April 16, Birthday Countdown

I talk to my kids in a mix of Korean and English, often incorrectly mixing them when I don’t know words: “students, 9 moods 그리세요”.

I ask my kids all the time to translate and teach me words; they know I’m not trying to disrespect our languages. In fact, they are exuberantly happy to help this old teacher.

Earlier this week I misspoke when trying to explain “tired” and the kids were quick to correct. “Sorry sorry my bad,” I replied.

One absolute legend said “it’s okay, it’s okay, no worries,” with a certain feeling of recognizing that I made an effort and the mistake was not serious. She said it with a sort of wry gravitas that many adults are unable to grasp.

Kids are more observant than they get credit for.

Today I really hadn’t dressed up, at least what I considered to be dressy, for my birthday week. In fact, my mother would hate what I put on.

Yet my brown dress over a black turtleneck with a knotted hairband drew praise from female teachers and students alike. It must be Korean style because a parent started a conversation with me in the hall before quickly backing away upon realizing I’m not a native.

“Pretty!” One girl commented. I did an exaggerated hair flip and said thank you.

“Beautiful!” Another girl added. I did an even more exaggerated hair flip.

“No!” One boy disagreed.

I popped up from behind the desk where I was fiddling the getting my USB in correctly. (Wrong on the first guess as usual.)

“Did you say no?” I gasped. “I will kill you!” I dramatically gestured like Hamlet. The kids laughed.

Last week Seventeen fan doppelgänger commented about accents and today I showed them a clip of four different English speakers. They were able to hear the difference between American, English, Australian, and South African accents on words like daughter and leisure. Differentiating accents is not easy to do at a low level so I’m proud of their good ears!

5-2, the class with the doppelgänger and the teacher studying TESOL on the weekends, is just precious and taught me “snake” in Korean.

“What’s snake?” I asked in English.

“Snake.” They answered.

“No, I mean—“ I laughed in exasperation. Kids are the best unintentional comedians. “What’s snake in Korean?”

“뱀!” Ten students shouted at varying decibel levels.

“ㅂ ㅏ ㅣ ㅁ?”*

“Yes, yes that’s right.” They confirmed after shouting me through spelling it in Korean on the board.

One girl from 5-4, Olivia, who drew me a note on my first day, followed me out of class to give me a candy.

“Oh, it’s my birthday soon so this is a gift!”

She asked in Korean what date it is and then asked for my phone number, presumably to text me a happy birthday.

“You know that’s a no,” you little weirdo I did not add as I laughed. She called out happy birthday as I descended the stairs.

My coworkers presented me with a birthday cake topped with three lit candles.

“Is three right?” Jack asked.

“Three?”

“Because your Korean age is thirty.”

“…..yes.” I suppose three candles are easier than twenty nine.

After lunch when Jack had disappeared as per usual, Helen and I got to talking.

“Can I ask how old you are?” I had no idea and couldn’t guess. I would’ve assumed around my age.

“I’m… ten years before. Wait. After? I’m ten years older.”

“What??”

Helen is very petite and well dressed with not a wrinkle on her face.

She lives with her parents as the usual Korean way. I asked her if she wants to get married and she said “maybe if I really love someone but I like my life as it is.”

I nodded before she finished. A good marriage can improve your life and a mediocre marriage can make you miserable.

This is especially true here since Korea is more patriarchal, and among other things the wife is expected to prepare ancestral rites for her husband’s family as well as prepare food for all major holidays and take care of the children, often in addition to working full time. Traditional marriage is less and less appealing for the modern Korean woman.

Helen asked if I want to get married.

“When I was younger I wanted to and worried about it a lot. But good partners are surprisingly difficult to find. Now I think regardless of a partner, I’m more interested in having children. So I need think about saving money for adoption fees.”

I don’t know what the future holds but it’s easier to plan for having children than plan to fall in love. One is a choice and the other is dumb luck.

Helen said as the enters her 40s she just wants a comfortable life.

“These days after school I just go home, lay down, and watch YouTube.”

I often do the same…

But I’d still like to blame it on COVID. When you can’t leave the country or gather in groups bigger than 5 or see the bottom half of people’s faces free time takes a boring turn.

