From the BK to the SK
 
Sometimes it’s hard to manage a lifestyle here where you don’t feel like you’re always going to offend someone. Koreans are very last minute, and they are very forceful and much of their lifestyle revolves around food and eating. And it’s like, you don’t want to, in some way, create any kind of bad tension with any of your co-teachers, but when they ask you at 4:19 to go somewhere with them at 4:20, or they ask you to go with them to church, or they ask you if you want to try some new kind of food or some food like rice that will, in my opinion, always taste the same, you feel very caught. It’s like some kind of cultural chasm (is that the right word? I don’t even know) you are constantly wandering in, trying to find the middle ground with some big things, and most of that revolves around things that I’m afraid will offend my co-teachers. I want to be open to everything, yes, and I want to soak it all in, yes, but sometimes I wonder whether they consider the fact that my lifestyle is night-and-day from what I knew in the States.

I mean, I know that they do realize it, but it seems like they can easily forget, and though they are so excited to be ambassadors of the Korean culture and to make me feel welcome and to make every experience possible happen for me, sometimes it’s like, I need to change gears. Things need to move a bit slower, ease into the transitions and adjustments before I lost appreciation for things. If everything is hurled at you at once, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and to feel confused about how you feel. I came here to embrace the culture, yes, I know that, and I came here to experience a different lifestyle, but sometimes they forget that baby steps help the transition feel familiar overtime.

Anyway, things are incredibly different, and I learn a lot each day. One of the younger teachers who speaks English pretty well always comes and talks to me about different things. One day, she finally asked me, “Don’t you wonder what is my age?” I was sort of surprised. At training, we learned about how age is a level of respect in Korea, and that having someone ask you how old you were was a very intimate question we should all be glad we were asked. I was sort of confused and said to her, “Well, I mean, I do, but I thought I wasn’t really supposed to ask you. I thought you were supposed to ask me.”

She started laughing. “This is funny. In graduate school, and I’ve learned this other places, Americans don’t like to be asked how old they are.”

HAH. How do you explain that one? I go, “I guess that’s kind of true, because we don’t have the whole etiquette level for age in America so it isn’t important in conversation to know how old someone is. But I mean, you’re right. I think if you were to ask my dad how old he is, he wouldn’t be too happy.” (Sorry, Dad, you’re not old.) She was confused, so I told her basically, younger people are more comfortable talking about their age than older people are. No one likes getting older at home. Once people turn a certain age (which I myself am not even sure about), people start to kind of dread birthdays and getting older.

She listened intently and said, “It is funny, how we are taught such different things. You think not to ask me and I think not to ask you. I wonder what else there is like this where we think two different things.”

She had a point.

One teacher asked me if at home in America we bow when we greet people. I said no, you just wave and say hello, and that when I return home one year from now, people are going to give me a weird look if I bow when I greet them. She was surprised, and so now she always waves with both hands, very excitedly, and I find myself bowing my head regardless. Apparently, I’ve mastered the technique and bow like a Korean, but they love to give compliments, so I won’t pat myself on the back for that one just yet.  

 
 
For anyone in the world who has ever felt starved of attention, well, Korea should be the first place he or she should highly consider moving to or visiting.

I returned from my trip to Busan last week with a bit of a tan, which is what pretty much every red-blooded American strives for all year round – keeping that healthy glow. Well, after two days in the sun – without any sunblock – I definitely came home a bit darker than when I left.

I came to school on Monday, and right away, I received many “Are you OK?”’ questions and “Your face looks, umm…are you OK?”

I kept nodding my head and smiling, but I found myself asking the same question: Wait, I am OK?

I always have a dream where my nose shrinks (I wrote about it last year while living in China), but when I woke up this morning it was still the same size as the day before. I mean I never wear make-up during the day (I know, I know, I have no pride), so maybe this was their indirect way of telling me I look like crap and need to start putting on a little something.

I went to the mirror and looked and my face, studied every inch and pore and line I could find to make sure there wasn’t something hiding somewhere I couldn’t see. Finally, another younger teacher came over to me and said, of course, “Oh, are you all right? Your face has a lot of sun.”

Then it clicked. It is SO super easy to tell in Korea, as it was in China, who lathers themselves in skin-bleaching cream twelve times a day and who doesn’t. Most teachers at my school have a normal, Korean complexion, but there are some teachers who, when I first saw them, I was taken back. They looked as if they submerged their faces in a tub of bleach and let them soak overnight - every night.

So now, it’s Wednesday, and I am still getting the same question – Am I all right? My skin looks like it has some sun.

I can only imagine what they thought when I strolled in here back in August after living on Cape Cod for the summer and baking on the beach at every chance I got.

