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 a Fulbright grant. I can honestly say I have no idea where I’d be if I hadn’t started learning Korean.

Would you walk alone…?

So something happened in Korean class today that made me think.

A few months back, I heard about Yoon Lab, a place in Daegu that offers Korean classes. I was interested but with winter break and upcoming travel plans, I decided to wait until later to begin. So today was my first day. We had just finished learning one grammar point and before moving on to the next one, our teacher opened the floor to talk about whatever we wanted for a bit. She asked us about things we liked about Daegu, things we didn’t like about Daegu and then she asked if we felt safe. She asked these as general questions but when she asked about safety, she directed a specific question to me (the only female). She asked, in Korean, if I feel safe walking alone at midnight. I told her that I do. She seemed surprised and asked, though she didn’t know the phrase for it, if men cat-called or harassed me when I walked by myself at night.

Now, I have experienced a bit of street harassment here but not nearly as much as I experienced in America. I can count on one hand how many times a Korean man or a group of Korean men have harassed me while I’ve walking around on my own. One time, I was with Jeongwon (my host sister) and a man sitting outside of a restaurant began saying pretty inappropriate things about my thighs loud enough for both of us to hear. As Jeongwon understood what the man was saying much quicker than I did, she dragged me away. A different time, a group of college-aged guys kept bugging me as I tried to walk home. At first it was just a hello, then it was a more persistent hello and questions, then it was one of them following behind me until his friends stopped him. I wasn’t actually scared of these boys, more annoyed. I didn’t feel threatened, just irritated by the fact they couldn’t take a hint and leave me alone. There have been other instances of men hitting on me or checking me out, but largely I go unbothered.

The fact that my Korean teacher brought it up, made me think about how much Korean women probably face street harassment. On a regular basis, I see instances of harassment that people may not even consider street harassment. Outside of phone stores like SKT or U+,  sales clerks usually stand around and try to talk to people. Sometimes I notice that the men are very aggressive and often, they will stop Korean women physically by getting into their way and blocking them from being able to move past them. Every time I see this, I get so freaking angry. These men do it because they are under the assumption that women can’t physically overpower them and no one says anything about this being wildly inappropriate. They don’t do this to men. In a similar vein, clubs in Seoul will often have men posted outside and these men are trying to get women to come into their club. Sometimes these men do the same thing that the phone company guys do. They block women until, at the very least, they take the flyer. But I have heard stories of these guys actually grabbing women in an effort to get them to come into the club. And these are only things I’ve seen, so who’s to say there’s not more? I haven’t really talked to Korean women about street harassment or anything like that.

Cat-calling and/or street harassment pisses me off. I have had grown men yelling disgusting things at me since I was a pre-teen riding my bike around my neighborhood. When I take the trash out at my grandmother’s house, a man across the street cat-calls me while I’m only a few feet from my front door. I don’t like to walk places where I live because someone always tries to talk to me, and if I tell them to leave me alone, they often get angry or follow me. A man once screamed, “Fuck you,” at my little sister and I when he hit on me and I ignored him. I have had men follow me in their cars. Men have turned their car around to follow me. Men in their cars, have slowed just to yelling things out the window at me. If I got a nickel every time some man on the street or in a car said something about my ass, I’d be rich. I hate cat callers. I hate that street harassment makes little girls grow up faster than they need to. I hate that street harassment makes girls feel like they have to cover up just to walk to the store. I hate that street harassment makes me think before leaving the house because I know if I leave at a certain time, more people will be outside thus increasing the chance that someone will try to harass me.

In Korea, I’ve been allowed to roam free unconcerned. I wear what I want to wear (though there is a standard of dress here that insists shoulders and cleavage be covered). I leave the house without worrying about the people outside. People don’t yell obscenities at me, people don’t try to corner me “just to talk”. Cars don’t stop in front of me or follow me.  Being “othered” largely means that people leave me alone. Sure, people stare, but they stare because I’m different. They’re not staring because they want to do things to my body. One of the things I love about Korea is my freedom.

Today in class, I was pulled back to the reality that just because I’m not facing it now, doesn’t mean it’s not an issue still at large. People are experiencing it here, back at home and in places all over the world. If you face street harassment on the regular, I’m sorry and I feel for you. If you’re someone who harasses people on the street, I hope some day you can feel what it feels like. I hope that someone reduces you to an object for their use and on a daily basis reminds you that you’re barely human. If you’re someone who doesn’t harass people on the street, good for you for being a decent human being.

