졸업날 – Graduation Day

The day starts like any other, but with that Friday feel – air buzzing, halls filled with talking and laughter, and students popping in and out of the offices to ask for phone chargers and talk to the teachers.

Black convenience store bag in hand, I tiptoe around to the other gyomushil and drop off a parting present for one of my three coteachers, as well as the music teacher and the science teacher in my own gyomushil. With only one day left of school, I had found out that 4 of 16 teachers – one being our principal – were going to be leaving the school due to their contracts ending or another job. To avoid the shock, my main coteacher had obscured these details until we were right on the day, but in all honesty, the sudden reveal was more shocking as I didn’t have much time to prepare to say farewell.

The actual graduation ceremony didn’t start until 10:30, so I remained at my desk a while, biding my time and saying hello to the familiar 3rd year faces that popped in and out of our office. Hearing all the commotion of families coming, students rehearsing, and general excitement, I still felt like I was missing out on things, so I ventured out a few times to just walk about and look around.

Finally the time came to start the ceremony, and I went down to the auditorium to observe the church service in thanks for graduation that preceded the ceremony itself. Seeing all the parents there with flowers and gifts in hand, as well as the backs of the heads of my 30+ 3rd years (high school seniors) was happy, but little did I know that the emotions were just being held back by a thin gate.

Once the ceremony began, the students each stood up one by one to turn around and greet their parents, who also stood up. I was simultaneously looking at my students (who I hadn’t seen in a month and who had changed their hair colors, lost weight, and were wearing makeup) and their parents, to see the family resemblances (which were strong – it was amazing to see how similar the kids looked to their parents). I was so proud – my first class of graduating students. It’s both appalling and amazing to say that as a 22-year-old teacher of high schoolers (whom I had only gotten to teach for about four months), but it’s a huge accomplishment.

I had been doing well on holding back the tears, and then came Garam’s speech. Garam is one of my sweetest 2nd years, and he is very clearly a leader and an intelligent, eloquent boy, and when he stepped up to make a speech, Eunjin began playing a sad piano refrain behind him. He was addressing his 3rd year elders and friends (his brother, Saeum, was also graduating) and suddenly, his voice cracked and his face screwed up as he began to cry – this was the moment I lost it. All the emotions I had been holding back came forth, as I understood the emotions he was feeling in his older friends and brother were about to graduate and the feelings you try to hold back to do a speech but they always find their way out. The room filled with “oh so cute!” and “don’t cry!”, and he regained himself to get through the rest quickly, and hand the mic over to Yeji, who I assume was the top of her class, reading a lovely speech and making her peers proud.

The choir ensemble then came out, and the projector screen slowly descended. I mumbled “Oh no!” out loud, knowing a picture compilation was coming and expecting uncontrollable tears seeing my 3rd years in pictures of their whole high school career. Despite the touching and beautifully harmonized choir song by the 1st and 2nd years, the pictures were humorous and saved me from entirely marring my face by rogue tears.

After the choir and more words from pastors and the principal, the 3rd years finally all took the stage together to sing together once more. Seeing them all in their tan winter uniforms warmed my heart – in those uniforms, they were still my students for just a few minutes longer, a few more minutes that I could cherish. They reprised a song they had sung at one of their last school church services, and I watched their faces, proud of them and all they had been through together. My heart truly ached and the tears really flowed when my eyes fell upon Sunmin, resident Mr. Playboy Jokes and notorious basketball player, sobbing in the back row. The boy I expected least to be the most touched, but he couldn’t even continue to sing as he cried, taking off his glasses to wipe his face.

Once the song ended, many of the students laughed through their tears, teasing their friends and wiping their faces, and the ceremony ended, parents, siblings, and teachers all flooding out of our small auditorium, the third years heading upstairs to their classrooms to get their diplomas and take pictures one last time before heading out.

Unsure of exactly what the order of things was and wanting to see my students before they took off, I just wandered around, talking to 1st and 2nd years, who had also gathered outside the 3rd year classrooms to wait for their favorite seniors to emerge and say goodbye. It felt kind of like a fanmeeting – we waited, peeping in their classrooms and scouting for their faces, phones in hand and tittering about who we were waiting for and wanted to see.

As I stood by the staircase to catch students before they left to congratulate them and to capture selfies, I was rushed by sudden waves of tears. Each time I thought I had let it all pass, another student would say they would miss me or that they would remember me, or I would see another student’s red and teary faces and immediately lose it again. They would console me and laugh – “don’t cry, teacher!” – and begin to cry with me or hug me. I know myself – I always get this way at ending ceremonies and I am a sympathetic crier to a T – but I had no clue how difficult this would be. Being a teacher for the first time in my life was a significant first, and the students leaving was also a significant first. I joked to Sunmin that he made me cry, and he gave me a hug. Minyoung saying she would miss me started both her and I crying. Jiyeon and her cute little cousin made me cry. Seeing Serim sobbing and her giving me this immaculately wrapped gift made me burst into fresh, inconsolable tears. Taking a selfie with Sujeong teacher, one of the math teachers, and her struggling to put together in English “today.. Is the last. I will leave.” was the final unstoppable crop of tears – I hadn’t known she was leaving, and to hear it on top of all the emotion just really broke me. I squeezed out a “감사합니다” while gripping her hand, and had to run up to my office to truly break down alone.