It’s interesting, and necessary, to talk to women older than me and see how perspectives change over time. When I can’t add to my bank of experiences, I should borrow a book from the library of someone else.

*ㅐ and ㅔare pronounced the same in modern Korean (short E like /bet/ in English) so to confirm spelling, people say 아 이 for ㅐ and 어 이 for ㅔ.

April 15

One impossibly sweet boy with round glasses and a broken arm in a green cast walked next to me as Jack and I exited the cafeteria. I asked him in Korean what happened and if his arm hurt.

“Oh… is it okay if I speak to you in Korean?” He asked.

“Yes, but I’m not very good so please speak slowly.”

This kid listened and proceeded with a delicacy most adults lack. Kids are so intuitive and I just love them.

Unfortunately, I still didn’t really know what he was saying; I think he was just trying to ask if it was okay to pose questions in Korean. I didn’t want to break our tenuous bond so I just said “sure” to whatever he was asking. Hope it wasn’t serious…

I finally caught up with Jack who said, “your Korean is really good.” No, Jack, I just faked my way through most of that conversation. I might have just promised him $100 or given him permission to call me Abs.

I wonder how I can even call myself intermediate if I understand so little of what happens around me.

It’s very frustrating.

When I miss a few days of Anki flashcards, the program piles up 200 cards for me to review.

Maybe more targeted learning in context is necessary—watching YouTube videos in and about Korean, giving that famous Language Learning with Netflix Chrome extension a whirl, defining vocabulary in immediate use but not adding it to any list to study.

I learned the word for “rainbow” when putting together pre-reading activities for my travel school kids. Sixth grade taught me “bathroom”.

Luckily for me, the kids are forgiving and helpful. Who doesn’t want free tutors?

But I’m still not learning fast enough to talk to a fourth grader and for that I am discontent.

April 14, Teaching Methods

Yana told me every week the teachers meet with other teachers in their collective sphere to discuss best practices.

Apparently the science teacher, who is also head teacher in charge of the school’s curriculum, wrote the book on teaching. Quite literally, he wrote a book. If my Korean were above a first grader’s I would read it.

My travel school may be socioeconomically similar to my former Seoul school, but the staff of each are different. In Seoul it seemed like a lot of teachers were biding their time until they could rotate out to a better school after their five year contracts ended.

Here the teachers are well aware of the situation– below level national test scores, various types of economic and social challenges, family hardships– and make strides to better themselves for the sake of their students.

At least, that’s what Yana and I have seen in sixth grade, especially 6-2, who is lead by the “youngest person at school”. One of the boys from the orphanage who had a hard time took it upon himself to write vocabulary and translations in his notebook during class. Of his own volition! And his handwriting is really good on top of that!

His friend is still out in the weeds but does seem a little more motivated. Yana sees them three times a week and can better diagnose their improvements but I can agree that 6-2 has especially brought their A-game to class, even if their background knowledge isn’t all there.

“I want to ask the 6-2 teacher what his secret is.” She wondered aloud on our after-lunch walk.

The classes went surprisingly well today given how tough it was to plan. We bemoaned the book’s wild expectations and decided to make next week’s class a review on the twelve months only.

Yana picked me up in the morning and also dropped me off in the evening. She missed my exit as she told me what the subject teachers had discussed in their meeting.

“And he showed us three clips. The first teacher taught well but didn’t understand her students. The second was kind but boring. The third had no rapport with her kids.” The science teacher/author had asked the teachers to think about what type of teacher they were and how they can improve. It was reminiscent of a lot I learned from my teaching license coursework. And G. We need to build a relationship with our students and engage from both sides.

“I’ve memorized almost all of fifth and sixth grade,” she noted proudly, “but I don’t know third and fourth grade well. There are too many students.”

I know maybe three of my students. There are so many that I gave up memorizing until after COVID. I know this is lazy.

Maybe I can memorize the 80 students at my travel school and get a few names from my more outgoing kids at the main school.

At this point I spend too much time planning but haven’t got the hang of it all yet. Yana asked if I work on planning at home like she does. I don’t and the honest reason is because I’m not the main teacher and I don’t have a main teacher’s salary. Working on lesson planning for more than the 3-4 hours of office hours would say more about my poor time management than dedication.