Last Class, Winter Camp and Japan

Hello all, it’s been awhile. As I write this I’m debating whether to make one long post or 2-3 short ones in order to catch everyone up to date. When last we spoke it was floating around Thanksgiving and I was pushing myself to appreciate the good things in life. Cliche but a healthy thought exercise. December rolled around and I honestly can’t remember too much of what happened. I was busy prepping for my last class of the semester with my first graders and my last class ever with my second graders. I felt like I should have been more sad to see them go but I found it really difficult to connect with my second graders. My school is really competitive to the point my students are often visibly exhausted, not just during certain points of the year, but rather frequently. Not only that, but my second graders seem to be the most afraid to use English. Many of them only speak in short phrases, rather than full sentences but I know they are capable of more because I have seen their writing and the skits they do for the English talent show. That is not to say I won’t miss them. My second graders were an overall well-behaved group and they were often willing to do the work. There are some of them that I will miss greatly and others that I wanted to chase out the door. I am excited to see what they are capable of in the future and I have told them to contact me if every they need assistance.

My last class for both first and second grade was writing Secret Santa Affirmations. Students were given time to anonymously write messages to their friends while I played Christmas Carols. For the second years, this could be goodbye messages as they may not be in the same classes the following year, or just well wishes. For first graders, many of the messages were small Christmas cards. Students were very thoughtful. In one of my classes, the boys banded together in order to make sure that all the girls got a card from them. The messages were really cute, examples: You are beautiful, You are the prettiest girl in class, You have a nice smile, etc.. Surprisingly students actually wrote me and my coteacher messages. I was very shocked to see a small pile for me. The messages honestly really helped me to see how the students saw me. Many of them wished me Merry Christmas and said they hoped I’d stay for a long time. It was very touching. One student even wrote that they respected me. I had a group of girls in one of my classes, bring me a letter they wrote me afterward because, “they didn’t have time in class to write one.” I really appreciated it.

After last classes, I had a bit of time off before winter camp. Vacation for me generally translates to going nocturnal and being super lazy so I don’t have a lot of updates for that period of time. At the beginning of January, I had winter camp. It was ten of my most enthusiastic (female) students and I was given free reign on what I wanted to do. I centered the camp on different speaking games: talking Jenga, Would you Rather, Picture Challenge, HeadsUp (phone app game), and a different version of Bingo. On the last day of camp, I brought one of my friends and was really amazed at how engaged my students were. They asked my friends tons of questions. I believe the first half of class was just them talking to her. I was very proud.

After camp, I went to Japan.


 

I was in Japan for ten days. My friend and I flew into Narita International Airport. There we purchased a portable wifi-egg for about $10/day from ABC JAL. You have to give them a credit card that will work in Japan. (One of my cards didn’t, so be careful) It was very practical as my friend and I split the cost and we could link up to 5 devices on the egg. It was about an hour bus ride from Narita to Tokyo Station and it cost about 1000 jpy ($8.90). If I have any advice for someone going to Japan for the first time, it would be to go nowhere near Tokyo Station until you understand a little about Japanese public transportation. The place is massive and very confusing. At one point my friend and I rage quit and just sat on the floor, googling to see if we could figure out what it was we were supposed to do to find our hotel.

A plus side of Japanese public transportation is that Google Maps works PERFECTLY. Google maps was so good, it would tell us what floor stores were on inside of shopping malls and how much it would cost to go from point A to point B. A downside (to me, anyway) is that Japanese public transportation is not owned by all one company. This means that some lines are thoroughly separated. Transferring often means leaving one area of the station and going to another. There were various times that my friends are I were wandering around stations just trying to find the right line, especially in Tokyo. Another downside (again, to me) is that you are charged according to how far you go. Now, that makes sense (from the standpoint of companies wanting to make money) but Korean public transportation is not like that. Korean subways and buses charge a flat rate and you can transfer lines without additional cost. You can even transfer from the subway to the bus and vice versa. So Japanese subways seemed VERY expensive to me. Every time I was charging my card, I was putting 1000 jpy or more on it and it would still get used up quickly. Also, if you took the quicker route, it often cost much more than the slow route. The bullet train from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station was very expensive: 13,710 jpy ($122). I was told that it is actually cheaper to fly (when booked in advance) from one place to another vs taking the bullet train. But it was a good experience. The trains are quiet and spacious.

