Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea



OVER GENERALIZATION ALERT: I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about being a first grade girl that brings out the need to be constantly concerned with appearance. The second grade girls aren’t nearly as bad. My first grade girls like to put on lotion, put on foundation, use mirrors, glue their eyelids back (not exaggerating, this happens), and comb their hair all during class. When I ask students if they can pay attention while staring at themselves in the mirror they unashamedly say yes. When I ask students who they’re trying to impress, as it’s a gender-segregated school and they have no free time anyway, they just look depressed.

The boys can also be pretty bad, but it’s a different sort. The first few weeks of class there’s always a few who stand up in the middle of my lectures and walk to the mirror in the back of the class and check out their profiles, patting down their sideburns until they notice me staring at them and they meekly slink back into their seats. After week two I have no more problems with the male students and their beauty regimen.

But the girls. The girls. Shake your head. Fluff your hair. Flatten down your bangs. Frown at yourself. Pin back your bangs. Apply foundation. Put lotion on your hands. Stare at your cuticles. Squint at yourself in the mirror. Look at your eyes. Poke at your eyelashes. Pop a pimple. Reposition your bangs. Take your comb. Comb your hair. Focus heavily on your bangs. Put on your glasses. Make a face. Take off your glasses. Make a face. “Sneakily” get the girl three rows over to throw her lotion at you. Put more lotion on your hands. Look in the mirror. Make a face.

Now. I appreciate that they’re trying to make themselves look good. I remember being a super awkward high school sophomore myself. I have no issues with people taking pride in their appearance and trying to maintain it – but when you do it to the exclusion of everything else, that’s when we start to have problems.

I have confiscated so many bottles of lotion, combs and mirrors (even broken a few by accident) that I could open my own secondhand store  The other day I confiscated my first ever pair of scissors, because a girl was cutting her own hair in the middle of my lecture.

As frustrating as this is, today when I was cutting up papers for my club class and I used my confiscated pair, I did feel oddly victorious. There’s something quite beautiful about taking the same pair of scissors that served as a distraction and using it to create education materials to benefit those same students.

Plus hey! Free scissors.

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안녕하세요! My name is Emily and when I started this blog I had received a 2010 – 2011 F*lbright grant to teach English in South Korea.  I then decided to apply to renew my grant, so I am now staying in Korea until July 2012. This blog is not an official F*lbright Program blog, and the views expressed are my own and not those of the F*lbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

I graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in Philosophy Pre-Law and Classical Civilizations, and found myself 3 months later teaching English at SGHS. The town that I taught in, SG, is a small town of 12,000 people, an “읍” (eup) rather than a “시” (shi – city), and though it was sometimes hard teaching in such a small town I really enjoyed the unique experience of being the first foreign teacher SGHS had ever had. I lived in the largest part of the county which is significantly bigger (40,000 people) than the town the school is situated in, but is also considered rural by Korean standards.

During my second grant period (2011-2012) I decided to change schools and I currently teach at CPHS which is located in an even smaller town than previously, in Jeollanamdo.

This blog is meant to serve as a reflection not only of being a Native English Speaking teacher in Korea, but also of living as a foreigner in rural Korea.