Category Archives: Daily Life

Some Earthquake Facts and Rumors

Last Monday (September 12th) we were hit with 2 earthquakes, then this past Monday (September 19th) we had another. All of these we felt  even though the epicenter was 108 miles away from us. In the biggest one our air conditioning unit was shaking, the toilet water was sloshing around and while I was sitting on the floor I was rocked so much I almost tipped over. It was unnerving.

The big one was supposedly the largest earthquake Korea has ever experienced (they’re saying a magnitude 5.8. Maybe.) So we’ve got questions. And every time we write up informative stuff about our travels people seem to like that. So join us as we answer our own questions (and probably some of your own questions).

Remind me what those earthquake numbers mean again?

  • Great: Magnitude is greater than or equal to 8.0. A magnitude-8.0 earthquake is capable of tremendous damage. The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that destroyed Japanese cities in 2011 was a 9. 
  • Major: Magnitude in the rage of 7.0 to 7.9. A magnitude-7.0 earthquake is a major earthquake that is capable of widespread, heavy damage. Think the earthquake in Haiti
  • Strong: Magnitude in the rage of 6.0 to 6.9. A magnitude-6.0 quake can cause severe damage. Equador was hit by one of these earlier this year. 
  • Moderate: Magnitude in the rage of 5.0 to 5.9. A magnitude-5.0 quake can cause considerable damage. This was us
  • Light: Magnitude in the rage of 4.0 to 4.9. A magnitude-4.0 quake is capable of moderate damage. This was also us
  • Minor: Magnitude in the rage of 3.0 to 3.9. Also us. 
  • Micro: Magnitude less than-3.0. Quakes between 2.5 and 3.0 are the smallest generally felt by people. Us as well. 


Some Facts:

North Korea did an underground nuclear test on September 9th which showed up as a magnitude 5.3 “earthquake” in the area (their biggest test yet).

September 12th at 7:44 an earthquake hit 11 km SSW of Gyeongju Korean sources report a 5.1 while USGS reports 4.6.

September 12th  8:33 pm an earthquake hit 8 km S of Gyeongju. Korean sources report a different location. Korean sources also  report this earthquake at 5.8 or 5.9 while the USGS reports it as a 5.4. They say this is the largest earthquake that has ever hit Korea in the history of monitoring earthquakes.

In Seoul (the complete opposite side of the country) the earthquake is felt as about a 2 or low 3.1.

22 aftershocks in the magnitude 2 range hit the Gyeongju area that night alone and I read somewhere (but can’t find the source!) that over 750 small aftershocks have hit since then.

4 nuclear reactors were shut down for the night. Trains stopped for a while in case of more aftershocks.

Monday September 19th 8:33 pm an earthquake hit 14km  (Korean sources say 11 km) SW of Gyeongju. Korean sources report 4.5 while the USGS reports it as 4.9.


So there is a map of all three of them in the lower right hand corner. We are just under the “U” of South Korea (I put a tiny white dot).

Those are all the ones we’ve felt. But there have been a lot more that people in the area (mainly the 2nd largest city of Busan/Pusan) have felt.  On September 21st there was a 3.5 which we didn’t feel. There have also been loads of earthquakes near us/near Japan since last week.

Why are Korean sources saying a different place and different numbers from USGS?

I’m not exactly sure why they have been reporting different locations and in the grand scheme of things I could care less if the epicenter was 8 km or 11 km from the city. There is a network of geological monitoring stations around the world. After an earthquake they compare notes and look at all the information again – from there it can take days to decide on a final number. The numbers the Korean sources reported on were probably from older news reports (from that night) while the USGS numbers I  were studied and decided a week after the fact. It’s not a matter of the Korean seismographs being in Korea an detecting a higher number while the USGS seismographs are in the US so they saw lower numbers. That’s really not how it works. The Korean news was just trying to put the news out quickly. I think the newer numbers are more accurate but we keep seeing “5.8” in Korean news. I think it’s just really exciting to say a large number.

 Can we expect another earthquake on September 26th at 8:33?

The craziest thing is that the earthquakes occurred exactly a week apart to the exact minute. September 12th at 8:33 and September 19th at 8:33. This has everyone all excited. And scared.

As I write this it is 7:20 pm on September 26th so if the pattern continues we’ll have another earthquake in an hour and thirteen minutes. We’ll see.

As far as anyone knows this is a crazy coincidence.

There are a lot of earthquakes in our area, is it earthquake season?

