Friday, December 31, 2010

즐거운 성탄절 보내시고 새해 복 많이 받으세요 (jeulgeoun seongtanjeol bonaesigo saehae bok manhi bateusaeyo)

Here's how that sounds:

Here's what it means: Happy New Year!

Resolutions. I have them.

1. Get fit. I don't care if I lose 10 pounds or 50, or none at all, but I want to be able to take a flight of stairs without getting winded. I want to fit into a pair of nice trousers without having a huge roll over the sides. I want to be rid of this "back cleavage".
Steps to take: Don't take the elevator unless absolutely necessary. Try that Hapkido place in Itaewon. Get a bicycle in the spring and bike to work if possible, or at least get off a bus stop early and walk the rest of the way. Do try hiking again, at my own pace. Get the yoga mat out more and practice those leg lifts and such. Do Aikido stretches daily.

2. Revise the 2009 NaNoWriMo novel. It's not great literature, but there are niche publishers out there who will take it-- though it needs to be polished within an inch of its life first.
Steps to take: Get feedback from people I trust and respect as writers. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

3. Write something new. Fanfic, novel, short stories, poetry, whatever. Do it, and do it more often. I used to fill up notebooks in high school with the crap I wrote. I need to do that now, and not worry so much about the final product.
Steps to take: Just write.

4. Draw every day. I've been slipping on this in the past couple of years. Time to buckle down and change that.
Steps to take: Just draw. Start with that New Year's picture.

5. Be honest with myself. I'm not going to uphold all, maybe not any of these goals, 100%. But I need to try. I also need to get better at recognizing when I'm being ridiculous, selfish, unreasonable, and contrary, and just knock that nonsense off.
Steps to take: When upset or angry, take a moment to step away from the situation. Go to the bathroom. Breathe. Stop thinking for a little bit. Then, REALLY think.

6. Manage my money better.
Steps to take: Write up a reasonable budget, and really stick to it. Write down every expense, even those little trips to the convenience store in the morning for breakfast on the run and purchases on iTunes. Decide what can be reduced, what can be cut out entirely. Stay on top of paying off debts. Start putting more money into savings.

7. Be a better teacher.
Steps to take: Keep reading the articles. Implement new techniques. Find out what works, what doesn't, and only keep the stuff that works. GET ORGANIZED. Get more sleep. Find non-candy prizes to reward students and start using a points system instead of instant gratification. Don't let them smell fear, don't let them see frustration.

8. Learn Korean.
Steps to take: Find a place to take lessons. Start practicing things like numbers and such from the books I already have. Memorize one new Korean word or phrase per day, and use it in an actual conversation with a Korean person. Learn more useful phrases, like how to give directions to a cab driver, and how to order a pizza, and what to say if a kid is doing something entirely inappropriate in class and I can't call in my co-teacher for backup.

9. Read more. The mind atrophies without stimulation. Audiobooks are nice, but they're not reading.
Steps to take: Find out if the English-language library has anything worth checking out. Do hang around What the Book more. See about finding free or cheap Kindle books and putting them on the iPod (since I have a free Kindle app now). Read or re-read the books I already have on hand. They're THERE, for goodness sake, READ THEM!

10. Start comicking again. It doesn't matter what, just as long as it's comics.
Steps to take: Doodle comics about crazy life in Korea, re-work the FTLY storyline, do that ESPers comic with Geoffrey Corsier, or just do one-shots. Anything. And then post them online by whatever means available.

That should do me for now. Happy New Year, everyone, and I hope the Year of the Rabbit treats all of you gently and with great prosperity!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A mid-week post? Surely not!

It is, in fact, a Wednesday post. And don't call me Shirley. (RIP, Mister Nielsen.)

No pictures this time, sorry. Just figured since I wasn't ridiculously tired, I'd put something up here for you folks back home to read.

Christmas is coming up fast. We just passed Solstice, and it's a gorgeous full moon right now. Korea got a pile of snow last week, but it melted in the oddly warm temperatures following it. As a born and bred MinneSNOWtan, it feels odd to be this deep in December with no snow on the ground. The temperatures have been hovering mostly in the 20-40 F degree range (I still haven't converted to Celsius, because I'm a stubborn, arrogant American like that). I can sometimes get away with my thick hoodie and a scarf, which is nice. The lack of ten bazillion layers of winter gear is refreshing. I am starting to wonder why, exactly, I choose to continue living in Minnesota? Oh, right. All my people are there.

Which brings me to my holiday rant. Or, ramble. Or whatever. I'm bored and I just ran out of Dresden Files audiobooks to listen to (except for Side Jobs, but I'm limiting myself to one short story a day, to make them last awhile).

