서원식 & 수능 날 (Ceremony & Testing Day)

Hello all,

How goes it? I’m sitting at my desk because it’s the day before the 수능 which means I have absolutely nothing to do class-wise. Students are currently heavy duty cleaning the school. I passed a group of students who were in the hallway on their hands and knees mopping with rags. For those who don’t know, the 수능 is like the SAT/ACT (if the SAT/ACT was like 10x more awful). Third years in high school (which is equivalent to a senior) take the test in November. This is the test that allows them to go to college based on their scores. The only thing is that the test is aggravatingly difficult. Students begin studying for this test as soon as they become third years in March until the minute before the test essentially. Also, midterms and finals questions in Korea (even at the middle school level) are formatted similarly to  수능 questions. So it seems that students are getting prepared for this exam years before they will actually take it. I once read an interview by a student that said most students study for 10 hours a day once they become 3rd graders.

At my previous school, the third years studied at seemingly every hour of the day. I never saw them besides lunch. Here, the third years seem a bit more free. I often see them playing badminton during their free time. Yesterday there was a ceremony for the third years wishing them the best of luck on their exams. In preparation for this ceremony, everyone recorded video messages to the third year students. Many of these were small skits put together by individual groups or continuous shots of an entire grade. The first and second grade did a sort of music video which was really cute and fun. There were also video messages from all the teachers who teach 3rd grade and also some teachers that have since left this school but sent in videos. There was a particularly hilarious video with my coteacher in it. I have to admit, cheesiness aside, he’s actually a good actor and the students loved it. The teachers enjoyed watching the videos almost as much as the students did. Every time a new teachers face appeared, you’d see the other teachers look at them and laugh. The ceremony ended with 1st and 2nd grade throwing paper airplanes down from the second floor to the first floor where the 3rd graders were. Each paper airplane had a note on it. As soon as the airplanes were thrown, 3rd graders were darting all over the place scooping up papers off the floor. Many of the students left with at three or four notes in their hands.

Today students will be dismissed early and tomorrow, 3rd grade students will go to whichever school they’ve been assigned. Students don’t take the test at their own school. I’m not sure why but it’s a thing. A different school will come to my school which is why I believe school cleaning is taken so seriously. While my school isn’t particularly messy, I have to admit, it has it’s share of dust bunnies and tumbleweeds of hair strands. Also since students live in their homerooms, they tend to get a little disorganized.

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“Teacher should always be learning”

Hello all,

I’ve been meaning to update my blog for a while but honestly forgot until I saw a slew of blog posts in my own newsfeed. If you’re my friend on facebook you’re probably aware of some of the goings on but what is a blog for if not to clue everyone in on all the details.

So when we left off (previous post: “Let me, let me… downgrade ya?”), I was stressed, pressed and really missing my previous school situation. I’m here to say that is no longer the case or at least, that things have gotten much better. I’m still stressed but it’s more because of my workload, whereas before it was workload, behavioral issues and lack of motivation among the students.

Interestingly enough, what changed everything around was a really awkward conversation I had with all my classes. I told them how class was running wasn’t working. That it was hard on me and on the students who actually wanted to learn and participate in class. Instead of me rehashing the rules and throwing down a rewards/discipline system, I asked them three questions:

  1. What makes a good classroom environment?
  2. What should the teacher do for class?
  3. What should the students do for class?

The students were very surprised by the questions at first, despite there being Korean translations. It was quiet while they worked and I was worried if we’d be able to have a conversation. But when we started sharing, I got some very serious and well thought out answers. These were some of the most common answers for each question:

  • What makes a good classroom environment:  clean classroom, not too hot or too cold, cooperation, participation, respect, relaxed/happy atmosphere, fun, playing game. focus on teacher, rewards (candy)
  • What should teacher do for class: use a little Korean for hard words, happy face, funny jokes, fun topics, prepare for class, lead students, be patient, good PPT, listening to student’s opinions, use various media (videos, PPT, audio..), be passionate, be high energy,
  • What should the students do for class: Be on time, don’t be loud, don’t sleep, participate, focus, ask questions, work together, smile at teacher, be understanding toward teacher, respect (teacher and other students)

I had two favorites out of this conversation: “Teacher should love all students” and “Teacher should always be learning.” It was nice to openly hear what the students wanted and needed from me and when I accepted their expectations and sincerely promised to try my best to follow their rules for me, they were eager to agree with the rules they set for themselves. I took a picture of the rules and have them as a file in my computer in case I need to remind students of the rules they set but honestly I haven’t had to.

