From the BK to the SK
 
This is just a short story I can't believe I forgot to add into my blog.
One of my lower level first grades has this fat Korean boy with the biggest head I have ever seen in my life. He gets so excited to see me. His hair is cut in a  way that just adds to extra, unnecessary volume to his head, and I absolutely love him to death.
I was teaching class the other day when of my favorite girl students who sits right behind him goes to me, "Teacher, teacher, look at his face!" She points to him and he turns to me and starts moving his eyebrows up and down, scrunching his face together and furrowing (is that the word?) his eyebrows in, then straightening his face out in surprise, widening his eyes and pulling his eyebrows as far up as they can go. I lost it it. He smiled his typical smile - his big cheeks take over his face and eyes, and his smile is one of nothing but pure satisifaction and absolute love of life. It's like a, "Hey, look at me, look what I can do - aren't I good?" type of smile, and it kil
 
 
Here’s the thing – there are so many times when in my travels through China, for example, I talked about how if I said one or two words in Chinese, people would automatically think I was fluent and talk to me as so. If I managed to tell them I didn’t know how to speak Chinese, they would insist on talking to me as if I would instantaneously become fluent.

The other day I realized I do the sameeeee exact thing to my students, mostly my higher level learners. If one or two students manage to formulate a decent sentence, I switch my pace to a much faster one, and I will talk to them as if English is their first language. I realized this dead in the middle of class because I was looking back at some pretty blank and confused faces. It’s literally the strangest thing. I always used to get so frustrated when people would do that to me when I traveled, because having someone pound you with word after word you don’t know just makes you get flustered and confused, but now I understand why. It’s the easiest mistake to make, to just kind of throw everything out the window and forget that they don’t understand you or anything your saying. Granted, I am teaching these kids English, but they’re really just learning.

And so, my spoken English has taken a turn for the worse. If you catch me right after class, I will speak to you as if English was not my first language. I’ll use half sentences or half phrases or completely incorrect grammar.

For example, when I was describing Jack-o-Lantern I said: We take pumpkin, we cut face – eyes, nose and mouth – and when finish, we place candle in pumpkin.

Or sometimes I just use total phrases like, “I like” or  “I pay” or “I drink” or “I take”,

One day I was trying to teach my students one of their key expressions from one of their lessons. The expression was to say, for example, “Christmas is a special day for me” or “My birthday is a special day for me”, to teach them about talking about holidays and things. I would say the sentence first. Every single class did the same thing:

Me: Christmas is a special day for me.

Class: Christmas is special day for me.

 

Me: Halloween is a special day for me.

Class: Halloween is special day for me.

They were reading off a PowerPoint slide, but literally every class dropped the “a” in the sentence. They tend to drop definite articles and indefinite articles (my father buy me cell phone today), and so there are times when I find myself saying the same thing.

I’ve also come to phrase questions a certain way, for example, “At what time will we arrive for school festival?”, meaning, “What time does the school festival start?” I’ve learned to say things also like “I take KTX to Busan with my friends,” instead of saying like ‘will take’ or ‘took’.

By the end of the day my brain is fried, and I’ve come to speak what all my co-teachers refer to as “Konglish”, which is what many teachers in my school speak.

My Korean teacher’s desk is next to mine in our office, and the amount of miscommunication that passes between us is just immeasurable. He speaks extreme Konglish, but every day I hear him on the computer learning English and taking notes. All of a sudden I hear him saying things like, “Come on, let’s go! Let’s ditch class! Let’s ditch class!”

Then I hear, “No, we get in trouble! No!”

“Come on…let’s go fishing! It is fun! Let’s ditch class!”

 

I try not to laugh as I listen to him having these crazy conversations with himself about ditching class to go fishing – a proposal that, at 60 years old, I am quite certain he will rarely use if he ever visit the United States; however, he practices his English with me as much as he can in ways that don’t always quite fit.

