How Many Ways Might I Procrastinate?

Many.  Many ways.

It’s final exam grading/narrative report writing/all the other grading you had to do time here at Chadwick International.  Also known as hell week.  Also known as the most wonderful time of the year.  Total sarcasm, people.  Maybe I do it to myself–my exam, by principle, is not multiple guess.  I maybe could have begun narratives sooner.  But here we are.  So in between bouts of productive work, how am I putting off the pain?

Face-Timing with my Dad who recently retired:  Steve’s Auto Service Changes Hands   Woohoo, Dad!  Living the dream!

Reading about strange Korean wonkiness:  Jawbones as Office Decor.   By the way, this is not a joke.  This happened/happens and only begins to scratch the surface of the bizarre Korean plastic surgery epidemic.  Yeah, I called it an epidemic.

Learning about the wonders of Bloglovin, a newish, not so new blog reader tool.  Follow me there!:  www.bloglovin.com

Looking at live cam pictures of Niseko, Japan, where we will be skiing in a mere few days:  Niseko Live Cam

Reading and watching the latest from North Korea:  Frontline/North Korea   This is a really incredible documentary that you should watch.  It always amazes me that we are so close.

Reading my daily trail and ultra-running info source.

Laughing out loud:  The Bloggess   Jenny Lawson is pure genius.

I am additionally wasting time on home decor and design blogs, beauty blogs, pictures of cats, and learning all about Esther the Wonder Pig.

Can you really blame me?  There is so much awesome stuff out there on the interwebs!  Not so much awesome stuff here in the home office, where this stack of grading glares maliciously in my general direction.  Maybe I’ll go for a run….

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Open Apology to Prospective Hires

I’ve been getting a lot of emails from people applying to Chadwick.  I have to say, I am so sorry but I do not have time to reply to you right now.  Take a look at my blog–I barely have time to post much.  Mostly this is for good reason:  I’m either working hard, traveling, or training.  So rather than reply to you separately, I’ll answer some of the more frequent questions here, once (again I truly am sorry–many of you sound very cool and I would like to be able to have extended conversations with you all, but that’s just not possible at the moment):

Can I support my family on a Chadwick salary?

Probably.  I guess it depends on your lifestyle.  You’re probably not going to be traveling much if you’re supporting a family of 4 or more, but yes you can live on one salary.  The provided housing is very nice and big enough for a family with multiple children.

Do you enjoy teaching at Chadwick?

Mostly.  I do find the administration supportive and the kids are very nice.  There are a lot of great personal and professional benefits and we are treated with respect.  It’s a new school and due to its structure, it’s a bit unique in its problems and opportunities compared to other more established international schools.  There are certainly going to be a lot of growing pains.  Like any international school, if you want to teach here, you need to be open-minded and flexible.  My husband and I are staying for a fourth year and possibly a fifth after that.  I’m happy here for now.

How are your colleagues?

For the most part, the teachers are excellent here.  So excellent, in fact, that there’s a lot of internal pressure that we put on ourselves–thus the extended work hours.  People are generally very collegial.  People are active and healthy, which I appreciate.  The nature of the city is much more comfortable for families.  Singles don’t last very long even though they may love the school.  So, if you are fellow DINKS, please apply and make a good showing–I need people to hang out with 🙂

Do the teachers go on the outdoor ed trips?

Yes–and they’re great, and you have the opportunity to take kids on trips of your own design.

Okay, that’s that for now.  Please don’t be upset with me if I didn’t respond to your email.  I hope that your interview process goes well.  Put on a good game-face for the hiring fair and hopefully we’ll see you here.

If you’re reading this because you subscribed back when you were looking into Chadwick and now you’re here, please feel free to pipe in down in the comments.  Maybe your experience is different from mine or feel you have a nugget of info that would help prospective hires that you wish someone had told you.

Still There?

Yes!!  I still live in Songdo and still work for Chadwick International.  What’s with the year hiatus, you ask?  Actually, I’m not sure.  We were just so busy.  I won’t lie–working for CI is incredibly demanding.  At times it was not always rewarding, and so I didn’t feel like writing much.  But it’s a new school year, I’ve moved to high school, and so I’m feeling a bit more like writing these days.  So there you have it.

What happens in a year in a rapidly-filling brand new city raised from the mud?

–They began and are close to finishing building the Lotte Mart half of the Lotte Mall complex 2 blocks from our house.

–The new Green Climate Fund (GCF) secretariat to the UN chose Songdo as it’s homebase, promising an influx of 500 families of multinational background.  But in the wake of all that silly media circus about North Korea last spring, their arrival is delayed.  Songdo is still as Korean as the next city and remains “International” in name only.