But a message came through on the group chat– one high school needs a foreign teacher to give English instruction to a small class of ten once a week. For two hours the pay is one hundred dollars.

I jumped at the chance for extra gas money and also the chance to work with high schoolers in such an ideal environment. Unfortunately, I was five minutes late to the chat and became the second understudy.

There should be another opportunity to coach high school English debate teams, but with COVID that has been pushed to an undetermined date. Like nearly all things with COVID.

I’ve enjoyed the scant opportunities I’ve had to teach teenagers in the past, and I hope I can get more opportunities to broaden my teaching experience in the near future.

Curriculum Challenges

Month 2 and I still find I just don’t have the time or resources to teach my students all that they should know. Planning for my travel school has become an exercise in frustration.

Here’s an example—

At my travel school, I teach one of the three classes fifth and sixth graders have per week. This week sixth grade starts chapter 3. Chapter 3 has vocabulary like “Earth Day, field day, concert”.

Oh, and the kids are also supposed to already know all twelve months and the ordinal numbers first to thirty first. Was there any chapter that taught that? No. Did they learn months and ordinal numbers in fifth or fourth or third grade? Also no.

This book assumes the students already know the months or assumes that I can teach the chapter vocabulary along with the twelve months and the days of the week across one chapter. More likely the former is true and this book series assumes all the students attend private English classes and thus doesn’t bother to go over the basics. I had the same problem in Seoul. I remember when the vice principal told C and me that “the kids are not good at English”. Of course that really meant, “the kids don’t attend private classes to they aren’t on level with the national curriculum”. Isn’t that rather a reflection of us as teachers? I thought at the time. Teachers at other schools have echoed the sentiment and as someone from a country where all learning takes place at school, I find it sad that students are expected to take additional classes just to be at level.

That any curriculum would assume prior, private learning outside the national public curriculum is a disservice to all students.

At my travel school, I have one 40-minute period with these students for chapter 3, and a majority of them can’t read. What in the world am I to do?

The curriculum is so frustrating.

A similar situation plays out in my main school, but nearly all the students have attended private English classes since they were young. At private academies they learn grammar rules and vocabulary which is something neither school book series does. The school books are written on sentence pattern memorization. I’m surprised my sixth graders knew how to even make a sentence with a pronoun outside of “I’ since the books gloss over verb conjugation for he/she/it/they/we/you.

I joked with my friend Rachel that the textbooks are written like: day 1, ABC. Day 2, Go straight then take a left at the grocery store.

I struggled with this in Seoul and I struggle with this here. With one 35 to 40 minute class per week with my students, I’m at a loss of how to improve this situation when really the national curriculum needs to be changed.

Since I am not the government, I’ll do my best to expose students to native English and make classes that leave them with happy memories of English– they’ll need that for the future when the college entrance exam prep sucks all joy from learning a language.

April 13, Fistfight

I was waiting in the hallway in a little alcove when I caught the tail end of a fight. Two tall fifth grade boys were outside the bathroom, each clutching at their chest or stomach in pain; both appeared to be crying angrily. A sweet boy in a vest was between them. He pushed them apart then led them to class: the bowl cut boy in front of him, being pushed like a lawnmower, and the permed hair boy holding on to his vest like a spurned lover and being dragged along.

When I came out of the alcove, the two fighting boys were in the midst of a talk with the homeroom teacher, and I had a job to get 5-5 calmed down enough from our rescheduled time to get in their seats and get ready.

I knew the two boys, once they came back in with red eyes, would likely be emotionally offline for English class and so I didn’t expect them to participate.

Then something amazing happened. While the kids were watching a short clip, the boy with a bowl cut turned around to the permed hair boy who happened to sit behind him. I kept my eye out for another fight but what happened instead was this: The boy with a bowl cut said something quietly to the boy he had got into a fistfight with not ten minutes earlier. He patted and held the other boy’s hand for just a moment and I knew they had made up.

Their eyes were dry by the end of class.

Can’t say the same for me!

April 12, Driver’s License

I don’t know if the mystical bearded taxi man from last time communicated with his taxi brothers but I had another adventure at the Korean DMV.

