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Korean Students Write the Darndest Things

Part of my job as a high school English teacher in South Korea involved giving out, and then correcting, weekly creative writing assignments. It quickly became one of my favorite parts of the experience, as it allowed my students to apply the language with more freedom and personality. It also helped me to get to know them in a more private way. From unintentionally funny remarks, to profound realizations, their writing was a joy to read.

Below is a small collection of some of my favorite excerpts. I’ve also taken the liberty of underscoring their messages with related images. Perhaps this could have been made into some sort of class project… Enjoy!

Teacher’s Real Face

1One day, I walked in the classroom and found two of the girls in my elementary class wearing pink eyeliner which they made from clay.

“Wow, you girls look prettier today,” I said, trying so hard not to burst into laughter as the girls gingerly walked to their seats with their heads up, so that their clay eyeliner would not fall.

“Teacher, we wear eyeliner like you,” one of the girls, Mary, who was barely blinking, mouthed.

“I can see that, but mine is black and yours is pink.”

“Pink is pretty.

“Wish Ko Lang” Grants Wishes of Filipinos in Korea

Last Saturday, “Wish Ko Lang”, a popular television program in the Philippines that features inspiring stories of ordinary Filipinos and grants their wishes, played fairy godmother in South Korea. The show granted the wish of a dedicated Filipina teacher from Bulacan to come to … Continue reading

How Koreans Can Stay Safe in the Philippines

Six months ago, I wrote a post as a reply to an article I read in The Korea Times entitled 

어린이날: Children’s Day

IMG_0210Since last week, my students have been bugging me to give them free time for the whole period as a gift for them on 

어린이날: Children’s Day

Since last week, my students have been bugging me to give them free time for the whole period as a gift for them on Children’s Day. Of course, I would not let them waste forty minutes in the classroom just chattering or playing on … Continue reading

Days after Sewol Tragedy


When I woke up today, my husband was watching the news about the sinking of a ferry in South Korea, a tragedy that has brought sorrow all over the nation. It has been four days since the 6,825-ton vessel, Sewol, capsized off Korea’s southwest coast, but rescuers are yet to find hundreds of passengers still unaccounted for, and more and more families receive devastating news as names of victims confirmed dead are announced each day.

Days after Sewol Tragedy

THE CATASTROPHE When I woke up today, my husband was watching the news about the sinking of a ferry in South Korea, a tragedy that has brought sorrow all over the nation. It has been four days since the 6,825-ton vessel, Sewol, … Continue reading

I Just Want to Scream


I just want to scream, but I know it won’t do any good.

I heard that a ferry to Jeju that was sinking. News implied all would get out alive. I thought it was Costa Concordia like, if only it was comparable now.

Representative Jasmine Lee Urges Lawmakers to Pass Bill To Protect Rights of Undocumented Children

Sindangdong Tteokbokki Town

One of the most popular street food in South Korea is 떡볶이 (tteokbokki), a spicy snack that consists of soft and chewy 떡 (tteok or rice cake), 오뎅 (odeng or fish cake) and 고추장 (gochujang or sweet red chili paste).

Anywhere in Korea, you will surely find a store or a 포장마차 (pojangmacha or street vendor) that sells this snack, but the best place to enjoy spicy Korean rice cake stew is probably in 신당동 떡볶이 타운 (Sindangdong Tteokbokki Town) where tteokbokki is said to have originated.

Last Monday, my husband and I, together with some friends, visited Sindangdong Tteokbokki Town.

It’s just a few minutes away from Dongdaemun, so if you happen to be in this famous shopping area in Seoul and you want to grab a bite to eat, Tteokbokki Town is the right place for you.

Representative Jasmine Lee Urges Lawmakers to Pass Bill To Protect Rights of Undocumented Children

고맙습니다, 선생님! (Thank you, Teacher!) ^^



May 15th is Teacher’s Day in South Korea. On this special day, students give their teachers carnations or thank-you letters. Some prefer to give cosmetics or chocolates.


394375_644082432273104_927772010_nMy Korean students usually write me letters or give candies and chocolates on Teacher’s Day.

만우절: “April Fool’s Day” in SK


Backpack Full of School Supplies

It never ceased to amaze me how abruptly summer vacation came to an end as a kid. The magical, care-free days of summer seemed to cease overnight, without the slightest warning of abandonment. It was always a depressing time for me, knowing that there would be no more trips to the beaches of Florida or endless afternoons spent watching Nickelodeon. But, the end of summer did mean one good thing: new school supplies. For the strangest reason, that annual trip to K-Mart for new supplies filled my little heart with such content. Looking back on it, I wonder why I ever felt that way about notebooks and erasers, but I'm glad to now see that I wasn't the only one who gets excited over new pencils.