Of course, all of my interactions weren’t this sad. I complimented Taeyoon’s new red hair. Took “cool” posed selfies with Shinhee and Nadan. Told Yeji how beautiful she looked. Met Chaeyeon’s brother. Told Saeum how sharp he looked in his suit. Got confirmation from many students that they would come back to visit – Yeseul, Esther, Youngjoon, and more.

But the most touching moment (maybe besides my sobbing hug with Serim) was actually not with a 3rd year at all. As I ran back up to my office to cry alone, I ran into Yejun, a goofy 2nd year whom I had seen continuously crying throughout the day saying farewell to his friends and our beloved choir teacher, Jaehong Saem, finally clear faced and puffy-eyed. He and I talked, and I tried to hold in the tears for a bit, and he jokingly pointed out my crying, and I joked back that he had been crying a lot too. The tears sprung forth from me once again, unable to restrain myself from the emotions broiling in my heart, and he wiped the tears off my cheeks, saying, “샘, no don’t cry! You pretty smiling!”. His simple gesture really meant a lot – it wasn’t of condescension or embarrassment, but of caring, understanding, and an attempt to cheer me. I laughed and shook his hand, saying I would see him when the spring semester started.

After the hubbub and the halls had died down, I went to my gyomushil to take a breather, but it only made things worse to see Jaehong Saem and Hyunok Saem’s empty desks next to mine. Alone, I tried to mop up the tears with tissues, and finally stilled my feelings enough to pack up. In the wildness, almost all of the teachers had left to have lunch together, and sensing that I should go check the main gyomushil, I found two remaining teachers who apologized profusely and whisked me off to lunch with the other teachers at a town restaurant. Many vegetables and meats later, we left the hot pot restaurant to get coffee – just Hanbit Saem, Eunok Saem, Sujeong Saem, and I – and Seocheon being a small town, we ran into Youngjoon and Siwon and their families. Gossip, school changes, and coffee were exchanged, and finally I arrived at home, emotionally exhausted. A long nap was taken to rest, and yet, my heart still aches.

I know my students will go on to work hard at college and do amazing things. I know I can still contact them on Facebook and Instagram, but not seeing them everyday will be different. I know my fellow teachers will go on to other schools where they will continue to inspire coworkers and students, but not hearing their voices at lunch or in the halls or at the desks next to me will be rough. I know I will stop tearing up everytime I think about this day, but for now, I am letting myself shed bittersweet tears whenever they rise. Sincerely, to my students and coworkers – thank you. Thank you for making me a part of the small school family. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives, only if for a brief time. You have impacted me and touched me more than you know. I will never forget you, and I am only saying goodbye until I see you again. ❤

Pictures? Check my insta!

Hey everyone! Sorry it’s been forever since I updated, and this is only gonna seem half-assed at best. I don’t want to making blogging a chore/something I see as an obligation, so I have just been posting when I feel like it, but my instagram has more things to see than just what I sporadically put up here! Besides, you get to see little snapshots into my life/travels, so it’s just a microcosm of the blog itself! Follow me, or if you don’t have an instagram, just use this link to check in every once in a while! You’ll see me with my students, my little joys and daily experiences, travels to Jeju and Japan (so far!), and sometimes a selfie – I can’t help myself!

Paige ❤

https://www.instagram.com/thatnerdpaige/

aerobics

The music blares. The newly installed blue lights pulse in my periphery. We stand at the foot of our yoga mats, facing the left rather than the front. After 45 minutes of jumping around, I know I’m not off the hook. Now has come my least favorite mat routine at aerobics and I groan a little on the inside.

Why did I choose to come today?! I think in my head.

We start with jumping jacks, the most innocuous of the moves to come, and move to harder moves in plank position. Thinking back to the very first day I came to aerobics over two and a half months ago, I remember screaming in my head,

“I can’t do this. I did NOT sign up for this s**t.”

I would have to rest between each few moves because my whole body would begin to rebel, shaking and weak like jelly.

Now, I feel the burn as I hold the plank position, but it’s different than it used to feel. Closing my eyes, all I focus on is the teacher’s voice shouting out a ten-count three times over and the music loud and yet ambient. My abs don’t tremble like they used to, and while I can’t say it’s easy, it isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be.

Sweat drips down from my face onto the green yoga mat beneath me as we change positions. Even the pushups seem easier somehow.  

Situps follow, and my neck ends up hurting more than my stomach, but I push through.

Then came the true moment I knew that I had really gotten somewhere. Holding a V-situp for longer than a few seconds proved difficult, and my balance and forming abdominal muscles were tested, but I haven’t been able to sit like that since maybe high school – if at all. I could see the other ladies around me tumbling over, and it was even more fuel to keep laser focused as long as I could – I held out and stayed upright until the teacher collapsed down as well, and a victory cheer sounded in my mind.

Progress.

It’s the little things.

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throwback to our performance because I don’t have any more recent pics with my 아줌마들이 ❤

It’s Friday

The air, slightly chilly, is buzzing with excitement. Students don jeans and plaid shirts covered with sweaters or large vests, with very few donning the traditional uniform. Guitars play in the classrooms and talking and laughter leaks out from the classrooms and dances through the window of the 교무실 throughout the day. Students flit in and out of the rooms, smiles and “hello teacher!”’s galore.

 

It’s Friday, and it shows.

 

The morning is sleepy for me, despite the good vibes from the students, so I end up taking a long morning nap at my desk, falling deeply enough into sleep to dream – twice. Once, I was in some strange park in Korea outside some elite boarding school looking for my boyfriend and to go take out my dogs, and in the second dream, I was inside the school and running away from some bad guy who looked like Hank from Breaking Bad (shows you how much BB I have been watching as of late – 3 episodes left!).