In class, there are fewer students sleeping and when there is a student asleep, the other students are quick to let me know that student is actually sick. If the class gets too loud, there is usually a student who will yell out for them to be quiet before I have to. On top of that, students have been eagerly participating, even when they may not quite know the answer. I think this conversation was essential for our relationship. One, it let them know that their opinions matter to me and that my goal was to give them the best English class. Two, it opened the floor for an actual conversation. I think when I came in at the beginning I was trying to be more strict so that the students wouldn’t take advantage of me and act wild but I think it had the opposite effect. I was coming in and throwing down a set of rules without giving them any say in the matter. And I was honestly a stranger to them. They didn’t know who I was beyond their new native English teacher. They didn’t know my motives or my intentions. I think I was also really intimidated at the idea of teaching 22 hours a week (with classes of 33-40 students) and was in a bad head space. I think the lesson worked as a start over button. Students laughed, smiled, joked and I found myself joking along with them.

That lesson was maybe 1 month ago and things are still going well. Students ambush me with hellos and hand hearts in the hallway. If I run into a group of students, they’ll try to talk to me. I had one student share a character with me they created and when I expressed interest, they made me stickers of the character. Students with higher levels of English have been talking to me about their time spent in America/other English speaking countries. Students with lower levels of English speak to me in a mix of Korean and English outside of class. Students who’ve never said a word in my class, greet me in the hallways with either a 90 degree bow or a loud “Hello Teacher”.

On Halloween, I dressed up in orange and black and wore a pumpkin headband all day. Students asked to take pictures with me, gave me high fives, and told me I looked really cute. The response to my Halloween lessons was very high energy and I was excited to teach the whole week. Though I didn’t make an announcement (because my school has way too many students and there’s no way in hell I’m buying 800+ pieces of candy), I let students trick or treat if they caught me in the hallway or came into the teacher’s office. I walked around with my cardigan pockets full of candy all day. Which lead to funny incidents like a student seeing me as soon as I walked into an elevator and screaming “Trick or Treat” as the doors closed.

So if you read my last post and were a tad worried, don’t worry anymore. Though I’m still stressed and though there are days all I wanna do is nap versus going to that fourth class in a row, I’m okay. My girls are fun. They make me laugh. They send me cute hearts from windows and across the soccer field. They scream I love you when I send them little hearts back. Their smiles and squeals fill me with energy even on days I only slept four hours the night before. It’s a process and I am wildly outnumbered, but I’m learning to love my students for all the ways they are brilliant and crazy and exceptional.

Ode to Anxiety

Anxiety, you are like a sister.

But not my sister. Ya see, my sister was born fearless. She was a child that jumped into the ocean without knowing how to swim. She was a child that challenged other kids twice her age to scrap with just a stick and a whole lot of attitude. She was a child that at the age of four, wanted to help so eagerly that she carried gallons of milk inside to Gramma waiting in the kitchen. She has a heart that only knows love. Even in dark times, my sister is love.

You are not love.

You are not my sister.

But you have been so much a part of my life that you seem to be engrained into my family tree. Surely, you are my blood. I can clearly remember you in the backdrop of so many childhood memories that I feel you must have stood there: meaty flesh and broad boned like the rest of us.

Anxiety, perhaps you are my brother.

But he is soft.

And he is kind.

Loud beating chest,

Clear moral compass of right and wrong.

You cannot be my brother. He too is love.

So maybe you are an aunt,

an uncle with his eyes on the ball,

a cousin twice my age with children.