It’s so strange how we are so different in the way we approach things, and how something as simple as a tan can speak volumes in one culture, where as in another culture it’s like a norm. No one here gets tan – no one. So when my nose started peeling a little bit yesterday (obviously anyone who knows me knows my nose is like the number one thing to go when I get burnt), everyone was telling me to make sure I “take care” and “treat myself well.” Meanwhile, I’m praying that the color stays in my face for as long as heavenly possible before the winter washes me out with its bitter and cold winds.

It is really nice to have people care so much for you and for your health. I’m getting a little bit sick from falling asleep with my windows wide open a few nights ago. My throat was feeling sore and so my voice was hoarse (that’s like an absolute NO in Korea, especially when you’re a teacher), and I have a bad cold. All of the teachers were so worried about me, bringing me tea and hot chocolate and telling me to take a rest as much as possible. One of my teachers told me to try wearing a scarf to bed. I slightly took her advice – I didn’t start wearing a scarf, but I did dress a bit warmer than putting on a tank and shorts while the crisp, autumn air swept through my apartment each night. Not a good idea.

But so today, the teachers took me to get soup for lunch, which I did greatly appreciate. They took me to a little restaurant run by a mother and her son. It was one of those places that was hidden in back alley near my school that most people would pass by without even noticing it. Inside, it was a traditional Korean restaurant where you take off your shoes and sit on the floor. Surprisingly, my feet didn’t go numb, nor did my legs, though it still is relatively uncomfortable.

Anyway, so they wanted me to try a soup that Korean often “take” when they have a sore throat or are in “bad condition (term often used for sick)”.

The kitchen smells so good, and my stomach is feeling more hollow by the minute. My eyes are darting from table to table, following the server as he runs like mad around this little restaurant bringing everyone their food. All I keep thinking is how, if I don’t have something in front of me in the next five minutes, I might just join another table and eat whatever food they’re willing to offer me. But then, just as suddenly as that delicious aroma filled the restaurant and teased my appetite, it turned dreadfully overwhelming. The stench of fish hit my nostrils, and my hunger pains were gone. That was it. I just imagined a bowl of fish heads being placed at my plate, and my two co-teachers sitting there, smiling and happily waiting for me to give it a try. I kept my fingers crossed and prayed that wouldn’t be the case, and luckily, it wasn’t.

Instead, the guy rushes over with this bubbling lava of a soup that I instantly knew was going to be hot in more ways than one. I have a sore throat, they did know what that felt like, right? My teacher told me to take caution, because the soup was very hot, but to give it a try and see if I liked it.

I braced myself, dug my spoon into the broth and pulled out a healthy portion and closed my eyes. There was no water at the table and no napkins in sight, so if this turned out ugly, well, I wouldn’t know what to do.

I took a baby sip and felt like someone put a lighter to the back of my throat. My eyes widened and my nose instantly started running, my face immediately overheated and my eyes became a pool of water. It felt like one of those moments when you were younger and you were having a coughing spasm in class, but you felt embarrassed so you tried to hold it in, and the blood rushed to your face by the minute until someone finally asked, “Do you want to get some water?”

I was literally holding my breath until someone brought me a small cup of water (they never use large glasses because it’s bad for digestion), and I chugged it as fast as I could. All the while I’m holding this spoon that still has some soup left on it, and I’m wondering, How am I going to say I can’t eat this?

Just then, the waiter brings out a vegetable soup, and I feel this wave of relief wash over my body. Thank god. Vegetable Soup. My co-teacher looks at me and I manage to say, “This soup is just a bit spicy,” and she smiles and says, “Ah, really? You should maybe take some more.” She dishes me out a small helping and places it in front of me.

I plunge my spoon into the vegetable soup, thankful for something that isn’t furiously bubbling over the sides and that is easy to identify. Just as the spoon touches my mouth they warn me, This one may be spicy.” Great.

It was really spicy, and there were a few times throughout the lunch that I felt myself coughing up fire, but I made it through. I made it through, and then some.

Korean meals are very different from meals back home. Everything is family style. When you get to a restaurant where there is a menu, there is only one at the table. Typically, one person orders, and everyone shares the dishes. It was the same way in China. And, there are always various side dishes that accompany the meals.

So I tried a few of the different side dishes, mostly eating to appease my co-teachers, until one is pushed in front of me. My teacher said it reminds of her childhood, because they didn’t have much to eat and so they’d eat this as a snack in between meals. She asks, “Do you know silk worm?” but I pretend not to hear her as my mind suddenly rushes back to a street corner a few days earlier, where my friends and I passed millions of these cooked silk worms sitting in a large potato sack at this little vegetable stand we walk passed. I clearly know exactly what it is, but to buy myself some time I ask her what it is again. Playing dumb usually helps me to figure out a way to muster up the courage to try whatever it is that I am about to eat. Once again, she tells me its silk worm. She doesn’t insist that I try it, but it’s more the subtly in the way she drops the topic and continues to eat her dish that I know I need to try it.

