Posts Tagged ‘School Life’

Not really. I had such a great year teaching, traveling and having fun in Korea. I didn’t leave my heart behind completely, but it feels like something’s been missing since I left. Unlike many of my friends who went straight home after finishing their contracts, I decided to extend my time abroad and stay in the Philippines. I haven’t been home in over a year now, but I don’t feel ready to go back quite yet.

I’ve been thinking about Korea a lot lately – wondering at odd hours of the day what my friends must be doing (deskwarming, hanging out downtown, or drinking in any combination). Wondering if my students miss me or if their beloved Maria Teacher has been replaced ㅠ_ㅠ (I hope not!). Wondering what new cosmetics must be out. I could go on. Instead, I’ll make a list of things I miss from my life in the 대한민국.

Korea Miss List:

  • 제 친구들 – My friends!! I met so many great people and I miss seeing their goofy, drunken faces. Just kidding, we weren’t always drunk, right?
  • My co-teacher – She is such a great person. I miss her! Seriously, I was crying on the bus ride to the airport after she dropped me off ㅜ_ㅜ.
  • My students – I loved being a teacher. Not trying to gloss over the stress and frustration I often felt while teaching in Korea. But, my experience was overwhelmingly positive and most of that is thanks to my students.
  • Foods – Let me make a brief list: kimchi, samgyeopsal, samgyetang, kimchi jjiggae, doenjang jjiggae, Korean wings and fried chicken, bibimbap, freakin banchan, kimbap, rice cakes, ddoekbokki, street snacks
  • Egg Tarts – Not what Korea is famous for, but I always used to hang out at the egg tarts place with my pals after dinner.
  • Shopping – Because let’s face it, where did half of my salary go every month.
  • Cosmetics – There are so many and they’re so cheap! I’m also obsessed with cosmetics and Korea just made it worse.
  • K-pop – The soundtrack of my life in Korea. What’s new nowadays??
  • K-dramas – DUDE what’s new nowadays??
  • Nature – Never thought I’d say it. I kind of like nature now thanks to Korea.
  • 4 Seasons – I think it’s a nice concept.
  • Internet – I miss the high-speed internet!
  • Mobility – It’s pretty easy to travel in Korea. I can’t travel as easily here in the Philippines so I feel very limited.
  • Hair salons – I need a trim! I miss Ji-won at Serrano!
  • Korean – I miss hearing Korean! I feel like following around the Korean students I see here. I know, that is just creepy. I won’t do it 😛
  • Traveling – There was always somewhere new to see or return trips to Seoul or Busan. I felt like I could do anything I wanted at any moment.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things. I’m so glad that I took a chance and went to Korea. I learned so much and I have lots of great memories and stories to share with everyone when I finally return home.

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I’ll be leaving after the end of my contract this month ㅠ_ㅠ. I’m sad to go, especially since I’ve had a great experience teaching and living in Korea. I’ll especially miss my co-teachers and my students. They made my year in Korea a lot of fun. I gave each of my co-teachers a small notebook to have the students write goodbye messages for me. I just got them back and I have to say their messages brought tears to my eyes. Because some are truly touching while others are downright hilarious.

Here are a few of the best (and hilarious) goodbye messages that my students left me:

Thank you. and… party tonight!

Oh my God… Good bye~

Maria Teacher!!!
I’m glad to meet you. Because I met you.

Teacher! Translate this: [a whole paragraph in Korean] I love you!

Hi nice meet you! nice meet you to! thank you for the honey. bye bye
(this was copied word for word by the next student)


Hey Maria Hi~~My name is ___ what your name? I can’t speak English so I love you <3<3<3<3<3  – Mr sin –

Hello. You are very beautiful teacher. I want you are my sister.

I believe you can fly! See you later~!

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up to walk on the stormy sea
I am strong when I am on your shoulder,
You raise me up to more than I can be.
(this is very sweet)

Maria love ❤
I want you
my ride is fagani zonda f

GooD boy give me Lamborghini

ZOMBIE remember!!

Can you play Call of duty? (this was the entire message)

I am handsome guy.   <-CRAZY GUY (written by another student)

teacher. hi! I love you ❤
your class is shock!!! >_< thank you ~

To Maria
Hello, Maririria! I am ___
Maybe, you think me handsome guy.
You are very nice teacher.
I want to see you next time, Good bye.

