Posted by: C. Cali Martin | November 22, 2009

Let’s Take It Back Now Y’all

After some conversations with a few people from back home, I have come to realization that I haven’t precisely and candidly explained what the hell I’m doing in Korea. This post will attempt to remedy that situation.

I came to Korea in order to set a few things straight: my life, my finances, and my experiences (or lack thereof). I also came to travel. It was my hope that during my tenure in South Korea I would be able to take week-long vacations to other exotic nations; however, my limited number of vacation days will surely prevent that. Quite unfortunate, yet only a stumbling block. I have already planned my post-Korea traveling excursions. While I’m in Korea, I’m living in studio apartment where my bathroom and washing machine (and drying rack) are situated outside in what I call my “Panda Veranda” – silly name, long story. It’s an enclosed area, but not connected to the heating/air, so it’s essentially an enclosed patio (or “hallway”). I have a teeny tiny kitchen and a small living space not suitable for company, really. I have a desk where I can accomplish my homework and a small table with a TV (not that it ever gets turned on).

I work at a private school called Avalon English Academy where I teach children Korean-aged 12-14 (11-13 Western-aged). I work from 3 in the afternoon until 11 at night. Some of you may be thinking, “how can kids get out of school at 11PM?!” Well, if you don’t know anything about Korean culture, that is most legitimate question. In Korea, education is stressed much more strongly than in America – perhaps why we stereotype that Asian kids are smarter? They are little machines! They get up around 6AM to be to school at 7 (public school/regular school) where they have around 12 subjects. After their regular school, most students attend anywhere between 1 -6 other hagwons. Math, science, Japanese, Chinese, English, music lessons, etc. are taught in private academies after school. I think most hagwons close at 11PM, but there are still students running around the streets and on and off buses until much later (maybe as late as 1 or 2AM). In Daegu, this is not unusual. It is said to be the safest city in the entire country, although most of South Korea is incredibly safe. Children are taught to be independent at a very young age (I have seen 2-3 year olds on the elevator by themselves in the building where I work who functionally get on the elevator, push the correct button, and get off on the correct floor). It is absolutely amazing! The students also have massive piles of homework they much complete for each class, and I have from time to time excused children for homework, let one or two sleep in class, or not assigned homework for the next week. These students work extremely hard and are very dedicated to their studying; conversely, these students are taught to be automatons to the system and only obey what their parents/teachers say. There is no room creativity in schools – even their art classes are structured so that they all draw the same (from what I understand from the students). I imagine it is a very difficult lifestyle they lead; which brings me to the dreaded “Fan Death”. Koreans use this cause of death as a way to legitimize suicide in children/teenagers so as not to draw public scrutiny or make their country look bad. Students must pass rigorous exams throughout their life to be successful in adulthood. If students do not do well on their exams or have merely lost the will to go on, suicide is the alternative many students will take. “Fan Death” covers up that ugly motive. Now, what exactly is “Fan Death” you say? If there is a fan turned on in a room with no windows or doors open, it is said that the fan will suck the oxygen from the room and kill the occupant. Many Koreans believe this and will not shut doors or windows if there is a fan on in a room. This does not count for air conditioning units, but just ordinary fans. Bizarre…

I never thought I would love teaching middle school kids so much. I know elementary would have been too much of handful (and from the stories I hear, I made the right choice), but I absolutely love my job. There are quirks, sure, and some days are better than others, but all in all, I feel like I’m definitely in the right place at the right time. On the weekends, my coworkers and I make a whole day of shopping and eating Western food downtown; at night, we prowl the Korean alleys for bars and clubs drunk on Cass, drink-in-a-bag, whiskey, and often, soju. I love what I do, I love where I am, and I only wish everyone could have an experience like mine. 😀

My finished cherry blossom tattoo



  1. It’s beautiful.

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