I grab my chopsticks, I reach in to grab one, and then I pull back. Do I really want to do this? I can actually see exactly what it is. It’s just a straight up, cooked bug. I think for a minute – I’m in Korea. I’m with my co-teachers, I need to do this. I reach in again and I grab the silk work. They’re small, about the size of a thumb nail maybe, and they’re curled up, sort of as if they were getting ready to somersault down a mountain and were swept up and thrown into a pot. I go to eat it, and I stop. I play dumb again, Is it spicy? What I really want to ask is, Is it crunchy? However, I am afraid this would give away too much about my complete disinterest in eating this bug.

They tell me no, it is very nutritious. I count to myself, One, Two, Three, and I kind of shiver as the silk work leaves my chopsticks on rolls on to my tongue. I chew it once, chew it twice, and the crunchiness is unsettling, so I swallow as fast as I can.

“Hmm…not bad,” I say, which I think they know means, “Thanks, but no thanks”.

Sometimes, it’s like they perfectly understand what I say, and other times, it’s a struggle to get my “No, thanks” across.”

It’s hard when they offer you things that are traditional in Korea. Toward the end of meal, the guy brings over a bowl filled with liquid, and I automatically think, This is that fermented drink I tried a few weeks ago. I was fine with drinking it – it actually tasted good, until the word fermented made it taste bad. This might even sound dumb, but I don’t think I even fully understand what the word fermented means, but I just had a feeling it didn’t mean something I’d want to understand.

Anyway, this was a different drink – it was what was leftover from the cooked rice they made us. My co-teachers tell me that their Korean ancestors would drink this drink to help them with their digestion all the time, and so they pour me a big, hearty cup of it. I can see the rice floating around, but I take a sip. She warned me before hand that this might not taste very good to me, and she couldn’t have been more right in her life. I sort of licked my lips and clicked my tongue trying to place the words to describe the taste, and it just tasted stale and old, and stale and old was not something I was interested in.

I sipped on my soup until the very last drop, telling them again and again I was full and didn’t need any more food. To be honest, I was, and I truly didn’t need any more food, but to appease them, I slowly munched on some peanuts and sweet potato root until we were ready to leave.

Every day is an experience different from the day before.

 
 

So on Saturday night/Sunday morning I felt officially homesick. You know that when you travel and live so far from home there will be moments when you just want to cry, where the slightest little thing can your eyes well up with tears. Well, for me, that was because I was missing Jil''s wedding, my best friend's sister, who is basically my older sister.
From the moment I woke up Saturday to the moment I woke up Sunday morning, my mind was just like a broken record, telling myself over and over again that I'm there in their hearts, but it wasn't working. I still started crying every time I thought of Jill walking down the aisle, or the beautiful newlyweds being introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Cotrona. I started crying when I thought of my best friend giving her maid of honor speech, which she e-mailed to me right before the wedding and made me start crying while sitting having coffee at Seven Monkeys.
There are a lot of one-time moments that you miss when you're living abroad, and they are most definitely sacrifices that come with traveling. It's such a tradeoff, like you're experiencing a once in a lifetime opportunity while on the other hand you're missing something that's once in a lifetime, too. You're just caught in the middle at moments like this, not sure what to think or how to handle it, and it's always a hard place to find yourself in.
When i called my best friend's family that night (day for them), the second I tried to congratulate Jill and wish her luck, it was like my throat closed and nothing but tears streamed through the phone. I just couldn't believe I was missing it.
I know, though, and I had so much faith in the fact that no matter where I was, I was right there with all of them on that day. I talked to Margaret, Tom, Jill and Laura before the wedding, and when I hung up I just felt thankful. I felt lucky and thankful to have a second family, to have a group of people that loved me and cared for me more than could ever be put into words. My best friend sent me a message right before the ceremony that really, in all honesty, spoke volumes of how best friends can become family, and that even though I wasn't born with a sister, I grew up having two right by my side.
So, I wanted to use this blog as an opportunity to say Congratulations to Jill and Sal, the new Mr. and Mrs. Cotrona! I love you both so very much and am so excited for you to start a new chapter of your lives together!
You're finally italian, Jill!