Unfortunately there is no such thing (or else it would be easy to prepare). As far as any of us know tectonic plates don’t give a hoot about weather or seasons. Recently a study came out that said earthquakes might be influenced by full moons. The first set of earthquakes were 5 days before a full moon and the most recent one was 3 days after a full moon if that means anything to anyone. But it seems to be a coincidence like everything has been so far.

Is Korea even prone to earthquakes?

3 Years ago when I looked this up the answer was basically no. Most people who blogged about living in Korea said they were super rare and never happened. There certainly had never been deadly ones. Well deadly ones in recent history.

Korea has records going back to 2AD about earthquakes. Between 2 AD and 1960s? (somewhere between the 1950s and 1970s  was when the first seismograph was installed) there were around 1,800 earthquakes. Let’s say roughly one a year. So yes, there are earthquakes here.

They have records from the 700s and 1000s about earthquakes that collapsed the-best-technology-anyone-had-at-the-time buildings. So they were deadly but probably more deadly because of the construction and safety measures of the times. And I want everyone to take a minute and appreciate the differences in our countries that Korea had kingdoms and these huge wars and was about to make a moving printer press while people in the US were just starting to get good at making jewelry. The fact that Korea even has written records of earthquakes is a big deal.


Basically no deadly earthquakes and nothing very high that we know of. If you remember that super huge horrible earthquake+tsunami in 2011 that killed so many people in Japan – that earthquake was freaking massive. So massive it moved the entirety of Japan over and shifted Korea a little bit. Korean scientists suggested Korea (the whole thing) shifted somewhere around 2.5 centimeters to the east. Seoul shifted 2.11 cm while Daejeon shifted 1.96 cm to the east. So scientists speculate that the 2011 earthquake finally put Korea in a position to start having larger earthquakes. All of this is speculation.

  • Year 2 to the 1960s(?)1,800 recorded earthquakes.
  • Missing some data….
  • 1990s – 26 earthquakes
  • 2000s -44 earthquakes
  • 2010-2014 – 58 earthquakes

The number is going up.

Korean scientists say that earthquakes happen only in places they have happened in the past. Which is why so many scientists are suggesting that all the activity in Japan – especially 2011- has shifted Korea into a situation where it’s not safe from earthquakes. So now that we’ve had a big one we will start having more and more. They say.

The only question I’m interested in is did North Korea cause those earthquakes!?

It’s easy to think this with North Korea conducting its largest ever test then 3 days later South Korea has their largest earthquake ever. Not to say coincidence for the third time but it looks like it is.

That being said no one knows as much as they would like about earthquakes. In our research we’re getting a lot of different answers to this question.

The short answer is that it didn’t cause an earthquake but maybe possibly perhaps conceivably triggered one that was going to happen anyway -earlier than it might have happened. So in a way North Korea could’ve spared the South from some major destruction if the earthquake happened in a few years but on a bigger scale.

Underground tests can trigger earthquakes, but only in the immediate area (think around 6-20 miles), and only on the same day. The North’s underground nuclear test was 310 miles away and 72 hours later.

The United States did a big underground nuclear test in 1965 in Alaska. People were super worried it would trigger earthquakes in the San Andreas Fault. It didn’t. It did cause seismic activity in the area for a while. But it didn’t trigger anything outside of the area or for a very long time. This test was a 7.0 while North Korea’s was 5.3.

Earthquakes can trigger other earthquakes. Even across 1000s of miles. They can – sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. An already stressed fault is passed by by the sheer energy of another earthquake and it sets it off. Or when a fault ruptures and puts a bunch of stress on a nearby fault which sets it off (this seems to be what people are suggesting the 2011 earthquake did – shift that plate over a little bit into Korea’s space and now that plate is all pissed off and crowded. And ready to rupture? Or maybe it already did?) But those are real live earthquakes, the kind that shift whole plates. Not explosions.

If you want to worry about something worry about Baekdu Mountain – an active volcano on the border of North Korea and China. It’s proven an underground test of around 7.0 would absolutely trigger an eruption that would kill us all and bury everyone in the area under 4 inches of ash.

Are we in for more aftershocks? What about foreshocks?

We felt 3 earthquakes  4.5, an hour later  5.8, and a week later 4.9. So it seems it was: foreshock – main event – then aftershock. But you can’t really label anything until everything is finished. And we might not be finished. After that massive 2011 earthquake Japan had 9,500 aftershocks (as of 2013, I don’t have any data after that).

So it could be that we will have little earthquakes all the time. We could have big ones all the time. We could have a super huge one that rips apart cities in southern Korea.

