How K-popped my cherry

The unthinkable has happened. Korea has turned me into…a fangirl. Yes, a fangirl.

Not even in my prepubescent prime did I succumb to such levels of fandom. Sure, I grew up loving N’SYNC and Backstreet Boys, but I didn’t know their birthdays, wait in anticipation for their next song to be released, or scream at their concerts. And while I’m a sucker for dancy pop songs, I never really sustained interest with the world of celebrity. I had never come close to fandom- until K-pop came along. 

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The group:

It started almost as investigative reporting. I’d heard tales of K-pop- the obsession, the wild fan world, the rivalries- so I figured I’d go into the belly of the beast and see what I could uncover. Fortunately my program placement led me to Pohang where my new family consisted of a Kiwi and a Brit equipped with their own heavy arsenal of K-pop intel. The induction was quick. First I needed to choose a group. I’d heard legend of Big Bang from friends who had formerly worked in South Korea, but they were apparently old news. I knew nothing. I then recalled names I’d learned through my students, EXO, Infinite, Got7, B.A.P. and BTS. Redeeming myself with my new family, we started with the best of the best. As I watched music video after video, I got lost in a sea of pyrotechnics, beautiful production quality, neons, complimentary patterns, ever-changing hair colors, and so, much, energetic dancing over wildly catchy beats. Overwhelmed I looked to the Brit for backup and she happily introduced me to BTS.

The concert:

Overly eager, I dove into the underbelly too early. I was still new to this world and when the Brit and Kiwi proposed a concert, I jumped at the opportunity for an introduction to this realm. My eyes widened as we approached the stadium exterior amidst throngs of fans decked out in their appropriate fan colors and band merchandise. I passed stands filled with stacks of pillowcases, t-shirts, bags, and other purchasables all plastered with idol’s faces. The Brit and I adorned ourselves with pink neon BTS crowns and took our seats, to our dismay, amidst throngs of other fans. Fortunately they were older fans there for a reunion tour and didn’t seem to mind our pink in their sea of yellow. We would not have been so lucky had we been amidst rivals.

Feeling like a spectator at a colorful aquarium, I watched the crowds swell with energy as the first act took the stage. When the sea of yellow around us came alive, I couldn’t help but laugh as they pumped their glowing wands in unison. What freaky cult was I witnessing? The screams were deafening and I wondered if I’d ever shown that much enthusiasm for something. Then PSY came out. Suddenly I too joined the ranks of screaming fans, dancing to Gangnam style like a giddy convert. By the time BTS illuminated the stage with fire (both their song and actual flames), I was beside myself. I was no longer a mere spectator. I was excited. Captivated. Possessed by the flashing lights, the neon patterns, their voices, and those perfectly timed dance moves. As we left the stadium I found myself asking my mentors, “What is life after K-pop?”

The bias:

The next step was choosing a bias, or rather letting him choose me. The bias is your favorite member of the group. Once you have chosen, or rather once they have chosen you, there is no turning back. You are theirs and they are yours. You will fight your friends if they try to encroach on your territory, and you will feel guilty if other members of the band make you doubt your choice. But you will never stray. Pictures, memes, and silly videos of your bias will always make your day in a weird teenage-heart-melting kind of way. There are those who take their bias passion too far, entering obsessive stalker territory, referred to as sasaeng fans (but that’s another post).

The concert had hooked me and now it was my turn to make the choice. I did not understand the full power of the bias as I looked between fast cuts of wild dancers. In every video their hair turned a new color and their style changed. The camera lingered mere seconds on their faces as one member after another wowed the audience with their moves or sultry stares. How could I possibly choose? The Brit eyed me with silent expectation, her eyes almost whispering, “Don’t you fuck this up.” I had two allies and a 5 in 7 chance to properly make my selection. “That one?” I said pointing at a lanky rapper who captivated me with his goofy smile and general badassery. The Brit sighed in relief and immediately texted the all clear to the Kiwi, “She’s chosen J-Hope”. Celebrations could commence.

The comeback:

I was fortunate enough to have my introduction coincide with the release of a new song and later a new album, which they refer to as a comeback. Unlike in the U.S., a comeback does not mean they were on hiatus. Rather, it is a process for announcing a new song/album, involving another hair change, teaser pictures and short trailers, and finally the release of the video. Promotions usually last for a month as the artists perform on various shows- that is if they pass the channel screenings. Rival fandoms will go so far as to hack accounts so that a comeback won’t top the charts or break record views with their initial release. There was so much to learn. 

When BTS released their comeback of Blood, Sweat, and Tears, I was once again captivated by the amazing production quality, the rich colors, and powerful dance moves. I even had a bias to focus on and root for. True, I was not aware of the midnight release, nor did I know every member’s name or understand the imagery and theories linked to past videos. I was still fairly fresh on the scene. The Kiwi berated me for being so ill-informed this late in the game, while the Brit took on the challenge in stubborn determination. They saw to it that I was updated, filling my mind with facts, sending me an array of images, and drilling me on each band member’s name and role as I chronologically watched music videos.

By the time of BTS’ next comeback, Not Today, I was pumped. I found myself blasting their song as if it were my anthem, smiling as I visualized the music video shot for shot. I threatened to cut the Brit if she encroached on my J-Hope territory again, and took online quizzes to see who my personality matched.

I was in too deep.