 
 
So every Sunday I go to this place called Seven Monkeys to get some coffee and attempt to do my lesson planning for school that week, though I usually end up sitting there telling myself over and over again that I can't be coming home at 5 a.m. every Saturday if I am going to be productive on Sunday. Literally, the Korean nightlife is just like a black hole that sucks you in, and before you know it you're just sitting on a corner in front of Family Mart (a deli) eating massive amounts of kimbab or pringles with your friend as she tells you, "Alexandra, no, you don't understand, like we have to go home soon."
Hah. Anyway, so I go to Seven Money  - "Seven Days, Seven Monkeys" is the store's motto, which I guess I kind of understand? The amount of things and writings here that make no sense is so entertaining. For example, one of the buildings we passed in Busan was a restaurant called "Park Cafe". It was a very modern, sleek looking cafe, so I mean it seemed pretty proper and legitimate. Yet on the side, well, actually right across the front was the phrase "Sometimes....it's memory space origin. Maybe....it's Park." Ok, what? I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that? I have NO idea who comes up with this stuff. It makes me wonder if there are stores back home, like Chinese restaurants or something, where tourists come and see what's written across the front and are like, "What idoits, that makes no sense." I mean maybe not in BK or the city, because let's face it, China town is pretty legit, but in like smaller, suburban areas maybe? Who knows.
So yeah, a lot of the things don't make any sense whatsoever. I remember in China one of the thins on the menu of a restaurant I was at was "pregnant fish belly", which was described as "a fish that sleeps around." I guess that's kind of on target, no?
We've come aross various trash cans, mostly in places like little convenient stores, with one trash for waste, one trash for liquids and a separate trash for bottles, glass and oh yeah, pets. I guess every now and again there are some people who are out taking their dog for a walk and think, 'Screw this, I'm done' and get rid of their pets. I don't know exactly how to explain that one.
Anyway, back to my story. So every Sunday when I get my coffee the girl who works at the coffee places helps me to connect to the wireless internet. (I've come to the conclusion that there really is no such thing as wireless internet.) One day, she walked me, in the pouring rain, to find something I needed to get for school the next day because she couldn't quite explain it. So she's pretty awesome, and we've become friends. She hooks me up with a pretty huge coffee every week, but it's hard because I know very little Korean and she knows very little English.
So when I go upstairs to do my work, she comes up every so often with something written out from her translator that all Koreans carry around. The other day she wrote something to me about learning Korean and learning English, and it was basically saying like, 'Don't be sad you can't speak it, you'll know it soon enough' type thing (except not in those words haha), and then before she signed her name she wrote 'Cheer up! Full steam ahead!' Like, I wonder who makes these translator things that whatever she typed in was translated into 'full steam ahead'. Haha. I laughed about that one, but I waited until she left.
So there are definitely some miscommunication issues and very strange translations. Or there are just things taken way too literally. For example, I met a Korean guy at a bar in Busan and he asked for my number, so I gave it to him. He spoke pretty good English and sent me a text message when he left the bar saying something along the lines of, 'it was nice to meet you, have fun.' So I replied withh a pretty standard, "thanks, you, too. see you soon." Maybe 10 minutes later, I am sitting there when this kid shows up beside me and goes, 'your message says see you soon, so i come back.' Haha. I was like, uhhh..haha...not what i meant? But OK.
This blog has kind of turned into the blog of miscommunication, sime, I was out getting coffee with one of the girls I work with. We were talking and when it was time to leave, she asked me, "What will you do after this?" So I told her I usually hang around and get some work done (I feel like I am back in school), and I asked her what she would do. Now, let me preface this by saying that Koreans are very big on prefacing much of whatever they say with either "Hmm...I think" or "Maybe..", even if they are absolutely positive. So she goes to me, "Hm...I think I will go home to shave my dog." I started laughing and stopped as soon as I realized she was serious, which took about three seconds to process. It reminded me of my friends from home and something stupid we'd say to one another non-chalantly to get one another to laugh or something. It took me a bit of time to fully recover and collect myself from that one.
I've definitely had my comments and my moments, too, when I've said things that have definitely left people wondering if everything was all right. The other night I was out and talking to a kid, and when he told me where he was from, I was confused. He said what sounded to me like "Meru, in South America." I go, "Oh, Meru? Never heard of it." No wonder he gave me a look like, you can't be serious, right?
To top it off, since I moved to Korea my stomach has a bit of difficulty handling all of the spicy food and all of the endless amounts of eating things that I'm not quite sure of what they are. So every day I've been buying these crackers at the store that I told my friends were digestion crackers. Finally, while we were in Busan, my friend Amanda said to me, "Alexandra, I really don't think those are helping you. They are most definitely making you feel worse." I was like, "How can they be making me feel worse? They're 'Digest' crackers," and I pointed to the name written across the wrapping. She looked at me with a little bit of a mixed reaction, like she wasn't sure as to how to proceed with whatever she was going to say. Finally, she goes, "Wait, you know that says 'Diget' and not 'Digest', right?" Literally, it was one of those moments in life like when you find out that Santa Clause isn't real. I was speechless and confused all at the same time. Literally, for the past month, I have been buying these crackers every single day thinking they said Digest. There was like this sense of 'oh crap' that kind of rolled over my body, that same kind of thought you get when you're in the middle of an argument and realize you're completely wrong on every level, and you don't know what to do next.
So I just kind of didn't really say anything, nor did my friends, and we sort of just soaked in the moment until a few minutes later when someone finally said something, which of course was, "Alexandra, no. You're not real."
Sometimes I really don't understand how I functioned living abroad the past 3 years.
 
