Hiatus

I haven’t updated in a while…I’ve been a bit preoccupied with…well, teaching. I agreed to teach a high school discussion class, which meets seven times in a semester, as well as a high school interview, which I do three times total this year. I get extra money, but it also means I’m extra tired from having to plan and research more. I got behind on planning for my regular classes too (or so I say. I still plan ahead by at least 2 weeks, but I used to plan ahead by a month). And then I had to plan my summer camp and that took even more energy.

I’ve also been struggling personally since the “honeymoon phase” of staying in Korea ended a few months ago. I , admittedly, miss my friends and family back home and I generally have difficulty with adjusting to some things in Korea and find that I get bored super easily. I have no interest in watching anything, and I’m just not in the mood to do anything, which makes it harder for me to write here as well. When I first arrived in Korea, I was convinced I could stay here for at least 2 years. But now I can say with conviction that I’m leaving after just one.

As much as I enjoy my life in Korea, there’s only so much I can take…I’m currently deskwarming a lot because of summer camp lately, so maybe I’ll update more often…we’ll see….

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My Teacher Mask

 

I’ve been talking with a few other EPIK teachers as of late and some people have told me how hard it can be some days. I’ve heard during orientation that the turnover rate of EPIK teachers was rather high (which is probably why we in Busan get our entrance allowance so late). This led me to think: Am I fit to be a teacher in Korea? Will I be able to persevere living on my own in a country I don’t fully understand?

There are a number of situations we may face in Korea as Native English Teachers, and some of them include a language/culture barrier. I have a decent amount of knowledge of Korea so I may not understand how hard it actually is for those who don’t. I have the benefit of knowing what others around me are saying, whether it’s my students in the classroom or my fellow teachers and staff. But, some other friends have said that it’s been difficult when the teachers speak strictly Korean around each other and that they feel left out and ostracized because of it. Others say that they can tell when other teachers are talking about them and how demeaning it can seem as well.

Some other problems include feeling left out. For one, the teachers at my main school are more distant. They don’t chat with me often other than my main co-teacher, who usually only does so out of necessity, and one new and young social studies teacher I met the other day. I feel intimidated in that kind of atmosphere and sometimes I just don’t know what to do with myself. At my second school, I feel a much more open environment. Teachers are always feeding me and asking me about all sorts of things and even the principal and vice principal attempt to speak with me, even in English if they feel particularly daring that day. They also tell me what they expect me to teach, whereas at my main school I’m kind of just left hanging and not knowing if I did what I was supposed to or not. Even if I ask I don’t get clear answers from them.

It’s been exhausting and stressful, for sure. But there’s one thing that makes me feel as if I want to work harder, to keep trying: the students. The students at both schools, to me, are endearing. They may not listen well, they may not have a perfect attention span of 45 minutes, and they may not know a lick of English. But, I’ll be damned if I don’t try my best for them. They’re what I’m here for. Yes, I want to have fun, play with my friends, and explore Korea. But my first and main goal as a teacher is always the students.

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I’ve heard other people talk about how difficult it is for them to get along with their co-teachers- and I feel them! I think that even I should make more of an effort to get along with them, but coming to Korea has made me realize how incompetent I actually am at real conversational Korean. But it’s made me want to learn. Others have talked about how they are afraid of their lessons bombing or of how students are highly unmotivated. I feel the same fears. Will they see me as a teacher? Will they respect me as a teacher? Will I be able to teach a classroom of students with a low level of English by speaking only English?

All of these worries gnaw at me day to day, but as soon as I enter the school I try to wipe these thoughts from my mind. If I don’t, not only will my students and teachers sense my hesitation and doubt, but I will also fail to make their time worthwhile, to teach them anything worth learning. Yes, a brilliant lesson plan is an excellent foundation for a good lesson, but it means nothing if you haven’t built what I, and many others, call the “teacher persona/mask.”

Ever since learning about putting on a different persona in the school, or “teacher mask,” I’ve felt a lot better about standing at the front of the classroom. All of the problems I’ve mentioned earlier are indeed ones that can make you feel sad and depressed. You may even want to quit and leave. But when I’m in the classroom, I try to see the best in everything and make goals for myself.

