Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Birthday (25th)

Sometimes I think that I'm putting up a really skewed view of my time in Korea because I seem to be mostly writing about bad things when I write at all. Which is really untrue, my time here has been mostly filled with amazing experiences and I've probably grown the most in two years I've been in Korea than at any other time in my life. I truly gained my independence here and have matured into a real live adult onto my birthday which shows that even with the bad experiences, over everything, Korea has given really wonderful friends.

Birthday's tend to be a big deal, and while I love making my friends have really amazing birthdays I don't really like to celebrate mine, don't get me wrong I enjoy being made to feel special but a couple of things that inherently come with birthdays just end of taking away from the experience. I've never really dreaded birthdays, in fact I've always looked forward to it except this year. Preceding my birthday my friends all keep asking "Are you excited for your birthday?" to which I would reply "yeah..." not because I wasn't but because I wasn't thinking overly much about it, but then they would invariably reply "WHAT? Holly it's your TWENTY-FIFTH birthday! You have to be excited, it's such a big birthday. You have to enjoy it," or something along those lines . Which A put the pressure on to have a good time and B made me realize that I'm turning twenty-five and that the blind youthful ability to have fun without really worrying about the consequences is gone. I do realize as I'm writing this, that when I look back on it in the future I'm going to shake my head at my youthful ignorance in thinking that turning 25 was a bad thing, but I'm far removed from that moment at the moment.

Now I've always said I would be a horrible salesman, I don't like making people do what they don't want to do, and convincing (or at least trying to convince) someone to buy something seems like the epitome of that. Another example would be missionaries, I really think that the whole concept of what missionaries do is awful, now I do think they help people but the idea that they just go to another place where people have their own culture, their own belief systems, their own history that has influenced their society and say what you believe, what you know, what you've been taught and what you are doing are wrong, I know the right way, I have seen the light and I will help you, I will build schools, I will feed the poor but it is contingent on you learning about the true God. It just seems like such unmitigated arrogance to think you know better than someone else when really you are as much a product of your circumstances as they are, meaning you are religious purely because you were raised that way and if you had been born and raised in say India more likely than not you would be hindu, but I'm digressing. Simply put I think people should be free to make their own personal decision and I don't like having to make those decisions because it shows a lack of regard for the opinions of others which bring us back to the main topic, birthdays.

Now birthdays are suppose to be all about the birthday person as it should be. You go where that person wants, eat what that person wants to eat ect. So my birthday fell into two parts, on Friday my friends spent the night, we ordered food, played games, ate delicious homemade peanut butter chocolate cupcakes and blueberry cake, talked, played more games and basically it was low pressure and fun. Saturday we went out to Hongdae to go dancing and that is where the problems (purely of my own making) began. Now I love dancing so it seemed like a good way to celebrate my birthday, but I had no preference for either food or which bars to go to. I wasn't particularly craving anything beside that it be hot (it was freezing last night), so when I asked my friends what they wanted to eat all I got was the standard birthday answer "whatever you want," which is what I would have said as well. Now here's the thing, my friends are picky so I know if I had picked a place they didn't like they would have happily gone because it's my birthday, but they wouldn't have enjoyed the food which plays directly against my making people do things they don't want to do aversion and since I didn't have a preference and no one would give me an opinion I felt anything I picked would have been bad. So that brought my mood down. Next came the bars, hongdae can be really hit or miss and we tend to go to the same places so I did want to try something new but wasn't sure where when I asked what people wanted again it was "whatever you want." So I picked a bar that I had once heard was good but it ended up being the skankiest hole I've been to in Korea, but we stayed for a while even though I didn't really like it because, A I'd said wanted to go there and my friends knew that and pretended to enjoy themselves even though I could tell they didn't like it and B I didn't know where else to go and no one would give me an opinion about what they wanted to do. The next 2 bars we eventually went to were fun at times but in general were filled with really creepy people. To top everything off my friends had given me a list of ten task that I needed to complete and weren't hard at all, but I just wasn't in an outgoing mood, and didn't want to interact with the creepy people but felt obligated to complete the task and felt it put unwanted pressure on me to do something I didn't want to do, so instead of enjoying myself I focused on my inability to complete the tasks only three of which I did which made me feel bad for disappointing my friends.

