Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea
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Final Friday: Part One


Club class was cancelled yesterday. I was really sad because I actually really enjoy club class this semester, and all of the students in my club class. Those extra two hours were really beneficial, and with my co-teacher we sat down and figured out exactly which utilities we needed to called and one-by-one checked them off our list and made plans to go pay and cancel each of them on Tuesday. Yesterday the floodgates opened and a deluge of third grade students (8, actually. Hardly a deluge but considering how often they leave their hallway for “superfluous” things, it really was a deluge). In the last two periods, three of my former YDAC girls visited and gave me sweet letters and presents, and we chatted about the future and keeping in touch.

One of my favorite third grade boys who the others call “Gazelle” due to his big eyes and freckles has been visiting me during multiple free break periods, sitting down to chat for ten minutes at a time then running back up to his classroom, then repeating the same process. He started coming to me earlier this year for help with a project he was doing, and now that the project is completed he just enjoys talking to me. He told me that most foreign teachers do their job and do it well, but are not always kind and warm-hearted. The third grade students at CPHS love me because I teach well, but I also care about the students, help them by doing extra work, and always smile. I nearly lost it. At this point two other third grade boys (these students, actually) came in to shake my hand and say goodbye. They looked at Gazelle, shook their heads, and told him not to cry. He told me that he might anyway.

Today I met one of my club class girls – probably my favorite club class student. She’s the one who wrote me this note, and is one of the three second graders in the class. She came in and hovered over my desk and hesitantly asked me if I you knew 미숫가루. I didn’t, so we looked it up on naver dictionaries. 미숫가루 [misutgaru: powder made of mixed grains, roasted and ground grains]. Huh. She then told me to wait a minute, shuffled with something on the ground that I couldn’t see, then ran over to the water cooler. She then came back with a cup full of grain tea. She explained to me how she had made it (two spoonfuls of grain, a spoonful of sugar, water, and a little milk) and nervously watched me drink it. I exclaimed that it was good (because it was) and gave me a 40 gram bag of 미숫가루 that was 국내산 (a Korean-made product), and gave me a sweet letter.

It is not even 9 am. How am I gonna make it through this day?

Notes from CAPS LOCK KID


Remember CAPS LOCK KID? He wrote me a very Caps locky note.

To. Emily

Hi Emily

I’m so sad. Because you will leave this high school. Umm. Very sad news ㅠㅠ.

I used to say “How are you” when I met you in school. Then you say to me “I’m very good and how about you” And I say “I’m fine.” But you hate this word Because this is very routine word.

Sorry. I’m still not perfect.

When I graduate this high school then I will be perfect.




Someone told all of the second grade girls that my last day was today. I’ve had hordes of second grade girls run up to me looking anguished while I stop them and explain that no, I will be teaching here until Friday. Goodness graciousness.

Also I received a really nice mini-booklet of notes written by each student that students in class 2.3 compiled for me with my face on it. Unlike 2.9’s cake, I get to savor this one.

rolling paper



Cake Fail


Oh 2.9. My least favorite second grade class. I’m pretty sure they know it too, as they’re the only class I’ve had to scold pretty much every class. When they’re awake, class is good, but I teach them first period and they’re just so tired. It also probably doesn’t help that they have the scariest most intense homeroom teacher, and I teach them on Tuesdays, otherwise known as death days.

Yesterday I taught them for the last time, and when I walked in they presented me with a cake. A cake. These students for the most part can’t be bothered to wake up when I enter the classroom. And they got me a cake.

 A. Cake.

I promised them that while we would continue the class as per usual, I’d make sure we had enough time to share and eat the cake. They insisted that because the cake was so small I should eat it all myself. I told them that I couldn’t possibly eat  a whole cake by myself at 9 am, and that they should help me. We decided that as the cake was too small for the entire class, I would decide how many slices we could cut the cake into, and then we would use a computer program that generated random numbers to fairly choose which students would receive a slice.

I decided on 8 slices because that seemed reasonable, and so they decided that we would choose seven student numbers. The seconds in-between calling each number were fraught with tension, as each student waited with baited breath, and the seven students whose names were called jumped out of their seats, more awake and energetic than I have ever seen them in my class.

After class, I asked a student to come up and cut the cake for me, as I have cake-cutting anxiety (true fact. I never cut my own cakes. ever.) This student for some reason divided the cake into six slices. The students then realized that they had cut the cake into six instead of eight slices, and so then played rock-paper-scissors to lower the number of cake eaters from the lucky seven to six. After a pretty intense game of rock-paper-scissors, the lucky six grabbed their slices of cake and shoved them into their own mouths and into mouths of friends, like a wedding gone hideously wrong.

Here’s the thing, though – they forgot to give me a slice of cake.



