that perhaps he may have forgotten, which would not be uncharacteristic of him. After a long Saturday night that resulted in coming home when it was light out, I did not look forward to incurring any further damage to my already haggard body and mind.
But no, for once in his life, he did not forget and was awaiting our 7 p.m. 'appointment' with two of the high school math teachers at a Korean BBQ place across the street from mine and Nick's fitness center.
The war zone of a table, the empty bottles of soju, the red faces and the blacked-out state of one of the h.s. teachers led Nick and I to conclude that this dinner had been going on probably since school ended at 4:30 p.m. We weren't complaining, though; live entertainment and some 갈비 (galbi) is a pretty great combination.
The minute we sat down, the '건배', or cheers, started. I was giving a glass with 김치 (kimchi) residue hardened around the top of it, but I just closed my eyes and reminded myself of all the worse things I've seen while traveling (this was after trying to pass off my glass to Nick and my co-teacher).
The one h.s. teacher was one of the most intoxicated forms of life I've ever encountered. He was drunk from soju, meat and good friends, and there was no stopping him. At one point during the dinner, he stopped using his chopsticks and just took the cooking tools (you cook korean bbq at your table in front of you) to eat with. He also proudly showed us his new pair of super-fly kicks that student of his bought him for teacher's day, practically Michael-Scotting his foot by almost putting in on the grill in his many attempts to show us their designs from every angle. He took a cat-nap every ten minutes or so that lasted about thirty seconds until a key word sparked his interest and brought him back to life.
The food never stopped and neither did the drinks, and before we knew it, Nick, my three co-workers and I were en route to a 노래방, noraebang/karaoke room. I can remember in my delirious head being like, "No more"; but when you go to a singing room with three drunk Korean men you know you're bound to have some great laughs.
Literally, one the walk there, my co-teacher and the other h.s. teacher are holding up the one h.s. teacher who is basically lifeless, his limbs flailing about as uncontrollably as his slurred words. Everything about him was just a jumble. All I could think was, I'd be pissed if I was his wife and he came home in that condition, but then again this is just the typical Monday night for the Soju-loving Koreans. (There were a good many stumblers in the BBQ house.)
I forgot how much fun a karaoke room is as I scaled the list and saw countles songs I loved to belt out when  I was little or sing with my whole heart as if I had any sense of key or tone. I scored lowest of all singers this night -  even the drunk man - but I blame that on my strategy; I picked fun songs, not easy songs.
I sang some Beatles, some Bruce, some N*SYNC, Justin Bieber and Mikey J, and I even tried my best to keep up with a song by my favorite K-Pop group, Big Bang. The beers kept coming, the men kept drinking, and I kept my distance from the misplaced cups that were being passed around. I think the one teacher threw up a good number of times, and there was no chance I was risking sharing his cup.
And the same way he'd come to life in the BBQ house, the teacher would come to life in the karaoke room whenever he heard Nick or I sing. At one point, he started unbuttoning his shirt and I thought things were going to get ugly for a few minutes. in the end, he probably only unbuttoned three buttons.
It was more than an eventful Monday night, and one that was in the end a perfect necessity for our nine month anniversary. It couldn't have ended on a better note than sitting in the karaoke room with my co-teacher, whose eyes were swimming in beer and who Nick and I think was heartbroken that there was an entire pitcher left untouched, advising Nick about how the night would wrap up. My co-teacher told Nick the following:
Co-teacher: "Nicholas, I think you should take care Alexandra and bring her to her home. To stay the night at her home is your choice. It is Korean way."
And so, Korea, you've definitely made it an interesting past nine months for me. Despite all your craziness, I still love you more than ever.
In conclusion, I'd like to end on a great student comment. While playing an opinions-lesson game, my students were told to choose which animal would win in an animal fight. One of the examples was Elk vs. Bison.
"I think Bison will win because it has beautiful eyes."

They end.
안녕캐세요,
Alexandra



 
 
So I've probably talked about some of the side effects of living in Korea throughout all of my blogging the past nine months. I tend to fall victim to the word "maybe", and my friends and I all tend to speak in half-sentences that are empty of verbs, subjects - basically they're two word sentences. It's like a switch in my brain with this rhythm of speaking that is like some song I know by heart.
We also use gestures when talking a lot as a way of helping to explain whatever we are trying to say when our slow and steady pronounciation isn't working because clearly, no matter how we pronounce a word, there are people who just don't speak or understand english.
So the other day I was watching this documentary called "Jesus Camp" about Pentecostal followers in parts of the Midwest and all. The documentary was focused really on the younger children, about 9 years old to like 12 years old, and how (my opinion) absolutely brain washed they are by this religion. It's really tragic.
Anyway, as I was watching the documentary, there were obviously many scenes of the children gathered together in a church listening to lectures and sermons, interacting with adults, etc. As I was watching one of the sermons, where the preacher was addressing the kids with such passion and vigor and asking them questions and shouting these abusrdities at them, I found myself getting nervous.
In my head I was like, "Why are these people talking so fast to these kids? Why are they using such big words? What's going on - they need to slow down and speak clearly and use words the kids will know. How do these kids know what these words mean? Do they understand what is going on?"
I was literally unable to comprehend that these kids, who looked like they were in an age range from about 5 and up, were able to understand these adults and speak on a level of English normal for any other kid who was raised in the states, an English speaking country.
It kind of freaked me out that I couldn't get my mind around it. I guess it's because the only children I've been around are the kids at school, some of who may speak great English for their ages, but you still need to speak to using careful word choices and clear sentences. The other kids I've been around are the kids at the orphanage where we volunteer every Saturday who speak not a single word of English, but it all works.
I'm home in about a month or so for the wedding, so I can only imagine what it will be like when I am trying to talk to people. I remember coming home from Italy wasn't the hardest of transitions, because enough people spoke English and I spoke Italian, so it wasn't seriously shocking to encounter English everywhere, all the time. China was another story, and I was there only for three months; however, I remember being completely amazed going through airport security and customs when these guards and staff were speaking to me in such a fast-paced, natural rhythm. I have a feeling that after spending ten months in Korea and going back to the States for a week, my experience will be very similar to that of coming home from China.
So, I'm sorry in advance for any strange ways of speaking or gesturing that may be disturbing to many of my friends and family back home.
 
