Last Day of Fall Semester

I did attend the grade 6 graduation. Upon entering the venue where all the students sat in their caps and gowns, the 6-4 girls called out “Ah Abigail Teacher!!”. I waved back and made my way to S to see if there was anything I needed to do but was intercepted by a gaggle of grade 4 girls.

One clung to my arm like a koala while they other two excitedly told me their older sisters were graduating.

Several other grade 3 and 4 kiddos were there to see their siblings graduate and the resemblances were uncanny. I pointed out Seungkwan Jr to H. “Oh, you mean Kyungmin?” Once she pulled up the real Seungkwan (member of boy group SEVENTEEN) picture she immediately burst into laughter. I’m happy one person can share my understanding of the source material for my kids’ nicknames.

The subject teachers all went out to lunch at a fusion place so ya girl got her pasta and cheese fix. One of the graduates and his grade 3 brother were actually at the same restaurant.

A true american spread with no honeyed garlic bread in sight.

After this I won’t see H anymore. Or technically any teacher for the next three weeks as I desk warm in the auditorium building but I’m on good terms with the staff (see: “Abigail love youuu”). S will actually come back Monday to have lunch with me for which I’m so grateful.

H and I traded contact info and I hope to meet her husband and baby soon.

The school is closing in on itself with boxes; because all the ceilings will be ripped out (asbestos) everything from the cafeteria to music room has been boxed up and left in the classrooms or the hallway for the moving and construction company.

I’ll edit videos, work on moving these posts to a real blog form, lesson plan for next year, rewatch my favorite show of all time on DVD, and study Korean over the next weeks. And plan my actual vacation in February— I’m thinking a solid few days in Gangneung which is a beach town in the east. I need a clean air detox! Oh and I’ll get the Chinese visa situated.*

Luckily no one cares much what I do on the computer as long as I’m there, a departure from my previous jobs where managers would drop in suddenly and stare at my computer screen.

I can’t believe semester one is done. I get another semester with new third graders and I get to watch my other kids grow up.

TOPIK test on Sunday is keeping me grounded and then it’s freeish sailing.

*Unfortunately, the appearance of the Coronovirus will prevent me from making any China plans.

Week 20, Thursday

Final Week of Fall Semester

This is the first week I’ve sat more than I’ve stood and my back is answering for it. I’m wondering how I’ll survive the next three weeks of desk warming.

3-4 also declined class today so H and I had a long discussion about come versus go in Korean. It ended again with H saying I needed to stay at this elementary school for another year (she’d return for the last half of it) and saying I need a Korean boo.

“Where should I meet him?”

“Um maybe in the street?”

“Should I make business cards with my phone number that say ‘date me’?”

“That’s not a bad idea.”

Grade 3 watched the German film Fiddlesticks and I’m proud to say I could predict exactly when they would mutter “aw cute”. The younger boys love using this phrase when they watch movies. Jaekyung entered class with a sheet of small stickers.

“You can a choose one.”

“But these are so small!”

“Okay you can choose five.”

I saw her with her mom and little sister yesterday and told her that they look very similar. She responded that her little sister is going into second grade.

A boy named Geoni and Strong Girl won first and second place for school representatives respectively. I couldn’t place the boy’s name until twelve hours after H described him as “small, cute, loud, good at English”. It just now clicked. And that is an apt description. I’ve been impressed with him since he demanded to know if this is straight hair and that is curly hair, what’s in between?

Three girls of 6-4 saw me between class and asked me using their recent chapter knowledge, “would you like to come to my graduation?” Very proud. I may or may not be required to attend so yes, I’d love to.

The girls of 6-4 are clever and funny too, there’s an outgoing one with very short hair, which is extremely uncommon, who wore basketball shorts in the warmer months. She and another were play fighting: teacher she is a boy! No, teacher, she is a MAN.

“Well I think [short hair girl] is cute!” She really does rock her haircut and has the confidence for it, too.

There was a tall quiet boy in 6-2 who appeared and disappeared just as suddenly. He wasn’t on the photo sheet either. Had I instructed a ghost? I asked S about him. “Was he white or tan? Tall? What was his name?”

“Well I don’t know his name, I guess he’s not tan. He is tall.”

Some of our grade 6 boys are light skinned and some are darker-skinned, Korean skin tones actually run a large scale. I’m on the pale end here.

