Out of the frying pan and into the fire!

Tracy Fuller has left Toronto to seek her fortune abroad. She will be recording her travels here. If you're interested, read all about it. Otherwise just scroll down for some pretty pictures.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

No Regrets

Thank GOD I made it out of Korea Alive. In the end there I didn't think I was going to make it!

Now I am maxin' and relaxin' on beautiful Bo Phut beach in Ko Samui.

I hope to get around to responding to many of the e-mails I've neglected over the past few months in the next 20-ish days. Please have patience. This process will continue once I hook-up with Nat in Australia.

Just know that I'm safe and I'm getting happier by the minute.

Much Love,

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Gone To Thailand...

Yes, I know. I've been out of touch. Without an excuse. And now I've gone an flown to Thailand. What's the world coming to? Hopefully to a better end now that I'm out of Hell and en route to Paradise. I'll check-in again when I can, but effectively I may be incommunicado until January 10th. Sorry for the inconvenience. But I need to BREATHE for a little while...

Friday, December 01, 2006


Older, yes.
Wiser, ....?
The jury's still out on that one.
Check back with me at half-time.
I've only finished the first quarter.
Cheers to persistence!

Friday, October 27, 2006


Yesterday looked as though it was going to be a perfectly normal day until I left my first class and found the 9 disgruntled members of my youngest class waiting for me at my desk. Amidst the flurry of Korean words, pointed fingers and sloppy hugs, I was able to discern that Jessica had informed the class of imminent departure.

Now, there's no denying that I'm leaving the Hagwon. I will be high-tailing it out of here as fast as possible come Dec. 2nd, however for my youngest students, the ones who I've taught to read and write, I really wanted to have the chance to explain my departure myself. I knew it wouldn't be easy: for most of them I'm the first Hagwon teacher they've ever had. We have fun together in class, I see them every day, and I will miss them tremendously when I'm gone. That is precisely why I wanted to choose the right time and opportunity to tell them myself: so that I could explain why I'm abandoning them and somehow cushion the impact of my departure.

But all that went to SHIT yesterday. There were actual TEARS!!! -- And I'm not leaving for another whole MONTH!!!! Frickin' HELL!!! I was furious, but I'm sure I'll get over it after a Jess-free weekend. I don't know how she manages to rub me the wrong way almost every day, but she does... Oh, how she does....

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A second success story

Today 7 of our elementary school students participated in Mokpo's municipal English speaking competition. Unbelievably my boss permitted me to skip my first class so that I could attend the event and support our competitors. It was amazing to sit there in the audience amongst all the parents and teachers, most of whom only had one student to support, and cheer on my 7 spectacular students. After 2 weeks of daily extra classes, I was as nervous as they were, sitting in the auditorium listening to the other speeches. In the end I had to rush back to the Hagwon before the competition finished, to teach my regularly scheduled classes of the day, but that was not before I saw all of my students mount the stage and speak their hearts out. I was so proud. They did so well!

Incidentally, there were a number of other foreign teachers at the competition, however all of them work in the middle schools and have sweet-ass curse-kindling public school jobs (which means they teach maybe 15 classes a week with a full-fledged Korean teacher assisting them every step of the way, they get all the benefits I do and more, and they work from 9am to 3pm every day. Yes, I do hate most of them. No, I don't think its irrational.). When they approached me to find out why I was attending the event, a competitive air immediately arose as I gushed about my 7 students. The teachers also seemed put-off by the fact that I knew each of my pupils by their real names, rather than by the stupidly arbitrary English names they are forced to adopt when studying ESL in school. Probably the funniest part, for me, was the fact that all of my students came running to me to check their pronunciation, or review their introductions, or to be congratulated after they had finished. Despite the fact that the public school foreign English teachers were required to attend the competition just because their students were there, each child all but ignored them in favor of Yours Truly. I know I sound arrogant, but it was honestly very funny. And I do care a whole hell of a lot for my students, and wanted to be there for them today. I certainly don't care for the job or for my boss, but I can honestly say I love most of my pupils.

