Wandering Thoughts

Wandering thoughts

I’ve become familiar with foreign sounds
Foreign spaces
Ears accustomed to the unknown

I’ve been lost in language
Caught up in cobblestones
On muddy rust roads
Under full, fanning palm trees

Parts have been broken, bitten, bruised
Stung on crystal coasts
Cracked on coy ice
Roughed up by rapids

I’ve become familiar with passing pain
Foreign cures
Stomach strengthening with each healing wound

I’ve become familiar with uncertainty
Foreign sites
Eyes staring at my strange stature

Etranger
Wayook
Farang
Foreigner

I’ve become familiar with constant changes
Foreign love
Heart yearning for something rugged and real

In the towering frosted alps
In the humid coastal chaos
In the concrete technological maze
I called this home

For I’ve been lost in language
Parts have been broken, bitten, bruised
And yet
Even if fleeting
I called this home

Spring changes

Spring is in full swing here in Korea and got me feeling inspired apparently. Happy Friday all!

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.

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.

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. 

survival essentials

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.

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).

petit-francais

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!!

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

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

petit-francais

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! 

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

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

petit-francais

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!

3: Les Mots de la Semaine (Dernière): Words of the Week

I got a bit sidetracked last week preparing a surprise birthday party for Antoine- complete with a flying spaghetti monster piñata, a specialized MacGyver relay/drinking race, and TWO cakes- one with pâte à sucre learned from the wednesday before- basically a kid’s party with alcohol. Yet another reason why I’ll never be a real adult.

It was quite the event.

That being said, I completely forgot the words of the week.

So without furhter ado, here are Les Mots de la Semaine Dernière. Better late than never!
petit-francais

*Note- for now, I’m avoiding the pronunciation. I’ve had a difficult time finding certain phonetical spellings/creating my own. Bear with me as I figure this out.

1. Pourri gâté– spoiled or spoiled rotten, this can be used for kids or food

2. Honteux– ashamed or shameful

3.  (Faire) La grasse matinee– literally to make the fat morning, this means to sleep in, ex (slang): j’ai fait la grasse mat aujourd’hui (I slept in today)

4. Humecter- to moisten

5. Un sifflet, siffler– a whistle, to whistle

Bonus Mot: miettes- crumbs

Keeping it short and sweet today. Happy Monday all!

Cakes, spectacles, and jobs oh my!

Yesterday was awesome. Excuse my lack of eloquence, but there’s just no beating around the bush- it was simply awesome. Here’s why:

1. In spite of feeling lackluster and daunted by the idea of spending the afternoon speaking in French (still working on my fear of immersing myself in the language), I decided to help my friend make a birthday cake. And boy am I glad that I did. Not only was it a fun-filled afternoon with a French friend, but also an educational experience chock-full of vocabulary, and a French Baking 101 session.

You see, I learned how to make un Gâteau au Yaourt, a yogurt cake, one that French children master when they’re five. 1 point for France. Americans are lucky if they know how to make brownies from a box by age five.

But let’s talk cake. This was one of the best ways to ease into French baking, especially for me (context alert- I am the WORST baker. Seriously. I once turned boxed brownies into a brick slab, though to be fair my crazy vegan roommate told us that we could use oil as a substitute for eggs- this is FALSE).

The reason this cake is so wonderful for an American like me, or a novice French cake baker, is that all the measurements are in un pot, aka the convenience of a yogurt container.
Continue reading

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

It’s Friday! Which means it’s time for:petit-francais

As I said before, these are words I’ve picked up from conversation, job applications, language exchanges, newspapers, or even just listening to my surroundings. Every Friday I will post Words of the Week to reinforce my French learning, and hopefully additionally educate/entertain/interest people in random French vocabulary. So enjoy!(Note- pronunciation is a little wonky- some of it is my own pronunciation, and some of it is phonetic- so bear with me as I get a system down).

