Man, I’m not even from Wisconsin…

Three of my 5th grade boys, 준성, 성구, and 진성, just informed me that my new nickname is Cheese, because it rhymes with Liz.

…..

tumblr_m7w48dStJi1qa4uc1o1_500

To be fair, in Hangul, it certainly does. 치즈 (Chee-juh), 리즈 (R/Lee-juh). And really, any time any of my students expresses one iota of creativity in an unusually stressful and uniform learning environment such as South Korea’s, I want to hug them and cry endless tears of unfiltered joy. (Might be an exaggeration)

I feel your flow, kids. I dig your rhymes. Carry on with your crazy dairy analogies. It does not, however, bode well for your future pronunciation of the “z” sound. Or my self esteem, really, but I guess this is my life now.

그림1

My reaction to my coteacher's "You don't think they wrote this?"

“Of course they wrote this, how dare you judge my 8 year old”: English Speech Contest Special

Allow me to present to you direct quotes of transcripts from an English speech contest I judged earlier this month. This contest was open to 3rd-4th grade. I feel inclined to mention that public English education for Korean students begins at 3rd grade. Currently, my 3rd grade students are studying letters L-P of the alphabet.

Let’s begin.

-“7 years ago, my sister participated in the English speaking competition with her piece titled “My Younger Brother”. I am that younger brother.” (Grade 3)

-“I know my pronunciation is bad and I have difficulty memorizing my writing, but I think it is meaningful that I have this experience.” (Grade 3)

-“Her adolescence began when she was enrolled in middle school and she quarreled with my mother all the time, making me very uncomfortable.” (Grade 4)

-“As plants cannot live without water, we humans die without food.” (Grade 4)

-“Endurance and effort were extensively employed.” – (Grade 3)

-“As time wears on, the relationship between tadpoles and dragonflies changes.” (Grade 3)

-“Good manners are being respectful of others, as well as yourself, and considering other peoples’ feelings.” (Grade 3)

-“It is spring, but my grandparents are living in the countryside and this time of the year if when they begin cultivating the land.” (Grade 4)

-“After the surgery, he had to go through intensive care. From that point, it was the recovery room, and the general ward thereafter.” (Grade 4)

-“The world is a global village and we need to be fluent in English to communicate with the world.” (Grade 3)

-“He always told us that Mt. Sorak is so beautiful, he forgets how hard it was to climb the mountain once he reaches the top.” (Grade 3)

My reaction to my coteacher’s “You don’t think they wrote this?”

 

So it’s been a while.

Here I’m sitting, in my pajamas on a Saturday night because fuck you I do what I want. I haven’t updated this blog in a very, very long time. It appears I’ve been afflicted with a disease that directly inhibits my ability to reflect objectively upon my experience as an English teacher in Korea.

You guys, I’ve got Korea fever. And I’ve got it bad.

I don’t know how it happened. The memories are fuzzy. I recall our adorable and well-meaning instructor Michelle teaching us Gwiyomi and showing us G-Dragon’s “Crayon” video and thinking to myself, “The fuck is this finger-kissing shit and why is that blonde girl stealing lines from Batman?”

I have now done Gwiyomi while drinking soju with Korean college students…..twice.

Click on Jonghyun to learn what Gwiyomi is, if you're curious.  And no, I did not have to look up his name. I already knew it.  I clearly have a problem.

Click on Jonghyun to learn what Gwiyomi is, if you’re curious.
And no, I did not have to look up his name. I already knew it.
I clearly have a problem.

And I now recognize this man as a sexually attractive being:

Photo of G-Dragon chosen specifically so you can understand how ridiculous all this really is.

Photo of G-Dragon chosen specifically so you can understand how ridiculous all this can really be sometimes.

In truth, I think there are three ways to deal with culture shock when one moves to South Korea.

The first involves an active refusal to assimilate, succumbing to an invariable loneliness that stems from a withdrawal from most of society, and subsequently accepting that you will be fairly miserable until you can GTFO of Korea. It can happen to anyone from new travelers to well-seasoned veterans of the TEFL world, it can happen for any number of reasons, and those reasons are not always (or even most of the time) the product of an inherently negative attitude: You were placed in a terrible school. Your principal doesn’t like foreigners. You left a relationship at home that’s falling apart due to an almost-impossible distance and time difference. Your apartment sucks. Your neighbor adopted a cat and for the love of all things holy that stupid thing will not shut up ever.  You’re reminded daily that you are too dark, too androgynous, too large, too old, too something, and that can just be too much to take when coming from a home with a significantly more physically diverse society.

