Pain

Some days I like to watch videos about people with chronic pain because I feel like they’d understand my migraines.

Because I feel like I’m complaining. Because I’m tired of complaining. Because I feel like people don’t understand. Because I feel helpless and alone when I lay in my bed for 12 hours straight in the dark, feeling like my skull is going to crack open.

Because when I tell a friend I’m having a migraine, they expect me to just pop a painkiller and keep going. Because when I am in pain and sad, my friends say shit like,

“I’ve heard orgasms are a cure for migraines.”

Because when I tell a doctor about my migraines, there’s nothing they can do. Even the nice ones that smile and try their best. The ones who take your blood and run all sorts of tests will come back with nothing. Or, they will tell you it is stress. Or to drink more water. Or to sleep more. And the ones that don’t really give a shit will listen to you for exactly 1 minute and try to prescribe you drugs that could easily fuck you up.

“What is your job?”
“I’m a teacher.”
“Ah… not this one. One of the… side effects, amnesia.”

And this just isn’t Korea. I feel like at least Korea tries. At least they make an effort. Any doctor I saw in America said I’d grow out of it. They blamed puberty. They blamed genes. They told my family to give me painkillers and let me sleep if off. My family resulted to knocking me out with heavy medication when I was about 12 years old. They couldn’t stand hearing me cry for hours as I tried to sleep with a migraine. I went home so often from migraines in middle school that my teachers didn’t even make me go to the nurse anymore. I would just call my parents to come pick me up. When painkillers stopped working and my migraines would last for days, doctors just told my family to double the dosage or switch medication. I regularly took 1000mg of ibuprofen for my migraines and it didn’t work.

My aunt who had migraines growing up tries to comfort me by saying her’s stopped when she was 27.

What’s frustrating is that no one even knows what causes migraines. I once looked up what sort of money is being put to migraine research and it was minuscule. It’s not altogether shocking seeing that migraines largely affect more women then men (women are 3x more likely to have migraines). I sometimes wonder if more money would be put towards understanding and curing migraines if more men had them.

 

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Avoidance

I have a creature capable of large amounts of anxiety.

Yesterday, I sat down during my free period and had a panic attack. It seemingly came out of nowhere. I suddenly realized my heart was beating like crazy. I was sweating. My chest was hurting. I couldn’t get myself to breathe naturally no matter how many deep breaths I took.

As I sat there trying to understand how I had gotten to this point, I realized how many signs I’d ignored. How many times I told myself something was a non-issue. How many times I turned up the TV in hopes to drown out thoughts. How many times I tossed and turned at night. How I’ve been throwing myself into book after book in order to hush any voice that was my own. How I’ve completely stopped writing.

Fulbright is coming to an end. I have no idea what comes next. Part of me wants to stay. Keep living easily. But the longer I stay the more I realize that life in Korea for me is simply pressing pause. It keeps me busy while the people around me make major life decisions. It’s me looking like I’m doing something so I don’t feel pressured to plan the next step. It’s me running away and not dealing with my problems. I don’t have to deal with family issues if I never see them. I don’t have to deal with my own shit if mental health is taboo in the country I reside. But if I stay here, those things will just linger. They’ll still be there in the quiet moments.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed my time in Korea. I have had to learn to be more independent. I live by myself. I pay my own bills. I work full time. I go to the doctor,  the dentist, and the bank all on my own. I make phone calls in a foreign language. I’ve realized that I am capable of doing things by myself. I’m … somewhat of an adult. I’ve also met amazing people here. I’ve met people here who I feel I can share anything with. I wouldn’t mind staying, it would be easy to. But I don’t know if that’s the right motivation to stay: because it’s easy. 

Is it okay if I just want easy? 