After I got another updated form from my local office about all of my past entries to and exits from Korea since my birth to present, I scheduled a taxi with the Kakao Taxi App which isn’t much different from Uber. The DMV is thirty minutes away by car or an hour by bus… a bus that comes every 90 minutes.

It’s also located on a country road at the edge of town but I guess since many Koreans don’t drive, it wouldn’t be placed in a more accessible location for car-less plebeians like me. Or maybe it’s just Asia Time logic.

A brusque older man, sans majestic beard, picked me up. We drove through mountains and over bridges and in tunnels and finally pulled into the DMV lot.

The taxi driver, I assume not wanting to forfeit that sweet long distance fee, offered to wait in the parking lot to drive me back. He didn’t want to wait too long, however, and came inside with me to ask the DMV desk how long processing would take to decide if my fee back home would be worth it.

So I was led by a gruff taxi man through the long but fairly empty DMV situated on the side of a mountain. He explained my situation to the woman as if he were my translator rather than taxi driver and it was so truly surreal that I just accepted this strange turn of events and handed over my pile of paperwork.

Of course Asia Time struck again. The woman told me I needed to get a certificate of residency from another government office down the road since my current address and address on my physical ID don’t match.

That’s because I updated my address via the immigration website. But it really makes you wonder why that’s an option if no one uses the online system to confirm addresses…

So I hopped back in the taxi to the building down the road and was in and out in less than two minutes. I debated on getting two copies because who knows? But ultimately rushed off with just the one.

Taxi man and I repeated the process and after mass confusion about where to get my eye exam (a shack on the other side of the parking lot) I could finally sit and wait 15 minutes for my license to be printed.

And once again, Asia Time. Five minutes into waiting the woman behind booth 1 motioned at me and I picked up my shiny new license.

Level unlocked! Access to lands unknown gained!

I hoisted the license above my head when I finally got back in the taxi and the driver cheered. The way back was much looser and I asked about his grandkids and what’s the best subcompact car to buy. He asked if I was married (lol), what I do, and where I’ve been around Jinhae since he’s from the same town.

I told him how I have so many students and with the constant mask wearing I don’t know their names.

“You know, when I go to lunch they all take their masks off to eat. But when I see their faces without masks, I can’t recognize them!”

He laughed and I applauded myself for being able to tell stories in sad, intermediate Korean.

I requested he drop me off at the Lotte Mart so I could buy dinner. He seemed to have forgotten to restart the meter at some point in our treacherous journey and just charged me a flat price which I knew was slightly less than standard.

As I exited the mall with my dinner, a young guy at a booth offered me a sticker. I love stickers! And I figured he’d be too afraid to talk to me in English.

Wrong again, Abs.

Non-profit workers absolutely will grind you down in any language. I appreciate his effort even if ultimately I didn’t donate to clean water in Africa.

A speaker from training long ago told us hat Korea likes to donate to outside causes as a way to show the world it has lifted itself out of poverty. Korea is giving the money now, not receiving.

I won’t knock a non-profit but I’ve donated to a single fathers group here. Supporting people at home is important, too.

As frustrating as the day started, with antsy students and unforeseen paperwork, there was magic in the chaos. Some magic that has been sorely missed!

I look forward to exploring the countryside in my beat up little car, once I have one.

April 9, Skinship

The tides are turning, and skinship is finally making a reappearance after a long drought in contact-free corona times. As you probably know by now, Korean society is generally much more touchy among people familiar with each other.

In between fifth grade classes, one homeroom teacher in the lounge exclaimed something at me in delight, and not knowing what she was talking about, I looked to the other teacher in confusion who simply watched as I was bodily guided to class.

“It’s time for English class, let’s go together!” My captor said.

I love spending time with my students and don’t have Sunday blues because I look forward to seeing them again. 5-2 taught me that Korean also has two words for bathroom and restroom which veered into a small tangent about the American dialect.

“America has a dialect?” One boy asked, one boy who strongly resembles Seventeen Fan from Seoul. At least, above the mask and in his mannerisms.

“Yes, there’s American dialect, UK dialect, Australian dialect…” I started and he murmured in amazement. Maybe that can be our intro video for next week.