The bell rings for the school to end and for us to go home. He turns to me and says, “Let’s go (which he says over and over again every time the bell rings for a new class, even if I don’t have a class to go teach)!!” I smile and tell him I am just getting my stuff together, even though I know that he walks to his car and I walk in the opposite direction to go home, so realistically we walk about two feet together to the office door and head our separate ways.

He says again, “Let’s Go!”, and this time he adds a, “Come on, baby!”

I laugh. Did he really just tell me to come on, baby? He is standing there smiling and says again, “Come on, baby!”

But he is not the only Korean to use this saying. My students use this CONSTANTLY to one another, and in most cases it’s a boy who says this.

I was playing “Mother May I” with one of my classes as a way to teach my students how to politely ask for things or say yes or no politely. The student playing mother just told another student that he had to penguin waddle to him at the front of the classroom. He stood there, arms open waiting for his classmate to start walking and goes, “Come on, baby! Come on, baby! Come here pretty baby!”

Hah. He is one of my favorite students, and I loved him even more after that. I felt crippled with laughter while I watched one of my students penguin waddle to the front of the classroom as my other student stood there calling to him, “Come on, baby!”

But there are definitely times when it’s hard to control myself, because I’m not laughing with my students but laughing at them. When I say this, I obviously don’t mean it maliciously; it’s just hard to stop yourself from laughing when they say some of the things they say.

We were talking about Halloween, and I was quizzing them for candy. The week before they learned about rhymes using Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, which they loved. I wanted to test them, make the quiz a bit challenging, so I said to them, “This Halloween monster rhymes – remember rhymes is sounds same (I point to my ears) – toast.”

My students eagerly threw their hands up. The first student said “Werewolf”, another yelled “Vampire”, and one yelled “Frankenstein”, and so I lost it. I started laughing at the succession of how truly off they were with every answer they gave, trying to collect myself so that I can give it one more try. They were sitting so poised and ready on the edge of their seats, but they couldn’t have been more wrong, and I couldn’t have felt happier about them being so wrong.

Those are the rare moments you walk away from and realize that every bit of frustration is worth it. Every bit of frustration is blown out of the water by the crippling laughter that puts a stitch in your side that stays there for the rest of your life, because you know every time of you think of that moment, you’ll laugh just as hard.

 

 
 
So the classroom dynamic and the relationships between teachers and students are both things I could have never imagined in a million years to operate the way they do. It is so funny that school and education are placed in such a high regard in Korea, because sometimes I think to myself, “The stuff that goes on here would never happen in America.”

Korean students study and do take school very seriously. They are faced with intense pressure to succeed and do well. High school students are in school until 9 or 10 o’clock at night, and most of my students go to private institutes after school so that they can keep studying.

Students can literally beat the crap out of one another during my class, girls punching boys – hard- or boys punching boys, hitting each other in the face with a good slap – and my co-teachers will just sit there totally unfazed. I stand there and wait for them to stop, because yelling doesn’t work. Koreans do not respond to yelling, at least in my cases, and very rarely have any of my co-teachers yelled. Instead, their tone of voice becomes very stern.

Two of my co-teachers each react to students misbehaving in different ways: The gentle giant hits my students, usually on the back on the head or with his bamboo stick he carries around in his hand, but he does so playfully. Sometimes, but not often, there is a bit of force in his strike, but he forever has a smile on his face. He looks at me laughing, nodding his head and giving me the OK to go ahead and keep teaching. Meanwhile, in my head, I’m trying not to laugh as his eyes have disappeared into his smiling face as I think of the irony of the weakness in his reprimanding despite the strength in his stature.

My other co-teacher gives her students a nougie – I don’t even know how to actually spell it because this I the first time it’s become a common thing in my life. She headlocks them, curls up her little Korean fist and gives them a nougie. Then, she does the same thing – flashes me a smile and tells me “OK!” so I know I can go on.

