I've got the day off work, thanks to the school's birthday, but no water..... so I can't shower and go out. And besides, hello jangma. So.... here we go.

can you please post more stories about your students? They are so cute ^_^

You know, it's what I used to do, almost exclusively. Then things at work got really busy and crazy, and the days became a bit of a blur. My students are still cute, obviously. Almost unrelentingly. But between all the exam writing, paperwork nonsense, extra classes and other projects I'm squeezing in, I can't really recall much by the time I finally get home in the evenings. I'll work on it, though.

I know it's dangerous to generalize--but what do you like (or love) the most about Korean culture? (Besides your interpersonal relationships, what is it about Korea that is tugging at your heartstrings to stay?)

This one is actually really difficult for me to answer, because I think it's just kind of a combination of everything that keeps drawing me back to Korea. And every upside almost invariably has a downside, as well. I love the landscape, the language, the expressiveness of the people, the way that expressiveness can be really contradictory at times. The mix of modern with ancient in the architecture and the food and other places in the culture. The chaos. The breakneck pace at which this country and culture are changing. The utter ridiculousness of the pop culture at times, and the times when the pop culture suddenly gives birth to something so soul-shatteringly genuine. The fact that almost every Korean I know is unquestionably obsessed with singing, either listening to it or doing it. Plastic tables on the sidewalks in summer, the iron stoves full of coals in the winter. The rainy season. Ajumma and ajeosshi taking charge on the subway. Little kids running around in squeaky shoes. The young generation with all of their polish and poise, their hair and their clothes and their bags and their makeup.

All of it, really. Even the bad.

Why can't 12 year-old Korean boys tie their shoelaces, whistle, swim or make paper airplanes? Can Busan do these things lol

Well, something must happen between 12 and 14, because my students most certainly can make paper airplanes. I have a desk drawer full of them at work. Tying their shoes isn't really something I witness or don't witness, because all of their shoes are squashed into shapes that don't really require tying (shoes aren't allowed in our classrooms, so they slip them on and off approximately 500 times a day -- that is, when they're not going into the disgusting bathrooms in their socks because they're too lazy). Swimming and whistling are definitely common deficiencies I've noticed, but they aren't across the board. Whistling is one of my biggest pet peeves and there's usually at least one time a day when I'll turn around from writing something on the board to ask who has committed the offense which should be, in my opinion, punishable by death. And as for swimming, I always just assumed it was because I was dealing with city kids. But who knows.

Busan can do all of the above, as far as I know, but he's afraid to go swimming outside because something in the water might touch him. He's also afraid of even mild rollercoasters. Obviously, we can never have any fun together ever.

Did your relationship put the kibosh on your dream of teaching in rural Korea?

Anonymous.... way to stick your fingers right into my barely perceivable wound. I mean, I own my shit. So yeah... I can admit it. It probably has for now. When I talk about it now, he gets kind of equal parts whiny and excited, depending on the mood. Sometimes it's, "Why are you going to leeeeeave me for good makgeolli?" And sometimes it's, "Yeah! I hate crowded places! Let's go be farmer people!" Obviously, I'm not at a place yet where I can either walk away from this relationship, or ask him to move away with me. So it'll probably be at least one more year in the city for INP.

How do you feel about the possibility of becoming the longest-serving teacher at your school? (if you're there for 5yrs)

First of all, I don't even know if they'll allow that to happen. But from what we're being told from the district, it is entirely possible. It seems the foreign teachers are operating under a bit of a different set of rules, simply because the schools hate replacing them so much. To be clear, Korean teachers can also stay at a school for longer than five years, if the principal personally invites them to do so. And sometimes it does happen -- it happened with one or two science and math teachers at my school this year. So technically, it isn't actually a different set of rules. It's just that a good foreign teacher is more likely to be asked to stay on, because the gamble and hassle involved in replacing them is quite high.