–A bar owned and run by expats finally opened.  Cinder Bar is great.  They open at 5:30, officially making them the only bar anywhere nearby that opens when Westerners actually want to drink.

–As the city fills, but people still drive erratically, the number of bike wrecks is on the rise.  We constantly beg the kids to wear their helmets.  But they still won’t.  This is a constant source of anxiety for me.

–I’m coaching cross country and we actually have a real season this year, complete with multiple scored meets.  This has been awesome, yet exhausting.  Totally worth it, though.  The kids are incredible.

–Many more restaurants and bars are opening–we even got a second Starbucks.  There are also many new stores, but none of these things have me particularly excited.  Except of course for the addition of many Korean cosmetic stores.  I love that stuff.  Guilty secret, but I’m putting it out there now.  So there.  Now you know.  I love makeup shaped like cats and bunnies.  Truth.

–Tim and I bought a summer home in the mountains of Colorado.  I have a picture of it by my desk.  I look at it often.

Just a snippet of things to come.

I’m feeling much more at-home in Korea this year.  The food has really grown on me and I feel like I finally really understand the culture, which helps me let go of a lot of things that upset me about people here before.  I’m feeling quite satisfied with where I am in life at the moment.  Maybe that’s why I feel like writing again.

Summer Run Down

We are back in Songdo now after an incredibly eventful summer.

A quick run-down in case you wondered:

Immediately after school let out in June we flew to Thailand.  We were on our way to a wedding in Pakistan but we had about 8 or 9 days to kill before the wedding events began.  The original plan was to trek in Northern Pakistan for that time.  However, recent sectarian violence and instability in those regions caused us a re-think.  Not that we were scared for ourselves.  These flare-ups rarely affect foreigners.  However, we worried the lock-downs would affect our travel back to Islamabad and how selfish would it be to miss the wedding we went there for in the first place? So we scrapped those plans and extended our layover in Bangkok by 9 days.  We spent three weeks there over Christmas break and loved it–but on that trip we stuck to the South, rock climbing in the Railay/Krabi area.  This time we decided to go North to Chaing Mai.   June in Thailand was fantastic.  It’s low season, so the crowds are nonexistent and the hotels are cheap.  But the monsoon had not yet arrived–the weather was quite pleasant!  I love elephants, so we spent one full day at the Elephant Nature Park–a no riding, no stupid elephant tricks, rescue farm.  It is now my charity of choice.  We also spent a full day rock climbing which was pretty stellar, and we spent a day seeing the local sights and eating AWESOME food!  Did I mention I love Thailand?

After a couple of days with a friend in Bangkok (I LOVE Bangkok), we continued on to Islamabad.  Pakistan and the wedding was an interesting experience.  However, we did not get much of a chance to “see” Pakistan.  Islamabad is not what you think of when you picture Pakistan.  Islamabad is clean and orderly with wide avenues, a ban on rickshaws and jingle trucks, and relatively nice houses and restaurants.  Also, being there at the end of June, before the monsoon, is not really when you want to go touristing around.  To say it’s hot would be an understatement.  And with the energy crisis and rolling blackouts, there’s not much you can do besides trying to stay perfectly still in the coolest corner you can find to wait until the AC can come back on.  The wedding was lovely and it was such an honor to be involved and included in our friend’s family and to be able to meet and talk to so many of the intelligentsia who founded Islamabad.  For about 6 days straight there were dinners hosted by family and friends of the family, so there were many opportunities to get to know one another.  We did make it out of town one day to go to my friend’s father’s ancestral village in the foothills where they still have a house.  It was a wonderful respite from the heat and a chance to see a bit more of the real Pakistan.

When we left Islamabad, we had 3 days at the beginning of July back in Songdo so we could switch out luggage, do the laundry and pet the cat and then it was off to Denver.  I had a week in Denver with friends, then two weeks in Boone, NC with friends and family, and then one more week in Colorado before we returned to Korea.  These days were spent catching up with friends, eating at favorite restaurants, drinking lots and lots and lots of IPA, trail running, climbing, hiking, camping, seeing Steve’s plays in Creede, a beach weekend, and just reveling in summer in the mountains.

And now we’re back, rejuvenated, and ready for a new school year.  At Chadwick, we have opened and moved into our upper school building.  Last year when we were just an elementary and middle school, the entire operation was housed in the elementary school building.  But with the addition of 9th grade, we’ve outgrown that space and moved into our own building.  This is a welcome change as it actually feels like a secondary school to me.  The sinks are not at my knees, there are lockers, there are administrative offices, there are great facilities for students to congregate and work and there’s just more space in general.  So things are good.  The second year overseas in a school is always great because you have everything figured out and can really concentrate on your teaching practice and perfecting your craft.  You understand the kids culturally and know what to expect.  I’m ready to enjoy the year.

