Sooooo I’ve accidentally written a novel again. I’ll blame the fact that it was the first month of school so there were lots of new things and the fact that I’ve had a lot of feelings about it all.
March second was the first day of school. About which I have already written a whole post here.
It’s been really interesting/weird to start-up again but fully aware of what is actually going on around me rather than in the complete fog that I was in at the same time last year. This time around I actually know to ask for certain things. Like can the maintenance guy come to look at my desk phone, and I have 6 classes on Fridays is there anyway I can move one, and who the heck stole my desk chair? Although I didn’t phrase the last question exactly like that.
One of the most interesting things that first week was that the new teachers in my office seem much more willing to initiate conversation with me. I can’t tell if it’s because my Korean is a lot better than it was last year or because these teachers are just more outgoing. Probably a little of both.
Either way it’s been interesting to see how actually communicating with them in Korean off the bat has changed even the topics of our conversations. Last year I mostly just got questions, “Where are you from,” and “do you like Korean food” “isn’t this too spicy for you?” The standard foreigner questions.
But this year, even only a few days in, the questions are slightly, only slightly, more like they would be if I was just any other teacher. “How long have you been at this school?” “What grades do you teach?” and “Aren’t the boys in 3-4 so lovely?”
I tried my hardest on the first day to make sure they could hear me speaking Korean a little, and see me nodding along with what the head teacher said to everyone, so that they would get the impression that I’m in on everything. Which of course I’m not but my plan seemed to have worked at least a little bit.
The first week was all just introduction lessons. For my new first graders it was the complete introduction lesson of who I am and what my class is about, and for my second and third graders who’ve had me for a year now, just a rules refresher, pep-talk, and game.
While there are some classes I’m worried about, mainly the grade two boys, it’s shocking how much of a difference it makes in the school’s overall vibe now that our old “troublesome” third graders are gone.
Being in the grade three office again, I can see the stark difference between how often the third grade kids were getting in trouble last year compared to now that it’s my lovely second graders from last year all grown up and already doing infinitely better than their predecessors.
Last year among the third graders there were lots of individual students who I really connected with. But on the whole I don’t think they ever really got comfortable with me the way the other grades did. So being in their office meant that I didn’t get a ton of interaction with students at my desk.
But now, the new grade three students, are kids who I already have a year’s worth of relationship with and who are very (read: maybe too) comfortable with me. So I’ve been getting a lot more kids coming up to my desk just to say hello or chat about something. It’s lovely ^^
But in not so lovely class news it quickly started to become clear that we’ve pretty much replaced our troublesome grade three boys from last year, who are graduated and gone now, with a maybe equally difficult batch of grade two boys. They were difficult for me last year as well, but it didn’t get to be a real problem until the very end of the year.
This time around though, they’re rough from the start. The classes are huge for one thing and the kids just inexplicably don’t like my class. Everyone in the school else is down to at least try to have fun, and even for those who don’t like English at least they like that my class isn’t too hard.
Especially compared to the girls classes in the same grade who are doing the exact same lessons and loving it. Seriously my second grade girls have been amazing so far. Every time I have one of their classes I’m reminded again why I love this job.
(Especially when they think writing sneaky things like this on the board will get them extra points.)
So I don’t get what’s up with the boys.
But I supposed we can’t escape at least one difficult bunch every year.
Week two of school was a weird one.
In the beginning of the week I felt very, just, off. And sad.
Last year I never once thought to myself like, “What are you even doing with your life? Why are you in Korea?” but those thoughts have crossed my mind a few times recently.
I think part of it is trying to wrestle with, now after a year here, everything I know about why this job is not exactly a “real job” but contrasted by how much I love it and how seriously I take it.
I mean, it’s a real job, don’t get me wrong. But via our contract, and the things we’re required to do, and not allowed to do, objectively speaking were treated a lot like children. (“We” native English teachers I mean.) Which says more about Korea than it says about me, I know. But it’s a hard pill to swallow that no matter how well I do my job it doesn’t technically make a difference.