I never really got into the holiday spirit once I hit adulthood. I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas shopping. I find the perfect gifts for some people, sometimes people I'm not even particularly close to, but then I hem and haw forever over what I should get everyone else, like my family members and my nearest and dearest friends. Or, I'm broke, and wind up drawing homemade cards with "commission vouchers" for free custom art (which always feel like a cop out, because nobody ever cashes them in). Either way, I always feel guilty about it, and I wonder if that's just part of my Catholic upbringing or if I really am just that lousy of a gift-giver.

And now I have friends who have kids. Lots of friends with kids. And I remember when I was a kid, and the coolest thing ever was getting a present in the mail from someone I might not even remember very well. And I always wanted to be that mysterious, benevolent Santa figure in some kid's life. Again, lack of funding has thwarted this dream.

But this year, I have a job. A job that pays way more than any other job I've ever had. Unfortunately, I'm in Korea, so shipping gifts is not only expensive, but takes forever. And I was a putz and put off Christmas shopping until, like, THIS WEEK. So, guess what, kids? You get to celebrate Lunar New Year instead! I'll be shipping a box home in January, with instructions and individually-wrapped gifts for Chris to toss in the mail for me.

Which means I'd like ALL of my friends who have kids (and if you're reading this, and you have kids, you probably count) to email me their mailing addresses, kids' ages, clothing sizes, favorite colors, favorite animals, hobbies, and whatever else might be helpful. I'm playing overseas Lunar New Year Santa this year, and darn it, I want to do it right!

I guess there was a point in there after all. Awesome.

That's it for me, then. Going to hit the hay early tonight. If anything interesting happens, I'll be sure to write a new post sometime during the next month or so.



Sunday, December 12, 2010

I promised pictures. Here you go.

I even figured out how to upload videos onto Youtube. Apparently all I had to do was switch my location setting from South Korea to "Worldwide". Clever.

So. There's my unscripted, unedited apartment tour for your viewing pleasure.

Right. Moving on.

I got new boots in Itaewon awhile back, but I don't think I posted any pictures of them. Here they are. They're that adorably clunky style that is so popular right now, even though they're all Ugg Boots knock-offs. These are faux fur and moleskin, I'm pretty sure, so they're not waterproof or as well made as proper Ugg Boots, but they're warm enough, they fit me, and they look good with most of my clothes. Best of all, they were cheap.

It does snow here in Korea, though not as much as Minnesota by a long shot. We got a light dusting the other day, and if I hadn't been so sick with this stupid yo-yo of a cold, I might have enjoyed it more. As it was, I did have the presence of mind to take a few pics with my iPod.

Here's my desk at home for those of you curious as to how my workstation looks:

I'm also taking pictures of all of the teachers and staff at Uiwang EPC for my not-so-secret Christmas project. I'll post the pictures up here, maybe next time, but I still have a few elusive people to hunt down while I have my iPod handy. I'm going to be drawing each of them in a cartoony style. I won't be using this one here, but as you can see, some of my coworkers were less excited about this project than others:

Classes have been going well. After the fiasco with the text books for the Book Club classes, the problem was corrected, and now I have a fairly predictable and formulaic syllabus to work from with our current books. It makes my job easier, the students are happier, and we're not getting any more angry phone calls from parents (at least not about the material). I feel like less of a failure, and the stress is no longer making me want to curl into a ball and die. Everyone wins.

This weekend, I volunteered to work for an extra half hour or so with a Saturday program that the library in our building was doing for Christmas. I wasn't sure exactly what I was supposed to be doing at first. In typical Korean fashion, they kept changing the plan right up until the last minute. I was a little worried and frazzled about it, but when I got there, things went pretty smoothly.

Hea Young from the library, a really nice lady who may be a new friend, gave me some options for what I could do. I agreed to lead the 30-40 some families in a few rounds of Jingle Bells (with printed lyric sheets to share), talk a little about American-style Christmas and my own experiences with the holiday, and then to hang around to help everyone write Christmas Wish cards which they would then hang on the Christmas tree in the lobby. I mostly just mingled, talking to the kids and their parents, asking them what their wishes were for Christmas and so on. Only one person actually asked for my advice on spelling or grammar, though that was supposedly what I was there for (though I wouldn't be surprised if nobody had been told this).

After card-making, Hea Young asked if I wanted to make a craft, and I said sure. She gave me a little plastic snowman to decorate with markers, and I sat right down at the table with a bunch of mystified and amused kids and started coloring my snowman with great care. I had some fun conversations with the kids as we worked, and then we had our snowmen shrunk down to the size of cell phone charms in a toaster oven. In fact, they WERE cell phone charms. Perfect for my brand-new Korean cell phone. (If you want the number, btw, you can email me or contact me on the Facebook and I'll send it to you privately.)

It was hardly like working at all. I had a lot of fun, and for the first time in many years, I was really feeling the Christmas spirit. This was a community of families all having fun together and enjoying a holiday through song and art. It was a good feeling. Even as someone who doesn't necessarily identify as Christian anymore, I felt honored to be part of that.