Hello! Your smile is pretty. When you are smiling, you are beautiful. You are good teacher! Ill missing you. goodbye teacher ㅠㅠ

I’m always feel happy when I study with you. Because you teach me easy to learn. When I heard that you will go your home, I feel sad. But I wish you are happy and take care.

Maria teacher. My class attitude is bad. I’m so sorry. But I respect you. Teacher good luck. Take care! I miss you~

I will miss you ㅠ_ㅠ;; What is your address????? I’m want going to your home!! I was pleased to study with you for a year >_<

Maria is very cute
Maria is very funny
Maria is very short
So very cute

*I’ll want to eat California orange. ^^*

Dock-Do belongs to Korea lol   Japan (X) <- fuck!!!

Remember it! please…

Someday you meet good boy and marry… congratulation!!

You are so cute, beautiful and you has big eyes. I so envy your face. You leave Korea and go back your home California. I’m so sad. When you have a time, visit Korea and come our middle school…

[Drawing of the Korean flag and a map of North Korea, South Korea, Jeju and, of course, Dok Do]

Dear Maria teacher.
Hello. Maria.
I’m your student.
I heard that you will go to U.S.A.
Why are you go to U.S.A?
I studied with you only one year!
I don’t want to study with another teacher.
I don’t want… but you want to go U.S.A.
Please Don’t Forget Us
Bye teacher. Happy in U.S.A.

Sometimes I wonder, what did they learn from my class? Actually, I wanted them to learn to express themselves without the pretense of getting good grades. And, as shown above, I think many were able to accomplish that! I’ll really miss these kids and I hope they know that the feeling is mutual.

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Taught my students how to ask ‘Have you ever…?’ questions. It’s a pretty good lesson. Afterward we did a review game. One of the questions is:

Have you ever _____ a dog?

I thought there was only one obvious answer: had. I even wrote it on their People Bingo sheet so it should’ve been easy for them. How naive am I?

Here’s what they’ve said:

Have you ever GROWN a dog?

Have you ever EATEN a dog?

Have you ever BEATEN a dog?

Have you ever SEEN a dog?

Have you ever RIDDEN a dog?

Have you ever BEEN a dog?

I couldn’t stop laughing when one kid said in all seriousness, “Have you ever BEEN a dog?” But it’s an acceptable question. If he believes in reincarnation.

These old Sesame Street skits come to mind:

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BFD: Korean SAT

In November, every 3rd year high school student in Korea takes the Scholastic Achievement Test, or SAT. Their score on this test determines which universities students can even consider applying to. There’s already plenty of information out there about the significance of the Korean SAT, so I wanted to focus on how else the Korean SAT is a BFD (big f*cking deal).

  • Susi. It’s like Early Admissions in the US. High achieving students can apply to universities before the SAT date and get accepted based on their current grades and test scores. It’s beneficial to apply early since universities fulfill 30-50% of their admissions quota during early admission. If admitted, students don’t have to study as hard for the SAT. However, highly selective universities can retract their offer of admission if admitted students don’t meet the minimum SAT score.
  • Schools and businesses start later. To ensure that high school students make it to the testing locations on time, most schools and businesses start an hour later to minimize traffic congestion as high school students throughout the city travel to take the exam.
  • Gifts. Example of an SAT gift set. Students and their parents receive rice cakes and other gifts to wish them luck on the exam. Neighbors, co-workers and other people in the community pitch in to show their support. As one of the teachers at my school jokingly stated, “Mark next year’s test date on your calendars in red pen – My son is taking the SAT!”
  • 엿 Sticky grain/rice ‘cake’. There are various types of 엿. This sticky, taffy-like confectionery is a common gift for students taking the SAT. At first, I thought it was supposed to signify information sticking to your brain during the test. But, actually it’s supposed to help students ‘stick’ to a top university.
  • 찹쌀떡 Sticky rice cake. Similar to mochi, this rice cake is made from 찹쌀, which is a sticky variety of rice (glutinous rice). It is soft and doughy on the outside with red bean filling on the inside. 찹쌀떡 has the same significance as 엿. Gotta be extra sticky to get into Seoul University!


  • Toilet paper. Not as common as getting rice cakes, but it’s supposed to mean that the test will be so easy, the questions will simply unravel for you like a roll of toilet paper.
  • Fork. So you can ‘pick’ the right answer.
  • Toy axe. In Korean, you use the same verb for axe and fork so it’s like a play on words.