You could never be Gramma.

Gramma, don’t play games like you do

In front of her, you’d shiver

Shrink up small and wither

So Anxiety, who are you?

And if you are not blood,

why do you feel like bone, muscle and nerve endings?

An instinct as basic as hunger or thirst,

keeping sleep away with your incessant chatter.

So many nights, I watch my window bloom- rose gold,

the sun telling me I should have slept long ago

in the glow you always quiet,

nudge close for warmth and snore

leaving me but hours before responsibility

A constant reminder that I’m too old for sleepovers

Let me let me… downgrade ya?

So we’re a month into life at my new school and I’ve been positively silent on this blog because honestly, I just didn’t know what to say.

I was struggling. I’m a third year. I’ve done this (HS in Korea) before and yet… I was struggling.

At my old school (School A), I felt that I was treated about the same as other teachers. My coteachers wanted me to have 17 hours, b/c the other teachers had 17 hours. My coteachers didn’t want to put my classes back to back b/c their classes were rarely back to back, four in a row. When they were overburdening me, they apologized. They felt bad, they tried to ease the burden. Whenever I was given projects like choosing the winner for an English contest, my main coteacher was always willing to help me whether it was helping me choose amongst the top scorers or just listening to my ranking process. My students were also highly motivated and higher level. I could speak pretty normally and be understood. When I told everyone at School A, I was moving to my new school (School B), they reassured me that it’s a nice school. For as long as I’ve been in Korea, Korean teachers have told me all-girls high schools are the dream.

And then I came here. And was given a schedule of 22 hours a week with classes stacked one right after the other. They also tried to add a 2 hour after-school club class. I have very little down time at my new job. All of the teachers are sympathetic. The number of hours I work is opening conversation in the lunch room. Different teachers have sat across from me and whispered, “I heard you’re teaching a lot of hours,” on numerous occasions. The English teacher who was away on maternity leave just came back and when she saw my schedule, she basically chastised my coteacher for how he made my schedule and said it needs to be lessened for my second semester. To that, my coteacher responded that the remedial English class wants more classes and the principal still wants me to teach an after school club class. So I have no idea what next semester looks like.

In addition to my workload, my students aren’t as motivated nor as high level. It doesn’t seem that academics are really the most important thing at my school. Which in some ways is good. School B students have way more energy than my kids last year. School A students were stressed the entire year and I would just watch them get sleepier and more stressed as the semester went on. They were also really worried about talking to me. Many of my second years (first semester) didn’t say more than a sentence to me outside of class, if that. I think they were really nervous about speaking correctly. But at School B, students in first and second grade have approached me outside of class either just to talk or to ask me a specific question. School A students were forced to be at school until at least 9:30 studying while School B students are allowed to do as they please after 4:30. While some students stay and have after school classes, other students leave to go to various hagwons: art, music, math, science, English, etc… I honestly think this is an amazing plus side of my school. These students have so much more life to them and I can see a variety of interests being fostered.

Another plus side of my school is the environment. This year, I decided to walk in, unashamedly speaking Korean to the teachers. I studied Korean for 2.5 years before Korea and have lived here for 2 years but honestly, speaking Korean makes me nervous. But in order to have the best workplace environment, I decided to show the full range of my Korean capabilities while at work. This has honestly made life in the teacher’s office very pleasant. The teachers aren’t afraid to approach me and will also talk to me b/c they know I speak Korean. At School A, teachers knew I spoke Korean but b/c I was shy, I rarely spoke it or I would trip over my words as I spoke. Teachers didn’t realize how much Korean I actually knew so there were only a handful of teachers who actually bothered talking to me. This year, I have been invited to eat with teachers (who aren’t even in the English department) during lunch and have had real conversations with them about family, food, students, cultural differences, etc. I have also been invited out for coffee with a few teachers in the office who sit near me. It has been a boost to my confidence hearing teachers compliment my Korean. While people have complimented my Korean before, the conversations I have nowadays are more substantial.