I keep trying to ask myself what I want in the future but I don’t know. The future looks like an open door leading basically anywhere. I could go to grad school but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to financially tie myself to America right now. There’s part of me that doesn’t even want to be in America right now with that orange trash can of a human being in the white house. I could go home for a bit and come back. See if some time to reflect would change how I feel about living in either country. I feel creatively drained these days as far as teaching goes. I probably need a break. I could try finding a shrink, take some time for real self care and healing. I could find some sorta job and ESL tutor on the side; save up money. The problem is I just don’t know what I want to do after this. I have no real opinions (minus the fact I know I do not want to teach American children. No offense but we’re awful and teachers in the US are treated like shit).

So here I am, in the midst of a quarter life crisis, 2-ish weeks before my 25th birthday.

Right on schedule.

I’ve been thinkin’, I’ve been thinkin’

In an L2, sometimes “I want you to do better” sounds like “You are not good enough.”


I have to admit, I’ve been a bit sensitive this semester. Honestly, it’s probably lack of sleep, a busy work schedule and like zero time to actually reflect. I always felt like I was running from one class to another. When I would finally be able to sit at my desk, I was often so mentally drained, I couldn’t make an effort to reflect. I would often mindlessly create PPTs or take a quick nap. At home, I didn’t want to think about school because it stressed me out and took up so much time as it was. I wanted my home to be a safe, stress-free place. Without those quiet moments of introspection, I often felt my emotions were very much at surface level. It showed on my face if I was tired, anxious or irritated. People could prick my feelings without meaning to.

Having a break from school and coming back has really allowed me to see my situation in a different light. My coteacher who never seems to have time for me, literally does not have time for me. He is in charge of so much and is leaving for a new school soon. I always took his vibe as disinterest but I honestly think he has been stretched entirely too thin which I couldn’t see. But these past few days I’ve been sitting at my desk and he rarely gets to just sit and do nothing. He is always running around, always on the phone, always typing something up, always sending messages out, always being called to meetings. Students are always coming into the office to see him about something, and never just one, it’s usually packs of students.

My coteacher who I’ve had the most struggles with this semester is actually responsible for so much of the growth I’ve had recently as a teacher. I have always been kind of crappy at time management. Coteaching with her has forced me to plan my class time exactly, otherwise I’ll go over my allotted time. Discussing my classes prior to teaching has forced me to see ways in which my lesson could go wrong (and brainstorm alternative strategies and activities) before it’s even presented to the class. Her feedback has offered simple solutions to classroom procedures many times. As much as I wracked my brain to teach these 15 minute classes and felt like I was never good enough, my coteacher has never held that same sentiment. I think I took so much of what she said the wrong way.

Today we met to talk about our semester and she really had nothing but praise for me and advice from here on in. She empathized with me and told me that coteaching with me was something she wanted to do and she understood the position it put me in. But she wanted the experience because many Korean teachers and native teachers do not work together at the secondary level. She talked about how classes with the native teacher aren’t always the most effective due to a variety of student levels. There will always be students who don’t understand and shut down. She also touched on how Korean teachers tend to teach only in Korean, giving students very little chance to actually speak English. This has also been my experience. By working together, we were able to discuss deeper topics in class using both English and Korean. I know I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to discuss feminism with my students otherwise. My teacher added the clarification and cultural context necessary to make the lesson work. And some of my favorite moments this semester have been smaller group discussions about social issues with my students.

While we had our struggles and while I think she is a really strict educator and has a very inflexible idea of what an English classroom should look like, I don’t hold anything against her anymore. I think a lot of things got lost in translation. I think she often sounded more harsh than she meant to. But my thoughts are that she didn’t get to become a master teacher, a highly respected position, by being soft. She is the only person in the building besides the principal who has their own office. When she asks you to do something, it sounds more like she’s telling you. She’s a boss. And if I look at the other boss women in my life, I’d realize they too come off strong. Most of my friends are kinda scared of my grandma and she is the definition of a Boss Ass Bitch. She isn’t overly nice and she doesn’t feel she needs to be. She’s earned her place in the world and I think the same holds true for my coteacher.

So…

In conclusion…

We cool now. ^^

Winter Camp: I did that.

I’m trying to be kinder to myself this time around and I think part of that is patting myself on the back when I do a damn good job. And I did a damn good job.