 
I am traveling right now for the Chuseok holiday, which is the Korean Thanksgiving. It is weird having a break so soon into the school year. My friends and I came to Busan, the city I first applied to live in. I think I am in love. Literally. It is such a familiar feeling of just being in awe of somethign and somewhere totally new. I will admit, I haven't had that in Daegu, and I don't want to leave Busan. I will write more when I return home and have some more time.
Sorry it has been so long since I've been writing. I am going to try to stay on track of it from now on.
 
 
Ok, so I joined a fitness center here that I go to before work each morning. I've come to know the same people, and when I say I've come to know them, I literally mean I've come to know them. Let me explain. The gym, which is at a temperature of 9,000 degrees F so that you can lose approximately 7 pounds per minute of your workout, is male and female. There are uniforms, which I don't wear and not everyone has to wear them. Now, my gym at Penn State was really nice and big and beautiful, but I was always a mongrol and went straight to class after the gym (I changed my clothes of course) and just showered when I got home later that day. My gym in Massachusetts was different. I showered there, where you had your own personal shower and then a personal changing room. At first, I had to work up the balls to shower at the gym on Cape Cod because the doors were slightly see through. Anyone who knows me well knows I'm like probably the most immature person about this kind of thing and cannot be naked in front of people. Anyway, but I stepped up and was brave and would shower at thef gym on the Cape before going to work. So now I get to Korea, so happy to find a gym, and I see the showers - a communal shower, for women obviously, in the locker room. My first thought: No shot. As the woman who works at the gym takes me into the locker room, there are two women just walking around naked. I'm like OK, I will shower when I get home from the gym. So the first week, I was going after work every day specfically to avoid showering there. It's funny, too, because when I have the choice, I'm like super conserative and cautious and careful. But like I've stayed at hostels before where there was no glass in the bathroom door, so everyone could just walk by and see straight in while you were showering or going to the bathroom. So, yeah, I mean there have been times where I've been less rigid - rigid is a good word - but I didn't have the choice. Ok, so after my first week of work I realize: Alexandra, you're a morning person. It took me A LOT to get myself to go to the gym after work. My brain shuts off, and my body shuts down once I've had a long day. I knew I would have to start going at 6 a.m. before work, which meant I knew I'd have to shower there. So, that following week, I did it. There is always just me and another woman in there that early who finish working out at the same time, and there is another woman who arrives at the gym exactly when we get out of the shower. I definitely, definitely was freaking out when I went to shower. I won't lie. I was like Ok, there is a woman in there right now, but I am just going to shower as fast as I can and get dressed as quickly. This woman didn't even look up at me. She just did her thing - which is BRUSH HER TEETH?! and SPIT every five seconds. I stand as far away from her as possible and on the opposite side of the direction in which she spits, that way there is no chance of it streaming across my feet as it makes its way to the drain. I think I'd die if that happened. Die. But in all honesty, it isn't as scary as I thought it would be. I do feel insanely awkward like stripping down while the other women are in there,but they think literally nothing of it. Here is how I can tell: They approach each other and me while naked. Such experiences make me remember the Asian culture's lack of personal space. So I get out of the shower and I have literally this tiny little hand towel for my towel (don't ask) and am about to get dressed for work when the lady at the gym approaches me. I left my clothes there the morning before by accident, so she came to tell me to make sure I remember to bring them home. But like, I'm naked. Like I have no clothes on. Like, can this wait? And she's just standing there saying, "Your clothes, you need home. No leave at gym. No good." I'm like, "Okay," and trying to cover each inch of my body and she's just kind of standing there staring at me. I was like this is a joke, right? Does she not see I am actually naked? After a second or two she's like OK BYE! and leaves. Haha. It's so strange. The concept of personal space is NON-EXISTENT, and it's like sometimes it isn't too big of a deal, but in situations like this, it's a bit overwhelming. And like this morning she was showering (which confuses me because she is supposed to be working) and decides to tell me about how the gym is closed for the holiday for the next three days, but she is like totally naked. I just kept thinking, THIS CAN WAIT! Maybe I am being so immature, but they really kind of just attack you without any harmful intentions. They don't know I feel uncomfortable. For instance, the lady who always showers at the same time I do probably has no idea that when I hear her hockingggg up a lougie I close my eyes, or that the fact that she literally sits on the ground of the shower (I'm sorry you can't help but notice these things) while she washes make me both uncomfortable and weirded out. Like, there is no need to sit on the floor, is there? But I am not one to judge - I am just observing something different and strange to me.
So the gym has definitely been an interesting cultural experience and an enormous step up in maturity for me. Gotta get over it some day, why not in Korea?
 
