Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Looking around a bar one night, a friend mentioned to me how many of the foreigners here seem to be lonely. Oceans away from your home, your family, it’s hard to imagine that one wouldn’t get lonely sometimes. Committing to living across the globe for a year, in an entirely different culture with an entirely different language, one has to be prepared to feel some degree of isolation.
We don’t easily blend in here, even in areas like Yeongtong, which are known for having a lot of foreigners. Dramatically different in language, culture, and appearance, we are definitely outsiders. Also, the Koreans don’t usually give foreigners much extra attention, like they do in some of the other countries I’ve visited. If anything, many of them seem to want to avoid you so that they don’t have to speak English.
Talking to my friend Moon, I asked her if she thought that most of the foreigners here suffered from some degree if loneliness. She offered that it seemed to be more of feeling of solitude than loneliness. I like this differentiation, and it seems accurate. The sense that I have is indeed of a self-imposed, peaceful solitude. There is time and space for reflection. You can easily get lost in the quiet, and the sea of unfamiliar faces, sights, and smells. The foreignness becomes increasingly familiar over time, but the sense of being an outsider seems to remain.
“There seems to be a lot of creative tension here,” an American who has been here for a couple of years mentioned to me soon after I arrived. I think I know what he means now by creative tension, but it’s hard to describe in words. It is something within the solitude, and you can make of it what you want.
Perhaps this tension is what you find when you sever yourself from everything in your life that is familiar and comfortable and hop on a plane to the other side of the world. While it seems more than a little cliche to find yourself on the other side of the world, you do seem to find something. You also find that in order to hop on that plain you probably had to be just a little bit insane. So there’s that.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Boys Will Be Boys

So, we have a problem in my Kindergarten homeroom class. The boys. There are only three of them, down from five when I just started. Which would seem like it would make things easier. But, the two that left were the good ones (in terms of behavior), so now it’s me versus the three muskateers: Eddie, Sonic, and Daniel. First off, they can’t stay in their seats. Second, they won’t listen. Third, they won’t stop FIGHTING.
Let me explain the fighting part…At first, it was just confusing. They were always telling me that one of the others were doing something bad, then the other would deny it. I didn’t know who to believe, especially when I was just starting out and didn’t know who I could trust (if any of them). Also, as I mentioned before, they speak very little English. They aren’t supposed to speak Korean in class, but this is nearly impossible for them, since it would mean a room of five-year-olds sitting in silence (I wish).
So, the boys kept getting in these fights in Korean, and I wouldn’t know what the heck they were talking about. Supposedly it all started when they were playing together at Sonic’s house and Daniel got upset that Sonic and Eddie didn’t let him take more turns on the Wii game, or something. Now they are constantly arguing. Sometimes it even gets physical, and when they try to explain to me what happened (or what they claimed happened), it usually goes something like this…
Daniel: “Austinnn Teachhaaaa…Sonic is…me…this (hitting motion).” (Translation: “Sonic hit me”)
Me: “Sonic, did you HIT (insert hitting motion) Daniel?”
Sonic: (wide-eyed) “NO!”
Daniel: (equally wide-eyes) “YES!”
Sonic: “NO!!!”
Daniel: “YES!!!”
Me: “Sonic, Daniel, SIT DOWN! Both of you, BAD POINTS…stop fighting!” (as I dramatically walk over to the board and put red tallies by their names) “Three bad points is NO PLAY!” (at lunch time)
            My Korean co-teacher, Ellen, has been trying very hard to get these boys to behave themselves and to get along. When she discovered that I majored in Psychology she suggested that I use my Psych skills to figure out why they’re always fighting. I have absolutely no clue. She holds them after class every day, so they can talk to her in Korean about whatever happened between the three of them that morning. We also tried a strategy where we didn’t let them play during play-time for a week, and instead made them read quietly. Of course, “reading quietly” basically means me putting them in three corners of the room, facing the wall (with a book in hand), and yelling at them every minute or so when they start arguing again.
            On the plus-side (not really), I have gotten a new Korean word out of all of this…it sounds like ”il-i-ko”, and (Ellen explained to me) means something like “I will tell.” It is not a nice word. Daniel is not allowed to say it anymore. Daniel seems slightly sociopathic. He keeps lying. To me, to Ellen, to his mom. He can be very convincing, much too convincing for a five year-old. Anyway, needless to say, I find all of this fighting a little distressing. Am I not giving these boys enough attention, love, what is it?? WHY CAN’T YOU ALL JUST GET ALONG, SALMON CLASS??? I mean, the girls are PERFECT. They try very hard and do whatever I tell them, for the most part. They even spontaneously started massaging my back today; they called it “massage-ee.” But, I guess, boys will be boys.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pepero Day