A professor of geology said “Aftershocks sometimes last for more than a year. The worst quake that took place in Gyeongju shook fault lines and we don’t know how surrounding fault lines will move around … We don’t know whether the latest quake was an aftershock or a precursor to bigger quakes in the years to come.”

Can all those little earthquakes prevent a big one?

No. A cool fact is it would take 42 million earthquakes at magnitude 2 to release the same energy as a magnitude 7. So the 700 some-odd eeinsy weensy ones haven’t even scratched the surface.

The juiciest rumor yet: did South Korea conduct underground nuclear tests in retaliation/practice or as a show of force against the North’s recent test?

No questions are stupid questions. So let’s address this.

The way this rumor goes is this – the current president Park GuenHee’s dad was the president/dictator of South Korea in the 1960s. He had a little nuclear program of his own for a while. Gyeongju (where the earthquakes have struck) is the center for Korean nuclear power and nuclear…stuff. So people think it was Park Junior showing off daddy’s power or using family legacy to mess around with nuclear…stuff. So this conspiracy theory certainly is juicy with family drama, legacy, birthright, and nuclear tests.

But stupid.

First of all the dictator’s nuclear dabbling was shutdown by the US. So there isn’t even nuclear stuff to play with. If you want to go tin-foil hat and say there is stuff the south has stockpiled then lets look at some real facts. The earthquakes were really really deep. The USGS says about 10km deep. The world’s deepest mine is not quite 4 km. So unless the South has some really deep secrets (literally and figuratively) nope. Also explosions and earthquakes appear on seismographs differently. So everyone at a geological survey station who looks at the charts would know immediately if its an explosion or earthquake. Unless you rumor gets really juicy with the US and South Korea working together to dig massively deep mines, report earthquakes falsely and then silence any poor geologist who speaks up. Nope. Nope. Nope.

How’s Korea handling their largest earthquake to date?

I’ll leave a quote here:

“It is so shocking that there has been no changes to government safety protocols even though we went through MERS and the Sewol crisis,” said Rep. Won Hae-young of The Minjoo Party of the Korea.

It’s a political mess. Finger pointing galore.

No one is doing anything. We haven’t had any drills or talked about it in schools. My coteachers are still under the impression the best thing to do is put a book over their heads and run outside (good luck).

Something like 4,000 people called the fire departments when it happened. People as far away as Seoul called emergency numbers to report… what? Exactly?

The actual people of Gweongju (where it happened) had a lot of structural damage to walls, a few people were injured mostly by TVs falling. Lots of broken glass and damaged groceries. But no one died.

Pictures were posted of people playing on phones in the middle of elementary school fields. That’s basically the safety plan.

We have a problem with everyone thinking you have to run outside immediately. Like while the world is a shakin’ you make a run for the field. That’s a great way to get pitched headfirst down some stairs or have some ceiling tiles fall on you.

If you learn something new today learn this – the Triangle of Life is a lie, ignore that doorframe crap. Just get under a desk and hold on and stay there. When it seems safe to go then go. But don’t try to calculate a triangle of safety beside a desk when you could just go under a desk. Don’t stand in a doorway when you may just fall over anyway. If you’re in bed stay in bed. The end. You just learned what to do.

What’s sad is that the teachers haven’t been trained, thus the students are at the mercy of idiotic adults who will tell them the wrong thing (like how when the ferry sunk the adults said to stay in the cabins where all the students then drowned).

One person quoted saying “For me, I have no idea about what to do when the quake strikes. The government should prepare measures to promptly inform the public of how to respond in emergency cases” You can see the confusion with people calling 119 (you can guess what that number is) to ask what to do. No one is prepared.

Our earthquake drills at school (we’ve had one this year and it was back in April) have involved going to the gym and sitting in lines based on class. This is so stupid. All those heavy gym lights that could fall on everyone? The worst part is our doors are chained shut with a huge chain. No one could even evacuate if they wanted to. A fire, an earthquake? Someone with a gun or knife? We aren’t going anywhere. It’s just going to take a Columbine or earthquake of massive destruction before anything will be changed for school safety.

Korea’s mad at the government but quietly slipping into complacency and apathy. The more time that passes since the earthquake the less people are worried. The less they want emergency systems or plans. There are all these stupid rumors about how people knew the earthquake was going to happen because of a smell in the city. A smell?!

In short: no one is educated. We’re all operating on rumors. No one will push for education or better measures. No one wants to be educated, we all want to think about these funny ideas about the North or the South.