  • My lesson bombed? I can reflect on it and think about how to improve it for the next class- a habit I formed from my grad school days.
  • My students were unmotivated? I can invent new activities that will get them engaged in class.
  • My students weren’t listening? I can force myself to create a tighter classroom management plan, and I can force myself to become more confident so that they hear what I have to say.
  • My students seem bored and I think they don’t like me? I bulldoze on with my lesson anyway. I imagine that they’re fully alert and ready to learn and don’t let my fear show. Plus, I feel happy when students run up to me outside of class and say hello, give me hugs, or even smile when I look at them. How they behave in the classroom isn’t their entire being, so I should strive to improve rapport with them both in and out of the classroom.
  • The teachers around me can’t understand me or don’t communicate with me? I can see now that my Korean is not proficient and I can work on improving it. I can force myself to create connections with these teachers by reaching out to them.

Now, all of this is a lot easier said than done, I know. But just having this mindset, and just putting on this “mask” as soon as I enter the school, really helps me in creating a stronger mental fortitude. Yes, teaching is hard. But there’s no way I’m giving up now. Just look at how many areas I can improve upon! Imagine what I can become if I fulfill all the objectives I make after some self-reflection. It may sound like I have the mental strength of a warrior when I type this, but God only knows that I have my own share of personal problems. The only difference is that I’m not going to give up. Look at what I’ve given up to come here! Three entire years, a whole lot of money, and more.

I know that I won’t be able to accomplish all of the goals I’ve made. But if you’re wondering about coming to Korea, think back to all of the problems I’ve mentioned. If you feel threatened, if you think teaching is too hard, then maybe this job isn’t for you. And maybe I’m just sounding self-righteous when I say this, but if you can’t endure and you instead focus on everything bad happening, then of course you feel like giving up. So ask yourself this: Is there really nothing good about teaching in Korea? Is there nothing worthwhile?

Gandhi once said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” So, TLDR: I have doubts and fears about teaching. But once I’m in standing in front of the students I suddenly feel happy, even if this is an emotion I force upon myself. I feel even hypocritical when I type this because even now, I have that deep, inner fear of not being a good teacher. But the die have been cast. I’m here. The students are here. What else is there to do but endure and give my very best for them?

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I want to add onto something my friend said: Find a support network. It’s so important to find a group of people so that you can help each other during particularly difficult times. Even if you’ve had a bad week, being with your friends is a great way to blow off some steam. I found a group of friends during orientation, so I recommend you find those few people you can rely on to be with you. There are also plenty social meetups that my friends have gone to and they’ve even made some Korean friends!

On another note, when all’s been said and done, and you’ve given your best but you feel like teaching in Korea just isn’t for you and you eventually decide to give up: I’m not going to say that it’s wrong or that it’s not wrong. That’s not for me to say. Everyone’s paths and abilities are different and the final decision ultimately lies with you. BUT, whether it’s a mistake or not depends on what you do upon deciding to quit. If you decide to regret and mope around about what happened, then maybe you should have tried harder. If you dust yourself off and find something else to challenge, and you keep on at it, then maybe this experience, though halted in its progress, was a mere stepping stone for you in life. So what I’m saying is just this: Don’t quit halfway if you aren’t prepared for what lies beyond. Do your best and I’m sure you’ll be okay.

My 1st Full Week of Teaching

Oh wow. I’m exhausted. I just finished my first full week of teaching and I think it can be summed up in one word: exhausting.

I started Monday at my main middle school. I have three classes + 1 badminton class on Mondays and Wednesdays and only 2 classes on Tuesday. The badminton class is just conversations with 8 members of the girl’s badminton team. I don’t actually teach them how to play because God knows I don’t know a thing about it. I have to arrive at school by 8 for the badminton course but I get to leave early at 4. I only teach 1st and 2nd years at my main middle school and can I just say….the 1st years are so cute.

At my secondary middle school I teach 5 classes a day, 4 in a row in the morning and 1 after lunch. The schedule is tough and I’ll admit…I taught my introduction lesson 22 times and it was getting hard to mentally keep up. Once I started teaching my actual English lessons this week though, with different classes and lessons, it became easier.

