Day 535 - Last Day of Class

Last day of class for me, contractually. I don't have to come to school again until March 2 next year! At that time, I'll have a brand new batch of kiddos -- 1st years in the school. Meeting the 1st years is always really fun.

For example, this past year, I got a really great new 1st year in Tae Hyun, who understands my position as a foreigner better than any of the other students since he lived in Egypt for a while. We started off really well during winter camp when I first met him. His spoken English skills impressed me to no ends (thanks to ESL classes in Egypt). Unfortunately, the other students used his great English skills and his slightly bigger size as points to make fun of him for.

It broke my heart. I became one of his best friends in the school, since all of his peers made fun of him for his size and called him "Foreigner" or "Egyptian". The teachers even picked on him, berating him for his low scores on vocabulary tests. I'm not sure which is worse, being picked on by your peers (which totally sucks at that age) or having your accomplishments (conversational English skills) completely overlooked by teachers just because he didn't test well. After a semester of putting up with this, he's started acting up, creating problems, refusing to study. It's become a real downer for me.

All my students are growing up on me. Between their 1st year and their 3rd year, they go through a lot. 1st years are fresh out of middle school, just starting the cool high school years. Most of the students at this point (and I teach a lot of boys, remember) are testing the waters with their peers and their teachers, trying to see where the boundaries are. The 1st years tend to be some of my loudest, most difficult to control classes, probably because they're out to prove themselves.

The 2nd years are more mellow in my school. They're not being testing for anything *particularly* important yet, and they're not coming off of any tough tests like the 1st years (the middle school test to get placed for high school). My 2nd years are laid back, they like to have fun, they don't sleep as often in my class. I'd say they were my favorite, but every single year...

..the 3rd years are my favorite. It may just be because they seem to look forward to seeing me the most. Even with only about ~50% of them taking the college entrance exam, they are still forced to memorize an unbelievable list of vocabulary every week. Maybe that's why they look forward to my class. I have the most relaxed relationship with my 3rd years since they never seem to have any discipline problems (maybe out of relief that they're out of their usual classroom and just chillin' listening to music in mine). I also have the closest bonds with the 3rd year students, since I've taught them for a year and a half and we chitchat more than other years. In particular, the class captain of one third year class, Sarang (awesome name, right?) always goes out of her way to be cheerful and helpful in my class, demanding quiet and respect from the boys when they get out of hand. The school president in another class has his posse of 3 close friends, all with mediocre English but with the types of welcoming and humorous personalities that make them the most "popular" crew in school. (And, not surprisingly, the most sought after bachelors amongst the ladies.)

So this is the sad time of year, when my 3rd years are all skipping school since their finals and the suneung is finished. Every once and a while, when I'm walking down to the bus stop, a 3rd year will hang out of the window from the 3rd floor, where all their homerooms are, to yell "Goodbye, Lindsay!" and make a heart over his head with his arms.

Goodbye, Taehyeong. Goodbye, Sarang, Goodbye Taehyeon. Goodbye, Daeseung. Goodbye to all my 3rd years, and good luck where ever life's taking you, whether to college or to the galbi restaurant down the street.


Day 533 - Tokyo

I went to Tokyo!

I stayed at a capsule hostel.

I ate ramen ordered from a vending machine with my friend, Sarah.

I went to Sensouji Temple.
I went to the Yokohama China Town.

I went to Ueno Park.

I went to Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park.

I ate gyoza. it was good!

I also ate eel ice cream. not so good.

I went to Harajuku.

I ate crepes there.

I saw the biggest pedestrian crossing in the world at Shibuya.

I saw Mount Fuji from the Metropolitan Government Center observatory.

I went to the Meiji Shrine.

I took a walk in the Meiji Shrine gardens.

I went to Ginza... but it was too expensive

The end. :)


Day 526 -- Unexpected Tutoring, Tokyo Planning, One Year


The coffee shop lady asked me too meet up with her son, and since she always gives me free "service" waffles and apple pie when I buy a coffee, I dutifully went to the shop to meet him.

About an hour later, this extremely exhausted middle-school boy drags himself in the door, textbooks in tow. He has the biggest eye bags I've ever seen on ANYBODY, let alone a little boy. He offers a kind of shaky "hello" smile. I try to start up a conversation with him -- what's your name, where's your school, what are you studying -- and after about 10 minutes he has said about 20 words. He mostly just looked like a zombie and I felt really bad for him.

Then when I was leaving, coffee shop lady pushes an envelope at me. I told her it wasn't necessary, but she insisted. Her son goes to a middle school, where he studies English. He then goes to hagwon, where he studies English. Now, during his freetime, he's being forced to study English.

This system is not working.