Last week, I taught a winter camp for five days: Monday-Friday. It was twenty students. I boasted a few weeks back (on facebook) that 47 students actually signed up for my class. The teacher in charge of the winter class schedule had to narrow down students. The way she did so: winners and participants of the English contest were awarded first dibs,  then the remaining slots were filled by highest English grade.

My school really pressured me to do a writing camp but I knew 5 days of writing would be too much for even my most advanced students. Buuuut knowing my school demographic, there are a lot of artists so I integrated a lot of speaking, writing, creating and drawing into my lessons.

Rough outline of my camp
Day 1: Identity and About Me Poems
Day 2: Coat of Arms
Day 3: Beauty Standards
Day 4: (Scrapped my original lesson) Card Game Relay
Day 5: Creative Project

I wanted my camp to focus on identity and self expression. The identity lesson was a lot of us brainstorming ways in which people are different and different identities people can have. My students were confused at first but the more we brainstormed, the more I could see it making sense. I asked for a volunteer and I had that student stand next to me. I asked the rest of the students how we are different. I got answers like “You’re tall. She’s short. You’re American. She’s Korean. Your hair is different. You’re a teacher, she’s a student. You wear glasses, she doesn’t.” When students got too focused on appearance, I asked my student volunteer questions: Do you have a hobby? Do you go to church? Are you the oldest child in your family? When our answers to these questions were different, students started to understand a bit about more complex identities. The “About Me Poems” were a template that students just had to follow but they were very creative with it. After everyone finished, I had them tape their work to the wall and gave everyone stickers. I told them to walk around, read each other’s poems, and give them a “like” by putting a sticker on it. It was a very cute activity. Every student’s work was bejeweled with lil hearts and stars.

The Coat of Arms lesson is something I snagged from another teacher years ago. It’s a very good first or second lesson because it helps you get to know students. Giving them time to create a symbolic image of who they are and what they care about really worked well for the theme of this camp. After they created their image, they discussed what their picture meant in their group. I then had groups vote on the one they liked the most and that person shared with the class.

The next day was so wrought with technical difficulties and general oopsies that the lesson was only about an hour long. It was supposed to be a two part lesson, part one: beauty standards around the world (them filling in the Korean bit), and part two: a body positivity lesson but it didn’t quite work out that way. But I ended up making things work and students were still engaged. I even saw some note-taking while they were learning about other countries.

Because the beauty lesson kinda fell apart and ended up being a lot of reading for the students, I decided to give them a break and have a day of games instead. I had the students get into 4 groups. I taught each group a game: “Liar” (aka BS), Spoons, Kemps, and Slaps (Egyptian Ratscrew). Since I had to teach each group individually, I let them do whatever they wanted while they waited for me. For Kemps, you need an even number so make sure the first group you teach it to has an even number of students. Once every group learned their game, I gave them 20 minutes to play and then I had one student from each group go to the next group and explain their game. Each rotation, I asked that a different student move. This way every student gets to learn the new games and the groups become thoroughly mixed. One reason I did this was because my winter class was comprised of first and second grade. Because of this, students tended to clique up. By having the groups mix up in order to play games, I found them talking to each other more comfortably.

The creative project was something I conjured up and let them work on on their own.

 



Reflection

I’m really proud of myself. Minus the one day of struggle, I did really well. I had been really nervous leading up to the camp. I worried if students would like the class topics and activities. I worried about who exactly would be in my classes. I worried about class atmosphere given the students were from different homerooms and grades. I was worried about my coteacher popping up without warning. I was also worried because second grade had never experienced me as their main teacher before. I didn’t often talk for more than 10 minutes in their classes. My coteacher also translated a lot, so I was concerned about how they’d feel when there was no translation available. But I honestly had nothing to worry about. I had the most motivated and enthusiastic students in my camp.

