A list of things I’ve realized one week after being home

The Light Stuff

  • I do act a little weird.
  • I am not actually that tall.
  • Fresh fruit is really cheap here.
  • American food is saltier than I remember.
  • Almost every black woman I’ve encountered has braids of some sort.
  • Having a back yard to relax in is a comfort I didn’t know I missed.
  • I am now a size that even US stores are having difficulty figuring out.
  • It confuses people that I’ve forgotten English though it’s been 3 years.
  • I underestimated how much I missed a home-cooked meal.

The Heavy Stuff

  • The windows stay open in the house to let in natural light. Papa didn’t like having the windows open because he was paranoid. This is something that has started after his passing.
  • Papa’s stuff is still in the closets. It’s been two years (almost to the day) and his police uniforms are still in the closet of “my bedroom”.
  • My grandmother does not know how to retire. She’s been so used to a schedule her whole life she doesn’t know how to relax. Currently she has several hobbies.
    • She’s started a garden. There are plants everywhere. In the front room, in the living room, on the porch, in the back yard. She’s even bought this magical lil toy so she can grow plants indoors with artificial sunlight. She talks to them after she comes in from her morning walks.
    • Next, the puzzles. There are massive puzzles completed and hanging up on the walls like pictures. She has a puzzle table in the middle of the room that has a 500 piece puzzle on it. She’s yet to finish that one and keeps asking me to help. I fell asleep on the table the other day trying to put a dent in that thing.
    • Online ESL tutoring. At some point she got her TEFL certificate and now works as a teacher part time. She seems to enjoy it.
  • My Aunty Carmen has grown soft as a widow. She’s always calling. Always coming over. Always inviting people over. She doesn’t like being alone. She’s so much softer than she seems in my memories. So willing to connect, to listen to my stories about Korea, to tag along on errands.
  • I keep thinking I’m only here for a little while. That I’ll go back to Korea. In my head there is a countdown: a return to familiarity that will ease this feeling of displacement.
  • Everyone keeps telling me it’s okay to take a break and orient myself. I don’t know what to do with this free time. I feel useless.
  • I miss my kids. I miss being called “Teacher”.
  • I miss feeling competent.
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Leaving Safety

I will be sad when I leave Korea. That’s a given. But as the days slip by, a pit has been forming in my stomach. I realize I am leaving some place safe.

I don’t worry when I leave my house here. I don’t feel threatened. I walk alone at night. I travel alone. I wear revealing clothes without that tiny voice in the back of my head whispering at me. I don’t feel like I need to be as careful here. I’ve had the occasional incident of harassment but I rarely felt unsafe. Just annoyed.

But when I think about home, I think about the man across the street who catcalls me when I throw out trash. I think about how my own driveway doesn’t feel safe in those moments. I think about my grandfather’s rigorous security system. I think about all the cameras and all the extra locks and how all of that only makes the house feel safe. I think about how my sister and I had to learn the times it was okay to take walks during the day. If you wanted to avoid people, errands had to be done early. I think about having to drag my little sister with me when I wanted to go places because the chances of getting harassed were higher if I was walking alone. I remember walking from my grandmother’s house to my mom’s apartment (a 5 minute walk) and being street harassed. The man catcalled me from across the street and when I ignored him, he started screaming, “Fuck you,” at the top of his lungs at us. He wouldn’t stop. I think about how I used to take my dog, Navarre, with me on walks because he was big and scary looking. It felt like carrying a weapon, a warning, a large sign that said “Stay the fuck away from me”. I think about cars that have stopped, cars that have turned around, cars that have followed me. I think about the time I took a shortcut through the park to get home and ran into a pack of men playing basketball. I often think about how they thought it was funny to chase me. I think about their laughs and the sounds of their footsteps. I think about how I couldn’t stop running even when I knew they were no longer behind me. I think about fear and what it does to a body. I think about how men started seeing me as a woman when I was only twelve years old. I think about what years of street harassment can do to a woman’s sense of security.

I tell myself it will all be okay.

But I don’t think I believe me.

Ms. Indecisive makes up her mind

I believe my last post or maybe the post before that was about having no idea what I want to do with my life post Fulbright. While I still don’t know exactly what I want to do, I’ve finally made a decision. I am coming home. While I will probably touch down and immediately regret living in the same country as that orange assface, I’m realizing that Korea has given me all it can.