The only thing it really makes me think about is how sad I'll be to see the last off the teachers I started out working in Korea with go. I've become quite close with some of my coworkers over the course of the last three years, and they've dwindled a lot, but there are still quite a few of the originals left. My relationship with them is noticably different from my relationship with the newcomers, mostly because they tend to actually take me into the fold a bit more than the other, newer Korean teachers. There's a pretty noticable kind of generational divide ("generational" in reference to what year the teachers arrived at our school) among the teachers, and I am generally regarded as part of the old guard now. I sit and socialize with the older teachers. The newer teachers haven't really gotten used to me yet, and tend to be a bit more stand offish, or are more likely to cling to the "Wow! A foreigner! You use chopsticks very well!" mentality. The older teachers kind of protect me from that, with a bit of ruffled feathers and eye rolling when it occurs. Which makes the newer teachers back off a bit. But they kind of tend to learn from each other, and it gets passed down from one year to the next. Which means even the teachers who have only been at my school for two years still roll their eyes at the new ones (for the most part) when they respond to me that way.

In short, sad to see old coworkers go, but not that concerned about it. Don't really care for my new VP and P, though, it has to be said. But then no one else really does either. The old VP and P were really good men, and they left big shoes to fill. They didn't interact with me tons, but they showed me a lot of respect and consideration, especially considering I'm just a young female foreign teacher, and don't really need to demand much of their attention. The new ones haven't really taken the time to get to know me in any real way, and seem to regard me as kind of a pretty young girl who is basically serving her purpose simply by being that. Which is fine, I guess, but can get pretty gross at hwaeshik from time to time. The old ones didn't really go out of their way to acknowledge me anymore than anyone else, other than to be a bit more concerned about the fact that I'm far away from my family, and kind of protecting and accomodating me in that regard. The new ones will often call me over to their table once they get drunk to either carry on about how pretty I am or lecture me about how I need to adapt to Korean society, even though they don't know me at all. The new P actually told me earlier this year that my boyfriend is like my father in Korea, because I can't take care of myself. My old P would have never, ever said something like that to me.

But I'm far from alone in my opinion of them. So it's all good, I guess.

When did the world start going to hell in a hand basket?

Probably around the time human beings acquired language, I'm guessing. But it's all good -- it makes life interesting.

thank you for all your posts. I hope Seongmin and his friends ok, did you ever have that talk with him? and i just want to say, i would love to have you as a teacher, the warmth, love and care you have for others really shines though. :)

That's a really kind compliment -- thank you. And no, I haven't talked to Seongmin about it, because I feel like it would be crossing more than a few lines. He has been, however, one of the students I've become closest to this year, and we talk almost every day. I tell him all the time that if every student were like him, people would be fighting tooth and nail over the position of being a teacher. He sometimes comes to ask me for advice, or about my experience, because he says he wants to be a teacher when he grows up. I always tell him that only crazy people want to be teachers, but that I think he'll make a fucking excellent one, because not only is he ridiculously smart, he's also one of the kindest and gentlest people I've ever met in my life.

Are you sure the head teacher is REALLY that obsessed with foreigners and bread? Maybe she is just trolling you.

The problem is, she's completely not. HT never, ever means to be offensive, and feels really horrified when I'm not able to conceal the fact that she is. She's not actually a bad person, and she doesn't mean any harm. She's just abrasive. She annoys the shit out of the other teachers as well. She actually really likes me, and takes the time to accomodate me when she's able to see clearly how she can. I should go easier on her, but it's a high pressure work situation with her right now, and I don't always have the ability to just laugh her off, because she can make situations that are already stressful feel a lot worse, at times. Most times. But I'm constantly trying to adjust my attitude toward her, and I've actually come a long way. A long way yet to go, obviously.

Hi INP, I’m going to Daegu in August through EPIK, which is both exciting and daunting! I know this is trivial and that it’s up to the individual but should I bring gifts for my coworkers? I feel that I should but I don’t want to presume anything. Thanks!

