The word was necklace. It was a word I had introduced to my junior high students the previous week as we used a dialogue about a woman’s lost wedding ring to practice our speaking and pronunciation skills. The boy reached into the bucket of Pictionary words I’d created specially for this review game and pulled out the piece of jewelry one wears about the neck. I asked him if he remembered the word and he assured me he did. His teammates watched anxiously as I started the 1-minute countdown in which he’d have to draw a picture that they could then interpret correctly to give me the word. I yelled, “Ready, set, GO!” and watched his teammates for a raised hand. Then, after a few seconds, the entire class erupted in laughter. I turned to see what was so funny and discovered the boy, in a hurried attempt to draw a necklace with a small pendant had instead drawn what more closely resembled a penis with urethral opening. My wide eyes must have told him he needed to try again, which he did. Seconds later, more laughter–this time, he’d done a rather fine rendition of a vagina. Thankfully, his teammates were able to guess the word, and he was able to sit down without suffering any more embarrassment. In short, welcome to my life, friends. Continue reading
I have a recurring problem in my life, one that often rears its ugly head when I’m least able to combat it. It involves offering individual assistance to students and the tip of my nose—more specifically, the sweat beads that often form on the tip of my nose and periodically drip away like salty bomblets. You see, it’s hot here in Taiwan. The heat is hotter here than any I have experience enduring. The public school where I work, like most (if not all) public schools in Taiwan, does not have air-conditioning in the classrooms. Yes, you read that correctly: no air-conditioned classrooms. Only copious electric fans and the hope of decent crossflow. Taiwan is a wealthy country, but the government sees little need to install such an expensive luxury into buildings that sit mostly unused during the hottest part of the year. I guess I can see their point, but, still, the first week of classes was a delicate balance of teaching and monitoring every drop of moisture that formed on my face and attempting to avoid the unfortunate development of one of them sailing off and landing on a student’s book. The good news is that it’s only insufferably hot here for a few months from mid-June until about mid-September. The rest of the year is quite mild. On Sunday night at the end of my first week of teaching, a weather system moved through that cleared the air of humidity and lowered the temperature about 12 degrees Fahrenheit. The whole next week, I was blissfully sweat free. Victory, sweat victory. Continue reading
Unless I return to the Land of the Morning Calm at some point in the future, this will likely be the final chapter I write in The Korea Kronicles. As I finished typing these words, I was hanging out at a cafe in Taipei, the city where I plan to move in just a few weeks. This post is intended to be the final take on my experience working within Korea’s competitive, cutthroat, and ruthless education-industrial complex—phraseology I use almost entirely unironically—and a resource that will prepare other individuals who either are considering or have already decided to make the move to Korea.
Mostly, I want people to realize up front that while teaching in Korea can be an altogether amazing and enriching experience, it is almost just as likely be deeply dark and intensely negative. The reality is that, like most human experiences, it will often tend to be some cocktail of the two. While my own time tended more toward the former than the latter, I need people to be aware that it really is mostly the luck of the draw as to whether they will end up loving or hating Korea. So, if you, the reader, are the sort of person who’s contemplating a move to this country because you’ve convinced yourself it will be perfect and easy and amazing the whole time, then you need to stir in a little rationality with all that sunshine in your coffee. I’m reminded of the line from the song “Such Great Heights” by the Postal Service: “Everything looks perfect from far away.” Korea is no different, and, as a place inhabited by human beings, it comes complete with all the normal—and quite a few unique—human problems and frustrations. Continue reading