See? I even put on the antler headband.

Our wonderful Cindy is getting married next Saturday, and all of the teachers have been invited to the wedding. If I'm able to go, I will be sure to take some pictures (with Cindy's permission, of course) to share with all of you. I've never seen a Korean wedding before! I've heard they're dreadfully boring, but I think that could describe most Western weddings I've seen, too (with a few notable exceptions). Anyway, I hope I can go, if only to show my support to Cindy who has been so helpful to me and the other foreign teachers. She was the one who first met us when we arrived in Korea, after all, and took us on our first Lotte Mart run, got us our cell phones, bus cards, etc.

I think that's really all there is to report. I could get into the minutiae of lesson planning, classroom stories, etc, but nothing is really standing out right now. Things are getting better, anyway. Even my most difficult classes are becoming more manageable as I gain experience as a teacher, and as my students learn to respect and understand my expectations of them. Someday, I'll sit down and write up some of my funniest and most horrifying moments in the classroom, but not today.

I hope the pictures and video were satisfactory. I promise to dust off the good camera for the wedding, and if I do any other proper getting-out-of-the-apartment on the weekends, but that's what I've got for now. Until next time!

Annyoung hi keseyo,


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Your Yet Again Late Update

It's been a rough couple of weeks.

Once again, I sum up:

-Got my right ring finger stomped on. It was only a sprain and some bruising, but it HURT.

-The books I've been using for the Book Club level classes are apparently too hard. These are, of course, the books I was given and told to use for the classes, but it's my fault anyway because I didn't realize that the students didn't understand the material. Even though I don't speak enough Korean to understand when kids say things like "I don't get it!" :P

-Month 2 is coming up, and over half of my classes need different lesson plans than I'd originally made. Thankfully, we don't need to submit the written lesson plans anymore. We just give the office a monthly syllabus with the materials and some of the main activities we'll cover, and then submit a "lesson summary" at the end of the week containing anything we did in the class. Sort of like writing the lesson plan after the fact. Sort of. I still feel like I'm going to be scrambling around a lot until I find my feet with this new system.

-Got poked in the eye by the same class that stomped on my finger. With the sharp corner of a flashcard. I have learned to round all the corners on my flashcards now. No lasting damage, thankfully.

-Didn't get any sort of proper dinner on Thanksgiving, much less a turkey dinner, and wound up paying 7,000 won for a couple bites of rice, a small piece of chicken, and a piece of pork from a dish that I realized belatedly contained cinnamon. Was violently ill afterward from allergies and probably food poisoning.

-Bought some new boots and a couple of warmer winter outfits for reasonable prices. Clothes from eMart and boots from a little shop in Itaewon that carried my size. Win!

-Got enough bedding and household items to probably last me the rest of the year. Only need a small saucepan now and I'm pretty well set.

-Made my first student loan payment today! Feels good to be able to start paying those off again.

That pretty much covers it. Off to make something for dinner now.



Saturday, November 13, 2010

Long Overdue Post

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. Let me 'splain... No, there is too much. Let me sum up. (Cookies to whomever catches the reference.)

I started my first day of Library Program classes and NaNoWriMo on the same day, November 1st. This, naturally, ate up all of my free time, so I haven't really had the time or energy to write a blog post. Here are the main highlights from the past couple of weeks:

-I teach 5 different levels of classes (it'll be 6 next semester). Book Buddy, Book Nanny, Book Coach (which I don't teach yet), Book Club 1, Book Club 2, and Book Club 3, in order from lowest to highest level. So, I've got kids from tiny kindergartners to middle school kids with a pretty decent grasp of English.

-My classroom has no phone, and the computer is not networked to the rest of our school's computers, because I'm working out of one of the library rooms on the 3rd floor rather than the 2nd floor with the rest of the school. This makes contacting the office for problems like missing students (I've had a class where nobody showed up, and a few where only one student showed up), naughty students (I've been punched in the crotch by a 5-year-old), or parents with questions (I don't speak more than a handful of words in Korean) very difficult to deal with. I lean on my co-teacher, Nana, for a lot of it, but she has her own classes to teach so I always hate to bother her.

-Most of the kids are pretty good. Some are way below the level of English they need to be in the class, a very few are too advanced, but most are just about right. I've had some real sweethearts that brought me Pepero (it's like Korean Pocky) on Pepero Day (November 11th is a marketing holiday-- it's like Valentine's Day, but in November, because 11-11 looks like sticks of Pepero). I have kids that say "Hello, Teacher!" when they see me outside of class.