Yes! By all means, bring gifts. Korea definitely has a gift-giving culture, and it will endear you to them almost instantly. That having been said, it's not by any means necessary. Any small thing will do -- it's not the quality of the gift that actually matters, so much as the thought and the consideration. I always bring things back for my coworkers when I go abroad, simply because they always do the same. Occasionally bringing in coffee or food for the office is always a good idea as well.

MAn I'm glad I work in a good hakwon and don't have to deal with any of that public school crap, good luck!

The funny thing is, my best friend in Korea is actually a hagwon teacher who is being put deep dans la merde at the moment. I think it kind of comes back to experience, and the individual job. Part of the reason we have so much work is because our superiors know we can handle it. The more you are capable of doing without fucking it up, the more you are going to get handed -- that's just a fact of life. And not just in Korea. She's been here for nearly four years, I for nearly three. We know our shit. We're capable of a lot more than just the bare minimum. Therefore, we are expected to pick up the slack. We also have adjusted pretty well to Korean work culture, which means that we can be counted on not to kick up a fuss about contracts or whatever when we're approached with a new task. Frankly, we're easy.

But neither one of us would ever trade it. Because, in the right situation with the right coworkers, what that means is not only more work, but also more respect and regard. And it also means being seen as less of a foreigner and more of just a good employee. It also means finishing every day with a feeling of pride that you've done the best that you can, and that other people know they can rely on you when they need to. Even if some people do take advantage of that sometimes. So. In the end, it's fine. But I reserve the right to bitch about it in my weaker moments.

Would there be any seasonings you wish you could have brought?

Cilantro! Anything to do with Mexican food! But mostly, no. Because I'm really busy and really lazy and don't really cook much anyway. I mean, I do cook dinner at home almost every night, but I'm just one person and I can't be bothered going to great lengths about it. I do wish that I could cook some proper Mexican food for Busan, who had one traumatic beef enchilada experience at a restaurant in Seoul and won't go near the stuff again. Which is ridiculous, because I know he would like it, if he would give it another chance.

But mostly, everything I need here in Korea I've found. It wasn't like that in the beginning -- there were a lot of things I missed, but I can't even think of what they were now, because it's been so long that I've just gotten used to it. Whenever I do go home, I constantly prowl around the grocery stores obsessed by all of the things that I've forgotten I used to love. But I also spend a fair amount of time complaining about the things I can't get in the States either, so it's a bit of a trade-off, I guess.

Would yu be hella chill with Busan seeing prostitutes with his boss, like, brush it off like Korean women do, or would ya flip ya lid?

This is just all around classy. And I've got your IP address marked, so I know that you are capable of asking questions that don't consist of some kind of broken down impression of .... whatever kind of speech it is you're going for there. What is it that you want, exactly? A new job? A girlfriend? Something to fill your time with other than obsessively checking my blog dozens of times every day? I don't understand.

Liz, just read your zoo post. :-) one day, I hope you write a book. You are such a good storyteller and can really hold an audience. Jae

Thank you for the compliment. Honestly, part of the reason why I blog and don't do many other kinds of writing, is because I enjoy the freedom. I'm shitastic with carrying a narrative -- I realized that basically my first semester at school, which is why I became a poet instead (kind of joking.... there were obviously other reasons, but also kind of not joking as well). Writing a book is obviously a lot different from keeping a blog. Frankly, I might just be too lazy. I also don't know who would take part of their hard earned cash and actually lay it down on a counter for this nonsense. But I appreciate the sentiment.

How much kimchi did your gran eat? Thank you for your time^^

Not much, it has to be said. She tried. She tried her best, bless her. But she's 70 years old and can't even eat our Mexican cooking at home, because the spices destroy her stomach.