One day, as I started to teach my lesson, I noticed two girls at the back of the room standing, their hands gripping separate chairs placed in front of them. My co-teacher is standing next to them, smiling at me, giving me the ‘go ahead’ nod. I start to speak when, suddenly, these girls are doing squats using the chairs for support. They’re moving at the speed of light, up and down and up and down. I stop and stare. I couldn’t help it. There are two girls right in front of me who look like they’re working out to a Donna Summers exercise video (does Donna Summers even make exercise videos?). All they needed was some off the shoulder sweatshirt, leggings, a sweatband and leg warmers and they were set.

I start laughing. My students start laughing with me. My co-teacher gives me that ‘go ahead’ nod once more, and I try to gain my composure. Next thing I know, they’re alternating their bounces: one is coming up while one is going down, and their paces are still as rapid as ever. This can’t be serious?

I have to ask my co-teacher. “Is everything OK? Why are they doing squats?”

She laughs and says, “It is punishment.”

My brothers had to walk in circles for an hour whenever they got punished, but they didn’t do this in their classrooms while a teacher was trying to teach. My punishment in high school was being whisked away to insane Sister Agoglia’s classroom, biting my tongue as she unknowingly presented me and my two friends (Connie and Alexa) with every possible opportunity to get ourselves into more trouble.

I try teaching once more, but I can’t. I just start laughing. No matter where I try to look or how much I try to focus my attention on the other 28 students staring back at me, my eyes keep drifting over to the two girls doing squats in the back of my classroom.

My co-teacher realizes that “maybe this is a distraction”, and has them stop.

Other times students have to “drop to their knees” – no joke, this is what the teachers tell them to do – and stay like that until they’ve learned to behave. There have been many times when I’ve walked into a room where a student is in tears, on his or her knees with his or her head hanging as low as possible after getting in trouble. Sometimes, the students have to kneel below an open window in the hallway all day until they’ve learned their lesson.

Speaking of the window thing – my school is bitter cold because they leave the windows wide open in all of the hallways to circulate the air and keep the germs out. Literally, every time I leave my desk and slide open the door to the hall, I feel like I am getting ready to leave a ski lodge and get back on those mountains. I carry a cup of coffee with me to each class for some extra warmth.

The classrooms aren’t too bad, though, aside from the fact that the kids can sometimes seem like they’re wild animals that escaped from the zoo. And it’s funny how I will say things - like they even understand me – that my teachers would always say to me and my classmates (mostly Mrs. Downey) each day: Every time I turn my back to write on the blackboard, it isn’t an invitation for you guys to start talking.

These kids give me half a glance and continue to talk. Some literally give me an actual “huh?” expressed both verbally and facially, before they continue to talk. My co-teachers have no problem with the students all talking, not listening to me or one another as they answer questions. They just have these smiles on their faces as they watch me teach. The only teacher who has any control in our classroom is my littlest, tiniest, lifesaving co-teacher for my first graders (higher level students whom I absolutely love).

So the students can hit each other, talk, sleep – I even witness one student cut another student’s hair with scissors. When I noticed and clearly showed a reaction, my co-teacher came over, grabbed the scissors and also proceeded to cut the student’s hair. Naturally, he had a smile on his face and laughed, giving me the nod to continue my teaching.

But even outside of the classroom, the relationship between students and teachers seems to be borderline somewhat of a friendship, especially with the younger teachers. I’ve seen my students pull on my co-teachers’ arms. I’ve had a group of students tell me, in English, that my one co-teacher “is a bad teacher! So ugly and so stupid!”, even though they are joking, and my co-teacher will sit there smiling. I’ve seen my students physically wrestle for something like a pencil case from the hands of one of my co-teachers. Students also can just filter into the offices where the teachers’ desks are without even a knock. I’d be expelled from Saint Anselm had I ever done that.

