Hagwon? I hardly know won!

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Long Time No See March 4, 2011

I’ve not written in over a month! I’m the worst blogger in all the blogosphere. I’ve been crazy busy traveling to Thailand, joining a derby league, teaching kindergarten for the first time, having a new teacher ditch us and drop all his classes on us and leave some of us working 13 hour days. I promise to update on everything just as soon as I get a moment to breath again. But this is not that moment. I’ve got to put on my teacher dress, grab a cup of coffee, and try to convey the concept of right and left to 4 year olds who don’t speak English and are really curious about what is in their pants.

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Hold on. Wait a minute Mr. Postman January 25, 2011

When I went to camp, my mommy sent me Cheez Ballz and Twizzlers. Now I live in South Korea and my mother sends me Pine Club salad dressing, Esther Price chocolates, and Twizzlers. I must be the camp counselor in charge of sophistication.

P.S. Mom, I sure would like some more Twizzlers. I’ll be sure not to share them with my students who, “just don’t know how to eat this.”

 

What to pack when you are moving to South Korea January 15, 2011

1) Home stuff

Little things to fight the inevitable homesickness you are bound to face. Make room for pictures of family, holiday decorations, your favorite cup, anything that makes your little slice of ROK feel like home.

2) Pants

Pack pants that fit you now and pants that are one size smaller than you currently wear. You are going to loose weight, but not so much that you’ll be able to fit into impossibly small Korean sizes.

3) Underwear and bras

If you’re anything like me, you are already packing your own biological stadium cushion. Unless you’re prepared to get your delicates from the ajumma section of E-Mart, then best stock up on your unmentionables state side.

4) A gift for the new boss and a yummy local treat for the staff

A nice gift makes a good first impression, which is important everywhere, but is year long contract defining in Korea. We brought our boss a gold ornament in the shape of the Wright B Flyer since we are from Dayton, Ohio. A nice, non-political local history gift. For the staff we brought a box of Esther Price chocolates, a Daytonian delicacy. You don’t have to spend a heap of cash. Something local and edible will do just fine.

5) Two sets of sheets

Chances are you will have a washer in your Korean apartment, but no dryer. You can buy sheets here but they either won’t be what you’re used to or very expensive. They don’t take up much room in the brand new suitcase your mom bought for you. Toss in the extra set. When you aren’t sleeping on dry enough sheets, you’ll be glad you did.

6) Over the counter medications

Cold and headache remedies aren’t universal. I could sell NyQuil tablets for $20 a pop on the street in Ieteawon to red nosed, sleep deprived Americans. When you get sick, and your students will get you sick, you will crave nothing as much as a NyQuil endused unconscious state. If you need a little extra help dozing off at night or need to sleep off a headache the extra large bottle of Tylenol PM you brought will come in quite handy. Go over board here. If you end up with extra at the end of the year, you can always pass the extra along to your co-workers who weren’t smart enough to take my sage like advice.

7) Prizes

Bring some goodies for the kids. Some holiday or American flag themed pencils, stickers or erasers will do. The students are aware of the mass marketed American holidays but they are still exotic and new. Pencils topped with erasers in the shape of ghosts, hearts, or snowmen will be a big hit come flash card game time.

8.) Shoes, but only if you have big feet

If your walking on an average size 8 like I am, then don’t over pack shoes. You can buy them here. There’s a Converse store on every corner in Seoul and there’s even a Doc Martin’s store at the Coex Mall. The high heel selections are endless. However, if you are above a women’s size 9, pack shoes. You will be able to find shoes that fit if you look, but you’ll have to look and the selection won’t be stellar. Remember, your shoes should be easy to kick on and off. I highly recommend packing a pair of winter boots that zip up and go with everything.

9) Money

You need enough cash to float you until your first paycheck. Clearly this varies from person to person depending on lifestyle, region, and the generosity of your school. You can get by on $1000. Even if your in a couple, you’ll never spend more than $3000 unless you go wild in one of the foreigner only casinos.

10) DVD’s

While you can watch Hulu and Netflix with the use of a proxy server, they may not have the selection that you wish they did. Stock up on TV shows you haven’t seen but have been meaning to get around to, movies that you haven’t seen yet or could watch again and again. Don’t bring the boxes. Just put them in a CD folder. Nothing will ease the soul of a homesick American quite like an episode of King of the Hill.

What not to pack:

1) Toiletries

Believe it or not, people bathe in Korea. You don’t need to pack shampoo, conditioner, soap or hair spray. There are two things you may want to consider packing though they aren’t totally necessary: toothpaste and deodorant. The toothpaste here is slightly different. If you have picky dental needs, stock up. Aside from finding a taste you can stand you won’t be able to read the box to learn it the tube will whiten or protect. I’ve been using Korean toothpaste and have no complaints, but it took a couple of thrown out tubes to get there. I packed my deodorant, because, dainty flower that I am, I needed a particular brand, which it turns out you can buy here. It’s more expensive, but not ungodly so.