 
Sometimes it's so hard not to start laughing and hold your composure when you're teaching, especially when the kids say some really funny things. For instance, I made all of the students write name tags for themselves so I could practice Korean and learn their names. I went to call on one student - he's become one of my favorites - and on his name tag he just wrote, "Mr. Chu." Hah. I started hysterical laughing. I was so tired and taught the same lesson twice already that day, and I needed a laugh. I wanted to laugh, and he helped me to do it. Another kid, when I went to pronounce his name, gave me the thumbs up and his friends all were like "Good, teacher, good! And in case you no remember -" and they flipped around his name tag. "Sound like 'Easy One!' " haha. I found that to be so funny, too. At first I didn't make the connection, so they kept flipping back and forth between the Hangul and the English, and finally it clicked. Ha. And it's so funny how excited my students get for me when I speak or can write something in Korean. They sound a lot of stuff out for me and I write it on the board, and they just get so proud of me. They all cheer and are like, "Woah..teacher! Teacher your Korean is wow!" Another time I put up mu power point slide, and one of the students in the class just went, "Oh, shit." I started laughing. I couldn't help it. They don't know what is it they are saying, and I don't want to encourage it, but I couldn't yell at him, either. So I had to regain my composure before teaching the lesson that day. I don't know if I talked abotu this yet, but every morning when I come into school it's like a factory. The kids are all cleaning the school, top to bottom. For the most part, it is very spotless. The floors are shiny and slippery as anything, and the students are racing around each floor with mops. The vice principal walks around the school and picks up the littlest scraps and shreds of paper he finds, and I always find that to be so interesting. I'm always amazed by that. Speaking of my vice principal, he's the greatest. He knows English words and is definitely, definitely very smart. I can just tell. He always comes over and teaches me Korean, usually at least three times a week. It's interesting learning from people that speak no English because you learn it in that language. It's difficult, definitely difficult, but for the most part you learn a lot more I think. I am also so seriously amazed every day at lunch. It's just so insanely interesting to me to se and watch the whole process. There are lunch carts that maintence men and women start rolling through the hallways outside of each classroom at around 12:15, and I can smell the kimchi from a mile away. The sound of the carts clanging through the hallway kind of makes my stomach drop. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I eat lunch in one of the classrooms with my students. There are certain students who are responsible for dishing out the meal, because all students eat what the school provides. They go row by row to collect their trays, and after getting a bit of each food in the provided sections on the trays, they stop by my and my co-teacher's desk that we sit at and show us theirs trays. They must have enough food on their trays, otherwise they have to go back to the lunch cart and get more. They're not too loud during lunch time, but they're agressive. They're always agressive. They are allowed to hit one another, and there's students like falling all over the place and knocking over desks and chairs. Yet strangely, they've struck a balance that makes them relatively quiet. Anyway, aside from that, I sit there amazed and watch them eat. They take out their chopstick and start eating food that you probably could never, ever in a million yeras pay kids in America to eat. For example, the one day, they served me soup (there is always soup, rice, kimchi and then two other dishes), with fish heads in it whose eyes were just looking back up at me. They were just swimming around in my soup, and all I kept thinking was, "There is just no way." The phrase just kept running through my mind, over and over again as each student passed my desk to have his or her tray approved. I sat there and watched them eat and I was honestly just fascinated. I wonder what these kids would think if they sat in an American classroom, watching all the other students pull out their sandwiches with cold cuts or peanutbutter or thermoses of whatever their parents sent, or the Lunchables packages (I was alwaysss so jealous of the lunchable kids). Like would these Korean students think the same thing I was thinking - "No way. This is so weird. I can't believe they just eat this so normally." You know? It's so crazy to me. And these kids scarf this food down that I just sit and push around my plate and pray for the day to be over so I can find something to eat that can sit well in my stomach, or find something to eat that I don't have to try pushingthe "what exactly is this?" thought to the back of my mind. Don't get me wrong. Like I said, I try everything. I do. I don't like everything. The stuff I like gets me more nervous than the stuff I don't like, because I don't want to find out what the stuff I like actually is. It's like the don't ask, don't tell policy every day here in Korea. Like I said, all the students just call me teacher, which is fun and funny, and whenever they see me coming through the halls or to school in the morning, they get so excited. They all wave hi, use as much english as they know (Long time no see!) and then that's about it, because they get nervous after that. There are a good amount of students that can speak english very well and talk to me a bit about different things, ask me different questions. It definitely gets difficult with the language barrier. I'm not supposed to ever be teaching in the room alone, and for the most part, I'm not. Excpet for just now. My one co-teacher tends to leave and come back every so often during my classes, and it's fine if he leaves for a few minutes. But today he left for the ENTIRE class, and I was just sitting there with all of these students who were looking at me with such blank faces. I was kind of laughing, too. I'll admitt it. I felt so bad and so guilty for not being able to play the game with them I had planned, but I just couldn't explain the rules and had no co-teacher. So what did I do? Youtube. It works miracles. I youtubed videos of Mr. Bean, and we spent the class watching those. A LOT of the girls just sit there staring at their reflections in mirrors, haha, and fixing their hair or brushing their bangs or something. The boys are pretty much always playing soccer. Everywhere I go, there are kids playing soccer. Sometimes it feels like some kind of institution where I work. It isn't a beautiful school (most of them are just very straight foward buildings) and just has this huge dirt pitch outside of it. Surrounding my school complex of broken down, run down apartment buildings, so sometimes I literally feel like I'm on some kind of movie set that takes place in prison. (But my area isn't bad.) And all the kids are always coming to class so drenched and sweaty because they're outside playing soccer every chance they get. I don't even know exactly where I was going with this, but there's one boy in one of my classes that I love. All of the students are excited to see me and are nice to me and all, but this one kid came up to me after my first time teaching his class and said to me, "Teacher, thank you for teaching us english." He was great. It made me feel great. I was just so happy. You can see it on the kids' faces like who wants to learn and who doesn't care as much, and he is just always attentive and having fun. Today I played Jeopardy with them, because today is our last day before the Korean thanksgiving holiday. They all had so much fun with the game, and after class the same kid came up to me and said, "Teacher, thanks for playing with us a fun game." He's set with an A...haha. Last but not least was the student in my first grade class, this little boy I think that is really about 10 years old, who, when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up, told me "I want to be a dad because I love babies." He meltedmy heart. These kids, I swear, they really know exactly how to bring a smile to my face.
 