-On the other hand, I've had a couple of rough patches. First week was chaos, with students arriving so late to classes it almost wasn't worth checking them off the attendance sheet. A few misunderstandings with the lesson plans tripped me up, and the lack of communications with the office made my job infinitely more difficult. I've also had a few problem students. A pair of brothers in my Book Club 2 class that aren't even remotely good enough at English to be in that class and disrupt the rest of the students by yakking loudly in Korean the entire time; a little girl in my Book Buddy class that thinks it's funny to hit me and the other kids; and several little boys in Book Buddy that aren't actually old enough to be in my class, but their mothers signed them up anyway, and they have no concept of respecting a teacher (especially a female one, as Megan from the office explained to me, and THAT pissed me off even more than their other behavior problems) because they should still be in daycare or preschool, NOT a kindergarten-level English class.

-Second week of classes was much smoother. I've got a good idea of how to use my time better for lesson planning and materials preparation. I know where I'm supposed to be and when most of the time. I've got a better handle on what does and does not work in the classroom. I'm starting to remember some names.

-PAYDAY FINALLY HAPPENED. I have money now. I can stop living off of instant soups and rice. I bought a clothing rack for drying clothes in the winter, more kitchenware, a winter coat, and more bedding. I'm going to pick up a table and chairs this evening. I can even send money home to start paying off my student loans! YAY!

-I finally took the subway today. I went to Itaewon, met a couple of different people from Dave's ESL cafe to pick up a winter coat and bedding set, and bought the new Stephen King book from the great English language book store there. Itaewon also has footwear in my size! I'll definitely be going back for rain boots, unless I can find some around here. I might fit men's boots...

That's about it for now. Going to go pick up my dining set shortly here, then bust my hump writing up lesson plans for the next 2 weeks. Then, if I have time tonight, I can work on my novel, which is falling woefully behind. I'll probably do a 5-6k-words, 3 hour writing stint tonight if I've got time for it.



P.S. There are these little underground tunnels in Anyang you can use to cross the streets. I went down one today by mistake, thinking it was a subway station. Durp. XD Anyway, they had some neat artwork there. Here's me as an angel! (Click the pic to see the original version.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Photos of Anyang, Lesson Planning, and Halloween Preparations

I finally did go out last Sunday and take some pictures around Anyang with the good camera, but I was too busy to upload them until now. Photobucket is being kind of a dinkus, however, so I've put them up on Facebook. I'll try to post some here another time, for those of you who either aren't on the Facebook or don't have me friended (my albums are always friends-only, sorry).

I spent the past week working on lesson plans for the Library Program with my co-teacher, Nana. Because we are super awesome and lucky, we have to plan for 10 different classes per week. That's 40 different lessons per month, and 120 lesson plans per semester. I might add that we don't get a textbook for this. We have certain assigned library books and a few pre-chosen topics, and some of the higher levels even come with already made worksheets, but we're expected to fill in all the blanks ourselves. I'm not complaining, mind, but I'm just pointing out that this is a lot of work to get done in one week. We've got crafts, flash-cards, worksheets, PowerPoint presentations, videos and songs to queue, and a slew of other things to create and/or find.

Realizing there was no way we were going to do a semester's worth of lesson planning in the space of a week, we decided to focus on planning the first month. Then, we set about creating the materials for the first week. After much hump-busting, we're most of the way finished, though we still have a few more things to do Monday morning before the first kids arrive around noonish. Oh, and I'll normally be teaching classes between the hours of 10:30am and (I think) 5:45pm. So, not a lot of morning prep time for me, but a couple hours at the end of the day for clean-up and prepping for the next day. Whew!

Things are a little tight right now, money-wise, but I should have enough food to last me the week. Our manager put in a request for us to get our first paychecks a little early, so I should have money by Friday if all goes well. If not, well... I think I have enough pancake ingredients, rice, and eggs to last me until November 10th. It's a good thing I make decent pancakes.

In the meantime, I'm taking it easy this weekend. Just a bit of sweeping and laundry to stay on top of my household chores, but no excursions into the mountains or even much walking about town. Nana was nursing a cold all week, and I think I caught it, so I spent most of today sleeping in late and guzzling water and OJ. I feel a lot better now, though there is still a suspicious tickle in my throat and a bit of a cough. Please, PLEASE don't let me get sick for my first week of classes. That's all I need. T_T

Tomorrow is my favorite day of the year, of course: Halloween! If you haven't heard about it, Neil Gaiman has started a new tradition called "All Hallow's Read", where you give scary books to your loved ones (or even strangers) for Halloween. Lacking many books or money to buy them at the moment (and most of the ones I could get around here would be in Korean), I am instead running a game called Dread for my fellow FTs. There will also be scary movies, and presumably a little bit of drinking (but hopefully not a lot, as it is a work night, and some of us actually need to be at work in the morning).

