Sunday, May 22, 2016

My Starbucks Refuge

There is a strange thing that happens every couple of weeks or so, usually after church.  It goes like this: I would have a good weekend and a good time of worship on  Sunday. And then, right as I'm leaving church...BOOM! I would crash. I would be overcome by thoughts of worthlessness and loneliness.  Or homesickness. And these feelings would attack me like some horribly untamed beast, ripping at my heart and pulling me into a very real battle that I am not prepared for.

It has happened so often over the past few months that it should not come as a surprise to me but it almost always does. My guard is down because it's the weekend and I feel safe. The spiritual battle is most intense at this time because I am not ready for it. When this happens I would usually go to Starbucks.

At this point you're probably wondering why I don't just go home and deal with it there, or call a friend to hang out. Sometimes I do go home, but other times I think I need to be somewhat around others so that I am not isolated and so stuck in my own head. And as for hanging out with people, that has happened too, many times, but it wouldn't solve the underlying problem: my need to be close to Christ.

Ok. Back to Starbucks...

I order my regular Chai Tea Latte or Iced Chai, head upstairs, and grab a seat by the window and try to figure out why I feel so down all of the sudden. I would pull out my notebook and write down exactly how I feel, usually as a prayer to God or in the form of a drawing.

And the tears would come.

The hidden and suppressed stresses and feelings of the past week pour down my face. 'Why do I feel like I have failed in everything that I have ever done? Why do I feel so lonely and hopeless? Why am I not married? Am I worthless? Why am I so unsure about everything? What is going on with my health? What am I doing in Korea?'

I know the cause of a few of the those questions...and a partial reason as to why some of those feelings usually come on Sunday instead of other days of the week but I'm not going to divulge that information in a very public blog. 😜

Anyway,  the hours I spend at Starbucks are great. I sit in a place that feels like home (America) and drink my favorite drink. I read. I pray. I write. I draw. And I listen to the desires of my heart and to God's voice. It's a time of real personal reflection.
And the best part is that God meets me there, glad that I have finally stopped my busyness long enough to see the pain in my own heart and my need for Him.

Well done, Starbucks.  Well done.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Quick, and I Mean Quick, Update

Work has been fun. My kids have been growing in their English ability. They keep me busy. They're lovely.

I'm also taking two online courses at the moment, leading a Bible Study, singing on the worship team, and heading up an event at school. Oh, and I'm reading the Bible in 90 days...I'm on Jeremiah. I started at the end of June. You do the math. Oh and I started working out, want to paint again, and want to play my guitar that has been sitting and collecting dust for 5 months now. 

So I thought, maybe, just maybe I should write a blog entry. Hmm...

That's all I can squeeze out.

Till next time.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Blogs and the Case of the Missing Student #2


I used to write a lot in blogs.

Lazy, I guess.

Anyway, I arrived in my class today with another student gone. For good. I guess his parents wanted to enroll him in a different English kindergarten. Okay. But why can't we say goodbye?! And again, I was not told until I asked my students after noticing his books were gone. Yikes!

Being a teacher at a private school in South Korea can be difficult sometimes. I shouldn't be surprised. Last year students came and went all the time at my evening hagwon. Kindergarten has actually been better about it. Some kids leave, but most stay.

It will never be easy for me to say goodbye, especially when you don't actually get the chance to say 'goodbye', but I'll survive.

Here's wishing you a great life, Tyler! May your new school treat you well and enjoy your company as much as I have! May they appreciate your goofy humor and give you the time needed to flourish in in English.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Case of the Missing Student

One of my students was missing today. Well, not actually, 'missing,' per se. Everyone else knew where she was. But her books and everything were gone as though she never existed. I asked the other students where she was and in very broken English and cute little voices they told me that she was not coming back. I went to my co-teacher and was told that it was sudden, but that everyone else knew she was leaving at the end of the month and that she'd just left one week earlier than they thought. It's funny how everyone discussed it, yet failed to tell me, her teacher. 


I remember, last Friday, when this student told me that she would be gone on Monday and Tuesday. In hindsight, she was probably trying to tell me that she was leaving. I just didn't understand at the time. 


I'm sad to lose any of my students. This student in particular was one of my lowest level students when we first began and she improved so much in just a few months. Well, I hope that things go well for her. 

Life as a teacher.
Life as an expat.

You are always having to say goodbye...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kindy Kindy Kindergarten

I confess.

I haven’t been much of a blogger lately. I’m not really sure why. I guess life happened and I didn’t really feel like writing about it. No worries though. My journal writing has suffered too.

You can just call this my attempt at continuing this…whatever it is.

Since my last entry…a lot has happened. Not gonna recap much.

My first year in Korea was fine, teaching elementary and middle school students. It was fun and I had a blast but the hours were late. I usually didn’t get home until 11pm. After that year was over, I finally went back to New Zealand to visit friends and ended the 6 year hiatus. I also went home for the holidays and was able to see family and friends, and also managed to get sick 3 times!
Now, in 2015, I am back in the land of Kimchi and teaching at a kindergarten in Daegu. My school isn’t perfect but I love my students and I love teaching this age.