One of the reasons I love working with high school students is because they’re more fully developed mentally and emotionally. When I used to ask my elementary students what they wanted to be when they grew up, they never had an answer. But when I ask my high school students what they want to be or do, they have some idea. And if they don’t have an idea, they at least have a goal. I like being able to talk to my students about their interests and values which is why I centered this camp around the idea of identity. I think it is so crucial for students to full grasp their identity. Knowing who you are builds confidence and that is something I want to instill in my students in various realms of their life. This camp offered me the opportunity to get to know my students. About three days into camp, I had everyone’s name memorized and I got to see their personalities. I learned which students were more introverted, which were more extroverted and which ones stood out as leaders in their groups. I also got to see my students’ various talents. Many of my students are really skilled artistically or are just very creative. I also learned which of my students have lived abroad or plan to in the future.

On the last day, I was sad to see them go. While I will still have a semester with my current 1st graders, I know this marks an ending with my second graders. They will soon be third graders and their schedules will drastically change.

When I first came to this school, the busy and hectic schedule really shook me to my core. I’m used to having more downtime. I’m used to being able to lesson plan at school. I’m used to being able to spend time with students but because of my schedule, I was often running from one place to another. My stress levels were high all semester. My migraines were almost daily. I couldn’t sleep well at night. I worried about each and every lesson just because my anxiety was so high. Looking back at my posts, I can see the negative headspace I was in.

But now as this semester comes to a close, I realize that I’ve made the most connections  at this school. There are so many kids who yearn to spend time with me. They’ll come see me when I’m in the office. They’ll stop me in the hallway or in the courtyard to chat. I have students who run up and hug me. They’ll chase after me just so we can walk together from the building to the front gate or bus stop. I feel loved and appreciated at this school. Not only by the students but by teachers as well. There are a handful of teachers that I can talk to (in Korean) about my day. I feel included in this school. I don’t know whether this is because I speak Korean better now or because of the more laid back environment. This school has really pushed me but from this experience, I have grown so much.

Ever since I began teaching, I’ve had one rule: A teacher must love their students. But I never realized how ultimately healing it is to be given that love back. I feel in my heart that I already miss these students. I miss them preemptively.

I gotta rant: Body Positivity

Hello everyone, for the last week or so I’ve been planning for my winter camp and there has been one thing that has been frustrating in my efforts to do so.

And that is the backlash against the body positivity movement.

Now, you may be wondering how this relates to my winter camp so I’ll back up and explain. Two of the days of my winter camp, I am planning to talk about beauty standards. The first day will be about beauty standards around the world and wrapping up the class with beauty standards in Korea. And the second day will be about body positivity, self love and acceptance. I’m teaching this way because I feel like I need to juxtapose the beauty standards because it can often leave students feeling some kinda way. I’ve taught a beauty standards lesson in the past, and there was always this awkward atmosphere at the end like students didn’t know what to do with this new information or how they could apply it to their life.

So I was googling for videos or resources for my body positivity lesson and I kept finding these rants against “the body positivity movement”. Honestly, I just don’t understand.

So many of the attacks against body positivity are that it:
1. encourages people to be overweight/live an unhealthy lifestyle
2. that is celebrates people being overweight/living an unhealthy lifestyle
3. that they personally do not find (whatever) people attractive.

So, while I may not be an expert on the matter, I’m gonna share my thoughts. Point blank, body positivity does not mean that you need to look like the body in question. Body positivity doesn’t even mean you need to like the body in question. Body positivity doesn’t mean you have to agree with the decisions that that person has made about their body. Body positivity doesn’t mean you gotta like that person’s photo. Body positivity doesn’t mean you have to think that a person with a fat tummy, rolls, cellulite, stretch marks, saggy boobs, jiggly thighs, scars, skin issues, muscles, or body hair is attractive. Body positivity, to me at least, means letting that person live their fucking life, leave them alone if you have nothing nice to say. If a big person wants to wear a crop top, and they feel hella fine in that crop top, who are you to slide into their comments or dms to tell them they should feel like shit. If someone chooses not to shave their body hair, who are you to bash them on that decision? How is the size 20 individual on instagram wearing a clingy body suit, hashtagging their photo #bodypositivity, harming you in any way? How did you even make it to that photo to leave a shitty ass comment? How are models like Ashley Graham, La’Tecia Thomas, or Tabria Majors hurting the fashion industry? How is more representation for different bodies bad?