I'm headed to Japan tomorrow to see Tokyo and visit a friend studying there (helloooo Sarah!) for five days. I'm excited to get traveling again!!


Wednesday will be Doyup and my one year anniversary. I, um, will be in Tokyo. I met his mother yesterday, and she seemed pretty nice. At least not as bad as I feared (I was picturing a typical super-scary-boyfriend's-mother from a Korean drama, like Boys Over Flowers or that other one). There was still a lot of very awkward questions, for example "Doesn't your mom as you when you'll get married? Aren't your parents worried that you aren't married yet? How old are you? And you're not married?"

I guess Doyup and I have dated too long, in her eyes. You date for 6 months, then you either get married or break up. Womp womp.



Korean Self-Study Advice

It's hard enough finding Korean language classes in Korea, so I can only guess that it's nearly impossible in the States. To answer a very lovely friend's question about self-studying (shout out Maryyy!), here's what I use.
-->Conversation/speaking, writing
-->Recommended for language partners (lots of Koreans want to practice their English, and will gladly help out if you let them speak with you for a bit). You can also write short passages and Korean native speakers will "grade" it for you and make corrections.
-->TOPIK practice
-->Registering for the site (free!) opens up the archives to all the previous TOPIK tests of every level ever administered anywhere in the world. The best way to get better at the TOPIK is to practice and study your mistakes, I think, and this is free.

Sogang University
-->Vocab, grammar, reading
-->My favorite series out of all the textbooks I've used. Some series focus on more conversation, but since I get enough conversation in my daily life and is free, I like Sogang best.

TOPIK Essential Grammar 150
-->Grammar. Duh
-->It introduces grammar points in units organized by what the grammar points mean. For example, there's many ways to say "After .... , .... " so all those grammar points are organized together. Each unit ends with TOPIK-like grammar questions using those grammar points introduced.

한국어 어휘 연습
-->Vocabulary, colloquialisms, idioms, Chinese roots
-->Words are grouped into sections and taught in units based on TOPIK vocabulary question styles. For example, a section for synonyms, a section for antonyms, a section for idioms, etc. each section is broken down into bite size study units of about 25-30 words a piece, and each piece is followed up with example questions from previous TOPIKs. has a lot of really great TOPIK study books. I would buy/use more, but I already have enough partially-completed study guides... I should just finish the ones I have.

Day 523 - Distractions from Studying at the Coffee Shop

If living in Korea has taught me anything, it's to live in the moment. Koreans are notorious for last-minute schedule changes, no matter how high up in the administration you are. Classes are regularly canceled and the native-speakers don't know until the students don't show up. I guess adapting a "live in the moment" mentality is a kind of defense mechanism so that the more anal of us don't completely give up on time management all together.

Yesterday I went into a coffee shop near my apartment with full intentions of memorizing a page in my Korean vocabulary book. I do this a lot because... it's normal? Isn't it normal to go to a coffee shop alone, if you have work you want to get done? I don't study well at home, and the library is full of students cramming for finals, so a coffee shop is a wonderful place to pump myself full of caffeine and sugar and plow my way through whatever work needs to get done.

No no, not this time. The coffee shop owner looked at me with eyes full of pity and asked me to sit with a young girl to drink my coffee, that way I wouldn't be alone.

So studying didn't happen.

The girl ended up being a middle school student, actually one of Michelle's girls, Subin. She was really cute and completely fascinated by my Korean. We chatted for over an hour about life, her schedule, exams, our favorite KPop boy bands, our favorite dramas, typical middle-school-girl things -- and I was able to do it all in decent-enough Korean.

As I was leaving, the coffee shop lady asked me for a favor. She showed me an English textbook and explained that it was her son's. He's a high school student who, apparently, is good at math but hates English. She asked me, if I could, to come back the next day at 5 or 6 and chat with her son in English.

With the whole "living in the moment" thing in mind, I said yes. I told her (in my EXTREMELY blunt Korean, since I haven't learned enough grammar and vocabulary to be politely subtle) that I wouldn't be able to teach grammar or vocabulary, or translate the textbook for him. She said that was fine, she just wanted him to meet me and for me to talk to him like I talked with the girl. She was apparently impressed that I had learned enough Korean to be conversant, but had only been studying for 2.5 years.

I had just been talking (read: complaining) to my co-teacher earlier that day about how frustrated I was with the Korean English education system. My students were coming in all day with short, 1 page hand-written essays for me to edit and they were TERRIBLE. I was complaining mostly about how English class isn't taught in English -- the teachers speak Korean the entire time -- and how that's completely backwards if they're ever going to learn the language comprehensively. (Korean classes, however, are taught ONLY in Korean, even from the very beginner level. What's up with that, Korea? You clearly know how to teach languages, so why don't you apply it to the English curriculum?!)