What is Dread, you may ask? It's probably the most perfect blend of a role-playing game and a party game. It's a game about survival horror, and instead of using dice or cards, you use a Jenga tower. When the tower falls, somebody dies. It's an absolutely elegant game, and the only one I've ever been able to run with any success. My friend Rhianna and I came up with a pretty spiffy scenario for it, too, which I will be running for the FTs. I can't wait. Pictures and full report to come later this week.

Now to marathon one of the many TV shows I've got sitting around on my computer. Have a happy and safe Halloween, everyone!



Saturday, October 23, 2010

Some Useful Websites

This post is mostly for the benefit of myself and anyone else living in/visiting Korea, but even if you aren't, feel free to have a look.

Korea Public Transportation Guide:

Gyeonggi-do Bus Routes

ATEK: Association for Teachers of English in Korea-- they have a really great PDF called the "English Teacher's Guide to Living in Korea" that's super useful and FREE to download!

I may add to this post with updates and more links, or just make posts like this periodically with the same tag: useful links.

Tomorrow's agenda: Explore parts of Anyang I have not previously visited, take pictures with the good camera.

That's it for now.



Friday, October 22, 2010

Week 3 Report

Not a whole lot to report this week.

I taught Math Class on Monday with Stella, then Culture Class on Wednesday with Stella. We had the same group of kids both days, which was kind of nice, because I'd started to remember some of their names. They were pretty rowdy, but I prefer energetic kids to the apathetic or painfully shy ones. At least that energy can be redirected. Classes went pretty well, we didn't run out of things to do, and the kids seemed to have fun with it.

Tuesday and Thursday were pretty much just lesson planning days for me, though I went home early on Thursday with some stomach troubles. I've been eating rice, cup noodles, instant soup, and not much else for the past week or so, with a similar diet awaiting me for the next few weeks until payday. Apparently $750 USD doesn't stretch over 6 weeks of living expenses very well, especially when one has a lot of start up costs, like groceries, bedding, small appliances, cleaning supplies, toiletries, a bus card, etc... So, I'm broke.

But don't worry too much. I've got basic staples, so I won't starve, and I just got a bit of cash loaned to me so I can buy other groceries like fruits and veggies to avoid malnourishment. It's going to be tight until payday, but I've had worse.

We got our class schedules and lesson plan outlines for the upcoming semester on Friday. I'll be co-teaching the library program with Nana, which is going to be perhaps more work lesson planning-wise than the teachers who are working mainly in the experience rooms, but I don't mind. It's 12 weeks per semester, and this upcoming one starts on November 1st, so I've got all of next week to work out the lesson plans for five different levels of students for the next three months. That includes finding songs, games, crafts, and other activities for each lesson. It's going to be a challenge, but I think we'll manage.

My first proper break will come at the end of January/early February. Chris may be coming out to visit then, or we might wait until the weather is nicer, near the end of April. Nothing's set in stone just yet.

This weekend is mostly going to be spent doing laundry, cleaning my apartment, and maybe doing a bit of grocery shopping. I may also attempt to use my Wacom and actually make some art. Or write on some of my many unfinished projects. On top of that, I'm gearing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and even though I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep up this year (since classes proper start the same day as NaNo), I'm going to give it a go. I'm also going to attempt to make it to one of the meetups, maybe make some new friends.

Of course, that means my blog posts will be sort of scarce throughout November, but I'm fairly certain there won't be anything super interesting to talk about anyway, outside of NaNo and classes. I'll be sure to let you know if there is.

No pictures this week; haven't been taking any. Maybe Sunday I'll walk around with my camera and explore Anyang a bit. That sounds nice.



Monday, October 18, 2010


Hey folks,

I've had a few people offer to Skype with me, but I don't have anyone's Skype handle! Mine is gypsymaria84, so feel free to add me. I may not be on during what most people would consider normal waking hours (at least on that side of the hemisphere), but if you're a major night owl or a really early bird, you might catch me. :)

That's all for now. <3


Mountain Hiking and a Word (or Several) on Culture Shock

So, for the past couple of weekends, the other FTs (Foreign Teachers) and I have been talking about hiking one of the many nearby mountains in the area. This seemed like a good, cheap form of exercise and weekend entertainment, which didn't involve drinking in smoky bars, so I was all for it. Especially as it meant I got to bust out my shiny new camera (thanks again, Ramon!). I tested it out on my apartment, first.

(I also tested it on Julia and Sam.)

Of course, I come from the Midwestern United States, which aside from a few hills and bluffs is pretty flat. The last time I was anywhere near a proper mountain, I was five years old, and in a car seat. I'd envisioned a nice, zig-zagging trail up the mountain side at an easy slope, with open areas for picnicking along the way, and convenient bushes for potty breaks.

Naturally, my expectations were shattered as soon as we started up the mountain proper. There was a cool temple or shrine at the base of the mountain, and a pretty park-like area with a mostly dry stream bed and a few little restaurants. I also got a photo of this awesome praying mantis on a sign telling us to stretch before climbing.

