As I've said before, the Korean school year starts in spring, so on the second of March I was back at school, ready to spend two weeks discussing the finer points of introducing yourself to people and asking where they are from. I know it is new kids in each grade, but it just always feels like everyone has regressed back to the beginning of speaking English when we come back from spring break. These classes are more of a challenge for me because the kids are so high level that they look at me like I'm an idiot when I say "Ok, repeat after me: HOW ARE YOU?"
Co-teachers also change in March, which was a MAJOR source of concern and consternation for me last year, but went much more smoothly this year. I teach all third grade classes (except for one) and all of sixth grade with a sweet, quiet new teacher named Ji In. She is right out of university. The other third grade class and all of fourth grade are taught with Hae Jung, one of Carin's old co-teachers who I worked with at summer and winter camp at Cheondong. Her English is awesome, so that helps everything go more smoothly. We are working on classroom management...let's leave it at that. Half of the fifth grade is taught with Yeon Ah from last year, and the other half is taught with Ju Yeon, who was one of the other subject teachers when I first arrived here in 2009, so we shared an office for a semester. Things have been going pretty smoothly thus far. I have all the lesson materials from last year, so I'm able to only make minor changes and be all ready to go. That is pretty damn sweet, haha. I thought I did little work before (compared to teaching in the US) and now I'm totally spoiled. Things are also easier because the kids all know me, they aren't afraid of me anymore, they understand how my classroom runs, etc. That frees me up to have more fun with the lessons and give them more authentic experiences, so that makes me happy.
As for the school administration, we got a new vice principal, and that has been...interesting. I am slightly concerned he is a sociopath, but whatever. Before he came everyone was all atwitter because he had a reputation for being really strict and kind of a hard-ass. However, when he arrived he smiled a lot, could actually speak a little English (his daughter goes to Drexel in Philly), and seemed okay to me. Turns out that is just because I don't speak Korean. While his face remained cheerful and nothing changed in his tone of voice or body language, he would get super snappy at teachers and make all sorts of crazy rules. Decree #1: All teachers should be smiling all the time when he sees them in the hallway. Decree #2: No laughing in the teachers' cafeteria; it's rude. Decree #3: Teachers may only sit at the lunch table with him and the principal when invited (keeping in mind that forces the 20 teachers to cram around the only two remaining tables. He's just a little nuts and the atmosphere in the room changes the moment he enters, so that sucks. Obviously I wasn't doing a whole lot of talking and uproarious laughing during lunch before, but I know it stresses my co-teachers out when he's around so that sucks. The principal is this quiet little lady and she won't tell him to cool his jets, so he's on a big power trip I think.
Outside of school things have been going well also. I got my free iPad (finally!) this month. I won it in a raffle over at Buzz-Korea, and I am a little (read: totally) in love with it. And Angry Birds. You should pop over onto the Buzz-Korea site, because they have lots of raffles and competitions going, and now you know they are good for it! In general, I've been a busy little social butterfly. How is it that so many of my friends who teach here had birthdays in the last couple of weeks? March 12 we went out to celebrate Dana's birthday with a trip to an amazing (and expensive on the weekends!) buffet called Seven Springs in Yeoksam, before retiring to the Tree Hof in Gangnam to partake in some cocktail soju and birthday cake.
Julia, Chrissy and Diana are excited to celebrate!
Soju cocktail cheers!
March 17 was St. Patrick's Day and a group of us, including a handful of our co-teachers, headed down to the Dublin Terrace Pub in Gangnam for some celebration. While the atmosphere was beautiful and really did remind me of pubs in western Ireland and the food was to DIE FOR (go right now and eat some Guinness stew, it's amazing), it was extremely expensive (a pint of Guinness for $12?!) and there was NO GREEN BEER which is basically blasphemy. I felt especially bad since that was one of the draws for my co-teachers. Carin and I thought we had outsmarted the system by brining our own food coloring. Alas, it was ridic Korean food coloring that was gel instead of liquid and just floated around in foul tasting little balls of green rather than dying anything. Sad day. We also had to pressure them into putting Irish music on, so that was weird.
If only your insides were as festive as your outsides.
Carin with the headband SHE STOLE FROM ME.
Dave's like a life size leprechaun...who likes to drink June Bugs.
March 18 was Diana D's birthday celebration, and a fun time was had by all. It turned into a fun girls night as Sarah, Diana, Chrissy, Shannon, Amanda, Julia, Lee-Rae and I met up to have a tasty Italian dinner near Konguk University. Then we spent some time at a very cool decorate-your-own-cake cafe near in that area. You buy a cake, choose an icing in a piping bag, choose decorations, and go to town. Crazy Diana chose banana icing for the chocolate cake, but I forgave her eventually. It was fun to fancy up our own cake for the evening. After we were kicked out (they were closing) we popped into a photo sticker booth so Diana could commemorate the night. The pictures are hilarious, as per usual. Future reference, 8 people is TOO MANY for a photo booth, haha. A few streets down from the photo place there was a bar (one of a chain) called Ireland Yuki where they put on a hilarious birthday show for Diana, including a "bartending" show (where the guy dropped the cups twice), a mini fire show (where his first try breathing fire didn't light so he just spit alcohol all over the table), and a personal serenade by a bartender. She was also given a free shot and a bowl of birthday seaweed soup. Hilarious. We chowed down on some cake and threw back some cocktails before heading down to Apgujeong and partying it up at the always entertaining Monkey Beach. I fled before everyone else because it became claustrophobic and over-packed, but it was a great time. Love me some tequila sunrise buckets! I also saw the fire show for the first time and that was way cool.
