Friday, January 30, 2009


For those who were wondering, here are my two possible departure dates:

If all goes well with my replacement, I leave Korea on Saturday, February 21st. The flight will most likely be leaving at night, so even with the fourteen-hour time difference, it will be Sunday by the time I get home.

If all does not go well with my replacement, then I leave Korea on Saturday, February 28th. I am actually hoping this date is my departure date, since it means one extra week in Korea (leaving here is not going to be easy). If this turns out to be my date, then I will actually arrive home on March 1st.

I still cannot believe that I have been over here for over eleven months, or that my departure is looming so near (only three weeks away, if I leave on the earlier date)!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Teaching Without a Voice

My voice decided to go somewhere without me, so today I had the "fun" of trying to teach twelve classes, including two kindergarten classes, with a voice that went no higher than a whisper. Fortunately for me, most of the classes were sympathetic to my plight.

In my first kindergarten class, the monster-child was absent, which meant all the kids behaved very well. I managed to keep them busy (and still learning a little) with a last-minute craft. I had them make caterpillars and then glue pictures of a few "c" words to the bodies of the caterpillars. It worked well, and the coloring, cutting, and gluing kept them busy for about half of the class time, which allowed me to save a bit of voice for the next bunch. I felt guilty about the kids not hearing very much English from a native speaker, so I played some music while they worked.

For the second batch of kindies, I was fortunate that their book comes with a CD. So, I was able to let the CD teach for awhile. I also had them sing a lot (they enjoy it, and it helps them memorize sentence structure and terms). As a treat, knowing that the lesson would not be up to my usual standard, I gave them a game of picture bingo at the beginning of class. It was the perfect game for a voice-less teacher, since I could write the words on the board instead of saying them (thus letting the kids work on their reading skills).

With the afternoon classes, my luck varied. Most classes were very quiet and tried hard to make my job easier. A few classes decided to take advantage of my handicap and do as they pleased - but after I started handing out homework, they settled down. With one class, I temporarily lost even my whisper, so I wrote "GAME!" in huge letters on the board and set up a game of hopscotch for them. In another class, the kids decided to have fun with me by trying to mimic my voice whenever they answered questions. I retaliated by (gently) smacking several of them over the heads with their (very thin paperback) textbooks. They loved it!

My last two classes of the day are my most advanced classes, which means I really need to be able to communicate with them. In both classes, I am currently teaching them a bit of US history, which is normally a lot of fun for me. Today, trying to explain the plight of American Indians, I almost cried from frustration. My whisper had grown very weak by this point, and it was imperative that the kids hear me. I used the whiteboard as much as I could, and fortunately the kids were extremely quiet. I can only hope that they managed to learn something.

On the way home, the cold weather had shifted into even colder, rainy weather. Naturally, I stepped out of one of my shoes while risking my neck running across the street (Korean drivers seem to enjoy ignoring "walk" lights). I was able to run back into the middle of the road to retrieve the errant shoe, but not without attracting glares and horn-honks from several drivers (keep in mind, I still had a green "walk" light - albeit a blinking one).

Tomorrow, being Friday, is a game day for most of my classes, so I am making activity sheets for most of them. They'll be entertained, they'll still learn, and I won't have to talk!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another Fun Day with the Kiddies

My littlest kindergartners are currently learning several gender words, including "man" and "woman." Today we were learning the word "woman." To help the kids understand, I gave them the example "Stephanie-teacher is a woman." Amy and Cali responded with "Cate-teacher is a woman!" I was so proud of their quick understanding and application of the new term. Then Amy informed me, "Angel-teacher [the female Korean kindergarten teacher] is a man!"

Next I had the little ones do a small project. They had to draw eyes, mouths, and hair on a picture of a man and woman. Amy kept me diverted with a running commentary on her picture: "S-tep-anie, woman is mommy. Mommy has one baby. Is a BIG baby! Baby noisy and mommy and daddy is very sleepy! Baby is very very very very bad baby. Mommy is I'm crazy today!" Jay drew a big red circle around the eye of the woman in his picture and a huge circle on the forehead of the man and informed me, "Mommy eye-ouchie. Daddy pizza-head!"

In a later class, I asked the kids what they do after school. The answers ranged from a list of additional classes that they take (Korean kids do a TON of extra lessons in addition to their normal schooling), to such creative responses as "I hit my brother after school," "I make my mother crazy after school [driving parents crazy seemed to be a popular theme today!]," and "I feed my father after school. [I think she meant that she helps her mother fix dinner.]"