So Wednesday afternoon, after probably the worst class I’ve ever had, and carrying all this built up frustration towards Korea, I went up to hide in the English room and call my sister. That was the first time I’d ever made a personal phone call at work but sometimes you need to either vent or cry, and I was really hoping to avoid the latter.
The venting helped a lot, but the memory of having come the closest to my version of yelling at a class is still hanging around. The worst part of all was that it was a group of kids that I like. A third grade boys class. My lovely, favorite second grade boys from last year. So I think their disrespect on this particular day stung a little more.
I’ve never had to sit a class down and tell them I was disappointed in them. To the incredible credit of my co-teachers and general good behavior of my kids. But this time was very different. They were shockingly disrespectful and I felt personally hurt by it.
So I, very quietly but very sternly said to them something along the lines of, “You guys know that my class is fun. But if you act like this, we will not do fun things together. You need to do better next week.” To which they all very un-enthusiastically agreed.
I know there was a big issue in their class earlier in the day, some disagreement about who was going to be the class president. And I know that usually they’re usually pretty good kids. But regardless their behavior was inappropriate.
Reeling from that and carrying with me a lot of weirdness from the week, I headed off after work on Thursday night to try a volleyball club that I found online.
I went to a volleyball thing once in Korea last year but I found it to be, how can I put this, very Korean style. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a thing. It was very strict, there was an older gentleman running it who’s “coaching style” seemed to be mock you until you figure out what you’re supposed to be doing, and it was more like a structured class rather than people who just get together to play because they love it.
Volleyball has been a big part of my life for a long~~~~time and last year was the first time in about 10 years that it hasn’t been a regular thing that I do.
I’d been in contact with one person whose phone number was on their Facebook page, so at least he knew I was coming. But I arrived not knowing a single person and with no idea about what to expect.
But it turned out to be exactly what I hoped it would be.
Everyone seems to be in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, super cool, chill, and really really good at volleyball.
It felt so refreshingly normal. Even just their reaction to this random girl foreigner showing up to a mostly guys volleyball practice was so chill. Any foreigner’s living in Korea know that “chill” is not always the way that we’re received.
But this time around I was, mostly at least, just another person there to play volleyball.
This might be a bit of a stretch, but I think that it was so comfortable because for the first time in Korea I could really, truly, physically prove that I fit in. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand everything, or that once the only other girl left it was me and a bunch of dudes, the only thing that mattered was that I could hold my own. And I did. And it felt awesome.
What didn’t feel awesome though, was every single inch of my body the next day. Parts that I didn’t even know could be sore were sore. All along my forearms and hands were hundreds and hundreds of tiny popped blood vessels just under my skin where I’d received the ball.
I couldn’t hold a pencil at school the next day without my muscles shaking, or walk up the stairs at a normal pace. And during one of my planning periods I looked at my right arm and noticed that it had swelled up significantly compared to my left arm. Here’s the progression. My kids must have thought I was some kind of street fighter or something.
But of course to me it was just a battle wound. Proof that I have a life outside of school, that I exist in this city, and that after a whole year I finally found people to play with.
Week two also saw the last finale of the winter snow. And while I’m loving the warmer weather now, I will definitely miss walking to school with scenes like this.
Over the weekend I went up to Seoul for church, caught a cold, and gave myself a big pep talk for the week ahead.
My second class Monday morning was one of my most difficult grade two classes but all in all we made it out alive. It wasn’t pretty, but we got through everything I wanted them to. So that’s something.
Monday night I went to volleyball again and there were about fives times as many people around as there were the week before. They had some kind of official scrimmage so not only were all the people from our club there, but also an entire other team.
I got to play with the girl’s team but during the men’s game we had to just watch. There are a few other foreigners who play so I got to chat with them during the game. It was just as good as the week before but much less intense because I didn’t end up doing drills for three hours straight.