I had activated an inner fangirl I never knew could exist. And while I will always hold a place in my heart for K-pop, ultimately this wasn’t me. True, it is a world filled with immense talent, creative skill, and incredibly catchy music. J-Hope will always be my first and only bias. And I will forever be grateful for the Brit and Kiwi’s guidance on this journey. But the more I learned about K-pop, the more I realized that there is a price that comes with this cheery musical realm. There is a dark side to K-pop and I had to get out while I still could.

More to come…

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But for now I’ll leave you with some of my fangirl favorites: Fire and Not Today

South Korea: The Good, the bad and the ugly

Six months. How am I already at the halfway point? There are far too many experiences to recount, so in an effort to reflect upon and consolidate the past few months, I present Korea: The good, the bad and the ugly.

But let’s mix things up and get the bad out of the way first.

The Bad:

Rude after teaching in the land of smiles (Thailand), the levels of rude in Korea shocked my system. True, I’d gotten used to the n’importe quoi rudeness of France, but it was a laissez faire rude of simply not caring. Korean rude, especially Pohang rude, is in your face and impossible to ignore. Some days it is literally in your face as people stare inches from your cheek with a fiery, unmovable gaze. Other days people yell what one can only assume are Korean expletives and spit in your path. The most common rude though is the push. Oh the push. It doesn’t matter where you are or how much room there is, at some point in your day, you will get bumped or pushed past with such force that it makes you question your own existence. Am I really even here? To be fair it’s mostly the ajummas and ajusshis (old people) who barrel through you. And they’ve seen and been through some shit in their lives here in Korea, so I can’t really blame them. Most days.

Staring-  Over the past 5 years, I’ve been an étranger, a farang and now a wagook. You’d think by now I’d get used to the staring that comes with being a foreigner living abroad; it’s part of the territory. But Korea’s staring game is strong. In other countries people usually look away after a while, especially if you make eye contact. Not in Korea. Quite the contrary, people stare for long, intense sessions, as if bigfoot has just stepped onto the bus. And making eye contact only intensifies the stare, transforming it into a glare that grows with increasingly obvious dislike for your face. Word of advice, don’t even try a staring contest. You will always lose.

Crowds-  With over 50 million people living in only 30% of the country (as 70% of it is covered in mountains), it’s no wonder people can be a bit rude. Korea is densely populated and if you live in a city, or even a semblance of one, you’re bound to be packed onto a bus, subway or even sidewalk at some point. If you’re agoraphobic, stick to the countryside.

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To be fair this was Halloween.

Corporal punishment- The first time I heard the tapping sound I thought something had fallen on a desk. The next time I thought surely my eyes were deceiving my ears as the angry flood of fast Korean was interrupted by the whisking sound of wood on skull. Naively, I initially thought that those wooden sticks were used to gesture and aid in my colleague’s’ classroom instruction. Having my desk nestled next to the disciplinarian’s cubicle taught me otherwise. As the months went on I witnessed students being smacked upside the head, slapped in the face, hit with sticks, and forced to sit on their knees with their hands above their heads in the cold hallways. It was shocking. Even worse, it was the norm. Supposedly this is more common in middle schools and private schools, as I have yet to witness this at my elementary school. And while this form of discipline continues to shock me, I must admit that there were almost times when I felt my unruly elementary hellions could’ve benefited from some swift, hard justice. Almost.

But let’s move to The Good:

Healthcare- As an American, it is easy to impress me with healthcare. Americans are so royally screwed when it comes to dealing with, waiting on, and paying for their health. Ask my sister who recently had surgery, to fix a toe tendon severed by a freak knife falling accident, and paid over $5,000- with insurance! Who can afford that?! Cut to Korea where I had my first gynecology, dentist, and eye doctor’s appointments in years and paid under $150 for all three- and that’s including my first cavity filling! Not only are appointments and medicine ridiculously cheap here, but they are fast, efficient and walk-in friendly. I almost never need to make an appointment and I’m usually in and out in under 20 minutes- including my first cavity filling! Sometimes this speed comes with the downside of wondering how in depth your medical provider actually is, but I’ll take $20 over $5,000 any day! 

Transportation- Even in the “boonies” (as I so affectionately refer to my area), there is still usually one local bus that can connect to the terminal within a decent amount of time. Intercity buses are wonderfully cheap and (depending on the destination) run so frequently that you can show up on a whim and hop on the next available bus. I can do roundtrip to Daegu (about an hour away) for under $13. The KTX train is a more expensive, but smooth, clean and fast alternative for further destinations, like Seoul. And then there are the Taxis. Taxis are a double edged sword as they are so, very, cheap. And plentiful. Which means that I’m constantly tempted to take them and that can quickly add up. In my experience taxi drivers range from hating foreigners, to pulling out every semblance of  conversational English they know. Most remain silent and jam their old school tunes, appreciative if you know some basic Korean such as:

hello 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo)

goodbye 안녕히 계세요 (an-nyeong-hi gye-se-yo)

thank you 고맙습니다 (gomabseubnida)

straight 직진 (jigjin)

and here 여기에 (yeogie)

Quirky Korean weirdness Cat cafe? That’s old news. How about a rabbit, raccoon, or goat cafe? Or better yet a poop or princess cafe? Yep. Korea can offer you all of the above. How about a penis park or a love land dedicated to gargantuan sex statues? If you need to escape try one of the many themed escape rooms or belt your heart out under disco lights at one of the always available norebangs (don’t call it karaoke here). Or try a mall with a fantastical playland on the rooftop, a ball pit adorned with giant silverware, and a toy store dedicated entirely to phone service characters. In almost every downtown, you can hop into an arcade, blow of steam in a batting cage, go on a 4D ride, or try your plushie winning luck with the claw. Want zombie or cat eyes? Or want to keep it simple and make them a more natural shade of purple or grey? Step into any lens shop that will fit you within minutes. Even if you want just regular prescription lenses, they’ll throw in a fun pair of socks- just because. Or try a toy store that blasts hip hop and vaguely resembles a taxidermy shop with it’s giant furry friends on display. The list goes on. There is no shortage of colorful, comical, and whimsically weird when it comes to Korea. Quite frankly, I love it.

