teaching in Korea

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Korea

Well, friends, we are down to just three days left in Korea. Three. Days. In honor of our time here I thought I’d make a Top 10 list of things I’ll miss about Korea. Of course, I’ll miss more than this – I’ll miss my cute students and random people telling me I’m beautiful all the time, and maybe even (occasionally) CoT, but this is my top 10 list of things I really enjoy about Korea.

  1. Mountains everywhere you look. I grew up in Louisiana which is so flat that parts of it are actually below sea level. Then I spent 5 years in the Chicago area – also completely flat. When we moved to Raleigh in 2011 I was delighted by the slight roll the land, but it’s nothing compared with the legitimate mountains that surround Daegu completely and are present anywhere you go in Korea. They’re not Rocky Mountains or Himalayas, but they are still little bits of beauty poking over the city rooftops and I love them.
  2. Excellent Public Transportation. While I sometimes miss the directness of hopping in my car and going exactly where I want to go, I have to admit that buses and subways in Korea are cheap, easy to use, and go anywhere you want if you can stick with it through the lurching, sometimes crowded bus rides. Taxis are also abundant and very cheap making life without a car completely doable. It takes longer to get where you’re going without a car, but I enjoy not having to deal with traffic or pay for car insurance and maintenance.

  3. Skincare and Makeup. Korea is famous for their advanced skin care and makeup products. I’ve become something of a makeup junkie in the last year and have enjoyed trying out lots of Korean products which are generally very affordable. Additionally, my skin is probably the best it has been in my entire life over the past few months so I’m really trying to squeeze backups of my favorite skin care products into our suitcase to take back with me!
  4. Cheap Healthcare. I’ve had mixed experiences with the quality of healthcare in Korea, mainly just the running of unnecessary tests and tendency to over-medicate, but I can’t complain about how incredibly cheap it is (Average doctor’s visit is $3 – $4. Average prescription $4 – $5). I went to the dentist for a cleaning – $14. I went back to have a small cavity filled and while the price for this was comparable to what it would be in the states, it was 15 minutes between the time I walked in and the time I left. Of course, Korea is quite bad about things like basic hygiene which is why I was forced to share an ear thermometer with all the teachers at my school during the MERS outbreak when we had to record our temperature every day. As I predicted to my CoTeacher, this resulted in me getting an ear infection. But, again, the good news is that even though I had to go to the dr every day for a week to have it cleaned out, it only cost me about $15 or $20 total.
  5. Mandu, Bulgogi, Galbi, Tofu Jigae. These are some of my favorite Korean foods. While I don’t like all Korean foods, the ones I like, I REALLY like and I know I’ll miss them. It may take a while, but I will miss them eventually.
  6. Norebang.The word “norebang” is Korean for “song room” and these are basically like private karaoke rooms. These are wildly popular as an activity to do with your friends or with your business colleagues after a night of hard drinking (also popular). I sing constantly, but I have no talent for it. Nevertheless, I love those dark rooms with the disco lights and that mike in my hands.
  7. Couples Outfits. Sadly, I never got Jonathan to join in this popular trend of Korean couples dressing in matching clothing. I did manage to get us a set of couples underwear last Christmas and while I can’t get Jonathan to wear them, it makes me happy that we have them!

  8. Feeling Safe Always. Korea is a very safe country with very low rates of violent crime. I have never once felt threatened to walk home late at night in our dimly lit streets or even to go running alone after dark. While I get a lot of attention here for my blond hair and blue eyes, and the staring can be annoying, I’ve never felt threatened by it in the way that I have often felt threatened by (particularly male) attention in America. I’ve never worried about locking anything here or leaving my laptop on the table in the coffee shop while I go pick up my order. During my years in Korea the safety in my own country has decreased dramatically and I am not looking forward to going back to that constant awareness of myself and who is around me and whether my car door is locked and whether that package looks suspicious.
  9. Service! Service is basically when a store or restaurant gives you free things to thank you for coming. It’s the best and it’s very, very common. Free drinks or desserts at restaurants (or occasionally an appetizer), free samples at beauty stores (and not like one or two foil packets, like whole free bottles of things, sheet masks, makeup samples, etc), or even super random things like socks or instant coffee.

    All the free stuff!

    All the free stuff!

  10. Friends, Korean and Foreign. We’ve made some good friends during our time here, both Koreans and other native teachers like us. It’s strange to leave somewhere and really not know for sure if or when you’ll see these people again. We are so thankful for the friendships we’ve made here and I really do hope to stay in touch with many of the friends we’ve made and to see some of them again someday, in America, in Korea, or somewhere else in the world.