It’s just very strange to me the way that these students and the teachers interact. I notice most of this every day at lunch time when I eat in the classroom three times a week with my lifesaving co-teacher and her homeroom. Though I can’t understand what they’re saying to one another, based on their tone and their body language, it’s like they’re sitting and talking with a friend. My co-teacher shares a student’s water bottle. Every day, after she finishes her meal, she calls out to one student, sticks her hand out, and, instantly, there is a water bottle placed into her grip. They’ve spilled food onto my co-teacher’s jacket as they sit there and eat with us at her desk, and my co-teacher does nothing but toss them a scowl like a 14-year-old girl. They’ve massaged my co-teacher and, one day, even gave me a neck massage – so not OK.

They students have actually raised their voices to my co-teacher, usually complaining about something or someone else, but I can’t ever remember raising my voice while complaining to my teachers. Sure, I complained and I had my moments when I was disrespectful as all hell, but to me sometimes what these kids do makes me think so much of the way classrooms operate at home.

I love watching all of this unfold in front of me when I eat lunch in the classroom with my students. I do wish I could eat there every day, but then I’d be anti-social for not eating in the “school restaurant” (and by school restaurant I mean cafeteria) with the other teachers.

But I love being with my students. Sometimes I sit there, and all I keep thinking of is how lucky I am to be right where I am this very day. I can’t imagine having spent this year doing anything but this. There are days, as I’ve said before, where I want to scream because my students were so misbehaved, or because I can’t stand teaching the same lesson one more time, but at the end of the day I feel lucky. I am working in a middle school in Daegu, South Korea, and it all happened faster than I could even blink my eyes.

My friends and I have become ‘those people’ that when we hang out, we spend majority of the time sharing stories whether they’re frustrating, funny, annoying or warmhearted stories about our co-teachers and our students. Most often, we talk about our students – the ones we love and the ones who make us want to rip our hair out, and we laugh. We talk about them so much, that literally, one morning when we were all away for the weekend I woke up at 7 a.m. and the first thing out of my mouth was, “There is a Charlie Brown special on Halloween, no?”

My friends told me yes, there was, and I replied, “I thought so. Maybe my students will like it”

 

 
 
There are a few things about Korean people and Korea in general that I find to be very interesting, and one of them is their adherence to traffic signs and crosswalks.

I’m a New Yorker – a Brooklyn girl more specifically. I have very literal patience, and I grew up learning how to J-walk. I am not one to follow suit when it comes to this ridiculous aspect of Korean life.

Let me preface this by saying there are some pretty insane Korean drivers (bus drivers are on crack I think), and I have seen my fair share of possible accidents. I have also seen a car hit a man off his bicycle, unconscious and onto the ground, while the driver calmly out and sat beside him until he sprang to life and walked away unscathed. I have also seen many cars just outright ignore red lights and drive straight through them, mostly a second or two after the light turns red. So it is a pretty dangerous game when you’re crossing the street in Korea.

I have no regard for crosswalks or crossing lights or crossing guards, and maybe one day I will learn my lesson, but my pet peeve is taking a walk with a Korean where crossing the street is involved.

For instance, one of my co-workers took me out to dinner the other night at this restaurant up the block from my house. We drove from my school and parked across the street. Just as I went to walk directly across, while the cars were waiting for the red light and there was no oncoming traffic, she reached for my arm with that famous Korean fist of steel. Her shriek would lead someone to believe that we just bore witness to a mass murder.

She rips me back so fast I swear she ripped me through time. She tells me it’s very important that we watch for the proper sidewalks and lights. I look at her. It’s about a five minute walk to the nearest corner, which means we’d have to walk five minutes, wait five minutes for the light, then walk five minutes to the restaurant when literally, at this very moment, if I reached far enough I could touch the front door.

This is the teacher who learned English for me. Sometimes I see her in the hallways at school and I run the other way, and sometimes she absolutely melts my heart with her kindness and love. she helped me to design 40 Superman Capes for five straight hours for the homeroom I eat lunch in three times a week, when she has a totally separate homeroom of her own. Each cape I designed was more beautiful than the next, or so she says. She is the most insanely precious person I’ve ever met.

Anyway, so we go to the restaurant and order our food, and I feel so parched. I tell her I will go to get some water, but she’s up and walking to get some before I can even finish my sentence. I reach for the glass, so thankful for some water, only to almost spit it back up on to the table.