At around 2:30 we decided to call it a night (which shows you how bad it was going cause typically we stay past 4:00 and we had actually had plans to meet a friend who couldn't come out, at 4 am for breakfast but canceled that in order to go home early). So we took a taxi back and all I could think was how happy I was that it's finally over. When I got to my apartment I tried my lock about 10 times but it wouldn't open so I had to go downstairs and get my building manager who didn't understand what I was saying but who I at least got to follow me. I called my friend to help me translate but as I was getting in the elevator the door started to close before the building manager could get on so I automatically grabbed the doors to stop them from closing dropping my phone which decided to bypass the floor and head directly to that crack between the elevator doors and the building floor like it was meant to be. I stared for a while at the crack then turned to my building manager asked him what we should do, to which he replied with a shrug and mumbled something about tomorrow morning. We continued up to my floor and when we got to my door I tried my lock and it worked on the first time, leaving the building manager to stare at me then shrug again and walk away.

At this point I decided enough was enough and went into apartment and started to cry, about 2 minutes after I sat down I heard a pounding on my door and opened it to see my friend Nathan who I had called to help me translate standing outside my door shaking with a look of complete panic on his face. As soon as he sees me hes says my name, gives me a big hug, and starts to cry because he thought I had been attacked and had run all the way to my apartment (we live about 20 mins away from each other). My phone must have made it because while he was still on the line he heard a thud of it apparently hitting the floor then random noises of the elevator shaft but I didn't respond when he called my name. I of course felt really awful for putting him through that and not trying to contact him. I make him some chamomile tea because he's still shaking, apologize for scaring him and sadly reminisce about my beloved phone to which Nathan eloquently replies with an "At least your safe" making me realize, I may have had a crappy night, I may have lost my beautiful iPhone but in everything that had happened, from the homemade cupcakes, to the games (I love games), to their complete devotion to doing whatever I wanted to do, and the heartfelt "at least your safe" my friends had shown just how wonderful they are and I ended the night feeling truly cared about which I guess is the best way to end any night especially a birthday night.

Friday, October 21, 2011

School update

A couple of weeks ago I had this incident at school. My best friends and I had bought friendship rings the preceeding weekend. We were out one day in Hongdae and a guy was selling these stainless steel rings and he said he would engrave them for us for around 10 bucks.

Basically what happened was that when I woke up the next day my hand had swelled during the night and the ring had become stuck on my finger to the point that it was cutting off blood circulation. When I went to school everyone freaked out and I was sent to the nurse, the local hospital, one of the 5th grade korean teachers spent her free period holding my hand above my head and massaging my finger, the adjusshi in the school copy room tried to cut it off with a giant chain cutting fence tool (what are those called?) but we found out to the detriment of all that steel is a b-otch to cut. The situation was eventually resolved when my head teacher at my school came up to me the moment I finished lunch and dragged me to the copy room where 5 men had gathered, immediately jumped up when we entered. They all congregated around my finger and alternately tried to get the ring off my finger by cutting it off with a range of tools and pulling, one very vivid moment came right before they started to go at it when one of them turned to me and said say something if it hurts. I remember the giant cutters next to my tiny finger and thinking oh you'll definitely know if it hurts.

When I told the story to my friends, the first thing they said was "wow, your school must really care about you." I thought yeah that's true but didn't really give it much thought beyond that. Today however another incident came up and I've realized that though I've really struggled this year, if nothing else I'm really appreciative of how much support and care I've gotten with my school.

Yesterday my co-teacher wanted to talk to me because she was worried about how tired I look and how unhappy I seem to the students. Last week Ally asked me after class if was I angry with the students because they were too noisy, and I turned to her and said I'm not angry, I'm tired. These day's I'm always exhausted by the end of the week and unfortunately I teach 5th grade on Thursdays and Fridays, and I have less energy to give to those students then the ones early in the week especially because I'm working so much overtime. So Ally asked me if its OK that we call an English teachers meeting and I said sure.