Two girls in 5-4 chatted with me in English in the hall before class started. One took the glasses from her friend and attempted to put them on me whilst saying I’d look like a college professor. The girls all enjoyed my pink look today– pink collared shirt under a white scoop necked long sleeve shirt and pink structured coat. She gave up on completing my look when the glasses ended up in my ears rather than atop them. Soon both girls pulled me into class citing the time.

For every fifth grade class I demonstrated our “May I?” sentence pattern by asking different students for things: may I sit here? May I have your pencil case? May I take your notebook? I ended up like a queen in one class, a pile of stolen items in my new throne. They found it amusing and it got the point across, double win!

As the lunch hour started, one boy in the cafeteria line waved and said hello but I saw a flash of red.

“What’s on your hand?” I asked. He flipped his hands over in confusion so I gently took his right hand and pointed.

“Oh…” He mumbled in sudden shyness. There were notes written in red. He didn’t have time to explain as the lunch line was pulled along.

After lunch Jack and I were walking up the outdoor stairs when I spotted some fourth graders on the pavement. I complimented one girl’s floral print dress and another boy nearer to me ran to the stairs to yell my name.

As I stood on the landing, he reached above himself and out to me so I caught his hand. He hung off of it pretending as though I was saving him form falling. The girl in the flower dress and her friend, not to miss out on the fun, also came over to reach for my other hand. For a moment I was bent over the metal railing with three kids hanging off of me as though I was a singer reaching down into the crowd. To feel their sweet little touch—I’ve missed it so much! Even at the cost of my slightly crushed stomach.

The reality was right after I thought: I guess I should wash my hands because of COVID. There are so many times I hesitate in being affectionate because one of many terrible things about this pandemic is having to distance ourselves from others.

I walked back to the office with cleaned hands and intercepted some more students who wanted to say hi.

I asked Helen what part of the lesson I should focus on next week which is our usual plan. She teaches two of the theee weekly sixth grade English classes.

She asked that I complete a writing portion of the textbook which was a bit surprising as I usually leave book work to her and focus on speaking or writing activities separate from the text.

“I started it this week but couldn’t finish. Students had to write about their own experiences being sick but they were asking me about 탈수 and 폐렴. I didn’t know those words in English. I had to stall and pretend.” She explained.

“I was so embarrassed, as the English teacher I should know.”

I assured her it’s difficult to know medical terms like dehydration and pneumonia off the top of your head, but ultimately our thinking is different.

I don’t mind if the students know I’m wrong or can be wrong, so long as we maintain respect for each other. I ask the students all the time for Korean help, and they know I search on the internet for translations if I can’t answer their questions. I hope they know we can learn together… and I do regularly ask them to teach me when I have Korean knowledge gaps in class. Free tutoring!

And thus, it was a very good Friday.

April 7

Have you ever tried to teach a reading portion of a chapter to a group of students who don’t know how to read?

That was my Wednesday.

I broke down the reading into smaller chunks knowing many students at my travel school struggle: I introduced the topic with a real video to stimulate background knowledge; students circled new vocabulary in the text and then wrote definitions by each circled word; students did think pair share with questions about the topic for prereading; students listened to the text, listened and repeated the text, then read aloud as a group; students answered the post reading questions.

I did my best but it was not enough. Many students simply can’t read English and so all these efforts were for naught.

Yana and I discussed at length what to do. She said the school will soon get funding for remedial classes and she’s considering assigning homework to bring kids up to speed.

But it is incredibly tough to teach kids who have already had two to three years of English education but don’t recognize letters.

At the very least the sixth graders did well with think pair share and helped each other fill in answers during post reading. Ultimately, effort is more important than ability. As G once said, “I don’t care if you’re good at English. I care that you’re a good person.”

Yana said she’s been complimenting the classes more and praising their hard work which she thinks helped change their attitude a little. For sixth grade at least.

Fifth grade was a nightmare— rude students, apathetic students, group work that descended into immaturity, and a general sense of craziness that tired Yana and me out.

Yana told me she wakes up early for alone time where she exercises, studies English, and reviews real class demos for ideas.

She said she wants to be an English teacher for a long time but with the rotating school system and yearly reapplication she’s not sure if she will be again. I love that she’s constantly expanding her knowledge which pushes me to keep up with best teaching practices.