 
I was in a cafe on Sunday getting a sandwich and some coffee for lunch when one of my students walked in with her mother and her sister. I said hello and they sat at a table that was a bit far from mine, so when I went to leave I threw out my stuff and waved good bye. The mother, who was fashionably dressed in high heels, scurried over to me before I could walk out the door and spoke to me in Korean. I thought she said something about thank you and maybe even mentioned something about a cake present, so when she scurried away from me and went back to the counter I thought it was best for me to wait a minute just to see. I was right.
She bought me a cheesecake, all boxed and wrapped so pretty, from the cafe. It ws the nicest thing in the world, and my heart absolutely melted.
Then, this morning I walked into work and saw two more letters on my desk from the student whom I saw on Sunday and one of my other students. I fell in love. It was a great start to my morning, but walking into a class of 30 unruly kids at 9 a.m. while your co-teacher falls asleep standing up sort of changed my mood.
Yet as frustrated as I was becoming, the fact that during the game, a few of the boys in my class were excitedly shouting their answers by saying, "C, baby! C, baby! Give me a C, baby!" definitely helped me to crack a smile or two.
Oh, Korea, when will the madness end?
 
 
I signed my end-of-contract papers yesterday afternoon, officially stating that I do not plan to stay in Korea to teach for the following year.
I won't lie, as excited as I am for five months of traveling to start come August, I felt such a heavy sadness. Anyone who knows me knows that I am incredibly indecisive and incredibly impulsive; so when my co-teachers were sitting with me and talking to me for 20 minutes about staying another year, I came very close to signing the document out of pure fear. I was afraid to say no and afraid to let down my co-teachers and afraid to let down my students. 
If I could have stayed for just six more months, I would have. It would have been nice to see my third grade students graduate and move on to high school, and it would have been nice to finish out the year with my second grade students. I am leaving them right in the middle of the year, and I'm scared that they will forget me. I'm nervous that they will get a different foreign teacher right before they graduate, and then it will be like, "Who was Alexandra Teacher?"
And, to make matters worse, for the past two days I've been getting letters from my students for "Elders Day", which is this  Sunday. The cards are filled with endless words of gratitude, praise, compliments and requests for me to set the girls up with my handsome brothers. I think my all-time favorite letter was from one of my boy students in third grade. It didn't say all too much, and it wasn't too deep, but it meant a lot because he was the only boy student to give me a letter. I truly wasn't expecting it, especially from him. I love him to death, and he's a great kid and extremely smart, but he acts indifferent sometimes because he is so much more advanced than my other students - not to mention his class is a class of monsters.
Last year, I LOVED my Fridays. They flew by, and I had such incredible classes. Now, I love two of my four classes on Friday, and my last class of the day is honestly nothing but a headache. They treat me like their friend not their teacher, they sleep, they do homework, they talk and they just outright ignore me when I ask for them to behave. I legitimately was near tears of frustration in my class today and left a few minutes early when a worksheet didn't shut them up. I stormed out. I just shut off the computer and left the class room, all the while my Rico Suave co-teacher slept in the back.
I hate being the mean teacher, I really do. I told them that, but sometimes the kids just drive you to that point of ripping your hair out. Either they're not saying a word and they are dead silent, which isn't productive to the lesson whatsoever, or they won't stop talking with their friends. If It was not for my third (though sometimes they can frustrate me) period and fourth period (they are my favorite) classes on Fridays, I think I would have called in sick every week so as to avoid teaching this one class of terrors. Outside of the classroom I love them, inside of the classroom they fail to recognize me as a teacher by treating me like their friend, and it makes teaching impossible.
Yet despite all of that and despite the sheer exasperation a day of teaching can bring, I know that these next three months are going to become increasingly difficult for me emotionally. I know I will be a crying mess that last week of teaching when I clean up my desk and say good bye to my students. I've seen them grow and change and mature, and sometimes in class I find myself taken aback by the students who have grown like 15 centimeters overnight. The boys have grown to be so tall, and their waists are small enough to wrap my hand around. I can't remember whether Matty, James, Joey, Frank, Ralph - all the boys I went to school with - were as skinny as these kids are. 
Needless to say, I've been on a crazy, emotional roller coaster from one day to the next this week - well,actually, it's been this way from one day to the next this entire year. I've had my ups, I've had my downs, I've had days and nights I will never forget and stories I couldn't make up no matter how hard I tried, and I still have time to wrap a ribbon around it all.
Let's make these last three months good ones, Korea.