Since it’s almost that time but not quite where I’ve been here for year, I decided to reflect upon the past year of living, working and experiencing Korea. It’s also been a year since I first really started this blog.
And since it’s now the new year (provided we believe that Lunar/Chinese New Year is the beginning of a new year) I’ve decided to make some changes in my life and with this blog.
First the blog because it’s more easy to go over and discuss how I want to change it.
The past year I really needed an outlet for work, social, cultural etc things that were all new to me. So it came across as whiny, annoying and complaintive (not a word but who cares) at times. It was also unfiltered, unstructured, and unedited. It was something that I really needed and I don’t regret it but I think now that I have settled into a role better here, it’s an appropriate time to change into a more “mature” (snorts) format.
Also that word, format. Because I used this blog as basically a diary it was all over the place with lovely (or not so lovely) tangents about whatever I felt like. I think giving it a format will help it. I’m not quite sure as to what the format will be. I was thinking that each day could have a theme: mondays are music, tuesday are work, wednesdays are social etc. But I’ve yet to really think and expand upon that idea.
As for editing….I probably still won’t edit typos because I never liked doing it when I had to for a grade so I sure as hell won’t be doing it for this.
I will continue on with the other blog which is more logistical (boring) about teaching in Korea-how tos, where to go for information that is more along the lines of a “proper” teaching in Korea blog I suppose.
I will continue to think on this as I have off for the nest two and a half weeks and won’t be in school for that amount of time.
As for reflecting…where to even begin. I guess I will have to break it down into different sections otherwise this will be come longer and more confusing than the Simarillion.
School/Work: A year ago I had spent the least amount of time with children that could be achieved without looking callous. Because I had never spent time around children as an adult I grew to dislike them. I thought they were annoying, and over the top etc and whiny.
Now, my perspective has changed. Yes ther are times where I want to throw a student out of the window (JOKING). There are times when even my best students act up and the class is hard to handle. This is especially hard when you don’t speak the same language. You can’t really scold them.
You can’t use “threats” or give advice the same way that you would in America. Everything is through a translator.
The key to this was that I learned that Korean Co Teachers really are the ones in charge of discipline. While I see that sometimes as a weakness where the kids don’t really respect me, it makes it easier on me without having to worry about how to control the class. Yes I’ve carried classes on my own with no co teachers with me (which went in two seperate directions) but overall once I found the fine balance between being the friendly foreign teacher and more strict teacher, it was a better place.
They are children I kept reminding myself the entire year. Yes they are children so I have to teach at their level and think of what things they enjoy, not me. Ye they are children so yelling and screaming at them isn’t an effective tool. Yes they are children that when they do stupid stuff, it’s just them being kids. But I also know that they are children who grow up to be adults and if I fail them now as a teachr and an older model of being a grown up, then I have no one to blame but myself when they turn out to be nightmare teenagers. They no longer have the excuse “they are children”.
I’ve learned here that children while cherished also tend to be spoiled. I’ve been told its a generation thing. The people who are raising children now were raised in such a strict and conservative enviorment that they just let their children run around like crazies. There is no discipline, and most of my students go to bed at 2 am because they don’t have a bed time. I understand the parents want to cherish their children and not break the cycle they were brought up in. But to leave all structure out of child’s life at that age is just as dangerous.
Most of my kids were amazing and I am already missing them way too much. I just hope I won’t compare next years class to them. Of course I won’t miss 5-9 the tero that is already sweeping all the 6th grade teachers by storm. But Dion and Jake and Hunter and my EXO students…it’s sad that I won’t see much of them next year.
As for the work place in enviorment. It’s a lot different than most of my friends. They all have classrooms that belong to them. They can freely decorate and make the classroom according to their taste. Me however, I have a classroom that I share with the afternoon teachers. I have a desk in a communal area that I decorate and sit at. At times I wish that I had more control over my classroom image, but I do what I can and no one seems to care. As for my desk, it’s become like a second home. I have pictures and postcards up and it’s uniquely me.
As for my co teachers. It’s been an interesting ride. Going through 3 co teachers in one year has to be a record or something.
At the beginning of the year my female co teacher and I has a bit of an awkward relationship. I felt very confined and put down a lot because I felt I was doing nothing right and she didn’t really like me . She scared the kids and me, and at times I felt she was stifling the kids. I learned however that keeping control of the class was something that she did so I didn’t have to. I could focus on having fun and teaching. It’s something that I recognize now and am very grateful. After spending time together for summer and winter camps, we became closer and I feel more relaxed with her as well. Not to mention meeting her adorable son was a highlight of January.