Anyway. I hope Subin and this high school student come away thinking that, if they actually practice the English they learn in the classroom, they'll be much better at it. That English is not a dead language. It's not just translating paragraphs out of a book and memorizing vocabulary words. That there's actually a really big world out there where English is used to communicate and express people's ideas.

At the very least, I'll probably score free coffee and waffles out of it.


North Korea's Change of Leadership Through North Korean Eyes

Interesting article translated by The Korean over at Ask A Korean. A reporter talks to North Koreans about the transfer of power going on in North Korea and what they really think of their current leadership.

Day 550 - Things Are Not So Bad

Now that the Chungdae Korean classes are finished, I suddenly have all this free time to socialize, sleep, self-study Korean, sleep, cook things terrible for my diet, sleep, go back to the gym, and sleep.

I really do sleep a lot.

I got accepted for the US Department of State's Critical Language Enhancement Award Korean class this February. I was placed in High Intermediate with some girls that I *know* are much better than me. I should be sleeping less and studying more so that I'm not left in their dust.


Going to Japan next week during my students' finals. Tokyo and all your crazies, here I come!


Day 511 - Korean Wedding

Saturday I went with Doyup to see his friend get married. He and the friend met while in America doing that English camp for a week. I don't know the guy's name, so from here on he will be The Groom.

The Groom is a special forces Korean marine. He and The Bride knew each other for 6-7 years in university, but just started dating 6 months ago. 6 months of dating, and they're already getting married. Crazy.

Koreans get married in a hurry. Actually, they do everything in a hurry. Because of this hurry, weddings are very quick and convenient to plan -- just go to a wedding hall. Said wedding hall will have everything set up for you in a package deals. From the venue to the reception to the photos, everything is done for you. You just show up on the right day.

It's not my style of wedding, but my favorite part was when the marines did their sabre-arch as the newly officiated husband and wife walked back down the aisle after the ceremony. Before the Groom could pass through each pair of marines, he had to complete a mission. Missions included push-ups with his new wife sitting on his back, serenading his new mother-in-law, and doing squats while holding his new wife.

It was HILARIOUS and I loved it! Doyup explained that it's a Korean military wedding tradition to have the missions, and that usually the last mission is to return to the beginning and do it all over again. Loooove it!

Day 515 - Korea Is Not Politically Correct

Since there's a lot of people I don't know who apparently read this (who ARE you?!) I just want to say that I am by no means trying to make Korea out to be a super racist country or anything. I'm just making observations from my personal point of view, which is very Western.

In the States, I personally thought that the "color-blind" approach to racial issues was the lesser of many evil choices. Yeah, I'm white, middle-class, and come from a happy family so I realzie I'm not one to talk about race. But from a young age, living in Korea and then in Florida on/around military bases, I think I was lucky to be surrounded by a lot of diverse people. I had friends that looked different than me while I was still too young to realize that it could be a "problem". One of my first friends was Jennifer, a half-American, half-Korean girl. My second "best friend" was Tanaya, a black girl. I don't remember at any point in my childhood ever thinking about what they looked like.

Of course "color-blindness" isn't the answer to all the world's racial issues. But then again, neither is blackface.

Oooh, Korea, what are you doing?

Again, white, middle-class, happy family here. However, in Korea, the racial stereotypes are a little different. Being a foreigner in general gets positive and negative stereotypes. Being white, some of the stereotypes I encounter include the following.

rich, pretty (small face, big eyes, pale skin, etc etc), intelligent (US college-educated)

foul-mouthed, drug-user, child-abuser, money-hungry, drunk, has AIDS, tramp

These negative stereotypes stem from a few foreigners. There was once a foreigner who was hired by the government to be an English teacher. Without a background check or call to references or anything, they hired him. It turns out he was wanted for child molestation, and apparently abused several children while in Korea. Koreans also misunderstanding HIV/AIDS, and have called for every foreigner entering Korea with a work visa to have an HIV/AIDS test. I guess if you're diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, you are not allowed a work visa?

So, in terms of racism/xenophobia, Korea has a ways to go. I wouldn't be so indignant about it if it weren't for Korea constantly trying to market itself as a "friendly country" and a "global leader" (I hate that phrase, Korea is obsessed with it).

Korea brings all these native-English speakers to the country, but then doesn't know what to do with them. While it's how I'm earning my money, it's not very effective to have all these expensive script-readers and human tape-players. (And Korea shares this opinion, apparently:

This has gotten off topic, but whatever. Korea's a great country, it's just hard sometimes to remember that it is not the West. It is what it is, and for me sometimes that's difficult to accept.