American Culture

Disclaimer:  This post was a long time in the thinking and writing and will be very long and boring.  It’s okay if you quit reading.  I won’t be offended.  I just needed to unload ideas that have been swimming around in my noggin. 

Growing up, I thought that “culture” was the traditional dress, art, and spicy food that people wore, made and ate in exotic places.  There was no such thing as American culture, because America is a “melting pot.”  We don’t have people in the mountains wearing swirly brightly colored skirts and top hats.  Though we do have mountain people making damn fine music on the banjo! America was the norm and everything else was “other.”  We eat Italian, Thai, and Mexican food.  I suppose it’s obvious then that I grew up in a very small town.  But even when I left and moved to Boulder and met different kinds of people and experienced cities and even traveled outside of the country, the word “culture” was still not at the front of my mind.  What we did and thought and ate was just what we did.

In graduate school we did a lot of talking about “multi-culturalism” and diversity and how to bring these things into the classroom because they are so valuable.  We talked about how culture is more than different holidays and foods.  It is also attitudes and values and thought that is influenced by language.  But I still could not internalize what the real difference was between us and them.  I could not see ourselves objectively because I was only looking at “them” and trying to understand “them” in a vacuum unaffected by own beliefs and values.

It took living in several different countries, working there, and interacting with parents and students to really be able to “see” and recognize and put my index finger on exactly what American culture is (and I’m still working on it).  Here, in the most different and “other” place I’ve ever lived, I find myself thinking about these concepts a lot because being in a place so opposite has given me the most insight into my own attitudes, values, and thought processes.

For example, I think most people know that Eastern cultures are Collectivist.  Before I lived here, I took that to mean that everyone looks out for each other, caring more about the group than the individual, and that relationships are more important than “getting things done.”  But collectivism really pervades many ways of thinking, sometimes in completely frustrating ways for the hapless American teacher.  One example is parent beliefs about how classes function.  Say we have a little darling named Johnny.  Little Johnny, in the eyes of the American teacher, has been showing a bad attitude and has been irresponsible about turning in homework.  In the eyes of Little Johnny’s mom, Johnny is in a bad class.  The class has a bad attitude because the group is bad and Johnny will do much better if you just put him in the advanced math class where he belongs.  This sort of thing makes me crazy on a daily basis, but only because it does not reflect my American values:  individualism, self-determination, personal responsibility.  All those things sound really good to you, too, right?  But maybe I’m wrong and those are not valuable things.  Or maybe, we’re both right, which waxes my noodle even more.  In the end, I win because mom put Johnny in the school to get a Western education so that he will be prepared for college in the States.  But they are not happy about it and still looking for ways to get him in advanced math instead of (my interpretation) being self-aware and personally responsible in setting time management goals or self-reflecting on attitudes projected and how that might influence other students around little Johnny.

Collectivism among children also means that bullying is easy because all you have to do is exclude someone.  You all ignore a peer and it’s the most devastating thing you can do to a kid here.  Here is where the self-determination in Americans comes in again.  This kind of bullying doesn’t work for us (as much), because we shrug and say we can do it better ourselves anyway, and so Americans must be much more violent and forceful to communicate their hate in a palpable way.  Which is worse?  I don’t know.

These behaviors and values follow every hobby, job, and public behavior in silent yet obvious ways.  I’m going to save the observations in climbing and safety for my husband to reflect upon.  Because I didn’t really mean to get into what I think collectivism is in reality.  I meant to talk about American culture.

Because school is the great training ground–the place where you acquire all cultural capital you don’t get from your parents, it is an interesting comparison.  The leaders of today and yesterday, the States and Europe, all educate their children to be leaders, analytical thinkers, creative doers, capable team workers, and independent researchers.  This is American or Western culture.  In the developing world and the leaders of tomorrow (Asia), the public schools are still teaching memorization and copying.  The parents who understand and see this–probably those who went to international schools themselves–then send their children to us, knowing that the way forward is innovation and creativity.  Not copying.  But we still have to fight to break the mode of thinking that teachers should just be the deliverers of knowledge while students are the quiet receptacles.