Community- As a foreigner, I have only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Korean community. But in my mere six months, I have been amazed by all that comes with a society operating with the community in mind. That is why Korean crime rate is so low, and I can experience the freedom that comes with feeling safe in the streets at night, or the security of leaving my bag while I grab my order. That is why education is so strongly emphasized, resulting in a 98% national literacy rate. When the country faced a major financial crisis in 1998, Koreans, young and old, formed lines spilling outside of banks to give up their personal gold trinkets, statues, jewelry, and bars to get the country out of deficit. And it worked. That is why Korea became the first country to go from an aid receiving country to an aid donor- the power of community. I have personally experienced the office snacks celebrating a colleague’s new daughter in law, welcome dinners, work retreats, and random trinkets on my desk. My favorite experience has been the communal dining as people dig into the array of 반찬 (banchan, or side dishes), passing around bowls or bottles of alcohol, and digging into big pots with chopsticks. It’s hard not to smile as people sit crossed legged, elbow to elbow, slurping, sharing, passing plates, and laughing with alcohol infused red cheeks.

And finally, The Ugly:

I’ll be blunt, it’s you. It’s always you. If you’re a foreigner, you can expect insults about appearance quite frequently. Sometimes it comes from a more subtle place of, “Oh you look tired”, amps up to a,“Are you sure you’re not sick??”, and gets really obvious with hand-to-chest-clutching, bug- eyed gasps of “Oh my gosh! You look horrible!” To be fair I was really sick that day. My friends have gotten their own charmers such as, “Have you been eating well?”, “You have hollow eyes.” And my personal favorite, “You can take a sick day” (because she wasn’t wearing mascara).  

Let’s face it, if you’re a foreigner, you ugly.

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I need a face filter at all times.

So there you have it, The good, the bad and the ugly. I obviously need to write much more frequently as I haven’t even touched upon a day in the life of teaching, being a woman in a hierarchical society, the culture of alcohol, the pros and cons of EPIK, or my induction into K-pop, but those are future posts to come.

And there it was

I wrote this a few weeks ago and never got around to posting it due to being quite busy, quite down about goings on in my country, and struggling with my students. But today was one of those great days where I was reminded to start fresh and give my students a chance each day. And so I came back to this: 

 

“I have an angry student.
With learning disabilities. I don’t quite know what he struggles with because my co-teacher won’t tell me. She won’t tell me much of anything, because she flat out doesn’t care. But I know he’s angry. My first day with this student consisted of breaking up a fist fight. A nine year old fist fight. Meanwhile my co-teacher continued on the lesson as if nothing was happening. Here in Korea, or at least at this school, they don’t seem to want to acknowledge that kids can be different at such a young age.

So he flips tables. And hits kids. And pushes chairs over. He uses his height to intimidate and his big hands to crumple and throw.

Feeling the huge weight of the language barrier, (plus the chaos of 25 other unruly 3rd graders running across tables and jumping around) I found myself avoiding confrontation with him. And thus avoiding teaching him. What was I to do without language? He could just be in the back doing nothing. As long as he wasn’t hitting other kids, I was happy.

But recently something shifted. I noticed that he understood more than anyone gave him credit. And I strengthened my resolve to not give up or to label him as the “problem child”. So I altered things. One day I gave him a different task. He stayed in his chair for the majority of the time and by the end of the lesson I thought I caught a crack of a smile from the corner of his mouth. The next week I isolated him from distraction and refocused his energy with a specialized assignment. The results astonished me! Not only did he focus and try, but he succeeded! He traced over English letters and mouthed the sounds. His pencil moved quickly and finished with full English words! Even as I spoke in a foreign tongue he nodded and “Nei”ed in understanding. His happy energy  was a welcome change.

But the greatest moment came at the end of the day. After class was finished, I passed him in the hall and he beamed with a lanky ear to ear smile. Gazing shyly through his long bangs, he told me he was happy. I happily returned the smile and through broken words and simple gestures reaffirmed what a good job he’d done that day. Then, as if overwhelmed with the flurry of positive emotions, he lunged at me with a quick hug, bounced around in excitement, and then jumped off smiling down the hallway. And as I watched him bound away, it hit me. I’ve been struggling with my 3rd graders. With so many various circumstances working against me, I’ve simply tried to stay afloat. But here I remembered the importance of acknowledging all my students- even if it’s through gestures and garbled language. Even if it’s just a smile or kind tones. I need to see through the currents of chaos. It is possible to unlock the potential in each child. I just have to find the right key.

It took two months for me to open that smile. But it was there all along.”

 

So as thanksgiving rounds the corner, it’s nice for me to stop and appreciate things. I am thankful for these beautiful moments where my students teach me. I am thankful to be reminded that compassion, kindness and patience can go a long way (for both parties). It is needed  in our world now more than ever. I am thankful for all of the love and support that I have across the globe that’s led me to where I am. As one of my students wrote, “I’m thankful for my life.”

Happy Fall all!