The students at the girl’s middle school are much more curious about me than at my main school. At one point, before my 101 class, I saw students entering the classroom next to mine. I had the feeling they were supposed to be in my classroom so I tried talking to them. Now, it was my first time meeting them and they were then suddenly all around me, like curious little puppies, asking me who I was, where I came from, why I looked Korean, could I speak Korean- all at once. They were so cute so I asked them if they were class 101 and turns out they were! They were all like, OHHHHHHH and moved all their stuff into my classroom. SO CUTE. They just swarmed me out of nowhere and that was a sight to hold. lakdjflakdfdslkj, so cuteee.

If I had to compare the two schools…both are quite similar. They’re both in an area of lower-class families, students at both have limited English, both school are old, and both have limited technology (although the girl’s middle school has a bit more). But, I do find that it’s easier to teach at the all girl’s middle school. I wonder why? Maybe it’s because the students aren’t as curious about the opposite gender so they have fewer distractions. I did mention this, but the 2nd years at my main school are so distant. They don’t want to learn English. But at the girl’s middle school, it’s so easy to get them excited and raring to learn English. Hmm. All of the students at both school are good though. I haven’t had to worry about anything yet.

As for my coteachers, emphasis on the plural here, they’re all nice. I have coteachers. If you’re at an elementary school, I think you only have 1 coteacher? But I have 7!! I find that they all get confused as to when they’re supposed to teach with me. I ended up teaching one lesson today by myself! I was okay because I know Korean, but I swore to only speak English. I had to get a student who was better at English to translate for the rest of the class. After, my coteacher for that class felt so sorry that she forgot! And also, at my main school, I was still getting used to finding my way around. I went to one class and found that there were no students! Apparently the coteacher for that class decided to change classrooms and went ahead of me without telling me. She was also supposed to take me to that classroom, but she didn’t. I had to rely on another teacher to show me, so when we found the empty classroom we were both very confused.

This leads to my next topic! So the same coteacher who didn’t tell me she moved rooms is also a new teacher, like me. She’s also around my age, so rather young. I teach two classes of 2nd years with her and I don’t look forward to them. Not because of coteacher though! It’s just that I feel like the students disregard the both of us and we both have a hard time managing them. If anyone has any good classroom management tips, I’m all ears!

Being a Korean American in Korea

This has been a topic that’s long been on my mind, even before I came to Korea, so here I go…

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In America, Korean-Americans are a minority. I never feel that I 100% belong there because of the many micro-aggressions and other acts of racism I experience every now and then. But, what about Korea? Do I belong here? Unfortunately, even here the answer is no. If anything, I feel like a complete foreigner here sometimes.

You’d think that because I look like a “typical” Korean everyone would treat me like another Korean citizen. But, it’s kind of like a double-edged sword. For one, people can tell that I’m from America, that I’m a Korean-American. It’s just like how when I was in America, I could easily pick out who the Korean-Koreans were. Because of that, everyone here expects me to know all the social rules. But I don’t.

What exactly am I supposed to say to my elders? I know I have to bow 90 degrees, but is that every time to everyone? And then when I don’t know, they criticize me for not knowing. Now, if you were a GET who isn’t Korean and didn’t know the rules, they would be kind and understanding since obviously you don’t know. But since I “look like a Korean” they automatically expect me to know everything they do. But I don’t.

Also, I’ll mention this in another post, but because I look “Korean” many think I don’t speak English well. This is even the case sometimes in America. People in America would always ask me, “Where are you from?” When I replied, “Virginia” they would be like, “No, like, where are you really from?” And I would just be completely flabbergasted. Sometimes people are even surprised that I can speak English in America. Even though, you know, I majored in it? I even have a Master’s in Secondary English Education! Just because I’m not white doesn’t mean I can’t speak English, or that I don’t belong in the US.

And then, in Korea, my principal asks my co-teacher, “Where is the foreigner? Why is the native English teacher a Korean person?” And my heart just drops. I mean, in technicality, I am the foreigner. I came to Korea on a US passport for that very reason. I mean, does my English ability just seem like a zero to everyone? Because I look Korean? Even though I have a BA and M.Ed? Just because I can speak both Korean and English does not mean my abilities are any less for it. Just because I look Korean doesn’t mean my qualifications are invalid because of it. Just because I am a Korean-American doesn’t mean I don’t have a place where I belong.