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Fate of Jasper

Many people have been curious about what will become of Jasper when I leave Korea. He's coming with me, of course! I have checked thoroughly into the matter, and even emailed the American consulate in Seoul just to make sure, and it is perfectly all right to bring Jasper home with me. According to the consulate and the vet, Jasper will not need to be quarantined, and the only big requirement is that he have his rabies vaccine at least 30 days prior to our departure (he had his a few days ago, so we're fine there).

Here are the answers to a few more of the FAQs about Jasper:

How will Jasper travel? Will they let him ride under the seat?
Although Jasper is probably small enough that he could, under normal circumstances, ride under the seat (I've flown with a dog this way before, and it was fine), I don't think it is a good idea for such a long journey. I am concerned that he would cry too much and be too cramped, plus trying to handle him and my carry-on at the airports would be quite a strain on me. So, for the sake of both of us, I will be sending Jasper to the cargo hold. That way he can have a larger carrier, and if he makes any noise, he won't disturb anyone.

How will Jasper get water and exercise?
Poor Jasper will spend an entire day cooped up in a carrier with no exercise, but this will be made up to him when he get to the USA. There, he will have a large yard to play in all spring and summer, and he'll have two canine friends of similar breeds to play with. As for water, I will be teaching him to drink from a water bottle, and will also put a note (written in two languages) on the outside of his carrier, requesting that he be given water. Jasper will have one new toy, an old favorite, and a few new bones to occupy him on the journey.

Where did you get your information about traveling to the USA with pets? How can you be sure that your information is accurate?
I checked with the TSA website, emailed the American consulate in Seoul (and checked their website), checked the website, and checked with my vet. I have also visited the websites of every possible airline that I may fly on, to ensure that they allow pets on international flights.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sleepy Wednesday

I am dreadfully tired today, after having to stay up so late last night (technically this morning) in order to watch the inauguration. Unfortunately, 12:00 PM in Washington, D.C. is 2:00 AM in Gyeongju, South Korea. However, I knew that if I did not stay up to watch this historic event, my future grandchildren will most likely try to stone me! So, the wee hours of the morning found me laying on my stomach across the bed, with CNN on the TV, my journal open in front of me, and my pen poised and ready. I recorded everything I could, writing as fast as possible, so that someday future generations can have my account to add to their store of knowledge. I think I deserve a huge pat of the back from those as-of-yet-unborn generations!

I talked to Cate yesterday, and I now have a tentative departure date (assuming everything goes well and on time for my replacement). I mailed a second box home yesterday, once more amazed by how cheap it is to ship things by ground from Korea. I have so much to do in preparation for my impending departure, and only a month in which to do it all. Fortunately, this weekend is going to be a four-day weekend (owing to the Lunar New Year, I get Monday and Tuesday off), so I should be able to accomplish a fair amount. I want everything possible done well in advance, so that I can have a low-stress final week in Korea. I do not want my last impressions of Korea colored by chaos.

For the sake of others who are considering employment abroad, I have decided to try to detail my return-journey preparations as well as I did the preparations to go abroad. I have added another label to my post categories, "Preparing to Go Home," so anyone considering employment abroad can get a good idea of what to expect when they complete their contract, and can have the benefit of my experience. I only hope that I will not be demonstrating a worst-case scenario!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Post-Korea Diet

I have often joked with my friends here that when I get back to the USA, the meals I'll be eating for the first month will leave people wondering if I am pregnant! We were discussing last week what foods we miss the most from our home countries, and I thought it might be amusing to make a list of the top ten foods that I have been craving over the past year:

1. Pretzils - they are one of my favorite snack foods, so naturally I have missed them greatly. I found a large bag once at Costco over here, but ate them far too quickly and have not been able to find any since.
2. Chicken noodle soup - I did find a can of Campbell's chicken noodle soup at the grocery store here once, and even though I dislike canned soup, I bought and consumed it. It just made me miss the real thing all the more.
3. Mint chocolate chip ice cream - the best I can find at the store is a non-dairy version that has a distasteful texture and odd flavor.
4. Brocoli casserole - my aunt makes the best brocoli casserole in the world, and the holidays of 2008 suffered greatly for the lack of this holiday staple.
5. Brocoli cheese soup in a bread bowl - one of my favorite things in the world to eat (even sans bread bowl), and it is nowhere to be found in Gyeongju!
6. Sour cream - several dishes that I have prepared over here would have been greatly enhanced if I could only have a mere dollop!
7. Quaker Oatmeal Squares - my favorite cereal, and sorely missed for the past year.
8. Grape Nuts - ditto
9. Corned beef - oh, how my mouth waters for a nice thick corned beef sandwich!
10. Liccorice - another favorite snack, and sadly, not a stick of it to be found.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Warming up a Bit

Thank goodness, Korea is finally getting a little warmer. Well, at least Gyeongju is (I can't speak for the rest of the country). As usual, we have a lovely blue sky and bright sunshine today, and, for a very nice change, I do not feel frozen to the marrow every time I step outside my door. It's wonderful to be back to only wearing one sweater under my coat!