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure # 13: Fun Times With CoT

This week’s adventure is an ongoing adventure that started at the beginning of March, but this past week has been  full of particularly good moments. For those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, you are probably familiar with my infamous Co-Teacher who I refer to simply as “CoT.” Many people have suggested that I start a Twitter or Tumblr or Instagram that is just for #stuffmycotsays. I’m open to the idea.

For those of you who wonder how I teach English to Korean elementary school students without speaking Korean, the answer is 1) lots of gesturing and using very simple words and 2) coteachers. In every class I teach I have a Korean coteacher. The coteacher’s role varies from class to class and person to person – in my 20 months of teaching in Korea I have had ten separate coteachers. Some have split teaching time with me, some have refused to let me do anything, some have refused to come to class and had me do everything, and some have more or less been in the room for classroom management purposes only. They have had different levels of English proficiency, different levels of interest in teaching English, and different levels of friendliness towards me.

Having experienced a wide variety of coteachers I feel qualified to say that current CoT is one of the weirdest people I’ve ever met, and it isn’t just because of language barriers or cultural differences or anything like that. I have been working with CoT since I started teaching in Korea, so we’ve known each other for 1 1/2 years. In the past, she was a homeroom teacher and I only taught 1 or 2 classes a week with her to her own homeroom class. This school year (which started in March) she became the head English teacher and I now teach all of the 3rd and 6th grade English classes with her. She also shares my office space with me and we sit next to each other any time that we aren’t teaching.

Some specifics about her: She is in her early 40’s and has been teaching for about 15 years. She begged for the English teacher position because she claims to very passionate about English education. Although some of our weird interactions could be attributed to the language barrier, I have worked with many Koreans with both higher and lower English levels than hers (hers is on the higher end, honestly) and have never had these kinds of interactions.

Now that you know where this is coming from, allow me to share some of my most favorite bits of conversation from the past few weeks:

I think CoT is actually a toddler:

I feel like if I look away for even one second she will destroy something. This morning I tried to show her how to use the Smart TV. As it was trying to warm up  she pushed all of the buttons and promptly broke it. Then, I turn my back for on second while I was trying to figure out what she’d done and she takes the special pens that are designed to write electronically on the smart TV and tries to use them as erasers on the white board. I said, “Oh! Don’t do that. Those are special pens for the TV.” Then she picks up a dry erase marker and writes on the TV screen and uses the special pen to try and erase that. It’s 9 am and I am already exhausted.

No Time to Prepare:

CoT: I have cancelled the first week of classes because I had no time to prepare.
Me: Ok. Cool.
CoT; (finds ping pong paddles in giant mound of crap she has just moved into our office) Let’s play ping-pong together!
Me: Now? I thought you needed time to prepare?
CoT: Ok, not now. How about 20 minutes?

After cancelling classes the entire first week of school so that she could prepare:

Me: What is your plan for class today? (It starts in 20 minutes)
CoT: I have no plan
Me: Ok, well…it’s the first class of the year so I thought we should introduce ourselves. I prepared a ppt. Do you want to introduce yourself and explain the class rules?
CoT: I have no class rules.
Me: Ok, well do you want to introduce yourself and then I’ll just do the rest.
CoT: Good idea.

CoT Gets Up in my Biz

CoT: Are you sick? You look sick today.
Me: No, I feel fine.
CoT: I think maybe you’re not feeling well?
Me: No, I’m fine. Maybe I’m a little tired. I’ve been tired this week.
CoT: Oh. Are you pregnant? (hopefully)
Me: No
CoT: Are you sure? (with knowing smile)
Me: Yes, I’m positive.
CoT; Hmmm…. (smiling to herself like she thinks I’m lying)
Are you taking Vitamin C powder?
Me: No, but I take it when I’m sick. Right now I take a multivitamin
CoT: Is it a capsule?
Me: Yes
CoT: Mmmm…capsule is not good for your body
Me: Ok

I’m not pregnant, woman. I just gained weight. Mind your own biz.

CoT Gets Up in my Biz pt. 2

CoT: Oh, Li-lee. Oh Li-Lee. I think you have a lot of clothes.
Me: Oh. Ok. (Maybe I do, but I have 8 – 10 combinations that I wear to school on a rotating basis. So I wear the same thing once a week to once every two weeks).
CoT: Every day, a new color. I do like all of your colors.
(90% of my work wardrobe is black, white, or gray)
Now every day when she comes in in the morning she looks at me and simply says, “Oh. White. White, white, white, white, white. You are wearing white.”