After a few nights in Tokyo, my friends and I traveled 3.5 hours north of Tokyo to Gunma prefecture in order to go to an onsen. Honestly, this hot spring was my favorite part of the trip. The entire thing was amazing. Getting there we encountered soooo much snow. Being from the midwest, I miss snow. It’s beautiful but it rarely snows Daegu, and when it does snow, it doesn’t stick. A small van picked us up at Minakami Station and brought us to the onsen. As soon as we came in, they took our shoes and gave us indoor slippers and yukata to wear around. They had yukata that was actually long enough for me and pretty. The staff was very accommodating and spoke English. After first bathing, we went outdoors to the hot springs. They were very relaxing. I thought that it would be way too cold but it’s actually very refreshing. You’re only cold for the few seconds you are out of the water. Changing rooms are right next to all the pools so you strip down and place your belongings in a basket than run into the water. Men were naked and women had bathing cover-ups to wear. I do not know if these were mandatory or not but it seemed most women were wearing them. But when the pools are relatively empty, it seems like no big deal to take them off. Though I enjoyed the hot spring, I found that I grew sensitive to the heat and had to call it a night early. The food was very good but it did include a lot of sea food (which I’m not a big fan of). We were served in the restaurant vs being served food in our room (like some ryokan experiences) but we were still waited on hand and foot. I would definitely come back.

After the onsen, we went to Kyoto. It took us so long to get there from Gunma that we were exhausted and just ate KFC. Luckily, our hotel was right in the middle of downtown, so we could walk to almost everywhere we wanted. The next day, we went to this amazing parfait place. It had dozens and dozens of options. I had an apple pie and milk tea parfait. It was amazing. Afterward, we went to the Imperial Palace but it was closed because we were too late. The park around the palace was very large and open. A lot of people there were walking their dog or riding their bike. I think it’d be a lovely place to picnic or just relax and take a stroll. The park is very big too, so we didn’t even really see all of it. Next we went to the International Manga Museum. It cost 800 yen ($8). We got distracted by the wall of manga and ended up not getting very far. I recommend going early and checking it out, then sitting down and reading a bunch of manga. They have areas for several different languages: English, Korean, Chinese, etc. The next day, we went to Gion Corner, a place popular for Geishas but we didn’t really see any. Then we hopped on the subway and ran to Fushimi Inari Shrine before the sun set. I really like the look of the shrine. I loved the strong color and the structure of the buildings.

Afterward, we went to Osaka. The largest thing we did in Osaka was visit the castle. I thought it was beautiful and whimsical. I took the greatest selfie of my life in front of the outer moat. It’s an amazing place to just walk around. I also noticed that my friends and I encountered many Korean tourists in this area. Not only that but many signs were translated into Korean as well which wasn’t as common in other cities. Then we went to the Gudetama Cafe, which was more cafe than Gudetama but I enjoyed myself. I wish there had been a store inside the cafe. I really wanted a large Gudetama plushie but it wasn’t meant to be. But it turned out okay b/c I got a really cute kitty plushie. We ended the day by grabbing noms in Dotonbori. It was super crowded but I enjoyed all the options. We ended up eating okonomiyaki and yakisoba. I thoroughly enjoyed the okonomiyaki and now that I’m back in Korea I kinda miss it. Our final day in Japan it rained most of the day so we decided against going to Universal Studios and instead had a chill day.

 

Mah boys

So today my boy students gave me life. If I’ve never really explained my school’s demographic before, let me do so now. My school is co-ed but with 2/3 girls and 1/3 guys. Often, I think my boys feel outnumbered and outvoted so sometimes they’re just not willing to participate as much as my girls. Most of the boys do participate but there are only a few that will say things in class. Today I had them play a picture challenge game. One student had their back to the screen and the other members of their team had to explain to them what the picture looked like. For my girl students, some funny things happened but my boy students definitely turned this into something hilarious.

Firstly, one group of boys left their drawer hanging and for the first minute or so did not try to explain the picture. In retaliation, the drawer began drawing the most bizarre picture. At this point, the boys tried to jump in and save it but it was too late. Their drawer had gone rogue. What should have been a small dog with a mustache turned into a demon with fangs and horns and possibly wings. As I passed their table, they kept saying, “Teacher, he’s out of control. He’s drunk. He is stress. Art therapy! It’s unsalvageable.” While I should have pushed them to actually follow the directions, it was a nice bonding moment for me and my male students in that class.

Secondly, in my next class, my boys were trying to explain how a dog was posed but their drawer just wasn’t getting it. I looked down to check the time and when I looked back up, one of my students was on top of their chair mimicking the pose the dog was doing, facial expression and everything. I had to hide because I was laughing so hard.

Quotes I heard today:
-“This is a car. This is an apple tree. This is a 3D dog house.”

– A: Draw a bush! Next to the house! NO! A bu-”
B: GEORGE W. BUSH
A: No, not that kind of bush!

– “The dog is facing you. Eye contact. Communication with soul!”

– “Protein! Dog with biiig muscles! Many proteins!”
– “Can we get points for creativity?”