 

I wake up from the nap and spend 50 minutes regaining my consciousness watching an episode of Breaking Bad before class, as all my lesson plans for the next two or three lessons are set. Time comes for class, and I go down to fight the continual fight with the cursed TV of classroom 1-2. (This thing NEVER connects smoothly. I have to just keep pressing buttons and plugging my HDMI cord in over and over until it finally comes to life, by some stroke of magic.)

 

It’s Friday, and it shows.

 

Fighting the fight and finally winning, I run my first Halloween lesson by the final class to see it – 1C. They are usually tired and understand the least english (as the youngest class and the lower level), but today, they are with me. They listen to my yapping, and then they all cooperate and play the two games I prepared for the class. We make our little mini monsters, they have a good laugh about the madness of the final product, and I tell them the second part has to be “스겜” (“seu-gem” = “speed game” = hurry up/do it quickly) because we only have 10 minutes. They oblige, slipping into focused silence. A miracle happens – the student that speaks the least English reaches out. He has drawn his costume and actually asks me what the questions on the bottom mean so he can answer them; he asked in Korean, but I didn’t care – almost always, he simply falls asleep and won’t stay awake no matter how many times I go over and wake him up, so this was a huge step. I think the tips from the fall ETA conference worked – just pay a little extra attention to those who seem to have given up. I worked with him the last class we had together and encouraged him, waved hi to him more in the hallway, and just tried to make more eye contact, and something is changing.

 

Lunchtime is a tizzy of chatter and excitement, per usual, but that Friday air is even more so energizing. Never did I think that eating slices of duck meat dipped in mustard and wrapped in lemon-soaked, paper thin radish slices would be delicious, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t.

 

It’s Friday, and it shows.

 

After lunchtime, I decide to wander around the classrooms like I used to do when I first came. I hadn’t been doing that as much lately because the students were exhausted – spending their time after lunch sleeping, on their computers furiously preparing for college interviews, or maybe reading Korean comic books, but not playing 공기 (gonggi – a traditional Korean game) or strumming their guitars. Today, that light atmosphere had returned, and I would take advantage. Dropping off a ‘happy birthday’ candy to 의정, I asked 영준 to send me a picture back from when the whole school (practically) went to Cheonan for an orchestra thing. I talked to 경민 about rap music, asked 영원 to do a duet with me on guitar later, scared the living crap out of 해슬, threw finger hearts at 미송, 성하, & 효원, and defended 지훈’s groutfit from 유민. Some of the boys were going out to play soccer, and as I talked to my coteacher 별히샘, they were whipping off their shirts in the other direction, yelling “TEACHER, DON’T LOOK!”.

 

I love my students every day, but I love them a little more each day, and especially today.

 

It’s Friday, and it shows.

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This is from yesterday, but this is Youngwon showing off his particularly beautiful monster he helped create in our little game. 

Broken Chargers, Basketball Outfits, and BTS Comebacks (Week 4 & 5)

The weekend of week 4 fared to be a testing one for ya girl: strike one was my charger for my Mac going totally defunct, leaving me to scramble and get my powerpoint on Google Drive before my computer died and make a no-tech lesson, as well as struggle through borrowing my co-teacher’s computer (with a busted HDMI port, as if to add insult to injury). On top of the teaching struggles, I then needed to figure out how to occupy my desk warming time, so I began downloading Breaking Bad on Netflix on my phone (so there was a silver lining – I had been meaning to start it for four years now!).

Strike two: I agreed to a performance with my aerobics class (which is all older woman, from their 30s to their 50s or 60s) for a town festival, and I didn’t know how much work I had signed up for. I then obligated myself to go to aerobics the whole week (regardless of if I really had time or not) and to work my tail off in class – our routine was three different songs and lasted about 8 minutes, and my aerobics teacher (god love her) was constantly telling me to ‘jump higher’ or things of the like, and I was exhausting myself every practice. By Friday, I was so sore and stressed out, worrying that I was misunderstanding when to be where to practice and perform, and it really showed; my host family and HuiJae didn’t know quite what to do with this lackluster, heavy-eyed, space version of Paige when they had only seen the bubbly, talkative, smiley Paige until now.

Despite all the stress, stomachaches, and sweat, the performance went extremely well and I felt invigorated after it – feeling more energetic than I had in days. As the only white girl in the festival (performing or in the audience), I actually was interviewed by the MC of the festival after our dance performance. It was simultaneously fun and embarrassing to be put on the spot like that in front of a sizable crowd. In all, I’m glad I did it, but I was really glad it was over.

Strike three came unexpectedly: HuiJae just casually asked me what was hard about living in Korea, and while I wanted to be honest, I was holding back but I wasn’t sure what I was holding back. I told him that I couldn’t figure out how to make the water warm in my apartment (it’s like 90% freezing cold water and 10% Satan’s tongue hot), and that sometimes students sleep in my class, but I felt myself getting upset but didn’t know why. Suddenly, I realized what was bothering me – coming to Korea made me a kid again. I was a dependent, no longer independent. Sure, I have autonomy and authority in my lesson plans, but I can’t just jump in my car to go to the local Walmart or go to the store if my phone isn’t working. I need someone to help me with everything, which felt simultaneously like a burden and really irritating.