2) Half the clothes you think you need

You don’t know what to pack so you’ve packed everything just in case. Don’t do that. They have clothes here that you can buy. You’ll find out what your school expects you to wear and you can pull together work wear here. Remember, it will be hard to find pants that fit, but I haven’t had a problem finding dresses, tops or shoes. Do bring at least one weeks worth of business appropriate attire to make a good first impression. You’ll be making enough money that you can fill in the wardrobe gaps with your first paycheck via a shopping trip to Seoul.

3) Electronics

If you need a camera or a laptop. You don’t necessarily need to stock up before you leave the states. You can get electronics cheaply here. I’ve bought a laptop and a camera for myself. It just means that I’ll need to buy adjusters when I head home and I can type in Hangul. On the other hand, Korean men don’t grow beards, but expats notoriously do. Bring a beard trimmer.

4) More than one or two books for the plane

You can find English books here, especially if you are close to Soul. I’ve always found everything my literary heart could desire at What the Book in Ietaewon. If you are too far from Seoul to make the trip, What the Book will ship to you. Not to mention the fact that foreign teachers have come before you. Most likely, the teacher whom you replace, you’ll also fill their empty apartment and inherit all the crap they’re left behind, including their books. If you are such a book-worm that you won’t be able to survive without constant access to your very own Barnes and Noble, then make the investment in a Nook or Kindle.

5) Socks and tights

Trust me. Korean women love their stockings. There will be enough knee highs, ankle socks, and funky tights to even keep a retired roller girl happy. Make room for more underwear and bras by leaving the socks at home.

Happy packing. Enjoy that last southern style sweet tea and get ready. You’re going to love it here.

 

6 Months October 25, 2010

Yesterday, Sunday October 24th, was the six month mark. As with anything in life, when you look forward, time crawls. I miss my family and friends back home. I miss driving and eating at Blind Bob’s and eating crepes at 2nd Street Market with my mom on Saturday mornings. But when you look backward, the time goes by far too fast. I still haven’t done a temple stay or been to the DMZ or seen the World Heritage sites that are right here in Seoul or made the trip to Busan.

Yesterday, on my trip back from Muuido Island, I took a detour to Coex to get some dinner at On the Border. I didn’t realize that the trip from Muuido to Coex would be the exact same trip as the one I took 6 months earlier from Incheon Airport to City Air Terminal. It got me all sentimental, which if you know me, I don’t care for, but I’m learning to enjoy the feeling.

The time has come to start planning for next year, to start cramming in all the things I feel must be experienced, to plan for my vacation. I love Korea, very much. I miss home, very much (especially since my sister insisted upon making my very first niece this weekend. I can’t wait to love you Emma).

Here are eleven things I know for sure at six months in:
1) I am really good with young children. They love me and I love them.
2) I don’t care for the age when kids get to be too cool for school.
3) I could be a good teacher. I could be a good social worker.
4) I love to travel. No matter what financial future is in store for me, I should never forego travel again.
5) People like me. I don’t have to try to make them do it. If they don’t like me, that’s OK. I like me. Doug really likes me. Being happy is more important than being liked. When you stop worrying about people liking you, they like you more.
6) America is pretty great, for a lot of reasons. America is worth investing in because I am an American and other people are not. Infighting is a waste of time and effort. Your petty fights back home seem pretty childish from the other side of the ocean.
7) Even if you try something while open to a new culture, doesn’t mean you have to like it. There is nothing wrong with simply not liking octopus. I can still appreciate the culture of a country and not enjoy the texture of octopus.
8 ) I don’t have to settle.
9) I really love and am good at and miss cooking.
10) American food, while delicious, is gross and unhealthy. We are eating ourselves to death.
11) I am a genuinely happy person and I consider this to be my greatest achievement to date.

 

An Open Letter October 21, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 7:07 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear parents of the world,

I understand that you love your children and think that they are precious or whatever. The cold hard truth is something different.

Your children are gross walking bags of germs hell-bent on getting anything that educates them infected with their cooties. Good job birthing the most effective means of biological warfare. I’m still not sure why you declared this war on teachers, but you’ve clearly decided to make tiny people so that you could ensure that I would have a perpetual cold.

Congratulations on a job well done.

Sincerely,

Teacher Mary

 

Be afraid. Be very afraid. August 25, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 10:18 pm
Tags: , , , ,

After sharing the aforementioned care package Twizzlers with my students, we played a last day of class game.

The secret word is, “Halloween.”
The clues are, “It’s scarey,” and “You get candy.”
The guess is, “Teacher?”

 

 
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