The second is to attempt adaptation as far as you are willing. You try to learn the language. You make friends outside the expat realm and get to know the Korean culture, but maintain a loose grip on your own roots. Most of the time you forget to notice the people staring, but when you don’t, you call home and cry on the phone with your mother/brother/significant other when the pangs of loneliness and irritation that come from being an “other” in a society as homogenized as South Korea show.

And then there’s my way: the aforementioned scaredy-cat, “Yeah, I think I’ll go around” way.

I’m afraid of many things. For example, large spiders. The depths of the sea. Ahjummas. That being said, if you were to ask me what I’m most deeply and truly afraid of, my answer without question is “loneliness”. Unfortunately for me, that’s a pretty major part of the whole “culture shock” process.

So I tried to skip it completely. Assimilating as deeply as I could into South Korean culture without consciously realizing what I was doing, I declared my love for everything: the fashion, the dramas, the food, the music, the men, the slang. In my mind, really, Korea could do no wrong.

In doing this, the only thing left that was associated with feelings of negativity was the memory of my life in America and the knowledge that I no longer have constant access to the people I am closest with in this world and the lifestyle I know the most intimately. My interactions with my family and friends at home became inescapably intertwined with a sense of sadness, and my American life became the monster under the bed. Consequently, I did what any normal, rational 5 year old would do: I said “It can’t see me if I can’t see it” and pulled the covers over my head.

I stopped calling home. I forgot to pay bills or take care of official things like taxes and car tags, and I just did not care.

I stopped updating this blog because, well, first of all, I was way too busy accumulating an embarrassing number of idol GIFs on Tumblr……

More than my Tumblr addiction, though, was the fact that this blog is composed mainly for my family and friends at home. As such, it would not only remind me that my old life exists, but also force me to reflect on Korean life from a more objective standpoint. And, I mean, who wants to do that?

The further I went, the less I wanted to be around other foreigners, as they would remind me of my life in America. I avoided bars, restaurants, entire areas of Daejeon frequented by foreigners (although I maintain that the existence of Yellow Taxi plays a large part in that particular aversion). I went to visit some of my close friends in Ulsan, and when we went to a bar called J.J.’s, populated entirely by foreigners, I was actually more uncomfortable than I would have been walking into a room and being the only foreigner there. I preferred slow, broken conversations with locals to the rapidfire debates I was accustomed to from many nights spent on the rooftop of Dickson Street Pub.

And, such as with all things, with that unquestioning placement of Korea and Korean culture on a mile-high pedestal, it was inevitable that my perfect happiness in Korea would suffer a jarring and painful fall from grace. So it goes.

My best friend from America came to visit me and reminded me of several things: 1. Chopstick competency is not, in fact, a universal ability. 2. The Western world still exists. 3. And oh yeah, so do my family, American friends, and responsibilities.

It’s a very unsettling thing to look at your phone and realize you haven’t heard your mother’s voice for over a month, and that you haven’t exchanged any form of communication with your grandmother since your arrival in Korea.

When that hit me, I tried to justify it by reminding myself that I’ve been busy adjusting to life in Korea and learning about life in Korea. In part, this is true. Thanks to the EPIK program, I have more friends in this scary foreign land than I think I ever did back home. I have made Korean friends whom I care for very much for and who have graciously provided me with intimate human knowledge of the intricacies of Korean life I simply couldn’t have learned through Wikipedia. Through them, my coteachers, and various disorganized studying of my own, I now have a bumbling, toddler-like understanding of the Korean language.

This is simultaneously the look I'm given when I speak Korean, and the look I give when someone speaks to me in Korean.

This is simultaneously the look I’m given when I speak Korean, and the look I give when someone speaks to me in Korean.

However, I’ve spent an equal amount of time immersing myself in Korea in ways that do not provide any sort of enrichment at all. For every hour I’ve spent speaking with my friends and learning about Korea, I’ve spent an hour looking at GIFs of EXO doing weird stuff on Tumblr, watching a drama about an alien who falls in love with an actress, or just Youtubing Super Junior music videos because Eunhyuk.

I’ve been a very busy person, but I have not been a very productive person. On top of that, and perhaps as a consequence, I haven’t been a very good person, and that’s an upsetting revelation to have.

Anyway, I’m slowly but surely coming out of my fog as a slightly more rational person, and I’m hoping for an almost full recovery and resuming my duties as a human being.

However, I will also give my friends fair warning that they will still have to put up with me fangirling over my 9024823 oppas, my “Hull!” battle cries, my new addiction to oversize sweaters and miniskirts, and my random dance breaks from my K-Pop dance class.  Because fuck you, Korea is still awesome, that’s why.

25 reasons to let your students choose their own names.

My co-teacher decided yesterday to allow my 4th grade students to pick their own English names. I looked at their new nametags this morning.

Drumroll please.