Later this evening the results arrived that 6 of our 7 had received prizes. One girl even made it to 2nd place! I couldn't believe their luck and couldn't help beaming like a bleeding idiot for the rest of the day. Even though hugging is a BIG "no no" here I honestly couldn't help myself when the first students returned to the academy. Yes, I hugged them. No, I don't regret it. They deserved it, just like they deserve the ice cream I'll be treating them to on Friday. Certainly nothing is sweeter than success, but Baskin-Robbin's sure does come close!

(From Left to Right we are: Gun-Joo, Myung-Ju, You-Jung, June-Young, Hyun-Jae, Yours-Truly, and Eun-Jin.)
(Seul-Bin was doing her interview at the time, so she missed the photo.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Succeeding Vicariously

Today one of our school's brightest students was accepted into an elite foreign language high school in Seoul. Of the 900 applicants, only 60 students are selected annually. It is a very difficult school to get into and their graduates are practically guaranteed admission to Korea's top universities. I have been teaching Jin Sung at least once a week since I arrived in Mokpo and he has always been a pleasure to work with. Although he is a little scattered and socially awkward, he has a good heart and tries very hard to succeed. I was, of course, ecstatic for him (especially after he begged me to stay 1.5 hours after work last week, without notice, to practice his interviewing skills), but I was totally unprepared for the recognition which followed.

It is rather common in Korea for appreciative parents to bring gifts of fruit and rice cakes to the Hagwon. This happens very often. Today, however, not only did 2 huge boxes of oranges and grapes arrive, but so did Mrs. Kwak herself. She approached me tentatively and then offered me the deepest, most appreciative bow I have ever seen and then shook my had very vigorously. I was honestly take aback because I've never seen an adult bend so low, especially to someone as young as myself. I think the secretary was also quite surprised because she stood there for a moment before fetching my Boss -- the usual recipient of any/all accolades. Thenceforth she was extremely polite to me for the rest of the day. Due to the language barrier no words were exchanged between Mrs. Kwak and myself except for "Thank You" and "You're Welcome! Congratulations!", but I later learned that Mrs. Kwak will pay for a staff luncheon and for pizza to be served in every class this Friday. A rather "cheesy" thank you, n'est pas?

Jin Sung later told me that the questions I asked when we had our last-minute Pow-Wow turned out to be the same questions the interviewers asked him on Friday, and that 2 of the 4 essay topics he was offered during the written portion of the test were identical to ones I asked him to write for our essay class last month. Fortune seems to be smiling down on the boy, and I honestly cannot take much credit for the dedication and energy he puts into his studies, but I am feeling a strange sort of pride tonight. Getting into this school was Jin Sung's dream. All of his aspiring endeavors and achievements were and will be linked to his acceptance into this school. When I asked him, last week, what he would do if he didn't get into the school, he was utterly perplexed.

Tonight I'm thinking about the dreams I once had, and the admissions and rejections I've experienced. I am so grateful that Jin Sung was not disenchanted last Friday and that his potential has not been checked. I could honestly almost cry with joy. I don't know why this is effecting me so much. He is certainly not one of my favorite students (not that I have favorites...), and I absolutely despise the work I do most of the time, but today it seemed as though I caught a glimpse of the lasting impression I will leave on one Korean student. And the power of this image almost made this exhausting experience worthwhile... almost.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Air Raid

Today, as I was preparing for work, the most blood-chilling, second-stopping thing happened. The normally noisy Mokpo air was muted by the wails of a solitary siren which echoed between the apartment blocks and stopped all movements. Its scream was so loud and sustained that all music was obliterated, conversation was impossible, and thoughts were limited to the most essential ideas one takes for granted any other day of the year.

At the same time a low-flying jet could be heard overhead, and perhaps for the first time in my life I felt the futility and fear of being a war victim. Sitting in my bedroom, all I could do was wait for one sound to end and others to begin. In case of an emergency I could close my windows and lock my doors but what else...? And what good would that actually accomplish if a conflict really were to erupt?

The sirens sounded twice. They resonated in the marrow of my bones. Students later told me the noises were just a "social test", by which I think they mean a standard civic maintenance trial. But it certainly didn't feel like a test at the time...

I am here for one more month (give or take 2 weeks). Cross your fingers that nothing goes down in the North before then.