Cake decorating cafe.
The cake (with Happy Birthday written in Korean) and our decorating supplies.
Ready to deck the cake!
Diana is a professional icing applier. Julia is impressed.
Amanda making the "coffee" look perfect.
We couldn't let that icing go to WASTE!
When Chrissy got married she converted to Islam and the other day we were talking about her future pilgrimage to Mecca. Turns out she never has to leave Seoul. Check!
Bartending show in Ireland Yuki.
Nothing says "I'm glad you were born!" quite like seaweed soup, am I right?
This was BEFORE drinking, haha.
Fire show! Mesmerizing.
Love these ladies.
Shannon, Chrissy, Diana, Amanda.
Posing with the birthday girl.
Please note that Shannon is becoming ever more Korean. Latest addition: glassless frames.
Julia and Shannon
More posing with the birthday girl!
Lee-Rae and Diana
Since Thursday was a let down for St. Patrick's Day, we were all thankful that we had already been planning to celebrate on March 20 as well! Diana, Carin and I started the day by going to see Beastly, which was PAINFULLY terrible. So so bad. Thank god it was only the three of us and one Korean couple in the theater, because we did a ridiculous amount of laughing and poking fun. After the movie we met up with Josephine and Julia and checked out the Irish Festival in Insadong. It was nice (and we got balloons), but after a bit we decided to head over to Itaewon. (This turned out to be a good plan, because although the temperature was beautiful, it was a bad day for yellow dust and by the time I got home that night my throat was hurting and I had a stuffy nose already.) On the way to the subway station we randomly bumped into Amanda and Tom, who joined our motley crew. When we got to Itaewon everyone was hungry so we hit up Kraze Burger, a very popular restaurant chain here. Chrissy met us at Kraze, and then our whole group migrated over to the Wolfhound Pub. We got there at 4pm and got the last table. Things only got busier and crazier as the night went on! Copious amounts of green beer, a plethora of green and white balloons, entertaining people watching, and fantastic food (those onion rings are now a feature in my dreams...) more than made up for the disappointing actual St. Patrick's Day. Lesson learned! Stick with the Wolfhound. They treated us well last year, and again this year.
St. Patrick's Day windows.
Classroom decorations a la Karen Shanahan.
We stood in line FOREVER to get these balloons. The men tasked with inflating them and handing them out were totally inept.
Julia, Carin and I
Gotta rep the heritage!
And delicious! (Well, as delicious as cheap Korean beer can be...)
That giant pitcher holds 6 pints and it was only 15,000won! I just noticed that this is also the trifecta of cheap Korean beer: Hite, Cass and Max.
One side of the table.
Chrissy, Julia, Carin, Josephine
And the other side.
Amanda, Tom, Me, Diana
Pouring for friends.
Jamie, Julia, Carin
Amanda, Tom, Me, Chrissy, Diana, Shannon, Jamie, Julia, Carin, Josephine
March 20 was spent recovering, haha. I was not meant to go out every night. I just don't have it in me...or my bank account.
This past Wednesday I met up with some friends of my first cousin twice removed (I think that's right), Shirley. My grandmother was an only child, and grew up very close to her cousins Shirley, Marian, and Jane. Shirley is awesome, she's always been a unique, interesting feature in our family. Right after college she moved to Egypt and taught for two years, which was obviously a HUGE DEAL in my grandmother's time. We've always been kind of similar and before I left she gave me her memoirs of her time in Egypt. It was so fascinating, and that was definitely part of the reason I started keeping a blog. Shirley lives in Connecticut, and she had made friends with a couple who was from Korea and working in the States. They moved back to Seoul recently and Shirley gave them my info so we could get in contact. Caroline Lee got in touch with me and we decided to meet up for dinner with her, her husband, and a Isaac Durst, a local TV personality whose brother was a friend of the Lees. We met up at VIPS in Wangsimni and it was wonderful: good food, excellent conversation, and just an overall nice time. I was really glad that we got a chance to hook up, and I hope we get a chance to see each other again before I leave.