At the same time, I think this type of school is meant for a Korean teacher. The Korean government sponsors me to teach conversational English, but if students can’t recognize the alphabet let alone make a sentence, then resources should first be funneled to solve this. I want all students to have access to a native teacher but I don’t have the face to face time or language skills or position of authority or frankly the training to really improve these classes. These problems are beyond my scope as a guest English teacher.

While I love my main school, I’m starting to feel the drag of 22 separate and non-repeating classes each week. With close to 500 students and COVID limitations I feel the gap between us: it’s difficult to form a relationship with kids I see once a week for 35 minutes. All of it makes me think more carefully about the future and what kind of teaching position is best for me.

I definitely want to be wanted— by the school and by the students. I want my skillset to be maximized. I would love to leave when teaching is done. I would enjoy smaller class sizes or higher frequency of the same group. I would like to work with mature students who are capable of high level discussion and projects (compare the sixth grade of my main school to my travel school for example).

For now, I’ll take a leaf out of Yana’s book and keep trying my best.

April 6

Today was chaos. 5-6 was frustrating and my notes from the last month show that they have always been frustrating, namely because of three loud boys who don’t stay on task.

I don’t mind loud boys, but I cannot tolerate rude boys. I might just send them out of class next time, since their peers and my class time suffer because of their poor behavior.

5-5 was, to my absolute shock, on time today! The homeroom teacher stayed until 10AM to ensure all the students were seated with books out before he took off presumably for the teacher’s lounge. I commended their preparedness and felt my heart shed the gloom from the previous class. Students eagerly raised their hand to participate in our small loosening up game where two race to write a given sentence.

But chaos persisted– the round was two girls, one of whom kept forgetting capital letters and the other who forgot words of our long sentence. The class started shouting at the second girl to help her and she ultimately won.

I patted her on the shoulder and declared her the winner while the other girl sheepishly grinned and fixed “saturday”.

The second girl was frozen in place, chalk still in her hand resting where she had drawn the period.

When I looked closer, between her baseball cap and mask, her face was wet. For a bizarre moment I thought she may have had a terribly runny nose. It wasn’t— she was silently sobbing against the blackboard.

Oh boy.

I patted her gently and guided her back to her seat while redirecting the next pair of students to the board to take eyes off of her. We moved on to our script writing activity and she was still head down on her desk while her peers flitted around making such scripts as “Let’s go to the park this weekend. Sorry but I go to the cooking club on Saturdays.”

I crouched down next to her and told her she could use the bathroom. I’m sure that taking a moment to wash her face and step outside of class would have helped her calm down, but I didn’t have enough Korean to explain that. The scene of Ralphie’s mom laying a cold cloth against his neck from A Christmas Story came to mind.

Instead I told her she did a great job spelling and gave her a sticker, although finding a dry, tearless spot on her open textbook was hard. I let her chill the rest of class.

Sometime in my elementary days, I participated in a class spelling bee. I was nearing the final rounds when I misspelled “cities” as “citys” and got booted out. Guess who cried in front of the class? Me. So I feel for that girl, and I don’t want it to be a negative memory or dissuade her from participating in the future.

Sixth grade was great and two boys made a play about going bald. 6-1 was very proud of themselves for beating all other classes in the timed reading activity. “And we have the most students of any class in this grade!” They made sure to point out to me.

In the sixth grade teacher’s lounge, I was offered a macaron from GJ but declined. We both agree that macarons are too sweet.

Other teachers came in and started to talk about the previous native speaker teachers. I eavesdropped while taking notes about class behavior in my planner and gleaned that one was a black man from South Africa and another had gotten married and moved to Masan.

“Whenever we talk on the phone she tells me, ‘Unnie, please speak Korean slowly!'” One said of the Masan foreign teacher.

I suppose that means one of the sixth grade homeroom teachers was once an English teacher.

My Korean learning still seems to be moving at a snail’s pace. To be fair, studying four hours a day will obviously yield different results than four hours a week…

Life still seems a bit up in the air, somehow stagnant yet unpredictable. I miss travelling, I miss seeing my kids’ faces, I miss the feeling of possibility that somehow lost magic once this pandemic begun.