At the same time there isn’t even enough education. On the grand scheme of things scientists don’t really know that much about earthquakes.

Fortunately the risk is fairly low where we are and we can only hope that no more earthquakes, or anything, happen in this innocent little peninsula.


Well Okay Then

A long time ago I took the time to translate my whole school calendar and see what days I should know about. One of the days that really stood out was this current week. The school anniversary was on Monday, then Children’s Day (holiday) was on Tuesday. The rest of the days were off because of “school discretion.” In other words, we had a whole week off of school. This seemed amazing. Chris, of course, didn’t have the same days off.

I worked closely with my coteacher to make sure I had the week off – my vacation was approved by the principal and it would be a paid vacation (to my surprise). It would not effect my vacation days.

Initially I thought some people should/could visit me during this week. Over time I thought better of it – it was a long plane ride just to hang out here for a week. Also, the stress of how stupid this year has been was unsettling and I just wanted to rest and try to feel better.

Chris and I had Monday and Tuesday off at least. So we planned to hang out those days (more on that in another blog). Then on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I would have the days off and would just hang out at home and relax.

I was really looking forward to this. I was going to clean the house, do some taxes, play video games and read books.

Let me reiterate that I was really, really looking forward to just some alone time and to just relax. School has really stressed me out this year – in preparation for this amazing week of relaxation I worked hard trying to lesson plan and get everything ready for the week I returned.

So given how excited I was to mentally recuperate for 3 days … I think you can guess what happened.

At 11:30 pm on Tuesday night Chris got a text from my coteacher saying “please check your facebook messages about work tomorrow. It’s an emergency.”

I already knew what it said. I went to sleep and tried to ignore it. At 7 am I checked the messages and my feelings were confirmed – my vacation had been taken away. Angry texts were sent and a phone call was made. There was nothing anyone could do. Even unpaid leave was impossible because it was “too late of notice.” Oh.

This is the kind of bullshit that has represented this year for me. Last year Chris was pretty miserable at his school. It’s not easy being a first year teacher. Yet I felt like I coasted through it. I liked my students and I enjoyed my job. This year Chris is contented and I’m miserable. My school feels like an entirely different school with new people I don’t like and rude students.

My co-teacher was as nice as possible in the texts. Upon making it to school another coteacher came to apologize and show me the document that ruined everything. Then she even brought me to the principal to make sure he saw my physical presence (no one can say I didn’t just lie and stay at home). When she explained what happened he was genuinely sorry and even face-palmed at the ridiculousness of it all.

So now here I sit at school. There are no students and no reason for me to be here. I worked hard to make sure I wouldn’t have any work to do this week so I don’t have any work. I am just here to sit. I have to keep this desk warm for the next two days even though there will only be 3 people in the whole school.

Left is Right and Right is Left

The first day is just newness and chaos. Korea is all about last minute everything. Even on the first day of school there was no schedule prepared for teachers nor was there even a class roster. Wow.

I’m used to last minute things. But last year we had this stuff ready. That’s actually going to be the theme of this post: “But last year…” “Last year we…!”

I’m like that kid from Magic School Bus “At my old school…”

Basically what has happened is the school was turned and rearranged like a rubics cube. Things that were on the left are now on the right and the grades are all mixed up everywhere.

I noticed walking into the building on the first day that something was up –  the boys [used to] drop off their shoes on the north side of the building. However, now the girls were on this side. When I went inside I realized they had switched sides completely. Last year the girls classes were on the right side of the school and boys on the left. Now it’s completely opposite. I’m told it’s to try to make it harder for the boys to sneak out. (I wasn’t even aware this was a problem.)

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 6.06.06 PM

Last year the school was organized with the administration on the first floor, then 3rd grade, 2nd grade, and the first graders at the top. Well now it’s all wonky with 2nd grade on the top story. The floor I’m on has the first graders as well as one 3rd grade class, and then the 3rd grade is the same.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 6.05.54 PM

In the spirit of topsy-turvey nonsense, I put my rice on the “wrong” side of the tray by accident on the first day. Sounds petty but it blew everyone’s mind and people gave me many side-eyed-looks. The rice always goes on the left at my school. Amateur mistake but I didn’t even know what was right or left anymore.

New Faces

Just because I know what I’m doing more than last year doesn’t mean I’m not making mistakes. I mean, obviously, I cant even put rice onto a tray correctly.