Living in Korea these last 2.5 years has helped me to feel more like an adult than any other experience in my life. I live alone. I pay my own bills. I handle bank, doctor and personal stuff in a foreign language. I budget. I save. I travel around the country. I make plans. Whenever something happens, I have had to step up to take care of it all while working a full time job. I’m proud of myself and I love living here. But I don’t think I’ve been working toward anything these last few years. Every day I wake up, go to school, teach and come home. This would be fine if teaching was what I wanted to do but I’ve known for some time it isn’t. While I love aspects of teaching, I know it is not something I want to do for the rest of my life. It drains me. I feel largely unqualified most of the time. Lesson planning causes me anxiety. I honestly have shitty classroom management skills and I am not good at planning ahead. But I love being a mentor to my students. I love being someone they can come talk to.

I was trying to convince myself to stay here because at least this environment is familiar. I know how to navigate this space, literally and figuratively. I know Korean work ethic. I’ve adapted to the “one-room” lifestyle. I can make basic conversation with my coworkers which makes my work environment an enjoyable one. Korean public transportation is so effective I don’t need to know how to drive. A lot of things are cheaper including dental and health care. But familiar doesn’t always mean it’s the right choice. If I stayed, I would have this same internal struggle another year from now. Should I stay? Should I go? What’s next? 

I think I need a break. I need to stop teaching so I can clear my mind and think about what I actually want to do. Because when I ask myself now, I have no idea. All my mental energy goes towards teaching. It’s all I’ve done since I’ve graduated.

My plan for now is to go home and maybe try out a few things. See if there’s anything I like doing. Maybe go back to school once I know what I want to study. Find a way to get a masters for free.


 

And now a short list of things I’m excited for in no particular order:

  • Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce
  • My squad (I miss you guys. Yall out here doing big shit. I’m so proud T^T)
  • Thrift stores in rich white neighborhoods
  • Going shopping for work wear (I look so good in a suit istg)
  • The fam (though def not looking forward to family functions)
  • Payless (I just want cute, cheap shoes, okay?)
  • My queen sized bed with a thick ass mattress pad on it
  • The literal mountain of stuffed animals and pillows on said bed
  • Having pets (dogs? cats? both???)
  • Sweet potato pie
  • Anything Gramma is willing to cook for me
  • CHEESECAKE! REAL CHEESECAKE
  • American malls and department stores
  • Actual fucking Christmas
  • Decorating a 6′ Christmas tree
  • Holding Peanut like a baby even tho he’s like 10 years old
  • No more Korean couple culture
  • Bananas that don’t cost $5 or more
  • Panera bread
  • Buffets that don’t cost $30+
  • Living with people again
  • NORMAL FUCKING BANKS (NH you can kiss my ass)
  • Having a name instead of being 원어민 쌤
  • Not being stared at
  • OMG… not being stared at
  • I CAN MOVE THROUGH LIFE WITHOUT BEING STARED AT???
  • Walking around outside w/o being assaulted by sudden, awful smells
  • Public trash cans
  • There (almost always) being toilet paper and soap in public bathrooms
  • Wearing tank tops or low cut shirts
  • Not feeling like I am legit twice the size of most people I encounter
  • Beauty supply stores
  • No longer having to pay international shipping prices
  • No smoking laws (I’m asthmatic, I just want to live)
  • Trying to live more minimally as I have lived the last 3 years in tiny rooms
  • Being able to walk into a store and buy cute, inexpensive underwear/bras
  • Libraries (and bookstores if they’re actually still even a thing)
  • Easily finding ingredients in grocery stores
  • Body wash and lotion that isn’t $10+ a bottle
  • Cinnamon toast crunch
  • Less humidity

 

And the things I will miss about Korea

  • Feeling safe
  • Paid vacations I can use to travel
  • The food ㅠㅠ
  • Cheap nightlife: clubs, booze, etc.
  • Animal cafes (esp my fav cafe in Daegu)
  • Cafes everywhere
  • All the cute things
  • Skincare for daysssss
  • How beautiful this country is
  • My home away from home, Daegu
  • All the shit there is to do in Seoul
  • The quiet, historical small towns
  • CHEAP, RELIABLE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
  • A (mostly) healthy work environment
  • Having my rent paid for
  • Free, fast internet (basically everywhere)
  • Cheap phone plans
  • Amazing students
  • All the people I’ve met here
  • My baby, Jeongwon
  • All of it

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.

 

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.

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. ^^