Candy companies and stores like Paris Baguette sell test gift sets to give to students taking the SAT. And I thought I left rampant commercialism behind back in the US.

My English Buddies asked me, “In the US, what do students get when they take the SAT?” uhh a little stressed?

We don’t take it nearly as seriously as they do in Korea. The systems are quite different. As I recall, we don’t get anything special when we take the SAT, especially since there are multiple test dates and the test isn’t mandatory. Did you get anything special whenever you took a test?

Photos from:  mykoreankitchen.com

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Another day, another free concert. Life is just too good sometimes!

I went up to Seoul with a few friends to attend the Asia Song Festival at Jamsil Olympic Stadium. It’s a huge venue suitable for hosting a concert of that scale. But, the festival didn’t run very smoothly. The ticket booths were disorganized and there weren’t enough signs to indicate where people should wait in line. There was too much cutting and pushing and shoving that could have been better regulated. Maybe they lacked volunteers or didn’t have enough money for signs. I think a lot of things can be improved for future years.

Program and ticket

Our seats weren’t bad. We had seats in the stands more toward the right side of the stage. They opened the doors around 3:30 even though the concert didn’t start until around 7. We just sat in the stands and had snacks.

Setting up the stage

Here’s a list of the performers:

  • 이승철 Lee Seung-chul (Korea)
  • 비 Rain (Korea)
  • 보아 BoA (Korea)
  • 카라 KARA (Korea)
  • 투에이엠 2AM (Korea)
  • AKB48 (Japan)
  • Jane Zhang (China)
  • Joe Cheng (China)
  • Michael Wong (Malaysia)
  • Bie The Star (Thailand)
  • 포미닛 4Minute (Korea)
  • 비스트 Beast (Korea)

Not a big fan of their songs but their performance wasn’t bad.

4 minute

At first, I made fun of their name as a ripoff of 2PM. But these guys really can sing.


Beautiful staging to showcase her sweet voice.

Jane Zhang

I assumed Jackie Chan would be there as the Chairperson of the Asia Song Festival. I hoped he would jump out of a helicopter and land on stage. But this is all we got. A 10 second video of Jackie Chan dubbed in Korean. To be fair, he reminded us that one of the reasons of hosting the festival is to to support UNICEF’s programs around the world.

Jackie's "appearance"

The strangest performance I’ve ever seen. Mega idol group AKB48 from Japan consists of 48 girls. I thought my head was going to explode from the combined assault of super pop music, pirate-y costumes, high-pitched voices and the spectacle of 48 dancing girls.


KARA performed two of the catchiest songs of the year, “Mister” and “Lupin.”


Beast, once again. Though this performance seemed better than the one they gave at the Hallyu Dream Festival.

Every night I shock...

And finally…

It's hard to tell, but it's Rain!

It's really him!

Sorry I didn’t really take any good photos. I was too busy having fun! It was really touching to see Michael Wong perform one of the most famous Mandarin songs ever. It brought back memories of my EAP days! And, of course, I was so excited to FINALLY see Rain!!

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Thanks to my fellow English teacher friends for sharing your honest perspectives. Cheers to our own unique blend of Korea! This post is for all of you English teachers out there!


There’s a special kind of tea called omija cha, or five flavor tea, that is known for its unique blend of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent flavors. I really like omija because of its sweetness, sourness, bitterness and tart-ness. It’s almost like pomegranate juice, except all the flavors kind of hit you at the same time. And that’s actually what makes the tea so special.

oh me jaw

Why am I writing about omija tea? I think it’s a good way to describe what Korea has been like for many of us English teachers. A strange mixture of sweet, sour, bitter, and even pungent experiences that come at us all at once. This is something I’ll to refer to as the Five Flavors of Korea. I know there are a myriad of “flavors” (good and bad) in Korea, but just go with my little omija metaphor! I asked some of my English teacher friends to describe their experiences in Korea. Everyone had a different response. Many described their experiences as sweet or bitter, some sour and some even said pungent.