“I mix…hot and cold water.”

I felt like someone gave me leftover water from a baby’s bath. I look at her and know exactly what to say: Maybe cold water will taste better.

Translation: I do not like this, and I want a glass of cold water.

As we eat she talked about the different “materials” that go into the food. It’s funny how referring to them as materials instead of ingredients can make a dish instantly unappealing. I can’t tell you the amount of times teachers have referred to what’s being served at lunch time as “Maybe it is meat and other materials.”

Uncertainty? Check.

We paid our check (though she pays every time) and left the restaurant. Naturally, just to get a laugh, I darted to cross the middle of the street, only to get the same reaction of “Excuse me! Excuse me! Wait just a minute please. Come here. We go this way.”

I won’t lie, sometimes I do things just because I need to still wrap my mind around how bizarre I think it is, and to me this was definitely such a situation.

So we walked the ten minutes to her car instead of taking ten steps to cross the street. She felt it was “best for my health and my safe” to be good to the traffic signs.

I don’t really have a proper transition into this little story, but it’s something else about Koreans and my everyday life here that makes me laugh. There are two words commonly used throughout Korea: Maybe and Nowadays. Maybe means definitely, which I am sure you’ve learned from my other post. For example, “Maybe we have no school on Friday” is the Korean way for saying “There is no school on Friday.”

My friends and I have taken a liking to using ‘maybe’ in every sentence we say to each other, and it has literal become a dominant word in our vocabulary. We find ourselves saying, “Maybe we will get dinner at 7?” or “Maybe we can go shopping later”, or, even something like, “Maybe my stomach hurts today.”

One of the other phrases one of my co-teachers loves to use is “frankly speaking,” and he uses it at every chance he gets. “Frankly speaking, your presentation was very good today.” Sometimes he says, “Frankly speaking, I think you will hit traffic if you take the bus.” It seems we’re always frankly speaking with one another. He is another one who just melts my heart into pieces. He reminds me so much of a Korean version of my grandfather – he has a big belly and a child’s face and harmless nature. He knows when I get frustrated with him because he’ll tell me something like, “Your hairstyle is very nice,” when literally I come to school with a rat’s nest at the back of my head.

He likes to have in-depth conversations while we are teaching class, and sometimes I can’t help but laugh. He also uses English when I know the kids have absolutely no idea what he is saying and I know he is doing it just for show. He’ll say things like, “Be quiet now please,” while there are kids hanging from the ceiling. He says it at a decibel that is right above a whisper. (Literally, sometimes I am not sure if some of my Korean students or co-workers even have a voice box. I see their mouths moving, but there is absolutely no sound coming out. I could seriously wire some of these kids to a mic and still not hear a single thing. I’ve learned to just nod my head on such occasions, because asking them to speak louder makes it that much worse – they think they’ve said something wrong, no matter how many times I assure them this isn’t the case, and they completely shut up.)

I don’t even know where I was going with this blog, but frankly speaking, I don’t care.

 
 
Sometimes there is so much to write about, I don’t even know where to start, especially when I wait a week to write.

Last weekend my friends and I jumped on a train and headed to Busan, about an hour South of us by KTX, for an International Fireworks Festival. My intention was to go, watch the fireworks and try to make a midnight train home back to Daegu. I had a prior commitment early on Sunday morning that I needed to return for. Turns out, I took a train home at 11 the next morning with my two friends.

Let me just start by saying that I have been and stayed at some pretty questionable places in my life throughout my travels, and when we first arrived in Busan, remember, I wasn’t staying the night. My friends just wanted to find the first place they could to put their things down and then head to see the fireworks, so we went to the hotel directly outside of the train station. It was cheap and easy – such a fine compliment – but it was the strangest hotel I’ve ever been to. The entire time I kept thinking of the movie and the ride at Disney, “Tower or Terror.” This was some straight up tower of terror hotel. It was probably the first one built in all of Korea; actually, it was probably built before Korea even existed. But when you’re traveling, beggars can’t be choosers (no matter how many times throughout a trip my friends and I will complain that we are coming home with rabies or some other kind of disease).