This realization triggered something that I had staved off for almost 2 and a half months – homesickness. I tried to stifle it, but HuiJae noticed, and I finally admitted it, beginning to cry, thinking of my mom, my sister, Brian, my comfy bed, the smell of my house, my stupid barking dogs, the cafe, and all the familiar things that I had been without for the longest amount of time (not counting college because that was still in America) I had been so far, and the tears wouldn’t stop. I thought of Carthage and MP and all the friends I have in America and it just got worse. It took a good half hour of letting the tears flow to finally decide that I was tired of being sad and pulled myself back from it a bit, going out in the living room to color with HuiJae and my host siblings, feeling better with each pencil stroke.

After a rough weekend, the weekdays returned and soon my spirits rose, seeing my smiling students goofing around, receiving my computer charger wicked fast (like seriously – I ordered it Sunday night and got it Tuesday afternoon – taekbae (delivery) is RIDICULOUSLY fast here. I love it), hearing the new long-awaited BTS comeback (which was totally worth the hype), and starting a new learning adventure – nanta drumming! Community involvement is coming easy for me in Seocheon, and for that I’m thankful. I’m thankful for the hard times because they make me appreciate the good times and good people even more.

Random Thoughts:

  • Koreans are obsessed with brushing their teeth and it’s rubbing off on me. They all brush their teeth after breakfast, lunch, and probably dinner (I don’t see my students for dinner), and now, after I eat dinner at home, I end up brushing my teeth too!
  • I’ve started being very attentive when I go into a bathroom stall to make sure that there is toilet paper before I sit down and do my biz. Apparently Korea is worse than America at refilling toilet paper and I have been caught in a few compromising situations because of this!
  • Inseo made a joke the other night – HuiJae was texting my host mom and told her he was coming to visit Seocheon on the weekend. I had not been told this, and so Inseo said, “Mom, Paige is the girlfriend, right?” 이모, 할머니 (Grandma), and I totally lost it.
  • Played peek-a-boo with a Korean baby on a bus in Suncheon and her laugh was the cutest thing ever. I just wish I had had HuiJae take a video!
  • On the same day, I petted the cutest dog on the way back to our guesthouse. It looked like a black lab puppy and it was so eager to be petted, jumping up on me and licking my face. PUPPY LOVE. ❤
  • One of my students, GeunWoo (근우), jokingly and exasperatedly exclaimed, “Oh my god!” because another classmate picked the same word as him for a game, and with my back turned, I swore it was an American because his pronunciation was really on-point!
  • It bothers me just slightly that Korean doesn’t have capital letters. How am I supposed to properly indicate my excitement/yelling WITHOUT CAPS?!
  • Also, having to spell something out in Korean is friggin hard.
  • I think Korea could really benefit from using Google Drive. As technological as Korea is, they are all still using USBs to transfer files – why not just save it on Google Drive and download it later when you need it so then you don’t need to carry a USB and worry about losing or forgetting it?
  • Before my aerobics class on Friday, 이모’s friend from Seoul was performing at the festival (the same one that I was going to perform at the next day – 해랑들랑), so we went to go see her! Now, festivals in Korea are ALL OUT. This festival was literally celebrating FISH and they had this huge stage with lights and HD cameras filming the audience and the acts and fire and smoke cannons and MCs to introduced and talk between each act! Friday night was all trot singers (a sort of singing style) and there was a more famous act at the end (which we didn’t stay to see!).
  • Saw my first fistfight in Korea at the festival.. WTF haha! I think these dudes were drunk, but there was like 8 of them and 2 were getting in each other’s faces and the others trying to keep them apart, but eventually they swung on one another and ended up knocking over one of the friends, who hit his head pretty hard. They then calmed down and the police came over… this was all relatively close to where we were standing but I wasn’t in any danger.
  • I FULLY embarrassed myself in a different way, though: the first singer we saw when we arrived was a young, rocker looking guy, and as we left and sought 이모’s friend to say hi and take pictures, the rocker guy was with her! He did a really good job, so I said to him, “멋있었어요!”, which is like, ‘you were cool/handsome or your singing was great!’, to which he replied – IN PERFECT ENGLISH – “You liked it? It was great?” I ABOUT CRAPPED MY PANTS. HE SPOKE ENGLISH. I got all red and sputtered out, “You speak English?!”, and he then told me that he had lived in Canada for a number of years (I don’t remember the exact number – I was flustered); my face was quite red in the group picture we took per my embarrassment. After that, I told him that I was taken aback because his pronunciation was so natural and was caught off guard (as I had not encountered anyone yet in Korea that was not a native speaker with speaking that good). And then, he just pulled out some CDs and signed them for Inseo and I and took some pictures with me too! What the heck! I seriously was embarrassed about that all night.
  • My host dad was laying on the floor on Saturday night and I figured he was just watching a drama (he does that sometimes to relax), but then my host mom said he was studying English! My host dad likes to talk and wants to be able to talk to me better, so he was watching a Youtube video of phrases in English and practicing them, and then at dinner, he was asking me to help him with pronunciation and making the phrases sound natural. How friggin cute is that.
  • 세흥삼촌 (Uncle Seheung), my favorite person in Korea, taught me that Korean people used to do tattoos with chicken blood – you couldn’t see it normally, but if they drank (Asian flush) or exercised, their blood would get flowing and the tattoo would show up! I don’t know if he was joking or not, but that is pretty dope to me.