The first day when I walked in to my new office everyone shouted out hellos enthusiastically including one small voice in the corner that said hello in English. I ignored the voice because I was mid bow trying to make my office happy. Also, I have the 3rd in command in my office (the guy directly below the vice principal) so I have to show a lot of respect. Sumin later pointed over to the corner where the small hello was squeaked out. “That’s the new English teacher” she said, pointing at the woman on the right. I bowed. The woman on the left waved but the smile faded from her face. That was twice now that I’ve ignored her. Does no one know their left from their right anymore!?

Fortunately, I joined her for lunch and we tried to make conversation some.

On the second day as I walked into the building a woman joined me and kind of blinked at me expectantly. She didn’t look familiar at all but I wanted to be friendly. “You’re the new English teacher?” I asked. “No I’m [whatever her name is, I still don’t know it]” Whoops – she was the person I ate lunch with yesterday.

There was some guy roaming around outside of our office. I got up to throw something away and as we caught eyes [essentially a cue to bow] I don’t know why but I just kinda head-nodded at him. Not a bow at all. That was a really pitiful bow. I thought to myself. Like just awful. I hope that wasn’t a parent. He walked into the room and my new minder grabbed my arm to introduce me “This is the new vice principal” she said. Well shit.

Everyone says he’s really nice and laid back, though. I wouldn’t know because I totally missed the whole-school dinner. Again I say “oops!” No one told me.

Fate sure made up for it though. My English department also had a dinner a few days later. For a full three hours.  I got to sit and have no one talk to me for a full hour and a half. They talked business about the English department and didn’t choose to include me. I will say that last year that kind of BS never happened. English dinners lasted maybe an hour and a half at most.

To top it all off I completely tripped and fell in front of about 300 students. One minute I was walking and the next my shoe was off and I was on my hands and knees. Besides royally messing up my fingers, everything was okay. Except my pride.

Interestingly enough: No one laughed. At all.

I would have expected middle schoolers in America to either nervously or cruelly laugh at my plight. Not here. Two male students asked if I was okay in English.

It was a hell of a first week. Like I said to many of you before we left – we just can’t wait for everything to become routine again. If left is going to be right and up is going to be down, then so be it. I just have to endure a few more weeks of this before it will feel normal.

Moving Time

Two days before we left for our trip to the United States, we packed everything we owned and moved a block away to “the big balcony.” On top of that, school ended. There were many, many, many goodbyes. Around 300 students between the two of us as well as many teacher friends and co-teachers. Ugh. Some of them were actually surprises, too. Which is the worst kind of goodbye.

As for the move, we didn’t know how anything would work and had no one who spoke English to help. We all managed. Even if he did throw around the box we had drawn a beautiful little wine glass in the international symbol of “fragile” (everything turned out okay).

We were told there were “movers” coming at 6 pm on Friday night. The “movers” turned out to be a single man with a rental flat-bed truck. He came in to survey what we needed and tisked tisked at the amount of stuff we had. It actually didn’t take longer than an hour. I found the realtor and she showed me how to change the code on the door (we have no key, only this code). Not a few minutes later did Chris and the mover show up in a huge industrial elevator. Hooray for living in a building filled with factories!

The mover taking a texting break next to the massive elevator.


It was just a matter of moving our stuff from outside the elevator into the apartment. He quoted us at $90 and told us $90. Then tipped himself $10 by acting confused why we had handed him $90. So we gave him $10. $100 to move everything is pretty reasonable.

We had all day Saturday to clean the apartment and move things into the right spot. When people move out of apartments they usually leave a huge mess. It’s tradition and possibly superstition. Either way we had a bunch to clean up.

Friday Night:


Saturday Night:



Things were doing pretty well. We had scrubbed the mouldy shower as well as the stinky fridge as much as we could and moved everything around. Then without any warning Chris came down with food poisoning. The night before he’s supposed to take a 14 hour journey across the ocean he’s feverish and it’s coming out of both ends (if you will). Interestingly enough, as he was pouring himself into the toilet, I broke my pinky toe. I limped around trying to clean up the old apartment as well as coordinate what needed to go to America or to the new apartment.

As he lay shivering and miserable under the covers I held up clothes “Is this coming?” then proceded to shove, not fold, it into our bag. Somehow we managed to pack, then around midnight I had to limp to the new apartment to retrieve things left behind as well as drop more things off. It was a crazy whirlwind at the end but we made it.

Birthday, Tortillas, an Apple, and Camp Shopping

December has been busy. Rather than everything getting its own post – here’s a dump of everything we’ve forgotten to blog about/things we’re generally excited about.