People assume what I can or can’t do because I’m a Korean-American. And this happens both in the US and in Korea. They assume we don’t belong with them. It breaks my heart that many people just can’t seem to understand or accept others like me. But, we Korean-Americans, and even those of other minorities who feel the same way in their respective countries, we all have a place where we belong. It’s wherever we choose to be, whether it’s in America, or in Korea. We can choose to belong in either one or in both, one foot in America, the other foot in another. We can see the best of both worlds no matter what we look like. And no one can take that away from us.

Women in Korea- Gender Discrimination?

So…I want to touch upon a rather sensitive topic: women in Korea. Admittedly, there are many things I want to discuss such as discrimination, sexual harassment, and more, so please bear with me ranting about something I believe strongly in…

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I want to talk about this because in my Advanced Korean class today at orientation, we had to discuss a few topics, in Korean of course, and one of them was about how Busan recently implemented a women-only subway car. Another Korean-American girl spoke up first, saying how she didn’t understand why only women had a subway car reserved specifically for them and that she thought that if women had one, there must be one for men too because otherwise it’d be “gender discrimination.” I honestly couldn’t help but to roll my eyes at this. I had so much I wanted to say but I couldn’t express myself in Korean that well so the teacher gave me permission to speak in English. I had so many thoughts because what she said really set me off and therefore I could barely say everything I wanted to. I wish I could have said more and I regret not having the confidence to speak my full mind in front of the class. As such, I’ve decided to write this post…

Before I begin, I highly recommend reading this article. It’ll give a brief overview of gender equality in Korea. Now, please understand that it’s not like Korea is filled with misogynistic values. There are many people in Korea who believe in gender equality and it has made numerable accomplishments in moving forward since a long time ago, but what I’m talking about is based around what I’ve read/heard about and experienced. So, I’ll discuss a bit about Korea’s gender inequality for a bit before discussing the women-only subway car.

Basically, Korea is still centered around old traditions in which women are expected to take care of all household duties and to bear sons. I can’t even begin to tell you how irked I would sometimes get when my dad, after finishing his meal, would just leave without even taking his plate to the sink. It’s like what, 5 feet away from his seat? But he doesn’t do anything because he’s a man and we women are expected to clean everything up.

Women are also expected to look “beautiful” but are judged as being vain when they show any interest or attempt to improve their looks. I would go a lot further into this but then this rambling would become a full discourse…

BUT, women nowadays are more educated than they were compared to Korea from like 100 years ago and Korea even elected its first female president, Park Geun-Hye (who is  however currently facing impeachment). But, there are very few women in higher seats of power and women still face many issues such as a pay gap and more.

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Also, even though Korea is regarded as a safe country with very little violence, there are still many cases of women being beaten, raped, and assaulted. Oftentimes women in these cases will have no ally and many people online will blame the victim, saying they were wearing skimpy clothing or that their actions have brought shame to their town/school, which just sets my skin on fire. Many women have reported being harassed on rush hour trains, such as men using cameras to take pictures up women’s skirts or copping a feel on super crowded trains. In response, Korea decided to test run the women-only subway cars during rush hour, which leads to what I really wanted to talk about today.

This concept was actually tried in Seoul before Busan and was meant to provide women (especially those who are pregnant or have young children) with a safe place to obtain a means of accessible transportation, but it was met with mixed reviews. Some women felt it was necessary and others said it was discriminating against men (rolling my eyes rn). I however, believe that these subway cars are absolutely necessary in areas with severe rush hour crowding, and maybe even in remote areas.

The main criticism about the women-only subway cars, as I stated before, is that they discriminate against men. They probably think, “If women can have a car all to themselves, men should have one too!” Oh, I’m sorry, let me play the world’s tiniest violin for you boohoo. Get real. It’s not that men don’t face sexual harassment either, but it’s just that women are more highly targeted and need a safe haven. It is specifically women who are looked upon condescendingly and are attacked simply because they are women, which is why men don’t need their own little car specifically because it would then only serve to cater to their sense of male superiority and other misogynistic tendencies.