My other co teacher-first an older female substitue, then my main male co, then a female co who felt more like my older sister and now back to my male co for only a week.
Where to being. So the position was still being filled when the year began so I had the first week with the sub. She was very nice but older and had only taught 3rd graders so she wasn’t equipped to dealing with older sometimes abrassive kids. My second co teacher, my male co, became such an important part of my school/work life. He and I managed to work through the hot mess that 5-1 had been, two open houses, a class that was too smart and wasn’t being challenged by lessons. It was a learning year for both of us. It was his first year as well as mine. There were times that we weren’t on the same page with discipline and that was a rough time for us (see older blogs-in short I had students trying to jump out windows, throwing paper balls at my head, flipping the bird, using inappropriate words) but we worked through it.
However a third grade teacher needed medical leave so he had to transfer over and they brought in a high school teacher as my new co. I was so distraught and upset about losing my male co that I was determined not to like this new co which was stupid of me. Turns out she was awesome. Though she struggled with teaching elementary kids and my wonderful 5-2 class suffered the most, she and I became good friends. She felt more like an older sister to me and I was so upset when she left.
I felt bad for her because she was coming in at the end of the school year. She had never taught younger kids and didn’t understand that certain games or activities were not good for them. She also didn’t understand not to take things personal because there was a time when children would say “I hate you” and she got upste about it. Also for whatever reason my 5-2 class lost it. They became bad and unmanageable. They never quite recovered from it.
Even when my male co and I had one final class with them, he couldn’t believe that they were now a nightmare.
And now my male co teacher is back but will only be staying until tomorrow because he is going to join the army. So I will have another new co teacher starting in March.
And thus continues the ever changing game of Co Teacher Roulette. I will be sad that my male co won’t be here but after having gone through the sadness and mixed emotions about it once, I feel that this time I won’t be as sad or depressed and worried about it.
They say that Korean schools are very different than American schools. I do feel that but then again I have a biased opinion. I grew up strictly in private school so I am used to small classes and a community based school. So I don’t know what a public school feels like. But I feel the loss of community. Most teachers feel that once their class is over, their students are no longer their responsibility any more. I feel that it’s important to encourage that relationship outside of the classroom so that it can flourish inside the classroom.
Also for things like sports day I was told I didn’t have to do anything. But I wanted to help participate. I did feel at times excluded from things. I don’t know if it’s because the language barrier or they don’t want to burden me with silly things like school festivals, but I felt sad about it.
Schedueles are another thing that is insane. Classes with be cancelled without warning at times which isn’t a problem for me because my co teachers tell me. But the school year is formatted very differently. Students only get 1 month in summer and about 2ish months in winter for vacation. I wonder if it’s this way because throughout the year there are long holidays that take up weekdays. It’s something that I will have to get to used to, and I have for the most part. As long as the school has heat and AC that’s all that’s important.
I think that’s it for school. I can’t really think much more about it.
Apartment/Living: A year ago I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it through the night. That very first day in my apartment was too overwhelming. I had nothing but a mattress on the floor, and old table and chairs, a sofa and a huge tv and some closests. But the bathroom didn’t have a shower curtain now a place to hangone and i had nothing left from the previous owner to help me. Thankfully Emily and Rob helped me get through the first few weeks.
Now it’s a place that I love to return to. It’s very much “my place” now and I appreciate it’s imperfections. Even though it’s not the biggest place in the world, it’s much larger than some of my other friends places. I’m always thankful for my western bathroom and the fact I have seperate rooms for my bathroom. I’m also thankful for my super large screen TV. I’ve seen my friend’s apartments and I realize that despite it being old and having to use a lock and key, and a nosey neighbor, I have a pretty decent place. (now only if I could have AC installed)
It’s going to be weird though after having spent two weeks in USA and three weeks in my friend’s house, going back. It will have been over a month-hopefully the air will warm up and my showers will be better than a little lukewarm.
Social: This is a slightly complicated one. Over the past month or so I’ve had a bit of a falling out with two friends whom I considered very close to me. Once again I feel a little betrayed by them. But instead of sitting here, wondering what I did wrong, I’ve kind of brushed them off, talked to them here and there.
It kind of started when they kept me waiting outside for 20 minutes in 20 degree weather. I was surely pissed and to keep myself from becoming more upset I left the party early.
Then they started making plans without me, not inviting me. The first time one of them cancelled on me I was a little annoyed but I got over it. The second time, after walking around Seoul the previous day, I was pissed. Not only had we made the plans to go hiking where they knew there was going to be a ton of walking and chose to go to Seoul and walk around all day, but they didn’t even invite me to go to Seoul with them.