Not Everything Sucks In Korea


Yesterday morning I was greeted at random by one of the university security guards, who smiled, bowed, and offered up such a polite peace-be-upon-you that I could barely respond to him. The baby had cried a bit the night before—we’ve both caught the same terrible cold, but as usual my wife’s implacable immune system has left her completely unscathed—and I was still smarting from the wounds leftover from battling random strangers on the internet, so it was not until I found myself conversing with one of my nicer students a few hours later that I realized how foul my mood was.

Joe Teacher

A few weeks back, Joe had an extra day off from his teaching gig at Sindo Elementary. Instead of sleeping in while I schlepped to work, mentally preparing to face the noise of my kindie kids after a luxuriously peaceful four-day weekend, he came into school with me.  I tell him stories about my students frequently, brief vignettes from my day along the lines of: “Albert told me he got three points in Taekwondo class yesterday,” or “You’ve gotta meet Charley. He clung to me all the way down the hall during bathroom break today, dragging his little feet behind me and saying, ‘teachuh, you have-uh foh legs.’”

Dear Students: Online Translators

Dear Students,

Please, please x 1,000 DO NOT use online translators. I am better off guessing what you are saying from the English you do know. And you do know more than you give yourself credit for. I know you are told time and time again to be the best that you can be, but don’t let that deter you from realizing how much you’ve learned so far. Don’t fear failure.

lemonade for sale!

My students are just so gosh darn cute! I am going to miss them more than anything in Korea, hands down!

This week I organized a lemonade stand for my after school to operate and sell to the other students. Bought some lemonade mix, made some cute posters to hang around the school and they were on their way to being just like any American kid during the summer (except it was raining outside, fucking monsoon season.)

They really are so smart, I gave them everything they needed, they made the lemonade, handled all the money, poured each student a glass and ran around with signs yelling "LEMONADE FOR SALE!" We made 13,000 krw and on Thursday I am going to buy them pizza to celebrate the end of the school year. This is the last week of school and then for four weeks I have summer camps, which is awesome because I only have to work from 9 -12 everyday :) These kids are real dolls and have made my experience in Korea so amazing!!

mean teacher

Who would have thought, as much of a pain in the ass as I was to my teachers in school, that I would turn into that strict teacher who doesn't put up with your bullshit and kicks you out of class! (The fact that I have to kick a 4th grader out of class in the first place is an entirely different story.) I never thought it would be me, I figured I would be the 'cool teacher' that everyone liked. While I am cool and fun and most my kids like me (probably just because I have blonde hair though) there are times when I find myself totally frustrated with a student and I lose that cool for a minute, just a minute, until the somber looking kid nods and pays attention again. Yes, I have made a couple students cry, (in my defense it is usually not my fault, they are just way too sensitive and have cried even when I am being nice) but that is rare and I am not a monster, I feel terrible about it afterwards.

Really Korea, really?

진짜, 진짜! (I am OBSESSED with that word and it is not okay anymore) A few thoughts about the culture differences here in South Korea that shock me and make me want to just scream, "Are you KIDDING me!?"


Seriously, I don't know what I would do without you Friday. Even my students today remembered when I asked them what day of the week it was, "Ellie teacher, your favorite day!" (I felt a little bad though, since they have school tomorrow...)

what a wonderful world!

For chapter 4, What a Nice Day! I did a music video project with my 5th graders and they could not have made me prouder! I gave them each a lyric to the song What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong (Student: He has brown skin, teacher? Me: Yes! He is African American! Student: Like Obama!? Uh....) and they were instructed to be creative and draw a picture to describe the lyric. They could do anything they wanted and I got some interesting illustrations including a coffee cup for the lyric for "what a wonderful world" and nuclear bombs covering the page for "saying how do you do." Those kids really make me laugh! These are a couple of my favorite pictures, from the minds Korean 5th graders :)

on the streets.

In this big city, loneliness is somehow inevitable, as you walk amongst a sea of black hair and incessant clicking heels. Sometimes though, as I walk past each person, I feel I get a half a second glimpse into their world as our realities are intertwined, if even for just that fleeting moment. The strong scent of aftershave follows the gentleman dressed like Ron Burgundy and lingers for a few more steps. I have a feeling he just came from that love motel but it is anyone's guess. As my ipod provides the soundtrack, in my head are a million different stories about that man and how he came to be at that very place, at that very moment, intersecting paths with this foreigner.