Personally, I’ve met with many, many weird men approaching me on the subway back in the States and was even followed once. Many of my friends have said they’ve experienced similar events. Therefore, having a women-only car would make many more women feel safer. It’s not to say that this is a fix to the problem that is sexual harassment caused by male superiority. It’s simply a temporary band-aid until we can slowly convince others about the importance and necessity of gender equality. We need to teach society to not tell girls not to go out at night because it’s dangerous, but instead tell people, namely men, not to rape/assault others. It should be a given that we as humans teach and learn that hurting others is not okay in any form.

So yeah…I had a lot to say. I was actually surprised that the majority of people in my class were nodding and agreeing with what the other girl said. I almost thought I was crazy for my opinions but I was like NO. I need to get my opinion out there. Also, shoutout to my BFF and women studies pro Megumi-chan for her second opinion in all this <3.

Anyways, I promise to write about something a bit more light-hearted and relevant to EPIK next. Please do write in the comments what your thoughts are about women in Korea because I will gladly participate in some civil conversation regarding this topic 🙂

Takeoff! Arrival in the Motherland

I would have posted a lot sooner but jetlag was a lot worse this time around compared to a few years ago…whoops

Anyways, my flight  was on the 14th- Valentine’s Day. I ended up taking quite a bit of luggage- 3 suitcases, 2 carry-on bags, and a small purse. I paid an extra 200 bucks but what can I do? All that’s in them is clothes lol.

The flight lasted 14 hours and I was lucky in that the seat next to me, behind me, and in front of me were all empty. I was able to stretch out quite a bit and was quite comfortable. The only problem was that I could barely sleep. On the plus side, the meals on Korean Air are decent, my favorite being the bibimbap (I forgot to take pictures! T-T) which came with a side of seaweed soup/미역국.

After landing in Incheon, I sent my luggage ahead of me (quite pricey- about 300 bucks!) and now I’m in Ilsan with some relatives. I was a bit worried that I would feel completely out of place and that my stay would be extremely uncomfortable. Well, I’m glad to say that that’s not the case. My relatives have treated me extremely well and I’m going to have a larger family meeting with some other relatives tomorrow.

As for jetlag- it’s tough. Really tough. When I went to Korea 5 years ago, I had no problem getting used to the time gap. But this time it was really hard to get accustomed to. I was super tempted to take a nap because I was just so sleepy, but I endured and just stayed awake until around 10pm before passing out. I know that if I did take a nap, I would regret it because I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. So here’s a tip- don’t nap. I know that sleeping pills are an option, but with the EPIK health exam being just a few days away, I decided to abstain.

I’m feeling a lot better today though, 2 days after I landed in Korea. I explored a little bit today too. My mom’s friend took me out to eat in Hwajeong, a neighboring district to Ilsan. We went to a little restaurant called 널븐 뜰/Wide Garden and I ate 멧돼지 떡갈비/Wild Boar Tteokgalbi. It was soooo good. It came with a variety of vegetable sides, which I nearly completely devoured. I was told that it’s ideal to come here in the spring because the small building is surrounded by pear trees and has a nice yard (hence the restaurant name), so I think I would definitely want to try coming to this place again later on.

Right next to the restaurant was a little cafe called Cafe Blossom and it was extremely cozy inside. There was nobody else inside and the coffee was also delicious. I ordered a cafe latte and enjoyed the warm atmosphere with my mom’s friend.

I went to WesternDom afterwards for some shopping, which is supposedly a famous shopping area in Ilsan. I bought some cute socks (10 pairs for 10,000 won, which is about 10 bucks!), hand cream from Innisfree, and a pair of gloves because my hands were so cold. Did I mention that it’s super cold in Korea??? As I was walking around, I felt a little awkward just because everyone wears makeup and dresses well whereas I only put on lip balm and wear for comfort- cardigan and jeans- but I guess I’ll have plenty of chances to learn some fashion tips??

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I’ll be heading down to Busan on Sunday for orientation. I’m super excited and I hope everything goes well! I’m still feeling anxious about the health exam, but I guess I’ll face that hurdle when I get there.