-Two (2) boys named Elsa
-One (1) boy named Anna
-One (1) girl named Jimmy
-One (1) boy named Peter Pan
-One (1) boy named GoJo
-One (1) boy named Sven
-Two (2) girls named Sven
-One (1) boy named Iron Man
-One (1) boy named Rock
-One (1) girl named Elite
-One (1) boy named Cause
-One (1) boy named Sheep
-One (1) girl named Bad
-One (1) boy named Mario
-One (1) boy named Luigi, who sits next to Mario
-One (1) girl named Mint
-One (1) boy named G-Dragon (hello new favorite)
-Six (6) boys named Olaf because of course there are.

This is my classroom now. Cause, Bad, and Elite not pictured.

This is my classroom now. Cause, Bad, Jimmy, Sheep, Iron Man and Elite not pictured.

The astronomical powers of Korean fangirldom – Rain

In today’s edition of “How did that happen?”, let me introduce you to someone. Everyone, meet Rain.

Get it? Because his name is Rain...and it's...raining... Sigh.

Get it? Because his name is Rain…and it’s…raining…
Sigh.

Hi, Rain!

I met Rain when Mnet, the 2013 MAMA’s broadcast, the Internet, and every cell phone store in South Korea informed me that Rain is both 30 and sexy. I thought to myself, “Hey, I like sexiness and multiples of 3,” so I did some research into this mysterious (or not so mysterious, if you have any awareness of the Korean music scene whatsoever) man. I learned this:

In 2007, Rain topped Time Magazine‘s “100 Most Influential People” online list. He beat out Barack Obama, J.K. Rowling, Richard Dawkins, and Jon Stewart. He beat out freaking Bono, you guys, and we all know Bono sticks his sunglasses-adorned face in everything. His closest runner-up was Stephen Colbert, who obtained just over half the votes Rain did.

The kicker? Rain’s name wasn’t even on the list of choices. According to Wikipedia, anyway, but Wikipedia’s never wrong, so there’s that.

Let’s all just take a second and think about that one. I’ll give you time.

When you’re done, here’s a hilarious mash-up video of Rain’s latest ridonkulous single “LA song” (yes, that is the title) and Tae Jin Ah, Korea’s current equivalent to Allstate’s “mayhem” guy. Because you might need a pick-me-up when you grasp the influence of South Korea’s fangirl scene over the interwebz.

Everybody lies. Now give me your money.

What? No. We can’t be sick here. This is socialist country.

Somehow, despite my habitual combination of clumsiness and lunacy, I’ve amassed a total of two broken bones in my lifetime. The first time in America, and the second occurred just a few weeks ago right here in Korea. Both times it’s been the same thing: A broken toe. Because I go hard, yo. I look dangerous situations dead in the eye and say to them – “Yeah, I think I’ll go around. Where’s the nearest staircase?”

My general scaredy-cat-ness aside, having the exact same injury twice, in two countries, has allowed me to get an idea of how the Korean health care system and public view on health care differs from good ol’ ‘Murrica. Let’s chat.

I feel like I should mention that the following is a commentary on the American healthcare system itself, not the doctors, nurses and staff currently practicing within. They are bound by the standards of their profession and must act accordingly. I can also only promise accuracy as far as my personal experience, education, and conversation with others can provide. Don’t hate, bro.

Public Opinion:
Let’s talk about the general attitude in America and Korea regarding illness and what warrants going to see the doctor vs. what does not.

Korea:
When I broke my toe in Korea, I received the following:
-1 doctor’s visit and 2 follow-up appointments
-2 splint sets
-1 boot
-2 weeks worth of medication including 1 antibiotic, 1 pill for pain, and 1 pill for digestion just for funsies to be taken 3 times a day.

This, from my experience in Korea thus far, seems indicative of the general Korean attitude of “We got a fix for that shit” regarding everything from the sniffles to your chin not having quite the V shape you’re looking for.  I coughed in the office once, and ten minutes later I had to talk my coteacher down from calling the nearest hospital to make me an appointment for a flu shot (Sidebar: Today is Preposition Monday.)

That being said, don’t expect to be able to rest at home once you’ve visited the nearest hospital. This is, after all, diligent Korea. I was lucky enough to be placed in a school that ordered me to stay at home and watch The Heirs for several days once I received my splint, but I do know many people that are taking their antibiotics between classes. It just depends on your school.

America:
When I broke my toe in America, I received the following:
-Jack shit
-Sadness

In America, you just don’t go to the doctor unless there is at least a 93% chance you are dying. And even then, you generally check Google first for “Heart Attack home remedies”. Why? For any number of reasons.