At that point I had had enough and just slowly started taking myself away from them. There are times that I miss hanging out with people who live close by, but if they are the type of people like this, than I’d rather spend that time alone.
Whitney and I have become super close. Apart from a few things here and there which aren’t really things at all, she is probably the closest friend I have in Korean and in general. We talk a lot and I feel that I can be open and honest with her. She’s had a rough year and I’ve tried to be as supportive as I can but being 4 hours away from someone is tough. But we still manage to see each other at least once a month which a feat.
Savannah and I don’t really talk as much as we used to due to work and China blocking everything but the pollution they make. I know the friendship will always be there and there are times that I do miss her, but as of now, it feels like we are heading in two different directions that are more serious than a simple conversation about clothes. She has found someone that I believe is really good for her and that’s great but she has changed a lot and so have I. I’m just wondering if we will be able to get on like we used to when we see each other again. Its a fear that I do have.
Treasure and I had a brief dinner together. I kind of felt like I didn’t know her all that well anymore. Both of our intersts have changed and I feel more distant that ever before. We were always those friends who didn’t have to be next to each other or constantly talking to each other to be close. And when we saw each other we picked up like it was nothing. This time however felt different. I don’t know if it was the fact that I was mad that she brought her boyfriend along for our short time together or that we are just not different people. But it was a little awkward at times and I felt that it wasn’t the same as it used to be.
I’m still shocked how close Emily and I have become…even Rob. Emily was just another person in a my TEFOL certification course and now I’m babysitting her dogs in her house. I did partly choose PT because I knew I’d have someone nearby to help me through the transition period and that was the smartest decision I made. Not only did they make the parts about missing home easy, but I had another friend outside of my circle of friends that I could call mine. She also is older so there is none of that petty bullshit and drinking and parties.
I will be so sad when she and her husband return home next summer but by then I will be able to stand on my own two feet and will really be a part of this community I believe.
One of my better friends here moved to Seoul and I won’t see her as often. Itmakes me really sad because she was not only part of my weekly routine but someone who I felt really close to. Even though we are the same age, she treats me like I’m her younger sister which I’m okay with. She was also my Korean tutor and one of the first people that I made friends with on my own and orgainically. I’m a big believer in things happening organically. And as someone who never makes friends it was really shocking to me that I could.
Hopefully we will see each other more as now I can go visit her in Seoul . And hopefully I can move to Seoul next year as well-she said we should room together to save money. She’s someone I am so graetful to have met and really miss.
Friends is something that I’ve always kept as a small group. I don’t like having that giant network of people and I hate meeting new people. I don’t know if it’s a possessiveness thing over my friends, or the fact I feel a little awkward around people because i don’t know what to say. I hope with the loss of some friends this past year due to moving, or falling out or whatever that I will be brave enough to make new ones.
I don’t want to have to use that front that I did last year-pretending to be ok with being the “idiot” of the group, always being happy and letting everything roll off. It wasn’t met and I became really torn up about it. But I got over it-realized that I don’t have to be this fake happy person all the time and if people don’t like it than they don’t need to be around me.
My lifetstlye has really changed. Not money. Never money. But keeping myself busy, and traveling alone and taking chances. In Korea I’ve learned not to get worried if I get lost. Something that I freaked out over when I first got here. But now I am confident enough to do the things I want and go where I need to go.
I’ve never had problems with doing things on my own whether it’s been going to movies, or eating in a restaraunt. But Korea has really pushed me. I’ve done traveling along, concerts alone, shopping alone….it’s given me a chance to really feel confident in myself which I love.
Now I know I can do these things, nothing is really holding me back (except finances. damn you).
KPOP is everywhere. Literally. My one friend said to me when I went back to the USA “you are a total fangirl, they are just normal people”. Yes I am aware of that. I’m not going crazy drawing hearts all over their pictures and writing our names together on school books (ok but it was just one time -joking!) but it’s so in your face. Being the KPOP fan I am it’s nice to invest in something that is not onnly easily accessible now (and cheap!) but something my students relate to. It’s mazing how much students light up when they see pictures of EXID or BTS or EXO on my powerpoints. It makes me happy to see that these kids know that I actually car about their interests.