Pro Tip: mountains are STEEP. Also, the trails are not necessarily even, often full of rocks and tree roots, and you have to watch every step you take to avoid twisting an ankle or falling on your tuckus (as Melissa and I discovered the hard way). There were some wider areas, usually on relatively flat rocks with really nice views, so we did have opportunities to take water and rest breaks. It was kind of fun and exhilarating at first; however, I was already gasping for air, muscles burning, by the time we were less than halfway through our ascending hike. Climbing those hilly streets in Uiwang and all those staircases did bupkiss to prepare me for this!

Picspam ahead:

The more we climbed, the more I hurt, and the crankier I got. I'm not proud to admit that I was pretty snippy with my fellow FTs by the time we finally decided to turn around to go back. First, though, we stopped for a bit of lunch, and this really nice guy and his wife sat with us and shared their amazing kim bahp tuna rolls, as well as some cloudy rice wine. I shared half of my peanut butter sandwich in return, lacking anything else to give them.

Despite my grouchiness, I had to admit that the weather was gorgeous, and the view was spectacular. We could see in the distance the little red temple at the top of the mountain, where we'd wanted to go, but there didn't seem to be any way we could make it there and back that day. We vowed to try again another weekend, starting earlier in the day and packing more food and water for the journey. It seemed it would be at least a 6 hour hike to get there and back.

On the way down, I managed to turn my ankle during an unexpected, uncontrolled sprint down a very steep slope, but thankfully it wasn't a serious sprain or anything. I wasn't even limping very badly, though it twinged something awful for a few hours, adding to my already bitchy mood.

Anyway, despite the fact that strenuous exercise obviously does not agree with me, it was a pretty good hike. I feel somewhat accomplished for getting as far as we did.

Among other deep revelations such as "Maria shouldn't try to hike mountains without a proper backpack," I realized something surprising: I was dealing with some serious culture shock.

I wasn't expecting that, to be honest. I mean, I'm very open and adaptable when it comes to other cultures. I did some research before coming to Korea to prepare me for some of the things I might encounter, and one of our guest speakers during orientation gave us even more good information. I was ready to try new foods, fumble about with social niceties, learn enough Korean to get by (and maybe more if I could find some proper classes), and generally adapt to my new home for the next year or two. But no, here I was, globe-trotting culture and language nerd, suffering from some grade A culture shock.

But not from the Koreans. From the other FTs.

Let me pause and just make it clear that I am not blaming anyone but myself for this. I was, for awhile, but when I finally sat down and analyzed why I was feeling so frustrated, well… I felt like a complete idiot. And I know they're probably going to read this before I can talk about it with them in person, but that's fine, because I organize my thoughts better this way: in writing. When I try to translate anything involving my emotions into words, I only prove how socially awkward I really am when I try to speak on the matter.

Culture shock, simply put, is caused when what we experience in a different cultural setting does not match up with our expectations and what we're accustomed to in our own culture. Much like my expectations for mountain hiking, the experience of associating with my fellow FTs has not always gone the way I imagined.

I'd already mentally and emotionally buffered myself for some serious differences in the Korean way of life, and I think I'm adapting to those fairly well. I've learned a handful of useful words and phrases already, I've found out what kinds of food I like here and which ones I should generally avoid, I know to be careful of the traffic here, and I'm picking up on some of the etiquette. I may still be in the "Honeymoon" phase, but I'm being fairly realistic about it. There are things I really dislike about this country, but I'm willing to tolerate them for the sake of getting along with my hosts. Because yes, I consider myself a guest in this country, and I've been trying to act accordingly.

With how well I was dealing with Korean culture, I was completely blindsided by the differences between myself and the other FTs. Three of them-- Melissa, Julia, and Sam-- are from Canada, which even shares a border with my home state of Minnesota. Nathan is from Wales, a country I am admittedly only familiar with through Doctor Who and Torchwood. They all speak English, and the Canadians even speak with an accent that's almost indistinguishable from my own (although I catch them saying "eh?" a lot). So why was I dealing with culture shock around them, of all people?

It all came down-- say it with me if you know the answer already-- to expectations. Because they look and talk more like me than anyone else I know in this country, I wrongly assumed they were more like me in every other way. But over the past few weeks, I've discovered that their interests, lifestyles, and even certain social customs were different enough from my own to cause a bit of a cultural divide between us. Everything from alcohol consumption, behavior in public, money matters, and entertainment preferences incited surprise, frustration, and in some cases, anger.

This was not, as I stated earlier, their faults. It was my own. Their choices in lifestyle and interests are just as valid as my own, and I was failing to recognize that, which was only hurting myself and my new friends. At first, I thought that it was worth some discomfort to try to "fit in," to try to go along with the things they found enjoyable, but I only wound up either bored, disgusted, upset, or all of the above. Again, not their faults. I was throwing myself at a brick wall, and thought that I would get a different result by throwing myself at it from different directions.