          11/11 is Pepero Day in Korea. A Pepero is basically a chocolate-covered biscuit stick. Photo:

Pepero sticks

          So, two Peperos make an 11, get it? This year was 11/11/11, so it was an extra-special Pepero Day. I, of course, was oblivious to this day until the night before, when Jackie informed me that it was like Korean Valentine’s Day. Apparently it was created by the cookie company that makes them. So, Hallmark is to Valentines Day as Lotte Confectionary is to Pepero Day.
          A bunch of the kids at school brought Pepero for their classmates and teachers. After about an hour I was overwhelmed by the quantity of Pepero in my teacher’s basket, so I started opening up boxes and feeding it to the kids. They LOVE it. I mean, what’s not to like about a chocolate-covered biscuit stick?
          The rest of the day continued in this manner, receiving and giving Pepero. I also ate quite a few and at the end of the day felt like I’d had enough Pepero to last me a lifetime. I still ended up leaving work with a bag of it (it kept appearing on my desk…Pepero fairy?). It’s good with coffee, and I might bring a bunch of it back to school in a few days to bribe the kids with. Or, does anyone want me to send them some? ^ ^ (asian :))

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Halloween at EOS with a “Halloween Festival.” Halloween isn’t usually celebrated in Korea, but the hagwans seem to like to incorporate various aspects of Western culture into the teaching. The Kindergarten festival included a “fashion show” and a song and dance competition. Each class learned the words and choreographed danced moves to a Halloween song. The “fashion show” consisted of the teachers dancing in their costumes on stage.
We were originally told that we were going to each have to dance for two minutes alone. Even though the majority of the audience was going to be under the age of seven, I was quite frankly terrified. But it didn’t turn out to be bad at all. We actually only danced alone for about fifteen seconds and then the rest of the time we were dancing with other each other. I actually won third place (and a 20,000 won, or about $20, cash prize) for my grape costume (I safety-pinned purple balloons to a purple sweater, attached a green felt leaf, and wore a green beanie and green yoga pants). First prize (50,000 won) went to Anna Teacher, who dressed up as a cowgirl, riding a blow-up horse.
The kids got up on stage and performed the routine that they had been practicing to a Halloween song. My class’s song was called The Haunted House and went something like “The haunted house has black cats creeping round, the haunted house has bats that fly a-round…” Anyway, needless to say, the whole day was pretty hilarious, and pretty fun. Also, the kids looked ADORABLE in their costumes. Most of the Kindergarten girls were princesses, naturally. Here are some photos:

The Girls

The Boys



Salmon Class + Austin Teacher

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Never Never Land

          Brief update: The time has come at EOS for us to begin preparing for the Kindergarten musicals. I believe that the actual performances will be in February. But, there is A LOT to be done, so we are starting now. Each Kindergarten class pairs up with another to put on a performance. The teachers are in it too, of course. We are given the largest roles since we are obviously much more capable of memorizing lines in English. Many of my kids can't form gramatically-correct English sentences yet.
          My class (Salmon), is paired up with Jessica Teacher's class (Stingray). We will have thirteen students in total. And then there's us. Initially we were going to do Little Red Riding Hood, and Jessica and I were going to share the part of the Big Bad Wolf. We have scripts from previous years to work from. But, I wrote a new scene (requested by my Korean co-teacher, Ellen) between the birds, the flowers, the trees, and Little Red Riding Hood, because we needed more characters. I thought it was pretty good, personally :). I included the wise Oak Tree giving Red Riding Hood advice about not trusting people (or wolves) she just met. We also needed a song for the forrest critters to sing, so I was going to suggest Colors of the Wind (Pocahontas) :). Note: We have a lot of freedom in certain aspects of the job, since the parents of the kids and the owners of the school don't speak much English.
          Anyway, we are no longer doing Little Red Riding Hood. Something about problems locating the music for it. So, we are going to do Peter Pan. At the moment, I am transcribing part of the script (for some reason the school only had the hard copy, not the electronic), while editing it. I must say, out of all the plays that we could be doing, I'm pretty excited to be doing Peter Pan. I will be Captain Hook. So I'm ready to be really piratey for the next couple of months. Note: In some ways I feel like I'm already living in Never Land (lots of kids and clowning around), so this play is not much of a stretch. Okay, back to work...