여수밤바다 ~

A phone that actually works in Korea meant that it was time I tried a solo trip – and by solo trip, I mean, riding the train by myself to meet HuiJae… but nonetheless, it was my first semi-independent trip in Korea! I managed to transfer trains (and even use a city bus once there – I really mistrust buses so it was nerve-wracking but I did it just right!) and make it all the way (2 or so hours) down to Suncheon (순천) in Jeollanam-do for a little weekend getaway.

My only want for the trip was to make it to a movie theatre and see Stephen King’s IT – I read the book before coming to Korea and was absolutely obsessed with watching trailer after trailer and thank GOD they did an international release. I was thinking that would be our Saturday night plan, but we decided to go on opening night – FRIDAY. I was so hyped and I was not disappointed – I thoroughly enjoyed their slight updates and thought it was really well done.

We got a room at this cute little guesthouse after the movie and slept in late the next day, taking full advantage of not having my adorable (but sometimes mildly irritating) host siblings wake us up by just entering the room and talking in rapid Korean at early hours. Setting out for lunch and a little sightseeing on our way back, we took it easy, took a nap, and then headed out to Yeosu (여수) for some night sightseeing (which Yeosu is famous for) in a rental car.

The next day, we met up with HuiJae’s younger friend (junior – 후배), Eunhyuk (은혁), who lives in Suncheon. Reserved but sweet, we talked over lunch and then made a stop at a coin noraebang – my first time at one! After a few rousing rounds, we took a bus and went to this really big famous garden in Suncheon – 순천만국가정원! We spent the afternoon walking about in, taking pictures, and drinking some delicious mango juice before they helped me get back to the train station.

A weekend excursion was fun and relaxing, but it was really nice to come home to the host family and home-cooked samgyupsal for dinner. ❤

Friday & Saturday:

Sunday:

Public Spas, Lake Parks, and Big Shrimp

Welcome back to the vignette style – this week’s blog will be fragments but bear with me!

목욕탕 – the public bath house 

Remembering my time in the onsens in Japan, a public bathhouse wasn’t entirely a surprise, but entering a well-lit room where you’re meant to strip down is still a bit daunting at first. My worries were immediately thrown away upon seeing the all the older women walking around in the buff, totally undisturbed by their nudity or anyone else’s.

The public bath itself has an ample amount of standing showers and places to sit and shower, cleaning your skin off before entering the pools or saunas. A quick sud-n-rinse does you good, and you either hop in the warm pools that are reminiscent of a hot tub minus all the salt, or into one of two saunas.

Entering the 80°C sauna (which is about 176°F) gives two immediate sensations: the smell of cedar and an acrid burning at the nostrils. As I sit down next to my host grandmother and another older woman, who sits crosslegged on the floor, I’m enveloped by the heat; only after I sit in the room for more than five minutes do I really feel the effects. The water on my body is no longer just water – sweat mixes in and flows down my naked body in rivulets, and the air is no longer smooth, but singes upon every intake yet without pain. Somehow, the plastic container of ice water that we brought in with still has ice and every time I think my lungs are filled with ash, I take a sip and relieve myself from the embers that I feel are sitting on my lips. Once I couldn’t stand it any longer and felt a little lightheaded, I exited and followed suit of the older ladies, pulling a cord that released a Flashdance-esque stream of freezing cold water to rid my body of all the sweat before hopping into the warm water – talk about polarity.

After warming up in the warm pool, Juyeon and Chaeyeon decided that the warm water was too comfortable, and challenged me to Rock Paper Scissors, with the losing party having to go wade in the waist-deep cold water pool for ten seconds. Out of all the rounds we played, I lost about 85%, and they loved watching me squeal as I again and again entered the cold water.

The 60°C (140°F) room sprinkles water from the ceiling and feels even hotter than the 80°C sauna room, but there is a faucet for cold water on the floor, for easy splashing of your overheated body. Juyeon and Chaeyeon ran out to grab me a bowl to cool myself as we sat on the floor, avoiding the steam in our faces as 이모 laughed at us and eventually joined in.

The second time at the public bath house, I emerged a new woman. Why? I got the full scrub down. You might think you know what that’s like, but this is quite unique. At the bath house, you usually scrub your whole body after sitting in the sauna or hot water with a rough little mitt that takes off all your dead skin; I didn’t just do that – we went all out. My host mom and I got to get up on these pink plastic beds to have the almighty hell scrubbed out of our bodies for about 45 minutes, and it was amazing. I quickly let go of the fact that the woman doing it was topless, and the sounds of splashing water and soft voices were enough to almost lull me to sleep. The rough scrubbing actually felt relieving, and the constant movement too was like rocking on water. Every once in a while, the woman would smack me and tell me to roll over to the side on or to my belly in Korean, or move my arms or legs around so she could do her job, and when I would open my eyes, balls of dead skin littered the pink plastic around me. I felt bad for the woman with the red streak in her bangs (think Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim but her hair wasn’t straight), as I had never done this before and imagine I had a heck of a lot of dead skin on me. It was an experience I wouldn’t have initially gone for, but I’m really glad I did now.