Saturday night we celebrated the birthday trifecta of Erich (March 21), Diana D. (March 22), and Jamie (February 14, but he was in a Cambodian hospital suffering from amoebic dysentery, so he got a re-do) with a night of fun. Dinner at Fry Pan with Carin and Caitlin was delicious, and then we were off to the Funky Dunky (true story) where we had drinks and met up with David, Chrissy, Diana, Josephine, Jamie and Shannon. After some quality imbibing we walked across the street to the luxury noraebang where we were joined by Julia, her prionce Derek, Erich, and (briefly) Stephanie. We sang for three and a half hours...so much fun. So much alcohol. So many terrible renditions of songs. An excellent evening. And Cheonho is so close that we just walked home, which was really nice. Big fan of our new local flava.
Luxury noraebang. We had a balcony, too!
Erich, Carin and Derek singing (surprisingly well) in Korean. Well, surprising for the two that aren't Korean, I guess.
Birthday kids. Happy birthday Erich, Diana and Jamie!
Ridiculous. Love it.
I will miss nights like this dearly.
Jamie, Shannon, Chrissy, Julia, Derek, Carin, Diana, Josephine, David, Erich and I
So my leaving, I suppose, is also something that has majorly changed since I last updated. I officially tendered my resignation on March 23, effective May 26. Over the next two months I will be packing up my stuff (shipping a lot of it home) and then I'll be on a plane to DC on the morning of Friday, May 27. This gives me two weeks to overcome jet-lag before Bruno and Daria's wedding in Boston on June 11 and Morgan and Lon's wedding on the Eastern Shore on June 18 (both of which I am absolutely thrilled to be home for.) May 27 is alarmingly close. There is so much to do before then that I am a little overwhelmed, but hopefully I'll find some way to get through it! My co-teachers knew I was leaving, but I was really concerned about how the (crazy, as previously mentioned) VP would take the news. Thankfully he was surprisingly chill...probably had something to do with me throwing the name "Harvard" out there.
Here is where the whole grad school thing stands...I was accepted at Harvard, Columbia, UPenn, George Washington, Pitt School of Education and Pitt School of International Affairs. I was rejected at MARYLAND. This still is so freaking bizarre to me. No wait list, just flat out rejected. Bill, a guy I went to Marywood with, shed a little light on the possible reason. "Schools often reject applicants who are unlikely to attend their program in order to protect their yield numbers, which in turn boosts their appearance of selectivity. If they admit you and you matriculate elsewhere, all they get out of it is a higher acceptance rate printed in USNEWS. You'd be surprised at how sophisticated admissions departments can be at predicting their yield numbers and managing the concomitant financial aid and enrollment numbers. Sort of like a nice girl who's been used by a good looking charlatan, they've been burned before. When they look at the sophistication of your app and GRE scores and such, they can likely say there is a less than X% chance you will attend based on the actions of similar applicants in previous cycles. It would totally suck if you truly wanted to go to Maryland and only Maryland; in this case, however, it seems like they probably got it right, no? For a school like Maryland, the highest compliment they can pay a top applicant is actually a yield protect rejection, not an offer of admissions. By the way, another thing they may or may not have done is gleaned your admission offers from other schools from your facebook status or grad school forums. I'm sure that would make it easier to confidently yield protect you." SO, scratch that, Maryland didn't reject me, they yield protected me, haha. I am actually super appreciative, because I had this horrible fear that I'd get down to the end and be left with a great school I had to pay a lot for, or Maryland that would be almost free. I think it would break my heart to go to Maryland. It's not a bad school, it's just a bad school for me. I am super thankful it won't come down to that now. The only school I haven't heard from is NYU. I think that is just rude to not have sent out decisions yet, especially since there is a national agreement recognized by almost every school that says April 15 is the deadline to accept an offer and put down your non-refundable down payments. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter that much, because NYU is a two year program and housing alone would be over $21,000, so it is out of my price range.
Moral of the story, I am 98% sure that I will be matriculating at Harvard come fall. Crazy, right? I think so. Financial aid at all the schools is taking their sweet ass time, so that is where the last 2% of waffling comes in. If Columbia offered me some sort of ridiculously generous financial aid I might be swayed, but my heart is kind of set on Boston/Cambridge now. I can't really begin to think of the logistics of moving back to the US, moving up to Massachusetts, paying for school, living like a pauper, etc because it is just a tad stressful, but I am very excited.
I'm very much looking forward to being around for things I've missed in the past year: births, weddings, engagements. Speaking of engagements, my brother popped the question and asked Loran, his girlfriend of two years, to marry him when they were on vacation in Morocco. Antique ring with a pillow cut diamond, at sunset, on a sand dune in the Sahara...no one can say my brother ever does anything half assed. She (obviously) said yes, so that is very exciting. The craziest part for me is the fact that I've never met her in person, only via video chat, because I've been in Korea the entire time they were dating. Insanity! I can't wait to be back in the loop in my loved ones lives. Because my brother isn't a girl, he hasn't done a satisfactory job of sharing 10000 pictures of the ring, or cluing me in on other important details, but I'll let that slide. For now.
My brother, Mike, standing on the dune where he would later propose.
My future sister-in-law, Loran, in the Sahara.
Sooooo, yeah. That is pretty much what has been going on in my life.