Chris’s Birthday

I actually recruited the help of the PE staff in my school to help me find a jersey for Chris. None were in his size and then the one I found was sold out so it wasn’t meant to be. In a last ditch effort to give Chris something for his birthday I got:


Beer. Not a huge surprise.

They’re all imported so it’s not a bad gift.

Also he got some socks (so lame!) and I painted a piggy bank to look like Boba Fett


Instead of a cake we got a brownie cheesecake from a bakery



We discovered that we could make tortillas. I know, I know – that’s not something you can discover.

We bought a really strange block of vegetable oil that could have been lard – we didn’t know. Either way we realized what it could be used for:


Better than any tortillas I’ve ever had in America. Nearly par with the ones from Mexico.

Or maybe it’s been so long we don’t remember what tortillas should taste like.

An Apple for The Teacher

The cliche finally happened!


Chris had “Apple Day” at his school. A few weeks later we did too. Both of us got big apples – as big as your face and a sweet note. Chris kept his on his desk, but here’s mine:

DSC00934It’s a little blurry, it says “To: Kaeti. Hi! I’m Yujin Kwon from 1st grade. The first time I saw you I was so excited about the English classes we were going to do. I hope you stay here until I graduate! Luv u. *Sorry for my handwriting.”

Each teacher got an apple from … someone. Maybe it had to be from a 1st grade student, I don’t know. A bunch of third grade boys were roaming all over the school handing them out to all the teachers.

Camp Shopping

Andrew and I have $900 to spend on 40 students and if we don’t use it, we lose it. Also, given all the budget cuts, I think this could be the last hurrah for fun camps. Next year might just be paper and dried up markers.

For the winter camp we’re going to re-design the school, have an egg drop, compare fairy tales to the Puss in Boots movie, and finally have a bake-off.

The budget is wonky because we need lots of baking goodies. I don’t know anything about the metric system and Andrew doesn’t know anything about baking. Together we’re a mess.

“Kaeti, the powdered sugar only comes in 150 grams, is that enough?”


It’s the world’s most typical math problem

“You are having an English Winter Camp and want to bake cookies with 40 students. If the students are divided into 5 groups and each group will make a dozen cookies.  Will 1 kg of powdered sugar be enough? Please show your work.”


Meanwhile we need food coloring. Some countries use powdered coloring while others use liquid coloring Andrews first question is: “It’s safe to eat!?” Ignoring the studies that have suggested a link to learning disabilities… yessss? A few hours later he shows me some slivered almonds “Do you think these will work?” I want to give the students as much fun decorations as the budget will allow

“Oh yeah, those seem great.”

“They’ll work to give it color?”

“No…. no it will not.”

Andrew persevered and pretty soon he was showing me a package of bright orange powder.

“It’s pumpkin”

Like the color? How some people say something is “pumpkin” when they mean orange or that it’s “Sea Foam” not really teal.

“Is it flavored?”

“I don’t know, but it’s colored”

We ended up with grape, pumpkin and green tea.* Should be exciting!

*a few days later we found proper food coloring – but we’re getting both so we should have some pretty and interestingly flavored baked goods

Babysitting 15-Year-Olds

All of our third graders finished their finals 3 weeks ago.

In Korea, students have to apply to high schools. So finals need to be finished sooner so the test results can be sent out to the prospective schools.

They are about lose any quality of life they may still have – I talked to a third grader who got into the high school of her choice. She’s not happy. She is going to spend the next 3 years studying for the suneung test. High school means going to more cram schools and staying later. Students in high school also eat lunch and dinner at school and go to school for half-days on Saturday. Life is about to really suck for them.

Meanwhile, they have already “finished” middle school. The finals are done and graded. But still they have to wake up every morning, put on their uniforms, and go to school.

I think it goes without saying that little to no learning is done in this time. Sure, it’s 6 weeks of time lost – but what else are we supposed to do? This is their last chance to have fun before high school and there are minimal consequences to anything they do.

Chris has been doing trivia games and any other games he can think of. It’s actually been working pretty well. But he only sees them every other week. In fact, he’ll only see them one more time.

I see my 3rd grade every week and I’m stuck with an English Pop Song Competition.

I have to coach and later judge the whole thing. I had had a whole plan for this time involving British and American English, slang, etc. Not to mention reviewing all the writing rules they don’t know. With my points system and rewards I actually think I could have kept them somewhat motivated…

But no, I’m stuck listening to the same songs 15-20 times for 45 minutes while they mouth the words and pretend to sing. Of the seven classes of third graders, only the all-girls classes care. The 4 boys classes are mostly indifferent and one hasn’t even started.