Friday night was a performance night for the kids: 방송단스, or directly translated as “TV dance”! They performed dances to K-pop songs choreographed by Andy’s (the English teacher I met before!) wife, and it was at this large performance hall in some cultural festival that lasts most of this week. Watching them made me proud and it made me think, “this must be what it was like for my mom watching my dance recitals”, taking videos and cheering for them. ❤

HuiJae came to visit again (we were going to travel somewhere else but my phone still isn’t working in Korea so I was worried about getting lost without internet…) and we made a day of going to Gunsan, the larger city of about 300,000, that is about 25 minutes from Seocheon. Stop one was E-Mart with 이모, Juyeon, and Chaeyeon, to get groceries for the week. After buzzing around the store, HuiJae and I went to this old railroad track that has become a tourist spot, walking along the road, getting a rainbow slushie (like the  five-year-olds we are – actually, it was all his idea!), and watching families and friends alike get dressed up in these sailor looking outfits to take pictures. We also took our fair share of pictures, just minus the outfits:

After the little railroad, we went to see Atomic Blonde (which I liked and HuiJae didn’t care for) and then, after getting lost for about 20 minutes, found our way to get 갈국수 for dinner! HuiJae kept saying, “I’m a pilot – I don’t get lost!” so I had to tease him about us walking around in a bunch of different directions. While at the restaurant (and I’m seriously kicking myself for not telling HuiJae to get some pictures), I heard a noise from behind me, and turned to see a 10-month-old baby staring at me through the wood carved booth. I talked to her in Korean, saying to the parents, “Is this the first time she has seen a foreigner?” to which they laughed and replied yes. She made noises at me and I touched her little hands – 하을 (HaEul) was her name. I wanted to run off with her right then.

After the cute baby encounter and lots of yummy noodles, HuiJae and I found our way to a rental car to drive around for a bit. We went down by the sea, but because it was dark, we didn’t see all too much – it’s the thought that counts, right? We then went to 은파호수공원 – Eunpa Lake Park – in Gunsan. The air was nice and cool (HuiJae was complaining that he was cold!) and the colorfully lit up bridge was visible even from a distance as we got out of the car and laughed at HuiJae’s terrible parallel parking.  There were tons of couples walking about, families with little kids, and even a guy with an acoustic guitar playing down on the separate part of the bridge. ㅋㅋㅋ

The next day entailed lots of rest (sleeping in) and a trip to the shrimp farm to amass a ton of live shrimp that we swiftly cooked and ate with beer, soju, and peppers – I swore the shrimp would never end! I had never pulled apart whole shrimp with my bare hands, but this was my time to learn. The little wooden table was littered with carcasses of shrimp as we watched Save Me, a drama filmed in Gyeongsangnam-do (which is why I think my host dad likes it, because that’s where he is from!).

 

Random things:

  • Host grandma just farted in front of me and no one batted an eye- a woman true to my own heart.
  • I’m really getting to have these adorable interactions with different students, greeting them in the same way every time but different for each student. JinWoo throws his arms into a heart whenever he sees me, Taean says “HELLO TEACHER!” whenever he sees me, I throw Hyowon double finger hearts and kick my legs up whenever I see her down the hall, and Yangjae and I do a deep bow and say 안녕하세요 in a funny voice. There are more, and I think they appreciate that I make things unique for them, and I love their personalities.
  • While all my classes are amazing, class 1B makes me smile and laugh more than any other class. I swear, I’ve only had them twice so far but I always leave in stitches. ❤
  • Finally skyped my mom, grandma, and Brian to show them my apartment and my host family! Suddenly the whole family was quiet and very curious yet very shy – Chaeyeon wanted to talk but my family doesn’t speak any Korean and she’s too little to speak English! Juhyung was very curious and followed me around as I did a walking tour, but skittered off when I asked if he wanted to talk! It was really cute.

서천인생 (Seocheon Living)

I’ve posted a vignette about my host fam and my first day, but still have lots of pictures to show off! So I’ll put them all up – a photo diary of the last week and a half I’ve been out on my own in Seocheon (which is not nearly as rural as I thought it would be!).

Night one with the fam:

 

한옥마을 – 전주 (The Folk Village – Jeonju)

 

국립생태원 – The National Institute of Ecology/Ecorium Museum in Seocheon!

We had the hookups – 삼촌 works there and is our friend, so we went in the back employee door and had our own tour guide!

 

Random odds and ends:

 

 

Orchestra performance in 천안! (CheonAn)

 

희재오빠는 서천에 왔어요! – HuiJae came to Seocheon!

 

Also, just some thoughts I have been collecting:

  • Korea is going to help me in my quest to have more monochromatic outfits; I swear, even in Seoul, everyone wears blues or neutrals, so my dumb butt sticks out even more with my bright color palette!
  • I’ve found that besides in hotels, Koreans really don’t use sheets but just comforters, even in the summer! I wonder why though.
  • When drinking beer together, Koreans typically buy bottles and then divvy it up into glasses; but on my host mom’s birthday, my host dad grabbed some beers and said, “In America you just drink from the bottle, right?” I responded yes, and he replied, “Well tonight, we’re going 미국 (American) style!” So he and his pals popped off all the tops and before handing them out, they wiped the lip of the bottle; I asked why, and they said because you had to yank the top off with a bottle opener, there might be shreds of metal still on there. They’re way more careful than us haha!
  • I kinda hate that the switches (at least in my apartment and at Jungwon) for the lights and the fan for the bathroom are OUTSIDE the bathroom… what if you decide to take a dump after you are already sitting on the toilet?!
  • My nicknames here are hilarious and quite different than at home in the States: 페지 (Peji, from Nathan’s mistake in Korean class), 페이진 (Peijin – JuYeon’s way of saying my name), 펭지 and 벤진 (two different mistaken names again by JuYeon as my host mom tried to correct her pronunciation), and 홈페이지 (homepage – JuHyung’s nickname for me)!
  • Why the heck did I bring so many “teaching shoes” – EVERYONE just takes their shoes off at school and wears slippers all day – teachers and students alike?! I’m a little mad at myself, but I wish someone would have told us that!
  • My host mom has a tattoo on her right shoulder, and Hyejung 이모 has one on her collarbone! For a country that is not crazy fond of tattoos still, I’m actually surprised at the number of tattoos I see on normal people.
  • At home, we don’t have a dishwasher, and we generate a lot of dishes, seeing as there are 6 of us on the regular and all the side dishes get their own plates. Henceforth, being a dishwasher at a Korean restaurant (if they don’t have a dishwashing machine) must be absolute hell!
  • Down the street from my apartment on the way to school, there are two moms that stand on opposite sides of the street all through the school day time. Apparently, a while back there was a fatal accident that killed a high school student, and these moms (the same two ladies every day, rain or shine) are there to symbolize this tragedy and to make people remember it and be more careful.
  • Some really prime Konglish shirt slogans I have seen (while there have been many, and also some have actually made sense!):
    • “An uncensored voice is always relevant in 1987”
    • “Make empathy great again” (this one makes sense but I still was confused)
    • “Real on the low”
    • “It’s a beautiful Sunday to leave me alone”
    • Chanbin’s (one of my students) shirt that has a hamburger on the front and on the back, it just says ‘AHHHHHHYEEEAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” (he says it’s from Japan) – I lost my mind when he turned around and showed me the backside.