 

 

Anyeong Korea!

After months of ample applications, rigorous (and costly!) paperwork, intense interviews, and one longggg 25 hour flight process, I am here. I made it to South Korea!

I know it’s been a long while since I last posted. What about France? And Thailand? Well….that’s for another day. I’m trying this whole “be in the moment” thing.

And so far the moment is pretty sweet.

But I won’t lie, when I first arrived in Korea I missed Thailand. Places felt familiar and yet so vastly different. I missed the gritty, chaotic, colorful assault on all senses that was Thailand. Korea in comparison seemed too western, too grey, too industrialized. As I passed familiar trees, concrete buildings, and smoky factories, I couldn’t help but feel strangely uninspired. My heart longed for Thailand. Where were the fruit vendors pushing past heavy buzzing power lines and big palm trees folding out under the sun? Or the bright tuk tuks zooming by, and the smiley scooters full of families weaving through the congestion of cars? I missed the gut wrenching feeling of being challenged on a daily basis; of being on my own in a place that made me think in ways I had not. I started to wonder, “Is there something wrong with me? Do I need to feel scared to feel challenged? How will I find ways to challenge myself here? A year is a long time to feel complacent….”

It didn’t help that I lacked proper knowledge of Korea before arriving in the country. I usually find it necessary to strike a healthy balance between being informed, while still leaving blank pages for new stories and experiences. This time I left too many blank pages, and thus too much room for comparisons of what was.

Then came a shift as the longggg EPIK orientation days filled with language lessons, lectures, cultural excursions, and off campus outings with new friends shaped my mind. Highlights of the orientation include:

  1. Adult icebreakers aimed for children- always a blast.
  2. An interesting back and forth of being treated as grown ass professionals making their way in the world, while also simultaneously limited as big babies who needed constant supervising.
  3. Forming new Noribang (Korean karaoke) bonds.
  4. Soju.
  5. Visiting a traditional Korean village (Hanok) and eating Bibimbap.
  6. More soju.
  7. Delirium induced Korean 101 bonding and sympathizing on how frustrated new language learners feel. My new friend and I reverted to elementary status as we giggled our way through attempts to master Hangul.
  8. Learning how incredibly thought out and ‘for the people’ Hangul is. (I could write a whole blog post on the Korean cultural lecture but in the mean time, check here).
  9. Taking over a bar in song and dance and a mob of EPIK foreigners.
  10. Graduating with my new friends and feeling like we were about to embark upon a great new adventure.

Since then it has been a whirlwind of over 700 students and 26 classes, struggling to read Korean and navigate around my little industrialized coastal city, earthquakes-too many earthquakes, adventures to other towns with fellow foreign friends, sleep deprivation, stares, stress, laughter, soju, exhaustion, pizza, and more bumbling through the language.

I’m already in love with my principal at my main school. He is kind and wise and relaxed and genuine. He doesn’t speak a word of English but somehow I know this. He serves me tea (even though we are in a vertical society) and tells me how to get around the bus routes. My co-teacher, Mrs. Moon, fits her name perfectly as she is my glowing light in the darkness of my first month. She helps me with so many aspects of adjustment, but even better she laughs with me. My schedule is crazy, but I’m slowly getting to know my students and I’m slowly getting into the groove of every day life here. There are days when I live for the weekends and days I can’t believe I’m living in South Korea.

There is so much more to say, but for now I’m happy to be here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transit Musings

I haven’t been blogging

…Because I haven’t known what to say. I’ve spent far too much time lately running circles in my head, attempting to answer the all too cliche question of, “What do I want for my life?” And it’s hard to clarify when I want all the things (if you know of hyperbole and a half, thats the level of overwhelming enthusiasm I have). But I want things that are contradictory. I want community and consistency, but I also want spontaneity and adventure. I want roots, and yet I want to grow freely. And I can’t help but wonder, am I running away from something or towards something?

Maybe both?

I do know that when I said goodbye and left my friends and family for the umpteenth time, it felt no easier. The pit still lingered in my stomach and the tears still welled in my eyes.

…But I also know that as I stepped onto my international flight and heard the delightful greeting of a Scottish steward, something in me came alive. I loved being in the mix of different accents, the middle of different stories.

I just love to travel.

Will that ever change?

Here’s to finding out. I’m returning to France to be a Director of Amvil. That’s right, the return of the ‘Camp Diaries’ are near- this time director edition. And then it’s off Thailand for some long awaited teaching and much needed exploring.

Here’s to posting more and to finding my way on the next adventure.

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5 Lessons Learned from Perseverance at the Prefecture

I’ve been MIA, I know. But before I delve into the roller coaster of emotions/events of the past few months (BIG changes on the horizon), I figured I start with something concrete- life lessons I’ve learned from the prefecture.

‘What the heck is a prefecture?!’, some of you might ask. To which I would respond that it is the hellmouth, the keeper of your future, a cirque du soleilesque mental challenge of your emotional strength, or as some people like to call it ‘the administrative building for visas and other important documents’. And for those of you who know what it is, I’m sorry. Let’s take a minute to hold hands, sigh, and let go of what we cannot control. Life lesson number one.

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For those who need a visual

Which brings me to: 

Five lessons learned from prefecture pain and perseverance:

#1- Learn when to let go of things you cannot control. I’ve learned this the hard way, but when dealing with administration, it’s important to check your desire for controlfreakyness at the door. Once you step through those big wooden frames, you are a mere puppet at the mercy of French hands. Building a bubbling rage over a desire for the line to be shorter, the weather to be less miserable, the French people to be less rude, or the process to be less inefficient, won’t change a thing. It only makes the time painfully slow and your mood increasingly less pleasant. Feel that rage for a moment if you need to, and then breathe it out. The line will move, and you will get to your destination.