A typical day? Well…my schedule is a bit varied when compared to the 8 other North American teachers at my school. While they all have an English kindergarten class and their own classroom to decorate and field trips, I sit in an office with Korean teachers, my stuff heaped up on my desk and on the window sill behind me. I’m a bit of a traveling teacher/substitute when someone is sick or on vacation. When I first found this out, I was a little annoyed, but I got over myself, with God’s intervening of course. After all, my schedule is pretty open. It’s doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard, just that I have a few more breaks than the others.

The School

My school is located in a 6-story building. The first floor houses the reception area, some interview rooms, a play area, and a small gym. The 2nd floor is the Korean kindergarten. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th, floors are dedicated to the English kindergarten, and hold the 8 classrooms that the other foreign teachers teach at. Each floor has a small library, bathrooms, and an office. The 6th floor is the big gym/music room/special events room. There is a music teacher and a gym teacher who come in once a week. My office is on the 4th floor with the principle and the head Korean teacher and random other co-teachers who float in and out. I sit with my back to a window which means it’s cold in the winter and probably hot in the summer, but at my desk only. For some reason, the heater/aircon goes right over my head to reach the rest of the office. Ha!

My Schedule

I teach two 30 minute English classes, three times a week at the Korean kindergarten in my school. In the afternoon, I teach the same students in an English kindergarten setting for about 1.5 hours, everyday. I have 2 afternoon kindy classes of about 8 students each, 3 times a week (ie Class 1: M,W, TH, and Class 2: T, W, F). Since they overlap on Wednesdays, we have a combined class of 15 students! On Wednesdays and Thursdays I also have three 20 minute storytelling classes of young 3-6 year olds at another Korean kindergarten campus that’s about 10 minutes away. On Fridays I have a 30 minute Storytelling class for the preschoolers on the 2nd floor Korean kindergarten. Whew! See, I told you it was varied! All in all, on my busiest day (WED) I teach 3 classes for a total of 3.5 hours. On my lightest day (TUE) I teach 1 class for 90 minutes. It’s spread out. So, not much to complain about. I’m ahead of schedule on most things.

During afternoon kindy we cover 3 subjects; Phonics, Reading, and Writing. I have a Korean co-teacher, but she's usually gone during most of the class. These kids are beginner level students of about 5-6 years old (though I suspect some of my kids are 4). I love these kids! They’re well behaved for the most part and they know my rules and what I expect, even though most of it was initially communicated with pictures and gestures.  They also get super excited about getting a sticker if they earn 5 stars by the end of class. They have grown so much in the almost 3 months that I have been teaching them! Many of them are really beginning to put sounds together into words and starting to read. It’s exciting.

I don’t know what God’s plans are for me later, but I really feel like I was made to teach young kids. If you've ever seen me around young kids, you know that I have a gift with them. I don’t know how or why, but I call it my ‘pied piper’ affect. I come home from work exhausted, but happy. I have so much fun with my students and oddly enough, they all like me too. Even the kids that I have substituted for a short time and barely know. Even the kids that I don’t know but they are excited about me because their friends are excited. You can always hear excited yells of “Hello Cara Teacher!!” from students whenever I enter a room or elevator. And more often than not, I’m getting smothered by hugs regularly.

Fun times!

Thursday, May 08, 2014

6 months!

 Wow! I've been in Korea for half of a year!  Where does time go? Well, my update isn't much different than the post a few weeks ago, so let's move on.

First week of teaching.

My first day of teaching was a blur. I arrived at my desk to a big stack of papers that the previous teacher had left me, and an unreadable class schedule full of school codes that I had not yet learned. I met the other teachers in our school shuttle on the way to school, but it was was still awkward.  There English level was lower than I had expected considering we all work at an English language school. One of the teachers grew up in America most of his life so he was my go-to man for everything.

My first class was terrifying.  I don't really remember the age level...maybe 3rd grade. I spoke fast because I was nervous and they looked at me with blank stares. I tried to slow it down a bit, introduced myself, asked names and let them ask me questions. One kid said that I looked like an elephant. I laughed and told him that I don't have a trunk or big ears and wear cltjes so I couldn't be an elephant. After that it was fine. We talked about rules and played games for my elementary classes.

Middle school was frightening but most kids just asked me questions about age, did I have a boyfriend,  was I married, and other lovely personal things about myself that you would never ask a teacher back home. It was fine. I was prepared for it and I made sure to share with them about my interests and things we haf in common. I only had 1 class that week that kept on talking in Korean. That was frustrating but I survived. I made many mistakes and felt like my head was going to explode from information overload and exhaustion.

2 days of that first week consisted of Halloween parties for the elementary kids so I did face painting.

That's all I can write for now!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Greetings from Korea!

So...I've been in Korea for 5.5 months. Surprise!
I don't know why I haven't written in so long. My guess is that I'd fallen out of the habit long ago and it's hard to pick it back up again. This is my valiant attempt. Let's rewind a bit.