Because of these two things, I wouldn’t necessarily call this new school a downgrade… I do miss my school and students from last year. I felt loved and cared for. I felt like my mental and emotional state mattered to not only my coteachers but also my students. My students realized when they were upsetting me, they knew how to correct their own behavior and would often comfort me if they noticed I seemed tired/frustrated.  I miss that closeness but I realize all things take time. I have to give them time and I will. I haven’t given up. It’s an adjustment period.

학교 일과에 빨리 적응했으면 좋겠어요~!

A Year in Reflection

As I’ve just completed my last week of classes, I’ve been trying to reflect on this year. My family keeps nagging me to journal and really think about my time here, which is sound advice but I rarely get around to it. Plus when you live it everyday, dictating your adventures doesn’t seem as important. While everything seems so fresh and unforgettable now, give it a few years and all the details will start to get fuzzy.

School

I think this is the year I really found out who I am as a teacher. Last year was one in which I struggled to find my space. I often felt ignored or useless as a teacher. Working with a coteacher made me feel unnecessary, or rather that the classes weren’t formatted in a way for me to be a vital element of class. Since class was largely taught in Korean and I was just providing pronunciation through drills and leading games, I felt my job could have been done by my coteachers if they simply learned more English.

This year I have a lot of control over my classes. My coteachers are forced to come to my classes by my principal but they often do their own thing in the back or kind of slip out if they sense they aren’t needed. I really like having control over my class. I like that I can plan whatever activities I want and that I can lead the class however I choose. I’ve come to realize I am just not a strict teacher, I can be, but naturally I am more relaxed. Because I rarely yell, when I do, I think it has more of an impact. When I have to yell at my students for their behavior, they are often largely apologetic. Last year I had a coteacher that yelled all the time and students often repeated the behavior. I don’t think yelling at students really teaches them anything. Many of their teachers yell at them or use public humiliation, such as scolding them in front of the whole class, to make them behave. While younger students may fold and behave because they are intimidated, I believe yelling at older students breeds a bit of resentment. They are more self conscious and yelling at them embarrasses them in front of their classmates. I’ve had homeroom teachers tell me that after yelling at a student, they’ve had to go back and have a conversation with them because they could see that it created distance. That’s not to say never yell at students. It happens. We’re human and sometimes we get frustrated to the point we feel the need to yell.

That being said, I need to get better at controlling students and class atmosphere. Because my students were so well behaved at the start, I was not very strict with them. But during the rough moments of the school year (before large exams and right before breaks) students’ priorities shifted. They would often bring their work for other classes to my class, or sleep. Some classes would outright say the class wasn’t fun, while other classes that were paying attention the whole time really enjoyed it. I had one class that just became a chore. They never wanted to listen, they always wanted to work on other things and they never really participated. Crazy enough, it was one of my classes that had so many of my friendliest students in it. Out of class, they loved me. In class, they couldn’t be bothered.

As I prepare to go to my next school, I realize I need to be more firm. I need to have a set of rules and make students abide by them. I need to create a productive and warm class atmosphere. I also want to build closer relationships with students so that I can learn their interests and center lessons more around the things they want to talk about. I also need to find more ways to make the class more student centered. While I try to keep my talk time down to a minimum, when I give students free reign, I often have to go around and police them because they switch back to Korean. In addition, I want to be more daring with my lessons. Sometimes I’m so worried about a lesson entirely bombing that I don’t try it. Next year, I want to push myself and my students to really jump into the whole experience and try new things.

Personal/Social 

Honestly, this year has been one of the most conflicting emotionally. Losing Papa was hard. There’s no other way to say it. I still cry. I still have days that I want to scream. I have days I wake up from a dream where he’s alive, and reality feels cruel and heartbreaking. There are days that everything at home feels really far away and I feel really lonely.