#2- Expect the unexpected. Just because you have all the right documents, or you waited the allotted six weeks (or months), does not mean that you will leave with a smile of success. In order to release, or at least aid, that desire for control, you must expect the unexpected. Prepare for a multitude of possibilities so that your emotional armor is strongly in tact when you leave. Don’t assume anything. Because trust me, no one wants to see a frustrated sobbing mess crumpled in defeat just outside the gates. It’s awkward. On the flip side, when you do have that rare moment of prefecture success, it tastes all the more sweet…especially when you weren’t expecting it.

#3- Kindness Kills. Ok, so this is a strange expression, but it never hurts to appeal to a person’s humanity. Don’t over do it- especially with the French. But a simple smile, a polite ‘how are you’, or a preemptive merci can work wonders. This is not to say that you should avoid being firm when needed, but rather don’t come in with guns ablazing and silent rage bubbling. After all, these are the gatekeepers you’re dealing with. Make eye contact, be confident, but most importantly be kind.

#4- Be creative, don’t despair. If things don’t go your way, don’t crumple in awkward panicked defeat. Allowing your first thoughts to be your worst thoughts is not only unproductive, it’s unrealistic. There are always options. Maybe let a few frustrated tears fall if that’s what you need, but then get back to the drawing board! Did you ask all the right questions? What would happen if you went again? What would happen if you talked to someone new? 9 times out of 10, plan B has had a weird way of working out.

#5- If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…and with different people. Piggybacking off of the whole being creative thing, is the need for some good ole fashion perseverance. Keep trying. As my grandma loves to say, “Never surrender! Never give up!” (yes, I know that she mixes the order- it just adds to the delightful quirkiness of her shouting it).

My French coworker once said to me, “French administration is a labyrinth. You can get in, but you can’t find a way out.” While it is indeed a mental maze and at times you might find yourself in a pit of despair, a release of control, a creative outlook, a little kindness, and a lot of persistence are excellent tools for navigating that labyrinth.

…and if all else fails, grab a tea or coffee at the nearest cafe with a supportive loved one and prepare for round 2…or 20.

Whirlwind

Can it be? Have four, almost five, whole months passed since my last post?!

Where should I even begin? I have too many tales to regale. Like the time a 10-year-old French ‘player’ (yes, 10- apparently they’re starting younger and younger) shyly professed his love for me on the last day of camp. Or the time I got involved in a Game of Thronesesque pranking war that divided all the counselors against each other in untrusting good fun. Or the time I had a break (pun intended?) from camp,  went on a nice birthday-weekend-kayak-trip, and proceeded to bash my head and break my nose on said kayak. Pros- I got a cheap nose job, a badass story, the reassurance that I can communicate in drug-induced French, and a more solid appreciation for life. Cons- rapids still traumatize me…just a little.

Proof

Proof

And I haven’t even started on summer.

So now that I’ve proven I am alive (and for the moment well) I hope to recount some of the adventures in more detail. Hopefully to come: the misadventures of traveling with one’s mom, the pros and cons of the group tour, the vegetarian guide to Spain, becoming a flamenco addict, hiking Cinque Terre in less than 24 hours, understanding Pisa’s charm, and even a pretty picture or two.

But for now let me summarize the whirlwind in a few photos:

 

La vie est belle. 

The Camp Diaries: Weeks 2-3

Bonjour from camp land!

Where to begin? Unfortunately I fell a bit short on the blog updating front as I got pretty sick (still have yet to regain my voice to its full potential), and as a result have far too many stories to tell from the past two weeks. BUT I shall use my notes in an effort to convey the gist of camp craziness.

End of Week 1- The Weekend Adventure:

Saturday marked the first venturing beyond the walls of the chateau with fellow counselor, Olive. It felt strange to leave the premises and see a space outside of a camp-covered chateau. At first sight only Normandy countryside-a.k.a. flat farmland as far as the eye could see- surrounded us. But 30 minutes later Olive and I arrived in a tiny town filled with old people gambling, smoking and sipping on coffees at a miniscule cafe, and bored teenagers hanging out in front of the small highschool. We walked back and forth searching for a semblance of food and sticking out like bright, awkward tourists. Finally the boulangerie opened and we feasted on bread, cheese, and cider in the shade of a chapel as Frenchies walked past with smiles or stares plastered to their faces. We didn’t care. We were content with our picinic….and tipsy off cider.

Week 2- Monday Madness:

Change is the theme of this week. Two new counselors arrived last night full of energy and excitmement.

The day started with a relatively calm atmosphere- we were efficient and even finished the set up with extra time on our hands. We had a week under our belts and figured we had it in the bag. Bring on the kids! …That is until a storm of 50 tiny kids poured off the bus. Not teenagers, not adolescents- kids. At first I thought the perspective was making them tinier than expected. But it was actually their age. Not 10 and 11 year olds but tiny, hyper, first-time-away-from-home 8 year olds.

The rest of the day was chaos. The teachers came over-prepared and messed with the money system (which I was conveniently in charge of) and the kids were confused, hyper, scared, shy, and unable to comprehend the situation (aka English). Olive and I’s window was apparently not fully shut and our room flooded with the afternoon rain that decided to contribute to the chaos. Our evening campfire was canceled and dividing up ESL classes was quite the confusing effort. This week is already so different.