What does your Grams like about Korea the most? -omgq

My aunt and mother asked her the same question when she got home. Apparently, her answer was, "Being with Elizabeth." I don't know if that speaks well of me, or ill of her opinion of Korea. Haha. But that's what she's got to say. I know she found a lot of the scenery when we were in the smaller towns and countryside to be really beautiful, and she was quite fascinated with a lot of things when we went to the Buddhist festival. Probably, I would say the sights and the sounds and the history. She also got a hell of a kick out of the way old people would come running up to us on the streets shouting, "Hello!" like school kids when they saw her, because they got excited to see one of 'their' people, as a foreigner. It amused the shit out of me as well. I never expected that. The older generation here mostly ignore me, or treat me with an amused and endeared kind of distance, always, always speaking to me in Korean. But something about seeing a foreigner their age brought out the youth in them, I guess, and they would do their best to come out with whatever English they could remember from their school days, before asking me all kinds of questions in Korean to translate for her. It was really sweet.

Do they have a way of censoring bad words in Korean? Like how in English one might type out sh*t or d*mn? I know about 18 for 씨발, but are there any interesting ones you want to share?

I'm not really sure about this actually, because a. my students know better than to cuss in either language in front of me, for the most part and b. Busan doesn't swear in Korean, and I don't either. I do know that Busan's little brother regularly sends him texts that say, "ㅂ ㅅ", which means 병신. My students also know exactly what I'm going for, when I put up this image to explain "using bad language" for one of our lessons together. So. Basically I'm no help on this one.

based on your exposure/experience, can you give us your assessment ie pros/cons of both the us and korean school systemss/culture et al?

Way too big of a question for me, at this point. Not least of all because I've only experienced the US system as a student, and I've only experienced the Korean system as a teacher. I will say that the communal aspect of the schools, and the support that the students have up through middle school in the form of their homeroom classes and teachers is absolutely essential for kids of that age. They need that. The fend-for-your-fucking -self mentality that hits kids right when they need that sense of community the most in the US schooling system is something that I think allows way too many kids with bad home lives to fall straight through the cracks. I will say that much.

For people moving to Korea alone, what's the best way to make friends/meet people?

Completely individual. Myself, I've met my best friends here in a variety of ways. I became close to my coworkers, first and foremost. But I also met Smalltown at a bar, and a few other people at cultural exchanges (although both of those settings, particularly the latter, offered a lot more frustration for me than they did benefit, to be honest). But the way I've met the foreigners I am the closest to now, and have the most in common with? The blogs. Honestly. With the blogs, you can seek out the people who have the perspective and the outlook on Korea and this whole experience that most closely jives with your own. I would have never had any chance of just running into most of these people out in public. And I don't know that I would've even taken to some of them based on first impression alone. But the blogs gave us a chance to get to know each other through a more relaxed medium first. It's been pretty cool, actually. So. Start a blog. Start making connections, and arrange a few meet ups. I'm not the only one who has this same answer to this question -- not by a long shot.

That's enough for now, don't you think?


Chris in South Korea said...

Nice post, as usual.

Do they have a way of censoring bad words in Korean?

In a word, no - people seem prone to say exactly what's on their mind or completely obfuscate and put their smiling face. Even to say ㅂㅅ to someone would carry the same meaning as the actual word.

For people moving to Korea alone, what's the best way to make friends/meet people?

For most, go to the crowd that appeals to you or shares something in common. Like books? Hit up Kyobo or COEX's Bandi and Luni's. Like drinks? Hongdae, Itaewon, Sinchon, the list goes on and on. Like religion? Find a church, temple, mosque, etc. It's the same around the world.

I can definitely second the 'start a blog' mindset - it's opened up a lot of doors and opportunities, and I'm not just talking about friends. It needs to be something more than just a random post every other month - but that's a different question.

rapuntsel said...

"what do you like (or love) the most about Korean culture?"

When reading your answer I was smiling and nodding.. thinking that this is exactly why I would like to come back to Korea after my three months of volunteering.

oh, and I have been also thinking that I would have liked to have a teacher like you when I was at school! I like your attitude towards children and teaching.