I only have a little over a month left here in Korea, and the time is passing me by at an alarming rate. I choke up a little whenever I think about leaving, and even tear up sometimes. I've really learned a lot and gained a lot this past year, and I confess, I don't want it to end. Even on days like today, when the kindergartners leave me weary after six minutes with them, I still have a hard time accepting the idea of leaving Korea. Even more than that, I hate the thought of the return journey: another 23+ hours spent on planes...ooohhhh (picture me curling into a fetal position and whimpering in a most pathetic manner).

I shipped the first box home last week and was "amused" to discover that sending a 5 kilogram box from here to the US cost about $15 USD (ground shipping), but shipping over a few papers from the US last year cost me $99 USD. Yes, granted that was Fed-ex and sent through a faster method, but still, the price difference is a bit staggering. I'm hoping to ship another box or two this week, so that I can perhaps only have to take one carry-on on the return journey and fit everything else into two suitcases.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Strange-ee Week...

It has been, to put it mildly, a rather unusual week. Actually, that's not an entirely accurate statement. Let me try again: For a normal person, it would have been an odd week. For Stephanie, it has been a pretty normal week (since odd occurrences are the normality in my life).

It is bone-numbingly cold here in Gyeongju right now, so I have seldom been warm this week. Korea is a different type of cold than what I am used to. It is unbelievably dry, and occasionally quite windy, which I think makes it feel even colder than it really is. Thus, with my poor circulation on top of that, my hands and feet keep going numb every day, and my hands have consistently been a lovely shade of purple. I can't seem to find my gloves anywhere, so I have taken to wearing fuzzy socks on my hands instead. Surprisingly, I think they actually warm up hands better than gloves do (maybe because the fingers are together?). In the evenings, I turn up my ondol (heated floor) and usually sit around wearing three sweatshirts and a scarf. I am really hoping that groundhog sees his shadow in a few weeks!

Of course, the cold is not what has made this an odd week. Perhaps the oddness of the week was somehow influenced by the cold, though. Monday started the chain of strangeness. On Monday, I managed to drop my only large towel in the toilet (dratted lack of toilet seat!) and managed to spill half of cup of coffee into my basket during one of the kindergarten classes (it took forever to get the mess cleaned up). On Tuesday, I had one of the most disturbing nightmares of my entire life. I dreamed that I was dating a mortician, and his mother tried to embalm me while I slept. The dream left me feeling rather unsettled for the rest of the day! Also on Tuesday, I got rather confused and kept thinking it was Thursday (the kids loved that).

On Wednesday, I stepped outside the door of the apartment building and nearly slipped on slipped on about a millimeter of strange white stuff...snow in Gyeongju! The kids were so excited, you'd think it was Christmas again! And, being my intelligent self, I spent all day Wednesday doing the same thing I did on Tuesday: thinking it was Thursday. Again, my dear students were delighted (few things are as fun as a chance to correct the teacher).

Today, I managed to drop my entire lunch face down on my kitchen floor while maneuvering it from stove to plate (Jasper was kind enough to clean up the mess with remarkable speed and diligence). I was thrilled, however, to finally have the date right for the first time in three days! Well, part of the date anyway. My brain is still grappling with the shift from 2008 to 2009. Thank goodness tomorrow is Friday!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Teacher, you is Gollum!"

And those words from little seven-year-old Jinny aptly sum up Friday. It was a very fun day, in which I goofed off with the kids quite a bit and had a blast. I love days like that!

I started the afternoon classes by somehow managing to teach a new game to my new grammar class (the one where the kids speak no English yet). The kids, even the two quiet little girls, loved my game and really got into it, with a level of enthusiasm that I am convinced can only be reached by Korean kids. The next class also had a new game, with even greater success. The kids actually let out a huge collective groan when I announced that class was over, and begged me for "five more minutes, Teacher!"

By E-2A, I was feeling pretty jovial, and decided to have a bit of fun. So, I walked into the room acting like I had no idea what day it was, and laboriously wrote on the board the date that they shouted to me - deliberately putting the wrong year (2007). The children were shocked.
"No, no, Teacher!" They all shouted at once. "It's 2009!"
"Oh, I'm sorry," I apologized. "You're right. It's 2003, of course!"
"No, Teacher! It's 2009!"
"Of course, of course, how silly of me. It's 2001."
"No, today is 2009!"
"My goodness, did I get it wrong again? Let's's 2020!"
"NO, TEACHER!!! 2009, Teacher! Two, zero, zero, nine! Teacher is crazy!"
"Okay, I've got it now," I reassured them, erasing the year. "I know exactly what year it is now. Thank you so much for helping me." Carefully I wrote on the board: 1682. The response was a cacophony of laughter and shouts. The kids loved my little shtick (I did the same thing, with even bigger laughs from the kids, in three other classes later in the day)!