But on the other side of that, this year has been amazing because my students have honestly given me so much. When they run up to me excited, my whole heart is warm and fluttering. When they latch on to me, walk next to me, or sit as close as they can to me, I realize how loved I am and all I can do is give it back. When my boys are being dorks, it makes me laugh until my whole heart is open and fluttering. My students have saved me so many times this year. One of the strongest examples of this…

April 11 is a rough day for me. It’s the day my dad died. It sparked five years of depression and a shaky sense of home and security. This year, I was sitting in my classroom when I got a series of messages from a friend that made me really anxious for their safety. This anxiety definitely triggered a severe emotional reaction. I could only think about my father passing. In my mind, my friend was dying. I couldn’t stop my thoughts from going in that direction. I was unable to control myself. I had a panic attack. But I had class the following period so I washed my face, reapplied my makeup and waited for them to come in. I was sitting on a desk when one of my students came in. I had my arms open, motioning to another student who was following her and at that moment, she slid in and gave me hug. This student has always been very affectionate but it was such a well timed hug that it pushed everything in my mind aside and I realized I needed to be present for my students.

In addition to having amazing students, I have made some really great friends here. I have been able to travel and see them in their placements. I’ve been able to see them as both friends and teachers. I’ve seen ways I can improve as a teacher through them. I have enjoyed spending time really getting to know people from all over the US. They have been an amazing support system and I’ve become a better person by knowing them. While in Korea, I’ve made many friends but I’ve gotten especially close to the black cohort of my year. Growing up in a suburb where black people were the majority and there was little other diversity, I felt a bit ostracized. Many students in my school didn’t know I was black or didn’t consider me black enough. I often heard myself referred to as “the white chick”. As a child, my family often made comments about how light my siblings and I were. Coming to Korea and being so immediately accepted by black people has really helped me in the way I view my own racial identity. I’ve always heard the saying, “You are not half black and half white, you are wholly both,” but when real life doesn’t reflect that, it just sounds like something people say to make you feel better. Here, I have really come to see myself as a black woman.

As far as goals for next year, I want to push myself to make Korean friends and speak more Korean. I’ve been taking Korean classes and I realize I am at the level that I can now explain Korean grammar in Korean and while that is interesting in itself, it also proves I should be having more in depth conversations in Korean more regularly. I am capable of doing so but if I don’t practice, I’m not going to get any better. I also want to make more friends outside of my program. There are so many other people in Korea for amazing reasons and I should diversify my friend group. In addition, I would love to find/start a book club or some sort of writer’s workshop.

 

A letter to my family which they will never read

Dear Family,

As I write this, I am trying to think of a way to tell you that I will not be coming home this summer. I will most likely say it is because of money. You will believe it, because this is the same girl who hoarded her allowance but never spent it on things she needed. This is the girl who wore her jeans, shoes, and purses until they had holes. This is the girl whose first thought about college was how she could go for free. When I tell you it is about money, you will believe it. You will even offer to help me pay for it. But when that girl tells you it is about money, she will be half lying.

I am sorry but lying comes so much easier to me. I grew up in a world where “Don’t let them see you sweat,”was stitched into the lining of our clothes and boys weren’t the only ones told not to cry. It wasn’t intentional. I don’t want to paint a picture of emotional neglect. No, so often it arose from a need to protect, a need to persevere. In the wake of Daddy’s death, what could be said to make things okay? What little circle of shared tears would have drawn him back to life standing in our kitchen in his apron, smile on his face, cake in his hands? So we said no black at the funeral, wear something colorful, celebrate his life. When I saw him in his powder blue casket, a part of me climbed in beside him. Instead of telling you the truth, I smile. Instead of telling you about the morning he died, I tell you about the time when he was playing video games and broke part of the ceiling. I save these stories to memory so I never forget them. At his funeral, I stand in front of everyone. I know how to be a rock, cold and smooth as stone.