“TEACHER. Your hair looks nice today.”
“Thank you! Your hair looks nice everyday.”
“I know. I’m a handsome guy.”

That’s a specific conversation that happened today, but it could be pretty much every conversation I have with my second grade boys.


Today third grade student asked me if I thought he was strange.

I told him that I thought he was a little strange, but I think that most people are strange. They just try to wrap up their strangeness in a normal exterior. He laughed, and agreed with me.

The coffee is still forthcoming…


Remember that kid who said he’d bring me coffee during cleaning period? As of yet, no dice.

Yesterday I ran into him and he looked horrified. TEACHER I’M SORRY I FORGOT I’LL BRING YOU COFFEE TODAY DURING CLEANING PERIOD. I assured him that it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted that he would. He didn’t.

Today I ran into him on my way to lunch. I gave him a look, and jokingly asked him where my coffee was. He dug into his pockets, pulled out a 500 won coin, and holding it over his head video-game style, and shouted I HAVE MONEY TODAY.

So, we’ll see.

Coffee and Good Cheer


Ugh 2.9. 2.9. It’s so frustrating teaching them because anything that works well with any other class flops. They’ve been getting better but even their “better” in my class isn’t great. I lectured the class as a whole, talked to some kids individually, and left class feeling really discouraged when I ran into one of my favorite second graders.

I asked how his day was and he responded “FANTASTIC” with a giant grin on his face, then asked me how I was. Something must have shown in my face, because when I answered “oh I’m fine” he could tell something was up.

“What’s wrong, teacher?”
“Oh nothing. I just want to sleep. Mornings are very difficult. I must go drink coffee.”
“Oh no! You don’t have to buy me coffee.”
“Yes Teacher! I will buy you coffee! Wait a moment please!”

The student thrust his hand into his pockets and then realized that he was wearing his gym uniform, and then hurriedly explained that he could not buy me coffee because he didn’t have any money on him, but that he would buy me machine milk coffee during cleaning period. I assured him that he didn’t have to, but he insisted.

I realize that I haven’t been blogging very much recently. Recently I’ve been slammed with work (both professional and personal), but that doesn’t mean that my life has ceased to be interesting. I’m still having good days and bad days, and more commonly just days with good and bad moments, and though I won’t be here much longer I’ll make renew my effort to write all those moments down, so I don’t forget them when I go.



These days it seems like I’m disciplining my students more frequently than not. It’s that time of year, more than halfway through the semester where the students can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and a part of them seems to give up. They’ll snap out of it, but it’s not a fun time for them or for me. I’ve lectured almost every single one of my second grade classes, confiscated mirrors, had private talks with co-teachers and individual students, and made students stand – all of which would be par for the course at SGHS but unusual for me at CPHS. Whenever I start to get a little too discipline-happy, though, I think back to first grade.

I mean actual first grade, like, when I was in elementary school.

At least, I think it was first grade. Time plays tricks on your brain. All I know is that I was old enough to feel guilt, and young enough to think that the dreadful pit that was forming in my stomach would never go away. I don’t even remember what I did, I just remember my teacher becoming upset and then asking a few of the students to come to the back of the class and talk to her individually. I was literally saved by the bell, and so she asked us to talk to her tomorrow. I then resolved with all the strength in my chubby first grade body that I would never go to school again. I was sure however, that my mom wouldn’t agree.

Mom, by the way, has never heard this story. Sorry Mom.

I somehow managed to fake sick for two weeks. She even took me to the hospital  which was a big deal as my parents tend to wait until we’re on the side of dying before admitting that perhaps we need professional help. The doctors could find nothing terribly wrong, but I still complained that I felt woozy, and my stomach hurt, and I couldn’t bear to go to school feeling like this. That much of my deception was true – two weeks in I was still convinced that my wonderful teacher hated me, and I couldn’t imagine what would happen to me when I arrived back at school.

I don’t remember how my mom and I decided it was time to go back to school. Perhaps she coerced me, perhaps I volunteered, all I know is that after two weeks of faking an illness to avoid a teacher’s wrath, I went back to school. I spent the whole day unable to focus, just waiting for my teacher to look me directly in the eye and call me to the back of the classroom; it never happened. She had forgotten that she had wanted to talk to me two weeks earlier. Against all odds, I had managed to escape.

I try keep this experience in mind when I discipline students. While it’s necessary to keep a firm hand, if one of my students disappeared for two weeks that wouldn’t help anyone.

Difficult Decisions


Today in my club class we practiced speaking fluency, and our main activity was an ethical dilemma debate. To prepare the students, I had them do a speaking fluency activity, then write in their journals. The journal topic today was “Have you ever struggled with a decision? What did you decide? Why was it so hard?” Most of the students wrote about their decision to come to CPHS, but one student wrote about choosing between different flavors of ice cream, because she wanted to eat them all.

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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.