My grandmother moved in with my mom so it was great to spend time with her again, even though it meant moving to the couch. My other grandmother lost the long battle with cancer and I went to her funeral on my 30th birthday. Not fun. Two good things came from that depressing time. One is that I was able to spend good time with my family and all of my niece and nephews. The other thing is that I interviewed for and was offered a job in South Korea that I turned down because I was overwhelmed by the sad week. Thankfully I had a great recruiter (how often does that ever happen) who begged me to reconsider and worked with the school to change a few things in the contract. Fast forward a bit and here I am, living the expat life again in a foreign country!

End of October.
When I first arrived in Korea, I was shocked because there were Koreans everywhere! Duh, right? Don't act like you wouldn't be thinking the same thing! Please understand that I came from a city that was pretty diverse so I was used to seeing people from all over the world. Even when I lived in New Zealand and there was a little less diversity in my city, I still saw many different types of people. When I arrived at the airport in Korea, it was like a different world. It caught me off guard! After trying to make myself look presentable in the bathroom, I just followed the masses and the signs which blessedly had English under the Korean, and made my way to an airport shuttle, and then through a long customs line. Oh! Did I mention that my airplane was like 2 hours late due to a delay we had in L.A.? My recruiter had someone waiting for me with a sign. He looked like he had been there for a while. Oops! Anyway, he didn't speak English and I was tired and nervous so there were many phone calls he made back to his office and to my director. Then he bought a shuttle bus ticket, and put me on a bus to Cheonan with a bus driver who was clearly swearing in Korean because he had to deal with a foreigner. At least that's what I imagined. He actually yelled at everyone so...yikes! The ride was pretty smooth after that.

I arrived at the Cheonan bus station 2 hours later and my director's husband picked me up. He knew only a few words in English. (Side note: I later found out that he got high scores in English at his university, but he never learned conversational English. This is the dilemma of the Korean education system.) So he drove me to the main school to meet some other people. I was extremely aware that I should have worked harder on looking presentable. It was also after midnight and I was quite jet-lagged. Finally, they took me to my apartment and showed me how to turn on a few things. The directors husband bought some fruit, water and snacks so that I would have breakfast, then I was left to marvel at what is my cute little apartment. I was dreading that it would be old and dirty, but it was new and clean and even had an enclosed porch where I could hang my laundry. There was also a nice flat screen TV with cable and internet. Yesssss!

The next day (Saturday), the director, her husband, and a head teacher picked me up at noon and took me back to the school to fill out paperwork and to tell me that I would be teaching at the Asan school. I seriously didn't know which of the 3 schools until that moment. Then they took me out to lunch at a buffet because they didn't know if I would like Korean food. They know now. :) So, part of the conversation was awkward because everyone was speaking Korean and I was just sitting there embarrassed and confused while everyone in the restaurant was staring at me. Then they asked me about myself and it came out that I didn't drink alcohol, which then led to them asking me if I was a Christian (yes, if you're wondering :) ), which then led to a (hopefully jokingly) discussion about how I should date the (much older) head teacher at the table? What? 

Next we went to LotteMart (think of a fancier super Target) and they bought household items for me since my cupboards were empty. I also bought some groceries to live off of for the week, including rice, which led to them to buy a fancy rice cooker for my apartment. I was just going to cook rice in a pot like at home, but thanks! Finally they took me home and I collapsed on my bed from exhaustion. I later called my sister on skype and we were giddy because we were in the same country and time zone again.

On Sunday I slept, then spent hours unpacking and trying to talk myself in to going outside because I was scared that I would get lost, or worse, have to talk to someone. I finally ventured out to the 7-11, a 30 second walk away. There were a couple of westerners sitting at the tables outside  of the store. That confused me for a second. I went in, bought banana milk and mouthwash, and rushed out, almost crashing into another westerner walking into the store. Now, let me just say that in my 5.5 months of living here I have never seen that many westerners in that store or outside of it. It must have just been that day. Okay, so after coming home and realizing that 7-11 didn't count as venturing out, I left again. This time my goal was to find the huge Galleria department store which was right next to where I live. So I walked down some streets and, of course, turned the opposite direction from where the store was and walked down to a circular bridge thing. I enjoyed it up there. Then I went back home, seeing the huge Galleria building as I walked back. 

Okay. That's enough for this post. Next time I'll talk about my first week at school. Below I have added two videos that I took on my first walk out of my apartment. I've also begun F.Y.I.s again like I did in New Zealand.

F.Y.I. Korea #1 Fast Food is Not So Fast

There are many fast food restaurants in Korea like Lotteria, McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Popeye's, etc. I don't go very often, but in the building where I work there is a Lotteria. It's like Mcdonalds. The only thing I like there is their Spicy Chicken Sandwich. The workers have cute uniforms and are very polite. In America you can order something in a drive through and keep going in under 5 minutes. In Korea, there aren't many drive throughs (I have yet to see one but they are rumored to exist somewhere) so expect to wait 7-15 minutes for your order. For the most part, they make your sandwich after you order. They don't just have a bunch sitting under the heater for a long time, getting old and cold. Everything comes out hot...I mean really hot like they just took it out of the oven/fryer hot, which they most likely did. It's great! I can do the 5 minute walk back to my school and still burn my tongue on my sandwich. :)