 
So it has been a very long time since I last entered a blog. My MacBook broke, so it's been hard to write without a computer. It's also been hard to write where there isn't much free time. Things have definitely picked up since moving here one month ago. That's right - Happy 1 Month anniversary, Korea! How did my friends and  I celebrate? We went and spent an entire Saturday aimlessly and lifelessly and deliriously walking around the biggest department store in Daegu called Lotte, doing nothing but eating and sampling all the free foods. Hah. This past Saturday is one of those days that my friends and I will be talking about year from now, because all we did all day long was laugh at the simplest of things. It's funny when you think about what kind of moments mean the most and what memories you hold on to the strongest. I've wandered around museum after museum all around the world, I've been in and out of every church possible, explored tons of pagodas, but it seriously are those brief moments with your friends that make you put everything into perspective. It's those, "Is this really happening?" types of questions and moments that you remember most. Anyway, teaching has been pretty funny. I won't lie. Some days, it's tiresome when you teach the same lesson four times over the course of a few hours, but it's always different. The students are what make it all interesting and fun. I teach middle school first and second grade, and I teach two levels for each grade - the A and B levels. The A levels are fun and definitely easier to teach because they understand me a lot better or can just catch on a lot quicker. The B classes are more challenging, but I am learning a little bit with each lesson I teach. It's funny, too, how recognizable the students have become for me. I can definitely say that I am starting to separate the classes, because at first it is very overwhelming. You're just one person teaching 20 classes of about 35-40 students each. I started off thinking I'd never learn all of these kids by the end of the semester, but I am starting to catch on. I can read Hangul and pronounce it quite well, so that helps a lot. I can start to read their names and call them out in class, which I can tell they appreciate. They get so excited when I speak Korean, what little Korean I've picked up and can actually recall and remember. Like I said, I can read it and prounouce it, and if someone dictates something to me very slowly and clearly, I can write it. Sometimes I think I am dyslexic, though. I won't lie. It's weird when you can notice a difference in the way your mind functions versus what you're writing out on paper or reading out. But then again I am just beginning to learn a new language, so it's all a big change. My goal is to be conversational by the time I leave here, which is a reasonable but hard goal to set. The thing about Korea is it is very situational, and very much a proper etiquette culture in regard to its speaking and conversational intricacies (did that sentence even make sense?). The way you speak to someone older than you and the kind of language and word phrases you use is VERY different from the way I'd speak to someone my age and then someone younger. There's different and proper ways to count things, not just 일, 야, 삼, 사,  (1, 2, 3, 4....). For instance, there is a way to count people - but within that, there is a way to count people who are older than you versus counting off people that are younger than you (organizing my students into teams for activities). Then there is a way to count objects, then a way to count other things. I swear my mind was going crazy trying to take this all in. But I am doing everything I can to learn. I often go across the street to the little deli and have the guy help me and check my pronounciation, so I need to get him a gift. Each time he sees me he knows I'm coming with "homework", haha, so he starts laughing and reaches for my book. I feel like I've had a really good and unique experience up to this point with all the Korean people I've met. The women at the school told me they look and me and think of their children (most of whom are my age, and the sons are off serving in the army, which is a requirement), so they think of me as their own and want to take care of me. It's a really incredible feeling to have people who barely know you and barely speak your language be so emotional and deep with what little they can say and express to you. Ha, the one group of women - math teachers - took me to Pizza Hut (they LOVE pizza). There's one math teacher whose face just makes me so happy. There is just something abut the way that she smiles and greets me - her face is seriously like a canvas, and all of her emotions are constantly painted across her face. Anyway, she prepared questions for me to ask me, not that she wold understand the answers without my lifesaving co-teacher translating them. But still, the thought counts. She must have gone on a translation web site or something, but it really meant so much to me. She asked me, "Tell us about your childhood," and she learned to say "Help Yourself!" for when the food got to the table. Another math teacher