While there are issues with the body positivity movement, I don’t think there is anything wrong with letting people celebrate themselves. We live in a world where we constantly want to tear ourselves and others down. When we as a society celebrate curves, you often hear things like “This is how a real woman looks.” Why can’t we celebrate one type of body without taking swipes at another? Why does there have to be one kind of beauty? When I was growing up, my fat ass was just fat. Growing up, my hairy eyebrows were called caterpillars. But now those two things are trendy. Just a little bit ago, thigh gaps were trendy. With beauty constantly evolving, why are we so critical of each other? Why can’t we love ourselves and cheer other people on in their journeys to do the same? The curvy cutie posting a picture in their swimsuit isn’t trying to establish a new beauty standard. The slim shawty taking a selfie isn’t holding a sign that says this is the way everyone must look. Why can’t pictures just be pictures? That person was feeling themselves, so they posted it on instagram. Or worse, that person was really nervous about posting that picture but they felt they looked good and then people decided to assholes.

So while I am totally up for talking about the real issues of the body positivity movement, I’m not entertaining talk about how this encourages people to make unhealthy decisions. No one knows what people’s stories are. That person that is getting dragged on instagram for being fat could be in the gym every day. A lot of plus size models are in the gym all the time. They have rigorous workout routines and diets. You don’t know their life. Maybe they’re big because of their genetics. If you look at my family, there is no fucking way I will every be skinny and I am perfectly fine with that. That is not my desired aesthetic. I live this thick life. But I can show you pictures from a time in which everyone was worried I was underweight and looking back, I know I was not treating my body well. But at that weight, where you could see bones, I was still considered overweight by a doctor. You don’t know people’s stories.

Alright,
I feel better.

Carry on. ^^

Reflections on 2017

I honestly didn’t know how to celebrate new years eve today. I woke up and slowly realized that in about a dozen hours, it would be the next year. While 2017 seemed slow according to the number of times I had to see that orange menace’s face and attempt to explain in another language how fucking stupid America can be, this year seemed to fly by in other ways. Just five days and a week was gone. Just four weeks and a month was gone. When I think about days, I think about moments in which my students made me smile.  I think about moments when a lesson I was nervous about went so much better than I had planned. I think about moments when I fully understood what was being said to me despite the speaker not pausing or slowing for foreign ears. This semester went by really fast. And though I struggled in the beginning, there are days that even my most frustrating students cannot touch me or my happiness. I also  have new friends who have helped Daegu and Korea feel like home.

I was trying to write something pleasant to end the year, but instead, I found myself reflecting on who I was in 2017 and what I want to work on in the year to come. So I hereby declare 2018, the year of self reflection, self improvement, and self love.