My friends say I have a special voice when I talk to you. It is one octave higher than my normal speaking voice and sweeter. It is nothing intentional but I have to admit it true. I want to be sweet, I want to be your little girl. I want to protect that image. I didn’t tell you I was depressed for all those years. I sat alone in the dark, burying my head in books to escape. I pushed myself in school, I was in the top 5 all throughout high school. When you bowed your heads to pray over dinner, I watched your faces and wondered what I lacked. I wondered what part of a person made them so capable of faith. I’m sorry but I don’t believe in your God. I haven’t for some time, you say I’m mad at God for taking Daddy. I let you believe it, it is easier to admit. It is something you can swallow. You believe I need time. You believe all things just need time.

The things I say aloud are scripted. Topics that are safe, topics that are not safe. For years you ask me about driving. I don’t have my license. I pretend to be lazy, disinterested in driving. It is not until you thrust me behind the wheel of a car and see a panic attack that you realize the anxiety I am capable of. It is the first time I have ever reacted this way. You don’t bring up driving again. Instead, you move on to the next child: someone in this house will have a license. We don’t talk about things that sting. I imagine this is why you didn’t tell me when you found out Papa had cancer. It is one reason I am not as angry as I should be. How could I expect anything different when this has been how our family operates?

Home is a place of comfort and discomfort, I am trapped. Being unable to drive in our small suburb means I can go nowhere. I am trapped, waiting for someone to come home, waiting for someone to finish what they are doing, waiting for someone to pick me up. I imagine home now. I think about the couch where Papa sat, obviously shaken, obviously depressed, obviously mourning for years. I think about how often he felt outnumbered and ignored in a house full of women. I remember how everyone called him emotional, and wonder if he was just softer than all of us. If we should have followed his example and worn our hurt on the outside. I cannot imagine the couch without him sitting on it. In my eyes, the living room is now a vacant space, one wall a television. The memory of him getting up and pouring himself a cup of milk and placing it in the freezer every night replays itself. In my mind, the cup is still there. It would only be befitting that Papa would forget it, that it would continue to sit there until the end of time, until it was cold enough. I think about Ma, the outsider. So often absent from photos, graduations, proms, and backyard barbecues. Always at work, always at one job or the other, always finding a way to scrape by. Despite her always being absent, it is weird to think of her so far from home. She has always been in the background, making sure we are fed and dressed. Always finding ways to slip happiness into the budget. We’d often go out to dinner or to the mall and pretend everything was okay for a few hours. Shortly after her youngest turned eighteen, she packed up her things and moved south to be with the only family member of hers she talks to. I hope she is happy. For a long time, I’ve wanted my mom to be happy.

My decision to not come home was not easy. I would love to see you. I would love a moment to collapse into your arms and feel safe and small. I would love a plate of food set in front of me and a big, soft bed in a room so reminiscent of my childhood. I would love to sit in the comfort of my siblings, the way we can exist so close to each other without effort. But I don’t know if a month at home would bring me peace of mind or if in the prolonged silence, I would find old demons.

Where I’d be…

I get really nervous when I speak Korean. I have been studying it for years but the moment I open my mouth I worry about whether I will be able to properly articulate what I want to say and from there, I falter. I forget simple things like numbers, counters or conjugations. I sometimes realize mid sentence that I don’t know a certain word and give up. If the other person knows English, I often switch to English for the word I don’t know but forget to switch back to Korean.  A lot of my Korean instruction has focused on grammar and I have largely picked up vocabulary on my own. Vocabulary stumps me a lot. Especially when other people are talking. People speak quickly and I often lose the meaning of a sentence when too many words appear that I don’t know. People also don’t often realize when they are using slang or a dialect and while I may know the formal way to say something, I have no way of deciphering dialects I have never heard before.

When I talk to most of the teachers at my school, I can speak Korean pretty normally. It is a low pressure situation. Talking to my coteachers though, is a whole other story. All of them have very strong English levels, some of them have lived in English speaking countries or gone to school abroad. When I try to use Korean with them, I realize that they are so much better at English than I am at Korean and I let that get to me. I start doubting myself and before I’ve even said anything, I’ve stumbled over my words and I realize I’m not making sense. I feel vulnerable and irritated with myself.