S ran it by the other teachers. He transferred into this school and then transferred out which you can do by moving or if you are an exemplary student. He was the only good boy in 6-2 so I wish him the best.

Language Corner

My third graders were very confused when I pronounced “a” as “A” instead of “uh”. Teacher what are you saying? I suppose they’ve never heard a native speaker say it as long A for emphasis. Which is also why kids need to hear native speaking.

Week 20, Tuesday

Final Week of Fall Semester

Sometimes I am disturbed by the sass and awareness of Jaekyung, the grade 3 girl who wrote me a note. It’s hard to remember she’s just ten when she looks at me and shakes her head at the antics of her less mature classmates.

Thursday will be my last class with grade 3, except for 3-2 whose homeroom teacher has decided to keep them to herself that day. We closed out today by having them present their self introductions. H helped me explain why “I like cat” is wrong, “I like a cat” is grammatically correct but used for a single, specific cat, and why “I like cats” is best.

I also made a note in Korean and English about “I like chickens (animal) versus I like chicken (meat).” They got it and were very interested which was great to see. Start their linguistic curiosity early I say!

Later, in our final grade 4-2 class, I was taunting SEVENTEEN boy with fake dollar bills when suddenly, in his flailing, they were all knocked out my hand. In a real music video moment, dollar bills floated softly about group 4’s heads while they cheered and tried to snatch them out of the air.

SEVENTEEN boy was not finished:

“You ugly.” He giggled, darting out of reach.

“Hey! I’ll kill you!” I cried, snatching after him.

He amended: “Beautiful!”

The exchange struck me as familiar, which it was: we had the same conversation during the talent show.

In the late afternoon I (playfully) beat a kid with hardened rice cake. Am I Korean enough now? H gave it to me in celebration of her baby’s 100th day but reminded me that I must steam it, otherwise I’ll be eating a rice rock.

Tomorrow is not a free day as I had hoped but instead the subject teachers have to help run the graduation rehearsal. Will I never be free from grade 6??

Week 19, Saturday

In the morning I bought adorable macaroons from a kind woman who was very patient when I forgot how to count past five. At this point I’m well versed in Chinese-Korean numbers since my kids and coworkers seem to discuss money often.

However, I’m much less adept at Native Korean numbers since I rarely order more than “five” things. (And don’t let Koreans say their two number systems are like English counting and ordinal numbers. Korean has Chinese-Korean numbers, Native Korean numbers, AND ordinal numbers.)

After a visit to the gym and my mandu man I took the unfamiliar but beautiful red line bus to Nana’s house.

A group of Thai, one Japanese, one Korean, and one American gathered to celebrate Nana’s birthday. On days like these I’m endlessly thankful for my little families here.

We are too much, drank some kind of Korean homemade whiskey, and discussed animal sounds. A korean tiger says “ah hung” which is the least scary thing I’ve ever heard. Everyone was intrigued by the American rooster’s bravado.

There was a point where most everyone was speaking Thai so the Japanese friend and I looked at each other and then fake laughed loudly above everyone else. I also taught her my old Japanese friend’s very special and inappropriate cheers slogan which she thought was very hilarious.

Later I fought to feed one new friend a dead fly because as you know I am twelve.

On the way home I had a great chat with the taxi driver. He couldn’t see my face at first so he asked me if I was Chinese, and I’m sure his mistake was a shock to him when he saw me in the light. I practiced using honorifics with him since he’s older and told him about the party and how my mother and brother might visit. But I said, my mom has very American tastes to which he replied “oh she likes steak and potatoes”. Yes, this guy gets it.

In the end he asked if I could pay in cash which I’m sure is to avoid taxes and hey, why not. Here you go. He said “beautiful” and wished me good luck on the TOPIK exam. “Fighting!”

Week 19, Friday

Something amazing happened. Yesterday my tutor, in a discussion about pronunciation, said “in reality often people pronounce 요 yo as 여 yeo”

You know my ongoing struggle in strong O versus weak O but now I feel VINDICATED. I HAVE been hearing weak O in strong O’s place. I am not crazy!

I feel at a real slump in my Korean this week so it’s nice to win one.