Going into it today I wasn't really sure what it was about or if I was in trouble or really anything. When they called the meeting, Ally simply explained that all the teachers think I'm doing a great job and they wanted to know what they could do to help me out so I'm less stressed out and less exhausted at work. We talked about my schedule and the different styles I have of teaching with the other teachers. They asked me of the different problems I had with each grade and teacher and then they suggested different ways to each other on how to help me more. I explained to them that I simply wanted more input from them during class, that if they see the students really don't understand to step in, or if they have a suggestion on a better way to teach something or if the students are being rowdy, and to not leave the class, basically I wanted more co-teaching which is what we're suppose to be doing. When I asked if they wanted me to do anything differently, 2 of my co-teachers said no my class is perfect and that they'll try to participate more and help me. Ally said she just wants me to have more energy with the students, she said if she didn't know how energetic I could be and how much enthusiasm I can give then she wouldn't ask it. And I agree, it makes me feel really apologetic to the 5th grade students that I just can't be as energetic with them and hopefully by my other co-teachers taking a more active role, I won't feel as exhausted and can give more to my students.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

So...I hate my school, I love my friends and I miss my family

I don't even know the last time I wrote but it was sometime last year and many many things happened. I resigned with my school and I'm 4 months in. Overall last year was really great. I didn't really save any money (all my extra moneys goes to paying those many student loans) but I may a dent in my debts ^^. I had some really amazing experiences and though I debated switching to a different school my co-teacher begged me to stay and my school offered to move me to a bigger apartment...that just goes to show you should always follow your first instincts.

My school moved me to a much bigger and nicer apartment but it has absolutely no natural sunlight so it hurts my eyes and brings my mood down, plus the electricity is almost a 1/4 more because it's so big and cold. GRRR!

Also two of my old co-teachers left and I got one really nice one and one really horrible one. Unfortunately the horrible one is much older and crazy. Older means the young'uns "have to" listen to her and crazy means I have a crap ton more work. This means that I now teach 6 hours overtime, prepare everything, teach alone with 30+ elementary students some as young as 6, make my own materials most of the time and when I complain or ask why I'm doing her job or why shes not showing up to the classes we're suppose to teach, she tells the principal that I don't respect her. Added on to the fact I haven't gotten paid for it in 3 months. When I contacted my coordinator she says that's the way the school work (Both about my school forcing me to teach overtime and then about not getting paid for it.) The result is that my crappy my school makes me miss my family and home where I don't have to deal with being made to follow someone who clearly has no idea what shes doing based on age....ok rant over ^^

Another unfortunate thing that's happened this year is that my health has apparently went down the drain. Last year I took 2 sick days out of my allotted 11 (or 15 I don't remember) this year I've used about 9 and I'm only 4 months in. Now this isn't me calling in because I didn't feel like calling in, that was me being so sick I eventually was omitted to the hospital for 4 days. Now I can't blame all on my school/co-teacher, they didn't give me pneumonia, but they did work me so hard that even when I was sick and close to fainting from exhaustion I was still teaching and preparing all my lesson plans, including overtime mostly alone. Lol I guess I didn't quite finish my rant, as you can probably tell I'm not in the very best of moods.

Fortunately being sick has made me realize how much I truly love my friends. Living in a foreign country, missing your home is a given but being sick usually makes one long for mom and western medicine more than ever. And while being hospitalized isn't fun, they were amazing. When I was sick at home, they brought me food, porridge and medicine, when I went to the hospital they came every night to bring me things (snacks), and play board games and just talk and keep my mood up. I got lasek, and they took me to the clinic and back, gave me blueberry smoothies and never once made me want for anything. All with working full time jobs and some living as far as 40 minutes away from me. If Korea has given me anything it's amazing friends that I know I will always keep in touch with.

Despite the ups and downs I don't at all regret my move to Korea. I've always been independent but moving here and living on my own made me realize how capable I am. I can move to another country, control and class of 30 1st graders who know no English and make them love English time, I can pay my ridiculous student loans and though I may not save anything I'm still moving forward. I do regret re-signing with my school, but I love two of my co-teachers, my students are still lovely and I've become a better teacher. All of this is really just to say is although I'm glad for my experiences here it's probably time for me to come home.

I think I want to get my Elementary Education credentials and since my family live in LA it will initially be for California, though I don't really want to live there. My dad isn't too happy about my desire to become certified (I've been considering applying for the foreign service which he whole heartedly supports) and though the teachers job market sucks like many other job markets in the States it will be something I can fall back on whenever, even if I do decide to pursue something else before/after hand. Plus it will enable me to teach in any American international school around the world or with dodds if I can't find a job or get the desire to move abroad again.

Sorry for all the complaining!