I Don’t Think That Means What You Think It Means

We discuss what we will do in class and I write it on the board.
1. Review 2. Dictation quiz 3. Textbook page 16, etc.
The first class arrives 5 minutes early.
CoT, with no preamble, runs to the front of the room and says. “Number One: What grade are you in?”
The children look like they have no idea what is happening. Some students aren’t even there because class has not officially started yet. I figure she changed her mind about the order of things.
As she dictates,  I erase the first two things on the board and switched them so it said 1. Dictation quiz 2. Review
CoT: No no! Change it back. Review first and then dictation.
Me: But you are doing the dictation first. Like, you are in the middle of it right now.
CoT: No, just REVIEW first and then we will do dictation. (Big smile)
(Turns around to the class) Number Three – I’m in the sixth grade.

CoT Decides Depression is Not Serious

(Out of nowhere) CoT: How do you feel when you’re depressed?
Me: When I’m depressed I just feel sad and like I don’t want to do anything and like my life has no meaning or purpose.
CoT (huge grin): Oh, I am glad to hear that! That doesn’t sound very serious!

CoT Discovers Spring, Apparently for the First Time

I am trying to prepare for a class that begins in 5 minutes and which CoT has prepared nothing for.

CoT: Lily (in sing-songy voice where my name suddenly has four syllables), please come look out the window. Me: At what?
CoT: The flowers are blooming. Please come look at them.
They weren’t blooming. The trees barely have buds on them.
Me (nicely): Well, they are almost blooming. That will be pretty (I try to go back to prepping for class)
CoT (whiniest voice ever): Oh, Why won’t you look out the window? They ARE blooming. They ARE blooming. And repeated that like 6 times.

The Wonders of Spring, Continued

Arriving back after teaching with a different teacher all morning. CoT seems to have been waiting for me.
CoT: Oh, you are here! (Immediately goes to the window, opens it and looks out) Oh look, The flowers are blooming. They ARE blooming. Look at them bloom. I can count the blooms. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. There are many flowers. Do you see them. Wow. Oh Wow. They are moving me. Do they touch you?

Do they move you? Are you touched?

Do they move you? Are you touched?

I Am a Poet and I Don’t Know It

CoT: Wow! We had a fresh spring rain yesterday. So nice. So fresh. So many flowers.
Me: The rain was heavy last night. I don’t know why the flowers didn’t break off and fall to the ground.
CoT: Wow. Your words. They are so poetic. What you said just now. So poetic.

Hours later.

CoT: Say again what you said earlier. I want to write it down.
Me: (I don’t even remember what i said) Umm…I don’t know why the flowers didn’t break off and fall to the ground?
CoT: (Repeats this over and over then says) Wow, you are a poet. I am with another poet.


Be Poetic! Do It Now!

CoT: Oh, Lily, please say something beautiful. Like before. What you said. Like poetry.
Me: Well, I’m not really sure what would be beautiful to you. The things I said before were just normal things to say.
CoT: Say something. A sensitive, emotional thing. Like yesterday, you said there was a bee and a butterfly in the classroom and you said it was “like a zoo.” The “like a zoo” part. That was so impressive. I have never experienced this before.

A few hours later…

CoT: The flowers are pink. Light pink.
Me: Yep, baby pink.
CoT: (Chuckles delightedly.) Oh yes! Baby pink! It is so cute. Today’s word is baby pink! Baby pink with Lily!

Then she sat at her desk and repeated “Baby pink” 30 – 40 times.

CoT Gives Me Prompts

I begin to suspect that CoT is feeding me prompts in the hopes that I will say something poetic.

CoT: What do you think of human beings?
Me: ?????

CoT: Remember the time your friend came to visit almost two years ago?
Me: Yes, I remember.
CoT: Can you tell me about that?

There are more stories, but they involve more strange personal details about my CoT’s life that I’m not going to share publicly. From this sampling, I think you can see how every day is an adventure with CoT.

I started sharing some of my conversations with CoT as a way to help myself laugh at what can sometimes be annoying and difficult to deal with all day long. Many of our interactions are the kind of things that can be frustrating or difficult in the moment, but become very funny in the retelling. And seeing these interactions in a humorous way has really helped me let go of some of the frustrations I feel towards her and to honestly see her with a lot more compassion than I did before. Never knowing what to expect from her had been bringing me a lot of stress – I had come to dread being at work and was beginning to get snappy and short with her in our interactions and had gotten to the point where I really dreaded going to school. Like so many other aspects of life in a foreign culture, learning to look at things with humor and let the weirdness be funny instead of frustrating has been so helpful for my peace and sanity.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can also click this button to read other bloggers’ adventures. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.