Voila, Les Mots:

1. Maladroit (mal-ah-drwa)- literally meaning ‘bad on the right’, this translates to clumsy

2. Vieillards (vyeh-yar)- old men specifically, whereas old people is personnes âgées

3. Allonger (al-on-jay)- to lengthen, however I learned this in the context of to spread or lay on something, (ex: tu es allongé sur le canapé, you are spread out on the couch, you lie down on the couch)

4. Ceinture (sɛtyr)- belt, and ceinture de sécurité is a seatbelt

5. Klaxonner (klax-oh-neh)- to honk a car horn, car horn being klaxon

6. Louper (loo-pay), Rater (rah-tey)– to miss, to miss out on, this is used more in the context of transportation or an exam, ex: j’ai raté mon vol (I missed my flight). Louper means the same thing, but is apparently more of a slang word

7. Fiche de poste (fee-sh de poh-st)- a job description

8. Postuler (poh-stu-leh) to apply for job, whereas appliquer (ah-plea-kay) is used in the context of applying a bandaid

9. Au noir (oh-nwar)- literally in black, this is similar to working under the table, working illegally

10. Guet-apens (get-ah-paw)- an ambush. Of course this is used in cowboy movies, but I heard this in the context of my boyfriend wanting to avoid a dinner that he knew would turn into a party.

Happy Friday and Happy Valentines Day! I know it’s an overly commercialized holiday, but I personally enjoy an excuse for creativity, candy, and letting the people in my life know I care!  

Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

In an effort to keep up with my resolution of being more proactive with my French comprehension, I’ve started learning a word a day. Whether it’s from conversation, job applications, language exchanges, newspapers, or even just overhearing, I’ve been tuning into my surroundings, and capturing vocabulary by documenting new words in a notebook or my phone. And in an effort to further reinforce my French learning (and educate/entertain/interest people in random French vocabulary), I’ve decided that every Friday I shall post the Words of the Week- just a minimum of 5 words, their pronunciation, and meaning and/or context. (Note- pronunciation is a little wonky- some of it is my own pronunciation, and some of it is phonetic- so bear with me as I get a system down).

So Voilà- I present the first installment of:

petit-francais

Here are Les Mots (2 weeks worth since I technically started this last week):

1. Bête de scène (bet də sɛN) literally beast of the stage- this a great performer, some one who has excellent stage presence, or who comes alive on the stage

2. Aquarelles (ah-kwah-rehL)- watercolors, enough said

3.Croquer (cro-kay)- to bite, hence dry cat food being called croquettes (cro-keT)

4. Bénédiction (bene-dikt-cion)- a god send, aka something of great use and usually provides some sort of wonderful help (ex: ce petit vide est une bénédiction; this tiny vacuum is a godsend)

5. Rayures (rɛjyr) stripes, easy peasy

6.  Une pelle (pɛl), Pelleter (pɛl-tay) a shovel, to shovel (ex: Je pellette la neige avec ma pelle; I shovel the snow with my shovel) 

7.  Pleuvioter (plø-vjɔ-te)- sprinkling, drizzling, or raining lightly (had to go with fancy phonetics here; I recommend listening to this word on google translate)

8.Séance- unlike the spooky American usage for summoning of the dead, this means session or performance depending on the context

9. Encadrement (jeunesse)- supervision or coaching (Note: this is used in context of working with kids/teens, ex: encadrement de jeunesse, otherwise it apparently means frame. Also recommend listening to this word on google translate)

10. Animateur (jeunesse) (anee-ma-tour)– facilitator, or youth worker, however animateur pour enfants means children’s entertainer

Bonus: Faux Amis Warning! Persévérant = persistent

Happy Friday!

On being broke and unemployed in France

When my TAPIF program ended 8 months ago, I looked ahead at my unemployment with wide eyes. I had a bit of savings left, a whole summer in Europe, and the world as my oyster.

…Until that oyster turned on me. A year after submitting my visa paperwork, and 8 months of waiting for the prefecture to grant me the right to work, and I could no longer deny it- Je suis a sec. I’m dry, or as we say in the States, I’m broke.