When I feel stressed about the future, I make a “possibility” map and like the 4D person I am, map out every opportunity and every result.

It’s too early to think about the next contract and yet…

The school will ask around November/December if I plan to renew so I need to put those thoughts out of mind until then.

I think having a car will give me a sense of freedom in this otherwise limited pandemic life. I live so close to so many interesting countries and yet I haven’t traveled for fun in almost two years…

Helen and I talked in the morning about women’s checkups and periods, and then in the afternoon when Jack had disappeared and Helen had left for her appointment, the floating teacher and I talked for two hours in a mix of Korean and English about cars, local schools, and the macarena.

Still, though, the last few weeks have put me through a meat grinder. How did I ever work full time before? And more importantly, how can I make make money and not work full time ever again?

My body is not equipped for 9 to 5, or rather, contractually obligated hours regardless of workload.

Something to think about as I reconstruct my future.

April 1

This morning I called my mom en route to school and she told me that the neighborhood bear had quite literally invited itself in through the back porch door to eat MnMs on the kitchen counter.

My parents have a security camera on the front porch and I showed the fourth graders an older clip of that same bear moseying through our front yard.

I continued the story in Korean: “My mom and I talked. Yesterday, that same bear came inside the house.” There was a collective gasp and even I got goosebumps.

“Do you know the candy ‘MnMs’? It came to eat the MnMs. Our dog was very angry and barked a lot. In the end, the bear just ate and left.” They all laughed at the last part.

One student asked, “is the bear a chocoholic?” He is indeed.

I looked at the sea of little faces this morning and was overcome with affection.

I wish interacting with adults was as easy.

At lunch, I ate quickly and quietly which is my usual MO in an attempt to keep up with Jack who somehow always finishes faster than me, even if he’s engaged in conversation about his wife.

I usually listen peripherally but don’t understand much. The conversation took a turn and Jack told the two young teachers across from us in Korean that I was around their age.

Now, I didn’t quite catch all he said but he gave them a brief history to let them know I studied Korean and then said it must be difficult to speak and listen here because of the local dialect.

Here’s the thing, friends—Gyeongnam dialect is not obscure or unintelligible like the different Chinese dialects are.

The problem is that I’m just not good at Korean. It doesn’t matter what accent you use to speak if I can’t understand the vocabulary…

I had flashbacks of the office staff in Seoul telling me they thought I was impolite because I didn’t talk much when the reality was (and is) I’m simply not fluent. I just want people to know that I’m not rude, I’m just dumb!

Unfortunately, my Korean is just good enough to make me look purposefully standoffish instead of clueless.

I have no qualms staggering through conversations with friends or homeroom teachers, but it’s a bit different in a large group where my singular improficiency will slow the conversation.

The only solution is to become fluent!

Things are still a bit quiet in our office. Jack usually disappears for hours to attend to after school classes or presumably hang out with other middle aged men on the roof which leaves Helen, the floating teacher, and me.

The floating teacher is probably in her 40s and doesn’t speak much English, as she’s apologized before (which I told her was unnecessary).

After lunch we are usually all working in comfortable silence. I’m finishing lesson plans for the next day, the floating teacher is ordering office equipment, and Helen is listening to something with her headphones.

She often talks to the floating teacher in Korean and in a tone wildly different, almost sharp, than her nice English. We haven’t chatted since her brief explanation of how to use the online portal last week.

Sometimes I feel like a made a misstep somewhere. With Yana it’s a bit different because we’re in the classroom at the same time and as a first time English teacher she seems eager to develop our relationship, but Jack, Helen, and I are only together in the office for planning hours.

I don’t know if the previous foreign teacher was really chatty and by comparison I seem standoffish, or if our shared quiet typing is acceptable. I’ll have to try breaking the silence next time and observe the reaction.

I do like the floating teacher though: in our brief alone time she usually gives me treats (because she feels bad the others are gossiping about me? My overthinking brain supplied unhelpfully).

Baked sweet potatoes, apple juice, candy, chocolate. I don’t even know her name but I feel like we vibe. She actually inspired me to start steaming my own sweet potatoes which is quite easy with a rice cooker!

Kids are weird but wonderful and at the end of the day it’s only important that they like me… the most, because who am I if not a little bit competitive?