T-6 Days

OMGosh how in the world did time fly by so fast. I feel like I have so much left to do but so little time to do it. I still can’t really believe that I’m going. I’ve been spending my last few days in the U.S. lounging around and playing games and it reeeaallly hasn’t hit me yet that I’m going to be leaving my family for a whole year, maybe even more. And it just blows my mind.

I’ve been packing a little bit day by day, but today I realized, again, that I still have too much in my suitcases…and all I’ve packed so far is just clothes T-T I need to take out more but it’s so hard since I feel like I’m not even taking that much…my clothes just take up more space because they’re all bigger than other people’s clothes…sigh…I can’t make my packing list post just yet since I don’t even know what to take yet, but what I have done so far is compartmentalize all my stuff.

One large suitcase is filled with clothes I won’t need immediately. The other large suitcase is filled with work appropriate clothes for orientation, as well as gifts for relatives/my CT and my toiletries. My carry-ons will be reserved for casual clothes and valuables for while I’m in Seoul with relatives. This way I won’t have to open all of my bags to find what I want to wear. But, I’ll probably have to take everything out AGAIN tomorrow to take out even more clothes.

The only other problem I have is who is going to pick me up from the airport. My relatives in Korea I plan on staying with can’t take off work to pick me up when I arrive so they told me to take a bus to their neighborhood…and I would do that if I wasn’t:

1.) Alone

2.) A woman

3.) Carrying 4 pieces of luggage

4.) Not completely competent in Korean (I know, I’m a disgrace as a Korean-American)

So….wish me luck in getting to Busan safely pls..

T-16 Days

I bought my flight ticket a little while ago…I will arrive in Korea on February 15th. I would stay with some relatives until the 18th/19th before taking a train down to Busan for orientation on the 19th. I will say I regret buying a flight ticket so early because I’m anxious about staying with a relative I feel like I’ve only ever met twice (though it’s probably a lot more than that, I just don’t remember). I feel like I would just be a burden and plan to get out and explore Seoul so they can rest without having to take care of me, a 25 year old adult niece they barely know from the US. Problem is that I don’t really know what I would do. I’ve already explored many areas of Seoul a few years ago. I guess I could explore Gangnam area again, as well as Myeong-Dong or some markets. But other than that, I don’t want to burden my uncle and his family. Maybe I’ll reach out to other EPIK teachers who arrive in Seoul early and hang with them, but I’m also shy…

I’m also feeling nervous and anxious in general. This is my 4th time applying to EPIK and I can’t help but feel that somehow I won’t be able to go. This dread hangs over me like a persistent little rain cloud that just drenches my whole day. Every day. Whether it’s the fear that somehow my visa is rejected, or EPIK says “Oops, we didn’t mean to place you, our mistake lolz,” or I fail the health exam. And quite frankly, the last one is my biggest concern. My family has a long history of illnesses (stomach cancer, high cholesterol & pressure, diabetes) and I’m scared that they’ll decline me for any reason. I’ve read stories of people whose tests showed false positives for various things, but they were able to get re-tested and stay with EPIK. I’m scared that I won’t be able to pass, even though I personally never use drugs, prescribed or not, and have no medical history of anything except some simple anemia. I guess it’s just that the health exam is the last hurdle before I’m “officially” accepted into EPIK and it’s worrying.

Other than those worries, I’ve been busy packing. On top of that, my family hopes to move houses this summer, but I won’t be here. This means I have to pack up all of my belongings. I mean, I want my family to move. Our current house is much too small for the 4 of us. So, I’m packing up my entire room along with packing for EPIK. It doesn’t help that since I’m large-bodied (putting it nicely), I have to take lots of clothes with me because Korea doesn’t sell anything that would fit me.

FYI: Korea in general doesn’t sell anything for people above a size medium here. Even then you will find clothing sizes are much smaller in Korea as well. Good luck also if you are tall and need bigger shoes. Most shoes in Korea don’t go above a size 8 ish. Just be prepared to bring a lot of clothes if you don’t match Korea’s “standards.”

Getting back on topic: I hope I can fit everything I need into my 2 large suitcases, 1 backpack, 1 carry on suitcase, and small purse. I finished one bag but it feel way over 50 lbs T-T

Post on my packing list coming soon!