We put our things down, checked around for some ghosts and then got on the train to go see the fireworks. The train station was packed, and the trains were relatively crowded, but at least I didn’t have some random stranger’s elbow lightly resting in the crook of my neck. Instead, I had my best friend Sheila’s hand resting on my shoulder like she was getting ready to give me a pep-talk.

We got off the train, and the beach where we would watch the fireworks display was PACKED. There were just people everywhere. They closed the streets so that it was only foot traffic, and people had stormed the beach like Normandy to get good seats for the show. Seriously, these people must have arrived the day before. Other people just took to literally falling to the ground and taking a seat in the middle of the streets, while crowds of people walked up and down the street before the fireworks began.

There were three or four old men sitting next to us who spoke no English, but the one closest to us was in a suit with a tie. He wasn’t just ready for the fireworks, but he was ready for three unsuspecting American girls to take a seat next to him. His face lit up, serving as a preview to how the sky would light up within just an hour. He had ample amounts of magic tricks prepared for this very moment, and he was literally pulling tricks from his sleeves. Every time I looked over, he had a new trick in the palm of his hand while his face remained bright with excitement. He taught us some Korean hand game that was a mixture of rock, paper scissor and human jenga, and it was quite fun until his knee became the game board.

A few minutes later, he quit the games and got serious. The fireworks were starting, and he needed to prepare for those, too. He pulled out the stunner shades and sat there waiting for the show to begin.

 So I haven’t really been home or seen Fourth of July Fireworks for almost 3 years now. In 2008, I was living alone out in Mass., and I was WORKING on the Fourth. I realized at that night that newspaper needs to run every day, regardless, and I was at the bottom of the Totem Pole. In 2009 I was in Beijing, China, and needless to say, Fourth of July wasn’t exactly their holiday. Finally, this year, I was on Cape Cod, sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on my way home from Provincetown to file a story for work. Oh, Cape Cod.

These fireworks were mind blowing and exceeded my expectations. It was seriously as if the sky was on fire, and no one made a move to put it out; everyone just loved to watch it burn.

I have never seen any fireworks display even come close to this one. It lasted for maybe an hour or so, and it involved every end of the earth that it could. It was set above a bridge that spanned out over the water. Fire was coming from the middle of the sky, from the boats on the sea, from the birds that were flying through the air (literally, there were firework birds), from below the bridge and above the bridge – everywhere you looked. It was just one explosion of color and life after another for a straight hour.

We met up with a ton of other teachers after, and slowly but surely I found myself pushing my curfew. Next thing I knew I was walking to the subway to head to the university district to go out. Yup, I was staying.

It felt like there was some secret maestro, orchestrating perfection into each moment from somewhere behind the scenes. Everyone was having fun, everything was great, and we absolutely loved life. I couldn’t be any happier, or so I thought.

I was on my way to the bathroom when a guy stopped me and read my sweatshirt. He looked at me and asked, “You went to Penn State?”

This was the second time of the night someone spoke about Penn State. Earlier that night I was walking past a kid who said he graduated from there in 2008, and so I obviously stopped and talked to him for a second or two.

I told the guy I graduated last year, and I didn’t bother asking him what his connection was to the school. I just wanted to get to the bathroom. Mind you, there were an expected 1 million people coming to Busan throughout this weekend to see the fireworks. So the guy looks at me and says, “What’s crazier, Busan tonight or Happy Valley on a Saturday?”

He made my night. I was all the way in South Korea, and Penn State was living up to its name. It didn’t take me more than a millisecond to give him my answer, and I obviously told him Penn State on a Saturday. I’d walk away from this night and remember it for the rest of my life. Half of my Saturdays at Penn State, well, let’s say I can only assume I had a good time.