True, at times, being unemployed had its perks. I had the freedom, and flexibility (and privilege), to paint, to travel, to create my own schedule, to launch my website, take care of random tasks, wander the streets of Grenoble, and catch up on far too many American series. I was lucky to have a savings to fall back on. I lived like retirees- sitting in the park in the middle of the day; enjoying the sun as it warmed my skin, and smiling at the elderly women in their fancy coats. (I sound like an old bachelor). I verged ever so slightly on crazy catladydom as I snuggled up with my soft Sasquatch, and took far too many cat pictures. I read more. I cooked more. I did some yoga and generally failed at inner peace. But I also lived the life of a retiree- at 25– and there was something unsettling about that. Continue reading

Blogaloutions

Bonne année and happy 2014 to all! Are we really already a month into the new year? And has it really been almost 2 months since my last post??

I was partially MIA due to the fact that my long visit home was insanely busy (as home usually is), filled with a flurry of friends, family, much missed food, painting commissions and workshops, and a surprise trip to the arctic tundra that is the northeast (Boston was 4 fahking degrees!)

…but part of my lack of writing was due to the fact that I didn’t quite have the words. I know, I know. It might seem incroyable- Me, not have words?? But I was silently bottling up something I’ve been trying to hide for far too long. And this is my confession for the new year: in spite of all my denial- in spite of this very blogs title- I am… a little lost.

*Warning. This shits about to get personal and maybe a bit ranty so proceed with caution… Continue reading

Resistance is Futile- I am “a artist.”

Not too long ago, my mom and I rediscovered a film of my 7th birthday party. We watched as my mother interviewed each of my semi-toothless friends about their future aspirations- “a doctor, a mommy, a teacher, a vet”. As each little girl relayed their dreams with gap toothed smiles, I grew curious about what my own scrawny, short-haired, seven-year old self would say. And I was surprised by the answer.

“A artist”.

My mom and I turned to each other in awe. How could a seven-year old be so insightful?

I didn’t know much at that time, especially when it came to hairstyles, but I knew what I wanted, boy hair and all. If only I’d continued to carry the same confidence as that seven-year old. I’ve spent the past 15 years denying something that has been such an important part of my life for fear of- I don’t know what. Failure? Self-indulgence? Being too contrived? Taking a risk? Fear is a funny thing. It holds us back before we even know what it looks like, or what exactly it is that we’re afraid of.

The thing is, I like to create. I always have, in one way or another, whether it was hand sewing costumes for Halloween or plays, or crafting cards for any possible holiday or celebration. One summer, my friend and I spent hours making and delivering anonymous cards to the neighborhood that just read “have a nice day”. Each one was different.

And I don’t know who I was kidding. I had endless sketchbooks filled with doodles and costume designs, and journals embellished with ‘marginal’ drawings. When I went to a Fine Arts high school to study theater, I double majored in art with a passion for painting. And though I went to college for psychology, a serendipitous turn of events led me to studio work and to becoming an art teacher.

But I found that as I taught young artists to embrace their own creations, discover their personal marks, and celebrate the “happy accidents”, I struggled to do that for myself. It wasn’t until my semester abroad in Greece, where I realized how much I learned, how much I knew, and how much I truly loved to paint, that I finally allowed myself to acknowledge what that seven-year old did with such ease.

I am ‘a artist’.

I am an artist who loves to paint. Loves to capture the moments in life- the subtle connections, and the little things that make us smile or wonder. I am an artist who still uses that word with trepidation. Who just wants to create. To capture the magnificence of the ‘ordinary’ within the corners of canvas. I am an artist who finally took the plunge.

And created a website.

So fears aside, today I am admitting that I am an artist, and introducing a new chapter, a new part of my blogging experience, and a new website:

Annakotecki.com

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Happy Friday! This weekend- do something that scares you 🙂