It’ll all be alright.

일이 마지막에는 괜찮아 질 거다. 만일 괜찮지 않다면 그건 끝이 아니다.  In the end, everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. 

I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot, in English and in Korean. It’s been my own personal mantra for when things get tough. I don’t know why I find it comforting but I do. I used to tell myself, “it’s alright, everything is okay,” when there were times things really weren’t okay and I was just trying to quiet my anxieties. This quote feels like a more realistic view on life. Maybe everything is not okay now but it will be. If things are still not okay, that’s not the end. Things will get better.


Two weekends ago, we had fall conference. While some moaned and groaned, I actually looked forward to seeing my friends. Even though Korea is about the size of Indiana, it’s still not easy to visit people. Think about it: when’s the last time you traveled across your own state to visit a friend? With a full time job and extracurriculars on the weekend, it’s not always the easiest to do. I missed my friends. I missed seeing friends in general. When I went home, I was surrounded by family but only got to see a few of my friends due to how hectic things were. I didn’t even know the proper way to invite friends to a funeral. I didn’t know how to reach out and say, “This is really hard for me, I want you there,” and my best friend was on the other side of the world.

Conference felt overwhelming in such a good way. The first month or so in Daegu, I was honestly stuck in my head. I was worrying, obsessing and struggling to understand how to mourn what had happened over the summer. I was doubting myself as a teacher. I was doubting things that I shouldn’t have been doubting. I wasn’t really doing anything productive. At conference, I was able to get out of my head and spend time with people. I felt cared for simply by people wanting to spend time with me. I felt good sharing my experiences with people. I felt poured into listening to other people speak and realizing our similar experiences. Conference weekend helped me feel more connected to some of the first year ETAs. I felt energized by other’s energy. I felt good being able to sit in a room full of people and talk about stuff that didn’t matter and stuff that did. I felt good drinking soju on the benches outside of GS25 and simply existing with people.

I was a little lonely leaving conference, I wanted to stay in its warm glow for just a bit longer. I wanted to laugh with my friends more. I wanted to see their faces in front of me and hear their voices just a little longer. I want to thank everyone I spent time with Conference weekend. You helped me realize that I’m in here. That maybe right now, things suck. I will never get to see my grandpa again. Papa won’t see Kryss and Tre graduate college. He won’t be there if any of us get married or have children. He won’t be there to watch Peanut grow up. He won’t be there to tell me he’s proud of me when I feel like a failure and need the reassurance. He won’t be there to see who I’ll become. I’ll have to live with this feeling that my family lied to me about something so important. I’ll have to look into their faces and feel so wronged by the people I love most in the world. I’ll have to live with the fact that the very last time I heard my grandpa’s voice he was crying. I’ll always have to ask myself if he knew and wanted so badly to tell me. Maybe there are a lot of things right now that aren’t okay, but I’m still here.

I’m still the girl who “writes funny Facebook posts”. I’m still someone who makes people laugh. I’m still someone that people like being around. You guys have helped me see that I am still something warm and fluttering.

Refresher course on my life

Hello all,

It’s come to my attention it’s been nearly 2 weeks since my last post and since I swore to do better this time around, I suppose it’s time to get something “on paper”, so to speak.

I’ve been at my new school for over a month now which also means I’ve been living on my own for a month now. Honestly, it’s not so bad. I work, come home, eat (junk food), sleep (at an ungodly hour), rather, rinse, repeat.

My high school just had midterm week so I had an entire week off. I went to Seoul with my poof sister and ate lots of food. We also went to Everland, the largest amusement park in Korea. It was decorated for Halloween so there were pumpkins,  ghosts, and eery little lamps everywhere. There were even people dressed up as zombies and booths that did grotesque zombie makeup. It was rather bizarre, yet … refreshing to see couples sporting the same rotting flesh on their faces. It’s interesting how little Halloween is actually celebrated here but businesses really like to advertise for it. I rode one roller coaster. One, because we arrived at the park late and standing in that line alone took over an hour and two, because I’m a punk. Before getting on the ride, I assumed since the park seemed fairly childish and cute, the ride would be a simple coaster. As the car slowly climbed a steep hill, I realized I had made a grave error. One I could not even see because I had taken off my glasses but one that rested firmly in the pit of my stomach.

