Summer Intensive Highlights

Today marks the end of summer intensives and another bittersweet goodbye.  When I first discovered I was about to teach a class of three boys, I was a little intimidated, but as the days progressed they really impressed me and I found myself excited and grateful to start my mornings with them.  They were such a great class with only an occasional groan of “too much homework” thrown in every now and then.

Some of my favorite recollections of the class include:

-Our class Ironman obsession.  Whenever any of the boys would finish an assignment early, they knew to draw me an Ironman.  I’m going to miss that.

-Pencil drawn flowers from Leroy, which included previous chapters’ vocab.  It melted my heart.

-Drama class when I required everyone to create different voices for their characters and the boys’ creative sides exceeded my expectations.  It was to the point where all three boys would argue over obscure characters like the evil witch, Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother and others just so they cold use their “crazy voices”.

-When they’d use vocabulary learned in prior lessons during regular conversations and they didn’t think I was really listening or during other class assignments.  Yesterday they learned “feast” during a random conversation about thanks-giving and today Sean used it in his final journal entry.

-Bryan’s Birthday.  We were down in the kitchen and Leroy had disappeared.  Then I realized he ran out of the kitchen to write a birthday card to go with the various gifts he had brought for Bryan.

-This class is the first (of probably many) that asked the “Santa question”.  Not knowing how to respond, I dodged answering it by asking if they’d ever seen the “Santa tracker” and they were lost in fascination.  phew.

-The “I KNOW I KNOW, TEACHER I KNOW” moments

-The day I walked into art class and told them to draw the craziest picture of themselves and Sean replied: “Oh, you mean a picture Picasso would draw, teacher?” (He’s seven years old)

-Remember the pongs of the 90’s?  They’ve made a come-back in Korea, kinda.  More accurately, the concept.  The “pongs” themselves are more like rubber-y, neon plastic pieces of various shapes.  One day, I walk into class and Leroy hands me one.

Leroy: “For you, teacher!”

Me: “I can’t take this from you, it’s yours!”

Leroy: “You have to take it, it’s one of the best ones and I have many!”

I later put it back with his collection in his backpack.  The gesture meant more to me than any cute little pong.

Finally, today:  not the celebratory last day you would think, it was mostly just a test day.  The boys weren’t too pleased about the amount of writing thrown at them, but they got through it.  It really didn’t hit me that it was my last day with them until the bell rang for them to leave:

Bryan (reluctantly walking to the door to line up): “I’m sad”
Sean: “Why?”
Bryan: (pouting) “We eat lunch and never see teacher again”
Sean: “OH MY GOSH!”

My eyes welled up and a huge group hug ensued.

I’m really going to miss them.  Each student brought a different energy to class and the four hours we spent together each day never really seemed like it.  The days flew by with these kids.  I could really get used to this whole teaching thing, but it’s the goodbye’s that make it rough.

Next week I take over a full-fledged kindergarten class, wish me luck (and many more Ironman drawings?)!

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Bryan’s birthday lunch

An Interrupted Walk

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Skyscrapers, endless shopping centers, and polished parks are great, but true beauty lies untouched in the disheveled streets between the prefabricated aesthetics.

And THAT is what gives a city its character.

Go out and find the hidden beauty and appreciate it.

I am Fluent in Gestures

Making a 20-minute walk drenched and dripping in sweat is not my idea of fun.  I’m getting pretty used to the stares from children and people in general as they pass by and the occasional “Hi” or “Hello” from a stranger just wanting to use their English, but today was embarrassing.  I really don’t know how people live in heat like this, a mere twenty minute walk to the store means soaking through every thread of my shirt, it wasn’t a pretty sight!

This was my first solo adventure to Lotte mart and boy, did I choose the wrong day to brave the aisles alone!  Picture the super-Saturday sales in America and multiple that by five or ten and you’ll realize the amount of people bustling through the huge store.  Everywhere I tried to turn, people were in my way or I was in their way (I really need to learn the Korean word for “excuse me”) and every aisle had a store employee yelling something about their product or wanting you to try a tiny sample of the latest coffee, cracker, or some type of meat!  It got to the point where I had to completely leave the grocery area out of over-stimulated exhaustion!   

After the magnetic cart/escalator ride, I found myself relieved of the wild rampage of the grocery section.  I meandered over to the pillow aisle to see if I could find better pillow.  A cute sales lady attempted to help me and we stood gesturing and pointing at certain things for a good 10 minutes until I found a suitable pillow.  

Lying in bed right now, and I can say that this is the most comfortable pillow I’ve ever owned.  Somehow, through all the gestures, head nods, and pointing, the sales lady had enough patience to match me with a fabulous pillow.  

Off to dream land I go, goodnight! 