I nearly lost at the bank but MVP goes to the woman who pointed out I left my money at the ATM behind. I paid my electric bill, transferred money for a Korean New Year ski trip and in the hubbub left fifty dollars behind.

En route to the bank some grade 4 boys spotted me and shouted Abigail Teacher! One boy I had goofed off with earlier in the week. Grade 4 is precious and I’m sad next year I’ll only see them once a week.

Next week is the last week of school so I feel the last minute pressure to close out projects.

A gruff man that S later said had “no manners” barged into our classroom to open cabinets and almost dropped a drum on my head. Since school is undergoing construction to replace the ceilings, every teacher will have to pack away the class into boxes. S and I are in the spare music room so we get to pack all the extra instruments. Yay! We have one week. At least S confirmed with the VP that I’ll have a computer and internet during my desk warming time.

I received the list for winter camp and luckily it’s mostly good kids like Clever Girl and the third grader who wrote me a note. Strong Girl is looped in too but I’m hesitant to summarize her chaotic neutrality as “good” over 15 hours of camp time. The boy who said hi at the bank will also be there (in previous posts I called him SEVENTEEN fan. He’s a cutie and he’s got braces with rubber bands, I feel your pain kid.)

I like to pretend that the kids asked their parents to sign them up because I’m popular but it’s more likely the parents need somewhere to stick them while they work. I am still powering through camp planning, and surprise! Another change.

Week one will be grade 3 and 4. Week two will be grade 4 and 5. There are some really strong and also really weak grade 4 students who signed up for camp. However, they’re not sorted into weeks by ability.

And in Asia age: Yesterday I asked third grade “how old are you?” To which they responded “I am ten years old!” But in Korea you’re born a year old and age up every year on January first. As it was January, I caught them: “aha! Are you ten or are you eleven now?” Also as a consequence I’m 29 in Korea and 27 in international age.

The teacher who was on a gap year that enjoyed teaching English will not be able to come back in time this year; in addition G has been neither confirmed nor denied. I have zero idea who will be my two new co-teachers in March. (To me it’s so strange that every elementary teacher has to be certified in science, math, English, and music and yet no one at this school seems comfortable teaching in a English which is a subject they trained for).

S submitted her request to be a third grade homeroom teacher, followed by first then fifth. Because no one else at the school has obvious English abilities, I suspect English may fall again into her unwilling lap.

I started talking to a coordinator in the southeast region just to get an idea of what my options are if I want to move after this contract. At a glance, there is higher pay and lower air pollution, plus mountain-beach combo. Others have mentioned considering Jeju as well as the southwest region.

Seoul people say the south is rural but this entire province has about the same population and area of urban Atlanta, which no American would call rural.

Seoullites tend to say any city with less than 3 million people is rural; after all, Seoul and its surrounding area is the home of fifty percent of the population.

Indeed these thoughts are eight months in advance but fortune favors the prepared.

P.S. I took a flute home.

Week 19, A Letter

Dear grade 6,

Good riddan—I mean, goodbye! You were terrible to the end.

The girls of 6-2 raised overall points by crowding my desk to chat in addition to Seonghwa and two boys of 6-4. Now, the rest of you?

Climbing through windows, jumping on desks, fist fighting in the back of class. I know you kept shouting “Mission Impossible!” but that doesn’t give you a pass. It’s also the most English I’ve ever heard you speak.

All I can say is, I guess get it all out now because the misery of preparation for the Korean college entrance exam is now upon you.


Week 19, Monday

Guitar teacher played me an UNO reverse card and knocked on the classroom door after school to give me chocolate. “For giving me candy last week.”

We could play this game in escalation until I walk away with a car.

This morning I stepped on the back of Strong Girl’s shoe to make her trip. She turned around in the sea of students to shout 누구냐! But quickly amended to “aha teacher!”

I am twelve.

I will see more of her posse since the principal decided to change around winter camp, again, so I’ll have a few more fifth graders than expected. S asked me if that was okay, as if my answer beared any weight. I’m just riding the wave of Asia Time.

Since H is the resource teacher for student council and was a bit behind, I ran all the grade 5 classes while she worked on posters and badges. I felt less murderous than usual because I had control.

I made 5-2 listen to the same 3 sentence dialogue three times until they could repeat them back to me. They told me, oh yeah we know it, but when only the same two students raised their hands I kept repeating it. Oh do you really now?