Bank of America time

Bank of America time

Tuesday and Wednesday It’s a love/hate game I’m playing: 

We divided the ESL classes and I got the lower level hyperactive kids, as well as the one student with autism who is not taking kindly to our new camp names. So now he has two names- French+ American Camp name. So far, so good.

Well, I faced my fear of teaching elementary frenchies. I first faced my fear of highschool students in Montbeliard, and now the part of me perpetually terrified of teaching such small non-native speakers is calm. All things considered, the class went really well today and they kids are pretty damn cute with their tiny French voices. I miss working with little kids. It’s nice to be reminded of the work I love.

Wed…
The days are getting longer. And more chaotic. Last night a kid peed himself and another one cried for home. Today several cried from dodgeball. And yelled. So. Much. Yelling. What a horrible game. I only have one more full day, but it seems like an eternity. My throat is sore from all the yelling over excited voices. All. The. Time.

I find it funny that instead of yelling “you can’t do that” to one another, the kids say, “tu n’as pas le droite” (aka ‘you don’t have the right!’). I’m glad I understand French.

All in all I’ve enjoyed this week- which is a testament to how much I love working with elementary kids. True they’re hyperactive little shits for a large portion of the time, but they’re also adorable little beings with giant smiles, and a genuine curiosity for learning about this world they’re in.

The day is done and all I want is silence. I don’t want to talk to anyone. Even laughing feels like effort. My throat hurts. My ears are buzzing. I fall asleep with tiny French voices in my head.

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ESL madness

Thursday- New Theme Day- Hit Music:

What am I supposed to do with this theme? These are kids not teenagers! We’ve been reviewing colors, shapes, and the alphabet. Oy vey this week is long.

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I’ve been working general store for the week- the place where we sell kid crack (candy and soda) and souvenirs for mom and dad. First thought- this is tedious and horrible and I really don’t see the point. But two days later and I see the benefit. It’s a good experience for the kids to be in charge of money, and have a real life situation of making transactions in another language. Well done AMVIL.

I feel like a goblin counting gold. I was locked away in General Store for over an hour on a beautiful day counting inventory and doing far too much math. I regret working General Store this week. Who knew little kids would buy so much more than teenagers?

Dancing with kids is golden. I love their energy and excitement (some of the times), but most of all their smiles. Compared to the teenagers last week, it was refreshing to open the doors and have the kids not awkwardly stand in corners, but descend on the dance floor in a sea of spastic and enthusiastic movement. One little elf (no really, that was her camp name), all round and ‘typically nerdy looking’, broke out of her shell and boldly asked the boys to dance. At the end of the night she gave me an impish smile as she held up her count of four fingers (four boys).

Friday-

We said goodbye to one of our new counselors today and it felt oddly sad. He was only here for a week, but you bond quickly in the trenches.

The sentiment was different for the departure of the kids. Some counselors literally did cartwheels as the bus full of kids pulled away.

Two more weeks.

End of Week 2- Weekend Adventure:

I hate the world. I’m sick. At least it took effect when the kids left. But I wish I could just not be sick at all! Going into town for some meds.

We stopped at bakery where Olive got a macaroon. It was quite the process as the baker walked around the counter and used little tongs to carefully pull the bright yellow pastry out of the fridge and place it on silver platter. Then she instructed us in French that we needed to wait 10 min for it too cool down in order for the flavor to be ‘top’. I love France.

At least sick meds, sun, swans, and tiny dogs that think they’re the swan commander, help with sickness.

Week 3- “Santa brought condoms to camp”

I had to work customs this week (confiscating snacks and electronics) and I was not a fan. Neither were the kids. They were pretty good sports, but it’s not the ideal first impression I’d like to make on kids.

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Also an 11-year-old camper, Santa Claus, brought condoms to camp. According to the teachers they’re probably his dad’s, but still…Santa brought condoms to camp.

The difference in their level is like night and day. This age is so interesting as they are on the precipice of teenagedom- but not too cool yet. 

As we sat around the campfire singing songs and roasting marshmallows, I realized how funny it is to teach almost teenagers how to roast marshmallows. Sharing my childhood past time of s’mores, something so normalized for me, and so bizarre to them was amusing as they quizzically looked at eachother and whispered, “c’est trop bon!” 

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Tuesday-Thursday: Activities

This is my first week working on Activities instead of ESL. It’s a lot of physical work but maybe beats lesson planning at 11 at night.

First time in two weeks getting a break- 40 glorious minutes and all I could do was try to sleep. My sickness wants me to sleep, but my brain is too wired from my internal camp clock. Eff. 

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survival essentials

Being on activities means teaching a bunch of frenchies how to play baseball. Objectively this sport is pretty weird. Fortunately these kids were really excited about learning and got pretty invested in the game. Only one student cried- great success! 

Two camp essentials- hot water and health. When you don’t have either things get dicey. I’m getting real tired of Normandy. 

Spectacle
This is the worst thing ever. Being sick and in charge of the same kids all day is brutal. How can I get them to focus, write a script, memorize lines and block out a scene if I don’t have a voice? I want this day to end. 

Ok so spectacle felt brutal, but was ultimately worth it to see the smiles at the end of the night. My kids were so proud of their performances and said goodnight with giant, beaming, smiles. I’m such a sucker. 

It also didn’t hurt to have amusing counselor interludes. Laughing at your coworkers as they try to do tricks as an awkward caterpillar, and smashing shaving cream into your coworker’s faces as you imitate their arms and laugh cry into their backs is really quite wonderful. Laughter is indeed the best medicine. 