And then there’s American food.  Earlier, I said we eat all kinds of food and so we don’t have culturally specific food.  But we do!  I mean, there are foods that are totally American, like collard greens, cheese fries and deep-fried turkey.  But if you think about all the options you have around you in your very own town or city, then you’ve hit the nail on the head.  You probably have at least one Chinese restaurant, a Mexican place or two (or more), Italian options, noodle places, Tapas places, seafood restaurants, and sushi places, BBQ pits, Greek restaurants, diners, hippie pizza joints, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, and probably a whole handful of places that you don’t really know what category they fit into.  But they have good food.   Americans crave and value variety.  What makes good American food is the most unique  flavor combinations one can possibly create and still have the meal taste great.  It’s the mark of a great chef to be able to take a hundred ingredients and create some new fusion dish that no one has made before.  What’s valued in Italian and French food?  A few high quality ingredients well cooked in the same way it’s always been done.  Obviously, I’m generalizing, but you get the idea.  Have you ever been in a grocery store outside the States, then gone back shopping in the States?  The sheer number of options for even just Pringle flavors is staggering.  And have you seen the size of the cereal isle?  Do you know what everyone else in the world wants to eat?  Their own food.  The difference between this Turkish kofte place and that one is this one uses fresher ingredients.  Sure they taste the same to us, but not to the Turks.  Everywhere we have been, people want their own nationality’s food and that’s all (yes maybe once in a while they want some pasta).  Interesting difference, isn’t it?  I guess it’s because America was originally made up of so many different cultures, but not anymore.  This variety has become quintessentially American.

And thus concludes my current ramblings about Americans.  Being away has taught me who I am and where I really came from, according to me, of course.  I wonder what I’ll learn about myself tomorrow?

I’m Famous

We’ve been getting a lot of press lately.  By we, I mean our school, Chadwick International.  It seems like every week we have photographers or newscasters here to document the amazing.  It seems this week I made it onto MBC, one of the three major TV networks here in Korea.  If I ever get the video to work, I’ll post it.  But they did send us some still shots:

Fast Fall

Let me first apologize to friends and family.  I have been a bad Erin this fall.  Yes, my job ate me.  And as a result, I have been horribly out of touch.  Getting eaten by your job, no matter how great it is and how much you love it, is not sustainable.  It’s hard to survive continual mastication.  So I’m working hard now to manage my time better and make more of it for you.  I’ll try not to disappear for so long again.

Work is going well, but it has been an emotional roller coaster lately.  We recently had parent teacher conferences, and that was an experience like none I’ve ever had.  Usually, at international schools, the thinking goes, “I’m busy and I pay a lot of money to ensure that my child is getting a great education, so unless I hear otherwise from you, everything is fine.”  In the past, we would maybe see 15% of our parents for conferences.  Imagine my surprise when we blocked out two full school days and one night to see parents, and we were full.  We had interviews with parents every 15 minutes with a short break here and there.  That kind of schedule was totally brutal, so thankfully, most of the meetings were lovely.  There were only a couple of the ones you kind of expect from the Korean stereotypes.  Really only two were mad at me for “giving” their kids a D or saying their kid needed extra ESL support.  And the parents brought gifts.  We got tons of chocolates and cookies and little desk items.  So that, and the kind parents, softened the experience.  Interactions with parents lately has taught me a lot about cultural sensitivities.  Things are very different here in Asia than in the Western world in what we value in children and we both have strong opinions about how to do it right with kids.  Sometimes here in Korea, what the parents say they want, and what they then do seems so contradictory.  This is topic for much further thought and consideration, but consider me a new student here.

Apart from learnings from the parents and students, I am totally in love with Chadwick.  I love our mission and what we’re trying to do.  I love it that I am already witnessing kids blossoming as individuals for the first times in their lives.  I love it that my administrators support me completely.  I love it that our head of schools takes time out to explain his reasoning and decision making.  I feel valued here.  I feel like I’m effecting positive change.  I love having support for collaboration.  I love our school so much, that I am not even resentful of the amount of time I spend working or our daily schedule or meeting schedule that feels a bit too heavy.  I’m okay with it because we are building something special here. I mean, we got two whole PD days with my mentor from my graduate program at CU-Boulder.  This place is awesome.

Life outside of school is good too.  We’re getting used to life here in Songdo as the little city steadily grows and begins to fill with more people.  Streets are not so deserted anymore.  More services, restaurants and bars are opening.  We’re learning about Seoul and already have favorite places to go there.  We’ve been rock climbing, camping, indoor ice-climbing, and we’ve spent a lot of time (especially Tim) on the big US military base in Seoul.  Tim goes there for his ski patrol classes twice a week and some Saturdays and the organization got me a base pass too.  We can’t shop at the commissary, but we can eat at the restaurants and one bar has all of my favorite beers from home 🙂

We’re looking forward to our Christmas vacation this year.  The last two have been spent on skiing vacations in the Alps.  We’re doing a total turnaround this time as we’re rock climbing in Thailand and are so excited to go!  As it turns out, we will have LOTS of friends there to meet up with at different points, to visit with and to climb with.  It will be a sweet Christmas and a well-earned vacation!

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