Interesting Fact: Just like in Europe, you need to purchase bags or bring your own bags at Lotte mart.  I still don’t understand why the USA hasn’t adopted this?

A Coffee Purist?

I’ve been forced to accept the ways of instant coffee.  I’ve gone a month without any morning brew and I’ve decided to give in to the mediocre makings of instant coffee bean powder.

Honestly, I’d say it’s not anything to write home about but that’d be contradictory, it really isn’t half bad.  I do long for the morning smell of brewed coffee as I rush around and pull myself together for the day, but microwaved water and coffee powder seem to do the trick.  Paired with coconut sugar and tumblr and my mornings are finally complete.

Coincidentally, my middle-school reading/discussion class finished an article this week called “The World’s Drug” and it was all about the world’s consumption of coffee and how so many people are addicted to caffeine.  Glad to know it’s a global problem and not just me.  Did you know there’s caffeine in chocolate?  That’s probably why I like it so much.

Interesting Fact:  Coffee makers are expensive here, a model that can be purchased at a Walmart store back home for $10-$15 goes for $40 here.  Same goes for fans, a “cheap” plastic mini Mickey Mouse fan goes for $35.  Also, before purchasing a clothing item, the sales clerk will review the sizing of everything, just to make sure you grabbed the correct sizes – now THAT’S service!

Bittersweet Goodbyes

The best part of being an English teacher?  Watching your children grow in their lessons.  Nothing compares to the gratification of seeing the look in a child’s eyes when he or she finally understands a new concept or the moment when a child finds enjoyment in the lesson.  It’s an awesome feeling and I’m extremely grateful to have stumbled upon this opportunity.  

In other news, I just had one of the mothers of my students create a tab for me at the coffee shop below my school!  It was such a nice gesture and extremely appreciated, nothing is better than the gift of coffee! 

Tomorrow ends one of my favorite classes.  As a parting gift, I thought it completely relevant to give her a journal and pen to encourage her to continue writing: Image

Late Night Shopping

It’s now 1 am here.  I’m currently lounging on my bed, air-con on full blast, just showered, munching on seaweed and sipping on aloe.  I’d say it was a pretty good Friday night.

Class went well today, I’m finally getting the hang of things.  I’m using my lesson plans less and knowing what books belong where, it’s a really nice feeling.  Today, I had one of my students ask why my eyes are “grey” and I asked him “why are your eyes brown?”.  Always ask a question to a question you don’t know how to answer.   

My Korean won is dwindling to only a few paper notes in my pocket, but I totally forgot I had a 50,000 won gift card from some anonymous giver during my birthday!  Someone managed to mysteriously slip it into my book bag at school and I owe him or her a great deal of thanks because that’s what’s getting me through this next week until my paycheck.

After class, Monica, Emily, and I met up at Emily’s flat to share some soju and beer.  Somewhere along the way, I remembered I had my gift card to Lotte Department Store and we figured midnight on a friday was as good a time as any to use it.  My rational behind it: (other than the soju) I have only a few dollars to my name and anytime the sun shines here it’s deathly hot and Lotte is a good 15 to 20 minute walk.  Even at midnight, I ended up walking back drenched in sweat.  

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All you can eat Special K

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Seaweed flavored Pringles. Yes, I bought them!

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Magnetic cart escalators, pure genius!

So what does one buy at Lotte Mart?   Let me break it down for you: Kimchi, seaweed, cold noodles, ramen, bacon, eggs, aloe juice, red bean paste, lemon juice and lettuce….and a soft rug 😉 

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Late night shopping at Lotte

The best part?  It all came to 50,300 won (only about 30 cents short of my budget)!  After a few shots a soju and a long day of teaching, I’d say my math skills are pretty legitimate!  

Off to bed!  I get to open a bank account tomorrow and finish creating final exams at school.  

Interesting Fact of the Day: People park their cars ANYWHERE here.  By anywhere, I mean they’ll park behind already parked cars, blocking them in.  I discovered today that everyone has their cell number “fashionably” displayed on their dashboard.  Some people have flashy lights that scroll through their cell number, others have tiny, lacy little pillows with a number embroidered to it (think circa 1992). 

Addicted to Writing

Each day I tell myself I need to get to bed earlier, but each night I find myself staying up later and later.

I think I’ve become addicted to blogging and writing.  I need to write everything down before I fall asleep.  If I don’t allow myself to write, I lye awake until I give in to spilling out my words/thoughts on either paper or a keyboard.  So here I sit, staring at a computer screen, deciding what to backspace, edit, and publish.

Today in my essay writing class, my student said something that meant the world.  While brainstorming her newest writing topic (“Abby and the Magical Flute”), she looked up and said:

“Teacher, I really like puzzles and this is like a puzzle!”

My heart just melted!  I tried a new way of story-mapping with her and while she outlined her story, she had this epiphany.  It was an awesome moment.