Healthcare is expensive. Without insurance, a trip to the general practictioner’s office can cost a base amount anywhere from $50-100; a specialist costs more. This is, of course, before the office charges you $25 for the disposable tongue depressor they used and $75 for the pregnancy test they give to female college students every time they come in with so much as a cold. Oh, you think telling the nurse you’re celibate, showing them your purity ring, doing the special “I’m not gettin’ any” dance, and swearing on the Bible, Quran, your mother’s life, and a Chinese takeout menu will convince them that test is unnecessary?

Everybody lies. Now give me your money.

Everybody lies. Now give me your money.

Even with insurance, a co-pay can be expensive as well, and there is, of course, the very real possibility your insurance company will cover only a small portion of your medical bill (or nothing at all). Because they’re eeeeeeeeeeevil. Eeeeeeeeeevil.

Aside from the astronomical expensive of a doctor’s visit, going to the doctor in America just takes got-dayum forever. Allow me to illustrate: I went into a virtually empty E.R. late one evening with the worst migraine I’ve ever experienced. After sitting in the exam room for 6 hours (not an exaggeration) I had to leave the room, go to the nurses’ station in tears, beg for them to kill me and put me out of my misery, and set their scrubs on fire before they gave me a painkiller and sent me home without so much as an exam.

Of course, emergency rooms are an extreme example and you will invariably have a long wait ahead should you have to go.

…..

There’s something wrong with that, now that I think about it.

Nonetheless, even a general office visit can take hours. You wait in the waiting room. You get to the exam room and wait even longer. If someone were to make a pie chart of what I’ve spent my life doing up until this moment, it would look like this:

There might be some life choices I need to evaluate.

There might be some life choices I need to evaluate.

So yeah. If you get sick in Korea, you’re automatically taken to the doctor, prescribed medication, wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket, and given a comfort kitten just to be safe. If you get sick in America, you’re given a slap on the ass and told to buck up and Google it.

Systematic Differences:

The breakdown is like this: The South Korean healthcare system is a single-payer system in which every Korean and many foreign residents pay a tax percentage, calculated on a graduated scale based on their income. In return, they receive inexpensive (I believe the technical term is “hella cheap”) treatment for most medical woes. The American healthcare system is some convuluted combination of private insurance and social care programs where Americans pay taxes and some of it goes toward health care for some people enrolled in the aforementioned social care programs, sometimes, but not all or even most of the time, but it’s okay if you have private insurance, because then your medical treatment will still be cheap…ish…if the doctor you visit accepts your private insurance, and your private insurance company decides that your treatment is neither elective nor resulting from a pre-existing condition, so hopefully that doesn’t hap-

unnamed

Last photo taken of Liz before confusion-induced mental collapse.

Anyway, although I’ve spent a large portion of the last few years devoted to being generally annoyed at the current state of the American health care system, I’m no expert, and I’m still new to the Korean health care system. So let me break down the differences on a basic level:

Wait time in America: For-damned-ever. Likely Death will beat your doctor to your exam room.
Wait time in Korea: Virtually nonexistent. This is Korea; nobody got time for that shit.

America: (2012 figures taken from this site)
Average cost for general doctor’s consultation (READ: no tests) without insurance:
$68
Average cost for general doctor’s consultation (READ: no tests) with insurance: $15-25 copay
Average cost for 3 orthopedic specialist consultations, 3 X-rays, 2 splints, 1 boot, 2 antibiotic shots in the bum, 1 2-week supply of 3 kinds of medication, regardless of insurance:
*cry*

Korea: (figures taken from many, many conversations and personal experiences)
Average cost for general doctor’s consultation: 5,000 Won-ish
Average cost for 3 orthopedic specialist consultations, 3 X-rays, 2 splints, 1 boot, 2 antibiotic shots in the bum, 1 2-week supply of 3 kinds of medication, regardless of insurance:
37,500 Won when everything was said and done.

So, like I said, although I like to think I’m a couple steps above the netizens on Facebook sharing images like this:

So uneducate. Much dumb.

So uneducate. Much dumb.

I am an expert in the intricacies of neither health care system. I have my opinions, but they are based upon a combination of fact and personal experience, rather than merely fact, so ingest with a grain of salt, please.

That said, any future/hopeful incoming GET or foreign resident concerned about getting sick in this strange, foreign, noraebang-and-Paris-Baguette-laden land, fear thee not! Getting sick in Korea is AWESOME.

In closing, I leave you with this image. This is Roh Hwan-kyu, the President of the Korean Medical Association. On December 15th, he gave a speech in front of around 10,000 other doctors in protest of privatization of the Korean healthcare system. He cut his own throat during his speech with a giant-ass knife to show how strongly he was opposed to the idea.

I'm jussayin.

I’m jussayin.