I thought about his question again on my ride home and realized I was wrong. What I should have said was neither – THON weekend in Happy Valley blows everything possible out of the water. I love Penn State football, I love tailgating from morning to night, I love Beaver Stadium and I love my school, but there is absolutely nothing that compares to THON weekend. Everything we do that weekend we do For The Kids, and there is no greater feeling in the entire world than seeing all of these kids and their smiling faces, knowing that you’re changing lives.

 
 
This is a YouTube video my friend Sheila showed me that I thought was pretty awesome. Hope you guys enjoy it!
 

Home

10/21/2010

0 Comments

 
So it’s weird. There are always these strange moments throughout the week or some time during my day that I sit in the moment of being in Korea. I understand that I moved here, and I understand that I work here, but sometimes it is very surreal to think that I live here.

Last night my friends and I went to a dinner, and they went for ice cream after. I felt tired, so we parted ways in the subway station, and I went home. It was such a natural feeling and thought: going home. Those moments of kind of completely fascinating yourself with where you are and what you’re doing are very unique and almost feel concrete.

There are my times when I stop and think, “What the hell am I doing here?” when I see my brother Michael’s pictures of his life in beautiful Europe, for example. Asian cities, in my experience, aren’t that kind of “dream world” environment and lifestyle you find when you travel to Italy or Greece or France, where the romance built into the buildings and the lifestyle just enchants you and puts you under some spell. As I’ve said before, the cities here just kind of propel you forward into this controlled chaos of bright lights and endless people.

But then I get to work, and I see my students and right away I remember what I’m doing here. There are times when they make me so angry, but at the end of the day even the worst students in class are always the ones either telling everyone to SHUT UP! (which I find ironic) or rushing to say hello or good-bye to me.

In my last class, I was teaching telephone conversations and practicing with one of the students out loud. She’s probably my favorite in the class because her smile is just one of the biggest, happiest, braces-ridden smiles I’ve ever seen.

So we’re practicing phone conversations, and she’s supposed to ask me, “Would you like to go shopping today?”

As I start to answer her by saying, “Sure, I’d love to go shopping!”, she simultaneously starts saying, “Sure, I love you…” in a way that was both very strong but very faint, as she tried to stay in tune with what I was saying and keep up with my pace so that we both ended at the same time. I started laughing. Sometimes it is just so hard to keep your composure, especially when what a student says makes you so happy.

Today, when I was doing that same lesson with a different section, the students had to ask one another to do something and respond by saying “Sounds like a plan.”

The dialogue for them to practice was on the TV screen at the front of the class, and there were blanks on it for them to fill in with their partner. The blank looked like this, “Sounds like a _______!”

I practiced with two of my students at their desks and asked them, “Do you want to go play soccer?” to which I received the response, “Sounds like a soccer.” I tried again, instead this time asking to go to the park. I received, “Yeah, sounds like a park.”

At least they started with the same letter, right?

Lastly, as a bit of a time killer today, I taught my high-level students the game of telephone. I started with the sentence, “I have a beautiful puppy,” and the students raced to finish and shout out the sentence. The student on the winning team ran to the front of the room and yelled, “I have a beautiful body!”

The whole class roared with laughter. He felt so embarrassed after, so I made sure to give him a high-five for making my day end of a really happy note.

 
 
I really think the fitness center become a more scarring and confusing experience each day. I feel like sometimes I have to go in, armed and ready with armor on, because the second I walk into the locker room I am just hit with one naked woman after the other. They’re just standing there, nakedly having a conversation about who knows what or drying themselves off in ways that really should not be done in public and make me never, EVER want to use the towels at the fitness center ever again. (Sorry if that was inappropriate. Welcome to my life at the Korean fitness center.)

What I also realized the other day is that there is some sort of “sleeping room” at the fitness center that people can take a rest in. The two women who work there (and I’m guessing they own it because they seem to always be there) sometimes are “taking a rest (as Koreans like to say)” in there. Otherwise, they’re always working out. (That confuses me a bit, too. You’re supposed to be working, no?)