I’m not even working anymore. I’m just sitting and going nuts – I really hate repetitive sounds so the same song over and over and over and over drives me a little crazy.

Each class has to pick 2 songs – one Christmas and one regular pop-song. Because no one told me this (I’m only in charge of the whole thing). I overrode this rule for a few classes.  Oops!

If you’re curious what songs we listen to over and over:

3-1 (girls): One Direction “What Makes you Beautiful” and Santa Claus is Coming To Town . Mostly they have spent the whole time choreographing a fantastic dance to Santa Claus.

3-2 (girls) Upside Down by the A*Teens and Santa Baby by Taylor Swift. “Upside Down” is a song I used to listen to a lot when I was about 10 years old- it was a huge surprise that they picked it out.

3-3 (girls): Sunny (a Korean-English song) and Mercy by Duffy. This was a class asked me in English “do we have to do Christmas songs?” to which I said “oh gosh no!” So here we are: no Christmas songs.

3-4 (boys). Unknown. They don’t care and I don’t care. We’re at a bit of an impasse. I think none of us know what the consequences are if they don’t do it. They won’t win the $100 prize.

3-5 (boys) We are Young by Fun and possibly YMCA. I’m actually not sure. This was another class I accidentally gave them permission to skip a Christmas song.

3-6 (boys) Backstreet Boys – It’s Christmas Time Again. I grew up with the Backstreet Boys! How are they  even still popular!? Their second song is To Be With You by Mr. Big. This was the only English song I didn’t know. Strangely enough class 3-7 picked it as well. It must be in a drama or in commercials to be so popular with the boys.

3-7 (boys) They tried to pick the same exact song To Be With You but I convinced them to at least do a different artist. At least this one is a little less like a balladTo Be With You by Human Nature. 

Their Christmas song is Jingle Bell Rock. There are a hundred and one different versions of all different speeds and artists but they picked the original 1958 version by Bobby Helms. It was described as being “sleepy … Teacher this is a sleepy song.” To which they searched a remixed version and landed on this Jingle Bell Rock Remix with the impossible-to-sing to lyrics “jing-jing-jing-jing-jing-jingle bell. *record scratch* Bell. Bell. Bell. Bell. Bell……”

So we have a bunch of 15 year olds choosing songs – did I have to say “no” to any of them? I was expecting songs that were full of rich figurative language about terrible things – like “my anaconda”

Instead they all picked decent songs on their own. However, I did override one class who wanted to do “Let it Go” from Frozen to which I said “I will automatically fail you.”

Reason 1) Everyone in Korea already knows the lyrics. It wouldn’t be fair for them to use it. They wouldn’t utilize the time in class to practice the song.

and consequently

Reason 2) No one ever wants to hear that song again.

So I have not overridden any student’s choice of song because of double meanings or lyrics. If anything, I’ve saved some classes.

My co-teachers have to translate the lyrics for the administration to reference. So, of course, have found some problems in the lyrics.

“So if by the time the bar closes and you feel like falling down, I’ll carry you home tonight…”   suggests bringing a woman home from a bar. It caused a huge stink until I stepped in and overanalyzed the heck out of the song to clear it. I said it suggests carrying her home so she gets home safely. I really don’t care what it could imply. It’s a very popular song and it was the only song that class cared enough about to sing.

The other one was a song that could have possibly maybe potentially been about being tempted to cheat. That’s it- just the temptation. Not actually going through with it. I said it probably doesn’t mean it, and if it did, who cares?

What about all the dirty Korean songs? Where the only lyrics in English are  “gonna make you sweat, gonna make you”… hehem never mind I don’t want to quote that one (Psy – “Gentleman”) or “I know you want it … touch my body, come on, touch my body” (Sistar’s “Touch my Body“) Finally “ice cream, ice cream, I’ll melt you down like ice cream, cream, cream…” (Hyuna’s “Ice Cream”)

My goodness! If they sing along to these lyrics in the hallways of the school in front of all the teachers, I’m pretty sure they can sing to the clean songs they picked out.



Sports Day

Last semester, sports day was cancelled at my school because of the Sewol Ferry Disaster. For those who don’t know, a ferry carrying mostly high school students sunk, killing most on board. Because mostly students died, schools across the nation cancelled festivals and school trips for remembrance and solidarity (and, yes, fear). Chris’ school trips were cancelled but he had a sports day. My school trips started that morning (before anyone knew what had happened) but the sports day was cancelled later.