Friday-Saturday: “Day Release”

The kids left crying (some even sobbing). I guess that means we’ve done our job well. It’s always a mixed feeling saying goodbye. We want them to go, so we can have some quiet and enjoy our one day off, but it’s strange to think that we’ll never see them again.


But tonight we’re actually going to a real city! The counselors are trekking to Rouen for a night on the town. I’m excited to speak French again. Being surrounded by French every day, but not being allowed to speak it has been a bit torturous. I never thought I’d say this, but my mouth misses French.

Rouen is a really cool city. It was so strange to see night life, and restaurants, and so many people. The counselors didn’t know what to do with themselves. So they got drunk. 

As my fellow coworker Buzz said of the night, “it’s like day release from prison”. 

I think that about sums it up.

One more week.

The Camp Diaries: Week 1

Catnip here- yes we get camp names, and yes, long story short, my name is Catnip.

Whew. What a week it’s been (or actually more like a week in a half- time is completely warped here). I am bruised, muddy, sore, smelly, sleep deprived, on the verge of sickness, and so very happy. Yes, happy. Camp life is intense but so very rewarding.

Where do I begin? I tried to take notes as every day was adventure packed, and filled with events, characters, and experiences perfect for humourous short stories. And every day felt like five days rolled into one. But seeing as how today is my one day off, and my first day of nothing but blue skies in Normandy, I will try to keep this short and sweet:

Days 1-3: The Beginning/Set Up

Well I got placed in Normandy. The furthest site from Grenoble and one of the colder and more rainy areas of France. My room is a camp room- sparse, cold, (freezing at night), with nothing but beds and broken dressers (but I have it all to myself for the week!). The showers come in 20 second bursts, but at least the pressure is decent and the water is warm.

But all in all, I can’t complain. I’m placed at an old Chateau in FRANCE- the stuff of fairytales…or murder mysteries. There are so many birds singing and chatting in the morning, and fat rabbits running around at night. And a cherry blossom tree is starting to bloom right outside of my room. I think I can stay here a while.

 

What do you get when you put 2 Americans, 1 Canadian, 1 Irishman, and a Brit together? Don’t know, but we’re gonna find out! The counselors are finally all together and setting up the site. It’s a lot of work for 5 people (I set up an entire computer lab!), but I think we’re ready for the kids.

1st day with Kids: Immigration

This was only a half day, but man was it busy. I worked on passport duty (checking them in and helping them select wacky names), and then assisted with customs. It was pretty intense to search for and confiscate teenager’s phones and snacks. Most of them were good sports. It doesn’t hurt that their level is very advanced!

We divided into families and had one of the most polite dinners I’d experienced in some time. Not only did they say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, but ‘may I please have’ or ‘may I serve you’. Some even got into it and started serving food like fancy waiters. I like these kids already. Continue reading

You Stay Classy, France

Last Sunday I explored the underbelly of French class- via my first wine tasting experience. It was wonderful to savor, taste, and learn about not just French wine- but natural French wine (we’re talking more pure than organic. These people still use horses instead of machines!) However, by the end, I couldn’t help but leave laughing at the contradictions of class that I had just witnessed.

You see, amidst the swirling of glasses and savoring of flavors, was the oh-so-classy spitting into buckets. The wine would dance and swirl in people’s glasses, and then moments later, out of their mouths, the spit sparkling on the rim of the bucket with just a hint of wine color lingering. Tres classe.

I know, I know. If you’re French, or a Francophile, or just a lover of wine, you’re probably getting all puffed up and ready to tell me, “It’s how true wine tasting is done!” You’re there to taste the wine, let the many flavors explore your palate, and then move on to savoring many more. I get it. I just couldn’t help but think about all the good wine that was going to waste. That’s the American in me-waste not. So what if you get tipsy and lose the full range of your wine tasting palate? You’re still drinking good wine! …or maybe that’s just the inculte in me.

As my stomach flopped in disgust (I’ll admit that I have a particular propensity for spit related nausea), I noticed some cheese. At least I could distract myself with some delicious…moldy cheese. Again, I get it- I’m in France, everything at this event is natural, I’m even a lover of strong cheese- but when it came down to it, I opted for the less fuzzy greenish blue ones. And yes, it was earthy and delicious.

When we returned to making our tasting rounds I couldn’t help but become spit fixated. I tried not to, but everywhere I looked people swirled and spit. The buckets glistened and saliva wine mixtures dripped on the tables. Swirl, spit, repeat. As I started to feel like a bucket overwhelmed Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, I witnessed the mother load- a giant spit barrel being wheeled out of the building. So much spit must’ve been swirling around that monstrous container. The thought was enough to make me woozy and take a brief tasting break- or maybe all the wine I had been drinking (and not spitting) was getting to my head.

I thought that maybe I was crazy, until I recounted the day’s events with a friend back home, “Ewww!! Whyy?,” she exclaimed. I started to rattle through the list of reasons- well it’s the real way to savor the wine, and truly taste a wide range, and the French really appreciate and value quality food and drink…but ultimately all that came out was, “I know, right!?”

I guess spit just isn’t for me. But you stay classy, France.

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6/7: Les Mots des Semaines: Words of the Week(s)

I have been a busy bee, and in the midst of St. Patty’s day celebrations, a visit from an old friend, and camp preparation, I forgot about the words of the week! Sacrilège!