  • Sweet
    Most of my blog posts are about the sweet side of living in Korea. I was fortunate to have been served a sweet blend of omija tea in Korea. I love my school and my co-teacher. My administrator is very generous and all my co-teachers are very good. Even my landlord and landlady are very nice. I don’t have much to complain about to be honest and I feel a bit guilty sometimes when I know some people have worse situations.
    A fellow teacher said, “I was prepared for the culture, as I grew up around it. Moreover, I can describe it as sweet, because after overcoming the many obstacles here, I really feel a sense of strong satisfaction”
  • Bitter
    As one of my friends describes his/her experience, “It’s like experiencing the good and the bad, but having the bad things outweigh the good. Although bitter is something not so horrible, it stills leave this bad taste in your mouth.” Not palatable at all.
  • Pungent
    Another friend describes the transition as very sharp and drastic, like a “crash landing.” “Korea is in the far east! Meaning its friggin far from home!!!! Not only distance wise but also cultural wise! I think I had major culture shock in the beginning! I think my advice would be not to do too much research. I over researched and thus had expectations and thought I knew what I was going to get! Nothing panned out as I had imagined it! Whereas when I worked and traveled in England for a year I had very few expectations thus fewer disappointments! Korea is like a crash landing. It’s rough and wild and completely disorientating, but if you can make it through the impact and find your way through the rubble I think you will be fine! And last, there is a lingering odor of sewage in some parts of town.” How pungent!
  • Sweet-n-Sour
    “Everyday there is something that goes wrong. Or something that is a pain in the ass. Or something that I don’t like. Some days I want to cry and call my mommy.”
    “Then there are days where I literally want to skip to work. Where everything is exciting and new. Where I just want to dance through the streets and smile at every ajumma and ajosshi”
    “Anyway, the experience has been an overall pleasant one with some bumps. I think what it is, is that if you keep an open mind, you’ll have fun. If you’re set in your ways and want the world to change for you, then you’re going to experience problems.”
  • Bittersweet
    “Things are getting easier, but living in a country like Korea is never easy”
    “I love it here! I love challenging myself! And I am having such a great time being here and experiencing everything new! Even teaching, it’s much better than I imagined it would be! I love it here, but the bitter sweet part is that I miss my family and friends so much! On one hand I am sooo happy, if it wasn’t for the missing everyone factor! that’s the hardest part!”

Living in Korea is like drinking omija cha, it’s hard to put a finger on its “flavor”. Is it sweet? Bitter? Good or bad? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell! So we often find ourselves frustrated and confused. Or sometimes it’s hard to decipher our feelings because they change so fast. One moment everything’s as sweet as pie and the next, sour lemons. Wae, omija/Korea??

Or maybe it’s because the flavors seem to blend together. Things aren’t simply sweet, sour or bitter just like things aren’t simply good or bad. It’s everything at the same time! Good and bad and “so-so”. With some input from my English teacher friends, here are five things we’ve learned and observed about living in Korea:

  1. Things will not always be clear-cut. There are times you’ll feel unsure and uncertain. At some point, you’ll feel like that all the time.
  2. Things will not be what you expect. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Definitely keeps you on your toes.
  3. You’re not alone! Use your seonsaengnim network – foreigners and locals. Help each other out.
  4. No matter what people tell you about their experiences, you really won’t know until you get here.
  5. And, every day is a different day. To put a little spin on a classic quote, “Korea is like omija cha; you never know what you’re gonna get.”

We all get served a different mix of this blend. Some have it more bitter and some have it more sweet, but it’s all the same Korea. That’s the good and the dark side of it all. In the end, all I can say is…

Korea is definitely a unique blend

This post is my way of coping with the different facets of living and working in Korea. It was originally a post about how grateful I am to be at my school but how unfair it is that some people are placed in really bad situations. But, it slowly transitioned into a different kind of post. During the process of writing, I realized how much we have in common as English teachers despite how different our experiences have been. We’re all in it together – swirling in the cup of omija cha that is Korea.

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What is Sports Day? I’m not quite sure. But, most elementary and middle schools have one every year. Classes compete against one another in various games and relays. Each class selects a costume or theme for Sports Day. We had about 3 Superman classes.

Students in class costumes

I walked around and talked to every class and took pictures of students cheering and competing in the sports events.

You better run.. run.. run..

Jump over the stick

Scooter ..?

Run on top of your classmates!

I was asked to participate in the teacher’s run. I didn’t know it was a race and a team relay! So, I actually had to run. Luckily, our team won and we each got a 10,000won gift certificate!

After Sports Day at my school, I went over to Daegu Stadium to watch the IAAF Pre-Championships Meet. Track and Field competition. Daegu is hosting the World Championships next year, so this is a pre-championship competition. The main attraction of the event was none other than Usain Bolt!

Look at him go!

Even faster in person!

100m in 9.86 seconds

Great way to spend the day and start a long weekend!

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