Archive | November, 2011

Love in Korea

26 Nov

Love, what’s their to say? What is it? When do you it’s real? Will I ever find it? Is it even for me? Can you love another if you don’t love yourself first? Is love just a chemical reaction stirred up by the brain?

So many questions, I can spend hours, years even deciphering those questions and still be just as clueless as before. I thought I had found love numerous times, but then something always happened, whether it was infidelity or pure boredom and it just never seemed to work out. I’ve tried to make it work, but then something always stood in the way of what I consider perfection. maybe that’s just it, nothing is perfect, love isn’t perfect, and I should stop shooting for that perfect man. BUT, why settle? Why settle for something that isn’t perfect, that is only half of you want. Aw see, back to square one.

I came to Seoul to find myself, to be on my own, to be alone, and the last thing I want or need right now is a relationship. I left a great love back home and came to Korea to explore myself, and explore another world unknown to me, not to delve into so-called love. Their are bigger issues out there that need to be dealt with, and my own selfish needs have consumed me for far to long.

Yes, I need to be happy as well but for once, I just want to take things one day at a time, and let life happen for me, and try to make a difference in the lives of my children. At times, I get frustrated at work, or stressed or lazy after the 7th hour of teaching but I just realized last Friday at work made it all worth it.

The school held a Thanksgiving event day, why I don’t know, because technically Koreans don’t celebrate thanksgiving like Americans but the school wanted to show Korean what it was all about, giving thanks.

The kids put on multiple performances, singing and dancing and it brought me to a tear. After only 3 months with these kids, I got so emotional seeing them perform. I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I didn’t know if it was homesickness or thanksgiving but either way, I was so filled with emotions when I saw the kids take the stage.

I’m scared to even think about how I am going to feel when I leave this place, when I leave the kids I’ve seen grow up before my very eyes. Is this what parenting feels like? It’s scary! It’s to emotional! I’m not ready for that just yet, my students now make me happy and fill me with voids I’ve had in my life for a long time.

Anyways, I don’t know how a post on love turned into this, but I guess love is what you make of it. Love is genuinely caring about another person, and their well being.



20 Nov

My GREs are over! Yay! Ok, I did average but hey it’s ok, now I can start applying to grad schools.

I want to reminisce a little bit on the whole experience, considering I did take it while in Korea and not back at home in California.

First of all, I work full-time as a teacher and it is no cake walk! Secondly, I’m trying to learn Korean which again is no a piece of cake, and third, I have school loans so I do extra tutoring on the side so that’s another piece of cake gone missing. Fourthly, haha, fourthly sounds strange, I need to find time to work out, grocery shop, clean my apartment, yoga, go to the doctor, go to the Korean target, and oh yeah HAVE A LIFE. After all, I might only be in  Korea for a year, and I’m trying to meet as many Koreans as possible! How else would I be getting all of this information?

So overall, I have about one slice of cake left and that is dedicated to studying. It has been tough! It’s been 8 years since my last standarized test, and I just don’t have the stamina anymore. Plus, I haven’t seen a geometry problem in 10 years, and let’s face it, some of the vocabulary on the test, no one uses those words! I’m an American, I like my vernacular, haha.

So back to the test, after a 70 minute subway ride, I walk to the testing center which is about a ten-minute walk from the subway. The whole time trying to get in those last vocabulary words ingrained into my memory. Palms sweating, brain racing, basically scared shitless.

I want to do well, I want to do amazing, but I know my test taking skills are bad, I know that my vocabulary isn’t as extensive as I’d like it to be, and I know I am slow on answering tricky math problems.

So, I go in to the building, and their is about 50 other people, all with the same anxious look on their face, all waiting to take this terrible 5-hour test. About 80% are Korean, while the rest are various foreigners. I’m thinking hey, Koreans are taking the test, I have a chance, I can kill it! but then I think again, they probably studied for 7,083 hours more than I did, and they will probably kill me in the math section. Shit.

It’s ok though, I pump myself up again, and this time I’m cool, calm and collected. I give my ID, take my test and the test begins. You start with the two essays, those aren’t to bad, they are about topics I am somewhat passionate about, but hey hey hey, this is the GRE, you need to be impartial.

Then the English, WOW OH WOW, hardest verbal section ever. Then math, ugh…huh? Then English again, alright not to bad. Break time. I drink some water, eat some peanuts and get to it again.

By this time, my mind is weary, my eyes are strained, and my attention span is worse than a pineapple. Of course, the last three sections are much easier, but now I’m lazy, and I just want to look at the problems and know the answers without really thinking them through. I start using the calculator A LOT, I start going with my gut and not using process of elimination. I’m hoping for the best and wishing for the perfect score, hahaha.