I couldn't figure out what was wrong right away. Back home, I make friends pretty easily, get along with just about everyone I know, and even the people I don't like much I'm very good at tolerating (at least for short periods of time). And I did, and still do like my new FT friends. So what was the big deal? My first instinct was to try to find the fault in myself, as I often do. Usually, one of my friends will tell me that I shouldn't blame myself, that it really is someone else in the wrong, but I didn't have that in this situation. Which was good. Because this time, I was right. It was me. The problem was with me and the way I was approaching the situation. And when I finally realized that, and could analyze my feelings and identify them as culture shock, it was a huge relief. Okay. Problem identified. Now to solve it.

It's not easy being in a foreign country, far from friends and family. It's lonely. Naturally, I wanted to latch onto the other FTs, adopt them as my "new" family. I'm a social creature, awkward as I am about it sometimes, and I'm used to having lots of friends around. But if I am going to live, work, and have fun with my fellow FTs for the year or so we're in this country together, I need to acknowledge and accept their differences, be sensitive to them, to minimize conflict and frustration in the future. I hope that they can do the same for me. Because despite those differences, we really are all in this together.

Not to make any excuses about my own potentially culture-shock inducing behavior, I thought a bullet-point guide to my own idiosyncrasies might be a good place to start:

Self-deprecating humor: I use it. It started in high school as a preemptive self-defense mechanism. Poking fun at myself first makes it hurt less than when others do it without my prompting. Now, it's more a force of habit than anything. Yeah, I'm insecure about some things, I don't like everything about myself, but I'm honestly not trying to fish for compliments or make people uncomfortable when I joke about my shortcomings. They're just facts, which I try to present in a humorous light. Laughter is generally an appropriate response.

Sarcasm: I'm terrible at it. I can't always tell when others are being sarcastic, and when I try to use it myself it never seems to come out right. Part of that social awkwardness thing. Bear with me.

Physical limitations: I am a nerd, a geek, a pasty glasses-wearing lump that would rather sit behind a computer screen or curled up with a book or a sketchpad than go out and enjoy the fresh air. Sunlight is abhorrent to me. Exercise is to be taken in daily walks and maybe the occasional set of sit-ups, or a gentle session of aikido. I have allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances (cinnamon, shellfish, cigarette smoke, some kinds of dust/mold/pollen, morphine, malted liquor, lactose [milk]). I'm anemic. I have scoliosis (curved spine-- I was an inch taller last year! T_T). I've been known to faint without warning. Also, I'm kind of pudgy. Please understand when I can't keep up with you, or decline to go somewhere entirely. It's not because I don't like you, or because I don't want to go, but because it'll take me a lot longer to get there.

Worrying: I do it. A lot. I care about people very easily, and I worry about the people I care about. I worry about being on time, about how I present myself to my employers and my host country, how I perform on a job. I worry about everything, especially… wait for it…

Money: (Did you like that segue there?) I worry about this a lot. I grew up poor, and have never held a job for much longer than a year. Sometimes I have trouble finding work at all, and I haven't always known where my next meal or rent check was coming from. When I'm in enough money to relax, I am a very generous person and don't always budget very carefully--- but fair warning, I can be pretty stingy when I'm stretching my last few thousand won to last me a month. I will, sometimes obsessively, keep track of every coin borrowed, lent, and spent. Don't take it personally. It's just a survival tactic.

Emotions: I suck at dealing with them. My usual response to negative emotions like stress, anger, sadness, loneliness, or just tiredness, is I either get really quiet, or I cry. I don't like to cry in front of people, though. So, I might be quiet a lot. This is my way of sparing myself and everyone around me from having to deal with my crap mood, whatever it may be. You don't have to ask if I'm okay. I may just say I'm tired (which is likely true), or I might be brutally honest with you, and nobody really wants my honest answer when I'm having a crap day. If something is really, really wrong, you can be sure I will say something about it (there will be much kibitzing). I also suck at talking about my feelings, unless I can first sit down and dissect them in a logical manner and write them out on paper or a computer screen-- and even then, I'm no psychologist. Also, if someone upsets me, I might not say or do anything about it right away, because it takes me awhile to process the emotion and decide whether I'm upset enough to say or do anything (conflict gives me too much anxiety to bother most of the time), and whether it's my own fault I'm upset or someone else is at fault, and… well, you get the idea. On the flip side, you will ALWAYS know when I'm in a good mood. I don't bother to hide that at all. ;)

I'm sure there are plenty more that I haven't even thought of. But this is my blog about teaching in Korea, not in-depth self-analysis. I'm only including this section because I think it's somewhat relevant. And maybe because I sometimes enjoy rambling on about myself, and it IS my blog, gosh darn it. :P

To sum up: We're all different. We deal with stress and culture shock and other people in different ways. I'm going to make an effort, henceforth, to do better at both dealing with my own culture shock, as well as recognize when others are doing the same, and maybe I can do a better job of making this situation easier on myself and everyone around me.