Paige’s First Day of Teaching

The obnoxious sound of my alarm was at once both relieving and terrifying: this was the start of the first day, and there was no going back now. Waking up with way too much time (just to give myself some extra space to goof off and try to shake out the nerves), I prepped, checked my bags about a billion times, ate breakfast with Inseo, gathered my backpack, purse, gifts, and giant pink Starbucks water cup, and went out to the curb to meet my co-teacher, 지영쌤 (JiYoung Ssaem).

He had been patiently waiting (I was a little early so I hope he wasn’t sitting there long), and while I was looking out the front window, we took a short right turn right into the parking lot of my school. I knew it was only about five minutes away, but I was still surprised. It was much more quaint than the gloomy internet pictures had led me to believe, and the first person we met coming up along with us was the Vice President. Talk about mad insa right off the bat.

Walking into the school, 지영쌤 found me a cubby for my shoes, picking one with less dust-bunnies and dead spiders than the rest, and I slipped on my tacky Daiso shower shoes as slippers, skittering after him to the sound of gasps and excited whispers and “Hello teacher!” remarks from surprised students as I followed him up to the smaller 교무실 – the communal teacher’s office, which also doubles as the nurse’s office. Students were flitting in and out right away, talking to the teachers but also getting medicine for everything from a hurt leg to mosquito bites to a sore throat. Two beds are tucked next to the door for students who feel sick, but I think most of them were just coming in for a breather or attention from the teachers, or maybe to take a peek at me, the newest addition to the staff.

I was shown my desk and given a moment to breathe as 지영쌤 ran about getting my schedule and getting his own things in order, but I spent it looking through the list of questions Fulbright gave us to look over and ask, feeling a little overwhelmed. I also gave my Korean 소개 (self-intro) one more run-through, actually feeling confident that I could remember the sentences in order and in the correct formal version. My schedule was brief for the day – a few meetings, one class, lunch, and another class after lunch.

A 3rd year boy came in to talk to 지영쌤, and introduced himself to me – 조나단 – Jo Nadan, or Nathan; while there was a 2nd year boy who is almost the same height with the same thick black glasses that I mistook for him, Nadan was the first student I memorized by face and name. After that, the second, third, and fourth students I had down were 미송, 하영, & 시예, three rambunctious 1st year girls who kept returning to tell 형옥쌤 (HyeongOk Ssaem, the science teacher that sits next to me in the office) that they were sick, and also to repeat their names to me so I wouldn’t forget. Characters for sure.

A teacher’s meeting was the first order of business, and of course, the principal gave me a little intro and then handed it off to me; well, guess I’m doing this intro quicker than expected! I had hardly started my greeting – just a simple opener, “안녕하십니까” – and was met with an excited ‘whoa!’ from the other 15 or so teachers. I didn’t forget my words or get nervous, so all was a success. After that, I sat in wait, trying to at least follow along to the rapid-fire meeting by looking at the bulletin, but I eventually just let it float by, knowing that I could ask 지영쌤 if I needed to know any of it.

Our return to the office after the meeting was swift, as then 지영쌤 said, “Let’s go!” I followed along, notebook in tow, thinking I was going to watch him teach before my class, but I walked into the lecture hall room in another building to find that ALL the students were there for a small assembly – and while I should have expected, I didn’t realize it was all to meet me. The principal again got up and I realized then that he was talking about me, and each time he said something like, “she sings well” or “she dances well” (remarks of the likes of which he brought up about 4 times), the students would absolutely roar in excitement, and I would hide under my notebook half from the sound wall that was hitting me and half because I was slightly embarrassed to be talked up so highly. He then passed the mic to me and said, “Introduce yourself in Korean and English!” Just as I had done with the teachers, I gave the same intro in Korean, but this time, I was met with an even larger resounding excitement as I spoke in pretty decent Korean. Each sentence brought the students into a wave of screaming, and I could feel the good energy in the room flowing. I switched to English, said about the same things but with more quirky words thrown in, and then sat back down, but not for long; the students then assembled a fleet of chairs to take pictures, in which the center was reserved for me and the principal. The kids flocked around by their three different classes and most scurried off, shy, but some were fighting to sit by me – mainly first year girls (10th graders).