So voila, here are two weeks worth of words!

*Note- I might continue to make this an every two weeks venture, as this time next week I will be in camp mode and might not have much computer access.

But for now, enjoy this bizarre collection of mots français (except that this week has many expressions…so enjoy those too).

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1. Avoir un pépin- literally to get an appleseed, this means to run into trouble (ex: If the car crashed or broke down, you could say- J’ai eu un pépin avec la voiture)

2. And since we’re on the topic of apples, here’s another expression- Tomber dans les pommes- literally to fall in the apples, but actually means to lose consciousness, to pass out

3. Un Bidon– a big industrial can- a tin or a drum. However, I learned it in the context of a belly- apparently bidon can also be used to insult your girlfriend

4. Rire jaune- literally to laugh yellow, this is a forced laugh- one that is half-hearted or sometimes sarcastic (ex: “oh I have a bidon?”… commence rire jaune)

5. Avoir des fourmis dans la jambe- literally to have some ants in the leg, this can describe the feeling of your leg falling asleep, of restlessness, or tingling in the legs (maybe similar to ants in your pants??)

6. Don’t know why, but I always confuse these two- le paysage– landscape, la campagne- countryside (*note to self- campagne and countryside both start with Cs).

7. Paille– straw, une paille= drinking straw, la paille= hay, and while we’re on the subject of expressions, here’s another one- être sur la paille, literally to be on the hay, this means you’re broke as f***

8. Verser- to pour, to transfer, whereas reverser is to spill

9. Essuyer– to wipe, however this was also used in the context of drying dishes

10. Les Hommes– humans *note- les hommes= men, while les Hommes= humans (I’d like to comment on how interesting it is that French uses the word for men to describe both men and women, but then I’d have to point out the English words such as history, humans, women….you get my point)

On an unrelated note, spring has officially sprung (as yesterday was the spring equinox)! I must say that this week was a nice commencement- flowers, sun, and Saint Patrick’s celebrating- complete with green cake, eggs, and beer, some Guinness and  Baileys, and a whole lot of rowdy Frenchies. I’ll admit that I was surprised to see how many Frenchies were out and about celebrating all things Irish on a Monday night. We eventually sought shelter at a non Irish pub so we could hear one another speak, and avoid being accosted by drunk Frenchmen who suddenly convince themselves that it is you who they were previously fighting with. Fun times.

Happy Spring and Happy Friday!!

One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Palais Idéal

Last weekend I was transported to another land- one where stone rose and entwined to create the history of the world molded and meshed into a fantastic structure. Or as I less eloquently told my dad, “it was a clusterfuck of the world in stone, and concrete, and shells”. Bienvenue to the Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval.

 

Building with stone is a common quality of the Drôme region. So it’s not surprising that an impressive stone structure could be built by a man from Drôme. But an entire palace built from a dream is something worth noting. Even artists like Picasso and Gaudi drew inspiration from this one man’s vision.

While I must admit that the palais was smaller than expected, it was no less impressive.

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Especially when you have the history. The history of one lone man with a vision, a dream, (maybe even a slight unraveling of the mind) who dedicated thirty-three years to build his ideal palace.. Continue reading

5: Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

Is it really already Friday? Time keeps flying! That means it’s time for:

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1. Gaspiller, un gaspillage– to waste, a waste (I particularly like gaspillage as it reminds me of gas spillage which is indeed a waste)

2. Avoir la flemme– to be lazy, have no motivation

3. Une Randonnée– a hike

4. Un Tabouret– a stool, whereas a stool sample is un échantillon de selle, should you ever need that- you’re welcome

5. Une Ombre– a shadow

6. Laisser tomber– to drop it, to let it go, to give up on something- laisser-aller on the other hand is carelessness.

Bonus Video: I saw this amusing Finnish video about what different languages sound like to non-native speakers. How accurate is this? What do you think?

Happy Friday! 

Briançon and Hiking in a Winter Wonderland

Welcome to Briançon, a unique little city of medieval fortifications, strong history, hearty people, and stunning views, nestled in the French Alps. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, it is apparently the highest city in the EU, and definitely one worth visiting if you have time in France.

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Getting there is a bit of a trek, especially in the winter time as the windy, icy roads, threaten to slide you off the side of the mountain. Just hold back any fear of heights or car sickness, and you’ll be fine.

But the destination is always worth the journey. Picturesque views don’t hurt either…

This was my third visit to the city, and I have to admit that the stressful drive was well worth the worry when I experienced the beautiful snow and sun on a special hike. Continue reading

4: Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

It’s that time again- Les Mots de la Semaine!

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This will be short and sweet today as it’s Antoine’s actual birthday and we are trekking to his hometown, Briançon. I say trekking because Briançon is situated in the French Alps and tonight there is a lovely timed snow storm gracing us with its presence. Which also means that if we don’t get there in time, the one tiny road cutting through the mountain might close. Here’s hoping we’ll be back by Sunday…  

But on to les mots:

1. Un Entretien an interview (for a job)

2. Les Loisirs– hobbies

3. Inculte– uncultivated, ignorant

4. Se Noyer– to drown

5. Un Losange– diamond as in the shape, whereas a diamond ring is un diamant (and NO don’t worry about if I was discussing diamond rings, I was actually realizing that I don’t know French shapes- très pathétique, I know).

And finally, here are some- Bonus B Mots:

  • Bâiller, un bâillement– to yawn, a yawn
  • Bricolage– to fix, to repair, to do-it-yourself
  • Brouillard– fog

Happy Friday!