There are also many people I see working out when I first arrive at the gym who disappear into the darkness for an hour and emerge just as I am finishing up on the machine. They must have taken a much needed rest on the tile floor – how comfortable and relaxing?

The other day I was working out and my student came right up on the treadmill next to me and bowed. I almost fell off the treadmill. The day before that, I watched this man go from machine to machine to do strength training, and just before he would start he would do the sign of the cross and pray. I am guessing he is very religious, or maybe he doesn’t have too much faith in the machines and how effective they’ll be for him, so he turns to God for some extra support.

A short little post, I know, but probably among the strongest and most vivid memories I will take with me from Korea.

 
 
Sometimes I think I have some form of ESP. It’s very strange. Sometimes, I’ll be thinking of someone when suddenly I receive an e-mail or phone call or a message from that person, or I’ll be thinking of something and somehow it’s brought up in conversation that very second.

I had a meeting with the principal of my school the other day, which of course a “translator” was present for. I use the word “translator” loosely because I’m either on the verge of laughing or on the verge of screaming because of how slowly or inefficiently the conversation is moving. When it’s something very important, like the fact that we were discussing returning home to the States for my brother’s wedding, I become very impatient with the language barrier. Maybe that makes me rude, but you want to make sure you completely and 100 percent understand each other at certain times, and my “translator” does not speak the greatest English. He is one of my four co-teachers, and though he is like a gentle giant and ultimately melts my heart every day in some way, it is very frustrating to have important conversations with him.

So after we’re done talking and working out the dates and such, my principal takes on his Buddha-esque quality and is shedding all the words of wisdom he can gather. He’s asking me about homesickness and culture shock, which I really haven’t felt an overwhelming amount of yet. I am used to traveling, and I think living in Asia once already, though it was for a short time, helped to make this transition a bit easier for me. (I do plan on writing a blog on the difference between China and Korea, though, because there are HUGE differences.)

So the principal then asks me if I am curious as to why there are so many mirrors around the school and in places throughout Korea.

I sort of started laughing. On my way to teach class that morning, for the first time since I’ve been here, I stopped in front of this enormous mirror on the second floor of my school. If you’ve ever seen Harry Potter, it looks exactly like the mirror in one of the movies (I think the first) where you look into it, and its reflection shows you your deepest wishes and desires.

Ok – this mirror, unfortunately, has no such magical powers. (Otherwise, maybe I’d have my life a little bit more figured out than I do right now.) But it’s just this enormous mirror right in the hallway that all the students will crowd around as they rush from one class to another. It’s sort of ancient-looking, but in a beautifully antique way, as if it came from some royal Korean family.

I think the power behind this mirror is what much of Korean’s society is apparently based on; one’s appearance. When you look into the mirror, you want to feel proud of who is looking back at you. There is nothing less than the best accepted in Korean society, and I guess that’s what the mirrors reveal – not your future, but your status. Do you look acceptable and presentable?

Maybe this blog is all b.s., and it’s totally just my opinion, but it’s so funny how the mirrors are kind of at the epicenter of Korean life.

There is a mirror in every classroom, and one of my co-teachers (male) studies his reflection multiple times throughout one lesson, combing his hair or analyzing his face. The students, especially the girls, always carry around handheld mirrors and are always perfecting themselves during class. It’s like an addiction and they can’t stop: They’ll look in the mirror, put it down, and within just a few their hands start itching with anxiety and they’re once again perfecting their appearance.

So, it was a bit coincidental that my principal had asked me this question, and based on my laugh he knew the though had crossed my mind before. He, too, laughed and smiled and told me that many foreign teachers (so he’s heard) find this to be a strange and weird part of the Korean culture.

It’s definitely a little bit strange, but I can also guarantee there are some things people find much stranger than the “house of mirrors” that is Korea.

 
 
This is just a baby shout out to say congratulations to my cousins, Vinny and Laura, who just welcomed their second son, Alexander John Delgozzo to the the world. Brilliant name in my opinion. Congratulations!