In the end, I got average, and I was content, not wanting to cry but not always ecstatic. Hey, I’m not a genius, what can i say?

I leave mentally exhausted, and all I want to do is eat, I havent eaten in 7 hours, and those peanuts weren’t exactly a meal.

In my opinion, they need to change the test, why is it so long? Why are the essays first? Why not one essay, one verbal, one quantitative and call it a day. No ones brain works on hyperdrive for that long and consistently enough to do amazing on every single question, and if someones does, they are obviously on adderall or ritalin.


A Korean Wedding

13 Nov

Alrighty! So, at the moment I am practically dying of a sinus infection. The weather here is so dry that my sinuses can’t handle it and even after a week of anti-biotics and a shot, I am still no closer to getting better. I don’t know how the fifteen pills a day regimen didn’t help but maybe our drugs in the United States are just that much stronger.

So, I am sick, I have my GRE in five days and am not nearly prepared enough and to top it off, I had to go to a Korean wedding yesterday.

I’ve been here three months, and this is already my second wedding! What?!

I’ve been to more weddings in Korea than I have in my entire life in the U.S.

Even though, I genuinely didn’t want to go and was sick, my co-worker assured me that attending the first co-worker’s wedding and not the second’s would have been rude.

The first wedding I went to was about two months ago, and back then it was new, it was exciting, I was intrigued. BUT, this time it was totally different. I was bored, uncomfortable, and I honestly felt kind of dumb.

I’m sure being ill didn’t help, but Korean weddings are honestly just not very fun.

You go to a big hall, or church, or building, the first thing you do is pay for your attendance. Well, technically you are giving the happy couple a gift but you basically grab an envelope, put however much money you want into it, give it to the man at a table at the entrance and then you get a food ticket. Essentially, you’re paying for your meal while also giving them a gift.

The second thing you do is go to see the bride, who is sitting alone in a beautiful room surrounded by lights, white flowers, white vases, white everything, and you take pictures with her. It’s very systematic, you take a picture, you leave, the next person goes, and so on. All the while, the bride is sitting there for well over an hour smiling, nodding, and taking pictures with people she’s probably only met one time in her life.

Once that is over, the ceremony can begin, it’s not the traditional Westen-style wedding where the groom is at the front and the wedding song begins and the bride walks down the aisle and the groom sees her for the first time in her dress. Nope! The groom walks in first, then the parents, and then the bride, it’s like a train. haha I guess that is the only way I can put it. It’s not as romantic to me for some reason, the groom seeing the bride, them standing in place at the back of the room and trying to make it look like a Westernized wedding but it’s not really.

The ceremony lasts for about 20-30 minutes, and since I’m not fluent in Korean, I have no idea what is going on, I just doze off or stare at my phone. Not to mention, everyone is talking! I’m use to silence during the exchanging of the vows, but everyone is just chattering away, laughing, pretending like it’s just another day. I thought it was rude but, then again their technically was no exchanging of vows, the pastor talked and that was it. No kiss, no hug, no ring exchange, NOTHING!

Once that’s over, it’s time for more pictures. First, their is a picture of the bride and groom with their entire family in the background. Second, comes the “friends” pictures, where all the husband’s friends stand behind him, and all the bride’s friends stand behind her, apparently the larger the group, the more successful in life and marriage the couple will be. I think the sentiment is nice, but at this point, I’m hungry, in pain from my sinuses, grumpy, and tired of not understanding what is going on.

Finally, we can eat! We head downstairs and my co-workers and I sit at a long table. I sit next to the oldest and most religious teacher, and on the other side my favorite teacher who I love and doesn’t even teach at my school anymore because she’s pregnant. Across is the other older teacher, so already I’m like great, this is going to be terrible.

 But then I notice something that lifts my spirits, SOJU! Even though I’m sick, I’m thinking one soju might lighten my spirits a little bit but for some reason, no one is drinking the soju in the middle of the table. I’m staring at it, wishing I weren’t sick, wishing my co-workers would make themselves a drink but they don’t and I’m stuck. I decided since I am sick it’s best not to indulge in one measily drink, and I definitely don’t want to be the only one drinking at the table.

The first few courses are brought to the table, and the last few are buffet style which i didn’t really understand but at this point I didn’t care, I just wanted to eat. The soup was great, just what I needed, spicy shrimp not so much. Noodles were ok, bulgogi was ok, overall it was just OK.

All the teachers speaking in Korean just sucked, I couldn’t keep up, and was to sick to smile and pretend to be happy even though I just wanted to go home.

After a pretty lame $40 dinner, an American would want some drinks and some dancing, but not Koreans! Their is no reception, no party, no celebration, everyone just eats and goes home, the only time you get to be with the bride is for five seconds during the picture at the beginning of the whole thing. I thought the point of the wedding was to celebrate it with all of the people you love and care about, and to want those people to hear the special vows to the person you plan to spend your life with.