In 5-1 I called out students who didn’t repeat along with the class or knocked on the desks of students who weren’t listening (my common MO in grade 4). And by no means would I call myself a strict teacher, but if you’re here you need to put in effort.

5-3 is higher level and rarely needs reminders (although they didn’t know what the target sentence and chapter title “what will you do during winter vacation?” meant until I translated into Korean). I have so many complaints about the textbook, mostly that it’s vocabulary and target sentence based with no explanation for what the grammar is or why we need to use it.

I asked 5-3 what they will during winter vacation and not one could answer. “Okay. We will study and then I will come back and ask every one of you.” I did. When they realized I was taking no prisoners they panicked. Maybe I’m sadistic but it felt good to see them struggle but then finally use basic future tense. Book be dammed!

I wound down after the events of the day by playing with the musical instruments in class. Since S leaves at 2:30 every day I’m going to start practicing the flute in the afternoons. Mostly so I can play the theme song of the Chinese drama I binge watched.

As the new year approaches I wonder…

Should I renew with this school? I know all the kids and routine. I’d at least like to move out of the studio and to a bigger place either north of here or east of the city (with a reasonable commute). I’m trying to stave off any decisions until I meet the new English teachers.

Is it worth trying for another school in another city for a change of scenery? Or is that throwing away a good thing for an unknown thing? The problem is the school might ask for my renewal in March even though my contract ends in August. Like damn, why can’t we run on Asia Time for this??

I’ve never really had a five year plan before because that would mean I must admit I’m mortal. But a plan is starting to take shape. I want to tell you but I don’t want to jinx anything. So stay tuned.

Week 18, Friday

I forgot to add that my fourth graders always request my “neck dance” when I play them this YouTube clip.

I can move my head independently of my neck like a chicken which they find amazing. “Abigail teacher, do the thing!”

S and the subject teachers had a special strategizing tea time (I declined the invitation) in which they schemed which grade to request for next year to maximize chances of success. Each year elementary public school teachers must reapply for their desired position. Subject teaching grants you few points so S has little bargaining room.

However, few teachers want to be the homeroom teacher to grade 1 (too young), grade 5 (my grade 4 babies! Who would reject them! Apparently there are “too many boys” so that grade is less desirable), and grade 6. Of the soon to be sixth graders, S commented “many students are violent and there are more with disabilities that you don’t know of because they don’t come to your English class.”

We’ll find out next year if S gets her preferred home room assignment. She wanted grade 3 or 4 but knows that with her small amount of points she’s safer requesting a less desirable position. I have no idea who will be an English teacher next year.

The school year is ending and students are behaving accordingly. I emotionally checked out of grade 6 today because they’re not worth the trouble. Some are good, some are bad, most are apathetic. As both a foreigner and a late comer, there’s not much I can do to curb their behavior at this point.

Two boys play fought and almost knocked over a cabinet and another walked across the top of the desks. I try to remember that there are kids that care. They are the ones who crowd my desk before class to play with Christmas props or ask me about WayV or make an effort to say goodbye as they leave.

In any case after next week I never have to see them again.

Week 18, Thursday

During warmup I asked 3-3 in Korean what they ate for Christmas (hamburgers! fried chicken! ddeokkbokki! chicken stir fry!) and what they received for Christmas. Nick Jr told me “candy”:


“Yes, the candy you gave me was a gift!” On Christmas eve he was the only kid hanging around the ddeokkbokki stand so I gave him one of the candies in my bag. Yes, I now carry candies in my bag like an old woman. I do mean that literally– old women here like to give me candy.

3-3 also has a new student. He’s Korean but spent the last three years in Kuwait. He told H that he is fluent in English.

Having perused job boards, the Middle East does not mess around with its English teaching.

H has taken to my improved Korean skills that were developed in her absence to ruthlessly quiz me. But it’s a torment I enjoy.

She let me ask her (complain to her) about my confusion with certain Korean pronunciation (see language corner for more). She exclaimed, “you are so smart! You have a good ear. You need to stay in Korea for a long time.”

Later she told me again, “you need to live here. Get married and have a baby here.”

(Is it too soon to tell you I want to stay another year? But at this school or at another school in a different city, I can’t say. To avoid stress I’m not thinking about it until next semester.)