P.S. I'll have my weekly report on classes and whatnot up sometime this upcoming weekend. <3

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Somewhat Belated 2nd Week Post

All right, so my second week of classes isn't quite over yet (though the classes are), so it's not THAT belated. But I still feel like I'm being lazy. Is one post per week going to be enough for you guys? It might have to be, especially when I get busier (and when it starts getting more boring and routine).

Last Friday was fun. First of all, Julia and Nathan wound up dressing in identical colors, which was hilarious because that's something romantic couples do here in Korea. So did Melissa and Sam, though to a lesser extent.

They did look rather impressive and sexy, though.

"What? We totally did NOT plan this!"

We had another guest speaker for a training session that involved more in-depth storytelling and lesson planning techniques using the Interactive White Board (IWB) technology. Seemed pretty cool. Also, we got to draw sharks.

Mine needed coffee.

After that, we had an exciting adventure at the hospital for our E2 Visa medical exams. It mostly consisted of peeing in a cup, getting blood drawn, a chest x-ray, and the usual measurements and medical history questions. I'm apparently perfectly normal and healthy, except for being too fat (the doctor's words, not mine, for once). Whatever. By Korean standards, Paris Hilton is fat. Besides, after all the hill and stair climbing I'll be doing in this country, I doubt I'll be nearly as chunky after a year or two!

Though I might be eating a lot of toast for awhile.

Don't judge me. It was the cheapest one they had at the LG store.

Last weekend was Canada's Thanksgiving holiday, so I agreed to go out with my Canuck friends for a nice, traditional... Korean barbecue?! o_O

Well, who can say no to that?

Dinner was excellent, though sadly it lacked a Sam. He wasn't feeling well. It nearly lacked a Nathan as well, but he showed up just as we were finishing off the last of our meat. After gratuitous jokes about stuffing our mouths with pork, we ordered another serving so that Nathan could enjoy some dinner as well.

Generally spent my weekend being lazy, so... FAST FORWARD TO MONDAY.

The local newspaper.

OMG that spider again!

Monday, I had no classes, but it was the Uiwang English Premiere Center's grand opening. I got a few pictures of setup, and managed to get one of my videos of the entertainment up on Youtube (the others got eaten by iPhoto, yet again, sad to say). So, here are the drummers again:

And here are some photos:

Sam and I got to meet both the mayor of Uiwang City and the governor of Gyeonggi province. We got to shake their hands and everything! No pictures of me doing this, sadly, but I sneakily snapped one of Sam.

That night, Steve, who is the best boss ever, took all of the foreign teachers out for fried chicken and beer. It was the best chicken I'd ever tasted, which is really saying something.

Oh, and the beer came in one of these huge phallic things:

Even Nathan was impressed.

Classes went fairly well this week. I had two classes on Tuesday (with Melissa as co-teacher), and one each on Wednesday (with Nana) and Thursday (solo, today). The only one that was a bit difficult was my second Tuesday class. There were only three students, all 5th grade, and at that age nobody wants to be seen dancing and singing about cookies in front of their friends. We finished in half the class time, and then one of the students said she had to go home early. Which left us twenty minutes to entertain two fifth graders, and try to find an approach to teaching them some English that was both relevant to the cookie lesson and not too boring and/or embarrassing for their pre-teen egos. I think it was a bit torturous for all of us-- students included. T_T

I had to cheer myself up with pizza after that ordeal. Say, Korea does good pizza! I wonder if their Pizza Hut is also good!

Camembert and bacon?! HECK YEAH!

Wednesday's class went much more smoothly. The kids were very enthusiastic. The room was a bit cold, though, because they were testing the AC. Here's poor Nana, freezing, wrapped in a blanket, reaching for the warm air from the heater.

I didn't take any pictures today. Had a rather uneventful day, actually. The lesson went really well, kids were great, and I spent any time I wasn't actually lesson planning or making materials requests for the Cooking Room just sitting at my desk, listening to The Strain (audiobook) by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (read by Ron Perlman) on my iPod. It's pretty good so far. Then, since it was the last day of actual classes for that week, everyone (including the office staff) called an early night. I like to think we'd all earned it. We've been working hard!

Tonight was udon and onigiri, a nice cheap, filling meal. Nathan and Melissa went with me, so I didn't have to eat alone tonight, which was nice. And now, finally, I am updating this blog.

I'll probably head to bed early again tonight. Last night I did, and it felt so good to get some proper rest for once (even though I kept waking at odd hours). So, good night, everyone!