Every time I have taken a level test in Korea, I have been placed in Intermediate classes. So far I have taken a level test three times at three different places: Ganada Hagwon, during Fulbright Orientation and for the classes I’m in now (Yoon Lab). Most often my speaking test score is what places me in Intermediate but once class begins, my teachers are able to see that I know most if not all of the grammar for that level. I am able to do really well with written assignments and the workbook. But when it comes to speaking, I am at about the same level as everyone in the class. Writing has always been easier for me. Grammar follows a pattern. Even though it’s drastically different than  writing in English, it still makes sense to me: find the correct grammar structure, plug things in, proofread and edit. Speaking is real time input processing and output. You need to sort through what people are saying, think about what you want to say, and then say it before the conversation moves onto something else.

My Korean decides to work at random times, like ordering my food on the phone, using apps entirely in Korean or speaking to utter strangers. When I took my level exam for the Korean classes I’m currently in, my Korean decided to behave. I talked to the teacher for over an hour about: my major in college, how long I’ve been in Korea, how I like living and teaching in Daegu, where I live (and how it is still a part of Daegu despite being so far out of the way), what my students are like, my family, my dream job. We talked for awhile and then we talked about random things like Korean music and dramas. I felt really confident. There were a few moments I stumbled trying to construct longer sentences on the fly but overall I did fairly well. I feel that the class accurately reflects my level, or at the very least, I am not relearning the same grammar.

Sometimes I think I want to be a translator or an interpreter because Korean means a lot to me and I don’t want to risk forgetting it. It’s kinda hard to explain how Korean has come to mean so much to me. In the beginning, when people used to ask why I learned Korean, it was always easier to just say “KPop,” but looking back it was more than that. At the time that I liked KPop, I didn’t even really listen to KPop all that much. I just listened to the same songs and groups that my friends were listening to. When new groups came out and my friends would get excited about them, I continued listening to the few I started out with. KPop was what exposed me to Korean, but it wasn’t why I started learning it.

There was a point in my life, end of high school/beginning of college, where I was felt very apathetic. I wanted my dad at this crucial moment in my life and he was gone. College reminded me, at every turn, how poor I was. The only thing I wanted to be was a writer and so many people told me that wasn’t a real job. But it was all I had ever wanted to be up until that point. I didn’t have a backup plan.  At the same time,  I wasn’t making any actual efforts to be a writer. Since it seemed like a doomed profession, I accepted it as such. I wasn’t writing other than for class, I wasn’t looking for internships or writing for the local newspapers despite there being several. I wasn’t doing open mic nights or trying to get published. Then I heard Korean. It might’ve been a song, it might have been SHINee’s Hello Baby, I don’t remember. But the sound of it spoke to me. As a poet, I have always focused on the way things sound over meaning or anything else. One comment I frequently receive about my work is, “It sounds pretty but I don’t know what it means.” I think that’s what Korean was for me, a taste of my own medicine. Korean sounded so perfect from the very moment I heard it: the roundness of it, the way it seemed to flow together, the tone people’s voices carried when they spoke. I wanted to understand it. I started learning it on my own but I began taking classes my sophomore year. My brain absorbed Introductory Korean like it was something familiar. I loved the alphabet, loved how words fit together and often practiced mimicking Korean speakers to try and get the right pronunciation and inflection. I wanted full immersion in the language. I wanted to go to Korea. Without realizing it, I came to want something the way I used to want to be a writer. I was trying hard, I had a dream I was working towards.

I don’t know what the future has in store for me but I hope to only get better at Korean. I really do love it. Even when four different grammar points seem the exact same and no one on Earth can seem to definitively tell me how they’re different. Even when I screw up pronunciation so bad that I want to disappear. Even when dialects throw me all the way off and I’m trying to figure out what has just been said to me. Even when I’m relearning the same grammar points b/c I can’t get myself placed in a higher level class. .

Without Korean, I wouldn’t be in Korea. I wouldn’t be teaching. I wouldn’t have gotten this grant to work in another country. I can honestly say I have no idea where I’d be if I hadn’t started learning Korean.