Although, to add to my now growing collection of volleyball inflicted bruises I also managed to jam my thumb. It matches nicely with the green and now darkening bruises all along my forearms.
Tuesday is my best day of the week as far as classes go. I have my favorite favorite grade two girls class, two pretty easy grade one boy’s classes, a difficult grade two boys class but my co-teacher is good, and a grade three boys class who are always so incredibly lovely and try their hardest even though their class is 7th period and they can go home after we finish.
Tuesday was my good day last year as well, funny how that happens.
The rest of the week went well and rather uneventfully. Thursday we had our book club and it went incredibly well. It’s amazing how much learning and fun can be crammed into 45 minutes when your students all want to pay attention. And after school we had an English teachers dinner.
Over the weekend I almost didn’t leave my house at all because the pollution was so bad.
It’s been really hard for me to come to terms with how different this year is. I miss my old handler co-teacher. I miss my third graders, which I never thought I’d hear myself say, and I miss our old office.
All of those things are silly I know. Because everything they were replaced with is perfectly fine. It’s just different, and I’m still not used to it.
My second grade boys are wild. Which originally I could handle but now it’s looking like my first grade boys might be equally as difficult and that worries me. Because while three rough classes is manageable six is kind of a different story.
My mind is not in the best place these day so I’m hoping once I get that sorted things will fall back into place.
Also the pollution was so bad on Monday that I had a killer headache by the time third period started.
My favorite class in the whole school was cancelled on Tuesday for a sexual harassment seminar (their explanation of why we weren’t having class was a very solemn nod towards the TV broadcast and, “teacher, violence.”)
On Wednesday I went out to buy some new volleyball shoes and came home to two packages at my door containing what I hope will greatly improve my quality of life this spring and summer. Air purifiers.
One large one for my apartment and one smaller sized one for my desk.
The one on my desk is kind of up in the air whether it will actually make a difference or not, since our office is a pretty big room, but it’s right next to me so hopefully it’ll help at least a little. To be honest I don’t really understand how these things work.
The one in my house though I’m certain will help so that I can at least sleep through the night breathing clean air.
When I think back on when I started last year I remember having this horrible headaches and thinking that it was just a part of being stressed and adjusting to a new schedule of waking up early. When in reality it was all the poison in the air that was wreaking havoc on my skin and brain.
I’m hoping that I can take enough preventative measures this time around to mitigate the damage it did last year. If this is your first spring/summer in Korea my advice would be to take the pollution seriously. Or at least try to be aware of it. Because while some people have no problems at all, other people like myself will notice it almost immediately.
Thursday I went to volleyball again and this time felt really comfortable with everyone. For all the lows I’ve bene feeling at school, volleyball has really helped give me something to look forward to. Something I’m in control of, something I’m good at. And as I get to know everyone better it’s only getting more and more fun. I’m very thankful for this new thing in my life.
The week ended on a bad note though with a very rough start to my after school class. This semester I have only first graders. And while I’m thankful for that in some ways, because they’re easier to control, their level of comprehension is significantly lower than the other grades and I have to teach this class alone. So getting them to understand what we’re doing is pretty hard.
But straight from school I went up to Seoul to see a friend in Hongdae that night who I haven’t seen in a loooooong time. Catching up with her was exactly what I needed after the rough afternoon.
Saturday and the rest of the weekend were weird. But I think I’m going to save that for another post. I got to see some cherry blossoms though so I guess it wasn’t all bad.
If you’ve made it all the way, wow. Thanks for reading this mess.
I’m not really sure why, but this year has been pretty hard for me so far. Thankfully this is only the first month, so I’m sure it will get better. But I’m dealing with some things that I didn’t deal with at all last year, so I’m a bit frustrated. And whenever my mind is not so good, my motivation to write is the first thing to go.
So I apologize for not posting as much recently. I’ll try to get some good stuff up soon.
Thanks as always for reading, and I hope your March was a good one! Here’s hoping for a good April ^^