Is this really what the “sacred” institution of marriage is all about?

Another Day, Another House Wife

3 Nov

Teaching is amazing, it’s a truly great feeling. Seeing the smiling faces on the children every morning, seeing their cute little outfits, but I especially love their attempts to say “good morning Michelle teacher” because their Korean accent always sneaks in. Day after day, I slowly began to notice something though; every single child was being dropped off by their mother. Wow, I thought to myself.

There are a few rare occasions when I would see the grandfather and grandmother drop off the kiddies but eighty percent of the time, it’s their mothers. They are usually dressed to the tee, looking ready for a long day out on the town. Some of the moms carpool, some walk together in groups to drop the little Koreans off but it’s always the mothers, always beautiful, and they are usually always house wives.

At times, I think to myself that could be me that could be the life I could be living. But then I think again, and I realize that could never be me. I would never trade my life right now for their lives.

God willing, the mothers of my students are doing something besides shopping, eating and gossiping with friends. Hopefully, they are being active members in society and making a well-deserved contribution to Seoul society but more than likely they aren’t.

Many Korean women are raised to be house wives, focusing their attention on keeping the men in their life happy and healthy with little focus on their wants and needs. In many women’s minds as long as there is bread on the table and their husband comes home at a reasonable time, that is suffice for them, but not for me, never for me.

I want more; I deserve more and so do women all across man-centric Seoul and Asia for that matter. Unfortunately gender inequality is just another fact of life in Korean culture, another accepted norm by women across the country.

Yet, statistics show many women in Korea do work BUT one must always look at the socio-economic background of these women, many come from lower class families and therefore work to help maintain the family. Many of the married women in Seoul tend to come from the “high” society or from more respected Korean families.

I work and live in Songpa-gu, the wealthiest district in Seoul, and every single one of my Korean, women co-workers lives in other areas in Seoul, more inexpensive areas, less ritzy areas. Songpa is considered an area of happy families, and even happier husbands, considering most work in downtown Seoul and away from their families. After all, in Korean culture, it is normal to work sixty-hour work weeks at the very least, let’s not forget to mention, Korean’s largest company, its pride and joy, Samsung has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. So, something is going on here, what exactly happens behind closed doors? Well…one can only assume.

Life at a hagwon

1 Nov

Hagwon is Korean for a private school. Some teachers work at hagwons while others work at public schools. The hours are different, the pay is different, and the vacation time is also different.

At my hagwon, their is fourteen women including myself, and two males. The first male is the only other English teacher along with myself and he is also from the United States. The second male is the Principal. Every morning, the Principal sits with all of the Korean women teachers and talks (lectures) them on how they need to improve, and what needs to change. Luckily, I don’t have to come into work until an hour after the Korean teachers, and when I do, the meeting is over.

When I speak to the Korean teachers who I am pretty good friends with, all I hear is horror stories and how incredibly stressed out they are because of the Principal. Needless to say, my encounter with the Principal is usually just a hi and how are you? and sometimes he’ll say you need to learn Korean now, and I just laugh, but secretly I know more Korean than he thinks and I plan to keep it that way.

Throughout the day, the English teachers rotate from class to class and teach multiple subjects to multiple age groups, and the Principal sits in his office all day long. Oh, his corner office is as big as a classroom, while myself and four other teachers share an office about the size of his. Great isnt it?

The occassional five minutes the Principal does decide to leave his office, he creeps around the school going from class to class, monitoring the teaching going on for about 2 minutes and then moves onto the  next classroom. I never know when he’s going to pop his head in, but when he does for some reason, I’m always yelling at the kids! He rarely notices my tender moments with the children but that’s because the majority of the time, I am trying to be the “serious” teacher.

Besides the creepy, old Principal, everything else about teaching in Seoul is better than I could have dreamed. Great hours, great pay, all of the Korean teachers are sweet, friendly, and truly care about me. Spoiling me with food, gifts, and smiles, we all help each other out on a daily basis.

Not only have I created great relationships with the Korean teachers but also the Korean parents, every morning, myself and the other English teachers stand in the front where the children switch from outdoor to indoor shoes and greet the parents. We give the traditional Korean bow to each parent, say good morning, and usually get some type of compliment, “he/she loves you,” “he/she thinks you’re beautiful,” he/she likes your class,” and to further show their appreciation they bring gifts on a weekly basis. Today, one parent brought everyone krispy kreme doughnuts, a few days ago, they brought pizza.

Overall, teaching in Korea is well worth the trip, so for those of you contemplating teaching, don’t think, just do it.  After all, you get to travel, work, meet new people, learn a new culture and language, and get outside that comfort zone you’re stuck in! What’s not to love?