is taking me to her father's house in Gwanju (spelt wrong), which is kind of where Korea all began. There is so much history there. She speaks very little English but has been studying every day so that we can talk to each other. The third math teacher went to the ends of the earth to find me this kind of honey ball dessert that I mentioned, in passing, I tried and really liked. All of the teachers here, whether they are my co-teachers (I work with them in the classroom) or not have really gone above and beyond for me. They bring me little gifts each day or walk over to my desk just to say hi, they've brought me to dinner countless times and brought me to a baseball game. Last week I was able to go to the theme park with my second grade students while the first grade students were away on a camping trip for three days. I went with some of the other teachers, only a few of whom spoke English well. My one co-teacher for second grade was there, and I really kind of look up to her and find myself looking at her as someone whom I want the utmost respect from. She's very intelligent and is very motherly toward me, but in a serious way that's both stern and sincere. There is just something about her persona that makes her seem like this kind of all-knowing, very wise person. Anyway, she took me to the market after the field trip, which was so much fun. I went on all of the roller coasters with my students and the science teacher for grade 2 (he speaks pretty good English), as well as the gym teacher - he speaks nada. Ha. He drove me to the theme park and said (to my co-teacher) he was so nervous because we couldn't speak, so he put on some English music (a few gospel songs thrown in there made me laugh) for me. There was another teacher, a young woman, in the car with us who didn't speak english, either. So, I picked up the newspaper sitting on the backseat and read to them in Korean. I practiced reading the headlines and the stories and things, and they really respected that. The teachers have come to respect me for my desire to learn and read and speak Hangul, as many of my co-teachers have told me this over the past few weeks. They admire how open I am to new challenges, like trying all of the Korean food and going into things with an open mind. That's a very positive feeling. But anyway, after the theme park I went to to the market with my co-teacher and another teacher (no english) and walked around, and they took me to lunch. All I did ALL DAY was eat. My stomach hurt so much by the end of the day. Right when we got to the theme park at 9 a.m., all of the teachers went to kind of this restuarant section. It was pretty secluded, and it was traditional Korean seating. I felt sort of like I was out in the jungle a bit. The tables were on like these raised platforms with tall peaked hut-style roofs above our heads. It was really cool actually. And it's so funny how much they all like to "take a rest." Only a few of the teachers went on the rides with me, while the others most slept by the table. Haa. They always make sure I "take a rest". Even at work, people just put their heads down on their desks - a lot of that happened in China, too. Naps all the time. My dad would hate it. He doesn't understand naps. So we ate again and again and again at the market, exploring the different cultural things I wouldn't come across had I been alone or with my friends. Then after, I met the young woman teacher (who rode with me to the theme park) to go to a baseball game with her and two of her friends. She spoke no english, and her friends spoke little but decent english, but she offered me their extra ticket. It was just so kind and so nice. Like that's the whole thing about Koreans. They kind of really do open their heart to you. There's like no medium point really with Koreans. It's either all the way or nothing at all (obviously in my own experiences). So it's weird to have been here for a month already! The time goes by so quickly. I've been having a lot of fun with my friends, two of whom we met here and I feel like have instantly become genuine friends of mine. It's a great thing to be able to connect and bond with people so instantly, and it's just so weird when you think about how we never knew each other before this. Like none of us knew one another before arriving in August, and yet we all just perfectly fit togther. We have so much fun going out on the weekends with all the teachers. The guys we've met here are, for the most part, super genuine, especially the ones we always go out with. So I've been really lucky on that end, too. So what started out as a series of mishaps and unfortunate twists and turns since arriving in Korea, at this moment, I couldn't feel luckier. I couldn't feel better about what I am doing and what I will do. At times it will be hard to be so far from home and I know those times will come, but it's all a learning process and experience. It's all a part of growing up. Things aren't always easy, and trust me I've learned that lesson well, and in the end you learn the most from the most difficult experiences. ur new blog post. Click here and start typing, or drag in elements from the top bar.