  1. I am very critical of myself. This is something I knew but never reflected on. I’ve always been a perfectionist. I thought I it went away once I graduated college but it’s just morphed into something I didn’t immediately recognize.
  2. I seek affirmation. Especially when it comes to the things that don’t come naturally to me. I want to know that I’m doing well. I think this is why I…
  3. I take criticism personally. Criticism, especially criticism that doesn’t seem constructive, pricks at my confidence.
  4. I get lonely. I miss living with people. I miss hearing the quiet noise: the collective breathing, the shuffling about, doors opening and closing, the late night snore. I miss talking to someone until I fall asleep. I miss someone being there with a cold rag when I have a migraine.
  5. I wish I could fix everything with my hands. Growing up I used to pride myself on being strong and tall. Whether it was a heavy box or a shelf just a bit too high, I was happy to help. But now I’m on the other side of the world and all I can do is tell my friend that says they don’t want to live anymore that I love them and that I’m listening.
  6. I need an outlet. Some days I feel like screaming. Blogging is as close as I can get to that without seeming crazy.
  7. I don’t trust people. My mom used to say I wasn’t very trusting when I was younger. I guess I’ve just gotten worse over time.
  8. I am not what one would call friendly. I’m really nice to my friends and the people my friends vouch for. But if you aren’t my friend, you might think I’m a bitch (or hopefully just very shy) upon first meeting. I was like this once before but didn’t realize this personality trait had circled back around. Friends had to point out my aura of indifference toward strangers and kinda nudge me to be more polite. I really don’t mean to be rude or to seem like I don’t care, but again, see #7. I’m working on it though.
  9. I am a bit vain and I’m okay with that. I’ve struggled through too many years of self hate to care if it makes anyone uncomfortable. And why would me loving myself and my body make anyone uncomfortable?
  10. I want to reflect my father’s way of life. I want to be someone warm and loving. Someone who made the earth quiet in his arms. Someone who made the world crack open into a smile. I want to be the one who pours something sweet into everyone’s cup. No matter what happens, I want someone to say with such heavy love in their voice, “You are just like your dad.”
  11. I am working on forgiving people who have never asked me for forgiveness. Because I love them. Because loving them and missing them and being so angry at them is too complicated a feeling to keep my heart intact.
  12. My ultimate goal is complete and total self love. I want to love every single piece of who I am so that I never need anyone else to feel whole. I want to be the voice that soothes my anxieties. I want to be the kindest presence in my own life. I want to surround myself with people who celebrate themselves and the self love journey of others.

So here’s to 2018…

“You’re not a teacher, you work as a teacher.”

When my coteacher says this to me matter-of-factly and out of the blue, it feels like a dismissal. But she says it with a smile, like it’s not supposed to hurt, like I’m not supposed to defend myself.


When I first came to my school, many teachers were friendly. But I felt something from one of my coteachers, something that said I wasn’t wanted. She constantly asked me my plans for the future and how teaching in Korea plays into those plans. These questions were asked during a work dinner before I even had the chance to teach or meet the students. I felt that I had to prove my worth as a teacher before I was even given a chance to prove myself as a teacher. She told me how Americans are so lucky that they can teach anywhere they want because they know English. Then she asked why I chose Korea.

And I simply told the truth. I am in love with the Korean language and I wanted an immersive experience. When I said this, her eyes softened, she smiled. I felt like I had said one thing right.

This entire semester I have been trying to prove myself.

I have racked my brain trying to figure out how to teach meaningful classes in 15 minutes.

I’ve listened to all her critiques and have tried my best to apply them.

I’ve changed wordings and pictures on PPTs during passing periods as per her insistence.

I’ve met students in my free time to talk about things we’ve touched on in class.

I’ve met my coteacher weekly and talked about whatever she’s wanted: whether it be related to class or not.

The entire conversation felt like she was testing me and I was failing time and time again. She asked about grading policies. How I would grade certain assignments and projects she’s done. I try my best to answer, she doesn’t like it. Grading causes me a lot of stress. I try my best but honestly, I’d rather refer to a rubric or crack open a textbook on assessment. She asks how I would teach if I had a textbook. I tell her I would find ways to encourage the students to think beyond the textbook. I refer back to supplemental activities she’s done in her class that I thought were really helpful. It still doesn’t feel like the right answer.

Then she says, “Since you’re not a teacher, you’re working as a teacher, I didn’t tell you this before but I think you should be more active in my part of class”.

The latter half of her statement is a fair critique. I don’t really do much in her class because she’s very strict about keeping on schedule and because it’s taught in Korean. I often don’t know what it is the students are supposed to be doing because she doesn’t tell me. Also when I used to walk around, students would avoid eye contact with me in order to ask my coteacher in Korean. I felt awkward looming over them.

But… she’s hit a nerve. As a teacher in Korea, I have always questioned the impact I make on students. I always wonder if my lessons are helping them, if they’re learning anything, if they can really understand me. I always feel like I could be doing more. I’m always comparing myself.   I’m always worried that there are more qualified teachers out there who could do a better job than me.

I need a hug.