Yes I do go a little crazy with KPOP albums and merch, and I love going to concerts. It gives you a fun little hobby and something fun to do on the weekend. It gives you a built in community of friends as well. To all the haters out there who say that I”m a crazy kpop fangirl or that I need a life…i say to you…come to a country wher eyou don’t speak the language, have no friends, and really can’t do much on your own at first-then you find a hobby with a group of friends and you end up having great memories of freezing cold concerts, or insane 4 hour dream concerts.
I really don’t have to explain myself but I feel its important for people to know that just because you love KPOP, doesn’t mean you’re some weird crazy fan.
And if all else fails, believe it or not, KPOP really has helped me with my Korean. Not only listening but words and phrases.
Public Transportation: I fell in love with PT when I was living in Philadelphia during my college years. I thought it was the best thing ever. You could go anywhere you needed by regional rail, subway, trolley, bus. It was insane. I still stand by that fact but man Korea’s PT is unrivaled. Not only is it insanely cheap and reasonable (unless you want to go from Seoul to Busan a lot on the KTX) but its super easy to use (well buses once you get the hang of them) It makes life easy for someone like me who doesn’t own a car to get where I need to go. Seoul is only about 1 3o min away from me (subway/train and bus together) so it makes for an easy day trip if I want. Unlike Japan where I hear it’s outrageously priced, Korea you just use your T Money card and swipe. Couldn’t be easier.
Also it’s clean. When I went to Philly I had to ride the subway to get to Drexel. Gross. It smelled, it was dark and dirty, and sketchy. And that’s just the station it self. There were no shops, or mini malls or outlets. There also weren’t as many people either. Then the subway itself. There was no music, no glass doors. The car itself was very small as well as the doors. It was much more narrow -it also was very unclean. I don’t think I could go back to using it after living in Korea.
Food: Most people lose weight when they come to Korea. I was one of them but sadly my trip back to the USA as well as have been sick for about 3 weeks now has really derailed all my efforts. Shockingly products like honey and peanut butter are almost double what they would be at home while things like socks and potatoes are super cheap.
Though there are times that I miss American food and the simplicity of find them or finding them at a resonable price, most of the time the substitues are good enough.
Also my lunch is provided by the school so I get to have good healthy Korean meals for lunch. I’m slowly learning how to make my own soups as well.
I really do miss having an oven but since Korean food doesn’t use ovens, it’s not been as overwhelming.
Though at times its hard to be an adult, but I’ve really learned to love cooking-you can’t go wrong with garlic, and chicken I’ve learned.
Money: Sadly I still don’t know how to budget. Thats one of my NYR. I’ve started the year with racking up a nice large hospital bill in the USA so budgeting will be a major issue this year. I intended on using my bonus money for my eyelids but that won’t be happening this year. Instead it will go towards bills. Yay bills.
It’s actaully pretty easy to save here if you don’t do much or have any friends. For my first few weeks I didn’t do much. The only friend I had was in Busan. I have managed to save up a lot of money my first few months. And then after Dream Concert…it all went down hill from there . Concerts and merch and visiting Seoul and Busan and just over all insanity took over. Also I was starting a life here. I bought things that I need that I will only buy once : like kitchen wear, bathroom stuff.
Hopefully this next year I really can get down to saving or at least trying to save. It’s going to be hard because Korea has turned me into a shopping crazy.
But if you are into saving and not doing too much or buying much like my one friend, you can save up a decent amount (she saved like 12,000) alongside the pension you get when you leave the country.
Shopping: As mentioned above I’ve turned into a crazy shopping lady. From skin care and make up (seriously nature republic will bankrupt me ) to KPOP albums (it’s just so easy and cheap to buy the albums and they come with free posters!) to knick knacks here and there for the apartment to traveling costs….it adds up. I’m at a point where I don’t need much more for my apartment (like I have the room) and I’ve learned to cut back on buying KPOP albums. However skin care and make up will always be the same because I’m always gonna need it-no apologies.
I don’t think there is much more for me to reflect on. I’ve built up my life here and will enjoy the fruits of my labor for the next year. I don’t really want to stay at this place for 3 years. Not that I don’t love my apartment and school but I do want to be in Seoul and I don’t want to become too comfortable in the same routine. I want to explore different parts of Korea. I’d love to do a year in Jeju or a year in Gangwon do but I’m hoping to put that off until I’ve gotten better at Korean and really feel ready to take on something like that.
Whether or not I decide to go forth with the graduate programs or try out a hagwon I will be making plans to move on. But for now I will just look forward to the new year, hoping for inspiring students, a good co teacher, some nice weather, places to travel and great kpop comebacks!
end note: The title of the blog is taken from Taeyeon’s single which is amazing! I felt like it was relevant to the post. Check it out!