…I backspaced more thoughts than I should have, but it was therapeutic.

Now: to bed!

Current Cravings

Put yourself in a completely different culture for a month and you start to develop some wild cravings.  Some of these cravings have come out of nowhere.

My current diet consists of:

Breakfast: Strawberry yogurt, water

Snack: Americano from Emma’s

Lunch: Kimbap (think sushi), water, fun size candy bar

Dinner: Ramen noodles with kimchi or mixed veggies and eggs.

Eat that for a month straight and you start to develop cravings for:

sour dough or multi-grain bread, REAL cheese (think gouda, swiss, or aged cheddar), fruit (it’s very expensive here), home brewed coffee, peanut butter, dill pickles, asparagus, and red wine?  Not all in one meal, of course.  Really simple, right?  Wrong.  From what I’ve discovered so far, if I can find this stuff at all, it’s pretty expensive.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my Korean food.  So this is when they say: “you can’t have your cake and eat it too…”

stupid opportunity cost theories. 😛

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“cotton candy” takes on a whole new meaning here!

Coffee and Cat Cafe: A Cat Lady’s Perspective

On the last day of our mini vacation, Monica, Emily, Dalena, Natalie, and I all set out to run errands downtown and cross “visiting the Coffee and Cat Cafe” off our Korea bucket lists.

Unfortunately, I discovered my camera’s battery was out while trying to get a picture of a placenta face mask!  No worries, I will get a picture of it soon enough.  It was casually next to some lemon and green tea face masks, so I’m sure they’re pretty common around here.

We journeyed to a few shops: H&M, a few second hand stores, and I finally settled on an umbrella, this is a big deal…this thing I’ll carry with me basically everyday because it generally rains on and off each day here.  I settled on a bright and cheery yellow color, it’s a huge, heavy duty umbrella too!  I figured yellow will go well with just about any color, plus it’ll be a great contrast to the grey clouds and rain 😉

We then meandered to the Alley Way (the foreigner bar/restaurant) and split two pizza’s: Hawaiian and Garden Vegetable, complete with cans of pop (I had Dr. Pepper YUM)!

For dessert, we headed to the lovely little Coffee and Cat Cafe.  We had to leave our shoes at the door and borrow slippers, a traditional gesture here in Korea, and pay about $7 for the entrance fee which included a small coffee.  It was an interesting experience.  The cats were absolutely beautiful, although most of them slept.

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Coffee and Cat Cafe. Photo credit: Dalena

I’m not sure if it was the heat, or my empathy for the poor cats being poked and prodded by little kids, but I had an immediate rush of nausea.  Normally, it’s just a state of mind and I can overcome it, but I had to ask for a bathroom.  The bathroom was separate from the cafe, so I had to climb a set of old stairs to locate it.  I ran inside, to find a tiny men’s and women’s joint bathroom.  Here’s where it gets interesting, the women’s stalls had “squatting” toilets in the ground.  Not only that, it looked and smelled like people weren’t too cautious about where stuff landed.  At this rate, I was even more queasy and the 90 degree heat in the non-air conditioned, dirty bathroom did not help.  So, I ran back to the cafe and tried to regain my composure amid the  air conditioned room.

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What humans do for amusement… Photo credit: Monica

I sat, trying to think happy thoughts to get my mind off my gurgling stomach, yet every time I tried to focus on the little furry friends in front of me, a child would basically attack it with sticks and cat toys.  I eventually looked at the rest of the girls and said I needed to leave.  I hated cutting everyone’s adventure short, but I don’t know what it was in that cafe that just made me so sick.  I think it honestly reminded me of my cat, Sheba, back home and how she is at greatest peace when she’s left alone.  I can totally understand that and I guess that’s why I’ll eventually end up as a “cat lady”.  I do my best thinking and meditating when it’s just me, alone, nothing disturbing me but my own thoughts.  When I’m in that zone, the last thing I want is someone annoying me for their own amusement, so I guess in that sense I can relate to the cats.  Weird, yet so true.  I suppose I pictured the cafe to be more of a serene little cafe, where people sipped on coffee at ceramic mosaic tables with greenery as cats lounged nearby.  Instead, it was almost kind of a cat freak show, where children ran around picking up cats for their own entertainment.  Blah. Anyone care to take my rose colored glasses?

Anyway, we ended up leaving the cafe and catching a subway home.  A taxi ride would have been only about 10 minutes, but I decided to suck it up for a cheaper 30 minute subway ride.  It was brutal.  I tried to focus on other things, but every time the subway would stop, my stomach gurgled with more intensity.  When our stop finally arrived, I booked it off the subway and took off for my apartment.

I still don’t know what made me that sick, but I don’t think I’ll be heading back to the cat cafe any time soon. :/