I’m extremely frustrated right now. On the verge of angry, really.

It’s nearly November and I still have not been told when I am getting off for winter break. So, today I decided to ask my boss. As soon as the words came out of my mouth she stopped and stared at me.

“We don’t know yet.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why do you want to know?”

Why do I want to know? Are you fucking kidding me?

“I’m trying to make travel arrangements,” I replied calmly.

She brushed me off.

I spent the rest of my time in between classes looking up airfare and accommodations for a variety of different destinations. Prices have already gone up since I started looking several weeks ago.

I refuse to spend one of my two longer breaks in Korea (I only get 6 actual vacation days for the year, split between winter and summer). I have an entire year to explore this country and there are so many other beautiful places to experience nearby. Thailand. Japan. Taiwan. The Philippines. Vietnam.

If I wait any longer, I’m not going to want to pay the price for a plane ticket. No. I refuse to pay the price for a plane ticket.

I’m a planner. Not planning things in advance gives me anxiety. Also, I grew up having a travel agent for a mom.

Rage rage rage. Rant rant rant.

I’m having a chocolate bar and going to sleep.



Today, I was required to teach a lesson on abortion to one of my classes of 6th graders. Not only was it uncomfortable trying to explain what abortion was to a group of children who don’t speak your native tongue, but it only got worse and worse the more we discussed it. I had to go over words like “pregnancy,” “termination,” “fetus,” “miscarriage,” and others. I did not want any part of it.

For one of the activities, the students had to make a web of reasons a woman might want to have an abortion. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt that this was much too advanced for the group I was teaching. Most of them were confused and said things like “not enough money” or “woman can’t grow baby.”

Then, we moved on to talking about alternatives for abortion. The answer I was looking for was adoption. I had one kid raise his hand and say “mother kill herself.” I just started saying “no” over and over and over again. It was unbearable. However, my school is very strict about making sure all the work is completed in the textbooks. The Korean teachers check. The students’ parents also check and complain if they see that things have been skipped over.

I’m just concerned that these students are not learning what they should be. Many of them have pretty low literacy from what I’ve seen. They need more instruction on grammar, writing, and speaking. Not discussing concepts like abortion.

While most days are good, it’s days like this that get me upset. I know that private English academies are a huge business in Korea, but I feel like students aren’t truly learning English. Parents are shelling out cash for what seems to be something of a status symbol. “Oh yes, my child goes to a private English school!” Unfortunately, very few of my students can actually have a conversation with me or write a coherent essay.

It’s frustrating.

I Promise to Listen to My Teacher

Children who do not respect their elders are dealt with very seriously here. In fact, judging by what I just witnessed at work, I would go so far as to say corporal punishment in schools is alive and well in Korea.

I had been having a very difficult class earlier this afternoon. Two of my students absolutely refused to pay attention or do any work. The same two students have been giving me trouble for the past few weeks. Today, though, I was very tired of them talking while I was talking, poking other students, not speaking any English (in English class, mind you!), and audibly laughing every time I wrote something on the board or had my back turned.

That was the last straw. I told both of them to stand up and that we were going for a walk downstairs. Immediately, the pleas of “sorry, teacher! Study!” came pouring out of their mouths. Nope. The head Korean teacher was going to deal with them. We walked downstairs and I handed them off to her. She was not amused.

I stood in shock as I watched what happened next. The head teacher balled her hand into a fist and punched them both in the side of the head. Hard.

My heart sank.

I was expecting a 100 lines of “I promise to listen to my teacher.” Or something. Anything, really. Just not that.

The head teacher asked me to return to class, where I drilled the rest of my students on verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Through the window, I could see my other two students standing outside the door with their arms raised above their heads while the head teacher yelled at them.

I wanted to cry.

After class, I returned to my desk where I began planning for some tests on Friday. A few minutes later, the students who had been punished came in to apologize. I thanked them for their apology and told them to be good next class.

I think I am mildly traumatized. Actually, genuinely distressed.

I really don’t know what else to write.

The Sass Attack

Sometimes, kids can be pretty funny. Today was one of those days.

During my first class of the afternoon, two of my students had arrived earlier than the rest of the class. One little boy had folded a paper airplane and was throwing it around the classroom. At one point, he threw it and it hit my other student, a precocious little girl whom I thoroughly enjoy teaching, in the arm. Without skipping a beat, she picked up the paper airplane and slowly turned around to face him while crushing it in her hand. Then, she threw it back at him, shouted something in Korean, and sat down at her desk, arms folded across her chest. Stunned, the little boy sat down and I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically.

Minutes after, the rest of my class began to come in. One of my other female students skipped through a door carrying (and eating) a family size bag of potato sticks. She filled my hands with them, saying “teacher! teacher! is good!” I ate them. They were good.

I really like that class.

We also had a student bring in a box of sticky rice buns for the office; I’m assuming for the upcoming holiday of Chuseok. It was really sweet. The buns were filled with red bean paste, so they were literally quite sweet, as well.

Today’s pretty good so far!

Culture Shock: Education Edition

I would like to begin this post by saying that I am very grateful for my job as well as the opportunity to gain experience working abroad. I love it, but like any job, it is not without difficulties.

With that said, there are some issues with the education system here that are very hard for me to wrap my head around and I feel compelled to write about them.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, there are generally two ways for a native English speaker to become an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher here in Korea. One is by finding work at a public school, which is run by the government. The big programs are EPIK and GEPIK. The other way is by finding work at a hagwon, or a private school. These schools are businesses (“academies”) that parents pay to send their children to after they finish public school.

I work at a hagwon. It happens to be a chain; the closest comparison I can make is something like Huntington Learning Center in the States. I found my job through contacting a Korean recruiter who was based in Seoul.

Anyway, my first class begins at 3:20 in the afternoon. I have to be in the office 30 minutes prior to start planning my lessons and activities. My first part of the day is spent with my elementary students who are, for the most part, absolutely lovely. They are adorable and energetic. They love reading and speaking. I have students who hug me, hold my hand, and give me stickers. It fills me with complete and utter joy to be in class with these kids and watch as they learn new ideas and concepts about the English language. I genuinely believe they enjoy being there.

After dinner, though, around 7:30, the entire dynamic of my classes changes. The evening is when most of the middle schoolers come in for lessons. The majority of them are terrified to even look me in the eye, let alone speak or participate. They literally sit in their chairs with their hands in their laps and their heads resting on their desks. It is like pulling teeth to get them to answer questions. Others are defiant. I’ve had some call me a bad teacher and tell me how horrible their days are because they are in class with me. It’s not fun.

The other day, I had one class where only two students showed up. Since it was so small, I let them play games on the board and practice answering questions with each other. At one point, I asked them how long their regular school day is. Eight and a half hours was the answer. Then, I asked how long they come to “academy” for. Four hours was the answer. These are 12, 13, and 14 year olds who have a 12+ hour day. I don’t know adults who work that long! It was so sad to hear this because you can really see the exhaustion on their faces. For most classes, I start off by asking how they spent the night before or what they did over the weekend. The answer is almost always study or sleep.

I know that there’s nothing I can do about this. I know that this is part of Korean culture. I just wish that my older students had the energy and enthusiasm of my elementary kids. Many of them are so bright, but they don’t make any effort because they are tired and don’t want to be sitting in a classroom at 9 o’clock at night. On the other side, though, it also makes me sad to know that in a few short years my lively youngsters will be in the same position as my middle schoolers. There is no winning.

That was my rant.