Language Corner

Another note from today, that I actually picked up from watching English improvement videos in Korean (YouTuber Oliver gets my endorsement) in which Oliver told his audience that they cannot drop /t/ in “get some”.

If I hear a pronunciation error I make a note to myself, like a linguistic captain’s log.

Koreans pronounce /n/ with their tongues between their teeth. The sound is nearly the same as English /n/ BUT this tongue position affects pronunciation of following letters:

Can you dance? /ca nyoo dance/
How about you? /how abou nyoo/

I’ll be honest: sometimes it’s really disconcerting to practice “one” pronunciation and see a whole room of kids end up with their tongues sticking out.

Anohter note from today, that I actually picked up from watching English improvement videos in Korean (YouTuber Oliver gets my endorsement) in which Oliver told his audience that they cannot drop /t/ in “get some”.

A final -S in Korean is more like /t/. It’s a stop. BUT in between letters, it maintains /s/ sound. As a result, Koreans will pronounce these words the following ways:

ges /get/
get /get/
get some /gessome/

My students exhibited this exact behavior today with:
Let’s go outside /less go ousside/

Some have asked about the R>L pronunciation hiccup that is usually associated with Asian speakers. My Chinese students didn’t have this problem since Chinese has both English-similar R and L. However, since R in Korean is like the flap (rolled) R of Spanish, and the L of Korean can take on both Spanish-style flap (rolled) R or something like a deep L or merged R-L, my Korean students do have this problem. Not because they can’t pronounce English R (for the most part) but rather out of habit. But Korean speakers do have trouble when both English R and English L are combined: both S and G pronounce “world” as /wold/ and girl as /gir/.

In English L the tongue is relaxed and flat against the roof of the mouth. In Korean L the tongue is stiff and only the tip touches the roof of the mouth.

Today some students said “I like led” instead of “red”. One over-confident grade 5 girl says “liver” instead of “river” and I’m just like… please stop talking loudly above the other students thinking you’re better than them. This is just confusing them.

SO if you want to know if someone is Korean, listen for /rl/ and watch their mouths when they say /n/.

On to my mistakes…

Like English, Korean has what one might call “weak” vowels. They exist between strong vowels like /o/ and /ee/. It’s the reason for my terrible spelling. I’ve talked in previous posts about the j/jj/ch and double consonants battle.

(To refresh: Korean J exists on a spectrum between JJ and CH whose target moves depending on the speaker or where J is in the sentence. Often J sounds more like CH and I never know which letter to use if someone is dictating to me. There are also some speakers who even say J more like /ts/ so ..?)

My main issue is 어 (romanized as u or eo, like in Seoul). This tricky vowel falls between /ah/ and /o/. I swear I’ve heard it almost as /ah/ before and H confirmed my suspicion. I’ve also heard it as /uh/ and almost /o/. It can fall nearly anywhere between those sounds, again depending on the speaker or sentence placement. It proves trouble because I live at 건대 (“Geondae” /geondeh/ or Konkuk University) which is a place I mispronounce often as /gondeh/.

When I first came here I often wondered why people always seemed to be talking about meat 고기 /gogi/ but they were actually saying 거기 /geogi/ “there”.

For fun, you can put 없어요 into Google translate. It is “oepseoyoh” but you can judge for yourself how the weak vowels sound much like the “strong” final vowel.

There’s a funny anecdote I saw from an American YouTuber in Korea. She said she couldn’t hear the difference between eo and o for two years (there’s hope!) and kept wondering why people were asking “you don’t have a cucumber?” 오이가 없네 (o-ee-ga ome-neh) When in fact people were actually saying “are you *&$% kidding me” 어이가 없네 (eo-ee-ga ome-neh). Want listening practice? Watch the last four seconds of this, Do you think he was talking about cucumbers?

So anyway, my spelling is a disaster. I told H that the remedy is to simply learn more vocabulary. Come, memorize vocabulary, conquer.

Week 18, Monday Afternoon

Quick live update from grade 3:

When I sing Into The Unknown from Frozen 2 I have a chorus of echoing AaaAAAaaaaa from down the hallway. Magical.

Also Frozen 2 was great. We stan snow queens who leave their traditional lives behind to live in the woods and ride snow horses.