During the rousing game of hopscotch that followed, Jinny teasingly called me Gollum. Naturally, I had to spend the rest of the class speaking in my best Gollum voice (bad for the throat, but the kids were delighted, especially when I started referring to each of them as "Precious"). It's always so funny to me how things like "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" can unite people around the world. I mean, here I was in a classroom more than 10,000 miles from home, and I could make pop-culture jokes that the kids understood. In another class, I sang an ABBA song with the kids (which they knew even more words to than I did). What a small, funny world we live in!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

KOed by Tuesday!

In the epic battle of Stephanie versus Tuesday, I definitely did not fare well. I learned on Monday that I was gaining two new classes, a beginning grammar class and an advanced middle school class. The beginner class was inserted during my afternoon gap, and the advanced class was placed after my last class, so now I work half an hour later each day. I'm enjoying the advanced class, but the grammar class is murder since the kids have no idea what their English names are, and neither do I! I'm literally starting from scratch with these kids!

With the two new classes, it brings my total up to twelve. On Tuesdays, there is also a meeting, which falls in my now-shorter afternoon gap, thus making it impractical to go all the way home for lunch. It makes more sense now to eat lunch at school and use the time to do lesson plans. Thus, Tuesday was a far longer than average day. Naturally, since I had a longer day, my head decided (without consulting me) that it would be an ideal day to host a mega migraine. By the power of Vicodin alone I made it though all my classes. I hate to take heavy meds when I'm teaching, owing to the side effects, but there was no other option yesterday (well, curling up and dying sounded good, but I think the kids would have missed me). Naturally, most classes were rather energetic (not bad, just high energy). With every cheer or exuberant answer, the pain in my head reverberated through my entire body, almost moving me to tears. Not a fun day.

Jasper, of course, felt that he was the real victim in all this. Not only did he have to stay penned up all day long, without a break in the afternoon, but then he only got to be out for about an hour in the evening, before being put to bed early. He was far from being a happy boy, but at least he suffered in silence (I think he can sense when I don't feel well). The migraine and I hung out together all night, but finally, at about five in the morning, the migraine decided to take its leave. I couldn't be more thrilled. Migraines make lousy house guests.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Future of This Blog

Numerous people have asked me what will become of "From Kalamazoo to Korea" when my contract in Korea is finished. I had originally planned to end the blog at that point; however, I have come to greatly enjoy this creative outlet, and it has become a valuable resource for staying in touch with the many friends who live a great distance away from me. Plus, my life is so filled with random occurrences and experiences that do not happen to normal people, that I am confident of having plenty of new material. So, after much thought, I have decided to continue the blog after I leave Korea. Since I'll be embarking on yet another chapter of my life, it is only fitting that the blog change with me, so stay tuned for another blog makeover in February.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's Resolutions for 2009

Wow, I still cannot believe that it is really 2009 already. It honestly feels like only a few days ago that I was at my amazing church in Michigan, bringing in 2008 with several very dear friends. Gosh, the way time zooms by...

Every year, I make at least one (usually more) resolution. I tend to take them pretty seriously. Last year I made the following resolution:

"My resolution this year is to be non-judgmental and to learn as much as I can about Koreans and their culture/customs. I resolve not to look down on aspects that to me are odd, but instead to accept and attempt to understand. In short, I resolve not to be an ugly American."

I'd say I kept that one better than any resolution I have ever made. Especially my resolutions for 2007, which were to lose weight (does it count if I did it in 2008 instead?) and to find a job in publishing (since I wasn't very specific, does a blog that brings me no money count?). In past years, I have resolved to do things like reach a certain number of poems in my poetry notebooks, write a novel (still waiting), or make dean's list (did it!).

This year, I have made the following resolutions:

1. I resolve to write a book about my year in Korea (as in start it and finish it). Numerous people have suggested this to me, and I myself toyed with the idea all last year. I have a very bad habit of starting to write things and then abandoning them (I'm too much of a perfectionist about my own work), so this one will be tough to keep, but I am going to give it my best effort.

2. I resolve to worry less about the things I cannot alter and to concentrate instead on the things that I can alter.

3. I resolve to commit one random act of kindness for someone else, taking no credit, every day.
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"