Somehow now we got to have a sports day in the second semester.

Here’s my whole school lined up by grade and class. Starting with the yellow line at the far right is 1st grade. The gap is the beginning of second grade (pink line is the end). The next line is the 3rd grade with a massive space between boys and girls (go figure.) The first grade didn’t put any space between them and the boys. Maybe they’re still used to mixed classes from elementary school.

Most classes bought matching shirts, if not matching outfits.


The boys usually had some variation of a track uniform. Some boys wore pink hoodies over track pants, others had matching tshirts. 2 1st grade boys classes either didn’t get the memo or didn’t care and just wore their standard PE uniform.

The girls, of course, got really into it. Most had full matching outfits.

The first graders went for more pajama looking outfits. Universe prints, Baggy elmo tshirts, Frozen tshirts with floral pants.

Here are all the second grade girls.



Third grade is a pretty small class. There are only 3 girls classes (second grade has 5 girls classes!). All three classes were awesome. 3-1 wore Brazil uniforms with their names printed in English on the back. 3-2 wore full Hanbok! The traditional Korean dress – they had some cheep-y version of it that they ran, jumped, and competed in. Then 3-3 (I’m not gonna play favorites but they are so much fun to have in class) wore what I would expect. Full animal/monster costumes. No two girls were alike.

A Hanbok, a parrot, an alligator, a dragon and a Brazilian uniform


Here are the girls competing in their Hanboks. The boys in matching, simple sweatshirts are waiting for their turn to do tug of war



Here are penguins, birds, lady bugs, alligators, chickens, blue birds, dogs and a mongoose (no really, they assured me it was a mongoose costume and even came with a snake-prop) tug o’ warring.

DSC00874The day started with hours of opening ceremonies, bowing and clapping. I stayed indoors for most of it, honestly. Then they began competition for points. I have conflicting information. One person said the class with the most points wins $150, someone else said that’s not allowed and they would maybe just get a pizza. It’s supposed to up the ante.

The class competitions were all things that don’t exist in America, and if they did, they would be banned. They’re all a little “dangerous.”  There is one where all the students bend at the waist and a classmate runs along their backs. When they’re finished running on your back, you run to the front of the line and bend over again. The goal is to be a human road to a finish line. I don’t have pictures, sorry.

Then there are jump roping relays. The whole class has to jump over the jump rope as fast as they can. So people go in ones, then twos, threes, and then four people all jumping at once, then moving out of the way so the next group can jump. Many knees were skinned. Many people tripped.

Possibly the worst is a clothes-lining game. The students told me this one is the hardest/worst. There’s a string with a bar over it (already this sounds terrible). The first three in the line run with it to a cone. You go around the cone twice then run back.


On the way back the middle player drops the bar. The two on the ends run at their whole class. Everyone has to jump over the bar without getting pulled over by the bar or stopping the bar. Yes people get pushed and pulled over, knees were skinned and worse. When the whole class has jumped over it, everyone ducks. They run with the bar over the group and then hand it to the people in the front. You have to do this as many times as it takes to rotate through the whole class (about 35 people).DSC00861You want 3 legged race? How about 9 legged? Wait. I’m not sure how many legs. Basically there’s a foam board that has 6 holes in it. 6 people put one leg in each hole and race. I didn’t see the outcome of this one but I know there were loads of band aids.

It wasn’t all abrasions and awesome teamwork. Sometimes it was just incredible teamwork. Here’s a game that Americans could actually play without a lawsuit


It’s called About-20-people-work-together-to-bounce-a-ball-while-also-traveling-towards-the-finish-line. It’s not a catchy name. Seriously though, it’s a wooden platform with a bunch of strings coming off the sides. Everyone has to bounce it while coordinating walking towards a line. The wood isn’t bouncy, you actually have to pull the board up to make it bounce. So you have to work as a team to bounce and walk together.

After a whole bunch of that. We had tug o’ war, then lunch.

1st and 2nd grade girls did synchronized dancing (3rd grade students are too busy applying to high schools to coordinatedancing routines). All the first graders danced at the same time to the same song. The school used cameras and a helicopter camera (a small toy-ish helicopter) to film the groups. The PE teachers reviewed the footage to pick the winning team.



Here are the second grade students.



After that there was more tug o war, and relay races.

It was a very full day for them. I’m glad it’s over because they have been absolute messes lately, coordinating outfits and practicing their routines. Maybe tomorrow they will all be exhausted.