I had some amazing ramen in Itaewon. The restaurant is called 멘야산다이메 (Menyasandaime? It’s prolly Japanese). If you leave Itaewon station out of exit 3 and walk down, you’ll find it after passing the Line Friends store and all of that. It’s a very small shop, only a few tables but it’s really good. I also ate at Vatos Tacos, Original House of Pancakes and some other places I’ve forgotten. The ramen shop was the best. It was really nice to just exist in Korea. I say this often but I really mean it, I would love to just live in Korea. I don’t know if teaching is what I want to do forever but if I could find a way to live in Korea long term, I’d totally be okay with that. It’s comfortable for me here. I don’t have to worry about finances. I don’t have to worry about being targeted by police. I don’t have to worry about hate crimes. While there are some people that make me feel super unwelcome, they don’t make or break my day. I can get over the stares, rude (or just plain stupid) comments and the random touching most days. I like having access to so many things. Back in America, I can’t go anywhere. I get panic attacks behind the wheel so I never learned how to drive. Transportation in Korea is phenomenal. You can take buses or trains almost anywhere and they’re pretty cheap. Even taxis are cheap.

After Seoul, we went to Jinju for the Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival (진주 남강 유등 축제). I know it’s called a lantern festival but I was legitimately surprised by not only how many lanterns there were but all the different shapes and sizes. There were even some floating on the water. There was a mix of many different cultures at the festival. I saw a tiger and a dragon fighting, a scene commonly painted in Japanese art, but just a bit further down the lake, one could see Beauty and the Beast. When you crossed the shaky bridge across the river and walked up to the fortress, there were giant lanterns the shapes of palaces and even whole war scenes portrayed by various lanterns shaped like people. There were also several spots for couples to sit and take pictures: various cute animal benches, hearts floating in the air, and even a risqué hanok scene with two lovers embracing shirtless. I believe my friends and I were there for over two hours and we probably missed things. The place was massive and we got turned around more than once. Unfortunately, it was quite crowded and trying to figure out simple things like how to get out were made more difficult by all the lines. It actually wasn’t that bad though. We ended the night with samgyupsal (삼겹살 pork belly), jeon (전 Korean pancake), and makgeoli (막걸리Korean rice wine).

Now I’m back at school. My kids are dead tired from midterms so it’s difficult to get them to care about anything so I’ve been going easy on them. I taught them how to play “BS” but I’m calling it “Liar”. Some classes have really enjoyed it. Some don’t understand how to play due to the fact they were not listening during my initial instructions and decided to play Korean card games instead. Since this was more or less a free period, I didn’t care too much. My boy students seem to like the game a lot. They get really loud and competitive. I have to hover over them and shush them. It’s difficult to teach with a cold. When I begin explaining, my voice is clear and as I continue, it just gets scratchier and scratchier. Some of my students have been very understanding and will shush the others if they get too loud because they know I can’t raise my voice.

I still think I have a long way to go in becoming a good English teacher but I definitely think this is a better place for me. I like the freedom of teaching at a high school. I can plan whatever I want, whenever I want. My coteachers don’t really seem to care what I do as long as the students are either working on speaking or writing skills. I’ve just been winging it with my speaking classes thus far. My first class is always a little rocky, my second one, a little better and by the time I’ve taught all of second grade, I’ve nailed it. Then I teach the same, or a scaffolded version to first grade. It’s a little tiring to teach the same lesson ten times but it’s working for me right now. Maybe in the future, I’ll change my mind and give them different lessons.

Teaching a writing class has been interesting. As a native English speaker whose grown up in the American school system, I have had the process of essay writing drilled into me since I was little but even I struggle with it sometimes. One of my coteachers is adamant on me teaching the students how to write essays but then she also doesn’t want me to assign work outside of class. I don’t see how that is going to realistically work out. I feel that it is probably better to work on smaller, more practical, everyday uses of writing such as writing emails, letters and/or opinion pieces. I would also like the opportunity to let the kids free write or try their hand at creative writing. That’s only a hope. Perhaps next semester when everyone goes up a grade, I can have more time to experiment with this writing class. My current first graders definitely struggle more with writing. I often have to let them work together in order to get something coherent written on the paper.

I also teach special ed students. They are seven third year students who range in ability. A few of them can’t really seem to speak, even in Korean. Most of them don’t know English and the only way they know what I’m saying is that one student translates. This student has exceptional English skills, he translates what I say nearly word for word. He also has an expansive vocabulary. I introduced them to sea creatures today and he knew every one. All of them are really sweet. They are always excited to see me and often try really hard to understand. When they’re excited about an activity, I can tell and that makes it easier to teach. They are a good bunch of kids but part of me wonders what will happen to them after this year. They are third years. The general population will be taking the big test that essentially determines their future. I can’t imagine these kids taking that test and if they don’t, I don’t see how they will have opportunities for the future. It doesn’t seem like Korea really has resources for those with special needs.