The meeting frenzy ended, 지영쌤 and 별히쌤 (another English co-teacher – a young woman) gave me a quick school tour – they have a freakin’ farm here! Post travel, the next free class ended up being spent attempting to connect my computer to the internet. Nicknamed “Picky”, the vocations teacher, who is apparently the tallest at the school and also the most sarcastic, pretend yelled at me for using a Mac and giving him a hassle lasting over 20 minutes to finally get my computer online. Phew.

Class Prime was approaching – I was expecting to be more nervous, but I think the school had already made me feel quite welcome so it was more, “Is my computer going to work? Do I have the right hookup for the tech? Do I get internet in the classrooms?” rather than “Oh no, will they like me?” But all was fine – 지영쌤, or I should start calling him Speedy Gonzales, took off with me in tow and after getting set up (finally) I began class number one – the first real class I have ever taught! (I don’t really count FEP – that was a trial run and not even the same school level as my actual job!)

3A was the first class – 12th graders in the first English class. There are levels A, B, and  C for each grade, and 지영쌤 said the English ability is a little higher in A than others, but they all seem pretty smart to me. They were sweet and so excited to learn about me, as my first lesson was simply a more in-depth self intro with interactive guessing portions, a few classroom rules, and their own self-introductions. Their energy level was high, and while we didn’t quite finish the self-intros, they seemed to have a lot of fun. They dealt with my mistakes and were my guinea pig class – some of my powerpoint slides and pictures were messed up but they didn’t seem to mind. Some stand-outs so far are Serim (who went first in self-intros), Hyun (who wants to visit Texas for some reason), Kyungmin (who I remember wants to go to Paris), and Chaeyeon (who told the previous ETA she would study hard so she could visit her), whose English and confidence are all quite good.

When the first class was over, it was lunchtime. A long queue of students lined up in the hall to go through the cafeteria line, but they all insisted I go ahead with the other teachers at the front. The food is actually quite good – it’s a boarding school, so these kids eat three meals a day at school – and I got to recharge a little, listening to the other teachers converse in Korean and just enjoying my meal. In Korea, all the students and teachers brush their teeth after eating lunch, and I’m the fool who forgot her toothbrush. So I simply walked around and talked to students – some of whom were in the middle of brushing their teeth in the mirror outside the bathroom in the hall! According to Esther, our previous program coordinator and the ETA at Vision two years ago, the students love art and music and acting, and it became clear when I could hear the playing of guitar from different classrooms after lunch. Following my ears, I wandered into class 3-2 and found a crowd around one boy (his name is Youngwon – 영원) playing guitar. “Hello teacher! Teacher, come sing! Sing a song!” They immediately beckoned me over and began requesting that I sing, since the principal had let the cat out of the bag in the assembly. I at first was embarrassed, but they talked me into it, asking, “Do you know Say Something? No no? Thinking Out Loud? Do you know?” I acquiesced, knowing the lyrics to the Ed Sheeran song, but the verse was too low; the boy then said, “highlight highlight!” (meaning he would play the chorus), and I agreed. I belted it out while the boy played guitar and the others hollered like I was someone famous – I even drew a crowd from the class next door! They got me to sing one more, playing the chorus for I’m Not The Only One by Sam Smith, once again screaming and cheering me on.

Lunch came and went and I was on to a prep period before class number two of the day. Fervently ripping up squares and rectangles of paper for the students to use rather than do it in class and fixing my powerpoint so that I didn’t need to use the internet and so it wouldn’t look super ugly, the prep period flew by, and the next thing I knew, the second of my co-teachers, 선영쌤 (SeonYoung Ssaem), was at my desk and ready to go to class with me.

Class 2A had one really tired, sick boy, but the rest were lively and bright. They joked around, went nuts when I showed them that my house has a swimming pool, and teased each other without being mean. Some standouts were Garam (who I’m going to call Popsicle Pants from now on because he was wearing white shorts with a pattern of ice cream and popsicles), Jina (who was volunteering people to introduce themselves after she went first), and Rokhyun (whose name is pretty unique and had lots to say in class). Not to say I’m playing favorites, because they’re all adorable, but these kids are always saying hi to me and talking to me in the halls too.

After two classes and little sleep, I was feeling a little pooped but still filled with happiness. Gathering together the slips of paper I had given the classes to gauge interest in what they wanted me to teach, sliding tallies into an Excel spreadsheet while listening to some K-pop was a good way to relax a bit but still get work done. “페이지쌤?” “Yes?” “How about we leave soon? I will be right back… in ten minutes!” says 지영쌤. I traipse down the halls a bit as all the students clean the classrooms, wiping chalkboards, sweeping floors, taking out trash, and finish other tidying-up chores. The sounds of various band/orchestra instruments playing and tuning and squeaking filled the classrooms and spilled into the halls as they prepared for their after school classes and as I packed my bags to go home for the day.

I had made it through the day at school, not with bruises and scratches, but with coming out shiny and clean (probably more shiny because of the oil on my forehead). Coming home and getting to punch in the numbers to open the apartment building and then my door felt like I finally was an adult – I knew where I was going (somewhat) and how to do it on my own, even in a foreign country. I felt energized from all the students’ excitement, and felt that I had gone through the tough part of “adjusting” and the trial and error of my first lesson plan. I prepared to call, “돌아왔습나다!” (“I’m home!”), but the apartment was empty – I had some time to relax before the four kids were back! A nap was well deserved for a lovely day.